Who is Truly Good? “Only God,” Jesus says of Himself


The Bible describes “Goodness” as the unique character of God–with the declaration that no human being has the capacity of goodness, nor can any person rightly apply this attribute to themselves.[3] Why then, did Jesus claim that He was truly Good, when the Rich Young Ruler came to Him with His declaration that Jesus was Good?

Matthew 19:16-17 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

The term “Good” has its origin in the name God. Philo, a Jewish philosopher from the first century said that “God alone is good,” emphasizing the unique quality that only God has.[1] The early Anglo-Saxons derived their word God from the term good, believing that “all true goodness had God, as its source.”[2]

The concept of God that has developed in all human society from the beginning of human language, is that God is the source of all goodness and virtue.

By Jesus’ response to the young man who asks Him this question, Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?, we may miss the subtlety of His answer in the English translation. When Jesus asks the young man why he is calling Him good, this question is presented due to the fact that all men during this time ascribed the term good only to God, from where the name God originated. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Any Greek speaking person who would read this verse would know for certain that Matthew was ascribing Jesus’ goodness to his belief that He is God, from where all goodness originates.

When we compare Matthew’s record of this event with what Luke wrote, we see a difference that helps us understand what is being stated here.

Matthew writes that the young ruler said: Good teacher, what good thing shall I do

Luke writes: Good teacher what shall I do

Matthew 19:16-17 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

Luke 18:18-19 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

Both Matthew and Luke insert the word “Good” before Teacher. Matthew adds a second “good thing” after “Good Teacher.” Matthew’s intent is clear: He is defining what is being said here.

Matthew wanted the reader to understand that he believed that Jesus is God, although the rich young ruler may not have understood this fact at this point. Jesus realized that this young man was uniformed because He extends the conversation to clarify who is truly good by stating: only God is worthy of the title “good.”

Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

We should understand by Jesus’ response, that He is claiming that He is a Good Teacher because He is God, the only one who is truly good.

This fact is assumed in the Greek language in which this statement was originally written. When it is read in English, the insinuation that Jesus is stating He is God, is missed.

“You recognize that I am good, and since no one but God is good, do you call me good because you recognize that I am God?”

Jesus’ goal is always to bring people into a true awareness of who He is and why He has come to the earth. Before the conversation can proceed, Jesus must instill faith in this young man that the Good Teacher he is seeking instruction from, is in fact—God. Immediately after this, Jesus asks the young man if he knows the commandments that deal with relationships between people:

Luke 18:20 You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother.”

The young man answers that he has kept these five commandments.

Luke 18:21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

The young ruler had kept the laws of God that deal with people, but he was dificient in keeping the other commandments which speak of our relationship with God: To worship no other person or thing above God. The material possessions that this rich young ruler had were more important to him than his relationship with the Lord.

Luke 18:22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing (to worship only God). Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

The young man worshipped and adored the great wealth that he possessed, above God. This had to change, or eternal life was impossible. By requesting that the young man go and sell all that he has, Jesus is giving the young ruler an opportunity to change his priorities—from worshipping things to worshipping God.

It is my personal belief that had the young man told Jesus that he was willing to sell all that he had in order to follow Him, the Lord may have told this young man that this was no longer necessary. Anytime we are willing to give up anything to follow Jesus, the need to do so no longer exists—provided that our confession is a true and accurate representation of our genuine desire. Having riches is not a sin. Only the placement of wealth, possessions, another person, or a career above our worship of God, is wrong.

If the Lord is truly first in our life, then wealth will not be a problem for us. Just as Abraham was willing to thrust the knife into Isaac, placing his love for the Lord above his love for his son, God stopped Abraham before Isaac was killed. It was in that moment that Abraham had convinced himself that he would love the Lord above even his own son, whom he had waited for all of his life.

Up to the point where Abraham lifted the knife, he loved Isaac above the Lord. It was in that moment of decision—whether he would chose to love the Lord above all other things—this old man finally arrived a the place God is seeking to bring us all. To have things, but not allow them to have us. To love the Lord above everything else in our life, with certainty.

This is the same choice that Jesus is asking this rich young ruler to make. Unfortunately, the young man chose poorly, as many rich and famous people do likewise, today.

For critics who have stated that Jesus never claimed to be the eternal God, this verse stands as sufficient evidence to remove that criticism. Jesus does not correct the young man and state that he is not good on the same level with God, but accepts the term good in applying it to Himself.

The primary characteristic that makes God who He is—is that He is eternally Good. Everything that He does is always good all of the time. It is impossible that God could ever do anything wrong or commit any act that is evil. If it were possible that God could be found not good in any of His actions, He would not be God. The definition of God is that He is perfect in every way.

Therefore, in order to hold the title of God, His goodness is imperative.

This is truly amazing when we realize and apply this principle to Jesus as the Messiah. Standing before the men of that day was the perfect and eternal God of the universe. They looked into His eyes and heard His words, yet most never realized who He was.

John 1:11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.

Jesus looked like any other man. He had no special features or stature that would distinguish Him as God. Isaiah said that He was unremarkable in His appearance.

Isaiah 53:2 There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. (NLT)

It was only when Jesus spoke or acted, that it was immediately apparent that He was not a normal human being.

When Jesus taught, people were astonished:

Matthew 13:54 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

When Jesus spoke, people marveled at His gracious words:

Luke 4:22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.

Observers were amazed when Jesus forgave sins, as only God has this right.

Luke 7:49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?

The Temple guards were in awe over the manner in which Jesus spoke:

John 7:46 The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!

Peter rightly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God:

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Even the demons identify Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God:

Luke 4:41 And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!

Every word, every deed—all of His life, Jesus was truly good. He came to earth and offered His life for our sins. He allowed evil men to beat and crucify Him because He alone is good. The great God of the universe loves you, and He displayed His goodness and eternal love for you and I, by giving all that He had—His very life. Jesus did all of these things so that we could have our sins forgiven and gain eternal life.

[1] Philo. A first- century Jewish philosopher committed to both Judaism and Greek thought; he lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and held a position of great influence and prestige in the Jewish community there. Expositor’s Bible Commentary.
[2] New Unger’s Bible Dictionary)  (Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois.  Copyright (C) 1988.
[3]Psalms 53:3 Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one., Romans 3:12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Categories: Jesus is God, Jesus is Good, The Claims of Jesus

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