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Did the disciples believe that Jesus was God or a prophet? I presume that their opinion changed when he died. They called Jesus "Lord". However, "Lord" was a somewhat common title back then.

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Don't forget that these are not the only two options. They would not have to believe that he was God in order to believe he was more than just a prophet and more than just the Messiah. –  plv Oct 1 '13 at 6:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Matthew 16:16 is perhaps the most prominent answer to this question.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 ESV

So, the disciples became convinced by the miracles, the teachings, and the character of Jesus through His ministry that Jesus was the very Son of God.

Yet, it wasn't when Jesus died that their belief and understanding became solidified, but after His resurrection. The disciples were fearful prior to that. In fact, many were hiding while He was being crucified. All fled at His arrest, even though Peter made one valiant act in His defense.

If Jesus had only died, Christianity would not exist. It was the resurrection that turned "unschooled, ordinary men" into bold witnesses of Jesus who willingly faced persecution and death for their teaching that Jesus is Lord.

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<Unconstructive comments removed.> –  El'endia Starman Oct 9 '13 at 14:20
This doesn't prove the point, the term "son of god" according to the Jewish context (since Jesus was a follower of the law) means a noble person, not in the literal sense. Look at the OT for references. –  user1361315 Mar 18 at 18:09
@user1361315 Peter did not merely identify Jesus as "a" son of God, but as "the" Son of God. –  Narnian Mar 18 at 18:12
@Narnian we can go in circlues, read John 20:17. How could Jesus say "My God and your God" ? I can read the same versus in a Unitarian light, amazing isn't it? And the Gospel of John is not in accordance with the Synoptics, many if not most biblical scholars do not regard his statements as factual but more of 'wisdom' type literature. –  user1361315 Mar 18 at 19:27
@user1361315 You can read Revelation 1 and that will pretty much close the case. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, who was dead and is alive forevermore, the Almighty. –  Narnian Mar 18 at 19:44

Yes - they thought many things, and at various stages in His ministry, differing "circles" of His disciples expressed different things.

Of His closest disciples (those we generally associate with the term "disciple", aka The Twelve), Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ first:

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." {Matthew 16:16}

This is the same Peter who went on to deny Jesus three times during His trial before His crucifixion.

It took Thomas seeing the resurrected Jesus to realize who He is:

"Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." .. Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." {John 20:24-29}

Certainly they recognized Jesus to be "important" early on (see how fast they respond to His calls of them), for example when they ask to learn how to pray:

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples." {Luke 11:1}

When each of the twelve became "aware" of who Christ was is not told to us - certainly it was by Pentecost, though.

Those not close to Christ (or who were only peripherally-aware of Him), did not know who He was - but worried about Him:

And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him." But others were saying, "He is Elijah." And others were saying, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, "John, whom I beheaded, has risen!" {Mark 6:14-16}

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+1. Also, might be helpful to put the Scripture references in the quoted area. I realize you linked to them, but its more user friendly to see it in the quote IMO. –  Randy Syring Sep 13 '12 at 20:40
@RandySyring - added per your request –  warren Sep 14 '12 at 0:19
"Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples." doesn't prove the point at all. And the actual quotes in John according to biblical scholars were not actually spoken by Jesus. Synoptics have no explicit statements of him being God. –  user1361315 Mar 18 at 18:11
@user1361315 - you may wish to read through your gospel accounts again :) –  warren Mar 18 at 18:35

In addition to the great answers here, I would like to answer the "being God" bit. When John wrote his gospel (a long time after Jesus' death and resurrection), he wrote these famous words (John 1:1):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

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Maybe this is what Dan Andrews was trying to ask (I could be wrong), "did the disciples believed Jesus was God ONLY after the resurrection or was it before drawing from the statement in Mathew 16:16 as Narnian was pointing out?

To answer that question we would have to know what Peter meant by "Son of God" - there are at least two possibilities:

A) Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah prophesied to save Israel who was appointed by / from God or;

B) Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah prophesied and was God himself in the flesh

the choice, I would imagine, would need to be decided by looking at the Greek and the context of this statement in the Gospel of Matthew.

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Welcome to Christianity.StackExchange.com! I think you're on the right track. Could you "take a crack" at deciding which is most likely and add some supporting references? –  user1054 Dec 24 '12 at 11:54

The disciples were continually learning. They didn't have it all together and they didn't truly understand everything Jesus said or tried to teach them. They saw him calm a storm and raise the dead to life again. They even were given power to heal the sick and cast out demons, but we're limited by their lack of faith on occasion. Peter figured out Jesus was the Christ, the son of the Living God, but then he denied knowing Him. It wasn't until after the resurrection did the disciples eventually come to know who Jesus really was. Thomas got it right fairly quickly at least in word when he exclaimed "My Lord and my God".

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Welcome to the site! This is good reasoning and I tend to agree. This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just something I recommend to ALL new visitors: As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Oct 1 '13 at 11:40

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