Throughout His public ministry, Jesus made two explicit claims concerning Himself: He claimed to be the Messiah of Israel (the Christ), and He claimed to be God come in the flesh (Matthew 16:16; John 11:27; Mark 14:61). This two-fold claim is the essence of the message which Jesus challenged men to believe concerning Himself (John 20:31).
It is not easy for us to imagine how difficult it was to accept these claims: the claim to Messiahship was difficult because in so many ways Jesus disappointed the self-serving but rabinically endorsed messianic ideals cherished by His contemporaries; and the claim that He was God come in the flesh was at once incongruous and scandalous. On the other hand, because Jesus lived out perfectly His command to His disciples to be "as wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16), His claim to Messiahship (i.e., to be King of Israel) was cleverly encoded in Old Testament figures and passages so that the claim would be unmistakable and compelling to Jews but appear innocuous to the Roman overlords. Had Jesus more explicitly claimed Messiahship/Kingship, He would have enabled His enemies to be rid of Him easily, as Rome had no patience for pretender Kings in her domain.
Likewise, the claim to deity - scandalous to the Jews but to the Romans less incendiary than the claim to be king - was couched in ways especially telling to Jewish hearers. For instance, the Scriptures insist that only God is eternal; thus when Jesus claimed preexistence (John 8:56), He was understood by His Jewish auditors to be claiming deity.
Adapted from the lecture notes of Dr. Doug Bookman, professor of New Testament Exposition at Shepherds Theological Seminary (used by permission).