The Deity of Christ (2)
We have witnessed the biblical testimony to the deity of Christ from the prophets and the birth narrative. In this article, I shall continue to present evidences of Jesus' deity.
The Prologue to John's Gospel
Parallel to the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke is the introductory statement of John's gospel. The statements we consider are these:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. . . . And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth . . . . No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son (God, NASB), which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (Jn. 1:14,14,18).
The prologue makes these affirmations about Jesus.
1. The pre-existence of Jesus. The Jesus of John's gospel existed prior to his coming to the earth. Indeed, when one goes back to the beginning of time, the Word already was. The Word has eternal existence. He is not a created or derived being.
2. The shared communion with the Father. Not only did Jesus exist prior to his coming to the earth, he also "was with God," intimating the closest communion between him and the Father. The preposition "with" distinguishes the Word from the Father. From all eternity the Word has been with God as a fellow (Zech. 13:7), enjoying communion with him.
3. The deity of Jesus. The third affirmation is that the "Word was God." Though the Word is distinguishable from the Father, he is also God.
4. The Word is Creator, not a creature. A vast chasm distinguishes the Word from the creation. He is the Creator of every thing that has been made, distinguishing himself from creation. Hence, the Word is no created being.
5. "In him was life. " A characteristic of God is that "the Father has life in himself" (Jn. 5:26). The Word also has life in himself (1:3). He is the life (11:25; 14:6), the eternal life (I Jn. 5:20). He does his miracles from his own inherent power, not by a power given to him from the Holy Spirit, as did the prophets and the apostles.
6. The Word became flesh. No less than the Word himself became flesh. Deity took upon himself a human body. His glory shined through the veil of his body for John said, "And we beheld his glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father." Benjamin Warfield commented on these verses as follows:
That in becoming flesh the Word did not cease to be what He was before entering upon the new sphere of experiences, the evangelist does not leave, however, to mere suggestion. The glory of the Word was so far from quenched, in his view, by his becoming flesh, that he gives us at once to understand that it was rather as "trailing clouds of glory" that He came . . . . The language is colored by the reminiscences from the Tabernacle, in which the Glory of God, the Shekinah, dwelt. The flesh of Our Lord became, on its assumption by the Word, the Temple of God on earth (cf. Jn. ii. 19), and the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. John tells us expressly that the glory was visible, that it was precisely what was appropriate to the Son of God as such. "And we beheld his glory," he says; not divined it, or inferred it, but perceived it. It was open to sight, and the actual object of observation. Jesus Christ was obviously more than man; He was obviously God. His actually observed glory, John tells us further, was a "glory as of the only begotten from the Father." It was unique; nothing like it was ever seen in another ("The Person of Christ," Biblical Doctrines, p. 193; also available in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, General Editor, Vol. IV, pp. 2338-2348).
Such words emphasize that the Jesus of John's gospel is not merely a man.
7. The Word revealed God to us. The New American Standard Version reflects the variant reading of the better manuscripts in John 1:18 which describe the Word as "the only begotten God ... .. The adjective 'only begotten' conveys the idea, not of derivation and subordination, but of uniqueness and consubstantiality: Jesus is all that God is, and he alone is this" (Warfield, 194). Because of his eternal association with the Father, the Word can reveal him to us. Though mere man has never seen God at any time, the Word can reveal him to us (hence, he is not a mere man).
The opening of John's gospel emphasizes the deity of the Word. The Word did not cease to be deity when he became flesh. He retained his glory for it was perceived by man. This is the thrust of John's testimony:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifest unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you (1 Jn. 1:1-3).
Jesus' Testimony Concerning Himself
The gospel of John preserves several of Jesus' sermons and conversations. From these monologues, we can see what Jesus said to others about himself. Study these statements which he made about himself:
1. He is the Light of the world which has been darkened by sin (8:12).
2. He is the Way to heaven (14:6).
3. He is the Truth (14:6).
4. He is the Life (14:6).
5. He is the living Bread come down from heaven (6:35,48). Believers who eat his flesh and blood shall have life (6:54).
6. He is the Water of life which, if a man drinks, he shall never thirst again (4:14).
7. He is the Good Shepherd and all who came before him are thieves and robbers (10:8,11).
8. He is the Vine connection with which is essential for life (15:1,5).
9. He is the one and only approach to the Father in heaven (14:6).
10. He teaches men to pray in his name and professes to have the ability to answer that prayer (14:14).
11. He contrasts himself with his fellowman saying, "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (8:23).
12. He claims to be Lord over death, having the ability to call the physically dead to life (5:28,29). He proclaims himself to be the Resurrection and the Life (11:25).
13. He teaches men to trust in him as they trust in God (14:1). They are to believe in him just as they believe in God (14:1; 6:29,40,47).
14. He taught men to honor him as they honor the Father (5:23). The man who hated Jesus hated the Father (15:23).
15. He claimed to judge the world (5:22) on the standard of the words which he spake (12:48).
16. He claimed to be above all (3:31) and that all things had been given into his hands (3:35).
17. He could see the things which the Father was doing and do them as well (5:19).
18. He asserted that to know him was to know the Father (8:19).
19. He asserted himself to be the "I am" of the Old Testament (8:24,58).
20. He asserted an intimate communion with the Father such that what he spoke was what the Father said to him (8:26,38,40).
21. He affirmed that he and the Fafther are one (8:30; 17:21).
22. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles (16:7).
No mere man can make such declarations about himself without being guilty of blasphemy. These statements reflect Jesus' consciousness of his own deity and his demand that men believe that he was God incarnate. These affirmations are what stirred the animosity of the Jews to charge that he was guilty of blasphemy because he made himself equal with God (5:17-18; 10:33). The verdict of blasphemy reached by the Sanhedrin cannot be understood without admitting their belief that Jesus was making the claim that he was God.
Take these affirmations one by one and substitute in the place of Jesus the New Testament saint who most completely represents what a Christian should be to your mind. Take for example, the apostle Paul. Could Paul claim for himself the things which Jesus claimed for himself? Could Paul say, "I am the bread of life," "he that hath seen me has seen the Father," "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me," "I and the Father are one," "before Abraham was, I am," etc.? To attribute such statements to mere man would not merely strain the affirmations, but would be blasphemy. Why are they not blasphemy when made by Jesus? Because he is the incarnate God!
H.P. Liddon, in his classic work, The Divinity of Our Lord, sees the Lord affirming his deity in his claim to rule the souls of man. He presents this argument for the deity of Jesus:
He commands, He does not invite, discipleship. To Philip, to the sons of Zebedee, to the rich young man, He says simply, 'Follow Me.' . . . His message is to be received upon pain of eternal loss, so in receiving it, men are to give themselves up to Him simply and unreservedly. No rival claim, however strong, no natural affection, however legitimate and sacred, may interpose between Himself and the soul of His follower. 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me'; 'If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.' . . ,
It is impossible to ignore this imperious claim on the part of Jesus to rule the whole soul of man. Other masters may demand a man's active energies, or his time, or his purse, or this thought, or some large share of his affections. But here is a claim on the whole man, on his very inmost self, on the sanctities of his deepest life. Here is a claim which altogether sets aside the dearest ties of family and kindred, if perchance they interfere with it. Does any who is merely man dare to advance such a claim as this? (pp. 176-178)
The Jesus of John's gospel manifestly claimed to be God incarnate. If he was merely a man, he was guilty of blasphemy as charged by the Jews and not the perfect, sinless sacrifice for sin which Christians affirm him to be. There is no middle ground: Jesus is either God or a brash sinner!
(Continued next issue.)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 22, pp. 674, 692-693