Jesus Christ the Lord
THE UNIQUENESS of Christianity is the Person, Jesus Christ, and the distinctiveness of Christ is the fact that He is the God-man. In other words, He is a divine-human Being, something unique in time and eternity. It is also a concept very difficult to understand, for we have no basis for comparison with another God-man in history nor do we get any help from our experience. Yet this is not a dogma imposed on us simply to receive without question; it is a conclusion which grows out of the evidence in the Bible. Many facts point to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God; many others lead to the conclusion that He is truly human; at the same time we see only one Person moving across the pages of the gospels. This union of undiminished deity and perfect humanity forever in one Person is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that is, the union of two hypostases or natures), and this is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
THE DEITY OF CHRIST
Did Christ exist before He was born at Bethlehem? The answer is yes. While this does not of itself prove His deity (for He might, for instance, have existed as an angel before His birth), it certainly seems necessary to validate His claim to be the revelation of God and the Revealer of the Father. Did He exist before He was born? Names given to Him in the Old Testament indicate this. Micah 5:2 teaches the eternity of the Son, for the word translated “from of old” is used in Habakkuk 1:12 of God’s eternal nature; thus what God is, the Son is (see also Is 9:6). Furthermore, He Himself claimed to be preexistent, for He said, “Before Abraham [came to be], I am” (Jn 8:58). The statement, “I am,” is not only a claim to existence before Abraham but also is a reference to the sacred name of God, Yahweh, and thus a claim to be God (Ex 3:14–15). Certain works which are said to have been done by Christ could only have been accomplisbed if He existed before time (e.g., creation, Col 1:16). Of course, His claims to be God, which are discussed in the next section, include preexistence.
Many in our day deny the deity of Christ, knowing that in doing so they are undermining the central aspect of Christianity because they have removed from it the divine Saviour. This denial is not new, for even in the early church there were those who did so: Ebionites, dynamic Monarchians, and the Arians all denied that the Son possessed full deity. In the days of the Reformation, the Socinians followed their example and regarded Jesus as merely a man. Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Unitarians, and liberals have done the same in more recent times. Today those who deny His full deity regard Jesus either as a great man (to be followed but not worshiped), a good man (who had the courage to die for His convictions), or a man more advanced than any other in His time. Along with such views of Christ goes a denial of the biblical accounts of His miraculous birth, death, and resurrection.
Popularly, opponents of His deity assert that Jesus of Nazareth never claimed to be God. It was His followers, they say, who made that claim for Him, and, of course, they were mistaken. This is simply not so, for He did claim to be God, as we shall see. Obviously opponents of Christ’s deity do not consider the Bible as authoritative but feel perfectly free to question statements of Scripture as to their reliability. Although denying the infallibility of the Bible does not always result in denying the deity of Christ, denying the deity of Christ must be accompanied by a denial of the accuracy of Scripture, for there is simply too much evidence in Scripture for His deity to do otherwise.
1. His assertions. Jesus of Nazareth claimed equality with God when He said that He and the Father were one (Jn 5:18; 10:30). Those who heard Him make this statement understood the force of such a claim, for they accused Him of blasphemy. If He were only claiming to be some kind of superman, they would not have bothered with the blasphemy charge. When Christ stood before the high priest, He gave a clear affirmative answer to the question whether He was the Christ (Mt 26:63–64). And His reply was given under oath.
In both John 10:36 and Matthew 26:63 the phrase “Son of God” is used, which some claim means something less than deity in order to avoid the conclusion that Christ claimed to be God. This is not so.
In Jewish usage the term “son of …” did not generally imply any subordination, but rather equality and identity of nature. Thus Bar Kokba, who led the Jewish revolt 132–135 A.D. in the reign of Hadrian, was called by a name which means “Son of the Star.” It is supposed that he took this name to identify himself as the very Star predicted in Numbers 24:17. The name Son of Consolation (Acts 4:36) doubtless means, “The Consoler.” “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) probably means “Thunderous Men.” “Son of Man,” especially as applied to Christ in Daniel 7:13 and constantly in the New Testament, essentially means “The Representative Man.” Thus for Christ to say, “I am the Son of God” (John 10:36) was understood by His contemporaries as identifying Himself as God, equal with the Father, in an unqualified sense.
Not only did Jesus make the claim to be equal with God for Himself, but the writers of the New Testament did the same. See John 1:1; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6; Titus 2:13.
2. His works. Furthermore, Jesus of Nazareth claimed to do certain things which only God can do. In a classic confrontation with the scribes the Lord demonstrated He had the power to forgive sins by healing a man sick of the palsy. The scribes considered this claim to be blasphemy because they recognized that only God can forgive sins. The miracle of healing was done in order to validate Christ’s claim to be able to forgive sins (Mk 2:1–12).
On other occasions He claimed that all judgment was given into His hands (Jn 5:27), that He would send the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26), and that He would be the one to raise the dead (Jn 5:25). Since these are all prerogatives of deity, they substantiate His claim to be God or else they make Him a liar.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, works are attributed to Christ which only God can perform, further substantiating His equality with God. See John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 for His work of creating, Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3 for the work of upholding all things, and Acts 17:31 for His being Judge of all men.
3. His characteristics. Jesus of Nazareth possessed characteristics which only God has. He claimed to be all-powerful (Mt 28:18; cf. Rev 1:8); He displayed knowledge that could only have come from His being omniscient (Mk 2:8; Jn 1:48); He made a promise which we often quote that depends on His being present everywhere (Mt 18:20; cf. Mt 28:20; Eph 1:23). These very distinctive claims indicate either that He was God or a great deceiver.
4. His ascriptions. Others ascribed to the Lord the prerogatives of deity in substantiation of His own claims. He was worshiped by men and by angels (Mt 14:33; Phil 2:10; Heb 1:6). His name is coupled with other Members of the Trinity in a relationship of equality (Mt 28:19; 2 Co 13:14). The writer to the Hebrews declared that He was the same in substance with the Father—“the exact likeness of his substance” (Heb 1:3, free trans.). Coupled with Paul’s statement that “in Him dwells all the fulness of deity in bodily form” (Col 2:9, free trans.), these are very strong declarations of His full deity equal with the deity of the Father and the Spirit. Too, He is called Yahweh in the New Testament, which could only be true if He were fully God. Notice Luke 1:76 compared with Malachi 3:1, and Romans 10:13 compared with Joel 2:32. Add other names of deity which He is given (God, Heb 1:8; Lord, Mt 22:43–45; King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev 19:16), and we can only conclude that Christ’s deity is fully attested by the ascriptions given Him in the New Testament.
Remember that in each of these four lines of evidences for the deity of Christ, the proofs have been cited from two sources—the claims which the Lord Himself made as taken from His own words, and the claims which others made of Him in New Testament books other than the gospels. Both are equally valid, though there are some people today who deprecate the writers of the New Testament but who still pay some attention to Christ’s own words. In helping people to acknowledge the evidence for the deity of our Lord it may be useful to keep this distinction in mind and present to them first Christ’s own claims before presenting the evidence of the rest of the New Testament.
Ryrie, C. C. (1995). A survey of Bible doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press.