CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Deity of Christ

Dec 15, 2017

At the very heart of the Christian faith is the contention that Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity. The orthodox formulation of the doctrine of the triune God is to say that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Integral to the trinitarian understanding of God is the essential Christian belief concerning the full deity of Christ. He always was with God and always was God, and he assumed a human nature at the Incarnation. The classic formulation of this is that Christ is one person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. These core teachings have always characterised biblical Christianity.

Heresies and cults arise when the triune nature of God is denied or radically misunderstood, and when the deity of Christ is denied or radically misunderstood. As with the Trinity – nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture but throughout implicitly affirmed – we have a lot of biblical evidence, which if taken together in a cumulative way, strongly attests to the deity of Christ.

Two thousand years of theological reflection on this cannot here be entered into. Only a small sampling of the biblical data will be covered. Simply put, Jesus affirmed his deity in many ways. He did so by what he did just as much as by what he taught.

Among the more clear and direct self-affirmations of deity we have the following passages. In John 10:30 for example we have it made very plain indeed: “I and my Father are one.” This is not just a oneness of purpose or intent, but an ontological oneness – a oneness of nature and being.

Consider also why the Jewish leaders of the day so strongly rejected him. They often wanted Jesus killed because they understood his claims – including his offering forgiveness of sins – to be blasphemous, since he made himself to be equal with God. Some of these texts are:

Matthew 26:63-66 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Mark 2:7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Mark 14:61-64 Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.

Luke 22:66-71 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

John 5:17-18 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

John 10:33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

In all these situations, if he was being profoundly misunderstood by his critics, he could have easily corrected them and denied he was claiming to be divine. But he did not, even though he knew this would mean having to die a slow and painful death for such “blasphemy”.

We have the same elsewhere when others also spoke of his divinity. Consider this exchange found in John 9:35-38:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

And the situation is the same after his resurrection. When Thomas called Jesus God, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), Jesus had the perfect opportunity to correct him if he was wrong. But he did not. By way of contrast, when Paul and Barnabas were in a similar sort of situation with people seeking to worship them as gods, they immediately said they were NOT gods and should NOT be worshipped. See Acts 14:8-18.

In other ways Jesus made it clear that he considered himself to be divine. Consider the amazing words uttered by Jesus in John 8:58 “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Here Jesus is directly affirming that the divine revelation of Yahweh at the burning bush as found Exodus 3:13-14 applies to him. There we read:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

In a very real sense he is identifying himself with the very God of the Old Testament. His seven “I am” statements found in the gospel of John offer more evidence of this. And then we can look at the evidence of the various Christological titles applied to Jesus.

One of them is Messiah. Jesus is the Christ. Christ is a title, while Jesus is the personal name. Messiah is the Greek form of the Old Testament word which means “the anointed one”. The term is used in two ways. It can refer to anyone anointed by the Lord, often with oil, to do the Lord’s work.

David says of Saul for example, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Samuel 24:6). But the term also came to mean one who would descend from David and deliver God’s people.

A new Davidic age would be brought in by this deliverer. Foreign enemies would be defeated, Israel would come out of its extended exile, and an age of righteousness would rule on earth. Jesus of course took on this title, but in somewhat different ways than expected. He does not come as a conquering king – at first – but as a suffering messiah.

And he affirms his messianic call by some important symbolic gestures, such as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:8-11). This picks up Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The cleansing of the Temple (Matt 21:12-13) is another divine symbolic action. This was not just about purifying the temple, but an act of judgement on it, and by implication, Israel. Before, the OT prophets had spoken and predicted divine judgement on the temple and Israel, but here Jesus is saying he will perform the divine judgement!

Another very significant title Jesus used is Son of Man. It has three main uses. A number of references are to Ezekiel, such as Ezek. 2:1. Sometimes it is used as a way to distinguish lowly man from almighty God, as in Psalm 8:4: “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

But most significantly, it is used for a future eschatological figure, a coming figure of judgement. The book of Daniel especially runs with this motif, eg., Dan 7:13-14:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Jesus often picked up on this, as in Matthew 19:28: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Another important term is Son of God. Although Jesus himself used the term rarely, it appears around 124 times in the New Testament. It also is used in three different senses: Sometimes it can simply refer to God’s people. We are sons of God, but by adoption. Only Jesus is a natural son of God: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Angels or supernatural persons can also be referred to in this way, as in Job 38:7 or Daniel 3:25. But the important usage is when it is used as a divine or Messianic title. Consider Psalm 2:6-7: “‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’.”

Or consider 2 Samuel 7:12-14:

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.

This term is applied to Jesus at crucial stages in his ministry, as in his baptism: “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:11); his transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” (Mark 9:7); and his crucifixion: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39).

Another vital divine title is Lord. The Greek word kyrios can mean two things: just a polite title of respect, or a designation of a divine being. God is often called Lord in the OT. In Exodus 6:3 we read: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.”

The Greek kyrios translates this Hebrew word for God. And when applied to Jesus, it has clear indications of deity. This is especially clear when some of the quotes of Yahweh are directly applied to Jesus. As but one example, the prophet Joel speaks of the last days when God’s spirit will be poured out:

“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls” Joel 2:32.) Peter at Pentecost says this is now being directly fulfilled:

“‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:2-22).

Then of course we have the word God being used when talking about Jesus. There are a number of clear references to him being called God as well as other somewhat less clear references. Here are just some of them:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Romans 9:5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Titus 1:3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

Titus 2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,

Hebrews 1:8-9 But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

This draws on Psalm 45:6-7 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

1 John 5:20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

This is just a very small sampling of the biblical data available that affirms the deity of Christ. Much more can be offered, and perhaps future articles will continue in this direction. But taken together, the biblical evidence makes a very strong case indeed for the full deity of Jesus Christ.

[2627 words]

11 Responses to The Deity of Christ

  • Thanks, Bill. Let those who will hear, hear.

  • This is a lovely summary and reminder of some home truths just in time for Christmas. Beautiful article Bill, thank you

  • Thanks for this article, Bill. John the Baptist also testified to Christ’s divinity, when he looked up, saw Jesus coming, and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, thus recalling the words of Nathan the prophet to King David, “the Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).

    The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Creed of St. Athanasius all affirm Jesus’ divinity. As the Church of England’s Article VIII puts it, the Creeds “may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.”

    The Athanasian Creed (also called the Quicunque Vult or “Whosover will”) says:–

    For the right faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
    God, of the Substance of his Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
    Perfect God, and perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
    Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood;
    Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
    One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;
    One altogether; not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
    For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.

    The Nicene Creed says:–

    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

    Those who don’t believe in the deity of Christ are actually “homophobic”, because they don’t believe in homoousios, the “ontological oneness” of Father and Son described in the article.

  • Good summary of Biblical evidence!

  • Great article.

    We can be certain that those who are recorded as seeing the Lord, such as Adam, Enoch, Abraham, and Moses, had seen the Son, their Savior, not the Father, “who lives in unapproachable light”, and as confirmed by the Apostle John in his inspired epistle.

  • In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. He spoke both as man and with the insight of Deity (v. 12). This chapter contains one of the most often quoted verses of Scripture (v. 16) which is expostulated by Jesus in the surrounding verses.
    It seems that to be born again, by “water and the Spirit” refers to baptism by water and belief in Jesus as the Christ. Although, many often cite the thief on the cross who was born again without baptism.
    And Jesus’ reference to “begotten” (v. 16) seems to imply the human equivalent of Father before son in an ontological sense, despite the fact that the Deity exists outside of time as we conceive it.

  • Good stuff Bill! Thanks for what you do ?

  • Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
    Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
    Col 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
    Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
    Col 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
    Rom 1:2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
    Rom 1:3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
    Rom 1:4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

  • The Lord Jesus’ enigma presented to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45 is also very apposite to the matter of who the Messiah is:

    While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

    “The son of David,” they replied.

    He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

    “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
    until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

    If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” – [NIV]

  • Great article, thank you Bill.

  • We can write so many things from the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. The whole world would not have room for the books that would be written about Jesus/the Word of God. Let us encourage more and more believers to read and study and ponder upon the Bible themselves. So that they are prepared to respond to whatever conditions that they are facing at that moment. They will be sensitive to The Word of God that is already growing in their heart and mind. And by the leading of the Holy Spirit decide.
    Because we can not anticipate enough the degree of temptation and trial that each person have to face to prepare them. But if they are ‘in’ the Word of God, they will be guided to recognise the will of God by God’s Word.

Leave a Reply