Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 1 Page 9 January 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

In Defense
of Christís Deity

Part 1 of 2

By Bert Thompson

On Tuesday prior to the Lord's crucifixion the following Friday, Jesus engaged in a discussion with the Pharisees, who made no secret of their hatred for Him.  When Matthew recorded the scene in his Gospel, he first commented on an earlier skirmish the Lord had with the Sadducees: "But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together" (22:34).

Jesus--with penetrating logic and an incomparable knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures--had routed the Sadducees completely.   No doubt the Pharisees thought they could do better.  Yet they were about to endure the same embarrassing treatment.

In the midst of His discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus asked: "What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?" (Matthew 22:42).  They were unable to answer the questions satisfactorily because their hypocrisy prevented them from comprehending both Jesus' nature and His mission.  The questions the Lord asked on that day, however, are ones that every rational, sane person must answer eventually.

The two questions were intended to raise the matter of Christ's deity.  The answers--had the Pharisees' spiritual myopia not prevented them from responding correctly--were intended to confirm it.  Today, these questions still raise the spectre of Christ's identity.  Who is Christ? Is He, as He claimed to be, the Son of God? Was He, as many around Him claimed, God incarnate? Is He, as the word "deity" implies, of divine nature and rank?

Christ As A Historical Figure

The series of events that would lead to Jesus' becoming the world's best known historical figure was to begin in first-century Palestine.  There are four primary indicators of this fact.  First, when Daniel was asked by king Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his wildly imaginative dream, Daniel revealed that God would establish the Messianic kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire (viz., the fourth kingdom represented in the king's dream; see Daniel 2:24-45).  Roman domination of Palestine began in 63 B.C., and continued until A.D.  476.  Second, the Christ was promised to come before "the scepter" departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10).  Bible students recognize that this prophecy has reference to the Messiah ("Shiloh") arriving before the Jews lost their national sovereignty and judicial power (the "scepter" of Genesis 49).  Thus, Christ had to have come prior to the Jews' losing their power to execute capital punishment (John 18:31).  When Rome deposed Archelaus in A.D. 6, Coponius was installed as Judea's first procurator.  Interestingly "the . . . procurator held the power of jurisdiction with regard to capital punishment" (Solomon, 1972, 13:117).  Hence, Christ was predicted to come sometime prior to A.D.  6 (see also McDowell, 1972, pp.  176-178).  Third, Daniel predicted that the Messiah would bring an end to "sacrifice and offering" before the destruction of Jerusalem (cf.  Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24:15; see also Jackson, 1997).  History records that the Temple was obliterated by Rome in A.D. 70.  Fourth, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2).  It also is a matter of record that Jesus was born in Bethlehem while Palestine was under Roman rule, before Judah lost her judicial power, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (see also Matthew 2:3-6; Luke 2:2-6).

Christ In The Old Testament

The Old and New testaments portray a portrait of Christ that presents valuable evidence for the person desiring to answer the questions, "What think ye of the Christ?," and "Whose son is he?" In Isaiah 7:14, for example, the prophet declared that a virgin would conceive, bear a son, and name him "Immanuel," which means "God with us" (a prophecy that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ; Matthew 1:22-23).  Later, Isaiah referred to this son as "Mighty God" (9:6).  In fact, in the year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah said he saw "the Lord" sitting upon a throne (see Isaiah 6:lff.).  Overpowered by the scene, God's servant exclaimed: "Woe is me . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts" (6:5).  In the New Testament, John wrote: "These things said Isaiah, because he saw His [Christ's] glory; and he spake of him" (John 12:41).

Isaiah urged God's people to sanctify "Jehovah of hosts" (8:12-14), a command applied to Jesus by Peter (1 Peter 3:14-15).  Furthermore, Isaiah's "Jehovah" was to become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (8:14), a description that New Testament writers applied to Christ (cf.  Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8).  Isaiah foretold that John the Baptizer would prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah (40:3).  It is well known that John was the forerunner of Christ (cf.  Matthew 3:3, John 1:23).

Isaiah pictured Christ not only as a silent "lamb" (53:7), but as a man Who "a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench" (42:3; cf.  Matthew 12:20).  J.W. McGarvey explained the imagery in these verses as follows:

A bruised reed, barely strong enough to stand erect . . .a smoking flax (a lamp wick), its flame extinguished and its fire almost gone, fitly represent the sick, and lame, and blind who were brought to Jesus to be healed.  . . . he would heal their bruises and fan their dying energies into a flame (1875, p. 106).
Other Old Testament writers illuminated Christ in their writings as well.  The psalmist suggested He would be known as zealous for righteousness (Psalm 69:9), that He would be hated without cause (Psalm 22), and that He would triumph over death (Psalm 16:8-11).  Daniel referred to His coming kingdom as one that would "stand forever" (12:44).  The prophets' portrait of Christ was intended not only to foreshadow His coming, but to make Him all the more visible to the people in New Testament times as well.

Christ In The New Testament

The New Testament is equally explicit in its commentary regarding the Christ, and offers extensive corroboration of the Old Testament declarations concerning Him.  The prophets had portrayed the Messiah's demise as unjust, painful, and vicarious (Isaiah 53:4-6; Psalm 22).  In the New Testament, Paul reiterated that fact (Romans 5:6-8).  The prophets predicted that He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9) for a mere thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), and He was (Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:15).  They said that He would be mocked (Psalm 22:7-8), spat upon (Isaiah 50:6), numbered among common criminals (Isaiah 53:12), pierced through (Zechariah 12:10), and forsaken by God (cf.  Psalm 22:1), and He was (Luke 23:35; Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:27-28; John 19:37; John 20:25; Mark 15:34).  Without any explanation, an inspired prophet predicted that the suffering servant's hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16).  Later revelation reveals the reason for such a statement: He was nailed to a cross (Luke 23:33).

The prophets had said that He would be raised from the dead so that He could sit upon the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7).  This occurred, as Peter attested in his sermon on Pentecost following the resurrection (Acts 2:30).  He would rule, not Judah, but the most powerful kingdom on Earth.  As King, Christ was to rule (from heaven) the kingdom that "shall never be destroyed" and that "shall break in pieces and consume all these [earthly] kingdoms, and . . . shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).  The New Testament establishes the legitimacy of His kingdom (Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:24-5).  The subjects of this royal realm were to be from every nation on Earth (Isaiah 2:2), and were prophesied to enjoy a life of peace and harmony that ignores any and all human distinctions, prejudices, or biases (cf.  Isaiah 2:4, Galatians 3:28).  This King would be arrayed, not in the regal purple of a carnal king, but in the humble garments of a holy priest (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6).  Like Melchizedek, the Messiah was to be both Priest and King (Genesis 14:18), guaranteeing that His subjects could approach God without the interference of a clergy class.  Instead, as the New Testament affirms, Christians offer their petitions directly to God through their King--Who mediates on their behalf (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12,19-22).  It would be impossible for the New Testament writers to provide any clearer answers than they did to the questions that Christ asked the Pharisees.

Christ As A Man

The Scriptures teach that Jesus possessed two natures--divine and human.  As an eternal Being (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1ff.), He was God; yet, He became man (1 Timothy 2:5), made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), though without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Isaiah observed that Christ would be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief "Who would grow up ". . . as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2-3).

As a human, the prophets had said, Christ was to be the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), and a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 2 Samuel 7:12-13).  The New Testament confirms that He was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) who was a virgin (Matthew 1:23), and that He was the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Matthew 1:1ff).  The apostle John stated that He had become flesh and had dwelt among men (John 1:14).  Paul wrote that Christ was recognized "in fashion as a man" (Philippians 2:7-8).  From his position as a physician, Luke wrote that Christ "advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).  He was able to learn (Hebrews 5:8).  He experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), anger (Mark 3:5), frustration (Mark 9:19), joy (John 15:11), sadness (John 11:35), and grief (Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7).  He was "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).  But most significantly, He was able to die (Mark 15:44).  In every respect, He was as human as you and I, which is why He could, and did, refer to Himself as the "Son of Man" (see Matthew 1:20; 9:6; et al.).

But the impact He had on the world was not due to His physical appearance.  In fact, Isaiah foretold that He would have ". . . no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53:2).  Rather, it was His nature and His character that made Him so intriguing, so commanding a figure, and so worthy of honor, respect, and worship.  Here we see a man--but no mere man, for He is the only man who was virgin-born (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18), and upon whom the inspired prophets dared to apply the revered name of "Jehovah" (Isaiah 40:3).

Why do the Scriptures place importance upon the human nature of Christ? Wayne Jackson has suggested:

If Christ had not become a man, He could not have died.  Deity as pure Spirit-essence, possesses immortality (1 Tim.  6:16--the Greek word denotes deathlessness).  The writer of Hebrews makes it wonderfully plain that Christ partook of "flesh and blood" that "through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb.  2:14).  If Christ had not died, there would have been no atonement, no forgiveness of sins--the human family would have been hopelessly lost forever! Thank God for Christ's humanity (1979, p.  66, emp.  in orig.).

Christ As God

The Scriptures do not speak of Christ as just a man, however.  They also acknowledge His divine nature.  In most of its occurrences, "Jehovah" is applied to the first person of the Godhead (i.e., the Father-Matthew 28:19).  For example: "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Psalm 110:1).  Jesus later explained that this verse pictures the Father addressing the Christ (Luke 20:42).

Yet the name "Jehovah" also is used on occasion to refer to Christ.  For example, Isaiah prophesied concerning the mission of John the Baptizer: "The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3; cf. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4).  John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus Christ (John 1:29-34).  But Isaiah said that John would prepare the way of Jehovah.  Clearly Jesus and Jehovah are the same.

The writer of Hebrews quoted the Father as addressing His Son in this way: "Thou, Lord (Jehovah-Psalm 102: 25), in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands" (Hebrews 1:10).  Not only does this verse apply the word "Jehovah" to Jesus, but it actually attributes the quotation to the mouth of God.  Again, Jesus and Jehovah are used synonymously.

Furthermore, Jesus spoke and acted like God.  He affirmed that He was "one" with the Father (John 10:30).  He forgave sins--a prerogative of God alone (Mark 2:5,7).  He accepted the worship of men (John 9:38) which is due only to God (Matthew 4:10), and which good angels (Revelation 22:8-9) and good men (Matthew 4:10) refuse.

In addition, Jesus is plainly called "God" a number of times within the New Testament.  In John 1:1, regarding Him Who became flesh and dwelt among men (1:14), the Bible says: ". . . the Word was God . . ." And in John 20:28, one of the disciples, Thomas, upon being confronted with empirical evidence for the Lord's resurrection, proclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" Significantly, and appropriately, Christ accepted the designation.  Additional passages that reveal Christ as God include Philippians 2:5ff., 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15, and many others.

continued in the February, 1999 issue


Copyright 1999, conditions of use
Gospel Gazette Online
Louis Rushmore, Editor
4325 Southeast Drive
Steubenville, Ohio 43953-3353
rushmore@gospelgazette.com http://www.gospelgazette.com/ webmaster@gospelgazette.com