Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Biblical Basics - The Deity of Christ

After studying the Bible and apologetics I agree with what Hank Hanegraaf, the Bible Answer Man, when he said:

"...nearly all heresies begin with the misconception on the nature of God."

This has been true throughout history. Think of how in the first 3 centuries of the common era, the Gnostics denied the humanity of Jesus - the very reality of his life. Fortunately, God made sure that we had an antidote to this poison.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1st Corinthians 15: 3-8

In his first recorded letter to the Corinthians, Paul set forth the key truths of the Gospel. Jesus really did die and was really raised from the dead on the third day to save us all from our sins. All of Christianity rests on these facts. These facts brings into focus questions concerning who Jesus is and how does he relate to God.

During the third and fourth centuries the heresy known as Arianism reared its ugly head. Arianism denies the deity of Christ in particular and the Trinity in general. It seems to have started with Arius (c. AD 250-336). Thankfully the church was largely able to snuff these ideas out but even today these ideas come up again and again even today. The purpose of this post is to discuss the deity of Christ. I will discuss the Trinity in another post.

Many people try to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. I think the reason why is if Jesus is not God, then He was either a myth, a lunatic, or a liar. This would mean that one could go off and live any kind of way he/she feels fit because there would be no consequences. The Bible could be ignored. Problem is that each one of us must deal with the question of who Jesus is for ourselves. It's been two thousand years and He is not going to go away. Sooner or later you have to deal with what He said. I am going to be basing this post on the Bible. If you do not believe that the Bible is the true and inspired word of God...complete and perfect...then you should look at a couple of my earlier posts where I deal with those issues. For the purposes of this post I will assume that the reader agrees with me that the Bible is true and all that I write must line up with it. Whole books have been written on this and right now I will barely scratch the surface.

Many people who claim to believe the Bible, like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, are quick to discount the deity of Jesus. They and others claimed that Jesus never claimed to be God.
Let us look at some scriptures to see what Jesus really did say and what his earliest followers said. I often wonder if they are reading the same book. Consider John 8:48-59

The Jews answered him, "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?"

"I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."

At this the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"

Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."

"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Why was the Jewish leaders so angry? They were angry enough to kill Jesus because they understood exactly what He was claiming. Jesus said that if they were really children of Abraham in more than just a physical sense they would be happy to see Jesus come. Jesus asserted His authority in the strongest possible way in their context. He applied the divine name of God to Himself. If you look up "I am" from verse 58, you will see that in Greek it is the same name God used when He revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush if you look at the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14. The Jews understood that Jesus is claiming to always have existed and will always exist. Jesus is not teaching that He and the Father are the same person. In order to fully expand on His relationship with the Father, I will leave it to what Jesus said about that and save it for my Trinity post.

Further, the Greek word for the name "I Am" ( I use "name" because in Hebrew it was the name God gave himself) was also used by Jesus when He walked on the water to the boat His disciples were on at the time (Matt 14:22-33; Mark 6:47-51; John 6:16-21). Our English translations miss the thrust of Jesus' words translating John 6:20 this way:
But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid."
More accurately, Jesus said: "Don't Be afraid. I am." again applying the divine name to himself.

Although there are several other example that could be used, let us turn attention to what Jesus' followers said about his divinity. Paul wrote the following in Colossians 1: 15,16
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The "He" and "him" in this passage refer to Jesus Christ. Obviously, if Paul is saying that Jesus made everything and everything is held together by him, then Jesus must be deity. When Paul uses the word "firstborn" he is not saying that Jesus is the first thing God created. He means that Jesus is primary and most important and over all creation.

Here is another passage of scripture talking about who Jesus is. It is found in Phillippians 2:5 -11 which says:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

I really like this scripture because it gives insight into what Jesus' mindset and motivations were when he went to the cross for me and you. It points out that the reason why it was a humbling experience for Christ is because Jesus is God. In an upcoming post I will write about Jesus' humanity.

One last thing. We as Christians talk about Jesus being "God Incarnate". - literally God-in-flesh. Some say that this is antithetical to common senses and the Old Testament. They say that God cannot become a man and enter into his own creation. This is one of the first objections Jews and Muslims raise. Rather than tackle this in a lengthy discussion, I'll use a Hip Hop song the group called Hazakim in which they take on this very issue. I've already posted the video that goes with this song on this blog in the post called "The Truth Behind G. Craig Lewis Part 2" and it is on YouTube and GodTube so now I will just post the song itself. I ask with Hazakim, is it really that far fetched to believe that God became a man? And if it is impossible, then who was Abraham conversing with in Genesis 18:1-33?
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