Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Jesus Christ: the Son of Man

     Whatever the expression “Son of God” implies about Christ in relation to God, it follows that the comparable phrase “son of man” implies something similar in relation to man. The biblical idiom “son of man” is simply a roundabout way of saying “man” or “human being” (cf. Num. 23:19; Psa. 8:4),1 obviously connecting Jesus to the human race. Irrespective of what else might be said about this expression, the Lord clearly favored it as a self-designation. While the terminology itself does not intrinsically convey any special sense of divinity or messianic identification,2 its application to Jesus and use in conjunction with the title “Son of God” seems to give it a distinctive nuance.

The Humanness of Jesus

     Although we tend to place great stress on the Lord’s role as God’s Son, it is interesting that the New Testament seems to place even greater stress on his role as the son of man. Jesus is explicitly referred to as “man” no less than thirty-six times in the New Testament, and as “the son of man” an impressive eighty-two times (almost entirely as a self-description).3 The humanity of our Lord is one of the most significant yet often underappreciated doctrines of the Bible. While the importance of Christ’s deity must never be downplayed, the fact remains that “the Logos became flesh” (John 1:14), and the overwhelming emphasis of scripture appears to be on this aspect of his being.4 In fact, a critical tenet of the Christian faith is the acknowledgement of “Jesus Christ having come in flesh” (1 John 4:2; cf. 2 John 7).

Oneness with Humanity

     The Hebrews epistle explains that Christ’s brotherhood with humanity was necessary in order for him to suffer and die for our sins, as well as to help in the human plight, to be a merciful and faithful high priest, and to sympathize with our struggles, trials, and weaknesses (2:9-18). But to what extent was he willing to take on our frail human form? The writer of Hebrews uses the expression katà pánta (2:17), “in all things” (NKJV) or “in every respect” (ESV); thus Jesus was subject to the human experience from every conceivable angle (hunger, thirst, pain, stress, grief, et al.).5 The implication is that he, as the result of his incarnation, had no undue advantage over the rest of mankind. This is emphasized further in 4:15, which states: “for we do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but having been tempted in every way [katà pánta] as we are …”
     To be tempted is to be enticed to sin. If it were not possible for Christ to have sinned, the word “tempted” is void of all meaning. Although God cannot be tempted by evil (Jas. 1:13), Jesus apparently emptied [kenóō] himself (Phil. 2:7) of divine attributes like the inability to be tempted. Before we pursue this further, let’s make sure we understand the fundamental difference between “attributes” and “essence,” and what is and is not implied here.
     The divine essence of Jesus has never changed or ceased to exist. He has always been and always will be fully divine (see Deity of Christ). While essence defines who one inherently is, attributes are simply observable manifestations. For example, what is a human? An initial response might be to list human attributes, like the ability to walk upright and to think, reason, and communicate. But what about a person in a coma or an unborn baby, unable to walk upright, think, reason, and communicate? Is this person not human or perhaps less than human? One’s essence or nature is unaffected by whether or not attributes are manifested.
     In order to redeem lost humanity, the Lord Jesus Christ had to become one of us in every way (katà pánta), which is the message of Heb. 2:9-18. While maintaining his divine essence, he had to give up the rights, privileges, advantages, prerogatives, and powers of deity. Note that (a) God cannot be tempted (Jas. 1:13), yet Jesus was tempted (Heb. 4:15); (b) God is self-sufficient (Psa. 115:3), yet Jesus was not (John 5:19); (c) God does not get weary (Isa. 40:28), yet Jesus did (John 4:6); (d) God is omnipresent (Psa. 139), but Jesus was not (John 4:3-4; 5:1; 7:1); (e) God is all-knowing (Psa. 147:5), yet Jesus was not (Mark 13:32).6
     This was the inevitable reality of taking on human flesh. His inherent oneness with God never ended, but his assumed oneness with humankind made him every bit as human as the rest of us. The fact remains that “the Logos became flesh” (John 1:14). “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ having come in flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2). “Because many deceivers have entered into the world, those not confessing Jesus Christ coming in flesh; this is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).

But What About His Miracles?

     The miraculous powers demonstrated by Christ were no more innate than the miracles performed by anyone else. According to scripture, these supernatural abilities were given to him by the Father through the Spirit (Acts 10:38; cf. Matt. 9:8; 12:28; Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14-19; John 3:2; 5:36; Acts 2:22). These gifts were necessary to confirm his identity and his message, but in his daily living as a flesh-and-blood human being, Jesus was like you and me in every way.

An Example to Humanity

     Even though Jesus was confronted with every enticement known to man, Hebrews 4:15 goes on to affirm that he was “without sin.” But how can this be? If Jesus were truly like all other human beings, having absolutely no advantage, how was he able to combat temptation so successfully when the rest of us are all too familiar with defeat? It had nothing to do with his divine nature (since he was tempted) or with supernatural intervention. Peter, for example, was filled with the Spirit and had the ability to perform miracles, but this did not render him incapable of sinning (cf. Gal. 2:11-14).
     Christ’s sinless perfection was attributable to nothing more than his complete submission to the Father’s will. Man struggles with sin when he relies too much on his own strength and wisdom and is determined to pursue selfish desires. Jesus, however, could honestly say, “I can of myself do nothing … I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me” (John 5:30; cf. 6:38; 8:29).
     A key to overcoming temptation, as practiced and taught by our Lord, is a consistent prayer life (cf. Luke 11:1-4; 22:39-46). Should we assume that Jesus had more time than we do to devote to prayer? A casual reading of the Gospels illustrates how extraordinarily busy he was (Mark 1:45; 2:1-2; 3:7-10, 20; 5:24; 6:30-34; et al.), yet he frequently withdrew from his hectic schedule to commune with the heavenly Father (Luke 5:16). Although the Lord seldom had time to pray, he always made time to pray, even if it meant getting up earlier in the morning (Mark 1:35) or staying up through the night (Luke 6:12). One can always find time for things that are really important. Perhaps we struggle so much with sin because we do not pray as often or as fervently as Jesus did (cf. Heb. 5:7). We learn from his example that if one is too busy to pray, he is too busy not to pray!   

An Everlasting Benefit to Humanity

     Jesus has not only proven that temptation can be conquered in the human life, he has clearly demonstrated how it can be accomplished. If we are genuinely committed to walking just as he walked (1 John 2:6), we will gladly exchange the impediments of laziness, pride, and selfishness for complete devotion to the will of God. The only reason for allowing sin to be victorious in our lives is the foolish choice of neglecting to utilize what is readily available in Christ. Temptation is admittedly a constant threat that will plague us until our last breath is taken. But because of the Lord’s victory over it, the dreadful throne of judgment now becomes the approachable “throne of grace,” from which we may boldly “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).7


     Because Jesus is both God and man, he is the perfect mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). While eternally divine, the Father-Son relationship began when Jesus was conceived and born as a flesh-and-blood human being, and the Son has been subject to the Father since the incarnation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28). In other words, Jesus became the Son of God when he became the son of man. Though existing in the form of God, he humbled himself by taking on human flesh (John 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus as “the Son of God” has a twofold implication in relation to God: equality (of nature) and subordination (of role). Jesus as “the son of man” implies his oneness with humanity; “for even the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

     1 See also Psa. 4:2; 8:4; 31:19; 33:13; 57:4; 58:1; 80:17; 144:3; 145:12; 146:3; Eccl. 1:13; 2:3, 8; 3:10, 18, 19; 8:11; 9:3, 12; Dan. 10:10, 18; Joel 1:12; Mic. 5:7. Daniel is called “son of man” once (Dan. 8:17), while Ezekiel is so designated a whopping ninety-three times (Ezek. 2:1, 3, 6; etc.). In the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14, this expression is not used as a messianic title but as a description of one who is “like a son of man,” i.e., human-like in contrast to the beastly creatures described earlier in the text (vv. 3-8).  Cf. Rev. 1:13; 14:14.
     2 There is no indication the Jews equated the Messiah with this title. “There is little evidence to show that in pre-Christian Judaism the term ‘Son of Man’ was used as a messianic title” (C. H. Dodd, Interpreting the Fourth Gospel 241, cf. 243).
     3 Outside the Gospels the phrase “son of man” occurs only in Acts 7:56; Heb. 2:6; Rev. 1:13; 14:14. Combining all four Gospels, Jesus is explicitly called “the Son of God” thirty-one times and “the son of man” eighty-three times (72.8%). In the Gospel according to John, even though the stated purpose is to verify “that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” (20:31), the Lord is called “the son of man” twelve times (1:51; 3:14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31), more than he is explicitly called “the Son of God,” and he is referred to simply as “a man” no less than sixteen times (4:29; 5:12; 6:52; 7:15, 27; 8:40; 9:11, 16, 24; 10:33, 41; 11:47, 50; 18:17, 29; 19:5).
     4 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. Raymond E. Brown observes, “Those who have problems with the humanity of Jesus are often not even aware of their bias. Theoretically it is just as serious a deviation from Christian dogma to underplay the humanity of Jesus as to underplay his divinity; but since opponents of Christianity deny the divinity, believing Christians are far more sensitive about limitations placed on the divinity than they are about limitations placed on the humanity. Realistically, it may well be that most Christians tolerate only as much humanity as they deem consonant with their view of the divinity” (An Introduction to New Testament Christology 27, emp. in the text).
     5 Matt. 4:2; Mark 3:5; Luke 22:44; John 2:14-17; 4:6; 11:33, 35; 19:28; etc.
     6 Jesus explicitly acknowledged that he didn’t know the timing of his return (Matt. 24:36). It also appears that he didn’t immediately know who touched the hem of his garment (Mark 5:30-33; Luke 8:45-47), and he didn’t automatically know what was offered him to drink on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
     7 K. L. Moore, “Tempted as We Are,” Gospel Advocate 11 (Nov. 2005): 14-15.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Jesus Christ: the Son of God

     If Jesus is God (see previous post), how did he come to be known as “the Son of God”? In addition to his own testimony (e.g. Matt. 27:43; Mark 14:61-62; John 5:17-25; 11:4), Jesus is identified as the Son of God by the heavenly Father (Luke 3:22; 9:35; 2 Pet. 1:17), the Holy Spirit (Heb. 4:14; 5:8; 2 Pet. 1:16-21), the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:32, 35), John the baptizer (John 1:34), his immediate disciples (Matt. 14:33), Martha (John 11:27), Simon Peter (Matt. 16:16), the apostle John (John 20:31), Paul (Acts 9:19-20; Rom. 1:3-4), John Mark (Mark 1:1), Nathaniel (John 1:49), a Roman centurion (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39), antagonistic Jews (Matt. 26:63; 27:40, 43; Luke 22:70; John 19:7), and even satanic forces (Matt. 4:3, 6; Mark 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:3, 9, 41; 8:28). What is the significance of this role and title? As the Son of God, is he subordinate to God, equal with God, neither, or both?

The Beginning of the Father-Son Relationship

     There are only three Old Testament allusions to Jesus as “Son” (Psa. 2:7, 12; Dan. 7:13), all of which are predictive messianic prophecies. Note also that the words of Yahweh recorded in Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son, I have begotten you this day,”1 are in reference to Christ’s resurrection (Acts 13:33), not to his birth or alleged beginning. There are eleven verses in the Hebrew scriptures referring to God as “Father” (Deut. 32:6; 2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:14; Psa. 89:26; Isa. 9:6; 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4; 31:9; Mal. 1:6; 2:10), though not as the Father of a Son but of the nation of Israel.2 And one of these passages (Isa. 9:6) is actually a messianic prophecy applicable to Jesus Christ. The formal title “the Son of God” does not occur in the Old Testament.3
     While two of the four evangelists record the occasion of Christ’s birth, it is only Luke who tells of the angel Gabriel’s conversation with Mary. Having announced to the virgin that she will conceive and bear a son, the angel declares: “he will be great and will be called Son of [the] Highest …. the holy [one] being born will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:32, 35). Notice the future tense of Gabriel’s prophecy. There is no clear indication in scripture that Jesus was ever regarded as the “Son of God” prior to his incarnation (discussed further with objections considered in a future post), and the concept of God as “Father” also takes on new meaning in conjunction with Christ’s earthly role.

Subordination of Role

     In the ancient East the word “son” was often used to describe one’s character, disposition, nature, or conduct.4 But in the relational sense, particularly in view of the New Testament allusions to the Father and the Son, the question is whether this depiction implies subordination or equality. The idea of subordinate status is indicated by the Lord’s statement in John 14:28, “I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Obviously in his role as Son, Jesus was in a subservient position with respect to the Father.5 It is important to note, however, that in this statement Jesus does not use the word “better” [kreittōn], which would imply superiority of nature or worth (cf. Heb. 1:4). The term “greater” [meizōn], used here, qualifies one’s role or position without implying anything about essence or innate value (cf. John 10:29; 13:16; 1 Cor. 14:5). I am the son of Glenn E. Moore, and while my relational status is beneath his, we equally share the same intrinsic nature. In other words, I am the son of a human being and am therefore a human being myself.6

Equality of Essence

     The majority of biblical references to Christ as the Son of God seem to emphasize his divine essence. The Fourth Gospel in particular was composed “in order that you may have faith that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that having faith you may have life in his name” (20:31). Opening with a clear affirmation of his deity (1:1-18) and after two explicit references to him as “the Son of God” (1:34, 49), John records Jesus addressing the heavenly throne as “my Father” (2:16) and alluding to himself as God’s Son (3:16-18). Then, while being persecuted by the Jews for having healed a sick man on the Sabbath (5:16), the Lord responds: “my Father is working until now, and I am working” (v. 17). Notice that Jesus does not refer to God as “our” Father, an expression which would have been acceptable to his Jewish opponents.7 Instead he speaks in the exclusive sense of “my” Father, implying that he is the Son of God and provoking the following reaction: “On account of this, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God” (v. 18). 
     The Jews recognized his remarks, not as an implication of subservience but as a lofty claim of divine equality. Now one might argue that they simply misunderstood him and that he did not intend for his words to be taken as such.8 Yet Jesus witnessed first-hand that his declaration to be God’s Son was interpreted as an assertion of deity, and he continued to make this claim (vv. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 43, etc.). If the inference of these Jews had been wrong, surely the Lord would have sought to correct the misunderstanding and discontinued using such elevated and provocative terminology. However, not only does he persist in professing his role as “the Son” (6:40; 8:36), his recorded references to God as “my Father” actually increase (5:43; 6:32, 65; 8:19, 28, 38, 49, 54; 10:17, 18, 25, 29; etc.).9
     In John 10:22 ff., while surrounded by antagonistic, disbelieving Jews, the Lord continues to refer to God as “my Father” (vv. 25, 29), affirming: “I and the Father are one” (v. 30). Not surprisingly they accuse him of blasphemy because, they say, “you being a man make yourself God” (v. 33b). Their conclusion is not necessarily based on his assumption of unity with the Father10 but his claim to be God’s Son. Note that his allusions to “my Father” equate to the more explicit statement, “I am Son of God” (v. 36), clearly implying equality of nature. Jesus, as God’s Son, is by nature God, just as he, as the son of man (1:51; 3:14; etc.), is by nature man.     
     Knowing the full implications of his words, Jesus does not back away from his exalted claim to be God’s Son, both explicitly (10:36; 11:4) and implicitly (10:37, 38; 14:2, 7, 12; et al.), in the presence of both unbelievers (10:37, 38) and believers (14:2; 18:11; 20:17), and even in prayer (17:1).11 Consequently, at his trial before Pontius Pilate, the Jews demand his execution, exclaiming: “We have a law, and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself Son of God” (19:7; cf. Matt. 26:63-66; 27:43). Now if professing to be God’s Son were merely a concession of inferiority and submission, there is nothing in the Jewish law that would require the death penalty for such. However, blasphemy was considered a capital crime worthy of death (Lev. 24:16), and maintaining to be God’s Son, particularly in the context of orthodox Judaism, was evidently intended and understood as an assertion of divine equality.


     Surely John records these incidents for a reason, no doubt to bolster the expressed purpose of his Gospel (20:30-31). While subjection to the Father may be a subtle implication of Christ’s role as Son (cf. 14:26), the entirety of John’s narrative reveals so much more. The distinction is between his assumed function as man (subordination) and his inherent divine nature (equality). Incarnation of deity is implicitly communicated by the New Testament expression, “the Son of God.”
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 An apparent exception is 2 Samuel 7:14 and the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 17:14, where David is reassured that after his death God will take his place as Solomon’s father, in the sense of exercising special care for him. In addition to the fact that the Davidic king represents the Davidic kingdom (i.e., the people of God), this passage seems to have messianic implications, as it is later quoted in Hebrews 1:5 to discount angels from the role of divine sonship, thus establishing Christ’s superiority over them. In the Old Testament “fatherhood” is just one of several metaphors describing God’s relationship with his people; cp. “husband” (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:16), “shepherd” (Psa. 23:1; Isa. 40:10-11), “vinedresser” (Isa. 5:1-7), “shelter” (Psa. 61:3-8), etc.
     3 When Nebuchadnezzar said “the appearance” [wə-rê-wêh] of the fourth person in the furnace “is like” [dā-mêh] “a son” [lə-ḇar-] “of gods” [’ĕ-lā-hîn] (Dan. 3:25, cf. ESV, N/ASV, etc.), it is highly unlikely that the pagan king had any concept of “the Son of God” (N/KJV) in the NT sense. The pre-incarnate Christ would not be manifested as the Son of God for another six centuries. Nebuchadnezzar was simply trying to explain what he saw as “a divine being” (ISV), perhaps an “angel” (3:28). Elsewhere in the book of Daniel the same terminology is used with reference to pagan “gods” (2:11, 47; 5:11b; cf. most translations of 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11a, 14).
     4 For example, “sons of Belial” (Judges 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12); “sons of might” (Psa. 29:1; 89:6); “son of wickedness” (Psa. 89:22); “sons of the sorceress” (Isa. 57:3); “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17); “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8); “sons of light” (John 12:36; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5); “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36); “son of destruction” (John 17:12; 2 Thess. 2:3).
     5 See also John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 7:16; 8:28-29; 10:18; 12:50; 14:10, 24, 31; 15:10, 15; 17:4, 7.
     6 This can also be seen in the relationship between Jesus and his earthly father Joseph. Note, however, that Joseph was not his biological father (Matt. 1:18-25) but in a functional sense was recognized as his legal father (John 6:42). In the role of Joseph’s son, Jesus was subject to his earthly father (Luke 2:51). This in no way suggests that he was less than human or somehow inferior to Joseph as far as his human nature was concerned. As the son of man, Jesus was (a) not the same person as his earthly father; (b) in a subordinate role in relation to his earthly father; (c) in no way inferior to his earthly father in essence or nature. In like manner, as the Son of God, Jesus is (a) not the same person as the heavenly Father (John 17:1); (b) in a subordinate role in relation to the heavenly Father (John 14:28); (c) in no way inferior to the heavenly Father in essence or nature (John 5:18; 20:28).
     7 See Isa. 63:16; 64:8; John 8:41; cf. Matt. 6:9. In Psalm 89:26 David is reported as saying to God, “you are my Father …” However, this psalm was written after David’s death and is clearly messianic, with reference to David’s “seed” and his “throne” (vv. 4, 29, 36), ultimately fulfilled in Christ, “the Son of David” (Isa. 9:6-7; Matt. 1:1; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-17). In Jeremiah 3:4 the people of Israel are collectively personified as a rebellious man crying to God, “my Father.” But this would not have been the natural expression of an individual Jew. See also Deut. 32:18; Jer. 2:27. While Jesus makes a number of allusions to “your Father” (Matt. 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1; John 20:17; etc.), the second person pronoun is plural and therefore does not correspond to the first person singular. The plural expression “sons of God” occurs frequently in scripture with reference to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Daniel 3:25) and to God’s chosen people (Deut. 14:1; 32:5; Hos. 1:10; cf. Gen. 6:1-4), sometimes jointly personified as a single “son” (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1). In the New Testament those who undergo spiritual “birth” or “adoption” are regarded as sons (children) of God (John 1:12-13; 3:3-5; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 3:26; 1 John 3:1-2; etc.). Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is the only one who legitimately wears the exclusive designation, “the Son of God.”
     8 Technically, the final observation in v. 18 is John's comment. Nevertheless, these Jews had also accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath law. But the difference here is between the Lord’s actions and his words. Jesus knew that his actions were right, so despite the false accusations he continued to do the same things (cf. Matt. 12:1-13; Luke 13:10-14; 14:1-6; John 9:14). However, his words were clearly seen as blasphemous, so if Jesus did not mean to suggest equality with God, the confusion could have easily been rectified by a simple explanation or by a change of terminology. In other words, if his language conveyed the wrong message, it would have been necessary to modify it to more clearly communicate what he intended. His actions (healing on the Sabbath) did not truly violate the law, but the implication of his words, if untrue, would have been a gross violation of the law.
     9 There are at least two textual variants applicable to this discussion. In John 6:69 the Byzantine Majority Text includes in Peter’s confession the words, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. N/KJV), whereas the NA/UBS text reads, “the holy one of God” (cf. ESV, NASB). In John 9:35 the reading in the BMT is “the Son of God,” while the words preserved in the NA/UBS text are, “the son of man.” See B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary (2nd ed.): 184, 194.
     10 In John 10:30 Jesus is not suggesting that he and the Father are the same person. He uses the neuter term heis (one) to signify a unity of mind and purpose (cf. 11:52; 17:11, 21, 22, 23).

Related Posts: Deity of ChristSon of Man

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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Deity of Christ

Testimonies of His Closest Companions

     Thomas the Apostle. The first time the resurrected Christ revealed his crucifixion wounds to the doubting apostles, Thomas was absent and refused to believe their testimony until the same evidence was available to him (John 20:19-25). The next time Jesus appeared to the group, he provided the evidence Thomas needed to confirm his faith. Thomas was then compelled to say to Jesus, “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).1
     The English terms “Lord” and “God” are translated from the Greek kurios and theos respectively. Every time these words appear together in the Greek New Testament, they always refer to the Supreme Deity (Acts 2:39; 4:24; 7:37). Every time these words appear together in the Greek New Testament in a quotation from the Hebrew Old Testament, they are equivalent to Yahweh [God’s personal name] and ’ĕlōhīm respectively (Matt. 4:7, 10; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:68; 10:27; Acts 3:22).
     Both Jesus and Thomas had lived their entire earthly lives as ethnic Jews and were surely familiar with the foundational law: “Take not the name of the LORD [Yahweh] your God [’ĕlōhīm] in vain, for the LORD [Yahweh] will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).2 Was Thomas guilty of blasphemy? Had he uttered the name of the LORD God in vain? Note that Jesus does not rebuke Thomas but commends him for his spontaneous confession prompted by his conviction of faith (John 20:29-31).

     John the Apostle. Around six decades after Thomas made his lofty confession and the Jesus movement had spread throughout the empire and beyond,3 the apostle John penned these words: “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.4 He was in [the] beginning with God. All things were created through him, and without him not even one [thing] was created that has been created …. and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us …” (John 1:1-3, 14).
     Seeing that a “word” (Greek lógos) is an expression of an idea, Jesus came to earth to “reveal” or “make known” God to us (John 1:18).5 According to John’s testimony, the Word (Jesus) was not only with God in the beginning (as part of the triune Godhead),6 he was God. In other words, Jesus was already existing in the beginning as God, fully divine. In fact, John affirms the involvement of the Word (Jesus) in creation (“without him not even one [thing] was created that has been created”). Elsewhere in scripture the creator of all created things is identified as the LORD [Yahweh] God [’ĕlōhīm] (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; et al.).
     God spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says Yahweh, the king of Israel and its redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: ‘I [am] the first and I [am] the last; and besides me [there is] no ’ĕlōhīm’” (Isa. 44:6). Here a fundamental characteristic of deity is noted, in which the attribution “the first and the last” signifies eternality, i.e., Yahweh was in the beginning when history was initiated and will still be on the scene when it is consummated. Moreover, Yahweh himself is the initiator and the consummator, and there is no other entity about whom this truth can rightfully be said.
     Approximately eight centuries later, this divine ascription is applied to the Lord Jesus. In Revelation 1:8 the statement is made: “I am the alpha and the omega, says the Lord [kurios] God [theos],7 the one who is and who was and who is coming, the almighty [one].” Contextually the speaker here is Jesus Christ, as he is depicted in the previous verse as the one who was “pierced” and “is coming with the clouds.” In vv. 17-18 the Lord is further recorded as saying, “I am the first and the last and the living [one]; and I was dead, and look, I am living …” At the end of the book, once again Jesus speaks: “Look, I am coming quickly …. I [am] the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:12-13). And if there is still any doubt to whom these words directly apply, v. 16 continues: “I, Jesus …” The point is, Yahweh ’ĕlōhīm (Jehovah God) is the only one legitimately designated as “the first and the last” (Isa. 44:6); yet Jesus is described as “the first and the last” (Rev. 1; 22); therefore, Jesus is fully divine.

     John the Baptizer. In John 1:19-23 John the baptizer applies the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 to himself. His primary mission, according to the prophecy, was to “make straight” [prepare, Matt. 3:3; 11:10; Luke 1:76] the way of “the LORD.” This is the English translation of Yahweh (the personal name of God) in the Hebrew text of Isaiah. John was to prepare the way for Yahweh, and the one whose way he prepared was Jesus (John 1:26-34; 3:28); therefore Jesus (in essence) is Yahweh.

Testimony of Paul

     To the Romans. In English translation, after Paul affirms the requisites of confessing “the Lord Jesus” (Romans 10:9) and calling upon “the Lord” (v. 12), he quotes Joel 2:32, “whoever calls on the name of [the] LORD shall be saved” (v. 13). In the original text of Joel’s prophecy, the name to be called upon is the Hebrew Yahweh (God’s personal name). The LORD [Yahweh] of Joel 2 is the Lord Jesus of Romans 10.8

     To the Philippians. In Philippians 2:6 the pre-incarnate Christ is described as “existing in the form of God,” who “counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ASV). The term “existing” is the present tense of hupárchō (already in possession of and continuously existing) in the “form” of God. The word “form” is morphē, signifying the embodiment of the divine essence. His “equality with God” was not something Jesus selfishly “grasped.” Although harpagmós is a rare term (used only here in the NT) and could refer to the act of seizing, Paul applies it to something Jesus already possesses. In order to carry out the redemptive plan, Jesus did not “take advantage of” or “retain with an eager grasp” his equal status with God. Rather, he “emptied himself” in becoming human so he could suffer death (vv. 7-8). While Jesus maintained his divine essence (as noted above), he willingly took on a subordinate role. Moreover, vv. 10-11 are a clear allusion to Isaiah 45:23, where every knee shall bow to Yahweh ’ĕl[ōhīm].

     To the Colossians. In an environment where the preeminence of Christ was being questioned, Paul declares Jesus as the “image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). The Greek prōtótokos, translated “firstborn” in English, signifies priority or superiority (cf. Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:15-17). Note the future tense of Psalm 89:27, showing that “firstborn” (applied here to David, the youngest son of Jesse) is a title of preeminence. Ephraim is called the “firstborn” (Jer. 31:9), even though he was the youngest brother (Gen. 48:14). In Col. 1:15 Christ is called “firstborn” because he is superior to all created things, “because in him all things were created all things have been created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (vv. 16-17). Further, Paul goes on to say that Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn [prōtótokos] from the dead” (v. 18b), not that he is the first to have ever risen from the dead, but “that in all things he might be holding preeminence” (v. 18c; cf. Rom. 6:9; 8:29).
     In Colossians 2:9 Paul further writes concerning Jesus: “because in him dwells all the fullness of the divine nature bodily.” The noun theótēs carries the sense of divinity, deity, godhead, divine majesty, divine nature (BAGD 355; H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon 193; see also Rom. 1:20; cf. Col. 1:19).9
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 In the LXX version of Exodus 20:7, Yahweh and ’ĕlōhīm are rendered kurios and theos respectively.
     3 See Rom. 1:8; 10:18; 15:23; Col. 1:5-6, 23; 1 Thess. 1:8; and compare Acts 17:6; 21:28; 24:5; 28:22.
     4 In the Greek NT, word order is used for emphasis and the article distinguishes the subject from the predicate nominative. The only legitimate rendering of kai theos ēn ho lόgos in John 1:1 is, “and the Word was God.” The emphatic position of theos stresses essence or quality, and the absence of the article avoids the conclusion that ho lόgos is the Person of God [the Father]. The word order shows that ho lόgos has all the divine attributes of God. If the order and/or employment of the article were different, ho lόgos ēn ho theos (“the Word was the God”) = Sabellianism (Jesus is the Father) – see Responding to Sabellianism; or ho lόgos ēn theos (“the Word was a god”) = Arianism – see Responding to Arianism.
     5 The Greek verbal exēgéomai in John 1:18 means to “reveal,” “explain,” or “declare.”
     6 See The Triune Godhead.
     7 These are the same two words, kurios (Lord) and theos (God), attributed to Jesus in John 20:28 and consistently used in the New Testament to translate the Hebrew Yahweh and ’ĕlōhīm. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and the Textus Receptus includes the words archē kai télos (“beginning and end”) here in 1:8 (N/KJV), as in 22:13.
     8 By the second century BC, the Jews considered the name Yahweh to be so sacred that when reading the Hebrew scriptures the term adonai (Lord) was substituted. This practice is reflected in the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) in that the Greek kurios (Lord) is consistently used for the divine name. In fact, of the 8,000+ occurrences of kurios in the LXX, 6,700 are in the place of Yahweh. Those in the first century AD who were familiar with the LXX and heard Jesus addressed as kurios could surely make this connection.
     9 In 1 Tim. 3:15-16 Paul further speaks of the one who “was manifested in flesh” as “God.” According to the Byzantine Majority Text, v. 16 reads: theos ephanerōthē en sarki (“God was manifested in flesh”). Although weighty textual evidence favors the reading hos (“who”) instead of theos (God), the nearest antecedent is still “the living God” of v. 15. Obviously an exalted view of Christ is presented in Paul’s writings. See also Heb. 2:8-9; cf. Psa. 110:1; Matt. 22:44; Acts 2:34.

Additional Scriptures: Pre-existence of Jesus (John 1:1-3, 15, 30; 3:13, 31; 6:62; 8:23, 58; 13:3; 17:5, 24; 1 Cor. 10:3-4; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:16-17, 23-27; Heb. 1:10; 13:8; 1 John 1:1-2). Equality with God (John 5:17-18; 8:23-24, 58; 10:30-33; 17:5; Heb. 1:1-3, 10); his inherent nature cannot change (cf. Heb. 13:8).

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