Tag Archives: Deity of Christ

Bookends to the Gospel of Matthew

 

The Gospel of Matthew, the first in canonical order (New Testament) and 1 of the 3 synoptic Gospels (Mark, Luke), begins in a unique way with the genealogies of our Lord’s humanity highlighting Abraham, David, and the Deportation into Babylon.  These serve as not only significant events in the history of Israel, but also to establish Christ as the offspring of Abraham, heir to the throne of David, and identify him with the nation of Israel.  In verses 18-21 of the first chapter we are given an historical account of the birth of Christ culminating as a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah,

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

There is much to examine in this passage including, at minimum, the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, the virginity of Mary, the divine communication of God, and the meaning of the phrase “God with us”, which is significant for our discussion here.  “God with us” in its context imports all of the Old Testament meaning of God dwelling with His people, going back to the Garden (Gen. 3:8), the blessing promised upon entrance into Canaan (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:11-12), and elsewhere (Ezek. 37:27; et.al.).

In the Greek, this phrase, “God with us” is meta (meth) hemon ho Theos, which brings us to the purpose and significance of this brief post.  Matthew, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, concludes his gospel with this same phrase, ego meta (meth) humon eimi in Matthew 28:20 which is literally translated “I with you all am” or “I am with you all”.

The significance of these phrases framing the opening and conclusion of this gospel account should be obvious.  Our Lord’s birth is announced by means of fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, one in which the title given Him is Immanuel, “God with us”.  As if that statement were not strong enough to establish the deity of our Lord, we are given by means of quotation from Him the same phrase, “I am with you all”.  A statement which should not be minimized, but is purposeful in Christ claiming deity for Himself.

This is a crucial point of contention when witnessing to those who deny that Jesus is God.  Often, their arguments are that Christ never claimed that He is God, which of course is false.  Here we have two crystal clear references to His own claim to deity.  First, as shown above, is His substitution of “I am” in the place of “God” in the phrase “will be with you”.

Second, is the meaning of the phrase “I am” (ego eimi), which is developed in far greater detail in the Gospel of John, particularly as he recounts the “I am” phrases spoken by Christ (John 6, 8, 10, 11, 14).  By taking upon Himself this title, I am, Jesus takes upon Himself the meaning of this as well which finds its own development Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.”  In the verse that follows, we get the name of God that we are accustomed to seeing on the pages of Holy Scripture, “God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”   Here we have the LORD (all capital letters) standing for God’s divine, covenant name YHWH (pronounced Yah-weh), which is connected to the title “I AM”.  When Christ adopts the title “I AM” He is doing nothing less than taking the name Yahweh for Himself.

In these two short, seemingly inconsequential statements we have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom of God in the revelation of His Son Jesus and the establishment of Him as God in the Flesh, literally God with us.  How often we must give our hearts over with the Apostle Paul to proclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom. 11:33

Misunderstanding Son of God

 

In the Western World, and more specifically, the United States, it’s extremely difficult to read the Bible without importing our preconceived notions or understandings of particular words, phrases, or themes. In fact, it’s impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to restrain our understanding and allow the Bible to speak and define words or concepts for itself. One particular example in which this occurs is through the phrase “Son of God” as it is applied as a title to Christ. Though our Lord preferred the title Son of Man, nevertheless Son of God is the other predominant title given to Him in the New Testament, particularly through the pen of the Apostle John. We find this phrase 9 times in his Gospel, 9 Times in his first epistle, and one time in the book of Revelation. But what exactly does it mean?

I fear that our societal understanding of the term son immediately triggers a position of subordination in our minds. For instance, in a father-and-son business, generally speaking the father is considered the senior, more experienced of the two, while the son is often viewed as the younger, more vigorous of the two who one day hopes to take over the family business when he has reached a certain experiential level. When applied to God, I wonder if we haven’t made God the Father the gray-haired, crotchety, senior god and made the Son, a more compassionate, less hard-lined, less-experienced smaller “god”. In any event, my concern is that by hearing and reading the phrase Son of God, we’ve by default come to view Christ as a junior or lesser deity to the Father and that simply isn’t true, nor is it the intention of Scripture to convey this, in fact it is just the opposite.

The title Son, as it relates to Christ, is first meant to communicate equality in essence or being with the Father. Any other starting point will lead to a false conclusion and false understanding of who Christ is. This is where modern Arianism, i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, falter in their understanding of Christ’s deity. Their conception of son is that of a created being, similar to that of angels, Adam, or even Satan. But Scripture does not refer to Christ as Son of God in order to represent Him as a created being. It uses the term Son to communicate that God the Father’s “dna” if you will, or essence, is entirely held within the person of the Son. This is what’s intended in passages such as Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15, 19.

Again, difficulties may arise with our understanding of the word son. When my son was born, he possessed my dna. However my dna is not pure, though it is specific to me, because it did not originate from me. I have millennia, back to Adam and Eve, of ancestors who’s dna has combined to form me. Likewise, my son has a combination of my wife’s ancestral dna such that he is made up 50% of me, 50% of my wife. When we think of Christ, we cannot import this understanding of son into Scripture because God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. This means that His “dna”, if again you will allow the use of that term, has no origin apart from Himself, nor mixture from any outside source. Likewise, Christ is said to be equally eternal, begotten from the Father with no mixture of “dna” and no entrance of maternal dna. To be clear, we are talking of Christ’s deity and title as Son of God here, not of His incarnation or title Son of Man, lest there be here any turning of our thoughts toward Mary. With this understanding, we can begin to see that when Christ is called Son of God, it is meant to convey nothing less than Christ = God. This is precisely what is stated in John chapter 5.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more 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 5:16-18

In this passage, the central theme is that Christ has healed on the Sabbath and has therefore fallen under condemnation of the law in the eyes of the Jewish Pharisees. In verse 17 of this chapter, we read Jesus’ declaration that “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This statement has a dual edge; the first clearly states that God is His Father and the second implies equality between the two in that both are equally “working”. The Jews, who hold none of our modern societal impediments (though certainly have their own), understand the meaning of Christ’s declaration of Himself as God’s Son. Note carefully John 5:18, “…not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” This is the Apostle John’s commentary on the situation. Clearly, the Jews of Christ’s day understand the divine genealogical principle being established by our Lord. Through His assertion that God is His Father, He is implicitly stating that He is God. They understand that God is eternal, having no beginning or ending. They understand that there is no mixture of “dna” in Him. So when Christ claims Him as Father, this automatically carries with it the idea of deity, not a lesser deity mind you, but as the passage states, equality with God.

Explaining this passage to a Jehovah’s Witness may be tricky. Their immediate defense is to eschew this meaning and assert that this was the Jews misunderstanding. In other words, they believe that the Jews wrongly assumed that Jesus was calling Himself God and it follows that they wrongly accused Him of blasphemy and wrongly crucified Him on this basis. However, this interpretation is a bucket full of holes and cannot hold water. It falls precisely into the trap of importing a false notion of Son into the equation and it fails to properly understand that God the Father is eternal and did not procreate with anyone else to create Christ, nor would Christ’s creation from other material (or angelic being) give proper weight to the term “son”.

Note the declarations of Christ’s Apostles, who share the Pharisees understanding of the term “son”.

Matthew 14:32-33, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

This statement is neutered of its meaning if we take it to say Christ is a lesser god or Christ is a created being. That would be saying something similar to the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a created being.” Or “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is a lesser god than the Father.” Those interpretations simply make no sense. This passage is boldly stating the following, “Look how the wind and waves obey Him. Truly He is Yahweh.”

Matthew 16:15-17, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s again apply the erroneous understanding of son as meaning a lesser god or created being and observe how it again neuters the impact of this powerful statement. “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a lesser god than the Father!” Or “Simon Peter replied, you are the Christ, a created being!” Even the weak attempts by Jehovah’s Witness to say that Christ is an “exalted being” fail to do justice to these emphatic statements of His divinity.

Next observe the interrogation of Christ at His pre-crucifixion trial from Matthew’s Gospel. “57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council[h] were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Mattew 26:57-67

First we see that our Lord’s accusers tried in vain to trump up charges against Him, but were unable. When they did bring forth two witnesses, their words actually misconstrued what Christ had said.[1] Next, Caiphas asks bluntly, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” His question is twofold, yet related, and reveals the Jewish understanding and anticipation of the Messiah (Christ or Annointed One) and the divinity that He was to hold, Son of God. When Jesus responds in the affirmative to the question, yet adds more to Caiphas’ understanding (verse 64), the high priest responds with, “He has uttered blasphemy”. Those who were interrogating Jesus understood that He was making a claim to deity. Contextually, there is simply no other way to take this. They haven’t misinterpreted His words, as the Jehovah’s Witness claims; they recognize that His affirmation of being the Son of God is nothing less than a claim to deity and for that they condemn Him to death.

There are many more examples that we could look at, but those above serve well to help our understanding that the title Son of God when applied to Christ is a clear reference to His divinity.

Secondly, and the order is important, the title Son of God is meant to communicate a subordination of ROLE, function, or office, NOT of essence or being. Space prohibits developing this theme in more depth, but it should be mentioned here to prevent further misunderstanding and objections to Christ as Son. It’s actually on this point that most who deny Jesus as God base their claim. For instance, they read such passages as John 14:28, “…for the Father is greater than I” and John 10:29, “…My Father…is greater than all….” and make the false conclusion that Jesus is lesser in His essence or being, yet they fail to reconcile those passages with others, such as those mentioned above, in which Son of God means that Jesus has equality with God. If we were to keep reading in John 5 we would see that Christ’s subordinate role is further defined, yet it in no way does it undermine His divine nature or make Him a lesser god. As a further study, John 5:30-47 clearly outlines several subordinate roles that have been given to Him by the Father, yet all the while it maintains His supreme status as God. At issue then is that this secondary understanding of Son of God is given primary status and used as a rubric through which all other passages asserting Christ’s deity are read and subsequently dismissed. That is a fatal flaw in Scriptural interpretation and leads to a false understanding of who Christ is. Anyone who holds to a lesser Christ than one who is God stakes their hopes in no Christ at all and are subject to the wrath and condemnation of God, that is Christ, to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22-23).

Much more could be said regarding Jesus’ claim as Son of God and exactly what that means, including Jesus as Son-King. Likewise, there is more to be said from an Old Testament perspective that Christ as Son fulfills the promises made to David, but that for another day.

Son of God as applied to Christ means nothing more and nothing less than God the Son. It is an emphatic statement of His deity and role as the Second Person in the Trinity. He is not a lesser god, He is God; He did not become God’s Son at His incarnation, He has always been and will always be. To Him belongs all glory and honor. He is worthy of all worship, praise, and adoration.

[1] There is a play on words here with the word temple. See Jesus’ statements on this in Matthew 24 or Mark 13.

*Image credit: Harvestrockford.org

The Alpha and Omega

 

In a recent post, we looked at an exposition of Colossians 1:15 in light of the Jehovah’s Witness belief that Jesus was a created being by God the Father. Working through that passage we saw that the basis for their belief is an erroneous understanding of the Greek word prototokos, translated firstborn in many faithful translations. In this post, I hope to set forth a polemic from the book of Revelation as a proof of Christ’s deity through the assertion that He is the Alpha and Omega.

As in the post mentioned above, it is important to engage the Jehovah’s Witness in a dialogue, not necessarily a debate.  Typically, this will better allow the truths of Scripture to be unfolded before their eyes. Therefore, it is often helpful to have them read passages for themselves and even where accurate, from their own New World Translation (remember though that this is not a faithful translation). That said, utilizing the Alpha and Omega argument from Revelation allows you to both reference the NWT and provides an opportunity for the Jehovah’s Witness to reach their own conclusion from Scripture’s assertion that Christ is God.

One can approach the A&O argument from two different angles, first is within Revelation itself utilizing the JW understanding of the passages and the second is the correlation between Revelation and Isaiah utilizing Scriptures understanding of the passage. Keep in mind, the goal of this polemic is to assert that Jesus is God, or that Scripture often refers to Jesus as Yahweh. Remember that in the mind of the Jehovah’s Witness, Christ is neither; he is a created being and one of many “gods”.

First, have the Jehovah’s Witness read Revelation 1:8 (it may be helpful when engaging JW or Mormons to reference a King James Version of the Bible; I’ve included that particular version in this post):

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” Revelation 1:8

ASK: Who is this passage referring to?

By reason of their own NWT translation, the JW is forced to conclude that this passage is talking about Jehovah, note the NWT: “’I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says Jehovah God, “the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.” Obviously, the JW insertion that this is Jehovah/The Father for the purpose of advancing their own doctrinal beliefs, is wrought with problems. First is context, which is clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ, “Behold,  he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

Verse 8 obviously corresponds and continues this thought by concluding that Christ is the One coming again. Where in Scripture does it ever say that God the Father will return or is coming? Or where does it say that the Father was pierced?

This minor (it’s really not) contextual issue aside, there is a bigger fish to fry in this argument. After getting the JW to consent that Jehovah (i.e. the Father) is in reference here as the Alpha and Omega, turn them to Revelation 22 and have them read aloud the following verses either in their own “translation” or in the KJV:

“Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.  I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Revelation 22:12-13

ASK: Whom is being referenced as the Alpha and Omega in these particular passages?

Keep them reading:

“I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” Revelation 22:16

“He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

A consistent JW will again conclude that the Father, Jehovah, is in view here. However, continuing to read through the end of the chapter will reveal the voice of the One who has been speaking, namely Jesus Christ, and it is upon Himself that He takes the title of Alpha and Omega. There is simply no getting around this. I’ve had experienced, hardened JW’s tell me that they would have to do some research on this; younger JW say they’ve never seen that before and stand dumbfounded under this truth; however, I have had another JW leader try to pass it off as “my interpretation”. If the latter defense is played against you, ensure the JW that you have offered no interpretation of any kind, but have simply allowed the Scripture to speak for themselves. It’s best to proceed back to Revelation 1 and finish reading that chapter with the thought in mind that this is now speaking of Christ.

The second prong of this argument comes by way of Isaiah 44:6 which reads, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God”. You may in fact wish to start with this passage, before progressing into Revelation 1. It’s likely that this is the basis for their interpretation that Revelation 1:8 is speaking of the Father, since it too says “saith the LORD”.

ASK: Who is this passage in Isaiah referring to?

Rightly, the JW will assert that this is a clear reference to Jehovah (the Father) because the translation indicates that the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking. Holding this passage in concert with Revelation and the assertion that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, gives a clear witness to the Witnesses that Scripture makes the connection of Christ as Yahweh. There is simply no way around this. If you start with this passage, simply progress to Revelation 1:8 and follow the flow of thought above into Revelation 22.

The A&O argument serves several purposes, not the least of which undermines the integrity of the NWT and sheds light on their desire to mask Christ as Jehovah. Secondly, it asserts clearly the deity of Christ in plain language by making the OT connection with Christ as Yahweh. Thirdly, assuming the title of Alpha & Omega connotes all that this means. Literally, it is the title of eternality applied to Christ, which the JW denies; along with all of His intrinsic attributes. It is similar in function as the title “I AM”. He is the beginning and the end.  Simply put, it is a statement of supremacy.

Clearly the “god” and “jesus” of the JW is not the same as the God and Jesus of Christianity. Though they share similarity in name, the real meaning comes from the attestation of Scripture and this proves that the beliefs of of the Jehovah’s Witness is nothing other than heresy.