BOOK REVIEWS, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES, & THEOLOGICAL DISCUSSIONS
When talking with others who depart from what is properly called “Orthodox Christianity” one is ultimately going to be faced with the question of “Who is Jesus?” This question is of paramount importance for anyone considering what the primary sources have to say about Jesus and— what Jesus says about how we ought to think of Him. Let’s look at the scriptural data concerning the Person of Jesus. First, what did Jesus’ followers think of Him?
Jesus’ closest followers and friends knew Him as who He claimed to be. In Mark’s gospel we see Jesus declared as LORD from the very beginning, but unless you’re looking for it, you might have missed it. Mark writes: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" (Mark 1:1-3) This is a very common verse that we all know of if we have read the Gospels—John the Baptist’s classic call. But did you know this verse is an Old Testament quote? John the Baptist is knowingly fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. In Isaiah we read: "A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’" (Isaiah 40:3-5) Notice who a way is prepared for, it’s the LORD or “Yahweh.” And the highway is made straight for our “God.” So Mark is making the point that Jesus is the LORD who had a way prepared for Him by John the Baptist.
Another account of this is found in an early church hymn called the “Carmen Christi” in Pauls letter to the church in Philippi. We read: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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." (Philippians 2:5-11) Now, let’s lay aside a glaring note of Paul saying: “though He was in the form of God…” and move to the latter part of the text in verses 10-11. Again, we find this prophecy given in Isaiah: "Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'" (Isaiah 45:21-23) This again is using a prophecy given about the LORD and applying it to Jesus.
Then if we turn to the book of Hebrews we find: "But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.’" (Hebrews 1:8-12) Again, we will lay aside the blistering proclamations made about the Son, as even the Father is calling Him “God,” and look at the latter verses in the passage we see that this statement is brought from the Psalms. We see it in two passages: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;” (Psalms 45:6-7) and again: "Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end." (Psalms 102:25-27) Both of these passages are, no doubt, speaking only of Jehovah, yet are applied to Jesus by the writer in Hebrews.
Now let’s look at what Jesus, Himself, said about who He is. Jesus demanded a certain belief about who He was in order for one to be forgiven of their sins: "He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’" (John 8:23-24) It seems that Jesus is drawing a distinction between who He is and who others are He is talking to. He implies that He is somehow totally different.
Also, Jesus is demanding that people believe something about Him in order to be “saved,” or have forgiveness of their sins. So the question is “What is it that Jesus is saying that I need to believe in order to have forgiveness of sins?”
This can be elaborated on by going on in the same chapter.: "Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." (John 8:53-59)
We are forced to deal with the verse I have bolded for attention. The original language bears witness that there is not fooling with the translation: “εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ᾿Ιησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν ᾿Αβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί." (John 8:58) The “ἐγὼ εἰμί" (“I AM”) statement has to mean something, but what could it mean? Jesus is at bare minimum claiming an existence prior to Abraham, there is no doubt in that, but could it mean more than that? Why would the Pharisees pick up stones to kill him? They did this before: "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:18)
It is most plausible that Jesus is reaching back to a certain quote from the Old Testament, where the Lord is making a similar, if not identical, statement about Himself. "'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." (Deuteronomy 32:39) and even earlier: "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.'" (Exodus 3:14) Jesus is claiming the divine name for Himself, and therefore making Himself equal to the Father.
He also demonstrated the validity of His Person by His miraculous works. Jesus thought Himself divine and considered Himself equal with the Father in His Divine nature. Jesus, in John 8:24 made the statement that only faith in Him that recognized who He is, as Lord and YHVH (The Tetragrammaton, or Name of God in the Old Testament) would constitute as saving faith. If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
In Romans Paul writes: "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’" (Romans 10:9-13) and also: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'" (Acts 2:21) This is taken from the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls." (Joel 2:32) Again, Jesus is affirmed to be the Old Testament LORD of Israel.
And again Paul writes: "To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 9:5) This is clear as crystal and agrees with the whole of Scripture as we have seen.
Other passages are just as clear which do not take the same way of making the point about who Jesus is, but make either bold statements simply calling Him “God” or affirm attributes and authority to Him that can be said of no one but God. We see this done most clearly in John’s Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3) Notice that Jesus is this Word which became flesh in John 1:14. The beginning verses tell us that Jesus was in the beginning, that He was with God, and that he was God. Verse 3 says that all things which came into being were brought into being through Him. This would mean that if Jesus was created, then it would follow that He would have created Himself, which is a logical absurdity. His preexistence as God is confirmed later as John writes: "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." (John 1:18)
When we look at Thomas, the disciple who doubted that Jesus had really risen from the dead, what does he say when he is finally confronted with the risen Lord? "Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:24-28) Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas or call him an idolater, rather, He implies that he should have believed sooner and calls those “blessed” who would believe on Him when they haven’t had as much of a revelation. This is a strong example of Jesus receiving a type of worship as God.
We see yet another example in Paul’s letter to Titus. The Bible reads: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ," (Titus 2:11-13) The Greek here makes the proclamation even more clear in verse 13: “προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου Θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ," (Titus 2:13). Here we see that “Θεοῦ” (“God”) is in the genitive along with “᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ” (“Jesus Christ”) with the possessive pronoun “ἡμῶν” (“our”) which means that this is talking about only one Person, not two different beings. Notice that the “who” throughout the entire passage is Jesus, and constantly affirmed as our “hope” throughout Paul’s epistles. Who else are we expectantly awaiting to “appear”? The entire passage, every word, must be written in regard to Jesus alone.
This happens again in Peter’s writings: "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:" (2 Peter 1:1) Jesus is again viewed as “our God and Savior” in the Greek it reads: "Συμεὼν Πέτρος, δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσι πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος ᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ· " (2 Peter 1:1) Notice again, as with the last verse we dissected in Greek, that “Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ” (“Jesus Christ”) is in the genitive case, meaning that His name is relationally connected to “Θεοῦ” (“God”), and referring back to “ἡμῶν” (“our”), which means that this is all the same Person— not two separate beings. The verse is not saying: “our God and (a separate being) our savior.”
To continue, the writer of Hebrews agrees that Jesus is equal to the Father in all aspects. We read: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high," (Hebrews 1:1-3) He is seen as “the exact imprint of His nature,” which is a huge statement. He is also the creator of all things, and the upholder of all things. This could not be said of anyone except for God. Take into account that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God” and the Lord spoke through Isaiah long ago: "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." (Isaiah 48:11)
Jesus is worshipped, something which is for God alone, or we simply have no way to recognize idolatry. John writes in his revelation: "Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Revelation 5:11-14) If anyone believes that Jesus is not God and plans on fulfilling this prophecy, to them, would it not be idolatry to do so?
We must come to the understanding that Jesus is who He was prophesied to be, that is Immanuel. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14) and "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:23) We need to take this verse as literally as it sounds. When we understand who Jesus truly is, we can believe and trust in the true Jesus in Scripture.
Paul writes in his letter to the church in Colossae "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell," (Colossians 1:19) and later: "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." (Colossians 2:6-10) So in Jesus, is all the fullness of what makes God—God.
Some detractors or those in what Orthodox Christians would call the “Occult” will point to verses such as John 17:3 or John 14:28. Where Jesus calls the Father “greater than I” or “the only true God.” They also may point to verses where Jesus says He does not know the time of His return (Matthew 24:36). They may again point to verses where He grows in wisdom (Luke 2:52) or when He gets hungry (Matthew 4:2). They think to themselves “these things cannot be said about God.” Now let me be clear, I can completely understand this way of thinking. These things would not be consistent with anyone we said was the second person of the Trinity, unless we said this person had two natures. That is one that is a divine nature (The Logos) and a human nature (His humanity) in one Person (Jesus). In Jesus’ human nature He could honestly show ignorance, have hunger, be submissive, and genuinely feel temptation. This does not mean that there were two persons in Jesus, or that Jesus “gave up some of His deity.” He is truly God and truly Man and is composed of the fullness of what it means to be both of those, all in the single person of Jesus.
Any expressed frailties or limitations from Jesus are true of Him in His human nature, and therefore true of the Person, and are honest expressions, yet do not reflect the sovereignty of His divine nature in those moments of expression, but His human nature. This is the same when Jesus does have knowledge which a “mere man” could not have had, such as reading minds: "Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? " (Mark 2:6-8) This is not an expression of His human nature, but rather His divine, yet still true for the person, Jesus.
So in his human nature, Jesus acknowledged that His Father is greater than Himself, and throughout His ministry showed full reliance on His Father. Though He also showed His unbridled authority: "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" —he said to the paralytic— "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!’" (Mark 2:7-12) Jesus showed, by this one example, that He has the authority which only God could have.
We aren’t punting to just “explain away a problem” when understanding Scripture this way, but the text forces us to this conclusion as the only way of making sense of the entirety of Scripture. The Christian must look at all of Scripture and form doctrine on the basis of that. We want to see Jesus as He truly is not as what we want Him to be. Jesus has not only the love to save, but the authority to declare justified and mean it. There is no higher court of appeals. When Jesus spoke truth, He wasn’t conforming His words to reality as we do, He spoke reality into being. For us, truth is whatever conforms to reality, for Jesus, reality is whatever conforms to Him. He is truth. "This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever." (Hebrews 7:22-24)