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The Deity of the Lord Jesus

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Scripture references are from the King James Version, unless otherwise indicated. References from the New King James Version are designated NKJV and from the Modern King James Version MKJV.

We are living in times in which an increasing number of theologians are rejecting the doctrines on the Holy Trinity and, particularly, the deity and eternal self-existence of the Lord Jesus. This problem is not only the product of modern theological thinking but emanates from age-old Christological errors. We will have to go back very far in church history to determine the origins of these doctrinal deficiencies and wrong teachings.

The Trinity

In the Old Testament there are two primary names used for God: Yahweh and Elohim. Each has a special significance. Elohim is the first name to be used, and is mentioned well over two thousand times. Though the name Yahweh (the eternal I AM) is paramount, there is a special significance about the name Elohim that God does not want us to miss. Dr. Richard Bennett (1998:45-46) explains the meaning of this name as follows: “In the English language we talk in the plural if we wish to speak of more than one. And we use the singular if we refer to just one. But the Hebrew language can be even more precise, for it uses the dual when referring to two and then the plural when referring to more than two. The distinction between dual and plural (between ‘two’ and ‘three or more’) is very significant in the first name in the Bible that is used for God. ‘Elohim’ is in the plural. However, in another clear statement about God the Bible also says: ‘The Lord our God is one Lord’ (Deut. 6:4). So in the very first verse in the Bible, which is God’s revelation of Himself to man, we are intro­duced to a three-in-one and a one-in-three concept of God. ‘In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heaven and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1). This tri-unity has sometimes been called the Trinity.”

The term ‘one’ which is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 to describe the Lord (Yahweh) our God (Elohim), is echad in Hebrew, which refers to a composite unity as opposed to an absolute unity. God also uses the term echad to refer to the unification of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah to become one nation (Ezek. 37:22). This is a com­po­site unity. The fact that ‘Elohim’ refers to one God in its singular form and to more than two in its plural form is clearly dem­on­strated by the personal pronouns used for God. Elohim said about the creation of humans: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Gen. 1:26-27). The Triune God can indeed say: “Let Us make man,” and then, “…male and female created He them” (emphasis added).

Before His incarnation as Son of God, Jesus was, and still is, the self-existent and eternal God. The apostle John refers to Him as the Logos, or the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). He was with Elohim and He Himself was Elohim. The third Person is the Spirit of Elohim (Gen. 1:2). He is “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) who also has an eternal self-existence as a Person in the Godhead.

The three co-eternal, co-equal, and co-self-existent Persons in the Godhead are described as follows by the apostle John in his first Epistle: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn. 5:7). All three Persons may be described and addressed as Lord (Heb. Yahweh; Gr. Kurios) and God (Heb. Elohim; Gr. Theos). Paul addressed the incarnate Lord on the road to Damascus: “Who are You, Lord [Yahweh]? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). In Romans 9:5 Paul says of Him: “Christ… is over all, the eternally blessed God [Elohim].” These titles apply to Him in all periods of His timeless existence.

People who do not believe that the title Lord, or Yahweh (the eternal I AM), applies to Jesus cannot have their sins forgiven. He said to the unbelieving Jewish leaders: “If you do not believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins… When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you shall know that I am… Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I AM!” (Jn. 8:24,28,58 MKJV). The Amplified Bible renders John 8:58 as follows, including the cross-reference to Exodus 3:14: “Jesus replied, I assure you, I most solemnly tell you, before Abraham was born, I AM. [Exod. 3:14].” He was not only a human prophet but also God in a human body.

The creative work, pre-eminence and superiority of Christ

We need to seriously and thoroughly reflect on the deity of Jesus Christ and on his pre-eminence over all things. That can be done by objectively and honestly studying the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: “For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10 NKJV). Paul made a great revelation of Jesus Christ when he said: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation. For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him all the fullness should dwell, and by him to reconcile all things to himself – by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15-20 NKJV). In this section, seven unique characteristics pertaining to the creative work, pre-eminence and supremacy of Christ are mentioned. He is:

1.      The image of God. He revealed God to humanity, as all who have seen Him have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). When we hear the glorious gospel of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus the image of God shines on us (2 Cor. 4:4).

2.      The first-born over all creation. The term “first-born” does not suggest that the pre-incarnate Jesus was born but that He existed before anything else was created. He is the first-born “over all creation” not “in creation.” Walvoord & Zuck (1983:672) say: “The whole point of the passage (and the book) is to show Christ’s superiority over all things. Other statements about Christ in this passage (such as Creator of all [1:16], upholder of Creation [1:17], etc.) clearly indicate His priority and superiority over Creation. The ‘First-born’ cannot be part of Creation if He created ‘all things’. One cannot create himself.”

3.      The creator of the universe. All things were created through Him and for Him, and in Him they consist (1:16-17). He is the instrumental Cause, the final Cause and also the conserving Cause of all creation (Walvoord & Zuck (1983:673). John confirms this profound statement about the creative work of the Word, Jesus Christ: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made… He was in the world, and the world was made by him” (Jn. 1:3,10).

4.      The head of the church. Walvoord & Zuck (1983:673) say: “Besides being the Lord of the universe He is also the church’s Head (cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23). The reference here is to the invisible or universal church into which all believers are baptised by the Holy Spirit the moment they believe in Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)… It is a special body in which there is ‘neither Jew nor Gentile’ (Gal. 3:28) but a whole new creation of God (Eph. 2:15). The church is a ‘mystery… which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men’ (Eph. 3:4-5; cf. Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26).”

5.      The first-born from the dead. Christ was the first to rise from the dead in an immortal body (1 Cor. 15:20), and as such He heads a whole new order of people who all obtain the resurrection to a new life from Him. They will all be raised in new bodies at the coming of Christ for His saints (1 Cor. 15:22-23; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thes. 4:16-17).

6.      The fullness of God. Colossians 1:19 is a powerful description of Christ’s deity. Later in the same letter Paul says: “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:9-10). John says that the Lord Jesus is “full of grace and truth… and of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace” (Jn. 1:14,16 NKJV).

7.      The one who reconciles everything with God. The “all things” reconciled to God are limited to good angels and redeemed people since only the things in heaven and on earth are mentioned. The things “under the earth” (Phil. 2:10) are not reconciled. An important statement is made that people are reconciled to God – it is not God that is reconciled to people. Mankind has left God: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is. 53:6). We now need to be led back to the Lord. The statement that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19), points to the fact that all people on earth can potentially be saved because Jesus has “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). But all of us have to take a decision on this critically important matter, hence the earnest appeal by Paul: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20 NKJV).

The incarnation of the Lord Jesus

In the fullness of time the Word, who created all things Himself, became flesh: “In the beginning was the Word… All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1-4,14). With the incarnation of the Word He temporarily surrendered His glory but not His essential deity.

In self-sacrificing love He condescended from His throne position in heaven to take upon Himself the likeness of men. He even came in the likeness of a servant who had no comeliness or beauty that we should desire Him (Is. 53:2). He humbled Himself to be scoffed at and be crucified to die a cruel and despicable death on behalf of all sinners: “Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

“Christ’s humiliation included His making Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and being made in human likeness. These statements indicate that Christ became a man, a true human being… He emptied Himself… ‘Likeness’ suggests similarity but difference. Though His humanity was genuine, He was different from all other humans in that He was sinless (Heb. 4:15). Thus it is seen that Christ, while retaining the essence of God, was also human. In His incarnation He was fully God and fully man at the same time. He was God manifest in human flesh” (Walvoord & Zuck 1983:654). He was truly Emmanuel – “God with us” (Mt. 1:23)

For Jesus Christ to be able, according to God’s standards, to become the Saviour of the world, He had to be the perfect God-Man. He had to be born from a human lineage (the house of David in the tribe of Judah) to become the Son of man. At the same time, a man could not beget Him as He would then have inherited the sinful nature of fallen man. Through divine intervention He had to be born from a virgin to also be called the Son of God: “The virgin’s name was Mary… And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:27,35 NKJV).

In the capacity of Jesus as Son of man the Father has begotten Him and is consequently bigger than Him. As a human being, Jesus explicitly subjected Himself to the will of His Father (Mt. 26:39); but in His capacity as God He is equal to and one with the Father, so could say: “I and my Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). If He was only an ordinary human being who was subject to the consequences of the Fall, He would not have been the spotless and perfect Lamb of God who could pay the infinite penalty for our sins.

Jesus, the Word of God that became flesh, “was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (Jn. 1:10). He was not recognised as God in human likeness (Jn. 14:8-9). During His incarnation, the Word took upon Himself a human form and nature that He did not have previous to the incarnation. Apart from still being God, He also became a created being – the Son of man: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4 NKJV). However, the incarnation of the Word in no way excluded His essential deity.

In John 5, the equality of Jesus and His Father is confirmed in a sevenfold way:

·       They are equal in works: “…for what things soever [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (v. 19).

·       They are equal in knowledge: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all things that he himself does” (v. 20 NKJV).

·       They are equal in quickening power: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will” (v. 21).

·       They are equal in judgement: “For the Father…hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (v. 22).

·       They are equal in the honour due to them: “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (v. 23).

·       They are equal in recreating power: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life…[and] is passed from death unto life… The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (v. 24,25).

·       They are equal in self-existence: “For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (v. 26).

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal in glory, knowledge, grace and eternal self-existence.

View of the early Christian church

During different historical periods there were always church fathers who proclaimed the truth about the deity and self-existence of the Lord Jesus, as well as the fact that He is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But there were also those who questioned and completely distorted biblical Christology. Through their views these deluded fathers deceived millions of other people. Examples will be given of true as well as false views about Jesus.

There is evidence indicating strong convictions that were entertained by the apostles and early church fathers on the eternal deity of the Lord Jesus. Kelly (1977:92-93) refers to the godly church father, Ignatius (35-107 AD), bishop of Antioch, who was later martyred for his faith, as a good source of theological thought of his time: “The centre of Ignatius’ thinking was Christ… (he) even declares that He is ‘our God’, describing Him as ‘God incarnate’… and ‘God made manifest as man’… in His pre-existent being ‘ingenerate’ (the technical term reserved to distinguish the increate God from creatures), He was the timeless, invisible, impalpable, impassable one Who for our sakes entered time and became visible, palpable and passable.” The thought of Ignatius was steeped in the Gospel of John with its strong emphasis on Christ’s unity with the Father: John 1:1-3 describes Christ as the Word that was with God since beginning, being also God Himself, and the One who has created all things that exist. John 10:30 says that Christ and His Father are one, and in John 14:9 Jesus explains to His disciples that he who has seen Him has seen the Father. In John 17:5 Jesus refers to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was.

The truth about Jesus Christ and His Word was, throughout the ages, confronted by strong opposition – not only from other religions but also from humanist ideologies with a strong basis of Greek philosophy.

Gnosticism

Since the time of the early Christian church theological development was strongly influenced by philosophy. Initially, it was the heathen Greek philosophy of Plato that had the greatest impact on religious thinking. Since the first century, Gnosticism developed concurrently with evangelical beliefs on the deity and incarnation of the Lord Jesus. This philosophy was derived from the concept “gnosis” (intuitive religious knowledge) and teaches that knowledge, rather than faith, is the key to salvation. This philosophy enjoyed great support until the sixth century and in that time perverted the truth of various theological concepts. It was developed with the purpose of making the Christian religion more acceptable to Greek-speaking intelligentsia, but in the process the biblical concept of God was fundamentally distorted.

The Gnostic love for knowledge was shaped by the mystic beliefs of Plato, as well as his concept of God as the “Absolute,” which is not compatible with the biblical concept of the Holy Trinity. After these views were mixed with Christian concepts it was argued that there is a singular Creator-God, the Father, and that He created Jesus as a lower order God, or even as an angel. That was a vicious attack on the deity and incarnation of the Lord Jesus. Walvoord & Zuck (1983:677) say: “Both Christ’s deity and humanity were challenged by this early Gnostic-like heresy. Those heretics diminished Christ to an angel whose ‘body’ was only apparent, not real.” But Paul defended the deity of the Lord Jesus, as well as His complete incarnation: “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). He was fully God and fully Man.

Paul said that philosophical knowledge derived from mystical sources is futile as it is not based on the Bible. Instead of pursuing hidden knowledge outside Christ, people should endeavour to understand the mystery of the Father and of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words… Beware lest anyone should cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:3-4,8 NKJV). Great spiritual deception came from Gnostic philosophy.

One of the fallacies which was devised to present Jesus as a created being and subordinate God is the so-called “Logos theology”. In His eternal pre-existence Jesus is, according to John 1:1, indeed described as the Word (Gr. Logos) who is also God Himself. In the Gnostic Logos theology, however, Greek philosophical concepts were borrowed to formulate the paradigm of the Absolute God in which it is alleged that God the Father created the Word and then used the Word to do the rest of His creative work. Other Scriptures were also wrongly harnessed to support this theory, e.g. by applying the Proverbs 8 exposition of God’s attribute of wisdom in such a way that it would support their view of the Word having been created.

Prof. Young (1991:35) summarises the Logos theology as follows, from which the synthesis between heathen philosophical concepts and the Bible is very obvious: “This Logos was the only-begotten of God, the Word projected forth as the instrument through whom God created, as the Wisdom who was beside Him fashioning all things… It was this Word which came to the prophets – indeed to Socrates and all genuine teachers of the truth, and in the last days, it was this Word which was incarnate in Jesus Christ.” This view of the Word is unrecognisable from Scripture, and even goes to the extreme of attributing the wisdom of Socrates (c. 470-399 BC), the father of Greek philosophy, to divine illumination by the pre-incarnate Logos. This is nothing more than pagan philosophy dressed up in Christian robes (Reeves 2003a:4).

The philosophical perversion of the Logos concept may be the reason why it is rarely used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus. (Sproul 1983:42-45) confirms that “by the time the Gospels were written the notion of the logos was a loaded philosophical category… one pregnant with meaning against the background of Greek philosophy.”

In relating the Logos theology to Proverbs 8, the wrong assumption was made that the wisdom expounded in this chapter is a description of the pre-incarnate Christ. Proverbs 8 verses 22 to 31 are accepted as Christological Scriptures, and in terms of them concluded that Jesus was created before the foundation of the world. He is depicted as a subordinate onlooker at the creation: “When he [Yahweh] prepared the heavens, I was there… when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by (beside) him” (v. 27-30). The wisdom described in Proverbs is an attribute of the Triune God and we are to regard wisdom as our sister (Prov. 7:4). It is exegetically unjustified to personify wisdom as Jesus Christ and in terms of this Scripture to regard Him as a created being.

The errors of Origen

The church father, Origen (185-254 AD), became engrossed in the philosophy of Plato as he received his education in the Greek philosophical schools of Alexandria (Bray 1997:78). He was the first great Christian scholar whose work was regarded with suspicion, even in his own day, and was later branded a heretic. Young (1983:40-42) says that Origen may be labelled a Christian Platonist as he has identified the God of the Jewish Scriptures with the ultimate One of Platonic thought.

The writings of Origin clearly reveal that he was influenced by the Platonic monotheistic concept of a singular ‘ultimate One’, the abstract Absolute. He said: “I am of the opinion that the will of the Father ought alone to be sufficient for the existence of that which He wishes to exist… thus also the existence (Lat. subsistensia) of the Son is generated by Him. For this point must above all others be maintained by those who allow nothing to be unbegotten, i.e. unborn, save God the Father only” (Roberts & Donaldson 1878:23). Origen completely denied the self-existence of the Lord Jesus as the eternal I AM (Jn. 8:58), and that the Holy Spirit is the “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) who, as a Person in the Trinity, also has a timeless self-existence. On the basis of John 1:3 Origen argued that the Word should be included in the “all things” that were created by God (Kelly 1977:263).

According to Berkhof (1958:93), Origen, in the third century, was “one of the very first to speak of the generation of the Son.” In doing so he advanced the fallacious idea that the Word (Logos) did not exist before His generation during the creative works of the Father, and is therefore not attributed with eternal self-existence. Although many of the aspects of Origen’s theology were rejected by his contemporaries, he nevertheless exerted a big and lasting influence on theological thought. His unbiblical doctrines are still believed and promoted by many theologians in leading denominations.

The heresy of Arius

In the fourth century, Arius gave new impetus to the theological view of a created Word who was not equal with the Father. Prof. Young (1983:59,62) identifies this serious heresy as follows: “Arius claims that… The Sons is not co-eternal with the Father… He accepted the traditional view that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is identical with the Logos, and on the basis of verse 22 concluded that the Logos was God’s creature.” It was the traditional view that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is Christ, which led Arius into heresy. This view, also referred to as Arianism, holds that Christ was the first, greatest and most perfect of God’s creatures, thus denying His deity. Following the example of his mentor, Origen, Arius transformed the living God of the Bible into the ‘Absolute’ of the philosophical schools (Young 1983:61).

What does God say about the servile observance of theological traditions formulated by imperfect men? “This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandments of God, you hold the tradition of men… All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mk. 7:7-9 NKJV). Creeds and other ecclesiastical documents become part of the theological traditions of a particular denomination, and are in most cases even more rigidly adhered to and defended than the Bible itself. The end result is that a form of godliness is instilled in people by pressurising them to conform to church rules and traditions. In this way, ‘believers’ become loyal members and followers of a church, rather than followers of the Lord Jesus. They confess church dogma instead of pure biblical truths, the former often being more of an intellectual exercise than a truly spiritual statement.

The Reformation was incomplete as it compromised by not outrightly denouncing the heresies of Origen and Arius, who presented Christ as a created being. Dave Hunt (2002) presents irrefutable evidence that the Reformation was incomplete by not addressing some of the unbiblical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, which it inherited from some of the early fathers. Reformers such as Calvin leaned heavily on early church fathers, notably Augustine who is also highly revered by the Vatican, thereby perpetuating a number of serious errors.

William Romaine

An influential and much-loved British preacher and lecturer in theology who held strong views on the deity and eternal self-existence of the Lord Jesus was William Romaine. He played a big part in the evangelical revival in England. On his death John Newton said of him that he was “inflexible as an iron pillar in publishing the truth, and unmoved either by the smiles or frowns of the world.” Reproduced below are important excerpts from a sermon he gave in 1755 entitled “The self-existence of Jesus Christ” (Exodus 3:14 and John 8:24):

“In the unity of the divine essence there are three Persons equal in all perfections and attributes, so that none is before or after the other, none is greater or less than another, but the glory is equal, the majesty co-eternal. The Trinity in unity is thus expressed in Scripture, 1 John 5:7: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.’ The ever-blessed Trinity took the names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not to describe in what manner they exist as divine Persons, but in what manner the divine Persons have acted for us men and for our salvation. These names were to give us ideas of the different offices which the Trinity had agreed to sustain in the economy of our redemption…

“According to the plan of this covenant one of the divine Persons agreed to demand infinite satisfaction for sin, when mankind should offend, and to be the Father of the human nature of Jesus Christ, and our Father through Him: and therefore He is called God the Father, not to describe His nature, but His office. Another of the divine Persons covenanted to become a Son, to take our nature upon Him, and in it to pay the infinite satisfaction for sin, and therefore He is called Son, Son of God, and such like names, not to describe His divine nature but His divine office. Another of the divine Persons covenanted to make the infinite satisfaction of the Son of God effectual by inspiring the spirits of men, and in disposing them to receive it, and therefore He is called the Holy Inspirer, or Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of God, not to describe His divine nature, but His divine office…

“The Scripture makes no difference between the divine Persons, except what is made by the distinct offices which they sustain in the covenant of grace…. Christ, who was from eternity co-equal with the Father, did not make Himself inferior because He covenanted to become a Son, nor did the Holy Spirit, who was from eternity co-equal with the Father and the Son, make Himself inferior because He covenanted to make the spirits of men holy by His grace and influence. Son and Holy Spirit are names of office, and the names of their offices certainly cannot lessen the dignity of their nature, but should rather exalt them in our eyes, for whose salvation they condescended to sustain these offices. Our blessed Lord was Jehovah [Yahweh] when He covenanted to be made flesh and to become a Son. The very nature and terms of the covenant prove that at the making of it He must have been a Person of the self-existent essence, because He had thereby such offices committed to Him, as none but the true God was able to sustain. The whole economy and government of the world, from the time of its creation to the final dissolution, was put into His hands; and therefore the Scripture expressly assures us that He created it, and He governs it by His providence, that He redeemed His people by His blood, and that He is to come again at the last day in all His glory to judge it. And He, who was Almighty to create all things, who was all-wise to govern all things, who had infinite merit to redeem His body, the church, and who is to be God the Judge of all at the last great day, certainly this Almighty, this all-wise, this all-meritorious and divine Judge, must be self-existent and being possessed of these offices, He might truly say I AM… because He was the First Cause, who gave existence to every other being and thing… Christ is the great and eternal I AM, true and very God, equal in all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

“The Lord Jesus said, ‘If ye believe not that I AM, ye shall die in your sins.’ Denying Christ to be self-existent is not a small crime, it is the greatest that a man can commit; for what is it to deny the king’s title to the crown? Is it not high treason? And what is it then to deny the Godhead of the King of kings and Lord of lords? Is it not high treason against the supreme majesty of heaven? … The Scripture we have been considering is most awful and solemn and holds out to us a doctrine of eternal importance, viz. that we must die in our sins, unless we believe the self-existence of Jesus Christ… Let it be no hindrance to your owning His divinity, that the Scripture calls Him Son, Son of God, Son of Man, etc., for Son is a name of office and not of nature. He was the true, self-existent God… He took the name of Son when He covenanted to become a Son, and to be made flesh for us and for our salvation.”

Dr. Albert Barnes

In his “Notes, Explanatory and Prac­tical on the New Testament, Vol. IX” (1848), Dr. Albert Barnes so memorably comments on the deity of Jesus:

“On earth He was the brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of His Person. It was by Him, eminently, that God was made known to men – as it is by the beams of the sun that that is made known. He bore an exact resemblance to God. He healed diseases – like God. He raised the dead – like God. He wielded the power which God only can wield, and He manifested a character in all res­pects like that which we should suppose God would evince if He appeared in human flesh, and dwelt among men. And this is saying much. It is in fact saying that the account in the Gospels is real, and that the Christian religion is true. Uninspired men could never have drawn such a character as that of Jesus Christ, unless that charac­ter had actually existed.

“The attempt has often been made to describe God, or to show how He would speak and act if He came down to earth… But Christ is GOD IN HUMAN NATURE. The form is that of man; the Spirit is that of God. He walks, and eats, and sleeps as a man; He thinks, and speaks and acts like God. He was born as a man – but the angels adored Him as God. As a man He ate; yet by a word He created food for thousands, as if He were God. Like a man He slept on a pillow while the vessel was tossed by the waves; like God He rose, and rebuked the winds and they were still. As a man He went, with affectionate interest, to the house of Martha and Mary. As a man He sympathised with them in their affliction, and wept at the grave of their brother; like God He spoke, and the dead came forth to the land of the living. As a man He travelled through the land of Judea. He was without a home. Yet everywhere the sick were laid at His feet, and health came from His touch, and strength from the words of His lips – as if He were God. As a man He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane; He bore His cross to Calvary; He was nailed to the tree; yet then the heavens grew dark, and the earth shook, and the dead arose – as if He were God. As a man He slept in the cold tomb – like God He rose, and brought life and immort­ality to light. He lived on earth as a man – He ascended to heaven like God.

“And in all the life of the Redeemer, in all the variety of trying situa­tions in which He was placed, there was not a word or action which was inconsistent with the supposition that He was the incarnate God. There was no failure of any effort to heal the sick or to raise the dead; no look, no word, no deed that is not perfectly consistent with this supposition; but on the contrary, His life is full of events which can be explained on no other supposition than that He was the appropriate shining forth of the divine glory, and the exact resem­blance of the essence of God. There are not two Gods – as there are not two suns when the sun shines. It is the One God, in a mys­terious and incomprehensible manner shining into the world in the face of Jesus Christ. As the wax bears the perfect image of the seal – perfect not only in the outline, but in the filling up – in all the lines and features, and letters, so is it with the Redeemer. There is not one of the divine perfections which has not the counterpart in Him, and if the glory of the divine character is seen at all by men, it will be seen in and through Him.”

The perfect sacrifice

It is of the utmost importance to acknowledge and confess the deity of the Lord Jesus since His divine nature enabled Him to be born in the world as the spotless Lamb of God who alone can redeem sinful people. No mortal man with a sinful nature can pay the ransom demanded by God to atone for the sins of a fallen race of sinners. It had to be a perfect sacrifice. The Lord Jesus made this perfect sacrifice, after which He ascended to heaven where He intercedes for us at the throne of His Father: “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:25-27). He was sacrificed once for all on the cross of Golgotha, and with a view to His imminent work of atonement He was introduced to Israel as follows by John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).

The infinite price paid by the Son of God to save people is absolutely unique and incomparable. Nothing else but the precious blood of the Lamb can redeem a sinner. The accumulated wealth of the whole world cannot pay for the salvation of one lost sinner. The Living Bible paraphrases Psalm 49:7-10 as follows: “They trust in their wealth and boast about how rich they are, yet not one of them, though rich as kings, can ransom his own brother from the penalty of sin! For God’s forgiveness does not come that way. For a soul is far too precious to be ransomed by mere earthly wealth. There is not enough of it in all the earth to buy eternal life for just one soul, to keep it out of hell.” Only God who became man could pay the price needed to redeem us.

Rejection of the deity of Jesus

There are many people who, to their eternal ruin and downfall, reject the deity and atoning work of the Lord Jesus. The Jewish leaders have clearly taken notice of the statements by Jesus that He and the Father are equal, but they refused to accept it. The problem is they did not know the Father, and that accounts for their spiritual ignorance in matters related to the Messiah. The knowledge of the Triune God was replaced by man-made theological constructions and religious traditions: “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mk. 7:9). The opinions of the rabbis were more important to them than the Word of God.

The spiritual blinding that was caused by the inadequacy and deceptive nature of the traditions and teachings produced by generations of rabbis was so intense that they could not recognise the Messiah who came from the Father. Instead of accepting Him as the long-awaited Messiah they utterly rejected Him and condemned Him to the death of a criminal. Their theology was so far removed from the truth of Scripture that they could not recognise Jesus as Messiah within its framework. They were also not able to relate the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament to Jesus. Because of denying the One who is the only door to the kingdom of God, the deceived religious leaders barred the whole Jewish nation from obtaining salvation. Jesus said to them: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Mt. 12:13).

It was basically because they did not understand the concept of a Triune God (Elohim) that they could not accept the claim of Jesus to be the eternal I Am who is equal with the Father, and also one with Him. The Jews accused Him of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus rebuked them for their ignorance: “It is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God. Yet ye have not known him… but I know him and keep his saying” (Jn. 8:54-55). The agnostic Jewish leaders did not keep God’s Word because they were strangers to him: “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (Jn. 8:47). It is understandable that if they did not truly believe in God and His Word, they would also reject Jesus as the Word that became flesh, since He witnessed about the Father whom they did not know. It is obvious that if they did not know the Father they would also betray the Son and resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51-52). To their utter disgust they heard form Jesus that they actually had the devil as father (Jn. 8:44).

The agnostic Jews told Jesus the most serious accusation against Him was the fact that He who was a mere human made Himself God: “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (Jn. 10:31-33). Why did these orthodox Jews not believe the prophet Isaiah who told them that God would become Man by being born as a Son in Israel? “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David” (Is. 9:6-7). This Child, who was born in the fullness of time, was indeed Emmanuel – God with us (Mt. 1:23).

The unsaved, orthodox Jews were so extreme in their rejection of Jesus that they expelled all people from the synagogues who confessed His Name as Messiah (Jn. 9:22). The Lord Jesus warned His disciples against this persecution, which emanated from a lack of knowledge about God: “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (Jn. 16:2-3). These are the severe, antichristian actions of people who do not truly know God the Father and His divine Son.

We are living in the end-time, shortly before the revelation of the Antichrist and the coming of Christ. Satan and his accomplices are preparing the way for themselves to be accepted and worshipped world-wide by trying to prohibit and eradicate the knowledge of God in the largest circles of human society. Their aim with this evil campaign is to convince governments not to have Christian constitutions, but multireligious ones in which all faiths are equally recognised. Christian education should be discontinued to ensure that the young generation grow up without knowledge of the Bible and the God of the Bible, and would thus become easy victims of the coming cosmic Christ of all faiths. For the same reason, the truth of the Bible is also questioned by apostate theologians who entertain the same multireligious and antichristian vision.

In the same way in which many church fathers in the early centuries bowed the knee to the idol of the pagan Greek philosophy of Socrates and Plato, there are also many modern theologians who, in religious and spiritual matters, prefer not to be guided solely by the Bible but by philosophy, psychology, the natural sciences, and the writings of the non-Christian religions. They elevate reason above faith and adapt themselves to knowledge produced by the humanistic sciences. The primary objective of deceived theologians, who obviously do not know God, is the rejection of Christ’s deity, His uniqueness and exalted position over the idols of the nations, the redemptive significance of His atoning death on the cross, the truth of His Word, and the reality of heaven and hell.

Because of the general acceptance of these and other false teachings, a world-wide process of spiritual decline has been set into motion to create a climate which is conducive to promoting the lies of Satan instead of the truth of God’s Word: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 4:1). False prophets will parade in Christian robes and proclaim the most far-fetched teachings of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15), thereby trying to give scientific and theological credibility to their heresies. In this way, false foundations are offered to people to build their lives on them, thereby denying the biblical message of salvation.

We are clearly living in the time of intensive exposure to doctrines of devils, which should motivate us to ensure that the true knowledge of God and His Word does not become a vanishing phenomenon in our lives and in the lives of our children. We have no excuse to be deceived by false prophets since, in the Bible, we have the full revelation of the Triune God and His plan of salvation for a lost humanity. We have to believe in God and His Word, confess the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour of the world, and defend the true message of salvation – even though many churches and their leaders may be ignoring or refuting these truths. As in Israel of old, Jesus Christ is still, to a lesser or greater degree, despised and denied by false religious leaders. They only have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5).

Special spiritual significance is attached to the fact that the rejected Lord Jesus suffered outside the city walls of Jerusalem to sanctify us (Heb. 13:12). In the next verse, His true disciples are thus challenged: “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” Are you prepared to go to Him outside the camp of your man-made religious organisation to bear His reproach? These “camps” could be churches based on perverted creeds, aimed to offer false spiritual security and a convenient comfort zone to their deceived supporters. Walvoord & Zuck (1983:812) say the following about this verse: “Jesus also suffered outside the city gate… to make the people holy… The readers… should not hesitate to share in the disgrace He bore (cf. 12:2) by abandoning the camp of Judaism and identifying with Him. If the readers actually were acquainted with sectarian encampments in their region this exhortation would have had special force. The readers’ home was no camp or city that then existed, but the city that is to come (cf. 11:10,16; 12:22).”

Reaffirming the deity of Jesus

It is very clear from the Bible that there are three co-eternal, co-equal and co-self-existent Persons in the Godhead (1 Jn. 5:7). With His incarnation as Son of God and Son of man, the Word, who is also God (Jn. 1:1), humbled Himself in wonderful, down-stooping grace to take the form of man and thus fulfil His office as Son and Lamb of God. In His humiliation He became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

The erroneous doctrine of Origen, Arius and other church fathers lies at the root of further efforts to deprive the Lord Jesus of His deity and self-existence, thus depicting Him as “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) who is no more than a mere human being with divine characteristics. Such a person, who did not descend from heaven to be born in a miraculous way from a virgin, would, as all other people, be born with a sinful nature. He would then not be able to be the spotless and perfect Lamb of God who propitiated the sins of the whole world and now intercedes for us as High Priest and Mediator at the throne of God (Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Although Jesus took the form of a servant when He accepted His office as Son He never relinquished His essential deity, therefore He could explicitly describe Himself to people as the eternal “I AM” (Jn. 8:24,28,58). In this way His self-existence and unity with the eternal I AM of the Old Testament (Ex. 3:14) is confirmed. Because of His unity with the I AM, only He can save us: “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour” (Is. 32:11; cf. Hos. 13:4). It is one of the three Person of this great God who became flesh. If anyone does not believe this awesome fact, he will die in his sins (Jn. 8:24).

Before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who would guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13), and also before the further revelations in the letters of Paul, Peter and other apostles in the New Testament, even the disciples of Jesus did not realise who He truly was. After a special revelation by the Father, Peter could say: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). However, the disciples initially did not realise that He was Yahweh Elohim (the Lord God) who created the earth with everything in it, that He still sustains His creation, and that even the wind and the sea are subject to His will. When He calmed a storm on the sea they said: “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk. 4:41).

The problem was that they still did not know that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit were the same Triune God. Jesus said to them: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; and from now on you know him and have seen him. Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; so how can you say, Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (Jn. 14:7-10 NKJV).

After Jesus ascended to heaven, was glorified and the Holy Spirit poured out, it was emphatically proclaimed and confessed that He is Lord and God. In his letter, Peter refers to “God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). John says that Jesus is “the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). Paul often describes Him as the “Lord Jesus” (Eph. 1:15).

Because of the ongoing discrediting of the virgin birth and deity of the Lord Jesus we should explicitly proclaim Him as Lord and God. We must use His exalted Name as Lord (Yahweh) because “God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11 NKJV).

When the Son of man comes again He will not come as a lowly servant, but in power and majesty as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14). Zechariah says: “…the Lord my God [Yahweh my Elohim] shall come, and all the saints with thee” (Zech. 14:5). John says the following about His illustrious appearing: “I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except himself… and his name is called the Word of God” (Rev. 19:11-13 NKJV).

We are clearly living in the end-time and should prepare ourselves on the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. Do we really know Him in all His divine attributes? Bernard Reeves (2003b:7) says: “Could anything be more important than restoring a higher view and a more truly Scriptural doctrine of the glorious divine Persons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and of the eternal, essential oneness of the awesome, self-existent, triune Godhead? Time is short – Christ’s Second Coming draws ever closer, as world events indicate, so let us not risk of being reproved by Him of holding any wrong doctrines about Him and the Holy Spirit, and thus be put to shame before Him… Let us all ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude v.3).”

References

Barnes, A. 1848 : Notes, Explanatory and Prac­tical on the New Testament, Vol. IX.

Bennett, R.A. 1998 : Your Quest for God, 4th edition. Providence House Publishers.

Berkhof, L. 1958 : Systematic Theology. Banner of Truth.

Bray, G. 1997 : Creeds, Council and Christ. Mentor.

Clarke, A. 1831 : Commentary on the Whole Bible. Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.

Hunt, D. 2002 : What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. Loyal Publishing.

Kelly, J.D.N. 1977 : Early Christian Doctrines. A&C Black.

Reeves, B.A. 2003(a) : Did the Reformation Go Far Enough? Was the Truth of Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s Deity Corrupted by Philosophy? Unpublished MS.

Reeves, B.A. 2003(b) : Jesus Christ – Eternal Son or Everlasting Father? – Is Eternal Sonship Reconcilable with Self-existence? Unpublished MS.

Roberts and Donaldson, 1878 : Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, Vol. X. T&T Clark.

Sproul, R.C. 1983 : Who is Jesus? Tyndale.

Walvoord, J.F. & Zuck, R.B. 1983 : The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. Victor Books.

Walvoord, J.F. & Zuck, R.B. 1985 : The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Victor Books.

Young, F.M. 1983 : From Nicaea to Chalcedon. SCM.

Young, F.M. 1991 : The Making of the Creeds. SCM.

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