Is Jesus Really God? by Trevor A. Pritchard
This Biblical subject is one of the most profound and yet, at the same time,
one of the most sublime to which we can give our minds. We are going to
discover what the Scriptures tell us about the relationship between
the Creator of heaven and earth and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We shall also discover, as we go along,
how the Father's purpose is to be worked out through His Son.
God in Control
First, we must remember that the Lord God of heaven is in control of the universe, however much it might appear to the contrary to the casual observer. All created things owe their very existence to Him - ourselves included. And how did all this come about? The Scriptures tell us very clearly - by the word of God. Look up these Scriptures for yourself, and note the key phrases mentioned below:
Genesis 1:3,6,9 (etc) And God said ...
Psalm 33:4-9 For He spoke and it was done. ...
Psalm 136:3-9 To Him that by wisdom made the heavens.
Hebrews 11:3 through faith we understand. ...
2 Peter 3:4-7 ... by the word of God.
All these Scriptures, and there are others, tell us that the world came into being by the spoken word of Almighty God. His was the power that first brought all things into existence. And before he uttered those words of command, He had a plan and purpose.
Made by Wisdom
God knew exactly what He was going to accomplish, and it is worth noting how God's wise purpose is described:
"Yahweh possessed me at the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth; while as yet he had not made the earth or the fields, or the primeval dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when he strengthened the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters would not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, as a master craftsman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men" (Proverbs 8:20-31).
Read more in the chapter in question and you will see that the speaker is "Wisdom", here depicted as though that Divine attribute was a woman, who was there, at the beginning, with Almighty God. For we are to understand, from this figure of speech, that the powerful word of God - that brought all things into existence - is an expression of the mind of God in all its knowledge and wisdom, and it is an expression of the personality of God Himself.
So, when we say that God has revealed Himself through His word, we are in fact saying much more than we think we are saying. Through His revealed word, God is showing Himself to us, in just the same way that when we speak we reveal something of what we are really like. The word of God is showing us what God is like - inasmuch as we are able to understand Him.
God has Spoken
All these Old Testament ideas prove to be a vital background to our understanding about the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Was he in existence from the beginning? Is he part of a triune godhead, as the theologians of the third and fourth centuries A.D. decided?
The vital question must be "What does the Bible say?".
In the Old Testament God had already spoken to reveal His plan and purpose, and thus to declare something of the Divine mind and character. Now He was about to reveal Himself as never before. He was to communicate with mankind through His Son:
"God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as he has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (Hebrews 1:1-4).
God, says the inspired writer, has expressed His mind, His thinking and His purpose more fully in the person of His Son Jesus Christ than at any other time in history, both past and future. Jesus was to be the revelation of the heart and mind of God. He would show the family likeness as he lived among men.
With a clear backward glance at the language of Proverbs chapter 8, the apostle John was to say that God's plan and purpose - His word - had always been in God's mind, from the very beginning. Then that purpose took a different form of expression when: "the word became 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" (John 1:14).
The Word made Flesh
How, then, did this come about? How did the word of God become flesh? The gospel writer Luke gives us the clearest possible insight, when describing what was told to the virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel. The whole passage (Luke 1:26-37) is well worth reading, a key part being:
"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" (Luke 1:35).
God, by His spirit, overshadowed Mary and in due time the baby Jesus was born.
He was the Son of God, with no human father but with all the inherited characteristics of his earthly mother. This was a unique and miraculous happening, so much so that the Lord Jesus is described as the "only begotten Son" (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9).
By his birth, Jesus was thus set apart and declared to be special. And in his life, he made one thing very clear. He was not God - his Father was. And whilst he had a mission to fulfil, it was one that his Father had given him to undertake. He had been "sent" - or brought into existence - for that very purpose. The following passages from the gospels tell us plainly:
Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do; for whatever he does, the Son also does in like manner" (John 5:19);
Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me" (John 7:16);
"You have heard me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28);
Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God" (Mark 10:18);
"Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory ... But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:26,32);
And (Jesus) said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).
Son not Father
In all things God the Father was declared superior to the Son. Their relationship was that which exists between a father and his son, between one who sends and one who is sent. But did that relationship change after Jesus was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven?
After his resurrection, the distinction is indeed maintained and is, in fact, emphasised. Even after his ascension to heaven, the emphasis is always that it is God Himself who exalted His Son, Jesus, and the New Testament abounds with such references.
Here are some of them:
Jesus said to (Mary Magdalene), "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God' " (John 20:17);
"And being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore 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 of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2: 8-11);
"I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God"
(1 Corinthians 11:3);
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ ... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (Ephesians 1:3 & 17);
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants — things which must shortly take place. And he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John ... "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels" ...
"To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne" (Revelation 1:1 and 3:5,21).
Of all the passages that emphasize this ordered relationship, even for the exalted Christ, the most striking is that in which the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, For in that passage he writes about the on-going situation, after God has redeemed mankind from the present difficulties, by sending Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. By that Kingdom, God's rulership over all things is to be established and achieved.
What comes next?
"Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when he puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For 'He has put all things under his feet.' But when he says 'all things are put under him,' it is evident that he [God] who put all things under him [Jesus] is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subject to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Notice that all these passages stress the ordered relationship that now exists (when the Lord Jesus is sitting at God's right hand in heaven) and the last one says that relationship is bound to continue - that the Son will always remain subject to and dependent upon his Father. Jesus always spoke of that dependence. The God of heaven begat Jesus of the virgin Mary by using His power - called the holy spirit. It was then that God's Son came into existence, as
the "only-begotten" Son of God. So that brings us back to the original question.
Is Jesus Really God?
The answer is an emphatic, "No!"
There came a time in history when "the word became flesh" (John 1:14), or, in the words of the apostle Paul:
"When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4)
... Jesus experienced all the temptations that are common to man (see Hebrews 2:14,17-18). Now, having overcome, he is at the right hand of his Father in heaven and, from there, he mediates for us. He pleads our cause before God's throne and can extend a fellow feeling towards us because he once lived as we now do:
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15,16).
... It was possible for him to sin. He experienced temptation during the whole of his life, yet he never gave in, not once. It is against that background of conflict - knowing that sin can only find expression in human flesh and that it never once did so in the flesh of Jesus - that we can understand what the apostle meant when he said that Jesus "condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3).
One writer put it this way:
The Scriptures, he said, "reveal one who not only is himself without moral distress (because of his own sins [seeing that he had none!]), but can aid all distress.
Others are lost sheep; He is not only not lost, but is the shepherd
Others are sick; He is not only in health, but is the physician.
Others' lives are forfeit; His is not only his own, but is the ransom.
All others are sinners; He not only is not a sinner, but is the Saviour."
See John 10:11 and compare with Luke 15:1-7; Mark 2:17, 10:45; Luke 19:10
(P Carnegie Simpson: "The Fact of Christ").
Jesus faced all the temptations that we face and defeated them "on their own ground", as it were, whether they were attractive or repellent. We can see him doing just this in what is called the Temptation - in the wilderness of Judea - with the oft-spoken words, "It is written ...". His mastery of how to apply the Scriptures to any given situation is surely not that surprising, given that he was the very embodiment of God's message - the "word made flesh".
But if Jesus had been God Himself, then none of these things could ever even be contemplated. God cannot be tempted to sin (James 1:13), so the temptations Jesus underwent would have been no trouble to him — he could have laughed at them! Indeed, they would not have been temptations at all! They wouldn't even have touched him! Yet we recall that, in the garden of Gethsemane, his sweat was at it were great drops of blood (Luke 22:41-46). That was no easy trial, and that was perspiration indeed.
Does it matter? Oh yes! It matters a great deal to every one of us, for our need is immense and immediate. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Every one of us will die because of the curse that God passed on Adam and Eve, "dying thou shalt die" (Genesis 2:17 KJV margin), and we deserve to die because we have continued with Adam's disobedience. So God sent His Son, ... to make possible what none of us can do for ourselves. He was born to be the perfect sacrifice. Thus he, and he alone, is the Saviour from sin and death (John 1:29, 3:16).
Every one of us needs to repent and turn to him ... before it is too late (2 Peter 3:9). It should be our life ambition to put off our old nature, with its natural and earthy desires, and to seek instead to live the way Christ lived, that we might develop a way of thinking and living that takes him as our role model.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians he told them about the way in which Jesus had lived a life of self-denying service, in obedience to his Father. He explained that God had then exalted him to honour and glory because of his obedience. But he was doing something more than just explaining the relationship that exists between Father and Son. His aim was to encourage all who follow Jesus to learn from his example, so that they too would live in faithful obedience. Here's the passage in full, as an encouragement to all of us to take Jesus as our role model, and learn to live like him - in obedience to God's commandments:
"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore 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 of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:1-11).
Trevor A Pritchard