The Deity of Christ In the Synoptic Writers

A warning: this section is very messy. This entire series was pretty much sifting what I’ve been studying and trying to slap it into some sort of form that others can read but this execution is, admittedly, less refined (if not outright rough).

I’m going to focus on Matthew. Not because I think Matthews account was first (I actually think priority goes to Mark), nor because I think that Matthew is most reliable (I think Luke’s account gives the most historically pertinent information) but because Matthew account might possibly, yet without conviction, be examined on it’s own.

Let me justify that with cumulative points:

  1. One: The Synoptic accounts were most likely early. None of the Synoptic writers record the actual destruction of the Jewish Temple. Neither does Paul. Luke mentions having collected data to write his accounts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-12) and surely would have recorded it, but then goes on to include everything right up to Paul’s the Roman house imprisonment (Acts 28:30-31). If one were to deny the recorded messages of Christ as prophecy, then it could mean that these Gospel accounts were written after 70 A.D but that presupposes that prophecy doesn’t happen.
  2. Two: The Synoptic accounts probably did not circulate before Paul’s writings. That doesn’t mean Paul’s writings are less or more important, but it is to say that Paul’s writings contains some of the earliest Christian beliefs—one of many being that Christ is God.
  3. Three: Paul might have influenced Mark and Luke. Mark was an original member of Paul’s missionary party (Acts 12:25; 15:37) and later would be a helpful companion (Phil 1:24; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11).  Luke was Paul’s travel companion (Phil 1:24; Col 4:14). If both Mark and Luke’s Gospel accounts were contemporaneous to their activity with Paul, and they were in happy fellowship together, then it is possible that there is influence.
  4. Four: Paul was in step with Jerusalem. Paul, after all, actually checked himself to see if the message he preached was the same as that of the original Twelve, was confirmed in the endeavor (Gal 2:6-9), and was sent back with full approval and backing (Gal 2:10; Acts 15:23-29). Not only did he function in the capacity as apostle, he was a contemporary itinerant worker with the living Disciples (1 Cor 9:5; Gal 2:14-15). And even where Paul and Peter’s messages differed, Luke goes out of his way to record the similarities (Acts). Going to the Gospel accounts shouldn’t create a force field where on the one side we have whatever it is Paul believed about Jesus and on the other side what the Gospel writers actually thought of Jesus but in all honesty should be seen as offering a spectrum.
  5. Five: Differences of purpose in writing aren’t an excuse. Paul’s writings address specific church needs and the Gospel accounts records a biographical account of the basis for the Church—but that doesn’t matter. Since these points aren’t based on the purpose of the writing, but what the writer wrote as a believed and textually recorded message.

The Jewish disciple Matthew surely held strong beliefs about the nature of God. God is other. God stands apart. God upholds all things. God is the God of the Sabbath. If a later community put his account together then it is likely that they were recording the beliefs that were already circulating which are only evidenced by what the text says.

So we’ll see certain patterns in the text. We’ll see that Matthew doesn’t record Jesus as only the recipient of God’s promises. That is not to say that the book doesn’t speak of Christ as King—surely it does—but it doesn’t speak of him as no more than King.

Jesus Really is God’s Family

The book contains a rhythmic pattern of Christ’s unique relationship to the Father.

Early in the book, we have the recorded conception and birth of Christ. The child is conceived in a woman by The Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18) and the fact is announced by God’s angel (Matt 1:20).

This baby is supposed to do things that no mere human king could do: he would save His people from their sins. Matthew takes this announcement to fit into the prophetic saying of Isaiah that (A) a virgin would conceive and (B) that his name will be God With Us. As to (A) it is interesting that in the Isaiah passage, historically speaking, Isaiah was possibly referring in his own mind to the young woman his wife. Before she would conceive, the prophecy would come to be. Matthew seems to take this as Isaiah speaking even better than he knew, a young lady who is a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call his name Immanuel which is God with us. The Parents actually name the child Jesus so the fact that Matthew records the “They” and gives the child the dictated name (Matt 1:21, 25) seems to indicate something going forward. The child will be called God With Us by People.

Magi come along looking for the King of the Jews but one must remember what this sought for King was to do. Ezekiel 34 stipulates that the Lord God would get rid of the leaders of the people and would take care of them himself by then establishing David over the people. So when the Magi are in awe looking for this King they are searching for God’s Stand In of David.

God’s son, this one who is born of the Holy Spirit, is called out of Egypt typologically rising up out of oppression by actually exodus out of Egypt just like Israel of old. But this son isn’t merely heralded by a human agent (like Moses did when he told Pharaoh that Israel was His Son—Ex 4:22) he is heralded by God himself who speaks out of heaven saying “This is my beloved Son!” (Matt 3:17; Matt 17:5)

Jesus Heralded as God

Another textual pattern is this interplay of John the Baptist and Elijah. For that you would need to know your Jewish History, but in a bit of short hand it was expected that before the end of the world arrived, Elijah would show up and herald it. The Lord Himself is coming to bring judgment and messenger goes before him.

The idea exploded in the intertestamental period labeling the messenger as Elijah, but it finds its ground on two passages: Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 and Mal 4:5.

Isaiah 40 is about the Lord God himself commanding a messenger to straighten his paths according to his mandate giving both a mission and a message to the messenger. This is really the incomparable God:

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.

“To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:10, 25)

It’s in this passage that the messenger is stated as doing the Lord’s work out in the wilderness (Is 40:3)

The Malachi passage is about God coming in judgment ready to purify the temple and its practices. The messenger is sent before him (Mal 3:1) but it is the Lord God Almighty (Mal 3:5) himself who comes after the messenger to do the judge-work.

So when we get to Malachi 4, we see the repeated message that the fiery day of the Lord is coming (Mal 4:1) where he arrives as judge but before he comes he will send the prophet Elijah.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”

Matthew picks up on this and presents John The Baptist as God’s messenger, making straight the way of the Lord, Elijah who was to come (if the people are willing to accept it:  Matthew 3:1-17;  11:1-14). This is almost torqued up when we see Jesus actually having a conversation with the actual Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1-13). John on the one hand functioned as Elijah, but on the other hand Elijah himself stands with Jesus and Moses (discussing Christ’s exodus Luke 9:31) and Jesus is revealed as brighter than white. The fact that in Matt 27:46-54 some people believe he’s calling for Elijah and they wonder if Elijah will come is met with a pregnant silence: Elijah as come as John and they killed him, and Elijah is still to come before the Lord who judges.

But hop over to Mathew 21. Jesus is now approaching his exit and he’s functioning in an extremely important way. Throughout the following chapters he will make all types of prophetic proclamations but in this chapter we start to get a peek that he’s not only functioning as a mere prophet or King.

He tells the disciples to go into the village and find a colt. When the question is asked “what for” the answer the disciple is to give is:

The Lord has need of them.

This is not merely predictive. This is the Lord Yahweh showing the divine ordering of events and dictating his desire in accordance with events which God had already recorded as coming to occur (Zech 9:9):

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Now, when the events transpire exactly as he said, the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem saying “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” evidencing some of that Matthean irony. He is heralded as coming in the name of the Lord because his name is actually Lord (remember the Lord had need of these things). He’s functioning with the authority of Yahweh because he is Yahweh—and the people, unbeknownst to them, herald him home.

It’s as if Matthew is saying that this Jesus is twice heralded as God: once in his proclamation and later with his judgment.

Jesus Functions with God’s Prerogatives

Mathew also depicts Jesus as having all the prerogatives of God.

Note Matthew 12. Jesus is questioned regarding the Sabbath because his disciples are picking the heads of grain and eating them and Jesus answers in four parts:

  1. David did something only the priests could do (this was not-bad)
  2. The priests work on the Sabbath  (this is good)
  3. Good is better than sacrifice
  4. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

The fourth point just seems to hang there. Why underscore it if it has nothing to do with the argument? I mean, isn’t the point proven on Point 3?

The passaged doesn’t stop there.  Again, in front of a man with withered hands, the Pharisees demand to know if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus answers

  1. People do good by saving injured sheep on the Sabbath
  2. Injured people are more important than Sheep
  3. Therefore healing injured people is right to do on the Sabbath.

And here a structure is unveiled as Jesus allows his actions to speak louder than his words. As one who has power over the withered hand, he turns and does a work on the Sabbath specifically underscoring the 4th point above: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.

But who is rightly Lord of the Sabbath?

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…(Gen 2:3-4)

And it doesn’t stop there. Scribes had authority, but Jesus taught as one with authority (Matt 7:28-29) and healed with one directly under God’s authority evidenced in a conversation with a man who knew how authority functioned (Matt 8:8-13). But miracles and doing activity on the Sabbath isnt’ the end of it.

It was commonly known that you couldn’t’ forgive a person’s sins because that is something God does. After all, God provides the means for it to happen by offering sacrifices; you can’t just stand up in the way of that and forgive sins.  But Jesus operates with God’s own prerogatives when he takes a paralytic and forgives his sins apart from any sacrifices, offerings or even a verbal plea for forgiveness (Matt 9:2). Then knowing the very thoughts of his opponents he points out how the Son of Man has special authority on earth to forgive sins by doing something easy like telling the paralytic to get up and walk.

It’s no wonder that he allows people to worship him (Matt 14:33; 28:9) while explicitly knowing that a person must worship and serve only the Lord God (Matt 4:10).

This is not only a King functioning under God’s authority; this is God Himself acting like God.

Jesus’ Enemies Know Him

Another interesting happening in Gospel’s account is the activity of Christ’s demonic enemies.

For example, the Gadarene demons (Matt 8:28-33) wonder why the Son of God is there to torment them before The Time which should engender two questions: torment them how and what time? Their hope is that he has mercy on them and lets them indwell pigs. Honestly, I don’t understand demons but it seems to mean that as Son of God he had (1) the power to tell them what to do, (2) they had to ask him permission, (3) they envision that what he’s doing hurts them and (4) there is an ultimate time coming which they expect Jesus to do something.  In light of that whole Elijah bit above, I’d assume that what they’re talking about is the final judgment and noting that this one has power over them in that respect.

But we wouldn’t know since Jesus keeps them quiet because, says Mark, they knew who he was (Mark 1:34).

But what of Satan? He recognizes him enough to be personally involved in trying to throw him off track or possibly trying to detract him from his mission (Matt 16:23); yet he speaks in terms of “If you are the Son of God” (Matt 4:10). Did Satan not recognize him while the Demons did? Well Christ says that the demons are part of Satan’s house, as it were, so that would be a strange phenomenon (Matt 12:26). I don’t know much about the devil or demons but I do know he’s a deceiver so maybe it’s that Satan was trying to force Christ’s hands to act outside of the Triune will? Or maybe to see how submissive was he really trying to be with a secondary motive that could be beneficial? Satan has been crafty from the get go, so it may be best to avoid coming up with his exact motivations. His Satanic Majesty is not to be trifled with.

Conclusion: Well we don’t see confessions of Christ is God like we do in other places but we see (1) the compass pointing North as it were and (2) enough clues to strongly suggest that Matthew intends us to see that this is the case. Maybe that’s why Matthew’s Gospel is just choc full of people speaking better than they know, or God’s direct activity illuminating Christ’s activity. Elijah not showing up is one thing, but not the only thing. Christ dies and tombs open and the veil of the temple rips from the top down. Christ dies and a centurion says that Jesus was the Son of God, which surely meant something different for him than it did for the Jew. True Matthew also wants us to see that this Jesus, God, born of God, in the flesh with Gods’ prerogatives also functioned in subjection to another but he makes sure to include that all authority has been given to him in heaven and, presumably now, on Earth (Matt 28:18-20). He teaches, he commands and he tells people to baptize others in the collective name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—putting him on equal footing with God himself.

So does Matthew see Jesus as God? I don’t think you can say he doesn’t. You can’t even say it isn’t important. It seems to be “Yes surely: as the Yahweh God” while admitting that Matthew is trying to get across several themes to his audience. It’s probably part of the reason why John felt it necessary to record his own account clarifying things (like Jesus is God; like the Baptist said he wasn’t Elijah).

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Paul on the Deity of Christ

Divorcing Paul’s message from the message of the Gospels is strange. Mark worked with Paul and Barnabas and there are some arguments that he actually records the testimony of Peter; Luke was a historian who traveled with Paul and compiled stories to present to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4).

Besides that, Paul actually gives us the earliest Christian writings. In Paul we get a peek into the early Church—be it in prayer (1 Cor 16:22 praying to Jesus as YHWH) or the formulations of what they believed. From a historical perspective, Paul is just as critical as the Gospels for understanding what Christians confessed.

It also appears that at least portions of Luke’s compilation of Scripture was available at least by Paul’s later years when we read Paul quoting from it:

For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages (1 Tim 5:18)

In Paul and Luke, we might even have some mingling of cross-purposes. Luke was a gentile; Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul traveled throughout the Gentile world; Luke accompanied him on many of these journeys. Paul argued with Jews but spent his time spreading the Gospel to Gentiles; Luke’s Writings (Luke and Acts) deals with the Jews but makes a point of expanding out to the Gentiles (and towards Theophilus).

Just like John, Paul sees Christ as King. He outright says in Romans 2 that the resurrected Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of God with power. And some of the argumentation in Acts recalls Peter’s words in Acts 2 where Jesus functions as the Messiah of God, David’s rightful heir, ruling and waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool.

The idea is littered throughout Paul’s writings so that it is impossible to miss it. One doesn’t have to look further than 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul theologically argues for the necessity of a physical resurrection by pointing to the need of the human race to have a human ruler who is under God—and that this will finally happen where all things are put in subjection to Christ and even Christ is put in subjection to God.

In fact, what we find in Paul (just like we find in John) is a rich multifaceted view of Christ. He is not only son of David, he’s the second Adam, he’s the mercy seat, he’s the point of creation—etc.

So the question “Does Paul see Christ as King?” is just as superfluous as the question “Did John the Evangelist see Christ as King?” Of course he did. The question I want to deal with is “Did Paul see Christ as God?”

But before getting there, one must remember that there are several names for God in the Old Testament, but two in particular were of major importance to this discussion.

First the word Elohim which we see in Genesis 1. This word, translated, means God. The Greeks would translate this word into Theos.

There is another word that comes up often enough, Yahweh translated Lord. With our medieval influenced mind, we think that the terms “Yes, my Lord” is really only one of respect but in the Old Testament, the name Yahweh was for the Sovereign Master Personal God. In Koine Greek, this word would translate into Kurios.

But Greek, like English, used this term Kurios for titles of respect as well as for the Jewish usage as a name of God. Textually there’s no clue to indicate if this is Kurios-Lord-God or Kurios-Lord-Sir.

Except for the Jewish background.

So you would find that in the New Testament, although John likes to use the word “Father” for referring to God, many of the other writers liked to use the word Theos/God to refer to God-the-Father. That being the case, they didn’t usually equate Jesus with God because they didn’t want us thinking that Jesus is identical to the Father.

By identical I mean statements of identity that summarize the entirety of a person. So if you say that Tato (my nickname) is identical to Rey, you’re not saying that Tato is Rey’s twin; you’re saying that Tato is Rey. Biblical writers saw an identity difference between the Father and the Son. Jesus is not the Father.

John, who uses Father to differentiate between the Word/Son and the Father had no problem referring to both as God in John 1:1 since it isn’t an identity statement. The other writers have that identity issue that they’re careful with so they wound up referring to Jesus as Lord.

So Paul says in Romans 10:13

for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

But he’s quoting from the Old Testament in Joel 2:23 where the prophet receives from Yahweh that some people will survive the impending wrath: those who call on the name of YHWH and trust on Him.

And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls

That’s huge. That’s no king who is calling people; that’s the Sovereign God Himself.

Now, note this passage where the YHWH is speaking in the first person (Isa. 45:23) and says:

“I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Rom 14:11, Paul points out quoting the passage that Jesus winds up being both the Lord of the Living and the dead (Rom 14:9-10)

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”

Elsewhere, Paul alludes to the same passage by showing that every knee shall bow and confess Jesus as Lord:

so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

But then, Paul loses all restraint and sometimes outright confesses that Jesus Christ is Theos:

whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:5)

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, (Titus 2:13)

But it doesn’t end there. Just like John, Paul readily sees Jesus not merely functioning as God, but actually doing things that only God does. God creates, and we find that Paul thinks Jesus that everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16). Apparently this wasn’t restricted to Paul since the writer to the Hebrews says the same thing (Heb 1:2). God followed the Israelites in the wilderness, but that was Jesus (1 Cor 10:4); Grace and shalom from God and Jesus in Paul’s greetings (Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Rom 1:7); forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38; Col. 3:13); upholding everything (Col 1:17); equal with God (Phil 2:6); fullness of deity dwelling in Him (Col 2:9); people living for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15); and transformer of our bodies (Phil 3:20-21).

So did Paul see Christ as God?  The answer must be yes.

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John On the Deity of Christ

Now that we’ve been brought back to the very point of the Apostles, it would be helpful to look at the writings of the last remaining apostle by the time of the early church fathers: John.  The evidence seems clear that his Gospel account was written after the Synoptic accounts were circulating so they bear indication that John didn’t intend his account to be read in a vacuum. In regards to literature then, it is interesting to see which stories the Synoptic accounts include and which John feels important enough to bring up once again.

John is the only writer to mention the resurrection of Lazarus and yet, he has no problem repeating the story of the Feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water event. He’s the only writer that takes us to Christ’s first miracle in a very common location while simultaneously not repeating the story of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Even Christ’s baptism is generally ignored in the story save for the character speech of John the Baptist—a peripheral detail which all the Synoptic accounts treat as important.

So whatever John was dealing with in the publishing of his account had to be refuted by the issues John raised—not in addition to history, but in nature of importance within history. In other words, it’s not that John was overlaying his later theological developments on the past, but that John felt it necessary to underscore details of the past to use in his then current theological discussions. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the Early Church Fathers wound up doing and what the Council of Nicaea was deciding on. Christ’s divinity wasn’t up for vote; the Scripture’s impact on the corporate life had to be admitted.

Be that as it may, we note that John 1 is probably one of the strongest chapters in Scripture regarding the divinity of Christ. He is listed as Creator with God, in a structural format that follows Genesis 1 where we see God creating. John goes out of his way to show that not only is Christ is with God: He is God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Then John repeats the point by jumping to John the Baptist who is making straight the way of the Lord. Not the Lord King. But the call to clear the way for the Lord Yahweh.

He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

This Word-Made-Flesh is so divine that he is on the one hand baptized by God’s Spirit but on the other goes and baptizes others using God’s Spirit. Not that he’s functioning in that capacity but just as the Baptist uses the medium of water to baptize, this One is using the medium of God’s Spirit to baptize people. This is no mere kingly prerogative.  This is God acting like God.

John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Of course, John the Baptist himself didn’t seem to understand the importance of his own words. In the Synoptic accounts we find out that John goes to prison and goes through a period of sorrow as he wonders if Christ really is who he thought he was (Matt 11:1-19). He expected the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world in a way that probably looked more like his Jewish expectations (whatever that was). But the point of John the Evangelist using the Baptist’s words are not to underscore that what the Baptist thought was right, but that he spoke better than he know.

The Writer goes back in time to a point where John once again spoke better, and it was before he was imprisoned (John 3:24).

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Which all recalls the Baptist’s testimony that the Evangelist uses in the introduction:

John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:15)

And it is recalled again by Christ himself:

You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:34-36)

The repeated message is that although Christ is fully man, he is much more than anyone thought he would be, even when they speak better than they know in proclaiming him. After all, it is in that very chapter where Christ uses the Baptist’s testimony as a witness of who Christ is that Christ equates his activity with the Father God.

But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

Something the Jews understood perfectly well not merely to be a statement of kingly activity but rather to something they considered outright blasphemy:

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

This testimony of his God-ness doesn’t end there. It is throughout John’s Gospel account. Christ is offered up as one who knows what is within man (John 2:25) so he refuses to entrust himself to some people (John 2:24); as one who speaks what God wants because he was sent by God into the world (John 3:31-34; 7:28); as the one allowed to work on the Sabbath because of familial responsibilities (John 5:16-17); as God who teaches (John 6:44-46) as the Father teaches; as the Lord God who provides God’s Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 15:26-27;16:5-11); as existent God before Abraham (John 8:58); as one who properly receives worship (John 9:38;); as one with the Father (John 10:30); as having the right of giving eternal life (John 10:28; 11:25); as the revelation of the Lord Yahweh’s power (John 12:37-38); as the very image of God (John 12:44); as the Lord God that Isaiah say (John 12:41); as one who you could trust as God (John 14:1); and indeed as one who is confessed as both Lord and God (John 20:28)

Note even the fear of the Roman Gentile Pilate (John 19:7-10). He hears from the Jews the charge that this one made himself out to be the Son of God and he’s afraid. Once again, the writer’s recording of this fact isn’t in a historical vacuum. We know from Matthew that apparently Pilate’s wife sent him a message saying to be careful with this man Jesus because of troubled dreams she had (Matthew 27:19). So here’s a Gentile, steeped in his Greco-Roman Religion, his wife having dreams and the people are calling him Son of God.

Did he have an understanding of the Jewish expectations? Did he see the Son of God language in the Bible and piece together what this all meant? If that is the case, why did he then proceed to ask absolutely no questions about Christ’s kingdom or his heritage but rather his origin—when it is patently true that he already knew he was a Jew from Nazareth (John 19:19)? Christ’s answers leave him more convinced to let him go since he talks about having authority from above and this is what provokes Pilate to try to release Jesus.

Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him…(John 19:8-12)

Now mind you, in John’s Gospel account there are several themes tying together; I’m not dealing with all that. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the idea of some Demi-God who is the Son of Zeus is what John has in mind and is trying to get across. My point has been that the people John records speak better than they know but when Jesus speaks he is speaking about what he actually does know.

So if you take a step back and look at say John 3, you’ll see that Jesus is speaking about the expectation of the Kingdom of God. Here it would be a mistake to make it solely about a spiritual kingdom (as when people become regenerate and are made part of the Church) or solely about a millennial kingdom (as when the Jews finally receive Christ reigning on a throne here on Earth). Whatever he is speaking is from heaven and speaking the Words of God (John 3:31-34). The fact that it is God who has sent the message about the kingdom is integral to the story John records when we finally see the placard that Pilate places over Jesus.

Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.

We probably shouldn’t be looking solely to the Jewish expectation of a King, or solely to the fact that Israel hadn’t had a king in years, or not even to the fact that Jesus will be King of a spiritual people; but we probably should be looking back to the expanded and repeated claim in Scripture that Israel’s first rejected King wasn’t a man: it was their own God.

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Sam 8:7)

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. (1 Sam 12:12)

Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. (Psalm 5:2)

For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:3)

The fact that Israel was waiting for a man who had to be God (Ezekiel 34) doesn’t negate the conclusion John the Evangelist is pointing to with the Synoptic Writings in circulation. This Jesus was really a man. He was really God in the flesh. He was really a rejected King. He was really Israel’s first King. He was really a temple. He was really the temple Israel was to worship in truth. He was really the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. He did so by dying for the sin of the world. John then requests that people believe this Jesus, based on these few written things, as being the Christ (the Messianic claim), the Son of God so that one might have life—going back to the point of John 3.

These ideas are all repeated in his letters as well. John has no qualms about speaking about the manifested life not as King but actually as something necessary for having fellowship with God Himself (1 John 1:1-3), as the means of purification from all sin (1 John 1:7); as a sacrifice for sins for the entire world (1 John 2:2); as expander of God’s family (1 John 3:1-3; cf .John 20:17); giver of God’s Spirit (1 John 3:24); as the Incarnate God (1 John 4:1-3);  Jesus as Son of God (1 John 5:12); as understanding that Christ is the means for eternal life (1 John 5:13); and that in fact Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (John 5:20).

John’s admonition then of keeping ourselves from idols is pretty impressive. Jesus is to be worshiped. Jesus functions in this capacity. Jesus is God and eternal life. But he’s the real thing. He’s no idol. Keep away from idols.

So at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that John as an apostle and recorder of a Gospel account presents the King, Jesus Christ, as God.

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Early Church On Jesus’ Deity

Right up front, some of these guys are making a good point. To read the text through the lens of later theological developments winds up ignoring what the text is actually saying. So in some sense, they are (at least on the surface level) trying to be faithful to the reading of the text as it stands.

But some of them go further:  the text, they conclude, doesn’t contain any of those things that later theologians noticed. Some are quick to add some note about the importance of tradition but they do so to point out what they see as a deficiency in relying on Scripture as ones ultimate guide.

In so doing they suggest, without being explicit, that these doctrines originated in a vacuum filled only by necessity. A teaching arose, a response had to be formulated, a doctrine was created. But, it wasn’t Christ’s Deity ex nihilo and I think history proves that. The teaching arose and was recognized as aberrant exactly because there was something substantial already in place.

If you recall, the council of Nicaea was in 325 AD. But jumping solely to Nicaea leaves one ignoring years choc-full of declaring Christ as the Divine God.

So here’s a sampling of early church writings I’ve found that underscored the understanding that Christ is God.

Hippolytus, Treaties on Christ and Antichrist 230 AD

Now, as our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also God, was prophesied of under the figure of a lion, on account of His royalty and glory, in the same way have the Scriptures also aforetime spoken of Antichrist as a lion, on account of his tyranny and violence.

Hippolytus, Fragments from Commentaries on Scripture

By the Ancient of days he means none other than the Lord and God and Ruler of all, and even of Christ Himself, who maketh the days old, and yet becometh not old Himself by times and days.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor Book I 195 A.D.

But our Instructor is the holy God Jesus, the Word, who is the guide of all humanity. The loving God Himself is our Instructor. Somewhere in song the Holy Spirit says with regard to Him, “He provided sufficiently for the people in the wilderness. He led him about in the thirst of summer heat in a dry land, and instructed him, and kept him as the apple of His eye, as an eagle protects her nest, and shows her fond solicitude for her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, and bears them on her back. The Lord alone led them, and there was no strange god with them.” Clearly, I trow, has the Scripture exhibited the Instructor in the account it gives of His guidance.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor Book III

For the Word Himself is the manifest mystery: God in man, and man God

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 180 A.D.

For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.

Again, that it should not be a mere man who should save us, nor [one] without flesh—for the angels are without flesh—[the same prophet] announced, saying: “Neither an eider,(1) nor angel, but the Lord Himself will save them because He loves them, and will spare them He will Himself set them free.” (2) And that He should Himself become very man, visible, when He should be the Word giving salvation, Isaiah again sap: “Behold, city of Zion: thine eyes shall see our salvation.” (3) And that it was not a mere man who died for us, Isaiah says: “And the holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulture; and He came down to preach His salvation to them, that He might save them.”

Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord.

Melito, On the Nature of Christ, 160 A.D.

For the deeds done by Christ after His baptism, and especially His miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise, He gave us sure indications of His two natures: of His Deity, by His miracles during the three years that elapsed after His baptism; of His humanity, during the thirty similar periods which preceded His baptism, in which, by reason of His low estate as regards the flesh, He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before all ages.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 150 A.D.

And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations effected by those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying; but since I am aware that this is denied by all of your nation, I do not address myself to these points, but I proceed to carry on my discussions by means of those passages which are still admitted by you.

And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said.

Ignatius’ Epistle to the Philadelphians (105-115 A.D)

If any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men. And such a man is poor in understanding, even as by name he is an Ebionite.

Obviously I didn’t include every ante-Nicene Father but that is rather an issue with space than lack of finding. After all, Tertullian, a pre-Nicaea writer who I didn’t quote, first coined “Trinity”!

But the point here was not only to show that the deity of Christ wasn’t a novel idea, but that it goes right back to a disciple of a living apostle: John. So either these ideas suddenly started to percolate after his death or it was exactly what the apostle had been teaching.

For that, we’ll have to examine John’s teaching.

 

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Jesus, God and the Gospel of Men

The idea reads something like this: obviously, the Church at Nicaea believed Jesus was the Son of God in terms of deity, but the authors of the Bible didn’t think in that category. They believed Jesus to be Son of God in terms of Israel’s King. Theology progressed—that is unsurprising; but first and foremost the Gospel is a presentation of Jesus as Israel’s King.

Here’s a few quotes that bear markings of the proposition above. Some outright deny the claim that Jesus is God and should not be taken as representative of Christianity.

Dan Brown’s Teabing , a character in the Davinci Code, referring to the council at Nicaea:

“At this gathering,” Teabing said, “many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon—the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus.” “I don’t follow. His divinity?” “My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.” “Not the Son of God?” “Right,” Teabing said. “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.” “Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?” “A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added. “Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel-the Roman Catholic Church.” Sophie glanced at Langdon, and he gave her a soft nod of concurrence. “It was all about power,” Teabing continued. “Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power.

Scot McKnight on what is the Gospel:

The gospel is to announce that the Story of Jesus, who is Messiah/King, Lord and Savior, fulfills or completes the Story of Israel. It is the good news that God’s promises have now been realized in Jesus Messiah, Lord and Savior.

…Our evangelism would be declaring what Peter declares in Acts 2, 3, 10-11 and what Paul declares in Acts 13, 14 and 17. And it would see that every passage in the Gospels is pure gospel. It would show how Romans explains how Gentiles now join Jews in God’s Story in this world, and it would show how they are both accepted on the same basis: in Christ. And they respond to that message by faith and by faith alone.

NT Wright on the clues to Gospel christology:

I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel christology. Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 653.

Andrew Perriman’s non-Nicene creedal statement:

We believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, Israel’s king;

Born under Augustus, executed under Tiberius;

Who died to save his rebellious people from destruction;

Who was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and was exalted to the right hand of the Father;

Who was given the name which was above every name, for the sake of the glory of Israel’s God in the ancient world;

Who was made judge and ruler of the nations;

And through whom his persecuted followers came to inherit the empire and then the world.

Here’s a quote from myself regarding the Son of God language in regard to Christ:

Whereas you have a King being declared a functional son of God in regards to ruling and anointed, we now have Christ who was the sent Son with all these other entailments tied into His position. Whereas you have Adam, the Son of God, to be God’s vice-gerent over the created order yet fails dramatically bringing it all down with him, we now have Christ, the Son of God who dramatically obeys before the incarnation (setting aside what He didn’t have to steal: his divinity) becoming a servant obedient to death on the cross, raising again and bringing all of creation up with Him. Whereas you have Israel, the Son of God, as a nation of priests; we now have Jesus Christ, who is both priest and king.

Here’s William Kellly, a classic dispensational writer, on the Jewish expectation:

It would appear that, in John the Baptist’s preaching it, we have no ground for supposing that either he believed at this time, or that any other men till afterwards were led into the under­standing of the form which it was to assume through Christ’s rejection and going on high as now. This our Lord divulged more particularly in Matthew 13. I understand, then, by this expression, what might be gathered justly from Old Testament prophecies; and that John, at this time, had no other thought but that the king­dom was about to be introduced according to expec­tations thus formed. They had long looked for the time when the earth should no longer be left to itself, but heaven should be the governing power; when the Son of man should control the earth; when the power of hell should be banished from the world; when the earth should be put into association with the heavens, and the heavens, of course, therefore, be changed, so as to govern the earth directly through the Son of man, who should be also King of restored Israel. This, substantially, I think, was in the mind of the Baptist.

I don’t mean that all the above quotes are teaching the same thing. Indeed, you’ll find William Kelly quickly affirming that Christ is God—you won’t find the same thing occurring with Andrew Perriman. And in all cases, Dan Brown’s character resides in a world of fiction while speaking from a position of pseudo-history that is actively being pushed on the masses.

It is simply impossible to trace the reasons how or why these positions are being put forward, or even if they’re correct in doing so, but one must look at their claims in light of Scripture. In other words: there is a lot being said but very little substantiation from the text.

That is not to say that there isn’t substantiation. For example, NT Wright uses the same exact texts everyone else uses but gives a historical milieu that changes the reading of the text. The trick is to hover above the text stating what the text says then dropping some casual information (as if established fact) to then deny what later theologians (and possibly everyone) have understood it to be saying. Lest you point that out, they quickly grant that there is no doubt that later theologians interpreted things in such a way, but that is not how the writers themselves understood those very same things.

For my own mind, I intend to examine this in several points. First a historical scan; second an overview of John’s Christology; third a look at Paul’s theological thinking; and finally an examination of the Synoptic writers.

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How To Prepare For Change

Remember the beginning of T2? A dark road running into the distance; Sarah Connor’s voiceover speaking about the inevitable an impending future? The movie ends the same way but this time she’s talking about the openness of the future since things have changed. Instead of depression she’s speaking in hope.

Good thing Sarah Connor didn’t survive until Judgment Day. Sure things changed, but not by much. The machines still took over. Connor still wound up being a military leader. Her fears were realized, even if she wasn’t there to see it happen.

But she had hope because of change.

It was actually President Obama’s campaign promise. Things will be different. All we need is a change. Hope in change because we can make things happen. We can do it; yes we can.

Change comes in various forms. There’s fool’s gold change. Like Sarah Connor’s change. Or Obama’s. It has a spurious glitter that promises so much but then doesn’t deliver. When you’re caught in the doldrums and things are looking glum we turn to some nice shiny change for a solution. But then, the change happens, and we find out that things aren’t what we’d hoped they would be.

Last year I’ve had several friends destroy their marriages by running off with someone else. No one could convince them that they’ve done wrong. “I’m happy now,” is all they would say.

Then you have catastrophic change. When it just happens when things, you thought, were going good. It doesn’t have any of the shine; just this black hovering shadow ready to crush everything in its way.

I’m also friends with the spouses of these people. They would each say that things were going fine and then suddenly this change happened.

Indeed, this last year I was happily working from home in the place of my dreams and things changed. My house is now sold. I live in a smaller place, away from all but my immediate family and in a state that I never planned to be in. I find myself dreading and asking, just like these other people, “what other change should I expect?”

Therein lies two extremes: either hoping for change or dreading it. And being humans who have no access to omniscience, we find ourselves potentially tossed in a sea of uncertainty.

But we can’t properly be happy in that state. Happiness winds up being this tenuous balancing act which is tipped by the merest breeze. What we need is a sort of foundational fulcrum of happiness—something we can bank on even in the midst of change. Something to ground ourselves in which supersedes change and properly satisfies our deepest needs of being happy, of being safe, of being confident, and of feeling success.

I think that would be the historical revelation of God in His Son: in his life, death, burial and resurrection. The unchanging God took on change so as to identify with those who suffer shipwreck within the waves of change. The unchanging God bore the marks of that change and with those stripes those who trust in Him are satisfied and properly happy.

But we’re so finite. So blind. And we find that, even now, we hope and fear change. We’re not perfect. We fail. We’re not what we will be. So although I can speak confidently about my foundational fulcrum I can also acknowledge the reality of my own fears and the shedding of my friends’ tears.

We wind up having to constantly redound back to our hope as revealed in the Gospel. It’s in the Gospel where we find ourselves as properly conquering. Doesn’t matter what storms may come. Nothing (spouses leaving, children dying, jobs changing, cars breaking, wars, demons, life, death—nothing) will separate us from God’s love (Romans 8).

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King Jesus Over Us

If we find that we have not trusted in the only one with authority, the one who has already conquered, the one who will return again we are actually his enemies. We are the ones who are standing in opposition to His Kingdom.

The clarion call of the Gospel is Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand! The Son is coming back! We must submit to the power and authority and majesty of him who has been declared both Lord and Christ else we stand on our own power and authority in contradistinction from him.

That pride and idolatry will be dealt with.

And if we have trusted in him? Let us strengthen feeble arms and weakened knees (Heb 12:12) while making every effort to live in peace with everyone and be holy (Heb 13:14). Let’s continue to draw near to the Lord because we’re his people.

We’re not those that have to approach with trembling with fear (Heb 13:21) but we can come near to the Lord, to the very Kingdom of God established in Mount Zion (Heb 13:22-24) as part of a kingdom which cannot be shaken.

We can worship Jesus, the Lord God our King, with reverence and awe (Heb 13:28) as a holy nation with an inheritance that doesn’t fade away (1 Peter 1:3).

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Jesus: A King Who Conquers


Christ isn’t some weakling who is just waiting for people to repent while he bites his nails hoping they do. Paul says that Christ must reign until all his enemies are made his footstool (1 Cor 15:25). We see a war waged against the Lamb and he personally conquers over his enemies because of who he is (Rev 17:14). The book of Revelation is filled with horrifying images, but how powerful and horrifying is the image of Christ, on a horse, slaying his enemies like grapes in a winepress, their blood filling a valley several miles wide so that his horse has to wade through it (Isaiah 63:3; Rev 14:14-20;19:11-16)?

Jesus is no weakling King.

He is a King who has authority right now, and will enforce that authority on a later date. Gentiles will continue to flock to him and eventually sit beneath his banner (Is 11:10) while the Jews realize their error and flock to him (Ho 3:5) and ultimately all his handed over to God (1 Cor 15:28).

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

And it is in this context that Paul thinks about Adam: the King who failed and didn’t conquer. Adam couldn’t even rule over his own home and winds up having creation rule over him.

Jesus is a King who conquers.

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Jesus And His Kingdom

The father of the house might call himself King over the home and we get what he’s saying. In the home, Dad’s Rule reigns.  How far will Husband get with Wifey if he says “Woman, I am King in this house”?

Or what about the teenager who has on the door of his room “King of My Castle”: weird thing to have a King who has authority over a room in a house that isn’t his. A King without a Kingdom is a strange thing.

Christ is not a King without a Kingdom. He outright says that his Kingdom is not of this present world (John 18:36). But more so, his Kingdom is one that is everlasting (Dan 2:44; Luke 1:33), is righteous (Ps 45:6; Heb 1:8-10; Isa 32:1; Jer 23:5), in which all the saints are subject to Him (Col 1:13).

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

Jesus has an overarching eternal kingdom.

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