Jesus Christ: Who is He? (Part 1)

 

Jesus Christ: Who is He?

 Jesus Christ: Who is He?

(Part 1)

Richard Hollerman 

Why is there so much confusion about Jesus? 

Was Jesus human–or was He divine? 

What different views of Jesus are seen in the world? 

What do you personally believe about Jesus? 

Introduction 

What is the most important topic found on the pages of God’s Word?  Different answers could be given, but surely the central truth of Scripture would be the existence, nature, attributes, and works of God, our heavenly Father.  Along with this, would be the person, nature, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, along with the person of the Holy Spirit.  When God gave His Ten Commandments, He said, “I am Yahweh your God . . . . You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7).  The Lord Jesus gave “the great commandment”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  God is the center of His revelation!  We must love and trust and obey the Lord God.

The Lord Jesus also is presented as our creator (Colossians 1:16-17), our savior (1 Timothy 1:15), and our Lord (Romans 10:9).  He is the image of God (Colossians 1:15), the “radiance” of God’s glory and “the exact representation” of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3).  Along with God the Father, the Lord Jesus must be the focus of our faith, our love, and out life.

But an age-long enigma has plagued the thinking of professing Christians since the time Jesus walked on earth.  It is this: Is Jesus actually God or is He the Son of God–or both?  What is the relationship between the Father and the Son?  Are the Father and the Son fully “one” or is there a distinction between them?  Is the Lord Jesus really deity and humanity, at the same time?

These are not just concerns of the academically trained educators and theologians, but the common person asks these questions and wonders how to understand what Scripture says about these matters.  They are a matter of life and death—of eternal life and eternal death!  We need to have at least some understanding so that we may have a saving faith in God through Christ.  I encourage you to read the following pages very carefully and ask the Lord to open your heart and mind to His truth–the truth that can make you free (John 8:31-32).

Jesus Christ:Who is He?

The Lord Jesus Christ is an enigma to many people, including many people who profess the name of Christ.  They know something about this Person, but they see only one aspect of His unique nature and marvelous character.  Because of the varied and contradictory opinions about Jesus, we need to ask, “Who really is Jesus Christ?”

This was an issue that concerned people at the time when Christ came to earth.  Jesus questioned His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27).  Some thought that He was John the baptizer, others thought that He was Elijah, and still others believed that he was Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  Jesus then asked, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20).

The Lord recognized how crucial it was that people know His personal identity.  So important is this matter that our eternal destiny depends on who we believe Jesus was and is!  The actions, teachings, and miracles of Jesus were important, even essential, but someone has well pointed out, “The significance of all that Jesus said and did depends on who He is!”  Who is Jesus according to your own understanding?  What do you believe about the identity of the Lord Jesus?

How important is it that we know who Jesus is?

One may ask, “Does it really matter that we know exactly who Jesus is?  Isn’t it more important to just follow His teachings and try to serve God?  Shouldn’t we only try to live a life of love and kindness–and won’t God accept us into heaven?”  This is a legitimate question, one that needs to be answered.  Is it really important that we know who Jesus is, according to the Word of God?  Must we know at least something about His identity, nature, and character?  Must we grasp some understanding of His relationship to God the Father and the Spirit?  Does our faith need to be an objective faith in certain truths about Jesus, or is it only a subjective faith of trust in His saving grace and work?

We can know about the world around us and creation, and this leads us to recognize that there must be a powerful and wise God who is the great creator of all that exists (Romans 1:20; Acts 17:24-29).  However, this revelation of God in His creation is insufficient to save from sin.  We can’t know about God’s love, mercy, grace, and nature apart from God’s own revelation of Himself in His written Word.  In the same way, we can’t know about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, apart from divine revelation.

When Peter answered the Lord’s question about who He was, Jesus replied, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).  God must reveal truth to us if we are to know the truth.  Furthermore, Jesus prayed to God the Father:

I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.  Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.  All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matthew 10:22).

We notice that God reveals truth to those with a child-like trust and receptivity.  He is “hidden” from the proud, self-righteous, self-important, and the self-sufficient (cf. Matthew 18:2-4).  The Son must “reveal” the Father to us and the Son Himself must be revealed by the Father.

We can’t know truth through worldly philosophy, for this has generally led people far away from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 3:19-20; Colossians 2:8).  Since God must reveal Himself to us, we need to be open to His self-revelation, His living and powerful Word, the Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12-13).  This is why we refer to much Scripture in this study.  It is the only way of truth we know.  Jesus prayed to the Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).  If we are to know the truth of God and the truth of who Jesus is, we must search “the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  The psalmist wrote, “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160), and this Scriptural truth must be the source of our faith and understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can’t know about the identity of Jesus Christ by looking at the starry sky, or the petals of the rose, or the lofty mountain peak.  We learn of God the Creator through His marvelous creation, but we can’t know about Jesus apart from God’s special revelation on the pages of Scripture.

Is it actually that important that we have a truthful view of Jesus of Nazareth?  Indeed it is!  We are saved by faith in Christ (John 3:16, 36; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:24-25), but this faith must be an informed and accurate faith based on the objective facts and truths of God’s Word.  We are not just saved by Jesus without knowing who and what He was and is!  We must know something of His true identity.  We are not saved by Christ without believing that He died, why He died, and that He rose from the dead!  It is vitally important that we have an informed faith–otherwise our “faith” is not genuine, authentic, and valid!

There are many ideas about Jesus Christ

Some people simply see the human Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth who went about doing good and teaching in first century Palestinian synagogues.  Others view Jesus as God the Father Himself, incarnated two thousand years ago, and they downplay or even deny His present Sonship.  Others seem to look on Jesus as a lesser “god” who was created by the Father, was Michael the Archangel in the Old Testament, was human during his earthly thirty-three years, and is now a spirit “god” in heaven.

Still others say that Jesus is one with the Father, but there is no personality called the Holy Spirit.  And still others say that Jesus is Adam of the Old Testament and we all may follow in His steps to godhood!  The question of Christ’s pre-existence is another troubling question.  Some say that Jesus has always been from eternity past, others say that He was created before the world began, still others say that He began in the womb of the virgin Mary in Nazareth, while some would say that His origin may be dated to when He was born nine months later in Bethlehem.  These four views cannot all be correct!  They cannot all be right any more than monotheism and polytheism are both correct!

There definitely are many different ideas in circulation regarding Jesus Christ.  Some say that he lived and died in poverty while others say that he was very wealthy on earth.  Some say that He was human but they question His deity, while others say that He was God but they downplay His humanity.  Some imagine Jesus as part of a “Three God” entity, while others say that He is part of the orthodox Trinity, in which there is one God consisting of three Divine co-equal and co-eternal Persons. Some say that God consists of Father and Son, but they deny the personality of the Holy Spirit.

Probably the majority of people simply don’t know exactly what to believe about Jesus Christ and, quite frankly, many people just don’t even care.  They would rather immerse themselves in their work and daily duties or maybe concentrate their attention on the more “practical” matters of Scripture and life.  They are opposed to “theology” and anything to do with matters of belief.

The Full Humanity of the Man Jesus

Let’s discuss several aspects of Christ’s nature at this time.  First, let’s notice that He was fully human in nature.  Scripture says that Jesus was “born of a woman” and her name was Mary (Galatians 4:4).  Jesus was conceived in Nazareth of Galilee and born in Bethlehem of Judea, about 4 to 6 BC (Matthew 1:18-2:1; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-40).  He was born of a virgin named Mary, and Joseph was his foster-father (Matthew 1:16; Luke 2:27, 41, 43, 48; 3:23).  Jesus followed the carpentry occupation of Joseph (cf. Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3).

Jesus was fully a Man–both during His earthly life as well as his post-resurrection life in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:21; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:17).  When he came to earth, He became flesh (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Timothy 3:16).  In these respects, He was just like you and me.  He had hands and feet, flesh and bones (Luke 24:39; John 20:27; Matthew 9:29; 19:13).

His humanity may be noticed through the New Testament writings.  Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:40, 52).  He was able to be hungry (Matthew 4:2; 21:18) and thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28).  He needed to sleep (Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38).  He could become tired (John 4:6) and could cry (Luke 19:41; John 11:35).  The Lord was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3-4; Luke 22:44; John 11:33; 12:27).  Indeed, Jesus was a man and fully human in His nature.

It was absolutely vital that Jesus be human and share our humanity.  Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and because of this, He needed to die on the cross to bear our sins in His own body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).  The Hebrew writer explains the reason for His humanity.  He says that Jesus “partook of the same [flesh and blood], that through death, He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14).  Jesus “had to be made like His brethren [in His humanity] in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17).  He had to be fully human to redeem lost humanity.

Paul tells us more about the rationale in Christ’s becoming man: “[Jesus] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).  Jesus came for the purpose of dying, and He needed to be fully human and have a human body to suffer death.

Because Jesus was fully human, and because He suffered and died in the flesh, offering His body and blood for our sins, anyone who would deny these vital truths is in serious error!  In the first century and continuing for a couple centuries after, a false heretical movement arose that scholars today label as Gnosticism. Although there were several varieties of this false movement, one point that seems to have been prevalent was a denial of Jesus’ full humanity.  Many could not accept the fact that Jesus came in the flesh.  They thought that matter or flesh was evil but spirit was good, therefore Jesus could not have really come in the form of evil matter or flesh.  They likewise denied that Jesus suffered and died in the flesh.  A number of apostolic writings may make reference to this false way in some respect (cf. John; 1 and 2 Corinthians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; 1, 2, and 3  John; Jude; Revelation).

John, for example, writes: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3).  The same apostle warned, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.  This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John7).

We have seen that Jesus was fully Man, fully human, and that He was made flesh, just as we are.  Since He was flesh and blood, He was able to offer His body and blood as a full sacrifice for our sins (cf. Colossians 1:20, 22).  Since He was man, He was able to pay the price of man’s sin.

In our understanding of Jesus’ nature, we must acknowledge His full humanity.  Apart from this, He could not save us from sin!  If Jesus had not come in the flesh, in a human body, He could not have died for our sins, thus our salvation would be impossible!

The Full Deity of Jesus Christ

Not many people today deny Christ’s humanity, but there are many who do deny Jesus’ deity.  This is a relevant question that needs to be addressed and answered.  If Jesus was fully human, was He also fully divine?  If He was perfect humanity, was he also perfect deity?  Some may consider the question to be elementary, while others would frankly say that it is unnecessary.  Some would affirm Jesus’ deity while others would flatly deny it.  Still others would say the issue is incomprehensible, thus why try to understand the unfathomable?

If we accept the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative Word of the Living God, we can go to them for answers.  Let’s do just that.  Let’s examine a number of passages that help to answer our question about Christ’s deity.

Was Jesus really God?

It is important to remind ourselves that the New Testament was written in the Greek language.  God, through the Holy Spirit, moved on the apostles and prophets to write the 27 books of the New Testament in Greek.  For this reason, we must sometimes consult the Greek to understand what words were actually used by the Holy Spirit in communicating divine truth.  Only in this way can we really understand the meaning of God’s Word and have the proper object to our faith for salvation.

We must understand the meaning of the Greek word, theos.  This is the word for “God” in the original, a term that is used throughout the New Covenant writings.  For example, Scripture refers to “God our Father” (1 Corinthians 1:3). It speaks of “the will of God” (v. 1), the “church of God” (v. 2), thanksgiving to God (v. 4), the faithfulness of God (v. 9), the power and wisdom of God (v. 24), and the choice of God (v. 27).  Our Heavenly Father and the Father of Jesus Christ is “God” (theos).

The surprising fact to many people is that Jesus Christ is also called “God” (theos) in the New Testament.  One religious cult refers to the Father as God and Jesus as “a god,” but this distinction is both unwarranted and faulty (John 1:1). One of the chief heresies in the Old Testament was the belief in and worship of many “gods,” a system that we call polytheism (a belief in many gods).  Paul acknowledges that in the heathen or pagan world, “there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords” (1 Corinthians 8:5).  But the truth is that “there is no God but one” (v. 4).  There is one and only one God.  Paul says, “For us there is but one God, the Father; from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (v. 6).  Thus, we can see that it is untenable to say that Jesus is “a god” or a “lesser god” or a “second god” in distinction to the true and living God whom we worship.

Consider a few of the places where God Himself in Scripture uses the Greek word theos in reference to His Son, Jesus Christ.  First, in Matthew 1:23, we see a reference to the “name” of the coming Messiah being “Immanuel.” Matthew then informs us that this Hebrew word means, “God with us.”  It is true that sometimes the name “God” in the form of the Hebrew El or Elohim, was found in the names of people of the Old Testament or New Testament (Samuel, Daniel, Joel, etc.), but this passage may be saying more than this: that God really was present with us in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Though this may be considered less than conclusive, there are other passages that are much clearer.

In John 1:1, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  From verse 14, we read that “the Word became flesh,” thus the Word is a reference to Jesus Christ who came in the flesh.  Therefore, verse 1 is saying that Jesus (the Word) was existing in the beginning, He was with God (the Father), and He was God Himself, in His nature.  Of course, the Lord didn’t have the name “Jesus” or the title “Christ” (the Anointed One) at this time, but in His pre-incarnate, pre-birth state, Jesus existed in the form of God.  We may not be able to understand the depths of this truth since we are not God ourselves, but we can accept this truth by faith in the Word of God.

Another instance of the use of theos is John 1:18.  There we read, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  Many later manuscripts have “Son” in this place instead of “God” (reflected in the KJV), but the oldest ones use the term “God” (theos) in reference to Jesus Christ here (NASB, ESV, NET Bible, NIV).  In other words, the verse could read, “No one has seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten God [Jesus] who is in the bosom of the Father, He [Jesus] has explained Him [the Father].”  Granted, this is a somewhat unexpected reading but if this is what the original was, it would be a reference to the deity of Christ Jesus!  Both the Father and the Son are here called “God.”  It may be significant too that Jesus is called “God” at the beginning of John’s Gospel (1:1, 18) and at the end (20:28).

When Jesus appeared to His apostles in the upper room on the evening of resurrection day, Thomas the apostle was not present (John 20:19-25).  A week later, however, Thomas was in the midst of the other apostles and Jesus appeared in their presence.  When Thomas saw the Lord in His resurrection body, He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  Was this an exclamation to God the Father in surprise over Jesus’ appearance?  Surely not.  It was the faith-affirmation of Thomas that Jesus, indeed, was both Lord and God.  The term God here is also theos, a reference to Christ’s deity.  Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas, but commended all who would believe what he confessed (vv. 29-31).

Some may turn to Acts 20:28 for another use of theos.  There we read, “. . . shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”  If this is a correct rendering, it would say that whoever God is in this verse is one who purchased the church with His own blood.  Obviously, this would be a reference to Jesus Christ.  However, it may be translated, “the blood of His own one,” which would mean that the church of God (the Father) was purchased with the blood of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Since there is some doubt about this, we would not want to insist on this verse being an infallible proof of Christ’s deity, yet it may be, depending on the original.

Another possible reference to Christ’s deity is Romans 9:5.  There we read, “. . . whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”  F. C. Burkitt has said that the punctuation of this verse “has probably been more discussed than that of any other sentence in literature.”[1]  This verse may be identifying Christ, who came in the flesh, as the One who is “over all” and who is Himself “God blessed forever.” The closest antecedent to God is Christ. But the various translations handle this verse in different ways.  Some make a complete break after “over all,” while others use a comma, suggesting a close connection to the ascription that follows.  It is possible to understand the term God (theos) here as a reference to God the Father whom Paul is glorifying in view of Christ’s position and mission: “God blessed forever.” However, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, “the universal pattern for doxologies in the Hebrew and LXX is ‘blessed be God’ and not ‘God blessed.'”  “So the likelihood is that ‘God blessed’ does not express a wish that God be blessed forever but that the Messiah, who is God, is by nature blessed forever.”[2]  While either alternative could be, the weight of evidence would point to Christ’s deity here.

Paul makes reference to Christ Jesus again in Titus 2:13.  The verse states that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”  The Greek construction here leads us to conclude that Christ Jesus is called both our great “God” (theos) as well as Savior.  This would mean that when Jesus appears again or returns again, He will be seen as both God and Savior.  Peter uses a similar construction in the Greek when he writes of “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).  In this passage, Jesus Christ is both God and Savior, as in the passage of Paul.  How clear are these references to Christ’s deity.

Let’s turn back to the Old Testament for another reference to Jesus as God.  In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet says that the Messiah will come and “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”  The term “Mighty God” is El Gebor in the Hebrew language and this is the exact designation that is given to Yahweh God (the Father) a chapter later, in Isaiah 10:21.  This is a strong argument for Jesus as God in the Old Testament.  (Furthermore, it might be pointed out that in Isaiah 10:20-21, the “Mighty God” is identified as “Yahweh,” and we might well ask whether this also might lead us to see a reference to Yahweh God in the use of “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6.)

A final place where theos is employed that may be a reference to Jesus Christ is 1 John 5:20.  The entire passage reads in this way: “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life.”  It is clear that John refers to God the Father as “Him who is true” since He is distinguished from the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  The question is: Who is referred to as “the true God and eternal life”?  It is possible to understand John’s further statement as being a reference to God the Father, the true one.  But it is also possible to understand the term as a reference to the closest antecedent and personality “Jesus Christ”for He is definitely true and eternal life is found in Him.  Yet perhaps “His” (in His Son) is the antecedent, in which case the last part is a reference to God the Father.  Since “the true God” here is called “eternal life” and Christ is called “the eternal life” in 1:2, this may point to the Son as being God here.  In the end, it may be impossible to say for sure which is the real meaning here but it may very well be a reference to Christ’s Godhood or deity.

The reader may have noted the absence of several passages that sometimes are used to “prove” the deity of Christ.  First, Revelation 1:8 has not been cited.  The verse reads, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God.”  Although this is a favorite text of apologists, and it seems like a clear affirmation of Christ’s deity, the context makes it clear that this is a reference to God the Father rather than Christ Jesus the Son (see v. 4; 4:8).  God is the One who is, who was, and who is to come (v. 8).  Neither have we used 1 Timothy 3:16: “God was manifest in the flesh” (KJV).  This Byzantine reading is probably wrong. Instead of reading theos, the Greek has os, translated, “He who…” (NASB).  “It appears that sometime after the 2nd century the theos reading, came into existence, either via confusion with os or as an intentional alteration to magnify Christ and clear up the syntax at the same time” (NET Bible).

We have not examined 1 John 5:7 either:  “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (KJV).  This infamous Comma Johanneum surely was not in the original manuscript that John wrote.  “This longer reading is found only in nine late MSS, four of which have the words in a marginal note. . . . The oldest MS with the Comma in its text is from the 14th century. . . . The remaining MSS are from the 16th to 18th centuries” (NET Bible).  We do not need to rely on such a disputed passage and late reading to bolster the New Testament view of Christ.

(Please continue by going to Part 2)

 


[1] The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 169.

[2] Ibid., p. 170.


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