In Defense of...Christ's Deity
On Tuesday, prior to the Lord’s crucifixion the following Friday, Jesus engaged in a discussion with the Pharisees, who made no secret of their hatred for Him. When Matthew recorded the scene in his Gospel, he first commented on an earlier skirmish the Lord had with the Sadducees: “But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together” (22:34).
Jesus—with penetrating logic and an incomparable knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures—had routed the Sadducees completely. No doubt the Pharisees thought they could do better. Yet they were about to endure the same embarrassing treatment.
In the midst of His discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus asked: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42). They were unable to answer the questions satisfactorily because their hypocrisy prevented them from comprehending both Jesus’ nature and His mission. The questions the Lord asked on that day, however, are ones that every rational, sane person must answer eventually.
The two questions were intended to raise the matter of Christ’s deity. The answers—had the Pharisees’ spiritual myopia not prevented them from responding correctly—were intended to confirm it. Today, these questions still raise the spectre of Christ’s identity. Who is Christ? Is He, as He claimed to be, the Son of God? Was He, as many around Him claimed, God incarnate? Is He, as the word “deity” implies, of divine nature and rank?
CHRIST AS A HISTORICAL FIGURE
The series of events that would lead to Jesus’ becoming the world’s best-known historical figure was to begin in first-century Palestine. There are four primary indicators of this fact. First, when Daniel was asked by king Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his wildly-imaginative dream, Daniel revealed that God would establish the Messianic kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire (viz., the fourth kingdom represented in the king’s dream; see Daniel 2:24-45). Roman domination of Palestine began in 63 B.C., and continued until A.D. 476. Second, the Christ was promised to come before “the scepter” departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Bible students recognize that this prophecy has reference to the Messiah (“Shiloh”) arriving before the Jews lost their national sovereignty and judicial power (the “scepter” of Genesis 49). Thus, Christ had to have come prior to the Jews’ losing their power to execute capital punishment (John 18:31). When Rome deposed Archelaus in A.D. 6, Coponius was installed as Judea’s first procurator. Interestingly, “the... procurator held the power of jurisdiction with regard to capital punishment” (Solomon, 1972, 13:117). Hence, Christ was predicted to come sometime prior to A.D. 6 (see also McDowell, 1972, pp. 176-178). Third, Daniel predicted that the Messiah would bring an end to “sacrifice and offering” before the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24:15; see also Jackson, 1997). History records that the Temple was obliterated by Rome in A.D. 70. Fourth, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). It also is a matter of record that Jesus was born in Bethlehem while Palestine was under Roman rule, before Judah lost her judicial power, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (see also Matthew 2:3-6; Luke 2:2-6).
CHRIST IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old and New Testaments portray a portrait of Christ that presents valuable evidence for the person desiring to answer the questions, “What think ye of the Christ?,” and “Whose son is he?” In Isaiah 7:14, for example, the prophet declared that a virgin would conceive, bear a son, and name him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (a prophecy that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ; Matthew 1:22-23). Later, Isaiah referred to this son as “Mighty God” (9:6). In fact, in the year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah said he saw “the Lord” sitting upon a throne (see Isaiah 6:1ff.). Overpowered by the scene, God’s servant exclaimed: “Woe is me,...for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (6:5). In the New Testament, John wrote: “These things said Isaiah, because he saw His [Christ’s] glory; and he spake of him” (John 12:41).
Isaiah urged God’s people to sanctify “Jehovah of hosts” (8:12-14), a command applied to Jesus by Peter (1 Peter 3:14-15). Furthermore, Isaiah’s “Jehovah” was to become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (8:14), a description that New Testament writers applied to Christ (cf. Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8). Isaiah foretold that John the Baptizer would prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah (40:3). It is well known that John was the forerunner of Christ (cf. Matthew 3:3, John 1:23).
Isaiah pictured Christ not only as a silent “lamb” (53:7), but as a man Who “a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench” (42:3; cf. Matthew 12:20). J.W. McGarvey explained the imagery in these verses as follows:
A bruised reed, barely strong enough to stand erect...a smoking flax (a lamp wick), its flame extinguished and its fire almost gone, fitly represent the sick, and lame, and blind who were brought to Jesus to be healed. ...he would heal their bruises and fan their dying energies into a flame (1875, p. 106).
Other Old Testament writers illuminated Christ in their writings as well. The psalmist suggested He would be known as zealous for righteousness (Psalm 69:9), that He would be hated without cause (Psalm 22), and that He would triumph over death (Psalm 16:8-11). Daniel referred to His coming kingdom as one that would “stand forever” (12:44). The prophets’ portrait of Christ was intended not only to foreshadow His coming, but to make Him all the more visible to the people in New Testament times as well.
CHRIST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament is equally explicit in its commentary regarding the Christ, and offers extensive corroboration of the Old Testament declarations concerning Him. The prophets had portrayed the Messiah’s demise as unjust, painful, and vicarious (Isaiah 53:4-6; Psalm 22). In the New Testament, Paul reiterated that fact (Romans 5:6-8). The prophets predicted that He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9) for a mere thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), and He was (Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:15). They said that He would be mocked (Psalm 22:7-8), spat upon (Isaiah 50:6), numbered among common criminals (Isaiah 53:12), pierced through (Zechariah 12:10), and forsaken by God (cf. Psalm 22:1), and He was (Luke 23:35; Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:27-28; John 19:37; John 20:25; Mark 15:34). Without any explanation, an inspired prophet predicted that the suffering servant’s hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16). Later revelation reveals the reason for such a statement: He was nailed to a cross (Luke 23:33).
The prophets had said that He would be raised from the dead so that He could sit upon the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7). This occurred, as Peter attested in his sermon on Pentecost following the resurrection (Acts 2:30). He would rule, not Judah, but the most powerful kingdom on Earth. As King, Christ was to rule (from heaven) the kingdom that “shall never be destroyed” and that “shall break in pieces and consume all these [earthly] kingdoms, and...shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). The New Testament establishes the legitimacy of His kingdom (Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). The subjects of this royal realm were to be from every nation on Earth (Isaiah 2:2), and were prophesied to enjoy a life of peace and harmony that ignores any and all human distinctions, prejudices, or biases (cf. Isaiah 2:4, Galatians 3:28). This King would be arrayed, not in the regal purple of a carnal king, but in the humble garments of a holy priest (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6). Like Melchizedek, the Messiah was to be both Priest and King (Genesis 14:18), guaranteeing that His subjects could approach God without the interference of a clergy class. Instead, as the New Testament affirms, Christians offer their petitions directly to God through their King—Who mediates on their behalf (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12,19-22). It would be impossible for the New Testament writers to provide any clearer answers than they did to the questions that Christ asked the Pharisees.
CHRIST AS A MAN
The Scriptures teach that Jesus possessed two natures—divine and human. As an eternal Being (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1ff.), He was God; yet, He became man (1 Timothy 2:5), made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), though without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Isaiah observed that Christ would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief ” Who would grow up “as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
As a human, the prophets had said, Christ was to be the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), and a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). The New Testament confirms that He was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) who was a virgin (Matthew 1:23), and that He was the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Matthew 1:1ff.). The apostle John stated that He had become flesh and had dwelt among men (John 1:14). Paul wrote that Christ was recognized “in fashion as a man” (Philippians 2:7-8). From his position as a physician, Luke wrote that Christ “advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He was able to learn (Hebrews 5:8). He experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), anger (Mark 3:5), frustration (Mark 9:19), joy (John 15:11), sadness (John 11:35), and grief (Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7). He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But most significantly, He was able to die (Mark 15:44). In every respect, He was as human as you and I, which is why He could, and did, refer to Himself as the “Son of Man” (see Matthew 1:20; 9:6; et al.).
But the impact He had on the world was not due to His physical appearance. In fact, Isaiah foretold that He would have “no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). Rather, it was His nature and His character that made Him so intriguing, so commanding a figure, and so worthy of honor, respect, and worship. Here we see a man—but no mere man, for He is the only man who was virgin-born (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18), and upon whom the inspired prophets dared to apply the revered name of “Jehovah” (Isaiah 40:3).
Why do the Scriptures place importance upon the human nature of Christ? Wayne Jackson has suggested:
If Christ had not become a man, He could not have died. Deity, as pure Spirit-essence, possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16—the Greek word denotes deathlessness). The writer of Hebrews makes it wonderfully plain that Christ partook of “flesh and blood” that “through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). If Christ had not died, there would have been no atonement, no forgiveness of sins—the human family would have been hopelessly lost forever! Thank God for Christ’s humanity (1979, p. 66, emp. in orig.).
CHRIST AS GOD
The Scriptures do not speak of Christ as just a man, however. They also acknowledge His divine nature. In most of its occurrences, “Jehovah” is applied to the first person of the Godhead (i.e., the Father—Matthew 28:19). For example: “Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus later explained that this verse pictures the Father addressing the Christ (Luke 20:42).
Yet the name “Jehovah” also is used on occasion to refer to Christ. For example, Isaiah prophesied concerning the mission of John the Baptizer: “The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3; cf. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4). John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus Christ (John 1:29-34). But Isaiah said that John would prepare the way of Jehovah. Clearly, Jesus and Jehovah are the same.
The writer of Hebrews quoted the Father as addressing His Son in this way: “Thou, Lord [Jehovah—Psalm 102:25], in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands” (Hebrews 1:10). Not only does this verse apply the word “Jehovah” to Jesus, but it actually attributes the quotation to the mouth of God. Again, Jesus and Jehovah are used synonymously.
Furthermore, Jesus spoke and acted like God. He affirmed that He was “one” with the Father (John 10:30). He forgave sins—a prerogative of God alone (Mark 2:5,7). He accepted the worship of men (John 9:38) which is due only to God (Matthew 4:10), and which good angels (Revelation 22:8-9) and good men (Matthew 4:10) refuse.
In addition, Jesus is plainly called “God” a number of times within the New Testament. In John 1:1, regarding Him Who became flesh and dwelt among men (1:14), the Bible says: “the Word was God.” And in John 20:28, one of the disciples, Thomas, upon being confronted with empirical evidence for the Lord’s resurrection, proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” Significantly, and appropriately, Christ accepted the designation. Additional passages that reveal Christ as God include Philippians 2:5ff., 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15, and many others.
CHOICES REGARDING CHRIST’S DEITY
When Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priest asked: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” To that question Christ replied simply, “I am” (Mark 14:62). In view of the exalted nature of such a claim, and its ultimate end results, there are but three possible views one may entertain in reference to Christ’s claim of being deity: (1) He was a liar and con-artist; (2) He was a madman; or (3) He was exactly Who He said He was.
In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell titled one chapter: “The Trilemma—Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?” His purpose was to point out that, considering the grandiose nature of Christ’s claims, He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. McDowell introduced his chapter on Christ’s deity with a quotation from the famous British apologist of Cambridge University, C.S. Lewis, who wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (1952, pp. 40-41).
Was Christ a Liar?
Was Christ a liar? A charlatan? A “messianic manipulator”? Hugh J. Schonfield, in The Passover Plot, claimed that He was all three. Schonfield suggested that Jesus manipulated His life in such a way as to counterfeit the events described in the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. At times, this required “contriving those events when necessary, contending with friends and foes to ensure that the predictions would be fulfilled” (1965, p. 7). Schonfield charged that Jesus “plotted and schemed with the utmost skill and resourcefulness, sometimes making secret arrangements, taking advantage of every circumstance conducive to the attainment of his objectives” (p. 155). He further asserted that Jesus even planned to fake His own death on the cross. Unfortunately, however, Jesus had not counted on having a Roman soldier pierce His side with a spear. Thus, instead of recovering from His stupor, Jesus died unexpectedly. On Saturday night, His body was moved to a secret place so that His tomb would be empty on the next day, thus leaving the impression of His resurrection and, simultaneously, His deity (pp. 161,165).
But does this reconstruction of the life of Christ ring true? Even if a charlatan could beguile a few followers into believing that he had fulfilled a few of the prophecies (either by coincidence, or by contrivance), how could he possibly fulfill those that were beyond his control? For example, how could an impostor have planned his betrayal price? How could he have known that the money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (cf. Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:7)? How could he have known that men would gamble for his clothing (cf. Psalm 22:17-18, Matthew 27:35-36)? Yet these are just a sampling of the many prophecies over which he would have no control. Jesus, however, fulfilled every single one of them.
In considering the possibility that Christ was little more than an accomplished liar, renowned biblical historian, Philip Schaff, asked:
How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages? (1913, pp. 94-95).
Further, the question must be asked: What sane man is willing to die for what he knows all along is actually a lie? As McDowell summarized the matter: “Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar” (1972, p. 106).
Was Christ a Lunatic?
Was Jesus merely a psychotic lunatic Who sincerely (albeit mistakenly) viewed Himself as God incarnate? Such a view rarely has been entertained by anyone cognizant of Christ’s life and teachings. Schaff has asked:
Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination! (1913, pp. 97-98).
Would a raving lunatic teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Would a lunatic teach that we should pray for our enemies? Would a lunatic teach that we should “turn the other cheek,” and then set an example of exactly how to do that—even unto death? Would a lunatic present an ethical/moral code like the one found within the text of the Sermon on the Mount? Hardly! Lunacy of the sort ascribed to Christ by His detractors does not produce such genius. Schaff wrote:
Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of His mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of His Church, the destruction of Jerusalem—predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so completely, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would be in this case greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus (1910, p. 109).
Was Christ Deity?
If Jesus was not a liar or a lunatic, then the questions Jesus asked the Pharisees still remain: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is He?” Was Jesus, in fact, exactly Who He claimed to be? Was He God incarnate? The evidence suggests that He was.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEITY OF CHRIST
In Mark 10, an account is recorded concerning a rich young ruler who, in speaking to Christ, addressed Him as “Good Teacher.” Upon hearing this reference, Jesus asked the man: “Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, even God” (Mark 10:17).
Was Christ suggesting that His countryman’s loyalty was misplaced, and that He was unworthy of being called “good” (in the sense that ultimately only God merits such a designation)? No. In fact, Christ was suggesting that He was worthy of the appellation. He wanted the ruler to understand the significance of the title he had used. R.C. Foster paraphrased Jesus’ response as follows: “Do you know the meaning of this word you apply to me and which you use so freely? There is none good save God; if you apply that term to me, and you understand what you mean, you affirm that I am God” (1971, p. 1022).
What evidence establishes Christ’s deity? Among other things, it includes Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, His confirmation of His Sonship via the miracles He performed, His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, and His post-resurrection appearances.
Fulfillment of O.T. Prophecies
Scholars have documented over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament (Lockyer, 1973, p. 21). From Genesis through Malachi, the history of Jesus is foretold in minute detail. Bible critics who wish to disprove Christ’s deity, must refute fulfilled prophecy. To accomplish this, one would have to contend that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies genuinely, but only appeared to fulfill them. Yet with over 300 prophecies relating to Christ—none of which can be dismissed flippantly—this is an impossible task.
Could Christ have fulfilled 300+ prophetic utterances by chance? P.W. Stoner and R.C. Newman selected just eight specific prophecies, and calculated the probability of one man fulfilling all of them. Their conclusion was that 1 man in 1017 could do it (1976, p. 106). The probability that a single man could fulfill—by chance—all of the prophecies relating to Christ and His ministry would be practically incalculable, and the idea that a single man did so would be utterly absurd.
Performance of Genuine Miracles
Christ also backed up His claims by working miracles. Throughout history, God had empowered other people to perform miracles. But while their miracles confirmed they were servants of God, Jesus’ miracles were intended to prove that He is God (John 10:37-38; cf. John 20:30-31).
While in prison, John the Baptizer sent his followers to ask Jesus: “Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus’ response was: “Go and tell John...the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Over seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that those very things would be done by the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1). Jesus was not saying simply: “Look at all the good things I am doing.” Rather, He was saying: “I am the One doing exactly what the Coming One is supposed to do!”
When Peter addressed the very people who had put Jesus to death, he reminded them that Christ’s unique identity had been proved “by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). The key phrase here is “even as ye yourselves know.” The Jews had witnessed Christ’s miracles occurring among them on practically a daily basis. And, unlike the pseudo-miracles allegedly performed by today’s “spiritualists,” Jesus’ miracles were feats that truly defied naturalistic explanation. In the presence of many witnesses, the Nazarene not only gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, fed thousands from a handful of food, and made the lame to walk, but also calmed turbulent seas and raised the dead! Although not overly eager to admit it, Jesus’ critics often were brought face-to-face with the truth that no one could do what Jesus did unless God was with Him (John 3:2; see also John 9).
The Resurrection, and Post-Resurrection Appearances
Likely, however, the most impressive miracle involving Jesus was His resurrection. In agreement with Old Testament prophecy, and just as He had promised, Christ came forth from the tomb three days after His brutal crucifixion (Matthew 16:21; 27:63; 28:1-8). His resurrection was witnessed by soldiers who had been appointed to guard His tomb. In the end, these soldiers had to be bribed to change their story, so that the Jewish leaders would not lose credibility, and to prevent the Jewish people from recognizing their true Messiah (Matthew 28:11-15). It is a matter of history that Christ’s tomb was empty on that Sunday morning almost 2,000 years ago. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, how came His guarded and sealed tomb to be empty?
That Christ had been raised from the dead was witnessed by many different types of people: the soldiers who guarded His tomb; the women who came early in the morning to anoint Him with spices; eleven apostles; and more than 500 other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). When they saw the living, breathing Jesus—days after His death—they had concrete proof that He was Who He claimed to be all along! Even his detractors could not deny successfully the fact, and significance, of the empty tomb.
Thousands of people go annually to the graves of the founders of the Buddhist and Muslim religions to pay homage. Yet Christians do not pay homage at the grave of Christ—for the simple fact that the tomb is empty. A dead Savior is no good! For those who accept, and act upon, the evidence for Christ’s deity provided by the resurrection, life is meaningful, rich, and full (see Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 15). For those who reject the resurrection, the vacant tomb will stand forever as eternity’s greatest mystery, and one day will serve as their silent judge.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? He had no formal rabbinical training (John 7:15). He possessed no material wealth (Luke 9:58; 2 Corinthians 8:9). Yet, through His teachings, He turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Clearly, as the evidence documents, He was, and is, both the Son of Man and the Son of God. He lived, and died, to redeem fallen mankind. He gave Himself a ransom (Matthew 20:28). He is God, Who predates, and will outlast, time itself (Philippians 2:5-11).
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Bromling, Brad T. (1991), “Jesus and Jehovah—An Undeniable Link,” Reasoning from Revelation, 3:3, February.
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Bromling, Brad T. (1995), “Jesus: Truly God and Truly Human,” Reason & Revelation, 15:17-20, March.
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