The Deity of Jesus - Does It Matter?
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1999
Volume 10 Number 3
Some time ago, I found myself sitting next to a clergyman in an aircraft. During the course of our conversation he said he didn’t believe in the deity of Jesus. When I asked him why, he replied that there was no evidence to support the claim that Jesus was God. To his embarrassment I took my Bible out of my briefcase and began to read from John 1. He became agitated and said, ‘I don’t believe all that’s in that book!’
He then posed a number of academic and philosophical questions about Jesus and the Bible, to which I responded, but the discussion began to go around in circles. He believed in God but there were lots of ways to God and Christianity was merely one of them, he said.
There have always been people who for one reason or another reject the deity of Jesus. The cults, liberal theologians, New Age philosophers and exponents of other religious groups refuse to acknowledge that He is God. It is worthy of note that some of the ‘word of faith’ leaders like Hagen and Copeland also reject His divinity.
Like the man on the plane, those who reject the deity of Jesus appear to have no real comprehension of the nature of the gospel or of how very necessary His deity is to the essential integrity of its core truths. When we undermine the credibility of Jesus and the supernatural elements of His birth, life, death and resurrection, the gospel has no substance. Everything we believe as Christians is inseparably linked with His person and work. We cannot find any level of relationship with God apart from Him.
Why is it important for Christians to believe in the deity of Jesus? Quite apart from what has already been said, there are a number of factors that make it difficult for Christians not to believe in it.
1. Jesus is called God.
In the Bible Jesus is consistently declared to be God. To reject His deity is to reject the authority and integrity of Scripture.
The Apostle John under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit very specifically declared Him to be the eternal ‘Word’ who was with the Father before the beginning of time (John 1:1-4). John simply writes: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Words was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ The passage then affirms that the Word created all things: ‘Nothing was made without Him’ (c/f Col. 1:15-18).
The context of John 1 leaves us in no doubt as to who the Apostle was speaking about. John 1:14 declares, ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.’ He could be speaking of none other than Jesus. Indeed as we read the Gospel of John we see that the whole book is about Jesus and the things recorded consistently affirm His deity and messiahship (John 20:31).
A further dimension of meaning is added in John 1:18: ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.’ The statement is prefixed in verse 17 by the declaration that ‘Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’. Clearly, Jesus came not only to reconcile us to God but also to show us what God is like, by being the visible expression of the invisible God in all that He was, said and did. The writer to the Hebrews further develops this concept: ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.’
2. Jesus believed He was God.
In John 8:58 Jesus made the astounding claim that ‘before Abraham was born, I Am’. In John 10:30 He provoked the Jewish leaders with the words ‘I and My Father are one.’ Those present saw this as a claim to deity. ‘He made Himself equal with God,’ they said, and wanted to stone Him.
Jesus was referred to as the ‘Son of God’ no less that 82 times in the New Testament. On many of those occasions He was called ‘the only begotten Son’. In John 10:31-36 the religious leaders accused Him of blasphemy because He as a mere man claimed to be God.
3. The Birth of Jesus
The birth of Jesus was an entirely supernatural event, expected long before in the Old Testament: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ (Is. 7:14). ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Is. 9:6).
The angel’s announcement to Mary confirmed the miracle (Luke 1:35): ‘The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’
In every sense of the word this was an immaculate conception—an act of God in choosing a human vessel through whom He would appear in the world. This is what theologians call ‘the incarnation’—God taking on Himself human form.
It’s important to note that Jesus, the Son of God, even in the womb was ‘the holy one’. He had to be sinless—perfect in every way—in order to be the Saviour of the world. Many of the Old Testament ceremonies and feast days depicted Christ as the lamb without blemish (cf John 1:29). He was the one uniquely qualified to provide the perfect sacrifice in order to deal with the sin problem and make complete redemption possible ‘once for all’ (Heb.1:1-14). The credibility of the gospel stands or falls on the truth of the incarnation.
4. Jesus is Lord of all.
There are few passages that depict the pre-eminence of Jesus more clearly than the book of Colossians. The church was besieged by false teachers who wanted to add to the gospel the dimension of religious practice as a means of finding deeper spirituality. Paul’s response was to reaffirm the person of Jesus and the absolute adequacy of His redemptive work, declaring Jesus to be pre-eminent in three realms.
a) The Theological Realm
Colossians leaves us in no doubt that wrong views about Christ will generate a wrong understanding of His work both for us and within us. Indeed, all that He is, is inseparable from all that He has done. Christ is not only the centre of creation, the one who holds everything together. He is also the bodily manifestation of God, the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead (through His resurrection) and therefore supreme over all (Col.1:15-18).
b) The Historical Realm
Jesus entered the world at a point in history so that through His death we might be ‘qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints of light’ to ‘rescue us from the domain of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of the Son He loves’ (Col. 1:14). At a point in history, through the Cross, Christ redeemed us and made forgiveness, peace and reconciliation with God possible (Col.1:14,21), giving us a confidence that because of who He is and what He has done, we will stand before God ‘holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ (Col. 1:19-21).
c) The Experiential Realm
For Christians, Christ’s supremacy is theologically fundamental. Whilst it is demonstrated historically, unless His supremacy impacts our relationship with Christ, our walk in the world and our response to the revealed purposes of God both for time and eternity, the pre-eminence of Christ becomes nothing more than a church dogma.
The wonder of the gospel is that when its message touches our lives, Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to indwell and occupy us so that we may know God as we ought to and become all that He intended (Col.1:27). That’s what happened on the day of Pentecost. Jesus was declared to be both Lord and Christ. The people responded with acceptance and faith as the gospel began to impact their lives (Acts 2:36, 38,39).
The Scriptures consistently depict Jesus as the one to whom ‘every knee shall bow’ (Phil. 2:10). Interestingly, this a restatement of Isaiah 45:22-23 where God affirmed that salvation is in Him alone and that the day is coming when ‘every knee shall bow to Him’.
The context of the statement in Philippians 2 introduces another complex dimension—that of Jesus being both human and divine. I once heard Major Ian Thomas say that Jesus Christ was never at any moment ever less than completely divine, but chose to live and act as though He were never more than human. That’s the clear message of Philippians 2:6-11: ‘He being in the very nature God … made Himself nothing … taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness …’.
The truth is that Jesus laid aside His deity and embraced the limitations of humanity so that He was human in every sense of the word. He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet was without sin, so He is ‘able to sympathise with our weakness’ (Heb. 4:15). In His humanity Jesus suffered the limitations of time and space, of pain, hunger and thirst, and experienced the emotions of joy and sorrow. Because He was truly human, the second Adam of Romans 5:12-19, He was uniquely qualified to be the saviour of the world.
Christ’s coming to the world, His death and resurrection, not only made forgiveness and reconciliation with God possible, but also re-established in a practical and functional way His authority in the lives of His people. Without His authority, His purpose in creation—the image of God being expressed in human beings—could not be fully experienced. It’s important to note that throughout the Scriptures, whenever the Christian’s growth and ongoing maturity are mentioned, this is always in the context of embracing His authority and purpose in our lives.
5. Jesus is worshipped as God
At His birth the angels sang glory to God in the highest, and the shepherds and wise men came and worshipped Him. When Thomas the doubter was confronted by the risen Christ in John 20:28, his response was, ‘My Lord and my God.’ One cannot recognise and embrace the wonder of all that He is without a worshipful response. When recounting his testimony of God’s intervention in his life, Paul proclaimed, ‘Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen’ (1 Tim. 1:17).
6. The claims He made
C S Lewis once said that either Jesus Christ is all He claimed to be or the greatest impostor that ever lived, or worse, an imbecile! Through an examination of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Lewis became convinced that He was all He claimed to be and was wonderfully converted to Christianity.
We have already seen that Jesus claimed to be pre-existent, to have come in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies (John 5:31-40), to be the only way to God (John 14:6) and the source of life—the spiritual dimension of life that helps us to be what God intended (John 17:3). Jesus calmly and deliberately predicted His death and resurrection (Matt.16:21). Knowing this, He set His face steadfastly towards Jerusalem.
When one considers these things, one is locked into the wonder of all that He is. We can do nothing else but say with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God’, for the babe of Bethlehem is not only the saviour of the world; He is also the sovereign on the throne of heaven.
The dilemma for those who find it difficult to believe in His deity is that all that is claimed about Jesus is entirely beyond the realm of human experience. Naturalistic philosophy cannot relate to the divine and so they either entirely reject or seek to explain away the record of Scripture. However it is important to remind ourselves that in rejecting His deity we also reject the key principles that affirm the credibility of the gospel, for it is pivotal to the gospel message.
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.
© Kel Willis (1 November 1999)