The Deity of Christ (pt. 3)
During his long, fruitful ministry, Dr. John Gerstner, mentor to R.C. Sproul, wrote a series of primers on various points of theology which were later printed in Primitive Theology. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing his “Primer on the Deity of Christ” as a series of blog posts. Interestingly, the primer is in the form of a dialogue. The dialogue is between ‘‘Inquirer,’’ who is an educated, thoughtful person becoming convinced of the truths of the Christian religion (though not yet converted to them), and “Christian,’’ an experienced evangelical minister. Here is part three of that dialog.
I: Isn’t there a sense, though, in which everybody has God dwelling in him. Could I not say in that sense, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father’’? I tremble even at the utterance of those words because frankly they sound blasphemous. But if Jesus alludes only to being in union with God, would there be anything but a difference of degree between Jesus and His followers in whom He dwells?
C: As you say, you would feel blasphemous in saying. ‘‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’’ I too would feel blasphemous. Why is that?
I: Well, in my case, and I suppose yours also, it’s because I know I am not God. Even if I were sure, which I am not, that God dwells in me, I am absolutely certain that I am not God. So whatever Jesus Christ means by that statement, I know I couldn’t say it with anything other than a feeling of abhorrence. You’ll have to speak for yourself.
C: I couldn’t say those words any more than you could, and for the same reason. I know I am not God. It would be a blasphemous falsehood. So we are really answering our question, are we not?
I: Yes, we are. You and I and others like us simply could not say, ‘‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father,’’ because we know we are not God. Which drives us to the conclusion that when Jesus calmly makes such an utterance, He really is God. The only way to make sense of that claim coming from the lips of a visible human being is that He, Jesus of Nazareth, is actually in a unique unity with God. It is so
different from the way any other human being is related to God that He alone can say that to see Him is to see the Father. Yes, I think you’ve proved your point. That statement is, on reflection, a clear claim of deity and simultaneously of incarnation.
C: On another occasion, Jesus said something similar and yet significantly different.
I: What was that?
C: He said, ‘‘I and the Father are one.’’ Surely that sounds like, ‘‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” But there is this difference: In the statement we’ve been discussing, Jesus claims a one-to-one identification between Himself and the Father. But in saying, “I and the Father are one,’’ He indicates not a one-to-one identity, but a two-in-one identity, if I may use that expression. He has in mind two persons when He says, ‘‘I and the Father are one.” Referring obviously to Himself in distinction from the Father, He emphasizes at the same time that He is one with the Father: ‘‘I and the Father are one.’’
I: I think I see the subtle, wonderful difference here. The statement, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,’’ stresses His identity with God. But, ‘‘I and the Father are one’’ speaks of both identity and diversity.
C: So we have here a reference to two persons in one Godhead, do we not?
I: Two persons in one Godhead? I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess that’s true. The two persons, ‘‘I’’ and the ‘‘Father,” are ‘‘one,” that is, one Godhead. I see what you’re saying. But what does that mean?
C: Does that not indicate the doctrine of the Trinity in principle? In other words we have here a reassertion of the oneness of God or “monotheism,” the unity of the divine essence or being. At the same time, we see that Christ is distinct from the Father. So we have, in the phraseology of the traditional Trinitarian doctrine, a reference to two of the three persons in the Godhead. The Son and the Father are one in the same divine essence.
Though our discussion does not focus on the Trinity, but on the deity of Christ, His being a member of the Trinity clearly underlines the full deity of Jesus Christ.
I: That is certainly true.
C: Before we leave the Gospel of John, let’s take one other assertion that occurs there. In the eighth chapter, Jesus carries on a dialogue with certain “Jews who believed on Him.” That phrase occurs in verse 31, but before the chapter is over, those Jews who believed in Him were seen not to believe in Him.
I: How is that?
C: When Christ claimed to be deity, these professed believers realized they did not in fact believe in Him. They believed in the person they thought Jesus was. When they learned who Jesus claimed to be, they were outraged at Him.
It was in the course of the dialogue with these ‘‘believing’’ Jews that Jesus indicated that He came from the Father and indeed was one with the Father. These “disciples’’ were getting the message and not liking it.
I: What happened then?
C: Well, as the chapter unfolds, the more these ‘‘believers’’ learn about Jesus and His claims to deity, the more they become hostile and outraged. Finally, they recognize that Christ unmistakably claims to be God. In their book, that is blasphemy, because Jesus was a human being, and it is blasphemy for a human being to claim to be God. When they put two and two together and came to the inevitable conclusion they picked up stones to kill Him because, as they said, “You being a man make yourself to be God.”
You see, that other statement, ‘‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father,’’ was made to His believing disciples. They accepted it. But this statement about Christ’s deity was made to professed believers who really did not believe. So here we have the testimony of unbelievers to Christ’s own self-opinion as we have in the other chapter the testimony of believers to His belief about Himself. Both groups are confronted with the same Christ. One group accepts Him as divine and worships. The other group rejects Him as a blasphemer and endeavors to execute Him.
I: Different reactions to the same proposition of Jesus that He was indeed God incarnate.
C: Correct. John’s Gospel concentrates on this theme, but we could also find evidence for Christ’s deity elsewhere. Before we go to a direct statement of Christ’s that clearly indicates His deity, let’s notice a feature of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and Luke that, while not mentioning deity directly, unmistakably implies it.
I: You’re referring to the famous sermon-lecture of Jesus on morals, where we have the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule and so on?
I: Are you saying that the Sermon on the Mount teaches the divinity of Jesus?
C: Indirectly, yes.
I: That’s the first time I have ever heard that. In fact, it is to the Sermon on the Mount that my friends, who do not believe in the deity of Christ, appeal.
C: I hope so. It may make believers out of them.
I: Show me.
C: The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is found in chapters 5 through 7. Here Christ says the type of thing that leaves no doubt He assumes His own deity. For example, consider the Beatitudes in general. We’re all familiar with these. Many of us have memorized them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” And so on. I’ll not cite them all, but just note that Jesus utters them with absolute finality and on His own authority alone. You know how the prophets would constantly say, “Thus saith the Lord.” They would always ground the authority of their message not on themselves but on its source in God, who had revealed His message to them. They make it very clear that they are the servants and He is the Lord.
I: Doesn’t Jesus call Himself the servant of the Lord?
C: True, He does say, “I came to do the Father’s will.” He was a man and He was subordinate to the divine will. He says so on a number of occasions. Nevertheless, on other occasions He appeals to nothing and relies on nothing. The authority of His message does not depend upon a source outside Himself.
I: How so?
C: In the Beatitudes, for example, on His own authority, He tells us who will inherit the kingdom of God, who will be the children of God, who will inherit the earth, and so on. No
mere human being can say that on His own authority. He can give educated guesses. Or, if he is commissioned by God, he can say it in God’s name, but not of himself. Yet this man Jesus spoke these things very calmly with a supreme and serene authority appropriate only to deity itself. Is that not so?
I: I suppose you’re right. I had never thought of it that way before. As you say, I’ve known those Beatitudes for a long, long time. I’ve even memorized a good many of them. But since Jesus doesn’t say so in so many words that He’s God, I guess I never noticed that He was really doing something even more impressive than that—just tacitly assuming it. That’s what it amounts to. He talks as if He is God, even when He doesn’t say so directly. A person might not notice that fact.
C: Maybe that’s a tribute to Jesus: that these things sound so natural coming from His lips that we don’t notice extraordinary implications.
I: It is as if we have a tacit, unconscious realization of His deity. It doesn’t seem strange to hear Jesus speak that way. It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for anyone to speak that way unless He were divine.
C: I had never thought of it that way myself. You have a very fine point there. I thank you for it. I myself never realized that the reason people reading the Beatitudes miss their implicit argument for Jesus’ deity is that it seems so natural coming from His lips. They almost instinctively realized that this was no mere preacher, that this was a divine preacher. Thank you, my friend, for that observation.
I: I’m glad to return a favor for all you have done me. What other things in the Sermon on the Mount imply the deity of that preacher?
C: Notice the last beatitude especially. Christ says there. as you know, ‘‘Blessed are you when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.”
I: Wait a minute. Don’t tell me. I see for myself what you are about to say. Jesus is saying that the prophets suffered for Him. And the prophets lived hundreds of years before Jesus, did they not?
C: Indeed. Some lived thousands of years before Him. The prophets proper, those whom He may well have meant, were as early as a thousand years before Him. The latest before John the Baptist would have been several hundred years before Him.
I: In other words, people who lived a thousand years before Him suffered for His sake. That implies that He was preexistent, a supernatural being. If He lived hundreds of years before that sermon, and people suffered for Him a millennium before He was born, then He existed in another form before taking upon Himself a human form. Is that it?
C: It would seem an inescapable conclusion that He was preexistent, but not necessarily that He was eternal.
To be continued…
Excerpted from Primitive Theology