Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lesson 3: Deity of Christ (Part 2)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on the Deity of Christ from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

Proof of Jesus’ Deity from the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matthew 5-7, is not usually offered up as proof of His divinity. But upon closer inspection, it is. Consider the Beatitudes. Here Jesus utters some of His most well known statements, such as “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.

These statements are often used as further evidence for Jesus’ love, His kindness, and His moral teaching. But do they not say more if we think about how they are stated? They are stated with absolute and final authority. Jesus is not citing any other authority upon whom one can trust his teaching on whom will inherit the kingdom of God—he invokes only his own.

Looked at it differently, Jesus could be just a good teacher. Or He could be a prophet. Or He could be God.

If Jesus recognized himself as merely a good teacher, he would have stated something like: “My beloved, I believe that the poor in spirit are blessed and I believe that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

If Jesus were a prophet, he would have stated something like: “Thus saith the Lord: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

A mere teacher would qualify his teachings, as self-evident as they may be, as his own beliefs—and would offer scriptural support. A prophet would acknowledge that the source of the teachings is something beyond himself, namely God. Only God would rationally make these pronouncements as absolute fact on basis of the authority of the speaker. When, as Christians, we read the beatitudes we instinctively understand that God is speaking. But we rarely flesh that out to its logical conclusion: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount testifies to His divinity.

This is most evident in the last beatitude. Here Jesus states: “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.”

Here we have a clear claim of divinity, should we care to look for it. For this says more than you will be persecuted, and the prophets were persecuted too. It attests that the prophets and the disciples were/will be persecuted for the same reason: for the sake of Jesus. No human being could claim that the prophets of hundreds of years earlier had been persecuted for his sake. Only a pre-existing entity could make such a claim—only God could make the claim.

Jesus’ Comments on the Bible Attest to His Divinity

Recall when Jesus teaches us how hard it is to be a Christian. He does this when pointing out misconceptions about Old Testament scripture. He says: “It is said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say unto you…” or “It is said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but I say unto you…”

We need to consider the magnitude of these statements. Jesus is speaking to an audience that (rightly) considered the Old Testament as the inspired word of God. Jesus calmly recites the Old Testament passages, and then proceeds to make statements that supersede them. He matter-of-factly and clearly places his pronouncements on the same level as Holy Scripture. Only God can do this. Once again, imagine the absurdity of even the apostle Paul stating “scripture says this, but what I say is…”

Notice that the way Jesus makes these claims cannot rest on his sinlessness alone. If Jesus were sinless but not God (if such a thing were possible)—that is if he were merely a man who had reached the theoretical limit of human perfection—the statements of his which we have been discussing would still be blasphemous. And by making such statements, he would no longer be sinless!

The Most Definitive Statement of Jesus’ Divinity from the Sermon on the Mount

At the end of His sermon, Jesus describes a frightening scene of judgment, when Jesus tells us: “In that day men shall come before Me and say, ‘Lord, Lord. Have we not prophesized in thy name? Have we not cast out demons in thy name? Have we not done mighty works in thy name?’ And I shall say unto them, ‘Depart from me ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you.’ ”

Jesus’ teaching of His own divinity could hardly be clearer. He describes being called Lord, and He takes no steps to correct it as an error, so we assume he accepts the honorific. But more importantly, He places himself as ruler over the final judgment of man—a role that belongs only to God.

Why does Jesus never say “I am God?” Perhaps it is because He says it so clearly and in ways that provide more details. The statement we have just discussed is just as clear in its claim of deity, yet it teaches us much more than a simple declarative statement.

To be continued...

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