Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lesson 3: Deity of Christ (Part 3/3)

(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.

Unique Mutual Knowledge Attests to Jesus’ Divinity

In chapter 11 of Matthew we read in verse 27:
No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son (Matt 11:27)
Since saved people, at least in some sense, know God—and since Jesus’ disciples, at the very least, likewise knew Jesus, it is clear that this statement refers to unique knowledge. Jesus has a unique knowledge of the Father, and the Father has a unique knowledge of the Son. How is that possible? The simplest explanation is, once again, that Jesus is God. Even if Jesus were “just” an angel, then he would presumably not have a unique knowledge of God—for there are, as we know, many angels.

Once again we have the allusion to two parts of the Godhead—once again we have support for the trinity without even mentioning the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Claims His deity in the Great Commission

At the very end of Matthew, Christ proclaims the great commission:
18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt 28:18-20)
Note that it is not the case that Christ is, at this point, risen that speaks of His deity, for God can (and will) raise men as well. Nor is it that He has been given authority, for God could bestow authority on whomever He chooses. What speaks of Christ’s divinity is the Trinitarian reference. His disciples would know from his earlier teaching that he meant himself when he refers to “the Son”, and here he brackets himself between the Father and the Holy Spirit. If He were not God, then He just spoke blasphemy.

Now at the end of the great commission we see another testimony to Christ’s divinity. If Christ were but an exalted creature He could say nothing stronger than: and I expect to be with you always, to the very end of the age. Instead he speaks with a certainty and authority that comes from a deific omnipotence.

Jesus Asserts His Divinity When He denies it

Many have used Jesus’ dialogue with the rich young ruler as evidence of His denial of His own deity:
18A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 19"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'" (Luke 8:18-20)
When Jesus says “Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone,” it would appear that Jesus is denying that He is God. However, when the totality of Jesus’ teaching on His own deity is considered, another interpretation becomes probable. What is likely happening is that Jesus is probing the ruler as to his view of him (Jesus). The clue is that Jesus phrases it in the form of a question. He did not say: don’t call me good, only God is good. Instead Jesus, in effect says: Since you call me good, do you not realize that I am God, since only God is good? Further indication comes from the fact that, if Jesus is not God, we would not expect him to deny His deity here, in as much as the ruler simply calls him a good teacher—which is certainly a common enough compliment that it would not set the stage for Christ to deny. If the ruler called Him God, then (if He weren’t God) the stage would be dramatically set for Him to “set the record straight.”

We see more. Notice what the ruler asked: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And notice Jesus’ answer:
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke 8:22)
Christ tells the ruler that for eternal life, the ruler must follow Him. This statement is rational only for God. Again, imagine a pastor stating that if you want eternal life, you need to “follow me”.


From Lesson 2, we now assume the inerrancy and inspiration of scripture. So we have confidence that scriptural statements about Jesus and by Jesus are reliable. Although Jesus never made the definitive statement: I am God, many of His statements individually and without question the weight of them collectively make it clear that He attested to His own divinity. To assess a statement of Jesus, as to whether it attests to His deity, we often used the test: would what Jesus said be blasphemy if it were the words of a mere creature?

Why didn’t Jesus make a simple declarative statement? We can only speculate that it was for the same reason He spoke in parables (Matt. 13:10). It is also comforting to note that were Jesus a fraud, and/or if his history is a fable, we would have expected him to openly declare his deity—or for a fictional declaration to be added to the myth.

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