The Deity of Christ

by Francine Grace Tan, Class of ’19

“We cannot afford to lose either the God in the man or the man in the God; our hearts cry out for the complete God-man whom the Scriptures offer us.”

B.B. Warfield

Who do you think Jesus is? Do you think of Him merely as the initiator of a higher type of religious life, the founder of Christianity because He was the first Christian? Even Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-17). In the days of the early church, a variety of answers were put forth. Some said He was merely a man. Some said He is one of many gods, a high angel, a good teacher, a prophet and so on. The common thread of all such theories is that they make Jesus less than God. Due to all these false teachings, the early church responded by writing creeds and among them is the Chalcedonean Creed, a statement that points out errors and directs the church to the truth about the Incarnation. The doctrine of Incarnation states that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, yet one person, forever. The creed of Chalcedon summarizes five main truths on this doctrine of Incarnation:

  1. Jesus has two natures — He is God and man.
  2. Each nature is full and complete — He is fully God and fully man.
  3. Each nature remains distinct.
  4. Christ is only one Person.
  5. Things that are true of only one nature are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.

 

Jesus is God

The first truth states that Jesus Christ is one Person who has two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. In other words, Jesus is both God and man. The Bible tells us Jesus is not merely a prophet, or a very holy person, but rather, Jesus is God. Jesus called Himself “I Am,” thereby applying the Old Testament name Yahweh to Himself (John 8:58; cf. 6:51, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). Jesus also uses titles of “Son of God” and “Son of man” to designate Himself. Our first impulse might be to say that the title is a designation of the humanity of Jesus as distinguished from His deity. The title “Son of man” was first found in the book of Daniel when Daniel prophesied “one like a son of man is coming” to receive an everlasting dominion (Daniel 7:13). When Christ called himself “the Son of man”, he placed the stamp of approval upon the Jewish messianic expectation because it was in accordance to the OT and thus applied it to Himself. This title is distinctly a messianic title, which designates Christ as being that transcendent, heavenly person who will come one day with the clouds of heaven (Acts 7:55-56; Mark 13:26). The title “Son of God” indicates that Jesus was not only calling God His own Father but also making Himself equal with God (John 5:18, cf: Matt 27:43, John 19:7).

 

Besides exercising divine authority over the natural world, demons and death, Jesus claimed absolute unity with God the Father by expressing, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9-10). During His time on earth, Jesus assumed divine authority over the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), the forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:5-11) and people’s eternal destinies (John 8:24; cf: Luke 12:8-9; John 5:22). Lastly, Jesus claimed the right to receive worship, the ability to answer prayers (John 14:13-14) and ownership over the kingdom of God (Matt 13:41), the elect of God (Matt 24:30-31) and the angels of God (Matt 13:41). Furthermore, the way in which Jesus presents Himself as the object of faith in all the Gospels is a tremendous testimony by Jesus Himself of His own deity. For example, Jesus healed the paralytic and said, “your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:23). This demonstrates that Jesus is not merely saying “have faith in God like mine” but rather “have faith in me”. Evidently, Jesus saves men from sin and the means that He uses to save them from sin is the faith, which He bids them to have in Him, the Savior. Therefore, everything that God is, Jesus is. For Jesus is God.

 

Jesus is Man

Since Jesus is God, He has always been God and there was never a time when He became God. However, it is important to note that Jesus has not always been man. Approximately 2000 years ago, a great miracle happened in which God became man through the incarnation and this child in the manger was God incarnate. This does not mean that Jesus gave up part of His deity in the incarnation; rather, as one theologian put it, “remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” (Grudem, p.563) The humanity of Jesus was displayed in the fact that he was born as a baby from the virgin Mary (Luke 2:7; Galations 4:4), that he became weary (John 4:6), thirsty (John 19:28), hungry (Matt 4:2), and Christ also experienced the full range of human emotions. Although Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, He does not have a sinful nature and He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15)[1] . Because we have a Savior who identifies with us in every way by becoming a man, this is one way the Judeo-Christian worldview sets itself apart from other religions. 

 

Each nature is full and complete

The Bible tells us that in Jesus Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). In order to have a better grasp of Christ’s incarnation, it is necessary to introduce the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being, and this one God exists as three distinct Persons. The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Holy Spirit or the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. They are each a distinct center of consciousness, a distinct form of personal existence. Yet, they all share the exact same divine nature. Thus, the three persons are one being. The three Persons of the Trinity are not each one-third of God, but are each all of God. Each Person is fully and equally God. Thus, Jesus is fully God and not one third of God. Similarly, Jesus is not partially man. He is fully human as all of us are; he has a human body (Luke 24:39), a human mind (Luke 2:52), and a human soul (Matt 26:38).

 

Ever since the Incarnation, Jesus will also be man forever and this means that Jesus is still man right now (even as you read this) and will be a man forever (Revelation 5:6). The Apostle Paul tells us that when Jesus returns physically, He will transform our bodies to be a glorified body like His (Philippians 3:21). But why did Jesus become man and why must He be man forever? This is because Jesus had to “be made like his brothers in all things, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). By becoming human, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, sympathized with us and identified with us because He was not just a man once, but He continues forever as that same man and our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16)[2].

 

Each nature remains distinct

Besides understanding that Jesus has two natures –a divine nature and a human nature, we must also understand that these two natures remain distinct. This means that the two natures do not alter one another’s essential properties and neither do they mix together into a hybrid kind of nature. In other words, Jesus is 100% God and 100% man and He was not a mixture of divine and human elements in which both were somewhat modified to form one new nature (Grudem, p. 556). As the Council of Chalcedon clearly states, “the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved”. The human nature of Jesus did not become all knowing through its union with God the Son and neither did His divine nature become ignorant of anything. Jesus’s human nature is human, and human only. His divine nature is divine, and divine only.

 

Christ is only one Person

We have seen that Christ has two distinct natures and He will be both God and man forever. Nonetheless, Christ is not two persons but rather He has two natures united in one person forever. As the Chalcedonean Creed says, Christ is “to be acknowledged in two natures . . . concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In John 1:14 “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us”, we see two natures of Christ: the Word (His deity) and flesh (humanity) and these two natures are united in one Person, as the Word became flesh. The word “became” requires that we acknowledge a unity of the two natures such that they are one thing —one Person. Besides many passages referring to both natures of Christ with one Person intended, Jesus never speaks of Himself as “We” but always as “I”.

 

Things that are true of one nature but not the other are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ

The fifth truth of the Chalcedonean creed simply states that if there is something that only one of Christ’s natures did, He can still say, “It is true, I did it.” For instance, Jesus exclaimed, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). One can arrive at a logical conclusion that Christ’s human nature did not exist before Abraham since Jesus was born almost 2000 years after Abraham. But since Christ is one Person, He could say that before Abraham was, He is. Another example is the death of Christ. Even though the divine nature of Christ cannot die, the human nature of Christ did die because of the union of the two natures in the one Person of Christ. This is also why Jesus said He did not know the day or hour of His return (Matt 24:36). Even though He is omniscient (John 21:17), the human nature of Christ does not have all the knowledge whereas His divine nature knows all things.

 

Conclusion

Having a richer understanding of the deity of Christ should not only enhance our worship but it should also heighten our recognition of the worth of Christ. The uniqueness of the Christian God lies in the two natures of Christ united in the one person of our Lord. Because Christ is God, we have a Savior who is all-powerful, everywhere and all-knowing. Because Christ is man, we have a Great High Priest[2]who identifies with us, as He was tried and tempted yet unlike us, without a stain. Finally, we need to be ready to defend the biblical truth of Jesus’s deity, Jesus’s humanity and these two natures that remain distinct in one Person, as we look forward to the day when the entire earth will resound with one singular confession: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).

 

 

Works cited:

Chalcedonian Creed

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

Grudem, W. (2009). Systematic theology (pp. 550-556). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan

[1] Because Jesus did not sin, he was a perfect sacrifice, the unblemished lamb to atone for our sins. See Hebrews 7:26-28: For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men sin their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

 

[2]
In the Levitical sacrificial system, only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice on behalf of himself and the Israelites. However, there were many priests who offered sacrifices daily and the priests entered the Holy of Holies by means of the blood of goats and calves. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men kin relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was (Hebrews 5:1-3). In contrast, Jesus Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12).

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