Add new comment

Stephen J. Drain's picture

What Can We Make of Jesus, but God Incarnate? (A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 17)

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).[1]
 
The World Religions’ Professor’s assignment read as follows: What’s the best word to describe Jesus? Prophet, Avatar (of the Hebrew God), or Bodhisattva?
 
Well, I was not going to be forced into the professor’s definitions....
 

Professor’s definitions:
 
Prophet: Spokesman for God (literally “called by God”), a person chosen by God to speak to people on God’s behalf and convey a message or teaching.
 
Avatar: (loosely defined from Hinduism) an incarnation of a god.
 
Bodhisattva: (again loosely defined from Buddhism) a new kind of human being, who puts off his own nirvana[2]… in order to rescue people from pain… who teaches… that one can gain release from suffering by living a life of compassion for all living beings.
 
Certainly the Bible teaches that Jesus fulfilled the role of Prophet, not only Prophet, but Priest and King as well. As Prophet, Jesus spoke the very words of God, as He said, “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say” (John 12:49). As Priest, He made intercession for God’s people: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12). And as God’s King, He rules not only over God’s people, but above everything and everyone “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
 
Now since the professor had given out a photocopied New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Gospel of Matthew to the class, I decided that I would predominantly use that Gospel in order to prove that Jesus Christ was in fact God in the flesh. The following are the 22 points which I gave to the teacher and many of the students [It is here edited for better readability.]:
 
What can we make of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew but God-incarnate?
 

  1. The name to be given to the newborn Jesus in Matthew 1:23 is Emmanuel “which means, ‘God with us.’ (It is translated “God is with us” in the NRSV as well as the CEV, NLT, and the Jerusalem Bible, but it is more often than not translated “God with us” as seen in the NIV, KJV, ESV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, and NET.) Thus the name given Jesus strongly hints at His divinity.
  2. The Gospel of Matthew takes a prophecy from Isaiah 40:3 which is about a someone heralding or preceding the LORD God (YHWH or “Jehovah”) and applies the passage to John the Baptist preceding Jesus. In Isaiah we read: “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” But Matthew writes, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”’” (Matthew 3:1-3). This passage, from a Jewish author none-the-less, clearly equates Jesus with Jehovah, YHWH, God.
  3. Jesus drew a parallel between God’s prophets and His own disciples in Matthew 5:11-12. Jesus therefore equated His disciples, who were appointed to speak and testify about Him, with the Old Testament prophets who were appointed to speak and testify the words of YHWH. Although this is certainly not a proof text in itself, taken with all these others it adds support.
  4. The connotations of Jesus being called “the Son of God” equate Him with the Father: See Matthew 26:63, as well as Matthew 8:29; 14:33; 16:16; and 27:43. Christ the Son holds the authority of God the Father, just as a son, in those Eastern cultures, especially a firstborn son or an only son, would be the representative with all authority of the father. As Deuteronomy teaches, “the firstborn… son is the first sign of his father's strength” (Deuteronomy 21:17). So Paul writes, “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Hebrews picks up on this theme by saying that, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3) and “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him’” (Hebrews 1:6). As Christ says elsewhere: “All things have been committed to me by my Father” (Matthew 11:27) and "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). For a more detailed look at the title see my column entitled “Son of God (Part 1)” and “Son of God (Part 2)”.
  5. To underscore the above, Jesus consistently called God “my Father.” This is significant. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray He taught them to say “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). And there are plenty of examples in the New Testament of people calling God “our Father”, but Christ is making a statement when He calls  God the Father “my Father” as in Matthew 7:21; 10:32-33; 11:27; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10; 18:19; 20:23; 26:53; etc. The religious leaders of His day knew exactly what that meant: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Making Himself equal with God.
  6. Jesus demonstrated that He had power and authority over every physical and spiritual human ailment: See Matthew 4:23-24; 8:3-4; 8:13; 8:16; 8:28-33; 9:6-7, 9:22; 9:27-30; 9:32-33; 9:35; 12:13; 14:35-36; 15:28; 15:30-31; 17:18; 20:34; 21:14, etc.
  7. Jesus had the power and authority to give the ability to heal to others: See Matthew 10:1.
  8. Jesus demonstrated that He had the power over life and death by raising others from the dead: See Matthew 9:18-25. But if one wants to doubt that story by using the words of Jesus when He says, “The girl is not dead but asleep” (Matthew 9:24), then they can use His testimony about Himself; He told John the Baptist that one of the proofs of His being the Messiah was that the dead were being raised (read Matthew 11:2-5).[3] Jesus’ power to raise the dead is backed by the testimony of other witnesses and on two other occasions: See Luke 7:12-15 and John 11:17-44.
  9. Jesus demonstrated that He held the power over nature and the elements. He controlled the weather (Matthew 8:26). He walked on water (Matthew 14:25). He fed 5000 people miraculously (Matthew 14:13-21). He fed another 4000 people miraculously (Matthew 15:32-39). He cursed a fig tree and it withered (Matthew 21:20).
  10. Jesus claimed to forgive sins: “Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’ Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....’ Then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ And the man got up and went home” (Matthew 9:2-7). Consider what the teachers of the law said, “This fellow is blaspheming!” to which they correctly added, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). As C.S. Lewis writes,

 

“What this Man [Jesus] said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips . . . the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any other character in history.”[4]

 

  1. Jesus expanded God’s law, as in Matthew 5:21-30. Remember that Jesus was a Jew. No one could legitimately add to God’s law except God, as God had declared: “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32).[5] “Every word of God is flawless…. Do not add to his words” (Proverbs 30:5-6). Again, for a Jew this would be blasphemous. Jesus was either Deity, crazy, or Satan himself.[6]
  2. Jesus claimed that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” i.e. “Master of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8. To Jews, God alone would be the Lord of the Sabbath. (See Exodus 31:13, Leviticus 19:30, Deuteronomy 5:14, Ezekiel 20:12, etc.) Declaring oneself Lord of the Sabbath would certainly be blasphemy unless it was true!  
  3. Jesus required that He should be loved more than anyone: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Admittedly, this is not a strong proof text; but for a Jew to say something like this, well, it appears to step on the toes of the God who said, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) which Jesus admitted is the most important commandment (Matthew 22:37).
  4. Worship was given to Jesus and He accepted it. We see this in Matthew 14:33; Matthew 28:9, and Matthew 28:17. Worship of Jesus during His lifetime is also found in John 9:38 and John 20:28 (as well as Matthew 2:2 & 11). For Jews this is complete and utter blasphemy unless Christ were in fact God. As Jesus said elsewhere, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Luke 4:8). Yet, Jesus never spurned the worship He received, nor did He rebuke the worshippers. But we see others in the Bible, both men and angels, reject being worshipped (Acts 10:25-26, Acts 14:11-15, Revelation 19:10). Jesus did not. Thus He was either wicked, crazy, or above both men and angels. This brings us back to “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him’” (Hebrews 1:6).
  5. Jesus also instituted a new covenant (“contract” or agreement) between God and man in Matthew 26:28. As Luke words it, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). Would this not be blasphemous to a Jew who knew the words of God through the prophet Jeremiah: “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). It was God who was going to remove the old covenant.[7]Now if Christ was God, then certainly Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.  
  6. Jesus claimed that He is the One who will be the final Judge at the end of time; He will be the One who decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…. ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (see Matthew 25:31-46). See also Matthew 16:27, John 5:25, etc.
  7. Jesus claimed that He had angels: See Matthew 24:30-31.
  8. Jesus claimed that He will be enthroned in heaven (or on the new earth) in Matthew 19:28; Matthew 25:31; and Matthew 26:64.
  9. Jesus claimed that He would share in His Father’s (God’s glory): Matthew 16:27. See also Matthew 24:30 and Matthew 25:31. This would also be blasphemous if Jesus were not God, since God declared clearly in Isaiah: “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another” (42:8) and “How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (48:11).
  10. Jesus claimed He would be omnipresent: Matthew 18:20 and 28:20.
  11. Jesus accurately predicted the future. In and of itself this is not a proof, as God’s former prophets, by the Spirit of God, also accurately foretold the future. Jesus, for example, foretold the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple (Matthew 24:2), Peter’s three denials (Matthew 26:34), how His disciples would die (Matthew 24:9), and that “[T]his gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world” (Matthew 24:14). Note these other predictions: Matthew 21:2-7; 26:12-13; etc. I understand that many skeptics would dispute many of the predictions, but there are some points to be made:
    1. He predicted which disciple would betray Him (Matthew 26:21-25), which one would deny Him (Matthew 26:33-34), and the fleeing of His disciples (Matthew 26:31-32). Jesus also predicted some of the abuse He was to face, saying that He would be mocked and flogged (Matthew 20:18-19). Not enough? Too easy? Well let’s step it up then:
    2. He predicted His abuse and death at the hands of a particular group of people in Jerusalem. Okay, perhaps all this would be fairly easy to predict for a person who had incredible insight into human nature, which Jesus clearly had. Plus, He was heading into Jerusalem, the enemy’s home turf. He knew who hated Him and wanted to kill Him. But consider that He accurately predicted that He would be “delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law” and that they would “condemn him to death” and that they in turn would then “hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified” (Matthew 20:18-19). Amazingly enough He predicted that it would not be the Jews who would actually kill Him. Even for those skeptics who think Jesus manipulated circumstances in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy and/or His own predictions; these were things a man could not manipulate. How could He have known such details? After all, the Jewish leaders might have stoned Him without handing Him over to Rome as they did to the Apostle Stephen (see Acts 7:54-60).
    3. Jesus also accurately predicted the exact way in which He would die. (And for those who think He might have orchestrated His own death—suffice it to say that it would be very difficult to predict the exact manner in which one would die (“crucified” as per Matthew 20:19 and Matthew 26:2). Not even the leaders knew how they would be able to kill Him (Matthew 12:14 and Matthew; 26:4). After all, there were numerous occasions people wanted to, were about to, or attempted to stone Him (John 8:59 and John 10:31), but He did not die by stoning nor did He predict a death by stoning. And even if a man under Rome’s authority could predict He would be executed by Rome, it would be difficult to predict by which method since Rome had numerous means of execution.
    4. He predicted He would only be in the grave for three days (Matthew 12:40, etc.). His body was definitely gone after three days. Even His enemies admitted that (Matthew 28:13). Even if His disciples stole the body, it would be pretty risky for Jesus to predict or even plan for the exact timing of His exit from the grave, especially if He were still dead.
    5. Of course His biggest and most consistent prediction of all was that He would rise from the dead. Read His words: Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:9; Matthew 17:23; Matthew 20:19; and Matthew 26:32.
  12. Yes, the final proof, the hinge pin, the pinnacle: Jesus rose from the dead. [The professor might have asked how we can tell which religion has the true god, well here it is: Let the true God prove Himself by rising from the dead. As the old adage says, “Will the real Savior of the world please rise from the dead.”

 
So here we have an interesting situation. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He was certainly not a prophet since by God’s Law in the Old Testament scriptures any prophet who predicts something that does not come true is to be put to death because He is not speaking for God:
 

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods….’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.  That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
 
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

 
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, He was then a false prophet. This would in turn make everything He ever said and did suspect. Of course even false prophets can speak an occasional truth as they mix in falsehood; but if Christ was a false prophet, according to Old Testament standards, then He was evil. Period. If He was evil, then it would certainly follow that He lived and taught in opposition to God. This would make the claims of the Jewish leaders, that Jesus’ powers came from the “prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24) legitimate. What follows is that Jesus was a deceiver, someone who intended to lead others astray and away from God; thus His love was a lie, His claims of forgiveness were a hoax, the beautiful Sermon on the Mount and His explanation of the Hebrew Scriptures were deceptive, and in turn His followers were completely deceived or perhaps (even worse) also deceivers.
 
C.S. Lewis makes a great point here in one of his most famous quotes:
 

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a good moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[8]

 
To believe that Christ was anything other than God in the flesh would be foolishness. The witness of the whole of Scripture becomes more and more clear as one studies it.
 
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him…. [And] The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John chapter 1).
 
______________________
Feel free to read columns I have written elsewhere here:
http://www.examiner.com/christian-perspectives-in-philadelphia/stephen-j-drain
______________________
 
 

[1] All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. (Bold, italic, or underlining emphasis added.)

[2] From Dictionary.com: 1. [In Buddhism:] freedom from the endless cycle of personal reincarnations, with their consequent suffering, as a result of the extinction of individual passion, hatred, and delusion… 2. [In Hinduism:] salvation through the union of Atman with Brahma… 3. a place or state characterized by freedom from or oblivion to pain, worry, and the external world (see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nirvana?s=t).

[3] Again, if anyone objects by taking Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:24 literally then, to be consistent, they should take His words in Matthew 11:5 literally as well.

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, © 1943, 1945, 1952 by MacMillan Publishing Company, a division of MacMillan Inc., copyright renewed © 1980 by Arthur Owen Barfield, page 55.

[5] This is one thing many religions, which have strayed from the truth, have done; they add or subtract from what God has said. Jesus Himself strongly condemned it in Matthew 15:3-9.

[6] The great “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument. See http://www.existence-of-god.com/lord-liar-lunatic.html

[7] See Deuteronomy 11 for the basics of the Old Covenant.

[8] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, © 1943, 1945, 1952 by MacMillan Publishing Company, a division of MacMillan Inc., copyright renewed © 1980 by Arthur Owen Barfield, page 56.

 

Blog Category: 

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.