The Deity of Christ

Dr. Daniel W. Paterson

- being an abbreviated summary of J.N.Darby's reply to a Unitarian student of Divinity

p.116 of vol. 33 collected writings of J.N.D.

Introduction

I wish tonight to speak about a very fundamental subject and one that colours all aspects of our faith, the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of you, brought up in Christian homes, may well say, 'I have heard from my earliest days that Jesus is God' - very good, and some of you who are parents bringing up children will say to me, 'That was the very first lesson I taught my child, Jesus is God' - again, very good. But now we are living in a day when this truth is being watered down, the plain testimony to the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ is being eroded and we do well tonight to turn our attention to this fundamental matter.

 

1. A Consideration of Some Plain Statements of Scripture

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3)

We can say of these opening verses of John's Gospel:

•  "In the beginning was the Word" - In existence He was eternal

•  "and the Word was with God" - In personality He was distinct

•  "and the Word was God" - In nature He was God

•  "the same was in the beginning with God" - His Personality was eternally distinct

These are very weighty, very important Scriptures. We live in a day when someone may come and knock at your door and say, 'Ah, but when you look at the original language there is no definite article, so you can read it 'The Word was a God'; but you do not need to know very much about the original language to know that there is no such thing as an indefinite article in the Greek, and if the definite article had been put in it would read, 'The Word was the God to the exclusion of all others '. Also you do not need to be too far advanced in your Greek studies to know that a great deal of weight is put on the order of the words. This "God was the Word" is more emphatic than "the Word was God". So we need not be disturbed by these people who knock on our doors when they bring up their points.

 

"[Christ Jesus] being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross." (Phil.2:6-8)

Why does it not simply say 'God' rather than "form of God"? The reason seems to be that the word form is used in contrast to 'likeness' and 'fashion'. In Manhood the Lord Jesus was made in the likeness of men and was in the figure (or fashion ) of a man, and we read that He was made "in likeness of flesh of sin" (Rom.8:3), but the Lord was a Man of a different order (1 Cor.15:47). We could not say concerning His Deity that He was made in the likeness of God because Jesus was and is God. This expression "form of God" carries with it the thought of the outward appearance and the inward substance. Jesus carried in Him all the characteristics of God. It is for this reason we have "the form of a servant", the outward appearance and the inward substance. For the thought of "the form of God" being carried back into pre-incarnate Deity is wrong. "Being in the form of God" still applies to His Manhood even when He took up the form of a Servant. At no time in His earthly pathway was He less than He was in pre-incarnate Deity. He was in the form of God and He was in the form of a Servant at the same time. I will give you another Scripture to confirm this, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor" (2 Corinthians 8:9). The word "was rich" does not apply to His pre-incarnate state only. It applies to the days of His sorrowing flesh. He was still rich although He was poor. If you ask me to explain it, I cannot. He was a Man but He was never less than God.

 

"God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son ." (Heb.1:1-2a)

"Yea, hath God said...?" said the tempter in the garden, "God has spoken ." (Heb.1). There then follows in verses 5 to 13 a sevenfold testimony to His greatness, a sevenfold testimony from the psalms[1]. Who is He? He is the brightness of eternal glory, the express image of God's substance: Creator, Redeemer, appointed Heir, and He is the Same coming into the world. This carries the thought also of the world to come "and let the angels of God worship Him". Notice particularly He is saluted, "Thy throne O God " (v.8). God has spoken to us in His Son and the Son is God.

 

"for in him {i.e. the Son of his love} all the fulness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell . For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." (Col. 1:19, 2:9)

The Son did the works, He was justified in the Spirit and now He abides eternally in Manhood. As we turn our eyes heavenward, who is there? It is the One in whom the fulness of the Godhead is pleased to dwell bodily. This is a different word from what we get in Romans 1 where in creation the testimony is to His eternal power and Godhead. Colossians 2 answers that, the fulness of the Godhead, seen in His pathway here (ch. 1:19 ), is still to be seen in His Manhood at the Father's right hand.

 

At His birth it was said of Him, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, 'God with us.'" (Matt. 1:23). Notice a child born, but a Son given. Another brief testimony to the fact of His eternal Sonship.

 

The gospel is "concerning his Son (come of David's seed according to flesh, marked out Son of God in power, according to [the] Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of [the] dead) Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:3-4). We notice here the gospel primarily concerns God's glory in Christ - not us in our manifest need.

 

We look for "the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13 ). Notice here that the indefinite article connects both our great God and our Saviour together.

 

Romans 9:5 declares "the Christ" to be "over all, God blessed for ever" .

 

1 Timothy 3:16 reads "God was manifest in the flesh" .

 

John 1:18 reads, "No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" . This precious verse assures us that the Father's bosom ever was and ever shall be the dwelling place of the Son. The declaration always carries with the atmosphere of the infinite and perfect, Divinely perfect love, and will be known to us in the love eternally existing between Divine Persons (John 17:24).

 

So we have these plain testimonies to the fact that Jesus is God and I ask you to bear with me because although this might seem to be rather a recitation of Scripture. I shall seek to bring home the force and reason for it shortly.

 

2. A Consideration of John's Gospel

There is a constant testimony to the Deity of Christ in the Gospel by John expressly written "that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in his name" (20:31). This Gospel is the battleground in closing days, and what do we find there?

•  Chapter 1: He created all . "Without him not one thing received being which has received being" (v.3). It is worth just pausing a moment on this. There are three bridges that man is unable to cross, he is unable to cross from nothing into something, he is unable to cross from the inorganic into the organic and he is unable to change the organic into God-consciousness. The Lord Jesus Christ has done all of these; He is the Creator who created all.

•  Chapter 2: He knew all . "But Jesus himself did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men, and that he had not need that any should testify of man, for himself knew what was in man" (v.24-25). We find this constantly in John's Gospel, for example, "knowing all things that were coming upon him" (18:4) and "knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands, and that he came out from God and was going to God" (13:3). He is the Omniscient One.

•  Chapter 3: He is above all , "He who comes from above is above all" (v.31). In these closing days there are many rivals to Jesus, even in the realm of teaching, but "He that is from heaven is above all". "The Father loves the Son, and has given all things to be in his hand" (v.35).

•  Chapter 4: He tells all . The woman of Samaria said, "Come, see a man who told me all things I had ever done: is not he the Christ?" (v.29).

•  Chapter 5: He raises all. "for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear {the Son of man's} voice, and shall go forth; those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment" .

•  Chapter 8: He is before all . "Before Abraham was, I am" (v.58).

•  Chapter 10: There is unity of substance with the Father. "I and the Father are one" (v.30).

•  Chapter 16: There is a unity of possessions with the Father. "All things that the Father has are mine" (v.15).

•  Chapter 5: There is a unity of service with the Father. "My Father worketh hitherto and I work" (v.17). If we do not see a clear testimony to His Deity here at least the Jews did because we read that "therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he had not only violated the sabbath, but also said that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God" (v.18).

We do not get the mount of transfiguration scene in John's Gospel for the simple reason He is transfigured throughout the Gospel . His glory stands out on every page of it, on the one hand His Deity, and on the other His perfect, subject, obedient Manhood. We can take up the language of Thomas at the end of the Gospel and say, "My Lord and my God" ( 20:28 ).

When we turn over to John's Epistles we get the same thing. It is unclear sometimes whether the Spirit is speaking of Christ or whether He is speaking of God. Take a Scripture like, "Herein is love, not that we love God but that he first loved us". Have a good look at this Scripture. Does it speak of God or of Christ? As we go through John's Epistle we end with the magnificent verse, "He is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20 ). The word true is not true in contrast to false . It is substantial in contrast with shadowy presentations of God; He is the true God. This was a verse that was used with power against the Arians in the conflict of the fourth century and we too can use it today. The Son is God .

 

3. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old

"Thou shalt call his name Jesus [Jah-Jehovah], for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21)

 

•  When John the Baptist embarked on his ministry his message was "prepare ye the way of the Lord {Jehovah}, make straight his paths". Whose paths was he making straight? It was the paths of Jesus.

•  Isaiah had to say, "Mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts {Jehovah-Elohim}". In John 12 this is quoted of Jesus.

•  Jehovah was Israel 's righteousness (Jer. 33:16) but we know that Christ is our righteousness (Rom. 5:17 ).

•  Jehovah was Israel 's Redeemer (Isa. 49:7) but we know that Jesus is this in the New Testament (1 Cor. 1:30 ).

•  Jehovah comes "from Edom , with deep-red garments from Bozrah?" (Isa.63:1); but this is the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes to judge the world, and Israel 's enemies in particular.

•  Who is going to put his feet on the Mount of Olives (Zech.14:3-4)? Jehovah; but we also know that it will be Jesus (Acts 1:11b)

•  Jehovah said, "Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty silver-pieces, and cast them to the potter in the house of Jehovah" (Zech 11:13 ). Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver

•  Jehovah said, "they shall look on me whom they pierced". In that coming day they will look upon Jesus knowing that this is the very One who they crucified on a cross of wood (Zech. 12:10 and John 19:37 ).

Time forbids to develop this subject further but I hope that this is enough to show that the Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old.

 

4. Incidental Allusions to the Deity of Christ

 

•  When the maniac of Gadara had been healed and was seated and clothed in his right mind he desired that he might be with the Lord but the Lord sent him away and said, "Go to thine home to thine own people, and tell them how great things the Lord {God} has done for thee, and has had mercy on thee" (Mark 5:19), but when he went back to the city he proclaimed what great things Jesus had done for him (v.20). He transposed the names. This is just another testimony to Christ's Deity.

•  The apostle Paul was, before his conversion, "a blasphemer and persecutor, and an insolent overbearing man" (1 Tim. 1:13 ). Now Saul, the Hebrew of the Hebrews (Phil. 3:5) would never blaspheme the God of his fathers, (perish the thought), but he did do many things against the name of Jesus (Acts 26:9) and this he said was blasphemy.

•  When Paul said, "I appeal unto Caesar" he acknowledged that Jesus is God. When Festus reported this to the assembled company he did not say, 'This prisoner has appealed unto Caesar', he said, 'This prisoner has appealed unto Augustus'. Everyman's Classical Dictionary informs us that Caesar was the name of a particular family with a legendary ancestry. Augustus was the name given to the ruling Emperor. The ascendancy of the Roman ruler made him Pontifex Maximus, i.e. Chief High Priest, and eventually he was acknowledged as divine. Thus, in the Smyrna period of the church (Rev. 2:8-11) known Christians, when seized and tried, had to answer the question, "Do you say Lord to the Roman ruler, or Lord to your Saviour Jesus?" If they said Lord to the Roman Emperor they were acquitted. If they said Lord Jesus they were executed. Things had not reached that stage in the Roman history when Paul was before Festus but it is noticeable that whereas Festus said, "my lord" to Augustus, Paul certainly would not fall into the trap of saying Lord to Augustus, he appealed to Caesar and not to Augustus.

 

5. Christ's Deity Proved Through Some Moral Considerations

 

•  "Who is able to forgive sins but God alone?" (Luke 5:21), but the Lord Jesus said "that ye may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralysed man, I say to thee, Arise, and take up thy little couch and go to thine house" (V.24). He was able to forgive the man his sins and give him power to walk.

•  The Lord performed miracles in His own Name. How glad we are to have a Saviour like this! Take away from me His ability to reverse the laws of nature and you rob me of my Divine Saviour. He not only performed miracles but He sent out His disciples also to do them in His Name.

•  He answered prayer often. He did so then, and He does so now. Psalm 66 says that only God can do this (see v.16-20).

•  He received worship. When Herod, a mere man, was worshipped immediately God smote him and he was eaten up with worms (Acts 12:23 ). When Cornelius came to Peter and worshipped him Peter refused this worship (Acts 10:25 -26). Paul and Barnabas also (Acts 14:11 -17), even angels refuse worship (Rev. 19:10, 22:9), only fallen angels accept worship (e.g. Satan himself in the temptation) but the Lord Jesus accepted worship (e.g. Matt. 28:17, John 9:38 ).

•  The Lord Jesus Christ is everything to the believer, "but Christ is everything, and in all" (Col. 3:11), Christ dwells in the heart (Col. 1:27, Eph. 3:27 ). Christ is the object of faith, "ye believe on God, believe also on me" (John 14:1). Christ is the One who is to fill the believer's horizon and that is now , as it will be when we are with Him in glory.

 

The Importance of the Deity of Christ

There are three very good reasons, I make bold to say, why we need to be built up, everyone of us, in respect of this matter of the Lord's Deity. Firstly, if Jesus is not God we have no atonement. "Once in the consummation of the ages he has been manifested for [the] putting away of sin by his sacrifice" (Heb. 9:26 ) and "by one offering he has perfected in perpetuity the sanctified" (Heb. 10:14 ). Jesus is God and He has taken up the sin question. "Jesus . by the grace of God . [tasted] death for every thing" (Heb. 2:9) and wherever we turn, to Paul or John or Peter, we see a clear testimony to this, that it is by blood, on the basis of sacrifice, death, and resurrection that the sinner can now come into God's presence in righteousness abidingly and can face, not only the judgment seat, but the ages of eternity. We are redeemed by His blood (Heb. 9:12 ), cleansed by His blood (Heb. 9:22 ?), brought nigh by His blood (Eph. 2:13 ) and reconciled by His blood (Col. 1:20); everything hinges upon the death and resurrection and bloodshedding of our Lord Jesus Christ. But you might say, 'We know that'. Sadly, it has to be said tonight that this is just the very truth that men and women do not want, S-I-N is dropping out of man's vocabulary. They are glad to get rid of this awful matter of sin, men do not want to know the fact that they are accountable to God, but the simple truth is that if the sin matter is not resolved God is going to come as Judge and He will deal with those individuals and nations who refuse this salvation. This time of judgment is near. We need a Saviour who is Divine. In the poem of John Newton, the first verse of which starts "What think ye of Christ?" one verse reads:

"Some take Him a creature to be,

A man or an angel at most

But they cannot have feelings like me

Or know themselves wretched and lost

So helpless, dependent am I

I dare not confide in His blood

Nor on His protection rely

Unless I am sure He is God."

With Newton this was a cry from the heart awakened to the awareness of sin and his need for a Saviour who is Divine. How glad we are to know that we are provided with such a Saviour. The Lord Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 ).

 

Secondly, "No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him " (John 1:18 )

If Jesus were not God we have no revelation from God. We are living in a day where it is not only Christianity that is taught in our schools but also Islam and Judaism and all the other -ism's. Now if there is one thing that the Mohammedans do not like and one thing that the Jew will fight against, it is the Deity and the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Jewish Chronicle recently a Jewish mother wrote to the editor in some distress to say that her little girl, aged three, had been 'knocked sidewards' by her companion, also aged three, who said, 'Jesus is God'. This mother was puzzled as to how to answer her daughter and so the editor (a rabbi) said, 'Jesus was a wonderful man, his ethical teaching was excellent, but whatever you do you have to resist the Christian teaching that Jesus is God, and moreover, the atonement you must refuse'. These are the two points that are not acceptable to them. We can stand foursquare on this, we have a revelation from God, "No man hath seen God at any time the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father he hath declared him ". He has been into the depths of death, He has risen to the pinnacle of glory, the throne of God. Glory lights up His face and the realms of glory shine before our souls. Already we are taken into living union with Himself, we know God as our Father and it is all dependent upon, and is underpinned by, the glorious fact that Jesus is God.

If we consider the many modern translations and view them very carefully I am afraid that since the King James Version the Lord's Deity has been downgraded. There has been a progressive and steady erosion of the clear textual testimonies to the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am not saying this is true of all the translations but read them very carefully on this particular point.

 

Thirdly, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself: [but] I will reprove thee, and set [them] in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear in pieces, and there be no deliverer. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me; and to him that ordereth [his] way will I show the salvation of God." (Ps. 50:23)

Perhaps one of the biggest dangers we have in the period in which we now live is to humanise Christ and to deify man. In the garden the tempter said, "Ye will be as God" (Gen. 3:5). Antichrist will "sit down in the temple of God , showing himself that he is God" (2 Thess. 2:4), and "even now there have come many antichrists" (1 John 2:18 ). This spirit of the "up and up" with man seems to be affecting the whole community. When I visit older brothers and sisters and ask them about conditions in the meetings when they were younger the thing that they almost invariably say is that in those days there was a very deep reverence in the meetings , a sense of the presence of God. It almost seems today alas that everything conspires to get rid of that, and that is why I read that verse in Psalm 50, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself". There is a great danger in speaking of the Lord Jesus, of thinking of God as being altogether one of ourselves. It is to be guarded against. Along these lines, some of us are very nervous about the habit of addressing God as 'You'. I am not saying there are not genuine souls who do so, but just let us be careful, dearly beloved, that we maintain the sense that Jesus is God.

 

"Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (1 Pet. 3:15)

I want to close with this. The King James Version reads, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" but the more exact J.N.Darby translation reads, "Sanctify the Lord, the Christ, in your hearts". This is another of the transpositions of God and Christ but the effect upon faith and morals of doing this is apparent. It gives us boldness to render a reason for the hope that is in us. In these New Testament quotes it is always interesting to look at the Old Testament context from which they are taken. This is taken from Isaiah 8:13 when there was a confederacy and there was a real danger of the heart being frightened by a multitude of foes. In this particular situation the way out of the difficulty was to keep the eyes firmly fixed upon God. Beloved brethren, I venture to say that the position is the same today. The difficulties that surround us melt, they disappear when we have before our souls, not a small Christ, but a great One. In the Scriptures we have considered we read of a Saviour who is a great One and a Redeemer who is strong, and a God who is mighty. All these lights converge on the blessed One who loved us to the point of going into death and encourage us in the Christian pathway in these days.

May the impress of this precious truth more and more rest upon our spirits as we wait for His sure and near return.

"Thou art the Everlasting Word,

The Father's only Son;

God manifest, God seen and heard,

The heav'n's beloved One;

Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou,

That every knee to Thee should bow!"

[1] Heb.1:5a (Ps. 2:7); 1:5b (Ps. 89:26-27); 1:6 (Ps. 97:7); 1:7 (Ps. 104:4); 1:8-9 (Ps. 45:6-7); 1:10-12 (Ps. 102:25-37); 1:13 (Ps. 110:1).