The Doctrine of the Divinity of Christ - Part 2
In the previous chapter we began to look at the second great Christian doctrine in our series: the divinity of Jesus Christ. We examined the internal (biblical) evidence concerning this claim and saw that very much like the first great Christian doctrine (biblical inspiration), the second great Christian doctrine (divinity of Christ), finds its first proof within the Bible itself. In other words, the Bible claims that Jesus was divine and we examined several key persons who made this claim:
The Apostles who witnessed His miracles, resurrection and ascension, and recorded their experience.
And then, of course, there is Jesus in dialogue with others who claims this about Himself, and does so when facing the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap Him in order to find an excuse to execute Him.
63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." 64Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
- Matthew 26:63-64
I again repeat what I said about the Bible's claim of inspiration: A person is free to reject the notion that Jesus Christ is divine, that He is God, but cannot deny that this is what the Bible says about Him. If you asked the question, "What does the Bible say about itself?" The answer would be, "The Bible says that it is the inspired Word of God." In the same way if you asked, "What does the Bible say about Jesus?", it would say that He is, among other things, the divine Son of God. Again, just saying so does not make it so, but the Bible offers one unmistakable proof: His resurrection from the dead!
The Resurrection - Proof of Divinity
In the gospels the writers describe many of Jesus' teachings and miracles that support the claim that He was from God and doing God's will. However, many other prophets and servants of God did miracles, spoke from God, even raised people from the dead (Elijah, I Kings 17:23).
But the sign and proof that God provided to confirm Jesus as divine was His resurrection from the dead.
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
- Romans 1:1-4
Even Jesus Himself gave this as the ultimate sign pointing to His true identity.
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." 39But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
- Matthew 12:38-40
In discussing Jesus' identity, we need to look at His resurrection and the many ways that God used this miracle. We often say that Jesus had to die in order to free us from sin. In the same way, He had to resurrect in order to provide several proofs or evidences.
Why Jesus had to Resurrect
He had to resurrect to prove who He was.
If I ask someone, "Who is Jesus Christ?" The answer would be, "Jesus is the Son of God" or, "He is divine" or, "He is the Messiah." Now, if I were to ask, "What proof do you have that He is divine, or that He is the Messiah, the Son of God?" What would you answer then?
If you said that your proof was His wonderful teachings, His many miracles, His kindness and goodness, your answers would be incomplete. Jesus did all these things, but the Bible does not present these as the final proofs of His divinity or the signs that He was the Messiah. No, the Bible says that His resurrection from the dead was the undeniable event that God established as the one true sign of His divine nature.
Paul explained this to the philosophers and thinkers in Athens when he preached to them saying:
because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
- Acts 17:31
Paul told them that the proof that God provided all men that Jesus was the legitimate savior and judge was His resurrection. Yes, the miracles, the teachings, the life, all pointed to His true identity, but Jesus' resurrection was the primary evidence given by God.
This was not something new, the fact that resurrection from the dead was to be the key sign pointing to the true Messiah and Savior was also spoken of by the prophets long before Jesus' arrival. Isaiah spoke of the necessary suffering, death and resurrection of the Messiah (Isaiah 53). Peter quotes David's Psalms 16:8-11, where David prophesizes concerning the eventual resurrection of God's righteous one.
Paul summarizes this entire argument in the first few verses of his letter to the Romans:
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Romans 1:1-4
Many prophets and special servants of God spoke the words of God, lived good lives, performed mighty miracles and even raised people from the dead. Many have begun religious movements with millions of followers. Many have died as martyrs defending their causes or their gods. But only Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead according to prophecies made about Him. No one ever prophesied about Mohammad's coming or the Buddha, but the prophets spoke of Jesus and His resurrection.
Jesus had to resurrect in order to prove that He was indeed the one true divine Messiah sent by God to save all men, spoken of by the prophets.
When someone questions your faith in Jesus and why you believe that He, and only He, is the divine Son of God, your answer should be that you believe because God has provided His resurrection as proof of His true identity.
He had to resurrect to demonstrate His sinlessness.
Paul the Apostle summarized what the relationship between sin and death was. He said:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
In other words, the result or outcome of sin is the eventual decay and death of the body, and the separation of the soul from God. It does not matter if one knows this law or not, it is in operation. This is much like the law of gravity. Whether one knows the scientific details of gravity or not, ignorance of the principles of gravity does not save a person in the event that they fall over a cliff. In the same way, ignorance or denial of God's law of sin and death does not save one from the consequences of this law.
Jesus was executed, and when the Roman officials were sure that He was dead (they put a spear into Him and blood and water poured out signifying death), they placed Him in a tomb. Had Jesus gone straight to heaven from the tomb, many could have accused Him of not being without sin since death had the last say in His life (the law of sin and death took effect). When I die and am put into the ground, there will be no doubt that I was a sinner. My death is proof that I had a sinful flesh for a certain number of years.
Had Jesus remained in the tomb, the same conclusion would have been drawn about Him.
Now, someone may ask, "What is so important about Jesus being without sin?" That Jesus was without sin was important because in order to make a sacrifice good enough to remove all of our sins, that sacrifice, that life offered, had to be perfect and without a single sin. Paul says it this way:
For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
- Romans 5:19
Paul is referring to Adam and Jesus here; he says that Adam forfeited his life by disobedience (which is sin), and that all of his descendants became subject to death. Eventually, Jesus was sent by God, and by His obedience (meaning He was without sin), He was able to recover the life that Adam lost as well as the lives of those subject to death because of Adam's disobedience.
When Peter gets up on Pentecost Sunday to preach the gospel, he begins his sermon by establishing the fact that Jesus rose from the dead because death could not hold him.
But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
- Acts 2:24
Before going on to offer the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation, Peter demonstrates that Jesus, through His sacrifice and resurrection, could legitimately offer this gift.
Jesus had to rise from the dead to prove that His was indeed a perfect and sinless sacrifice able to remove the sins from our imperfect lives. (We will talk more about this system of atonement in another chapter.)
Without His resurrection we could not be sure that what He did actually could accomplish what He said it would.
He had to resurrect to prove that we could resurrect.
I love makeover shows on TV. Take someone and re-do their hair, make-up, their clothes and a remarkable change takes place. This type of program is especially effective when they are trying to sell exercise videos or diet books. Have you noticed what they do? They show a video or picture of someone who is 200 pounds overweight and then bring them out after their weight loss. They talk about the special diet, exercise book or DVD that helped get that result. And you buy the stuff. Why? Because you believe. Why? Because you saw the transformation before your very eyes, that is why!
Imagine if they showed this 500 pound guy on a video and then claimed he was down to 195 pounds of pure muscle, but you had no picture, no credible witness, just the company's word for it. The commercial would sound something like this: "Tony would love to be here to show you how buff he is, but he is at the beach today!" Would you buy the stuff now? Maybe, but if you did not have a picture, it would be quite a stretch would it not?
From the moment Adam and Eve were removed from the perfect harmony of the Garden of Eden, man's greatest fear has been the fear of death. He fears it because it is associated with suffering and the unknown.
People try to deal with death in many ways. They go into denial by living exclusively to enjoy their existence here on this earth; they try to be philosophical and accept death's inevitability. But no one has managed to come back from the dead. Not just an incident where they were clinically dead for a few moments while their hearts stopped, I mean dead and buried for a few days and then come back to say what death was like.
Well, no one except Jesus Christ, that is. And the good news He brings is that we do not have to be afraid of death anymore because it is not final, there is life after the experience of death, and His resurrection is proof.
The Hebrew writer explains it this way:
14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrews 2:14-15
Because we feared death, Satan seduced us into all kinds of behavior that set our hope and love on this world and this life only. However, through His resurrection Jesus showed that death had been conquered and we could be free to look forward to another life and a better place than this life and this place.
Jesus' resurrection showed everyone that resurrection from the dead was indeed possible. Jesus went one step further than merely proving that He had the power to resurrect, He also offered resurrection to everyone who desired it.
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
- John 6:40
Jesus could have gone straight to heaven to be with the Father and sent out the Apostles to preach resurrection for all believers, but without a demonstration it would have been very difficult to believe. Jesus had to resurrect to show us, who are hard of heart and slow to believe, that our resurrection would indeed be possible because of His.
The second great Christian doctrine is the divinity of Jesus Christ:
- The Bible claims it.
- The resurrection proves it.
- The eyewitness accounts of the Apostles and disciples record it.
- The fact that neither the Jews nor the Romans could find the missing body, and that even under threat of torture and death the original eye witnesses refused to recant, confirms it.
Every attempt to destroy the Christian religion begins by attacking the two foundational doctrines of the Christian faith: the inspiration of the Bible and the divinity of Christ. This is why it is important to know them because if we do, we can then confidently review and accept as true the other great Bible doctrines.