The Doctrine of the Divinity of Christ - Part 1
In this chapter we will examine the second great Christian doctrine: the divinity of Jesus Christ. There are many theories about Jesus and who He was: a Jewish Rabbi, a prophet of some kind, a ghost or spirit, even an alien or some kind of advanced life form. Christians, however, believe that the Bible teaches that He is the divine Son of God.
The Bible's Central Theme
The inspired Bible is about Jesus Christ. He is the main theme and character spoken of in the Scriptures. He is the main point of all the books of the Bible. The different parts of the Bible serve to explain different things about Him and His interaction with us.
- The Old Testament is really the story of the creation of the world, the creation and fall of mankind, and how God prepared for the coming of Jesus by the formation of the Jewish nation. All the events in the Old Testament set a human and historical stage for His eventual appearance as a man in this world. The Scriptures tell this story through the eyes and words of Jewish prophets, leaders and kings.
- The four gospels are the eyewitness accounts of His life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension back to heaven. Again, the story is recorded and preserved by men who were with Jesus for years and who knew Him intimately.
- The rest of the New Testament, written by other apostles and disciples, shows how His followers established the Christian church according to Jesus' instructions. In addition to these, there are teachings to help followers/disciples live the Christian life in every generation and cultural setting.
We could go anywhere in the Bible to find out about Jesus concerning:
- The promise of His coming.
- The preparations for His appearance.
- The circumstances of His miraculous birth.
- The content of His teachings.
- The details of His death and resurrection.
- The people who knew Him personally and spread His teachings throughout the world.
I do not think, however, that we would have the time in a single chapter to do this. What we can do is focus on what the Bible says about who Jesus is. This is the first step in establishing His divinity. This is actually the most important question about Jesus Christ, and we will see what three individuals written about in the Bible say about Jesus.
Who is Jesus?
Now remember, we are asking the question, "Who is Jesus?" according to the Bible and not just based on what we think, feel, learned from a book, movie or teacher concerning His person. Since most of the direct and eyewitness accounts about Him are in the New Testament portion of the Bible, let us go there to learn about Him.
Thousands of people saw and heard Jesus speak, teach and even do miracles. There is no doubt of His existence because historians of that era write about Him and His ministry. For example, Josephus Flavius, a Jewish historian who wrote about this period, mentions Jesus' death by crucifixion and the activities of His disciples at that time. He was not a follower of Jesus but includes Him in his writings.
History (not from the Bible) writes that Jesus was a Jewish man born into a humble family who lived in Israel approximately 2000 years ago. He began His ministry by claiming that He was the Jewish Messiah/Savior and was eventually arrested and executed by the Roman government at the insistence of the Jewish leaders who accused Him of causing civil unrest. Eventually His followers established the Christian church based on His teachings. This is what history books tell us about the facts of His life.
There were others, however, who actually followed Jesus as His special disciples and they too recorded their accounts of His life. It is from these writers, whose records form the New Testament, that we can establish a much more comprehensive picture of who Jesus really was.
For the sake of our study we will examine three of these men's writings concerning Jesus.
Witness of the Apostles
The first of these is Peter. Peter was a fisherman by trade, and along with his brother, Andrew, had a family business. He was the first "Apostle" called by Jesus to follow Him on a full time basis.
He would eventually hear all of Jesus' teachings, witness His miracles and, later on, be a leader in establishing the church. He died as a martyr in Rome claiming to the very end that what he heard and saw was true.
During His ministry Jesus asked His Apostles who they thought He was? Peter answered without hesitation, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:16). While Jesus was alive, the Bible says that Peter believed and declared Him to be the divine Son of God.
Later on, after Jesus was executed, Peter described the things that he saw with his own eyes as he rebuked the Jews for their hard hearts and disbelief.
14But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
- Acts 3:14-15
There is much written about Peter in the New Testament, and Peter himself writes two of the books/epistles contained in this part of the Bible. But the two passages just mentioned summarize well what Peter thought about Jesus based on what he experienced:
- That Jesus was the Christ/Messiah/Savior promised in the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus was the one sent by God to save mankind.
- Peter also concluded that Jesus was divine based on what he heard Jesus say and what he saw Him do.
- Finally, Peter saw Jesus executed by Roman soldiers and then saw Him after God raised Him from the dead.
Peter never changed or denied this witness, even when he was threatened, imprisoned and finally sent to his death for saying these things.
When we want to know who Jesus is, the Bible, through Peter's words, says that He is the Son of God, the Savior, the One resurrected from the dead.
Another Apostle we know less about was Thomas. He is the one often referred to as "doubting Thomas" because he wanted proof of Jesus' resurrection before he would believe. What he says about Jesus is interesting because of this very fact; he demanded proof before he would continue to believe.
He knew Jesus and, like the other Apostles, had lived and worked with Him for three years. He saw the miracles, heard the teachings and witnessed Jesus die on the cross. He was convinced Jesus was dead, so brutal and final was His execution at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
When the other Apostles reported that they had seen Jesus resurrected and alive again, Thomas was skeptical and refused to believe. In the gospel of John, we read about Jesus' confrontation with Thomas and how Thomas was encouraged to believe.
24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
26After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." 27Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"
- John 20:24-28
Note what this exchange teaches us about Jesus:
- Thomas believed that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.
- Thomas acknowledged that Jesus was God, not just a prophet, teacher or holy man.
- The Apostles demonstrated that Jesus was worthy of not only belief, but worship as well.
- Thomas, in calling Jesus Lord, indicated that Jesus had authority over him.
Once again, a short passage, but one where the Bible sets forth the important facts about who Jesus is: divine, object of belief and worship, Lord over us.
People are free to choose whether they believe this or not, but the fact remains that this is what the Bible teaches about Jesus.
Perhaps no one, other than Jesus Himself, articulates in more detail the character and person of Jesus Christ than Paul the Apostle.
Paul was a Jew and an early persecutor of the Christian church. As a Pharisee he was part of the ruling class in the Jewish society of Jesus' day. He was a religious zealot for Judaism who had obtained a mandate from the ruling council of Jewish leaders to wage a campaign of persecution against Christians in order to discourage the spread of this faith.
In recounting his own experience, Paul describes the meeting with Jesus Christ that changed his life:
1"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."
2And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,
3"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. 4I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
6"But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' 8And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.' 9And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. 10And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.' 11But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
12"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13came to me, and standing near said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him. 14And he said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. 15For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
- Acts 22:1-16
And thus began the conversion and mission of one of the most prolific of Jesus' Apostles. We know, both from history and from the Bible, that Paul went on to preach and establish the Christian religion throughout the Roman Empire. He was eventually imprisoned by the Emperor Nero and executed in Rome in 67 AD on account of his role as a Christian leader. Paul, the adversary of the church, the one who initially denied who Jesus was, ended up giving his life for his faith in Christ.
In his writings we have a very dynamic description of Jesus and His exalted position:
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
- Colossians 1:15-18
Note what Paul specifically says about who Jesus is:
- Visible image of God. When you see Jesus you are looking at God.
- Existed before creation. He exists before time, like God; eternal.
- Supreme over creation. He has the authority of God.
- He is the agent of creation. Everything in the material and spiritual world was created by and for Him.
- He is the head of the church. Jesus is the only leader of the church in heaven and on earth. He does not share this with any other person.
- He leads those who will resurrect. This was another way of saying that Jesus is eternal. In declaring that He leads in the future, Paul says that He is already there.
These things are not the only things Paul says about Jesus, but we can see from these that Paul was proclaiming Jesus as the divine Son of God based on his own experiences and knowledge of Christ and His teachings.
The Testimony of Jesus
Aside from these three witnesses concerning the person of Jesus Christ we have one other individual's testimony to examine and that is the witness of Jesus Himself. Our description would not be complete without examining what Jesus said about His true identity.
Here are three things that Jesus said about Himself to three separate individuals.
The Samaritan Woman
In a conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus answers a question about the identity of the true Messiah.
25The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." 26Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
- John 4:25-26
Jesus describes Himself as the Savior spoken of by the Jews.
We have looked at Peter's declaration earlier in this chapter, but this time let us focus on Jesus' response to what Peter says.
15He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
- Matthew 16:15-17
Note that Jesus confirms what Peter says about Him and even goes on to reveal how Peter has come to this realization.
After His resurrection and appearance to over 500 disciples, Jesus gives His Apostles (and future disciples) their mission.
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:18-20
Note that in this passage Jesus claims exclusive authority over all.
These are only a few of the teachings that are recorded concerning Jesus, but from these we see some of the things the Bible says about Him. Aside from being a true historical figure, Jesus is also:
- The Jewish Messiah
- The Son of God
- The Lord God Himself (divine)
- Resurrected from the dead
- An eternal being
- The agent of creation
- The head of the church
- The supreme authority in heaven and earth
I could add more information concerning Jesus contained in the Bible, but I will close this chapter with a quote from the gospel of John who faced a similar dilemma (trying to list all the things he actually heard and saw Jesus do). Faced with the mountain of information before him, John writes in the 20th and 21st chapters of his gospel record:
30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
- John 20:30-31
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
- John 21:25
- Give examples from the Old Testament regarding Jesus as our redeemer.
- How is Jesus the central theme of the gospels?
- How do the remaining books of the New Testament point to Jesus?
- How does the New Testament establish Jesus as the Divine Son of God?
- Give examples of how the apostles were witnesses to the divine nature of Jesus.
- Give examples of Jesus' own statements regarding His identity.
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?