Article 10 - Jesus Christ True and Eternal God
JESUS CHRIST TRUE AND ETERNAL GOD
We believe that Jesus Christ according to His divine nature is the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from eternity, not made, nor created - for then He would be a creature - but of the same essence with the Father, equally-eternal, who reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature (Hebrews 1:3), and is equal to Him in all things. He is the Son of God, not only from the time that He assumed our nature but from all eternity, as these testimonies, when compared with each other, teach us: Moses says that God created the world; the apostle John says that all things were made by the Word which he calls God. The letter to the Hebrews says that God made the world through His Son; likewise the apostle Paul says that God created all things through Jesus Christ. Therefore it must necessarily follow that He who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ, did exist at that time when all things were created by Him. Therefore He could say, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58), and He prayed, Glorify Thou Me in Thy own presence with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made (John 17:5). And so He is true, eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.
WHO IS HE?
Jesus Christ once asked His hearers who they thought He was (Matthew 22:42). That question has remained important over the years and centuries since Jesus posed it. Various answers have been given:
- He was an example whose lifestyle of self-sacrifice we ought to follow.
- He was a greater teacher whose instruction we do well to take to heart. Interestingly, opinions vary on what His teaching actually was.
- He was a political figure who sympathized with the underdogs of society and sought to liberate them from their oppression.
The list can be continued. None of these claims to Jesus’ identity, however, do justice to what God has revealed in His Word about Jesus Christ. The plain testimony of Scripture about Jesus Christ is that He is none less than God, come to earth in the flesh. So deBres, though living under the pressures of persecution, repeats after God in Article 10 what he has heard God say in Scripture about the deity of Jesus Christ. In Article 18 deBres makes confession about Jesus’ humanity.
SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE OF JESUS’ DEITY
That Jesus Christ is actually God is evident from the testimony of Scripture in four areas:
Jesus has Divine Names
John begins his gospel with this powerful statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14 he explains that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” If Christ is the Word, and the Word is God (vs 1), it follows that Christ is God. Over the years of the earthly ministry of the Word-become-flesh, John spent three years walking with Jesus through the streets and villages of Israel. Yet in his letter this same John says emphatically, “we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). Note how John does not hesitate to call the man Jesus ‘true God’.
Paul the Pharisee hated Jesus Christ and persecuted His followers. He came to faith on the road to Damascus when that bright light from heaven surrounded him and he heard the voice of the ascended Christ. Paul could get around it no longer, and immediately addressed Christ as “Lord” (Acts 9:5; see below). Just what Paul understood concerning Jesus’ identity is clear from his writings; he tells the Romans that Christ is “the eternally blessed God” (9:5). To Titus he writes that Christians look forward to the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
As to the word ‘Lord’, it must also be noted that the term is frequently applied throughout the New Testament to Jesus Christ. English translations of the Old Testament print the word ‘Lord’ in two ways, one in lower case letters and the other in upper case letters (LORD). Lord in lower case letters renders the Hebrew word Adonai, meaning Master, hence ‘Lord’. LORD in upper case letters renders the Hebrew word Yahweh, God’s covenant name.
When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek many years before Jesus’ birth (the Septuagint), both Adonai and Yahweh were rendered with the Greek term Kurios – without distinction in upper or lower case letters. When in turn the New Testament writers recorded the gospel of Jesus Christ, they freely used the name ‘Lord’ in relation to Jesus Christ. Which Hebrew term, though, were the gospels’ readers to think of when they read the name ‘Lord’ in relation to Christ? Were they to consider Jesus as ‘Master’ or as ‘Yahweh’? There are passages where the word Kurios is simply a term of respect to a superior, and hence rendered as ‘Sir’ (eg Matthew 13:27; 21:30; 27:63) or even ‘Owner’ or ‘Master’ (Matthew 6:24; 21:40). As a name for Jesus Christ, though, we find it repeatedly used as the Greek equivalent of Old Testament Yahweh. For example, when the angel spoke to the shepherds on the day of Jesus’ birth, he told them that “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The angel surely did not intend the shepherds to understand that a ‘Sir’ or a ‘Master’ was born, but instead that God Himself had come in the flesh. That also explains why all who heard the shepherds’ report “marveled” (Luke 2:18), and why Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Similarly, when Mary visited Elizabeth some months before Jesus’ birth, Elizabeth says, “But why is it granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). With the term ‘Lord’ Elizabeth was surely not calling the unborn Jesus her ‘Sir’ or her ‘Master’, but was rather recognizing that the child Mary carried was none other than divine. That is also the reason why her own baby in her womb leaped for joy (vs 44). When the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus addressed Jesus as ‘Lord’, he did so in full awareness of the Old Testament loading of the term. He recognized that the one who addressed him from that unapproachable light was none less than God.
Jesus has Divine Attributes
Jesus is ETERNAL
Unlike creatures that have been made (and therefore have a beginning), Jesus was not made and does not have a beginning. Jesus told the Jews that Abraham saw Jesus’ day. This statement prompted a disdainful reaction from the Jews: “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?!” In reply Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:56-58). With this reply Jesus said at least two things.
1) Jesus’ use of the words ‘I AM’ comes from God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, where He described Himself as the I AM WHO I AM. Here Jesus claims to be this same God! That is why the Jews “took up stones to throw at Him” (vs 59).
2) Jesus’ statement that He existed before Abraham points up that Jesus was not simply some thirty years old, like other men His age. Though He had been on earth only some thirty years (and hence his body was that of the average 30 year old), Jesus in fact had existed since before Abraham lived many centuries ago. This second element comes out clearly in Jesus’ prayer to the Father before He went to the cross. “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). His point is clear: Jesus was with the Father in Heaven before the events related to us in Genesis 1 occurred. He is eternal.
Jesus KNOWS ALL THINGS
A number of texts in the gospel of John draw out Jesus’ divine knowledge. John 1:48: “Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” The branches of a fig tree hang in such a way that one could rest under a fig tree, hidden from the public eye. Despite the canopy of leaves, however, Jesus knew that Nathanael was under that tree. On another occasion John relates concerning Jesus that He “had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:25). How much He knew is illustrated by His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, when He “said to her, ‘You have well said, “I have no husband”, for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly’” (John 4:16-18). The only reason why Jesus knew that the woman’s current man was her sixth and that they were not married was because He knows more than people can know. Here we are shown something of Jesus’ divinity.
Jesus is Involved in Divine Work
Scripture is careful to show that some activities are ultimately beyond what man is able to do and are limited to God. Yet these works are attributed to Jesus Christ. One can mention the following:
The CREATION of the World.
In John 1:3 we read, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Paul adds that “by Him all thing were created” (Colossians 1:16). In Hebrews 1:2 we read, God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” Not only do texts as these assume that Jesus existed before creation, but they also describe Jesus as centrally involved creating this world. Yet creating –making something out of nothing – is distinctly a divine work.
FORGIVENESS of Sins
Since sin in essence is offence against God, only God Himself can ultimately determine whether to punish a sinner or forgive him. Yet Jesus dared to say to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2:5). The Scribes understood well that only God could forgive sins, for they reasoned among themselves, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (vs 7). This was Jesus’ point; in granting forgiveness Jesus revealed Himself as God.
All sin is ultimately against God, the Creator and Master of the universe. So God is the Judge, who will assign to each sinner a fitting penalty. Yet Jesus lets His hearers in on a divine decision: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). The Son permits believers to enter heaven and sentences unbelievers to hell because He is God.
Jesus Receives Divine Honor
In Matthew 28:19 we read that the Son is not less than the Father or the Holy Spirit, but is placed on a level with these two Persons of the Godhead. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The apostle Paul also places Jesus Christ on the same level as the Father when he laid the blessing of the Lord upon the congregation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Putting Jesus Christ on the same level as the Father is in keeping with Jesus’ own words: “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
The apostle John was given a glimpse of the honor given to the exalted Christ in heaven. He heard “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that is in them, … saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). To be accorded such worship is fitting only for one who is God Himself.
The above list of texts is by no means exhaustive. However, this brief list compels the devout reader of Holy Scripture to repeat after God that the Lord Jesus Christ is in fact true and eternal God. Although He is a man (see Article 18), His humanity does not exhaust His identity. The church humbly and gratefully echoes the Lord’s revelation concerning Himself on the point: “We believe that Jesus Christ according to His divine nature is the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from eternity, not made, nor created … but of the same essence with the Father, equally eternal….”
CONSEQUENCES OF CHRIST’S DIVINE IDENTITY
That Jesus Christ is true and eternal God leads to particular consequences. They can be listed as follows:
Give Him Honor
It will not do to think or speak of Jesus Christ as if He were just a man, be it a great man. Since He was and is true God, all discussion about Jesus must be done in the awareness that we stand on holy ground. It is this awareness that renders erroneous and misleading pictures of Jesus as ‘only’ a man, as well as films wherein Jesus is enacted by a mere mortal. It is certainly true that the people of Nazareth who saw Jesus grow up, and the people of Galilee who witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry, did not see in Jesus anything divine; Jesus played on the streets with the other boys, worked up a sweat as did the other men, could laugh and cry and be exhausted as anyone else. Yet we today do not live in the days of Jesus’ earthly sojourn; we live years later, after the Holy Spirit has made a point of impressing upon us that the Jesus who grow up in Nazareth and ministered in Israel was in fact true God. If we today ignore this progress in God’s revelation, and present Jesus in talk or picture as ‘just a man’, we in fact dishonor the Lord.
Characteristics of God belong to Jesus Christ
All that we confessed concerning God is true also of Jesus Christ. As we think of God’s wisdom and power and love and goodness, etc, our thoughts are not to be limited to God the Father alone. All these wonderful qualities are equally true of Jesus Christ. Granted, during His time on earth these characteristics were not all evident in all their brilliance, for Jesus hid something of His divine qualities. Yet the fact that He hid them does not negate the presence of those characteristics. It is this observation that explains, for example, that He knew what was in the hearts of all men. Equally, it is this fact that gave Him the wherewithal to withstand the judgment of God against sin when He hung on the cursed cross. Now that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, His wisdom and power and goodness and love have not changed from what they were. Rather, these qualities are now fully ‘in the open’.
This Jesus came to Earth
The marvel of Jesus’ identity as true God is evident specifically in His work at Christmas. Jesus Christ, eternally with the Father in glory, left the presence of the Father in heaven in favor of a place in one of earth’s lowly stables. That true God left heaven for earth is itself a staggering thought; that He left the glory of heaven for rags in a feeding trough is more than our minds can comprehend! Yet this is Christmas: “... Christ Jesus... being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men...” (Philippians 2:5-8). He did not insist on the ‘rights’ that come with being true God, but was content to give it away in order to serve the unworthy – how awesome! In fact, “He humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” Paul continues. It is beyond human understanding: on the cross died none other than true God! More: this true God came to earth to redeem me from all my sin! How positively delightful the gospel is!
Heresies Concerning Christ’s Divinity
The Pharisees were not the only ones who took offence at Jesus’ claim to divinity (John 8:59). In the course of church history many have maintained the same error. Arius (b. 256) spread the falsehood that Jesus was created, be it the first of God’s creatures. To correct this heresy, the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) strengthened the current confession by elaborating on the Person of Jesus Christ. The Apostles’ Creed had said of Jesus Christ that He was “[God’s] only-begotten Son, our Lord”. The Nicene Creed (Book of Praise, p. 437) expands upon the Apostles’ Creed by adding in Paragraph 2 the following: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” In confrontation with Arius, the church listened more carefully to God’s revelation about the Son, and then repeated after God, in her own words, what the Lord revealed about the Christ.
Arius’ false teaching, however, did not disappear in the face of a strengthened confession. So it became necessary to revisit the matter some years later. The Athanasian Creed (Book of Praise, pp 438-9) concentrates in its first 29 articles on the Trinity, and then proceeds in Articles 29-43 to detail the Person of Jesus Christ. Concerning Christ incarnate, article 30 goes on to say that He is “the Son of God, is equally both God and man. He is God of the Father’s substance, begotten before time; and He is man from His mother’s substance, born in time. Perfect God, perfect man composed of a human soul and human flesh, equal to the Father in respect of His divinity, less than the Father in respect of His humanity.” To confess that Christ is true God is no insignificant matter, says article 29, but “necessary … to eternal salvation.” In fact, the Athanasian Creed concludes with a powerful statement of the necessity of maintaining Christ’s divine nature: “this is the catholic faith. Unless a man believes it faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved. Amen.” This is the sentiment, historically embraced by the Church for many centuries, that Guido deBres repeated in Article 10 of his confession.
Despite the church’s long and emphatic insistence on maintaining this confession on Jesus’ identity, there have continually been those who keep denying Jesus’ Godhead. One may think today of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This sect has produced its own Bible translation (the New World Translation), where John 1:1 is rendered as: “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” – a translation that simply does not do justice to what the original Greek says, for the Greek says plainly that “the Word was God.” To think of the man Jesus, though, as true God is too humbling for the sinful mind, for it means ultimately that man could not save himself from the justice of God; he is dependent on a free gift from heaven, none less than God the Son Himself!
Many theologians today deny that God exists; they maintain that heaven is actually empty and this world came into existence through a long process of evolution. It follows that Jesus could never be true God – for there is no God. Instead, Jesus’ followers over the years claimed Jesus was (a) God, and wrote (or altered) the books of the New Testament to support their convictions. This is the message preached by so many mainline churches in the western world today. In fact, the Christian Church today is surrounded by the conviction that Christ is not really God.
Necessity of Christ’s Godhead
At the end of the day, does it make any difference whether Jesus Christ is true and eternal God? The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question in Lord’s Day 6.17. This historic confession states that if Christ had not been true God but were just an ordinary man no different from you and me, He could not have carried the burden of God’s wrath against the sin of mankind. Then Christ on the cross would have perished under the fierceness of God’s wrath, so that in turn every person must face the infinite wrath of God on own strength – and therefore perish also. As it is, Jesus’ personhood determines His work. If He is not true God, He cannot be the Redeemer.
It is precisely on this point that the Christian faith differs from every other religion. Every other religion of the world has man’s relation with God in man’s control; man must perform some work to impress the Deity. Christ’s identity as true God lies at the heart of Christianity’s insistence that man’s relation with God lies in God’s control. For “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not people reached out to God, but God has reached out to people! That ensures that Christ’s redeeming work is quality work; His identity assures us that we are in fact reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Here is enormous encouragement and comfort to mortal sinners.
Points for Discussion:
- Do the characteristics of God mentioned in Article 1 apply also to Jesus? Why or why not? If they do, how does this affect (or perhaps alter) your perception of who Jesus Christ is?
- Explain Arius’ thoughts concerning Jesus Christ.
- Why is it important to salvation to confess that Jesus is God?