THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST
Prof. Michael Ogunu
A fundamental truth of the Christian religion is the Divinity of Christ. Christ is not only perfect man but also true God. In the Old Testament, the coming Christ (the Messiah) is described on the one hand as true descendant of the patriarchs and on the other hand as endowed in some mysterious manner with divine attributes. The Psalmist depicts the Messiah saying “The Lord said to me: 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you'”. (Ps. 2:7), and again, as sharing the throne of Yahweh; “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand’ ” (Ps. 110:1). Isaiah in series of prophecies proclaims the transcendent character of the coming Messiah. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us (7:14); he is Judah's King (8:8); he has the unique epithets of Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero (El Gibbor), Prince of Peace, Father Forever (9:6). The title El Gibbor is that of Yahweh himself for “the remnant of Israel” will lean upon Yahweh and will return to El Gibbor, the God-Hero (10:20ff). He is likewise the Shepherd-Ruler, born in Bethlehem, with a mysterious pre-existence embodying in Himself the marvels of divine might and majesty (Mi. 5:2-4). It is no wonder that all Israel awaited this mysterious personality of the coming Messiah with the greatest expectation, and that the very first disciple of Christ could give him the title of “Son of God” without realizing its full implication (Jn. 1:49). That was left for the Master to reveal in the fullness of time (Jn. 16:28). Not only did Christ bear witness to His own divine sonship in the face of the severest persecutions and calumny (Jn. 5, 18:58-10, 20-33; Mt. 26, 63) but He worked divine miracles to confirm it (Jn. 11, 42, 14, 11) and called the Scriptures to witness on behalf of it (Jn. 5:40; Mt. 22:45).
Christ's divinity is shown over and over again in the New Testament. For example, in John 5:18 we are told that Jesus' opponents sought to kill him because he “called God his Father, making himself equal with God”.
In John 8:58, when quizzed about how he has special knowledge of Abraham, Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”—invoking and applying to himself the personal name of God—“I am” (Ex. 3:14). His audience understood exactly what he was claiming about himself. “So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8:59).
In John 20:28, Thomas falls at Jesus' feet, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” (Greek: Ho Kurios mou kai ho Theos mou—literally, “The Lord of me and the God of me!”)
In Philippians 2:6, Paul tells us that Christ Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. So Jesus chose to be born in humble, human form though he could have simply remained in equal glory with the Father for he was “in very nature God”.
Also significant are passages that apply the title “the First and the Last” to Jesus. This is one of the Old Testament titles of Yahweh: “Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of armies: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no god’” (Is. 44:6; cf. 41:4, 48:12).
This title is directly applied to Jesus three times in the book of Revelation: “When I saw him [Christ], I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First and the Last’” (Rev. 1:17). “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the First and the Last, who died and came to life’” (Rev. 2:8). “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:12-13).
This last quote is especially significant since it applies to Jesus the parallel title “the Alpha and the Omega”, which Revelation earlier applied to God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
Jesus actually claimed to be God – and publicly so. And, because of that claim, He was ‘betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes; and they condemned him to death, and delivered him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified’ as He himself said (Matt 20:18-19).
Below are some of the most evident claims of divine attributes made by Our Lord Jesus Christ:
1. He claimed to be God the judge of all mankind, when He said that He would judge all men in the great Day of Reckoning:
Matt 25:31-46 – “The Son of Man shall come in his majesty and all the angels with him ... and all the nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another”. He claimed to be God the Judge of Mankind, who knows the minds, intentions and deeds of millions of billions of people in history, from the first to the last, and apportions to them their desserts.
2. He claimed to be God the Lawmaker.
In the Sermon on the Mount He referred to the Law of God given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and He improved on the Commandments! For instance,
The 5th Commandment:”You have heard that it was said to them of old, thou shalt not kill, but / say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of judgement”. – He improved on the 5th Commandment.
Notice how He did not say: ‘But God bids me to tell you this’; or, ‘thus saith the Lord’. No, He says, I SAY TO YOU. [I, since I am speaking on my own authority.] So, He claimed divine authority to change the Commandments by improving on their meaning and actual application to human behaviour.
3. He claimed to be God, the Lord of the Sabbath:
- Matt 12:8 – The Pharisees accused the disciples of Jesus of having violated the Sabbath. He replies: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”. Now, the keeping of the Sabbath in Jewish theology and Law, has to do with the 3rd Commandment, to keep holy the Sabbath day. Now Yahweh is the Lord of the Sabbath – and Jesus claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath as well!
4. He claimed to be God the Son, one in nature with the Father:
In Cesarea Philippi, when Peter said that He was ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’, Jesus said to him that he was blessed, because it was not flesh and blood (flesh and blood = people) who had revealed that to him, Peter but His (Christ’s) Father who is in heaven. [Mt 16]
Here He explicitly claims that the relationship of sonship He had with the Father was not like everybody else - we are all ‘sons of God’ by adoption - but a relationship that was so special that it required a revelation from God the Father. He was the Son par excellence, He who shares in the nature of His father, just as any son receives his nature from his father.
In the parable of the vineyard [Lk 20:13-16] He makes the same claim, that He is the son of the Lord of the Vineyard. The Pharisees wanted to kill him for it. Why? Because in their tradition, Israel was the ‘vineyard of the Lord’, and Jesus claimed that the vineyard's caretakers - the Jewish authorities - would betray their mission and kill the son of the Lord of the vineyard - who was the Living God himself.
They put Him to the test when they asked him that precise question: “Are you the Christ, the son of the Living God?” – “I am!” He replied. “And you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God and coming with the clouds of heaven”. They accused Him of ‘Blasphemy’; He was guilty of death! Why? Because he claimed to be the Son of God, one in nature with the Father, and not just the sonship that all men have [Mk 14:61-64]
5. He claimed to be omnipotent, to possess all divine power, therefore equal to the Father in divine power:
(a) “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth ... all things are delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him” (Matt 28:18)
(b) “Amen, amen, before Abraham was made, I am” [Yahweh]. [Jn 8:57-58. Notice how He does not say, I was, but I am, present tense].
(c) “The Father has given all judgement to the Son, that all men may honour the Son, as they honour the Father”. - How must all men honour the Father? With divine worship, with adoration. That's how we must also honour Him, He claims (Jn 22:23).
(d) Jesus does not claim to know the way to God (the king's mission), or to teach the truth (the prophet's mission), or to be able to restore spiritual life (the priest's mission). He claims to BE “The way, the truth and the life” (Jn 15:6).
(e) He calls on God the Father to glorify him with divine glory: “Glorify thou me, O Father with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee ... And all my things are thine, and thine are mine”. Jn 17:5, 10, 19.
6. His enemies knew his claim of divinity, and crucified-Him precisely because of that claim:
“The Jews sought to kill him because he said that God was his father, thus making himself equal to God”. ... “We have a law and according to that law he ought to die, because He made himself the Son of God” Jn. 19:7.
His enemies admitted his claim to be divine, but rejected it – “I and the Father are one”. They were about to stone him for these words, “because”, they said, “Thou being a man makest thyself God”. Jn 10:30-33. Jesus did not show to them that they had misunderstood him.
Our Lord makes it clear that He had two natures, one Divine, and one human. When He said, – “I and the Father are one”, He refers to the divine nature, the same of the Father. But when He said, “The Father is greater than I” - He refers to His human nature, created, and necessarily inferior to the Father.
When he cured a man on the Sabbath, the Jews took offence. He said: “My Father works until now and I work”. Their reaction? “They sought the more to kill him”. Why? – “Because ... he said God was his father, making himself equal to God”.
Far from saying they had misunderstood him, Jesus replied: “What things whatsoever the Father does, these the Son also does in like manner ... for as the Father raises up the dead and gives life, so the Son also gives life to whom He will”. Here He claims to Himself the power to do the things the Father does - divine power, including that of giving life.
When Pilate tried to acquit Jesus, the Jews cried out, “We have a law, and according to that law He ought to die” – Why? “Because he made himself the Son of God” (Jn 19:7).
He could have easily denied it or explained it away. But He didn't. Even His Mother could have saved him from death, by simply admitting that His father was her deceased husband, Joseph. But she didn't.
7. He claims to be able to forgive sins in his own name:
To the man sick of the palsy, he said: “Son your sins are forgiven” – The Pharisees objected: “Who can forgive sins but God only?” And they were quite correct: only God can forgive sins. Therefore, upon claiming that He had the power to forgive sins, and by going to the extreme of performing a miracle to prove that he was able to forgive sins, Jesus claimed that He was God, and publicly so.
The same situation happened when He said to Magdalene, “Your sins are forgiven” ... and later about her: “Many sins are forgiven her because she has loved much” Therefore, since it is through love of God that sins are forgiven, love of Him is love of God.
8. Moreover, he did something totally unheard of:
He delegated the power to forgive sins to His close disciples, the Apostles! “Peace be to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you”. When he said this, he breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit; whosoever sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them. And whosoever sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn. 20:23)
9. A few phrases from Him suffice to demonstrate that he claimed divine nature, titles, prerogatives, attributes and names.
“I am from above”... Jn 8:23; “From God I came”... Jn 8:42; “I am come from heaven”... Jn 6:38; “I am the bread of Life” ... that comes down from heaven...” Jn 6:45-51; “All things have been delivered to me by my Father”... Lk 10:22; “I and the Father are one”... Jn 10:30; “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”... Jn 14:10; “All things the Father has are mine”... Jn 16:15; “He that sees me sees also the Father”... Jn 14:9; “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me”... Mt 28:18; “Know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins”... Mt 9:6; “Whatsoever the Father does this the Son does in like manner”... Jn 5:19-23; “He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me”... Mt 10:37; “I am the way, the truth, and the life”... “I am the resurrection and the life”... Jn 11:25.
That Jesus Christ claimed to be not only the Messiah but God Incarnate is self-evident, according to the historical record left by the Apostles. That He died because of that claim is also evident.
In spite of this clear testimony of the scriptures regarding the divinity of Christ many people today refuse to accept this truth. Of them St. John states simply: “no one who disowns the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:23).
Copyright © Professor Michael Ogunu 2015
Version: 5th May 2015