Yesterday my daughter tagged me in a note she wrote on Facebook about a book she’s reading titled “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. Here she presents her thoughtful questions regarding Jesus’ claim to be God. The following is her post and my response.
Okay, so I read something pretty interesting and insightful last week.
You know how Jesus Christ always refers to God as “the Father” or “His Father” and so on? Well, how does that work with Jesus claiming to be God? Because I don’t know about you, but from how he relates Himself to God looks an awful lot like He is separate and different from God – almost like His ambassador or servant for His Plan.
But sometimes Jesus says straight out: “I and the Father are one”. So… how do we know that He’s not just referring to being in the same mindset or goals or something? I mean, those are pretty logical and legitamite questions if I don’t say so myself.
Well, I’m reading snippets of a book called “The Case for Christ: A Journalist Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus” (by Lee Strobel).
In one part of the book, the author poses a question to an interviewee about the proclaimed deity of Jesus Christ and how He supposedly denies it of Himself a few times in the Bible.
If Jesus was God, what kind of God was he? Was he equal to the Father, or some sort of junior God, possessing the attributes of deity and yet somehow failing to match the total sketch that the Old Testament provides of the divine?
That question comes out of another passage that I pointed out to Carson. “Jesus said in John 14:28, ‘The Father is greater than I.’ Some people look at this and conclude that Jesus must have been a lesser God. Are they right?” I asked.
Carson sighed. “My Father was a preacher,” he replied, “and a dictum in out home when I was growing up was, ‘A text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof-text.’ It’s very important to see this passage in its context.
“The disciples are moaning because Jesus has said he’s going away. Jesus says, “If you loved me, you’d be glad for my sake when I say I’m going away, because the Gather is greater than I.’ That is to say, Jesus is returning to the glory that is properly his, so if they really know who he is and really love him properly, they’ll be glad that he’s going back to the realm where he really is greater. Jesus says in John 17:5, ‘Glorify me with the glory that I had with the Father before the world began’ – that is, ‘the Father is greater than I.’
“When you use a category like ‘greater,’ it doesn’t have to mean ontologically greater. If I say, for example, that the president of the United States is greater than I, I’m not saying he’s an ontologically superior being. He’s greater in military capability, political prowess, and public acclaim, but he’s not more of a man that I am. He’s a human being and I’m a human being.
“So when Jesus says, ‘The Father is greater than I,’ one must look at the context and ask if Jesus is saying, ‘The Father is greater than I because he’s God and I’m not.’ Frankly, that would be a pretty ridiculous thing to say. Suppose I got up on some podium to preach and said, ‘I solemnly declare to you that God is greater than I am.’ That would be a rather useless observation.
“The comparison is only meaningful if they’re already on the same plane and there’s some delimitation going on. Jesus is in the limitations of the Incarnation – he’s going to the cross; he’s going to die – but he’s about to return to the Father and to the glory he had with the Father before the world began.
“He’s saying, ‘You guys are moaning for my sake; you ought to be glad because I’m going home.’ It’s in that sence that ‘the Father is greater than I.'”
“So,” I said, “this isn’t an implicit denial of his deity.”
“No,” he concluded, “it’s really not. The context makes that clear.”
The book also addresses many other logical questions, such as:
* How could a compansionate, merciful, and loving God send people to Hell? (which, in all totality is the absence of God).
* Why would Jesus claim to be God if He was a human being?
* Since Jesus claims to be God, does He match up to the attributes of God?
* What was Jesus’ mission and purpose here on this earth?
It’s a really good book. It addresses very important questions in a completely logical and contextual light. I highly suggest it if you’re digging into who Christ really was/is (as I am).
Elizabeth, this brings up several important questions about the Trinity, and people’s belief that there is some kind of eternal subordination between the Father and the Son and Spirit (God). Many teachers, though misinformed, teach this to… be the case. In Philippians 2, many read that passage and say, “Well, Jesus was claiming to be subordinate to the Father, so He presents an eternal subordination in the Trinity…”
This is a teaching (doctrine) that is reflected in Arius’ (AD 250-336) teaching that was declared heretical twice. It’s reflected in the jehovah’s witness’ teaching, in that it makes Jesus a “lesser God”.
To clarify the Philippians 2 passage ( read online here ), this “humility” of Jesus is appropriate for when He was in His human flesh on this earth, over 2000 years ago. He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross”. He had to be subordinate and obedient to the will of the Father. He claimed in John and the other gospels that “He and the Father were one”. He was perfect in obedience to fulfill every “jot and tittle”, an ancient phrase meaning not one tiny written mark in the breathed-out word of God, including the Law of the Old Testament (showing us how utterly sinful and incapable we were in fulfilling it) would pass away, until it would be fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled the Law of God demanding complete holiness. God knew we couldn’t and so, sent His Son in the flesh to do the holy task for us. Because we all deserve separation from God for our sinful thoughts. But God is compassionate and loving and wants us to know Him. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him may be saved” (John 3:17).
Understanding the fullness of God in Christ Jesus, and not diminishing Him because He came as a man to serve us, should not allow our thinking to be that He is somehow lesser in the trinity.
This is key, because in many of the teachings in the world that subordinate other humans (African-American slavery, Antebellum South, men in authority over women, the teachings of JW’s, Mormonism, even Islam — that teaches Jesus was only a prophet), claim that Jesus was only a “lesser” god; a glorified human; a man who fulfilled his godhood potential.
Jesus claimed otherwise! He claimed to BE God. So, he either should have been put to death according to the laws of the land (for usurping the King’s authority) or ignored for being a crackpot.
History shows us that Jesus indeed came back from the grave and taught amongst the people, too many to count. Then, He went back to Heaven (according to the Gospel account; think of it as written testimony in a court of Law). Apparently, people were so changed by meeting Jesus and the people He changed that they were willing to die for their faith. Who would follow a delusional liar crackpot? Jesus proved His life among them and committed no sin, for His mission was to be the sacrifice for humanity’s sins that we could never repay God. His life was one of healing people and raising people from the grave and teaching about a new way to heaven through Him by faith. His law is love and faith in Him.
The question posed today for each of us is this:
Do we believe Jesus is God and paid the penalty for our sins? Do we know we’ll go to Heaven to be in His presence when we die?