Cults

Jehovah's Witnesses

WHO IS Jesus Christ? Is He God?

(Continued from page 65)


Sinlessness: Though the New Testament clearly affirms that Jesus was fully human just as we are, it also affirms that Jesus was different in one important respect: he was without sin, and he never committed sin. Some have objected that if Jesus did not sin, then he was not truly human, for all humans sin. But those making that objection simply fail to realize that human beings are now in an abnormal situation. God did not create us sinful, but holy and righteous. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned were truly human, and we now, though human, do not match the pattern that God intends for us when our full, sinless humanity is restored.

The sinlessness of Jesus is taught frequently in the New Testament. We see suggestions of this early in his life when he was 'filled with wisdom' and 'the favour of God was upon him' (
Luke 2:40). Then we see that Satan was unable to tempt Jesus successfully, but failed, after forty days, to persuade him to sin: 'And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time' (Luke 4:13). We also see in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) no evidence of wrongdoing on Jesus' part. To the Jews who opposed him, Jesus asked, 'Which of you convicts me of sin?' (John 8:46), and received no answer.

The statements about Jesus' sinlessness are more explicit in John's gospel. Jesus made the amazing proclamation, 'I am the light of the world' (
John 8:12). If we understand light to represent both truthfulness and moral purity, then Jesus is here claiming to be the source of truth and the source of moral purity and holiness in the world - an astounding claim, and one that could only be made by someone who was free from sin. Moreover, with regard to obedience to his Father in heaven, he said, 'I always do what is pleasing to him' (John 8:29; the present tense gives the sense of continual activity, 'I am always doing what is pleasing to him'). At the end of his life, Jesus could say, 'I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love' (John 15:10). It is significant that when Jesus was put on trial before Pilate, in spite of the accusations of the Jews, Pilate could only conclude, 'I find no crime in him' (John 18:38).

In the book of Acts Jesus is several times called the 'Holy One' or the 'Righteous One,' or is referred to with some similar expression (see
Acts 2:27; 3:14; 4:30; 7:52; 13:35). When Paul speaks of Jesus coming to live as a man he is careful not to say that he took on 'sinful flesh,' but rather says that God sent his own Son 'in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin' (Romans. 8:3). And he refers to Jesus as 'him . . . who knew no sin' (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The author of Hebrews affirms that Jesus was tempted but simultaneously insists that he did not sin: Jesus is 'one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sin' (Hebrews 4:15). He is a high priest who is 'holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens' (Hebrews 7:26). Peter speaks of Jesus as 'a lamb without blemish or spot' (1 Peter 1:19), using Old Testament imagery to affirm his freedom from any moral defilement. Peter directly states, 'He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips' (1 Peter 2:22). When Jesus died, it was 'the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18). And John, in his first epistle, calls him 'Jesus Christ the righteous' (1 John 2:1) and says, 'In him there is no sin' (1 John 3:5). It is hard to deny, then, that the sinlessness of Christ is taught clearly in all the major sections of the New Testament. He was truly man yet without sin.

In connection with Jesus' sinlessness, we should notice in more detail the nature of his temptations in the wilderness (
Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). The essence of these temptations was an attempt to persuade Jesus to escape from the hard path of obedience and suffering that was appointed for him as the Messiah. Jesus was 'led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil' (Luke 4:1-2). In many respects this temptation was parallel to the testing that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden, but it was much more difficult. Adam and Eve had fellowship with God and with each other and had an abundance of all kinds of food, for they were only told not to eat from one tree. By contrast, Jesus had no human fellowship and no food to eat, and after he had fasted for forty days he was near the point of physical death. In both cases the kind of obedience required was not obedience to an eternal moral principle rooted in the character of God, but was a test of pure obedience to God's specific directive. With Adam and Eve, God told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the question was whether they would obey simply because God told them. In the case of Jesus, 'led by the Spirit' for forty days in the wilderness, he apparently realized that it was the Father's will that he eat nothing during those days but simply remain there until the Father, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, told him that the temptations were over and he could leave.

We can understand, then, the force of the temptation, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread' (
Luke 4:3). Of course Jesus was the Son of God, and of course he had the power to make any stone into bread instantly. He was the one who would soon change water into wine and multiply the loaves and the fishes. The temptation was intensified by the fact that it seemed as though, if he did not eat soon, his very life would be taken from him. Yet he had come to obey God perfectly in our place, and to do so as a man. This meant that he had to obey in his human strength alone. If he had called upon his divine powers to make the temptation easier for himself, then he would not have obeyed God fully as a man. The temptation was to use his divine power to 'cheat' a bit on the requirements and make obedience somewhat easier. But Jesus, unlike Adam and Eve, refused to eat what appeared to be good and necessary for him, choosing rather to obey the command of his heavenly Father.

The temptation to bow down and worship Satan for a moment and then receive authority over 'all the kingdoms of the world' (
Luke 4:5) was a temptation to receive power not through the path of lifelong obedience to his heavenly Father, but through wrongful submission to the Prince of Darkness. Again, Jesus rejected the apparently easy path and chose the path of obedience that led to the cross.

Similarly, the temptation to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (
Luke 4:9-11) was a temptation to 'force' God to perform a miracle and rescue him in a spectacular way, thus attracting a large following from the people without pursuing the hard path ahead, the path that included three years of ministering to people's needs, teaching with authority, and exemplifying absolute holiness of life in the midst of harsh opposition. But Jesus again resisted this 'easy route' to the fulfilment of his goals as the Messiah (again, a route that would not actually have fulfilled those goals in any case).

These temptations were really the culmination of a lifelong process of strengthening and maturing that occurred throughout Jesus' childhood and early adulthood, as he 'increased in wisdom . . . and in favour with God' (
Luke 2:52) and as he 'learned obedience through what he suffered' (Hebrews 5:8). In these temptations in the wilderness and in the various temptations that faced him through the thirty-three years of his life, Christ obeyed God in our place and as our substitute, thus succeeding where Adam had failed, where the people of Israel in the wilderness had failed, and where we had failed (see Romans. 5:18-19).

As difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, Scripture affirms that in these temptations Jesus gained an ability to understand and help us in our temptations.
'Because he himself has suffered and been tempted he is able to help those who are tempted' (Hebrews 2:18). The author goes on to connect Jesus' ability to sympathize with our weaknesses to the fact the he was tempted as we are:

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then [lit., 'therefore'] with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (
Hebrews 4:15-16)

Why Was Jesus' Full Humanity Necessary?: When John wrote his first epistle, a heretical teaching was circulating in the church to the effect that Jesus was not a man. This heresy became known as docetism.  So serious was this denial of truth about Christ, that John could say it was a doctrine of the antichrist: 'By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist' (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle John understood that to deny Jesus' true humanity was to deny something at the very heart of Christianity, so that no one who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh was sent from God.  We will examine the later evidence that shows that Jesus was fully God while on earth, but that He chose to operate as a man empowered entirely by the Holy Spirit through His constant prayer-life communing with the Father.  Many believe this also helps us to better understand the way in which our relationship with the Holy Spirit should be constant and growing through prayerful communication with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As we look through the New Testament, we see several reasons why Jesus had to be fully man if he was going to be the Messiah and earn our salvation. We can list seven of those reasons here:

For Representative Obedience: As we noted in the passages on the covenants between God and man above, Jesus was our representative and obeyed for us where Adam had failed and disobeyed. We see this in the parallels between Jesus' temptation (Luke 4:1-13) and the time of testing for Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis. 2:15-3:7). It is also clearly reflected in Paul's discussion of the parallels between Adam and Christ, in Adam's disobedience and Christ's obedience:
Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so
one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans. 5:18-19)

This is why Paul can call Christ 'the last Adam' (
1 Corinthians 15:45) and can call Adam the 'first man' and Christ the 'second man' (1 Corinthians 15:47). Jesus had to be a man in order to be our representative and obey in our place.

To Be a Substitute Sacrifice: If Jesus had not been a man, he could not have died in our place and paid the penalty that was due to us. The author of Hebrews tells us that 'For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation [more accurately, 'propitiation'] for the sins of the people' (Hebrews 2:16-17; cf. v14). Jesus had to become a man, not an angel, because God was concerned with saving men, not with saving angels. But to do this he 'had to' be made like us in every way, so that he might become 'the propitiation' for us, the sacrifice that is an acceptable substitute for us. Though this idea will be discussed more fully later in considering the nature of the atonement, it is important here to realize that unless Christ was fully man, he could not have died to pay the penalty for man's sins. He could not have been a substitute sacrifice for us.

To Be the One Mediator Between God and Men: Because we were alienated from God by sin, we needed someone to come between God and ourselves and bring us back to him. We needed a mediator who could represent us to God and who could represent God to us. There is only one person who has ever fulfilled that requirement: 'There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus' (1 Timothy. 2:5). In order to fulfill this role of mediator, Jesus had to be fully man as well as fully God.

To Fulfill God's Original Purpose for Man to Rule Over Creation: God put mankind on the earth to subdue it and rule over it as God's representatives. But man did not fulfill that purpose, for he instead fell into sin. The author of Hebrews realizes that God intended everything to be in subjection to man, but he makes it clear that: 'As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him' (Hebrews 2:8). Then, when Jesus came as a man, he was able to obey God and thereby have the right to rule over creation as a man thus fulfilling God's original purpose in putting man on the earth. Hebrews recognizes this when it says that now 'we see Jesus' in the place of authority over the universe, 'crowned with glory and honour' (Hebrews 2:9; cf. the same phrase in v7). Jesus in fact has been given 'all authority in heaven and on earth' (Matthew 28:18), and God has 'put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church' (Ephesians. 1:22). Indeed, we shall someday reign with him on his throne (Revelation 3:21) and experience, in subjection to Christ our Lord, the fulfilment of God's purpose that we reign over the earth (cf. Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:3). Jesus had to be a man in order to fulfill God's original purpose that man rule over his creation.

To Be Our Example and Pattern in Life: John tells us, 'He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked' (1 John 2:6), and reminds us that 'when he appears we shall be like him,' and that this hope of future conformity to Christ's character even now gives increasing moral purity to our lives (1 John 3:2-3). Paul tells us that we are continually being 'changed into his likeness' (2 Corinthians 3:18), thus moving toward the goal for which God saved us, that we might 'be conformed to the image of his Son' (Romans. 8:29). Peter tells us that especially in suffering we have to consider Christ's example: 'Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps' (1 Peter 2:21). Throughout our Christian life, we are to run the race set before us 'looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith' (Hebrews 12:2). If we become discouraged by the hostility and opposition of sinners, we are to 'consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself ' (Hebrews 12:3). Jesus is also our example in death. Paul's goal is to become 'like him in his death' (Philippians 3:10; cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Peter 3:17-18 with 4:1). Our goal should be to be like Christ all our days, up to the point of death, and to die with unfailing obedience to God, with strong trust in him, and with love and forgiveness to others. Jesus had to become a man like us in order to live as our example and pattern in life.

To Be the Pattern for Our Redeemed Bodies: Paul tells us that when Jesus rose from the dead he rose in a new body that was 'imperishable ... raised in glory ... raised in power ... raised a spiritual body' (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This new resurrection body that Jesus had when he rose from the dead is the pattern for what our bodies will be like when we are raised from the dead, because Christ is 'the first fruits' (1 Corinthians 15:23) - an agricultural metaphor that likens Christ to the first sample of the harvest, showing what the other fruit from that harvest would be like. We now have a physical body like Adam's, but we will have one like Christ's: 'Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven' (1 Corinthians 15:49). Jesus had to be raised as a man in order to be the 'first-born from the dead' (Colossians 1:18), the pattern for the bodies that we would later have.

To Sympathize As High Priest: The author of Hebrews reminds us that 'because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted' (Hebrews 2:18; cf. 4:15-16).  We can say that 'by lowering Himself' (see Philippians 2:5-7 and 'kenosis theory' later) He could answer every question that anyone might ask of him, particularly the accuser, Satan, concerning the temptation and salvation of man.

Jesus Will Be a Man Forever: Jesus did not give up his human nature after his death and resurrection, for he appeared to his disciples as a man after the resurrection, even with the scars of the nail prints in his hands (John 20:25-27). He had 'flesh and bones' (Luke 24:39) and ate food (Luke 24:41-42). Later, when he was talking with his disciples, he was taken up into heaven, still in his resurrected human body, and two angels promised that he would return in the same way: 'This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven' (Acts 1:11). Still later, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw Jesus as 'the Son of man standing at the right hand of God' (Acts 7:56). Jesus also appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road and said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting' (Acts 9:5) - an appearance that Saul (Paul) later coupled with the resurrection appearances of Jesus to others (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8). In John's vision in Revelation, Jesus still appears as 'one like a son of man' (Revelation 1:13), though he is filled with great glory and power, and his appearance causes John to fall at his feet in awe (Revelation 1:13-17). He promises one day to drink wine again with his disciples in his Father's kingdom (Matthew 26:29) and invites us to a great marriage supper in heaven (Revelation 19:9). Moreover, Jesus will continue forever in his offices as prophet, priest, and king, all of them carried out by virtue of the fact that he is both God and man forever.

All of these texts indicate that Jesus did not
temporarily become man, but that his divine nature was permanently united to his human nature, and he lives forever not just as the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, but also as Jesus, the man who was born of Mary, and as Christ, the Messiah and Saviour of his people.  Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet one person, forever.

The Deity of Christ

To complete the Biblical teaching about Jesus Christ, we must affirm not only that he was fully human, but also that he was fully divine. Although the word does not explicitly occur in Scripture, the church has used the term
incarnation to refer to the fact that Jesus was God in human flesh. The incarnation was the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature.  The scriptural proof for the deity of Christ is very extensive in the New Testament and here it is examined under several categories.

Brief look at direct statements of Scripture that Jesus is God or that He is divine

The Word God (Theos) Used of Christ: Although the word theos 'God,' is usually reserved in the New Testament for God the Father, nonetheless, there are several passages where it is also used to refer to Jesus Christ. In all of these passages the word 'God' is used in the strong sense to refer to the one who is the Creator of heaven and earth, the ruler over all. These passages include John 1:1; 1:18 (in older and better manuscripts); 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8 (quoting Psalm 45:6); and 2 Peter 1:1.  As these passages will be discussed in more detail later it is enough to note here that there are at least these seven clear passages in the New Testament that explicitly refer to Jesus as God.

One Old Testament example of the name God applied to Christ is seen in a familiar Messianic passage: 'For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God. ..'' (Isaiah. 9:6).

The Word Lord (Kyrios) Used of Christ: Sometimes the word Lord (Gk. kyrios) is used simply as a polite address to a superior, roughly equivalent to our word sir (see Matthew 13:27; 21:30; 27:63; John 4:11). Sometimes it can simply mean 'master' of a servant or slave (Matthew 6:24; 21:40). Yet the same word is also used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was commonly used at the time of Christ) as a translation for the Hebrew yhwh 'Yahweh,' or (as it is frequently translated) 'the LORD,' or 'Jehovah.'  Later, we will discuss the merits of 'Yahweh' and 'Jehovah' as the Name for Almighty God and use it in our text in some places in order to clarify points of WBTS (Jehovah's Witnesses') doctrine.  The word kyrios is used to translate the name of the Lord 6,814 times in the Greek Old Testament. Therefore, any Greek-speaking reader at the time of the New Testament who had any knowledge at all of the Greek Old Testament would have recognized that, in contexts where it was appropriate, the word 'Lord' was the name of the one who was the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, the omnipotent God.

(Continued on page 67)

Sinlessness: Though the New Testament clearly affirms that Jesus was fully human just as we are, it also affirms that Jesus was different in one important respect: he was without sin, and he never committed sin.

The Deity of Christ

To complete the Biblical teaching about Jesus Christ, we must affirm not only that he was fully human, but also that he was fully divine.

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