Deity of Jesus, Part 4: The Wider Sacrifice

Today is the last installment of my four-part series on exploring the deity of Jesus Christ. J.17-5.jpgIt began four weeks ago, in reaction to the apparent lack of understanding of professing Christians in grasping Jesus as Emanuel, God with us; and the springboard was John 17:5:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5, NKJV).[1]

Obviously, this series has not been an exhaustive study, because I think it requires several lifetimes to begin grasping something so monumental. But you must start somewhere and this series is my attempt at ‘somewhere.’

Exchange of Glory

Pastor Jeremy Treat, Ph.D., in a recent article, connected John 17:5 as a “loving Trinitarian exchange of glory” at the cross where “we see the wisdom of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[2] I think this is a significant understanding of the verse because it implies that Jesus, the Creator, the Preexistent One, is allowing Himself to be treated in shameful and unjust fashions knowing that the end will result in glorification of God via the coming resurrection and the outpouring of salvation via the coming new birth in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ earthly punishment will culminate with death on a cross through the horrible process of scourging followed by the crucifixion. What kind of God would do this? But Jesus endured in part because of His eternal vision of the ultimate result of such a gruesome sacrifice (cf. Php. 2:8 & Heb. 12:2-3); namely the salvation of humanity.

Only for a moment we need to put ourselves into the shoes of Jesus (cf. Mt. 5:14). While we are not being forced to do this, I think John 17:5 invites us to due to its intriguing concept.

The Wider Sacrifice

At some point in Eternity Past Jesus enjoyed a perfect existence in the Eternal Community (see my post from December 11, 2016). Within the Eternal Community, everything was well and beautiful beyond our understanding and expression and there was no threat to disrupting this bliss; except for His own willingness to step away from it and into humanity as the agent of salvation. All that was beautiful, comfortable and perfect was set aside so that Jesus could come and reside among us (cf. Phil. 2:1-5 and Jo. 1:1-18). So while the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is very tangible to the believer, we now need to stop and consider the sacrifice of Jesus at the moment of conception in Mary’s womb. Is this the point in time when Jesus “changed His situation?” I tend to think so because Jesus’ sacrifice did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; it began much earlier. His sacrifice began at the moment He left the Eternal Community, entering into Mary’s womb so that someday, those that call on His Name, may be saved and thereby destined to eternal glory forevermore with Jesus Christ. His great sacrifice began upon exiting the Eternal Community and, I would suggest, did not conclude until He ascended back into glory (cf. Mk. 16:19, Lk. 24:51 and Ac. 1:9). In other words, His entire life was, among many other things, a continued expression of sacrifice; a sacrifice that we cannot fully comprehend but are invited to at least try to comprehend what we can. Such effort on our part can only expand our faith while also perhaps humbling us a little more as well.

What I have hoped to inspire through this exploration is a deepening of our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us. Jesus is God and as such, carries all the powers associated with God. He could have easily eradicated the “human problem” through any means of annihilation but chose instead to come into our depraved condition to lead us out of it and into His glorious Kingdom. Only through Jesus Christ can we be eternally saved and only Jesus Christ could have been the agent of this salvation (cf. Jo. 14:6, Ac. 16:29-31 and Ro. 10:9-10).

Finally, I close with the words of McCready:

Knowing the Son of God has entered into our world in Jesus of Nazareth is transformative knowledge. If it is true, we who believe it can never be the same again. Such belief is not merely a matter of our intellect—it must affect our thoughts, words and actions as well. That Christ is the preexistent Son of God is the basis for believing God has loved us and given himself to us and for us without reservation.”[3]

 While a lengthy quote, I could not have summed it up any better. It is a joy to push the intellect deeper into the things of God, but the real gain is a further grasping of all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such an exercise only deepens my own love for my Lord and Savior and increasing my desire to make Him known to others. I hope it does the same for you as well. May blessings be yours now and into 2017.

[1] New King James Version Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Tommy Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1799.

[2] Jeremy Treat, “The Glory of the Cross,” Christianity Today, October 2013, p. 58.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p 308.

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Deity of Jesus Part 3: Leaving the Eternal Community

Only when the time was right did Jesus come to earth in incarnate form. I return again to McCready where he reminds the reader that of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—“only the Son has changed his situation in such a way that the term preexistence is helpful.”[1] This is an astounding thought that Jesus “changed his situation.” Changing His situation was a sacrifice that is staggering to comprehend.

Expanding Understanding

The lofty and somewhat circular language is purposeful in reminding us that there are some aspects of God that we just can’t explain because they are beyond the scope of our intellect; the created cannot ever fully explain the Creator (cf. Is. 55:8 & Ro. 9:20-21). For instance, how can something exist before existence? What form was the pre-incarnate Christ in? Did His form change once Earth and Man were created (I ask this since there’s a strong possibility that “the angel of the Lord” was the pre-incarnate Christ)? All of these questions are fascinating and worth further exploration if for no other reason but deepening our love for Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf.

But now I return to the significance of John 17:5 and grasping that Christ was indeed preexistent. Being preexistent means that He was God and He was no less God in His Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus being God in the form of man is Him truly coming into our world from a beyond-our-understanding-existence. Crabb, similarly struggling with trying to grasp the significance of Christ’s departure from His previous existence, once captured what he thought a conversation was like between Father and Son prior to the incarnation:

‘Father, what you ask is painful beyond description to even contemplate. I cannot imagine what the actual experience will be like of not seeing your face. And yet I am delighted with your plan. It will give me the chance to let people see how wonderful you are. The joy of seeing you glorified makes it worth it all. There is no other way?’

‘No.’[2]

The Eternal Community

Imagine the emotional upheaval Jesus went through to comply with the necessity of taking on the form of a Man. He had indescribable joy in what Crabb refers to as the “Eternal Community.”[3] Along with this joy is perfect harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit; there was nothing disruptive, painful, or evil. That all changed when Jesus entered the world of Man. Here He was treated in shameful and unspeakable ways. Even today no name draws so much elation or hatred as the Name of Jesus Christ.

So often, and rightly, we recognize Jesus for the incredible sacrifice He gave on our behalf while on the earth, mostly focused on the Passion Week. We cite with pomp and ceremony what Jesus endured at the hands of men. Rarely, however, do we ever hear about the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving His ‘Eternal Community’ to enter humanity on our behalf. Not only that, but He entered humanity in the most vulnerable way: an embryo in the womb. I suggest this because we don’t really understand what Jesus sacrificed by leaving His eternal dwelling, so rather than trying to gain a further understanding of that it so we can teach it to others, we avoid it altogether. I don’t say this to be harsh toward anyone, I have spent much time in the pulpit myself, and I would definitely be intimidated by teaching something that is beyond my understanding; I don’t want to look or sound foolish, but even more, I would not want to say anything theologically inaccurate or dishonoring to Jesus. Still, people need to better understand that Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the Passion Week.

[1]Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), pp. 12-13.

[2] Larry Crabb, Connecting: A radical new vision (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1997), p. 59.

[3] Ibid., p. 58.

Exploring the Deity of Jesus, Part 2

john-1

As we explored last week in Part 1 of Exploring the Deity of Jesus (actually titled Jesus and the Startling Stat, John 17:5 clearly speaks to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Preexistence itself is a difficult concept to grasp. Since humans have a finite beginning we grope for some sort of previous knowledge or anchor[1] to hang the concept of preexistence from. The most likely and accessible anchor of previous knowledge is that of deity; only a deity or divine being could preexist. What’s more astounding is thinking of the word “world” in John 17:5 to mean “universe” as Mounts attests in his definition of the Greek word kosmos (see footnote #5 from last week). Jesus existed before the universe, which of course means that He existed before anything else ever did. Thinking deeply about this eventually derails our train of logic. Jesus is not below logic but rather the opposite, He defies logic, He transcends it, we could even say that logic resides in Jesus since all things come from Jesus (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:17).

Such thinking either troubles or excites the mind that previously held Jesus as not being God. It was hugely exciting for me; and it still is, but why?

Still Exciting

As briefly explored above, only one “thing” or “power” could be in existence before anything else, and that is God. Nothing and no one created God; He has always been and always will be.  God is infinite. Lewis states that, “If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal’ or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”[2]

Here is where some struggle while others celebrate accepting God as a “concrete fact.” If we are to accept God as such a fact, then we now have a choice to accept Jesus on the same basis or not. Accepting Jesus on the same basis is to proclaim accepting His deity; or stated another way, accepting that Jesus Christ was indeed God in the flesh as Scripture attests to (cf. Is. 7:14 & Mt. 1:23).

After “discovering” this verse, I went back to the Wierwille book to see how he handled it. I was not surprised to find that he did not explore John 17:5 at all. Finding this verse absent in that work was the final exclamation point I needed to verify that I had indeed fallen for a great deception and that it was now time to finally move into accepting and even embracing the deity of Jesus Christ as a concrete fact.  Since then I have put a lot of energy into doing the best I can to properly teach Jesus to any I have opportunity to speak to, this includes to my children, pulpit messages, and coffee shop conversations.

Several other verses also attest to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. The more familiar prologue of the Fourth Gospel is the one most people refer to:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4a & 14, NKJV).

 McCready states that this lengthy introduction from the Gospel of John insists that,

 Jesus’ origin and nature are incomprehensible if seen solely in terms of this world. Only when we read it in the light of his pre-incarnate deity does Jesus’ story make sense. … Christ’s preexistence requires that it identify the Word with Jesus, which the prologue does.[3]

 The prologue of John is thick with theological significance. Walvoord comments on the first three verses of John 1 thusly, “If Christ is eternal, it also is obvious that He is the uncaused cause, the self-existent One. As the Creator of all things, He Himself must be uncreated.”[4] Johnson states that,

 The prologue in this case gives explicit expression to the constant assumption behind the deeds and words of Jesus: he acts and speaks as the incarnate expression of God’s speech. As word gives body to thought, so does Jesus give visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God.[5]

 So while the human mind may struggle with the somewhat ethereal concept of preexistence, that is, existence before anything else existed; the same human mind can easily grasp the existence of another human being. The human being is “concrete” in that he is tangible, physical, and visceral; thus, Jesus as the Incarnate God now presents to humanity a tangible example of the “invisible power and presence of God.” Jesus not only embodies or personifies God, He is God.

Another interesting fact that McCready points out is how similar John 1:1 is to Genesis 1:1.[6] I had not thought about this connector before, but I find it profound because in John 1, as indicated above, we see Jesus preexistent and we see Him linked to the Word of God by in fact being the Word that became flesh. Here I’m tempted to dive into more quotes and references, but will instead attempt to coalesce this into my own thinking; after all, this started with my own journey of faith upon realizing my own gross theological error regarding the truth of Jesus Christ.

My Own Words

Only one being can be preexistent and that is God. Scripture clearly establishes that Jesus Himself was preexistent. Therefore, Jesus being preexistent makes Him God. He is God from before the beginning of the world, or of the universe, so He is in fact God and preexistent before time. I say this because I have heard many teachings state that God is either above or outside of time or perhaps both. But the concept of time seems to have been instilled more for Man than for anything else. We see time first expressed in Genesis by way of measuring the lights in the sky (cf. Gen. 1:5). I find this relevant because Jesus existed in some pre-incarnate/preexistent form even before time. The finite human brain cannot comprehend what existed before existence, but one thing we know from Scripture is that whatever it was, Jesus was there. In fact, the opening verses of John 1 indicate that all things were made through Him; so not only was He there but He was also apparently the initiator of it.

While it may sound somewhat confusing and a little circular, the point I’m trying to make is that Jesus was, is, and always will be; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Heb. 13: 8 and Rev. 1:11 & 22:13). He is not a god in time, but the God of time and all that came before it and all that will come after it.

In Part 3 next we’ll look a little more closely at the Incarnate Jesus.

 

[1] David P. Ausubel, The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A cognitive view (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 8 & 101.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1960), p. 87.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 140.

[4]John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 28.

[5] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), Kindle loc. 8014.

[6] McCready, p. 141.