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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Jesus and the Startling Stat

According to a survey by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries and referenced in the November 2016 issue of Christianity Today, 71% of professing Christians apparently do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. The survey statement responded to is: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Respondents had three possible responses: 1) Agree, 2) Don’t Know, and, 3) Disagree. Seventy-one percent agreed. The article rightly refers to this as one of “our favorite heresies.” God is not a created being and therefore, Jesus as God with us, is God in the flesh (see Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:3) and is not a created being but is instead, ever-existent.

This is a startling statistic; especially when the “un-deification” of Jesus is typically a common ploy of cults. To un-deify Jesus minimizes His entire ministry, including removing Him from the throne of Heaven and thereby from the throne of our own lives. Once this throne is vacated, anything can then move onto that throne. Such things as the cult itself can hop onto the throne as can materialism, greed, self-worship or something of even more depraved nature.

The main question, however, is why so many professing Christians are confused on the deity of Christ? Are church pulpits not teaching it? Or are pulpits filled with pastors that themselves teach against it? Is it rampant biblical illiteracy? It’s more than likely a combination of all of these elements; still, the statistic is sad and startling.

I’m sensitive to this because I ignorantly spent years as part of a cult (The Way International) that vehemently taught against Jesus’ deity. God worked through a lovely young woman to wake me up to my error in believing this heresy, and since then, I have strived to help people better grasp the truth that Jesus is God.

Now that the first day of Advent 2016 is here, my hope is that as we celebrate the birth Christ and eagerly await His return, and that we do so with a little deeper understanding who Jesus is.

Such a deeper understanding began for me with 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]

This Scripture is very different than what the cult taught. Compare John 17:5 to what I had read in years past from Wierwille, “I am saying that Jesus Christ is not God, but the Son of God. They are not co-eternal.”[2] Thus was the crossroads of faith confronting me over a decade ago as I realized I had been part of a cult founded by Wierwille. These two quotes placed together evoke a profound sense of tension for the person that truly wants to follow and honor God, is Jesus Christ God or not?

I will assume as a basic tenet that the inerrancy of Scripture is held by both the writer and reader of this post and state that misunderstandings rest with wrong learning or poor personal interpretation. For instance, as in my case, a logical but ignorant person could be easily fooled by the often repeated Scriptural phrase of Jesus being the Son of God. Many can indeed conclude that a son and a father are two separate entities; they may share similar characteristics due to genetic connections and familial socialization[3], but the similarities do not indicate they are the same person. Hence, it is easy to see how a person unfamiliar with all references toward Jesus could confuse Him as being completely separate from God. Such was my case.

However, in the spring of 2002, after exiting the cult, I was fervently praying one Saturday morning for God to help me understand the truth about Jesus. In that same hour I “stumbled” across John 17:5. This verse was transformational for me primarily due to one word: world. The word in the Greek is kosmos and can be defined as “orderly arrangement … the world”[4] or “world, universe, humankind.”[5] That one word nested within the context of the entire chapter indicates that, “the whole verse is about a past-tense experience Jesus actually had.”[6]

The verse is not referring to some mystical foreknowledge, because Jesus would not have been aware of such foreknowledge because that foreknowledge would have rested solely with God and therefore would not be directly accessible via Jesus’ own memory. What’s more, “Jesus’ statement that he enjoyed divine glory before the creation certainly presumes a personal preexistence; it also implies an essential relationship with God, not merely a functional one.”[7] The Expositor’s Bible comments thusly:

The glory which He prayed for now was a conscious, living glory; He did not wish to become extinct or to be absorbed in the Divine being; He meant to continue and did continue in actual, personal, living existence. This was the glory He prayed for, and this therefore must also have been the glory He had before the world was.[8]

Walvoord even states that in John 17:5 “Christ speaks of His memory of the glory of heaven prior to His incarnation as an evidence for His preexistence.”[9] Finally, all this indicates that “Jesus Christ is, at the inmost principle of his being, true God, from whom he came as the eternal, not temporal, Son.”[10]

And, of course, there is much more information validating the deity of Jesus Christ. But that will have to wait until Part 2.

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

[2] Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1981), p. 5.

[3] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 58-60.

[4] New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc, 1995), p. 51

[5] William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 428.

[6] Craig Kuhn, From Cult to Christ (Maitland, FL: Xulon, 2007), p. 58.

[7] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 152.

[8] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible, Vol. V., (New York, NY: Wilbur B. Ketchcam, no date), p. 250.

[9] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 26.

[10] Samuel J. Mikolaski, “The Theology of the New Testament,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 1., ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), p. 464.