Lecture 33: The Deity of Christ
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Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.
I. Imagery of the Sheep and Shepherd
II. John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one”
A. What Jesus Is Not Saying
B. What Jesus Is Saying
III. Mystery of the Trinity
A. Helps us understand other passages in John
B. More to this than mere theological curiosity
C. Doctrine of the Deity of Christ is not just in John
Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lecture: Deity of Christ
Imagery of the Sheep and Shepherd
The tenth chapter of John centers on the imagery of sheep and their shepherd. Speaking about the shepherd, Jesus says in verse 3, “The sheep hear his voice and He [the shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them and the sheep follow him for they know his voice.“ Then the metaphor is changed a little bit in verse 7, “I [Jesus] am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers but the sheep did not listen to them.” In other words, the sheep knew that the thieves and robbers were not the true shepherds. Once again the metaphor is changed in John 10:11 and 14 where He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” The shepherd who is Jesus knows His sheep. He knows them by name and He leads them. The sheep (that is us) know the shepherd and follow Him; we do not follow the false shepherds. We follow the true shepherd. I want to look at the background to this metaphor as it starts at John 10:22, which reads, “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’" It is probably not an honest inquiry. Probably, like the Sanhedrin, they were looking to make a legal accusation and they wanted it from His own lips. So Jesus, as He often does, gives them more than they asked for and He answers, “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus tells them that He has already answered their questions plainly. They are not listening to what He says or seeing the significant of his works, of his actions. In fact, they were unable to understand His words and actions because they did not believe. In fact, they were unable to believe because they were not Jesus’ sheep. This is the Biblical doctrine that we call “election.” Where the Father has chosen specific sheep to be his own and he gives those sheep to Jesus so that Jesus will give them eternal life. The sheep know Jesus’ voice. They follow Jesus and they will never be taken from the Father. Why? Because there is no one greater than the Father.
John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one”
This then provides the backdrop for one of the most important, crucial verses in the entire New Testament, which is John 10:30. If you highlight in your Bibles and underline, this is one to highlight. Jesus culminates his discussion by saying, “I and the Father are one.”
What Jesus Is Not Saying
What is Jesus not saying in verse 30? Jesus is not saying that He and the Father are identical. The Greek is absolutely explicit at this point. Jesus says, “I and the Father are one thing.” He does not say the Father and I are one person. They are distinct in their personhood. “Personhood/persons” is the term that the church over the last two millennia has grown to use to describe the Father and the Son. But they are distinct persons. Just look back up at verse 29; “My Father who has given them to me is greater than all.” You have two distinct persons and Jesus is not saying that He and the Father are identical. If I could say it another way, I’d say the word “God” and the word “Father” are different categories. If we are going to understand what Jesus is saying and if we are going to understand the deity of Christ it is important to not mix these two categories. Jesus is God. The Father is God. But Jesus is not the Father. All right? So Jesus and the Father are not identical, and He is not claiming that. He would have said it differently if that is what he meant.
Secondly, Jesus is not saying that he is less than God. Jesus is not claiming a lesser status than God. The Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses are simply wrong. All you have to do is look to see the response. What did the Jews do? Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Did they say, “Well He is claiming to be a special person but of lesser status than God, so he may be wrong but we can let him go?” No. They did what the Bible requires as punishment for blasphemy. They picked up stones in order to kill him. See that in verse 33? They say, “we are going to stone you for blasphemy because you being a man, make yourself God.” Whatever else the phrase, “I and the Father are one” means, it is a claim to divinity. It is the claim to deity. It is the claim that Jesus is God and so they are going to stone him for it. Jesus is not claiming to be less than God and the people who spoke his language understood that. Sometimes when Jesus uses Father/Son language, when he is the Son of God, some people think that somehow He is claiming a lesser status than God. But again look down at verse 36. Jesus is talking about their charge of blasphemy and he says, “You say I’m blaspheming, because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” In other words, when Jesus claims to be the Son of God, the Jews understood him rightly to claim to be God. So in saying Jesus and the Father are distinct persons, is not to ascribe a lower status to Jesus. The people to whom he was speaking understood it. They understood that, when Jesus claims to be the Son of God, when Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” they understand correctly that Jesus was claiming to be God. This is why verses like Philippians 2:6 are so important, where Paul says, “that although that Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be held on to.” The word that we translate “form” does not refer to some inferior copy. When Paul tells the Philippians that Jesus existed in the form of God, it means he was the exact representation of God. There is nothing inferior about it. Jesus never claims to be less than God. He certainly never claims to be a created being like the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses say that he is.
What Jesus Is Saying
So that is what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying that he and the Father are identical and He is not saying that He is less than God. So what is Jesus saying? In saying, “I and the Father are one,” Jesus is saying that while the Father and the Son are distinct persons, they are both the “one God.” John 10:30 is one of the strongest affirmations of deity in the entire New Testament. To see one is to see the other. To hear one is to hear the other. And to glorify the Son is to glorify the Father. And again, you can even see this in the interchange. Did you notice whose hand we cannot be snatched from? Starting at verse 28, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand [meaning Jesus]. My Father who has sent them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” All of this is the mystery. It is the mystery of what we call the “Trinity.” A word that does not occur in the New Testament and yet a concept that does.
Mystery of the Trinity
The Trinity teaches that we believe that God is one, that there is only one God and we believe it because the Bible says so. There are not three gods, kind of acting together. That was a heresy condemned by the early church called “tritheism.” But the Bible, both the New and the Old Testament, teach that there is only one God. Take a passage like Isaiah 45:5 and 6 where Jesus [and God] says, “I am the Lord [I am Yahweh], and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” “ There is none besides me. I am Yahweh and there is no other.” So we believe that there is one God. We are monotheists because the Bible teaches us that. Because the doctrine of Trinity and the Bible teaches us that, we believe that God is also three. We believe it because the Bible says so.
Now again, the Bible does not teach that there is one God who exists in three forms. You know the analogy of H20, which can be a gas, liquid or solid. We try to use analogies like that, but that is heretic. It is called “modalism” and it was destroyed by the early church. We do not believe in one God who exists in three different forms. We believe that the Father is fully God. (That has not been debated in the history of the church.) Yet we believe that the Son is fully God and yet distinct from the Father. We believe that the Holy Spirit is fully God and yet distinct from both the Father and the Son. Does your head hurt? That is fine. When you try to comprehend things which are ultimately incomprehensible, it almost always ends in a headache.
In fact it just occurred to me, I had a good friend who is a seminary professor who is much smarter than I am. He has PhD in Pure Math from Harvard when he was 21 or some ridiculous thing like that. He is now a seminary professor, and he was teaching in chapel once and he had a nervous breakdown. All he could say was, “God is one. God is three. God is one. God is three.” And they actually had to come and take him off the pulpit. He had been able to understand everything else in life. This is the guy who has memorized the Bible in five translations, every word of it. It is ultimately unfathomable, and if he cannot understand then I certainly cannot. Our Statement of Faith says, “God exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, equal in essence and divine perfection. All three uncreated.” That is, the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Spirit is fully God. But it continues, “executing distinct but harmonious offices.” There is a hierarchy. There is subordination in the Trinity. They have different functions and yet they are one God. Ultimately, of course, all human language fails because there is no analogy to God, there is nothing in creation that can really help us understand the Trinity. So we make up words, we have to, to try to describe that which has no analogy. We make up a word like “Trinity,” which is simply a Latin word that means “three-ness.” Or we talk about the three persons of the Godhead. But ultimately all language fails. And you know what? This is as it should be. It should not be a surprise to us that ultimately God cannot be fully understood or fully described. He ultimately, in His essence, is unfathomable. That is okay. We are not God and we do not have to understand everything about Him. The Father is fully God. The Son is fully God. The Spirit is fully God. And yet there is one God. The mystery of the Trinity.
Helps us understand other passages in John
In culminating the argument as He often does, He likes to leave them with a zinger. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is the great I AM. When God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus chapter three, Moses says, “What’s your name? If I am going to go to Your people, I need to know who You are?” And the God of the burning bush says, “I am who I am.” That is were we get the name Yahweh or Jehovah. God’s most holy, most personal name of all names. So when Jesus says to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” They understood exactly what he was saying and they picked up stones to kill him because in their mind he was committing blasphemy because he was claiming to be the great I AM of Exodus three. He was claiming to be Yahweh. It explains John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, [John’s term for Jesus] and [Jesus] was with God and [Jesus] was God.” A claim to divinity. Now again in John 1:1, John is not saying that everything God is, Jesus is. There is more to God than Jesus. Yet John1:1 is saying that Jesus is fully God. That is what Jehovah’s Witnesses does not understand, because they do not know Greek. (And do not let them try to tell you they do.) All you have to do, if you get into a discussion with one, is take them to verse 18. “No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side. He has made Him known.” You can see how human language simply cannot express the truth of God. So Jesus often puts ideas up against each other that seem to slam into each other and yet they are all true. Who is the only God who is at the Father’s side? It is not the Father, because the only God is at the Father’s side. The only God is Jesus. Only Jesus, who is God, has seen God, has seen the Father and therefore is able to make God known. Just take them to verse 18 and they will leave you alone. This is why John 20:28 is such an important confession. It is not only on the lips of Thomas but it is meant to be one of the culminating confessions in the entire book of John. When Thomas sees the risen Lord and the nail marks and the hole in His side, he falls down and cries out (and remember this is a monotheistic Jew), “My Lord and my God.” Thomas understood that people don’t get up from the dead. Only God gets up from the dead. So the confession of Thomas is the confession that is to be on your lips and my lips; my Lord, my Master, the boss and my God.
More to this than mere theological curiosity
There is a lot more to this issue of the Trinity than mere theological curiosity. It is because Jesus is the great “I am” that he can also say passages like in John 6:35. It is because Jesus says, “I am the great I am,” that He can also say, “I am the bread of life, and whoever comes to me shall not hunger. And whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” It is because He is the great I am, that He can say, “I am the bread of life. I am the only thing that can truly satisfy.” It is because Jesus is the great I am, he can say, “I am the light of the world. I am the source of all truth.” It is only because Jesus is God that he is the great I am that He can say, “I am the door of the sheep. I am the unique source of salvation and life.” It is because Jesus is the great I am that he can say, “I am the good shepherd.” It is God who lays down His life for His sheep. It is because Jesus is the great I am that He can say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” That He is the source of life, life before death and life after death. It is because Jesus is the great I am that He can say in John 15, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Unless you abide in Me and I in you, you will not bear any fruit.” That He is the only source of nourishment. It is because Jesus is the great I am, that He can say, “I am the way, and I am the truth and I am the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me. The doctrine of the Trinity is anything but intellectual, theological curiosity.
Doctrine of the Deity of Christ is not just in John
Having looked at John and the doctrine of the deity of Christ, the fact that He is God is so clear in John. Once we understand it, it helps us understand other verses that we find all the way through the New Testament. The fact that Jesus is God explains why Jesus claims to forgive sins, since only God can forgive sins. Because Jesus is the great I am, we understand why He claims for himself honor and glory and worship, that which belongs solely to God. Because Jesus is God, it explains why verses in the Old Testament that are applied to God can be applied to Jesus in the New Testament, because He is God. It explains verses like Philippians 2:6 that we looked at. It explains verses like Colossians 1:15 and 20 where it says, “All the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus.” It explains Romans 9:5. It explains Titus 2:13, where Paul is telling Titus that we are waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The question of John 10:30 is, do you believe it? I know that most of us in this room would probably nod our heads and say, “Yes, I certainly do.” Yet I find myself wondering this week if we really do. Do you and I really believe that Jesus is God? If I really believed that Jesus is God, I wonder if I would compartmentalize Him as much as I do. If I really believe that Jesus is God, would I say, “You know, You can have Sunday morning but get out of my life on Monday through Saturday. I want to do what I want.” I wonder if we really believed that Jesus is God, would we disobey Him? Jesus says that we should bear one another’s burdens, yet our tendency so often is to live in isolation from our brothers and sisters and not bear one another’s burdens. I wonder if we really believed that Jesus is God we would be disobedient. I find myself looking at verses like Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths but only such is good for building up as fits the occasion. That it may give grace to those who hear.” If I really believe that Jesus is God and Jesus [God] through His apostle says, “Shut your mouth if you don’t have something nice to say,” would I still pass judgment on people and would I still have a critical spirit? Would I speak out of turn with insufficient information? I wonder if I really believed that my Good Shepherd is God, not just Jesus, but if I believed my Good Shepherd who laid down His life for me was God, would I continue in hypocrisy? Would I mask my deceitful heart by saying religious things? Think of the greatest thing in all creation.
I love thinking about the Hubble Space Telescope site. I go there everyday. And when I think of the greatest things in reality, I think of galaxies. This is a Sombrero Galaxy. Looks like a hat. It is M104, if that is important. It is composed of billions of stars. In fact, many of the points of light that you see are clusters of stars, not just individual stars. The dark ring around the galaxy is microscopic space dust. Astronomers have never seen the dust. They think that each grain is maybe a thousandth of an inch across. Yet there is so much of this microscopic dust that it makes a solid rock wall, not around a sun, not around a planet, not around a solar system, but around an entire galaxy, which by the way, is 500 million light years. The Sombrero Galaxy, M104, displays the glory of Jesus Christ, my Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for me and who bids me bear your burdens and say only that which extends grace. Compared to that, think of the smallest animal, the smallest, perhaps insect. Perhaps an ant and that is myself. Sombrero Galaxy is declaring the glory of my Savior and I am an ant. Yet, even that comparison fails, does it not? Not because I am less than an ant, but because Jesus is God and He is greater than galaxies which he created by the thousands. He is greater than anything we can see, we can experience, we can conceive of or imagine. And yet, we fight Him. We marginalize Him. We ignore Him. And we argue that He does not know what He is talking about. Do I really believe that Jesus is God? I know it is not quite that simple. The fact that I and you have debates with God (every time we consciously sin it is a debate we are having with the God of the Sombrero Galaxy), we can see is the unbelievable power of sin in our life. A sin that would blind us to argue with God. That the ants would shake their defiant fists in the face of the God of galaxies and say, “I will do it my way. You cannot tell me how to dress. You cannot tell me how to talk. You cannot tell me what to do.” That we have these kinds of debates illustrates, if nothing else, the unbelievable power of sin, which is blended with our deceitful hearts and is a force that is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. Certainly greater than any force we can overcome on our own. Life is a journey and we walk the path together. We walk it with our brothers and sisters. We walk it with our Good Shepherd. We walk it with Jesus. We walk it with God. As we walk we make mistakes. We ask for forgiveness. We are forgiven. We learn from our mistakes and we grow. As we grow, Jesus and our understanding of God grows with us, and we see Him more and more for who He truly is while at the same time we see more clearly the ugliness and the power of our own sin. But as we walk this journey together, as we come to learn again and again that Jesus is God, He is not some Galilean prophet who walked by the Sea of Galilee teaching the brotherhood of all people. He was not a good guy. He was God incarnate. We learn that over and over again. As we learn that, we start coming to deeper understandings that, for example, when we pray, when we ask and seek and knock, we are praying to the Creator of all life, all galaxies, all reality. That when we hurt we are reaching out to Jesus who is God, who is the great I am, who is the Sustainer of all life. That when you and I are lonely, we understand that Jesus is the God of galaxies that is sitting by our bed and comforting us. When we sin we understand that it is God who laid down His life: The galaxy for the ant. When we search for meaning and search for significance, we find it solely in Jesus the great I Am, who is God. “Truly,” Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
- Although it is not a central part of the sermon, it is interesting to think about election. Some of you may come from traditions that don’t preach it, but it is throughout the Bible. Think through all the advantages of knowing that God’s sheep were given to Jesus to save and that no one lives unprotected.
- In what ways are Jesus and his Father different? It is helpful to read John 5-10 to answer this question and Tuesday’s.
- In what ways are Jesus and his Father the same?
- How can you try to describe the Trinity? How will you make allowances for the inadequacy of all language and analogy to describe God?
- How does the fact that Jesus is the Great “I AM” help us understand the truth of the ‘I am” sayings?
- How would our lifestyles change if we really believed Jesus is God, and our sin wasn’t sanding at the door fighting against this belief?
- What are some things that have happened in your life to help you see the greatest and wonder and divinity of Christ?