Was Jesus Really God?
It was about two years ago that I applied for the pastoral position at Queen Street Baptist Church. I will confess that it was an interview process different from many others in my experience. Not that previous search committees were unfriendly, but I felt a particular connection with this one. It helped that we met in the home of one of the members. I never had tea and cookies in previous church interviews.
But that is not to say that they were unprofessional or not thorough. As we shared about each other, we discovered that Paul Collins was my former high school vice principal. He didn’t remember me, which he said was a good thing. This was the first interview I had been to where one of my high school year books was brought in as a resource. One of the other things I appreciated is that they called the person who was my pastor at the time as a reference. While he didn’t tell me what he said, he did tell me that he was impressed with the depth of questions that they asked him. I’m thankful for this because I have known people who have been hired for jobs and it is obvious no one called references.
Why do I go into all this? When a church is calling a pastor, it is important that they know who and what they are getting.
When we become followers of Jesus, it is even more important that we know who and what he is. There are plenty of theories. Muslims believe that he was a prophet but only a man. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that he was more than a man and was actually the archangel Michael. What is it that Christians believe about Jesus? Specifically, what was his relationship to God?
We need to begin with what the Bible says about Jesus. This is much more important than the later creeds. I would like to share three passages, although there are many more.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.” (John 1:1-3)
The being referred to as the Word here is Jesus. What we find here is that Jesus was God but also was with God. This tells us Jesus was divine and yet God is more than Jesus. This gets us into the doctrine of the Trinity, there is one God and that God is made of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also see that part of Jesus’ divine activity was creation.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created in him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)
Here Paul confirms for us what we read in John. Not only was Jesus pre-existent, that is existing and active before he was born as a baby to Mary, Jesus was involved in creation. I should mention that calling Jesus the firstborn is not a reference to Jesus coming into existence. Jesus is eternal, just as the Father is. It is more of a reference of Jesus as being the heir or the chosen one through who the Father will accomplish his will.
“[Jesus] who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
Here we see that something radical took place at the incarnation. Jesus, even though fully God, took on all the limitations of being a human being. In the context, Paul is telling us that we are to follow Jesus’ example of humility.
Miracle of the Incarnation
That is some of the raw data that we have but I want to go deeper. First I need to say that you will hear some people suggest that Jesus as God was a later development, that some church council made the decision. And in the Roman world, the emperors did become gods by a vote of the senate. But that is not what happened with Jesus. What we find is that in our earliest writings, Jesus was already understood as being divine. In addition to what we have already looked at, the Gospels and Paul see Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies that attribute the work to God.
I also need to say that the earliest heresies were not about Jesus being really human, but about him being only God. People in the early church had no problem seeing Jesus as God, but some really struggled with seeing him as being actually human. Some say Jesus as being God but only pretending to be human. They didn’t think he even had real flesh, blood or bones. They saw him as pure spirit. But that is not what the Bible teaches.
This is one of the most exciting things about Christianity. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. So we believe he is without beginning, that he created all that exists and is a person of the one Trinitarian God. But we also believe he was born as a human baby, that he had to learn to walk and talk, went through puberty, grew up into a man and died a real death. If we lean too far either into his divinity or his humanity, we fall into error. It is only in that beautiful balance of fully God and fully human that we witness the miracle of the incarnation.
What This Means
But so what? What if you are not interested in theology? I think that the concept of Jesus as God and human is extremely relevant to our lives.
What is God like? Most people in our world believe in some sort of divine being. But what is he like? Some see God as equivalent to creation. Some see God as being completely impersonal. Some see a God who created the universe and perhaps even created the first life on earth and then just walked away.
Christians believe in Emmanuel, that is God with us. Jesus reveals God to us through his life, death and resurrection. God is not something way out there but is someone who puts sandals on and a robe and walks among people. Although that Jesus is in heaven now, he still has a body and the Spirit continues to reveal Jesus to us.
Jesus is the revelation of God’s love. We think of the crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice and it is. But think of the sacrifice of Jesus in the incarnation. Imagine going from being an omnipresent spirit to being a fetus in a womb being fed through an umbilical chord. Can our minds truly comprehend that?
Jesus gives us hope in our suffering. God, being omniscient, that is all knowing, knows all the facts of our suffering and pain. But through the incarnation of Christ, God knows our suffering by experience. God knows poverty. God knows betrayal by friends and family. God knows physical pain. God even knows death. The God who knows is the God who gives us hope.
While I love to discuss theology, that is not what this is about. God loved us so much that he gave his Son to us, not just to die for us, but to become like us. Jesus really is God and Jesus really is human. He was never pretending.
The incarnation, Word becoming flesh, gives us hope. The chasm between God and humanity seemed too wide but the Father found a bridge that fit perfectly and it was his Son.
Rejoice that we can know God through the revelation of Jesus Christ.