Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
1.The testimony of Scripture (continued).
One of the more striking evidences of Christ’s divinity is His claim to authority, to sovereign, autonomous, all-encompassing authority. He claimed this authority over all the institutions of the Jewish nation to the consternation of the Jewish leaders. He angered the scribes and lawyers by claiming not only an authority next to theirs as learned interpreters of Moses and the Old Testament, but also by insisting that He was Himself the Law-giver and One greater than all the Prophets and Patriarchs. And not only did He claim this authority, but exercised it in modifying and changing the regulations of Moses (Matt. 19:8, 9), in insisting that He was the One of Whom and by Whom the prophets all spoke (Matt. 12:41, 23:34), and in speaking as though He were personally acquainted with the patriarchs and other heroes of the nation, and that they, knowing Him personally, acknowledged His superiority. Abraham had seen His day and rejoiced (John 8:56) and David had recognized Him as Lord (Matt. 22:43-45). Though not of the tribe of Levi, He claimed authority over the temple and all its ordinances, exasperating the Chief Priests and Sadducees. He claimed to be the temple-builder (John 2:19), greater even than Solomon (Luke 11:31), and exercised this authority also in driving from the temple those with whom He was displeased (John 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-17). In His controversies with the Pharisees He appeared to encourage His disciples openly and flagrantly to violate the Sabbath regulations. When confronted, He claimed Lordship also over that most fundamental of all the Mosaic institutions—claimed that it was His day, and that not the powerful leaders of the Jews and the interpreters of Moses, but He, an unschooled, wandering teacher, would be the One to decide how the Sabbath would be kept, even at the expense of many old traditions.
It is not surprising that in connection with these claims His Godhead became the great issue of His ministry, He not only confronted His enemies as God by claiming such authority, but as God Who upholds His Own unchangeable, sovereign right to rule, and command the lives of men. This threatened all their efforts to “be as God” in the nation through their traditions and endless precepts. Thus His claim to have authority to forgive sin also aroused their enmity, not only because they considered it blasphemy, but because by it He took for Himself, as God, that which they and all sinners have wanted since Adam, the right to judge for themselves between good and evil. In this same manner, the claims of Christ continue to be even today the great threat to all of man’s sinful and proud pretensions. As God He claims all authority in heaven and on earth in this age, as God He promises that He will come again to judge the words and works of men, as God He pulls down their kingdoms, humbles their pride, thwarts their efforts, and dashes all their hopes to pieces. No wonder, then, that still today they deny Him and reject His Godhead and power. No wonder that the sects, which deify men, and modern Christianity, which makes man the master of his own salvation, so flatly and emphatically deny His divinity.
Yet, the fact that they all speak to this matter, and are so careful to deny it, is itself an indication that the claims of Christ to divinity and authority cannot be taken lightly. They “protest overmuch.” This is especially true of the reaction of the Jews during the days of Jesus’ ministry. They understood immediately and unanimously what He was saying, sometimes better than the disciples. So their enmity itself became a testimony and evidence of His Godhead. Certainly that is one reason why Scripture shows it.
Alongside this unwilling and yet powerful testimony of the Jews is the testimony of the devils. The screams of the demon-possessed man in the Capernaum Synagogue, the pleadings of a whole legion of hellish spirits in Gadara, and their complete submission to His authority, all identify Him for us as God’s Son (Luke 4:34, 8:30, 31). As James reminds us, they believed and trembled.
Such violent reaction to the divinity of Christ, though full of hatred, shames our apathy, and the indifference of many teachers today. The Jews at least understood what He said and recognized the fact that if it was not true it must not be said. Apathy not only does not care enough to worship, it does not even care enough to stone Him for blasphemy. Indifference will not even listen to what He says nor make any effort to understand. As one writer says:
Stark staring incredulity is a far more loyal tribute to that truth than a modern metaphysic that would make it merely a matter of degree. It were better to rend our robes with a cry against blasphemy, like Caiphas in the judgment, or to lay hold of the man as a maniac possessed of devils like the kinsmen and the crowd, rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim. There is more of the wisdom that is one with surprise in any simple person, full of the sensitiveness of simplicity, who should expect the grass to wither and the birds to drop dead out of the air, when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, part II, chapter 2).
How can we, hearing the testimony of Scripture, be anything but awed and worshipful before Him.
To those who believe and worship, however, all the testimony of Scripture is not proof, but evidence. The proofs of His divinity to us, as the Belgic Confession reminds us, are His works (operations), chiefly those we feel within ourselves (Article IX). All the testimony of Scripture is given to confirm and explain that powerful, divine, and effectual work of salvation, and to assure us that it is of God. To us, therefore, He not only promises but gives that which God alone can give, eternal life, righteousness, peace, rest, and salvation. As Hodge says:
It is obvious that the infinite God Himself can neither promise nor give anything greater or higher than Christ gives to His people. To Him they are taught to look as the source of all blessing, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. There is no more comprehensive prayer in the New Testament than that with which Paul closes His Epistle to the Galatians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” His Favour is our life, which it would not be if He were not our God. (Systematic Theology, VVI, 2, D).
In us He works by the power of almighty God, delivering us from the power of Satan and sin and bringing us to God. By such powerful proof we not only acknowledge Him to be God, but worship and adore, and confess that without Him we have nothing.
2. How this doctrine is denied.
Already in the days of Christ’s appearance on earth His divinity was almost universally denied. The hatred and fear of two Herods, the jealousy of the Jews, the scorn of the Romans, and the enmity of the people all strike at His Godhead. Quoting from Psalm 2, Peter says just this in Acts 4:26, 27: that it was against theLord, that is, against His holy child Jesus, that Herod and Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews were gathered. It was the Jews especially, however, who mocked, threatened, cursed, hounded, condemned, and murdered Him, for saying and showing that He was the Son of God.
After His death it was no different. All three Epistles of John, John’s Gospel, the Epistle to the Colossians, and the first chapter of Hebrews: were written in defense of this doctrine. In fact, not one book of the New Testament neglects it.
Along with the Jews, the Belgic Confession mentions the Mohammedans and six heretics from the early history of the Church. The Creed at that point is defending the doctrine of the Trinity, but it was especially in connection with Christ’s divinity that the doctrine of the Trinity was denied, both by the heathen religion of the Mohammedans, and by the heresies of those who rose within the church. Nor was this truth denied only in word in those earlier days. Then too, following the example of Christ Himself, many thousands of early Christians lost their goods and their lives for the confession they made of the divinity of Christ their Savior.
At the time of the Reformation this truth had to be defended against the blasphemies of Socinus and Servetus. In fact it was one of the few things that the cities of Europe, whether Reformed, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic, agreed upon: that is, that a man like Servetus was not fit to live for the blasphemies which he uttered against the Son of God. The children of these false teachers are still to be found today. The Jews still spit at the Name of Jesus, the Mohammedans count him only a prophet next to Abraham and Mohammed, and the doctrines of Arius and Socinus are still taught by the Unitarians and the sects.
As far as the Church is concerned, the attack comes first of all and most boldly from these various Sects. With all their different peculiarities and strange teachings, they are alike in this one thing, that they deny the full divinity of God’s Son. We have already mentioned the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their twisted version of the Scriptures. Their version of John 1:1 sums up all that they teach about Christ; “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (New World Translation). The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, taught, and His followers still teach the old lie of Arianism, that Christ is only the first and greatest among God’s creatures. Such perverse Christology is characteristic not only of these older sects, including the Christian Scientists, but also of the more modern and popular sects such as the Unification Church (Rev. Sun Myung Moon), the Worldwide Church of God (Herbert Armstrong and “Plain Truth” magazine), the Way and all the rest; those which claim Christian origin, those which are merely the disguised religions of the East, and those who make an unholy alliance of the two.
Their doctrine is evil, but their threat lies primarily in the fact that they practice great deceit, using the language of the faith and claiming to believe in Christ’s divinity, and even covering up and obscuring their teachings on these matters in an attempt to win followers. A few quotations very clearly illustrate this. In the Outline of the Principle, Level 4, the “vision and guide” of the Unification Church, we read:
As already mentioned, a true person is one who fulfills the purpose of the creation, is the incarnation of God, and is perfect as God is perfect, possessing divine value . . . . Jesus is a true man, and thus is a person of such value.
The Principle does not flatly deny the conventional belief held by many Christians that Jesus is God, because a perfect, true person is one with God (page 140).
From “Creation in Christ,” a sermon by George MacDonald, the author of a number of popular works of fiction comes this statement:
I believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the eternal Father; that from the first of firstness Jesus is the Son, because God is the Father. I believe therefore that the Father is the greater, that if the Father had not been, the Son could not have been . . . . It was the will of Jesus to be the thing God willed and meant Him, that made Him the true son of God. He was not the Son of God because He could not help it, but because He willed to be in Himself the son that He was in the divine idea.
Though not himself part of the rise of the various sects, this latter author, a minister in the Church of England, illustrates how easily these lies can creep into the church and can be protected there, for in spite of such teachings as these he was never publicly censured or removed.
The church’s battle for this truth is not finished, therefore, but continues to the present time.