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WHO IS JESUS?

© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY EIGHT: ANSWERS FROM PAUL, JAMES, PETER, JOHN AND JUDE.

The letter to the Hebrews

The writer of this letter, whom we will assume is Paul, spends nine and a half chapters affirming the superiority of Jesus Christ. He grounds this superiority in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. His opening statement pulsates with the glory of Jesus Christ:

This should have been enough to confirm the identity of Jesus Christ, but such is the foolishness and blindness of the human heart, so prone to reduce the person of Christ, and to make of him someone less than God, the writer then proceeds to show that, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ is superior to the angels. In this he makes the following affirmations:

In all of this the Son is superior to the angels, for God has never said these things to any of the angels. The writer points out that way back in the prophetic Psalms God moved the Psalm writer to address the Son as 'O God' and 'O Lord', and to ascribe to him eternal sovereignty and creative power.

Having thus established the superiority of the Son over the angels the Hebrews writer affirms in addition:

[1] Christ is superior to Moses because he is 'faithful as a son over God's house' (3:6);

[2] He is superior to the High Priests because,

The writer's purpose is to draw the Hebrews back to the gospel focus on Jesus Christ. That they stood in need of this is clear from chapters 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 4:1-16; 6:1-12; 10:19-39; 11:1-40; 12:1-28 & 13:7-15, where the writer gives solemn warnings against departing from faith in Christ, and strong encouragement to persevere. The superiority of Jesus Christ, the superiority of the salvation he offers us, and the enormity of turning our backs on him once we have known him, rests, in the first instance, on who he is. The force of the entire argument of the letter to the Hebrews is stated in its opening sentence: ... God ... in these last days ... has spoken to us by his Son.

That word which was recorded by Jeremiah, here in the Son comes to fulfillment: 'No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest' (Hebrews 8:11; Jeremiah 31:34a). Here, in the Son, we know God.

The letter of James

James' letter is very practical. He does not address the content of faith, but the evidence of faith. To James the only valid faith is that faith which is accompanied by works of obedience. We will be looking at the role of obedience in another study series, so here it is sufficient to say: James makes it clear that those who claim to be 'believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ' (2:1) believe not only his promises but also his commands. In other words: my claim to believe in Jesus Christ is invalidated if I do not obey Jesus Christ. If I really believe in him, if I really believe that he is who he claimed to be, then I will demonstrate by the way I live that he has the right to tell me what to do. If, having supposedly believed in Jesus, I continue to live contrary to his commands, then it is quite evident that I neither understand nor believe, in the true sense of the word, who he is, and my claim to faith in not valid. (Read 2:14-26.)

Peter's letters

[1] Peter identifies Jesus as God:

In all of this Peter speaks with the firm understanding that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in whom resides the eternity, the sovereignty and the glory of God, and to whom is due that same praise and honour as is due to God the Father.

[2] Peter affirms the significance of the resurrection, which, as we have seen in Paul's letters, is proof of the deity of Christ, and an essential element in Christian belief:

We must not overlook this great significance of the resurrection. If Jesus is not raised then he is not God; if he is not God, then not only are the claims he made of himself invalid, but his supposed substitutionary death for us on the cross is also invalid. The cross-work of Christ, by which we are saved, stands or falls on the accuracy of his claims to be God, and these in turn stand or fall on the resurrection. At a simple level we might rightly understand the significance of the resurrection to be the guarantee of our resurrection; but it is far deeper than this: the whole of the Gospel is at stake here, both its first statement wherein we are taught that Jesus is God, and its second statement which speaks of our salvation through the cross-work of Jesus.

John's letters

The first letter of John is one of the most powerful pieces of writing in the New Testament. It takes up the truth that sounded right through John's Gospel and hammers it home again and again: the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, equal in all respects to the Father, and that this understanding of Jesus is the central factor in our relationship with God.

[1] As in his Gospel, so here, John commences with an unequivocal identification of Jesus as God:

This eternal, divine Son came to this earth as a visible, tangible person:

[2] John affirms that Jesus brings the knowledge of God:

We are reminded here of Jesus' word: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life' (John 8:12).

Of those who are believers in Christ John states:

By knowing Jesus Christ we know God.

[3] John spells out in no uncertain terms the significance of genuine belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God:

We have then the content of God's testimony about his Son (11):

Then we have a statement of the implications (12):

And a conclusion:

'I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life'(13).

Believing in the Son of God, believing in his name, is, stated in a different way: 'having the Son', and 'having eternal life'. There is no eternal life apart from a genuine belief that Jesus is the Son of God. We cannot have him if our understanding of him is contrary to God's testimony about him. If we think we have Jesus, but it is a lesser Jesus than the Jesus of the Gospel revelation, then we do not have him at all, and we do not have eternal life. Receiving a Jesus who is less than the Son of God, is of no use at all. This is the teaching of 1 John 5:10-13.

It is clear from the above ten references that John gives ultimate significance to genuine belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. All that is dear to us as Christians hangs on it. True recognition of Christ's identity determines our identity. Apart from the genuine confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we are not saved, we do not have eternal life, we are not 'in God', we are the antichrist, we make God a liar, we are not 'from God', we are liars, we do not 'have the Father', neither God nor Jesus lives in us, we are not born of God, and we don't overcome the world (nor have we overcome the evil one - see 2:13,14 & 5:18).

When we understand how significant John makes the genuine belief in Jesus, the Son of God, it is all the more surprising that the church has let this central belief fall out of focus. How can the church promise regeneration, eternal life and union with God on the basis of accepting the cross-work of Jesus, when the Scripture so clearly focuses saving faith on his name and his person? Let us take good note that denial of the divine sonship of Jesus Christ identifies one as 'antichrist'. May the church take care that its slackness in affirming the deity of Christ and the significance of this deity does not involve it corporately, or its members individually, in blasphemy by default.

[4] John's second letter is brief. Its sole purpose seems to be to encourage its readers to hold firmly to their belief that Jesus Christ is both man and God.

John identifies Jesus as 'Jesus Christ, the Father's Son' (3). He describes as 'deceivers' and 'the antichrist' those who deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (7), and states that those who do not continue in the teaching of Christ do not 'have God' (9).

[5] In 1 John 5:20, as we have seen above, John stated that 'the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.'

He then goes on to say 'and we are in him who is true - even in his Son Jesus Christ.' But, in case we let it slip from our minds, John sees it necessary to remind us one last time just who Jesus is. He did not stop with those words 'his Son Jesus Christ', though that should have been sufficient after all he has written; he makes a significant, powerful addition: ' ... his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life .' Could he make it any clearer? No.

[6] John then adds his final exhortation. The pathos of it lies in its necessity, then and now. He states:

'Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.' (5:21)

To those who have seen God in the face of his Son, John says 'keep yourselves from idols.' Because God has thus made himself known in the man Jesus who lived and walked among us, to have a lesser concept of God, and to see and know God as anything different from what we see and know in Jesus Christ is, as far as John is concerned, idolatry . Jesus Christ is 'the true God'.

Two questions here confront me:

  1. Is Jesus Christ my God?
  2. And, Is my God Jesus Christ?

If I cannot answer "yes" to both of these John's opinion is that I do not know the true God. I am an idolater, worshipping a god of my own fabrication, in which there is no truth, in which there is no life.

Jude's letter

In this letter, written because of false teachers who were denying 'Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord' (4), Jude encourages his readers to 'contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints' (3), and to 'build yourselves up in your most holy faith ... ' (20), warning them of the terrible end awaiting those who do not believe.

The book of Revelation

On the book of Revelation many have made shipwreck, and not without cause. Even here in this present study difficulties confront us, for we often find that descriptions of God, the Father, are also used as descriptions of the Son; that it is sometimes hard to determine whether it is Father or Son who is being honoured and praised; that both Father and Son are rendered the same or similar praise. But perhaps this is not a difficulty at all, but a confirmation of the basic teaching of these studies.

It is also a temptation as we look at Revelation to deviate into material not relevant to our topic, for there is much here that is deeply interesting and challenging; but only those verses immediately focused on our topic will be discussed.

[1] In John's Gospel Jesus Christ claimed to be 'the truth' (John 14:6) and 'the light' (John 8:12), and is described by John as 'the Word' in whom is light, and in whom the glory of the Father is revealed (John 1:1-18); Jesus also claimed that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:6-9). This accurate revelation of the Father by the Son is confirmed in Revelation:

[2] In John's Gospel Jesus stated 'before Abraham was born, I am' (John 8:58). This eternity of Christ is confirmed in Revelation:

We could read here also 1:8 'the Lord God' says 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'. It would appear that these are the words of God the Father, although the red-letter issues of the Bible infer they are spoken by the Son. Either way they affirm the eternity of the Son, as these same titles are given to the Son in the above verses.

[3] In John's Gospel Jesus claimed to be 'the resurrection' (John 11:25), and we have seen in Paul's letters how significant the resurrection is. Repeatedly Revelation affirms the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

A further significance of Christ's resurrection is that in and through his resurrection we see his triumph over sin and death and Satan:

[4] In John's Gospel Jesus stated that the 'Father ... has entrusted all judgment to the Son' and 'has given him authority to judge ... ' (John 5:22,27). The authority of Christ is strongly taught in Revelation:

This authority is further described in Revelation to describe Christ as Lord, as King, and as seated on the throne:

[5] In John's Gospel Jesus stated that it is the Father's will that all should honour the Son in the same way as they honour the Father, and that those who do not honour the Son do not honour the Father (John 5:23). As we read Revelation the honour given to Jesus is the same as the honour given to the Father:

In this book of Revelation the faithful believer is termed 'he who overcomes' (2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). To those who 'overcome' Jesus Christ here makes similar promises to those elsewhere promised to believers. So why here in Revelation are believers called those who 'overcome'? Why this inference of struggle? Why this suggestion that there might be those who don't 'overcome', those who give up?

Could it be that the primary focus of the Gospel, that the man Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, is so different, so radical, so exclusive and isolating, that the cost of holding to this Jesus is too great? Could it be that the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is too demanding? Could it be that the human heart prefers a god of its own fabrication, rather than the God identified in Jesus Christ?

Could it be that our modern day churches also stand in need of this promise that is at the same time a warning 'to him who overcomes I will ... ..'? Could it be that we have stumbled over the true identity of Jesus Christ, and, instead of being the 'chief cornerstone' on which our church is built, he has become for us a 'rock of offence' (see 1 Peter 2:6-8), because we have not dared to proclaim him as he really is?

The book of Revelation puts before us the conquering Jesus, Lord of lords, King of kings; it challenges us to join with the living creatures round the throne, to join with the four and twenty elders, to join with the thousands upon thousands of angels, and with every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and with them to give to the Lamb, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the same praise and honour and glory as we give to God the Father.

Even so may it be, Lord Jesus.