Deity of Jesus

“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” John 1:18. The analysis of this text is required. Toward the end of the verse, we find, “έκεινος έξηγήσατο”. Literally, it is Jesus that exegetes the Father. If no one can see the Father and live, how is it that in Exodus 19, Moses, Aaron, and the elders saw God? How did Moses talk to God face to face? How did Abraham in Genesis 18 talk to God face to face? How does God say that in the end times, He will plead with Israel face to face? There is a serious blooper in the Old Testament if God cannot be seen and the person still live, and then we have story after story of people seeing God and continuing to live. Yet, in the New Testament we have it make perfect sense. No one has ever seen God the Father, as shown here in John 1 and said again in 1 Timothy 6, but the Son makes known the Father. The Son exegetes the Father.

It is interesting that we have in John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us. This is an obvious allusion to the flesh and blood body. Yet, we don’t look for the bones or skin fragments of Jesus to worship. We worship the one who filled that tent. The Word, the one who makes the Father known, is much like the Hebrew concept of the shekinah that filled the Tabernacle and Temple. Jesus was a walking shekinah. Yet, we would go beyond this terminology to express that Jesus is not simply one who reveals God the Father, but that Jesus is God. The reason that Jesus is able to exegete the Father, or reveal the Father, is because Jesus is also God with the Father.

The objection is raised about Jesus’ humanity. When Jesus walked the earth, He said that He doesn’t know the hour of His return. This is true. Two things can be said. First, we’ve already discussed how Jesus gave up His deity to take on the form of humanity. This is in Philippians 2. Thus, in His humanity, Jesus is limited to being human. He didn’t do calculus as a young child. He had to learn Aramaic. He had to be potty trained. So, yes, in His humanity, Jesus was not omniscient. Yet, the second thing I would point out is that it might be that the Father alone knows the day and hour, and that the other two persons of the trinity do not. What is that to us? That doesn’t make God less omniscient. It also doesn’t take away from the deity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. God is triune, and you cannot separate the trinity. As soon as we say that Jesus doesn’t know something, therefore He is not God, we need to also be reminded that the Father is in the Son, and that the Son is in the Father. They are unified so that God does know, and whether there is one person that knows something that the other two persons of the trinity do not know, that in no way would suggest that any person of the trinity is not God. God is one. He is not three. Therefore, as long as God knows, then God knows.

“In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he ahs spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representations of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven,” Hebrews 1:1-3. So, this eternal Son is the visible representation, or the manifestation, of the glory of God. As the ESV puts it, Jesus is the exact imprint of His character and nature. Notice that Jesus has not been called God, necessarily, but instead the divine Son. Yet, in Hebrews 1:8, we read, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.’” So, at first the author of Hebrews addresses this Son as being the representation of God, but then wastes no time to make the declaration that this Son is God.

Colossians 1:15-20 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The word in verse 15 translated “firstborn” is πρωτότοκος from the words πρωτος and τίκτω, which give the idea of pre-eminence. So, we cannot see God, but when we are seeing Jesus, we are seeing the very image of God. Είκον is the Greek word for image, and would mean mirror-like representation.

Thus, Jesus is the image of God, He is before all things, He created all things, through Him all things hold together, and in Him all the fullness of God dwells. Yet, notice here in Colossians that Jesus is not specifically called God. Of course, we can make an argument quite explicit in detail that this is indeed God. John 1:1-3 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” The Greek is λογος, and if it was Aramaic it would be memra. In that last clause of verse 1, the best way to translate that particular passage is “what God was, the Word was.” Interestingly, the text does not explicitly say that the Word is God, but instead that the Word was with God, and what God was, the Word was. Once again, we have the same concept being put forth that the Word is an expression of God.

This is interesting when we look through the Old Testament. Sometimes the word of God is spoken of in a personified fashion. For example, Isaiah 55:11 says that God’s word goes out, and it returns to Him having accomplished its mission. Psalm 107:20, “He sent forth his word and healed them…” The word of God is something that bears the image of God, the expression of God, and comes forth from Him to heal the sick. In the Aramaic tradition, this became known as the memra. This is part of God’s self-expression. Notice that in John 1:14 that John explicitly tells us that the Word became flesh. It doesn’t tell us that God became flesh, and thus give the impression that God somehow left His habitation in heaven to become a man, and thus there is no more God in heaven. That would be a very Greek idea. Instead, this Word, this memra, became flesh. God remained God, sitting on His throne and filling the universe with His presence and power, while at the same time His Word, also called the Son, walked among us. This is very nuanced. There is something mystical about this. We don’t just claim that Jesus is God and that God left His heavenly habitation, but instead we claim that the Word of God is what became flesh and blood.

This explains how the invisible God can be seen. This explains how the untouchable God can be touched. While God is unseen because He is surrounded in unapproachable light, He has revealed Himself through His Son, the Word. Now, the Word is not His Bible. Some have actually interjected that thought. We don’t talk about the Word as the Scriptures, but instead as the very words that God speaks. Just as you produce words from your mouth, so too has God spoken from His own mouth. Not all of God’s words are recorded in Scripture. For example, the same people who desire to promote that God has spoken through His Bible are the very ones who would also claim that there was some sort of agreement made before the foundations of the world that Jesus would die upon the cross. Do you see the difficulty in this? The Word is not necessarily the Bible. The Bible is not the Living Word of God – that is a nuanced and mystical entity, a Being, that actually exists outside of Scripture.

This Being that is somehow visible is most likely what Abram saw in Genesis 18. Abram washes the Lord’s – Yahweh – feet. There is a dialogue between the Lord and Abram, the Lord and Sarah, and then the two angels continue onward while the Lord stays behind and talks to Abram. Who is it that Abram saw? Was it a man, or was it the Lord speaking from heaven? We see in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that the issue is pressed that Israel did not see the form of the Lord. This is being spoken in relation to not making any images to bow down to. Yet, it is not saying that God has no form. For example, Numbers 12:8 says that Moses saw the form of the Lord. Does God have a form? The last verse of Psalm 17 declares that the psalmist will die and see the form of the Lord. So, it is not that God does not have a form. God simply did not reveal it. Exodus 24:9 says that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. It doesn’t say that they saw Him in a vision. It doesn’t say that they saw the glory of the Lord. They saw the God of Israel. Who did Isaiah see in Isaiah 6? Who did Ezekiel see in his vision recorded in Ezekiel 1? In Isaiah 9:6, we have names given to us for the Messiah. One of them is El Gibbor, the Mighty God. How can you call a mere man mighty God? This man must transcend the bounds of humanity.

In even the Hebrew Scriptures, we have God making Himself known. Who does that? It is the Son. Some interesting rabbinic tradition tells us about something called the memra. Understand that I am not saying that these rabbis believed in Jesus. What I am saying is that there are parallels that help us to understand what some of these New Testament Jewish writers were saying. The idea comes from various passages, some of them mentioned earlier. It seems like the Word is personified in Scripture. God speaks and the world was created, for example. The tradition was to speak of the memra, or the Word, instead of the Lord. Instead of saying that the Lord reveals Himself, or the Lord was seen, they would say that the Word of the Lord – the memra – was seen.

So, for example, in Genesis 6:6, we read, “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” The Aramaic Targum (translation) says, “It repented the Lord through his word…” Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the Lord…” In Aramaic, “Abram believed the word of the Lord.” Genesis 31:49, “…May the Lord keep watch between you and me…” The Targum reads, “…May the word of the Lord keep watch…” Numbers 10:35, “Rise up, O Lord!” In the Targum we read, “Rise up, O word of the Lord!” Genesis 28:20-21, “If God will be with me… then the Lord will be my God.” The Targum reads, “If the word of the Lord will be with me… then the word of the Lord will be my God.”

Now, think of what John wrote. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and what God was, the Word was.” In the beginning was the memra, this divine expression or manifestation. John is not telling us that God left His abode and throne, but instead that the memra became flesh. This is what Isaiah was prophesying, that His name would be Emmanuel – God with us. Philo, an older contemporary of Jesus, spoke of the λογος as being a second God. He claimed that the God in whom Adam was created in His image was actually the λογος. He even went as far as calling the λογος the mediator!

Thus, when we speak of the deity of Jesus, it needs to be understood what we’re saying. Are we saying that God somehow stopped being God? No. Are we saying that Jesus is Yahweh, and that in order for the Lord to take up flesh that He must strip away His deity? Not necessarily. What we are saying is that the Word of God is divine. We are saying that there is still a God in heaven to whom Jesus prayed, but that as the Word of God, He was God. Is Jesus praying to Himself? Of course not. This is the mamre of God – the divine revelation and manifestation unto this cosmos. That divine image and expression of God is in fact God – otherwise it can’t be a divine image of God. The Word became flesh, which means that God became flesh. This is established in both Old Testament as well as New Testament. It is even spoken of in rabbinic sources describing the mamre, though these rabbinic traditions would reject the notion of Jesus. The deity of the messiah, and indeed even the claim that both the Father and the Son are God at the same time, does not fly in the face of Scripture, but instead seems to explain Scripture. Those difficult passages that make little sense about God revealing Himself are suddenly given a brand new illumination.

Now, there is another rabbinic tradition about the shekinah that also helps us to understand Jesus. The Hebrew word shekinah never once appears in the Old Testament Scripture. Yet, the concept is there. It is the literal presence of the Lord. The Greek equivalent would be found in John 1:14 that Jesus tabernacled, or pitched his tent among us. In Exodus 25, God tells Moses to build a Tabernacle, and in that Tabernacle God was going to dwell. Now, we read in Solomon’s dedication prayer of the Temple centuries later that the Hebrews understood full well that God doesn’t dwell in that Tabernacle or Temple fully. The heavens cannot contain Him, so how will a small room in the center of a building? But that is the point of the shekinah. This is the presence of God, and it is not separate from God. The shekinah is God’s presence upon the earth – a presence that transcends the claim that God is omnipresent. Yes, God is everywhere, but there is a presence of God – a manifestation – that is within a certain locality in that Tabernacle. That divine presence needs to be understood as more than mere rhetoric. Jesus is a walking shekinah. Jesus is the glory of God – the divine presence of God – pitching its tent among us. That tent is symbolic flesh and blood, but this doesn’t eliminate the connection. What the earthly Tabernacle and Temple were, now it is found in the man Jesus.

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