The Fundmentals - The Deity Of Christ

F. F. Bruce

THAT Jesus of Nazareth, while being fully Man, was and remains, at the same time, truly God, is a dogma set forth in classical terms in the great Christian Creeds and Confessions. But on what are these historic formularies founded? We remember the wise words of R. C. Moberley, written fifty years ago in Lux Mundi: “Councils, we admit, and creeds, can never go behind, but must wholly rest upon, the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How far, then, are those supreme claims, that Christendom has made on behalf of her Lord, justified by His own authority?

Our space allows us to pick only a few pointers out of many. Take the Sermon on the Mount, for example. Those who heard it were astonished at the authority with which this great 'Teacher spoke (Matt.7. 28, 29). So well they might for this was an authority which claimed to set aside what had been said “by them of old time” and to present a new interpretation of the eternal Divine Will which should be valid for ever. The scribes based their findings on precedent; the inspired prophets never spoke in their own name, but prefaced their oracles with “Thus saith the Lord”; but who is this who simply says, “I say unto you”?

More than that: as the great discourse draws to an end, our Lord claims without apology that His teaching is the only stable foundation for human life. “Reject My way,” He says in effect, “and utter disaster will follow.”

It is our bounden duty to forgive those who sin against us. But how can we forgive people for sins committed against others—or against God? Yet this was “What Christ did. “Son; thy sins be forgiven thee,” He said to the paralysed man; and the bystanders gasped. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Yes, they were right, had they but gone on to draw the necessary inference.

Or look, at His majestic portrayal of the Judgment of the Nations (Matt. 25. 31-46). Who is this Who sits to execute Judgment? It is He Who bears the title, “Son of Man,” the title by which He loved to designate Himself. And what is the criterion of judgment? “Inasmuch as ye, did it—or did it not—unto these, ye did it—or did, it, not—unto me!” Their personal attitude to Him determines their eternal destiny. What a commentary on His own words reported by John (5. 22, 23): “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all Judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father.” It is God the Father’s purpose, He asserts, that the Son should receive equal honour with Himself. What is this but a claim to Divine equality? No wonder that those who heard His words said: “Thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10. 33). It was language such as this, extracted from Him under oath at His trial before the Sanhedrin, that moved the High Priest to pronounce Him guilty of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. And, by Jewish law, the High Priest acted rightly—unless the claim of the Prisoner at the bar were true. But the possibility of its being true was not considered. His judges considered it untrue, and condemned Him to the Cross; God knew that it was true, and raised Him from the dead.

No, whatever we moderns may think, our Saviour’s opponents had no doubt that He claimed equality with God. And they were right in that. But what of His friends and followers? What impression did He make on them? Why, they could find no language too exalted to express His dignity. They went as far as they could go in ascribing Divine honours to Him, assured that in doing so they were doing what the Father Himself had done. Was it not written in Isaiah: “I am Jehovah, that is My Name; and My Glory will I not give to another” (42. 8)? Yet God had raised up Christ to share His throne. And no more striking proof of the apostles’ ascription of Deity to Christ can be found than this, that they took passages from the Old Testament which spoke, of Jehovah and applied them to Christ. How could these men orthodox Jews by upbringing, men who confessed daily, “Jehovah our God, Jehovah is One”—how could they possibly transfer Jehovah’s honours to another? Because they knew that He was not, really another. So, when Isaiah, says (8: 13),Jehovah of hosts, Him shall ye sanctify,” Peter, by the Spirit, changes the wording slightly and says, “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3. 15)—and when he says “Lord,” he means Jehovah. Or Paul, adapting the words of Jehovah in Isa. 45. 23, says “that in the name (not of Jehovah, but) of Jesus every knee, shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2. 10, 11). God says, “l am Jehovah”; but Paul says, in effect, “Jesus Christ is Jehovah.” Is he dethroning the God of the Old Testament? No, for when men thus bow the knee in Jesus’ name, and confess that He is Lord, they do so “to the glory of God the Father.” When God the Son is thus exalted, God the Father is glorified. For none can so highly exalt the Son as the Father Himself has done.