The Deity of Jesus
We are beginning a study of the Gospel of John. It is my to hope to go through the whole book, verse by verse. I won't be preaching every week, but in subsequent weeks, when, Lord willing, I return to this pulpit, we will continue from wherever we stopped last time. The topics will be a reflection of the verses at hand. For example, since the first two verses of chapter one deal primarily with the divinity of Jesus, that will direct our discussion today. The next three verses deal with the preincarnate work of Jesus, so that will be our topic next time, and we will continue in this manner, until we have gone through the whole book.
What was John's purpose in writing this gospel? John was probably living in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Surrounded by Gentiles, John writes for two purposes, and we see those purposes in John 20:30-31. John writes:
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
So John writes for two purposes:
Why should we study this gospel? After all, I'm not going to live forever. I'll never be able to preach sermons from all the books in the Bible. So out of the sixty-six books in the Bible, why pick this one? I offer four reasons:
Now that I have clarified my purpose and direction, please turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The first eighteen verses are called the prologue. The prologue provides a very thick and concise summary of the whole gospel. It is thick with content, and it uses concise, ordinary language to convey profound truths:
For background and context, we will go ahead and read these eighteen verses. Then we will focus on verses one, two, and three. Starting with John 1:1,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' " For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
The first two verses remind us of a certain church doctrine. Let's read those verses again, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
What are the points of doctrine that are addressed by verses one and two? When we read that the Word is in one sense with God and in another sense is God, we are reminded of the Doctrine of the Trinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God is both one and three. God is one essence and three persons.
For a concise statement of this, we have our church constitution. Under Doctrine of God on page 4B we read:
There is but one God, the Creator, Maker, Sustainer, and Ruler of all things, having in and of Himself all perfections and being infinite in them all. To Him all people owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience.
So in our church constitution we affirm that there is only one God. We affirm monotheism. But if God is one, how is God also three? For clarification, we go to item C on the same page, The Trinity:
There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.
So how is God one? God is one essence. Then how is God three? God is three persons -- one essence and three persons.
This doctrinal point is not upheld by our church alone, but it is stated in a more thorough way in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, the Westminster Confession, and in the early creeds of the church. Nor does this point of doctrine belong to just the reformed churches. Rather, it is the view of most conservative, evangelical denominations.
The first chapter of John is not the only place in the Bible where this doctrine is supported. There are many other verses. Here are a few of them:
Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, "Show us the Father?" Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.'
The part of the Trinitarian doctrine that says, "God is three persons" is somewhat understandable. We all know what a person is. But what about essence? What does it mean when it says God is one essence? What is essence?
Here is a definition from The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms:
essence, essentia. Deriving from the Latin verb esse, literally "to be," essence is the fundamental nature of something apart from which the thing would not be what it is. Essence, then, is the core of what makes something what it is without being something else. The Latin term essentia became important in reference to the nature of God, especially in the discussion surrounding the Trinity, where each person--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--is said to share the same essentia.
So when speaking of God, essence is the fundamental nature of God apart from which God would not be what He is. Aspects and features of the essence of God are called attributes. Not everything about the essence of God has been revealed to us, but we do know some things. God is holy, and without holiness God would not be God. God is omniscient; He knows all things possible and actual. Without omniscience, God would not be God. God is omnipotent; He is able to do anything He wants to do. Without omnipotence, God would not be God. More applicable to our text, God is eternal. He has no beginning, and He has no end. As far as you care to go in the past, God is, and as far as you care to go into the future, God forever is. As we read in Psalm 90:2, "from everlasting to everlasting you are God." In order to be God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit must all share every aspect (every attribute) of the essence of God, including his uncaused, uncreated existence. If Jesus were created, Jesus could not be God, and if there were ever a time when the Holy Spirit did not exist, the Holy Spirit could not be God. In order for all three persons of the Trinity to be God, they must all three be uncreated. God is eternal, uncaused, and uncreated essence.
Now John wants to show us that Jesus is deity. He will do this in three ways:
Now, let us take a deeper look at the word logos, especially the Greek and Jewish understanding of that word.
As early as the 6th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus saw logos as the power behind creation and order. In later Greek thought, the supreme being could not defile himself by interacting with matter. So logos was created to interact with the material world. By the time the Stoics appeared in the 4th century B.C., logos had also become an ethical guideline. They saw logos as a principle of reason, and their rule of life was "Follow where reason leads." Thus, they sought to resist passions that might undermine reason, including love, hate, fear, pain, and pleasure. In an otherwise hedonistic culture, the stoics were honored for their civil morality. (Most of us are familiar with a certain science fiction character, the pointy-eared Vulcan called Spock. He might have made a good stoic.)
There was also a Jewish understanding of logos. In the first chapter of Genesis, God speaks and things come into being:
God said all these things, and by the power of His Word, all these things came to pass.
As we move along the timeline of Old Testament scriptures, the concept, Word of God, begins to sound more and more like a person.
In Psalm 33:6 we read, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host."
In Isaiah 7:3 we have the expression, "The Lord said to Isaiah," but when you get to Isaiah 38:4 we read, "Then the Word of the Lord came to Isaiah."
In Psalm 107:20 we read, "He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions."
Nevertheless, in spite of the increasing personification of logos in Jewish thought, they stopped short of seeing logos as deity. They were willing to think of logos as possibly a created being, but they did not regard logos as God.
In summary, the Greeks saw logos as the creative power that brought existence and order to the universe. The Jews saw logos as the personification of the thought and utterance of God. With this background, the stage was set for John to reveal the true logos, the person behind the creative power that brings existence and order to the universe, the person who lives and explains the thoughts and utterances of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the Beginning.
Now, let's return to the first clause of John 1. "In the beginning was the Word."
We need to ask this question: What kind of beginning?
If we look down at verse three, we see that the beginning John has in mind is the beginning of all created things. In verse three we read, "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."
I want to use these verses to show that Christ is uncaused and uncreated:
Again, we understand God to be three persons, one essence. Only God is uncreated essence. Jesus is uncreated essence. Therefore, Jesus is God.
The second clause of verse one says, "and the word was with God." This clause supports the part of our Trinitarian statement, which says God is three persons. A person can be with another person. I want to show that the personhood of Jesus is both distinct from and simultaneous with the personhood of the Father.
The word with is a very important word. Even if it is a very ordinary word in the English language, in the Greek language it can be rich with beauty, depending on which Greek word is used. Our task is to note which Greek word was translated as with. We find that it is the word pros. Greek dictionaries will say that pros means to or towards. Thus, Jesus was to or towards God. However, we also need to note that by the first century, pros began taking on a more ordinary meaning. For example, at the end of Mark 6:3 we read, "Are not His sisters here with us?" Where it says "with us," pros is used. So in that passage from Mark, we see pros being used in a very ordinary way.
Nevertheless, to understand what John meant, we look not to Mark's writings but to John's writings. John often uses the word meta when he intends our common usage of the word with. Therefore, I was delighted to find two contiguous verses where the words John used were translated as with, but where in the Greek behind those words, we see both pros and meta.
Please look at 1 John 1:2. John writes, "And the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with (pros, to or toward) the Father and was manifested to us --"
Just as we found with the preincarnate Jesus in John 1:1, the sense in which Jesus is with the Father is pros -- to or towards God.
But now look at 1 John 1:3. There we read, "What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us (with translated from meta); and indeed our fellowship is with (translated from meta) the Father, and with (translated from meta) His Son Jesus Christ.
So, the sense in which Jesus is with the Father is "pros," but the sense in which we (you and I) have fellowship with other believers, with the Father, and with the Son is (meta).
The "pros" relationship Jesus has with the Father is a beautiful thing. A. T. Robertson describes it as "face to face with God . . . living relationship, intimate converse."
How would you like to have that kind of relationship with the Father? You can. Here comes the jewel. Here comes the buried treasure. Look at 1 John 2:1. "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Do you see where the verse says, "advocate with the Father"? There, the Greek word for with is pros. In other words, through Jesus Christ, we also have a "pros" kind of relationship with the Father. When Jesus intercedes for us, it is as if we were face to face with the Father. Remember this the next time you pray when you feel like your prayers are bouncing off the wall. Far from being ignored, they are, as Jesus sees fit, reaching the very heart of the Father. Your name is known in heaven, because Jesus is "pros" with God. He is to God; He is towards God; He is face to face with the Father.
Remember how John uses the word pros, and remember the treasure that lies buried beneath it. Also, please note that if Jesus is, indeed, face to face with the Father, He cannot be the Father. His personhood must be both distinct from and simultaneous with the personhood of the Father, even as we sing, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."
While maintaining this distinction in personhood, I now want to show how Jesus is, nevertheless, fully God with respect to His essence.
So we come, now, to the third clause of John 1:1, "and the Word was God." In what sense is the Word God? People have interpreted this clause in at least four different ways:
Which way is correct?
The first way, "Jesus is a God," is how the verse is translated by the Jehovah's Witnesses in their New World Bible. Why? Part of the reason is the misapplication of Greek grammar rules. From your third grade English class, do you remember the grammar term articles? In English we have three articles: a, an, and the. We use the for definite things and a and an for indefinite things. For example, someone might say, "You may have a pear or an apple, but you cannot have the last cookie."
In contrast, Greek only has definite articles. When a noun has no article, it is usually treated as indefinite. There is no article before God in the third clause of verse one. The Jehovah's Witnesses know this, and they have used this as an argument for the translation "and the Word was a God."
But there are many exceptions to this rule about indefinite articles in Greek. For example, the literal translation of the first clause of verse one is "In beginning was the Word." In the Greek text for this verse, there is no article before the word beginning. Why, because the word for beginning, arche, is an abstract concept. Abstract concepts often lack the article in Greek. Proper names also commonly lack the article. For example, in Colossians 4:17, when we read, "And say to Archippus, 'Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it,'" there is no article before the proper name, Archippus.
In addition to proper names sometimes leaving off the article, there are certain words in the Greek language which, although they are not proper names, they are so unique that they are treated like proper names. Examples include: God, Spirit, world, and law. Gresham Machen comments about this in his Greek grammar, rule number 311:
Certain nouns, referring to persons or things which instead of being only one of a class are quite unique, are treated as proper nouns, the article being either inserted or omitted.
So mere omission of an article before the word God is not enough to require that the word be translated as a God. The context has to be considered. In the context of the rest of John's writings, a translation, here, such as a God is unthinkable.
The second interpretation was "Jesus is the God." If this interpretation were right, it would mean that Jesus is identical with the Father in both personhood and essence. This would be the view of the modalists in church history, and this would be the view of Oneness Pentecostals today. Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Father and the Holy Spirit are different forms of Jesus. Yet, the second clause of John 1:1 seems to have been written for the very purpose of keeping us from thinking that Jesus is identical with the Father. How could Jesus be in a face to face relationship with the Father if He is the Father?
The third interpretation is "Jesus is divine." This is the translation in the Moffat version of the Bible. Of course, Jesus is divine, but that does not say enough. Jesus is fully divine. Besides, if John had meant to say divine, there is a different Greek word that means just that. It is used in Romans 1:20. Speaking of how God is revealed in creation, it says, "His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made." Yes, creation does reveal some aspects of the divine nature, but it does not reveal the divine nature in its fullness. Surely, John must mean more than is captured by our English word divine. Besides, as Robert Reymond points out, John used the word for God, and lexicons never translate the word for God that is used here, theos, as divine.
The fourth interpretation is the one we have, "Jesus is God." We take this to mean that Jesus is fully God with respect to His essence. Are there verses that support the idea that in order to be God, Christ must have all divine qualities, not just some? The clearest verse to support this is Hebrews 1:3:
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
Looking up at Hebrews 1:2, we see that verse three refers to the way the Son reflects the glory of God. What does it mean when verse three says the Son is the exact representation of the nature of God? Nature is another word for essence. The words nature, being, and essence can be used interchangeably. To be the exact representation of the essence of God is to have every quality, every attribute, and every aspect of the being of God. Nothing is omitted. In His essence, Jesus is fully God.
Now, if John meant to communicate that Jesus is God, how would he have had to write this verse? How could he have said that Jesus is God without saying that Jesus is the same person as the Father? And how could He have said that Jesus is God without suggesting that there is more than one God?
Here is how John was able to say all of these things:
Thus, these three things about Jesus are established:
These statements are consistent with our Doctrine of the Trinity. Nevertheless, this discussion does not fully explain the Trinity, nor was not my intention. My intention was to show that the truths conveyed in John's prologue agree with our Trinitarian statement: that God is one essence and three persons. In essence, Jesus is fully God. In personhood, Jesus is one of the three persons of the Godhead.
Why does the Doctrine of the Trinity matter?
The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation for our most sacred duties, hopes, and practices. When we pray, we usually pray to the Father, in the Name of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In our salvation, the Father receives the atonement, the Son makes the atonement, and the Holy Spirit regenerates the people to whom the atonement is applied. In our worship, we honor the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we baptize, we baptize in the one name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And as we face trials and struggles, both the Holy Spirit and the Son intercede with the Father on our behalf. To give up the Doctrine of the Trinity would be to give up our very way of life. It's that important.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
As we close out this discussion, let us remember what the prologue is. The prologue is a concise summary. The personhood of Jesus and the deity of Jesus are profound truths. These truths will be further clarified as we continue our studies in the Gospel of John.
So far, this study has been an adventure of the deepest kind. I have been profoundly affected by what I have observed. It has increased my understanding of several things: the preciousness of the Bible, the humility of the incarnation, and the wickedness of sin.
There is nothing more wonderful in this whole world than knowing Jesus. And there is nothing more worthy of our affections than knowing Jesus better. Look at any rose too closely, and you will find imperfections. Look at the most professionally cut diamond too closely and you will find flaws. Look at any painting too closely and you will see that paintings are designed to create illusions. The illusion loses its effect if you look too closely. But there is no illusion with Jesus. Look as closely as you wish and as long as you like. You will discover treasure upon treasure, beauty upon beauty, and majesty upon majesty.
Let us pray. Lord, I do not know why you would give a Systems Engineer the privilege of preaching from the Gospel of John, but in as much as you have, I thank you. The beauty is already there. In subsequent weeks, please help me to make it clear. And for all of us, please help us to remember what we have seen and heard. Amen.