God and Man
Christianity is not based on reason or tradition, but on a revelation from God. Unlike the religions of the world, it is not the product of man’s mind but is simply what God has been pleased to make known to His creature. Once we step outside the bounds of that revelation then our thoughts are no longer concerned with what God has said, but with what man thinks. Stay with the revelation and we can be completely certain it is absolute truth, for it is what God has said. Abandon the revelation or indulge in speculation concerning it and we will be “tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching [which is] in the sleight of men” (Eph. 4: 14). The peril is more real than many are conscious of.
These things are particularly important when we come to the Lord Jesus Christ and who He is. In Matthew 16, the Lord asked the disciples “But ye, who do ye say that I am?” (v15). He not only commends Peter’s answer that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v16) but gives the basis for that commendation: “for flesh and blood has not revealed [it] to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens” (v17, my emphasis). Peter spoke the truth about the Lord Jesus because he was giving utterance to the divine revelation he had received. By contrast, many since, both infidel and believing, have engaged in speculation as to “[the] person of Christ” (2 Cor. 2: 10). This is the height of presumption and foolishness—the divine revelation is explicit that “no one knows the Son but the Father” (Matt. 11: 27). There is thus a divine mystery attached to His person, and this makes it all the more imperative to restrict our pronouncements concerning Him to what God has revealed in His Word.
God and Man not God–Man
That the Lord Jesus is both God and man is given ample testimony to in Scripture. As to His deity, the book of Hebrews is conclusive: “but as to the Son, Thy throne, O God, [is] to the age of the age, and a sceptre of uprightness [is] the sceptre of thy kingdom” (Heb. 1: 8). The same book is equally clear about the reality of the Lord’s manhood: “What is man, that thou rememberest him, or son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him some little inferior to the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, [and hast set him over the works of thy hands;] thou hast subjected all things under his feet … But now we see not yet all things subjected to him, but we see Jesus …” (Heb. 2: 6–9). This is not the God-Man that some talk about, a repulsive title that implies a hybrid, part God and part man—no, this is the One who is God and is man. He is both the root and the offspring of David (see Rev. 22: 16). We may not be able to explain it, but we believe it, and we believe it because God has said it.
My God and Your God
Ephesians 1: 3 begins “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …” (v3). Some would make a difficulty here. So anxious are they to guard the deity of Christ that they will not allow the force of what the revelation clearly teaches, namely that God is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why do they have a difficulty? Because they are attempting to explain the unexplainable rather than simply accepting at face value what the Bible says.
Does God have a God? To say so is not only ridiculous but blasphemous. What does God tell us about Himself? “I [am] the first, and I [am] the last, and beside me there is no God” (Is. 44: 6). Is the Lord Jesus God? Unquestionably. Thomas addressed him as “My Lord and my God” and the Lord did not correct him (John 20: 28). Yet a few verses earlier, the Lord told Mary of Magdala that “I ascend to my Father and your Father, and [to] my God and your God” (v17, my emphasis). So how could One “whose goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5: 2) say such a thing? Because not only was He God, but perfect man—and a perfect man must have a God. Can we explain these things? No more than we can unravel the mystery that in the beginning the Word was both with God and was God (see John 1: 1). God does not expect us to be able to explain everything He has said—but He does ask us to believe it all.
Jesus Christ Coming in Flesh
It is possible to make the wrong sort of progress in the Christian profession. Thus John warns that “Whosoever goes forward and abides not in the doctrine of the Christ has not God” (2 John 9). Christ is a title that belongs to the Lord as God’s anointed man in this world. Thus if God is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, then it is equally true that God has a man—“[the] man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2: 5), the One “whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul has found its delight” (Matt. 12: 18). God’s man is “the second man, out of heaven” (1 Cor. 15: 47) and as you and I “have borne the image of the [one] made of dust” so the purpose of God concerning us is that “we shall bear also the image of the heavenly [one]” (v49).
Now the doctrine of the Christ refers to the truth concerning the Lord’s blessed person. He is God and He is man. It is what John had in mind when he writes about those “who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh” (2 John 7). Why is this so important? Because if Jesus Christ did not really come in flesh, then He did not really die either and there is no salvation. God prepared Him a body (see Heb. 10: 5) in order that we who believe might be sanctified “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v10). He was a real man, and He really died.
However, the expression “Jesus Christ coming in flesh” (2 John 7) not only involves the Lord’s manhood but His deity. That too must be confessed, for the doctrine of the Christ takes in both. You and I did not come in flesh—we did not exist before we were in flesh. He did. You and I “partake of blood and flesh” and “he also, in like manner, took part in the same” (Heb. 2: 14), but He ever existed. He is the One that bears the title “Father of Eternity” (Is. 9: 6). Thus “God” (probably better ‘He’, meaning the Lord Jesus) “has been manifested in flesh” (1 Tim. 3: 16)—the condition into which the Lord entered brought into view what was previously unseen. Again, Luke begins his Gospel by speaking of the disciples as the “attendants on the Word” (Luke 1: 2)—the same Word that John informs us was “In [the] beginning” (John 1: 1). Deny the Lord’s deity and you make Him merely a wonderful creature instead of “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 13).
Nor do we have to be theologians to grasp these things. The apostle wrote to “[the] elect lady and her children” (2 John 1, my emphasis). It was within the compass of their understanding. Let us then, young or old, “prove the spirits”, recognising that “every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God; and every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God” (1 John 4: 1–3).
The Son who does not Know
Now while everything that the Bible says about the Lord is true, it is also true that everything that is said is in its right place. The Spirit of God has seen fit to present the Lord in different ways in different passages, and we have no licence to read into those passages everything that is true of the Lord. In a great many instances, for example, His deity is veiled and we have to accept that the divine author has a purpose in this. On other occasions, the veil is drawn aside (as on the Mount of Transfiguration—see Matt. 17: 2), but whether veiled or not, in each passage we need to see the Lord as the Holy Spirit intended us to see Him, and not intrude our own ideas. This does not detract from who He is in any way, nor take away one iota from either His Deity or perfect manhood. Indeed, those who do read everything into every Scripture will inevitably end up in the very position that they are so anxious to avoid—in error as regards the Lord’s person. The words of Scripture are exact, and we are to accept them simply as they are for they are “words … taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2: 13).
The Bible tells us that God is omniscient or all–knowing. He is “perfect in knowledge” (Job. 37: 16), and His “understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147: 5). Yet we are also told as regards the coming of the Son of man that “of that day or of that hour no one knows, neither the angels who are in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13: 32, my emphasis; see also Matt. 24: 36). How can this be true when we also read of the Lord that “in him all the fulness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1: 19)? How can such a One be said not to know? Indeed, how can it be true, when He saw Nathanael under the fig tree (see John 1: 48) and on more than one occasion read the thoughts of others (see Matt. 9: 4; 12: 25; Mark 2.8), thus lifting the veil to reveal His deity?
The force of Mark 13: 32 cannot be entirely explained by the fact that Mark presents the Lord in his gospel particularly as God’s servant. That is surely true and significant, “for the bondman does not know what his master is doing” (John 15: 15), but it does not alter the fact that the Lord is presented in this verse as the Son of the Father. It is as such that He is there said not to know. Substitute the word God for Son, and you will end up in the blasphemous position of asserting that the all–knowing God does not know. No, we simply have to accept what the revelation tells us—namely, that as presented here, the Son does not know of that day or hour. It is part of the holy mystery of His person, in the same way that the weary One who slept in the boat (see Mark 4: 38) was also the One who will “neither slumber not sleep” (Ps. 121: 4), and the One born into Bethlehem’s manger is the same One who declared “Do not I fill the heavens and the earth?” (Jer. 23: 24).
Do you think these things demand explanation? How can anyone explain it, if God does not? The Lord Himself tells us that there is what is unknowable as regards His own person (see Matt. 11: 27), and yet you—a creature—presume to think that you are sufficient for such things! Some have dared to say that Christ on earth knew as God what He did not know as man. That is speculation, not revelation, theology and not Scripture.
Mary not the Mother of God
Logic is the practice of reasoning something out to arrive at the truth. In essence, it is using the human mind to explain things. While it has its place in science, business and the like, logic is no guide to understanding spiritual matters. The spiritual believer arrives at the understanding of Scripture by the Spirit—the mind is used, but in subjection to God. The rationalist (whether believer or unbeliever), follows after the pattern of the natural man and remains unenlightened for “[the] natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him; and he cannot know [them] because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2: 14).
Perhaps the most well–known example of the use of logic in relation to the Lord Jesus is the Romanist assertion that as Mary was the mother of the Lord Jesus then she must also be the mother of God. In Luke 1, when Mary came to see Elizabeth, the older woman exclaimed “whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v 43). Read a few verses on, and we find Mary’s response: “And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour” (v46, 47; see also v68). Thus the One who was to be born is described by Elizabeth as the Lord, while Mary clearly viewed the Lord and God as being one and the same (as they truly are). Human logic will then tell us that Mary must therefore be the mother of God, but Scripture never says so. We are to believe what Scripture says, not what we make it say. Elizabeth refers to the mother of her Lord but she does not speak of the mother of her God. Scripture is exact in its choice of words. Of course Lord is a divine title, but it does not carry the same explicit level of meaning as theos, the word used for God. As the son of Mary, it is the Lord’s manhood that is in view—His deity, though present, is veiled. Thus throughout the NT (see John 2: 1; Acts 1: 14), Mary is called the mother of Jesus—His name as a man amongst men, and a name which was not, in itself, remarkable. Mary was the mother of a child who was God but she was not, as human logic dictates, the mother of God.
He became Dead
What we believe should be acquired from the Word of God and not elsewhere. However, it is an undeniable fact that we pick up much of what we believe from a wide variety of sources and not all of them adhere as closely to the divine revelation as they should. Popular hymnology is a case in point. One well–known composition has the words Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God shouldst die for me? Now hymns are not Scripture, and as the products of men, however spiritual, we cannot expect perfection in every line. We ought, however, to be alive to the danger of taking what they say at face value.
So did God die for me? Scripture never says so—and yet it is very clear that the One who died on Calvary’s cross was God. If we turn to Revelation 1 we find the Lord Jesus speaking: “Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living one: and I became dead, and behold, I am living to the ages of ages, and have the keys of death and of hades” (vs 17, 18, my emphasis; see also Rev. 2: 8). Now if we go back to the OT we find that the first and the last are divine titles: “Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I [am] the first, and I [am] the last, and beside me there is no God” (Is. 44: 6). So how could the first and the last of Isaiah’s prophecy, who said “beside me there is no God”, also say in His revelation to John the apostle that “I became dead”? Did God die—indeed, could God die? Of course not: “Thy years are from generation to generation … thou art the Same, and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102: 24, 27). And yet the One who “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2: 24) was and is God! Can we explain it? No, but we who are saved are very thankful for it. The man who died at Calvary was God (see Matt. 27: 54)— indeed, He “became flesh” (John 1: 14) in order that He might die—but God never died. Death relates to the body, but “God [is] a spirit” (John 4: 24).
The Son who learned Obedience
The Bible is one book and must be taken as such. As the apostle Peter writes, “[the scope of] no prophecy of Scripture is had from its own particular interpretation” (2 Pet. 1: 20)—each verse should be interpreted in the light of the whole. However we also need to remember to take the Scriptures as find them and not attempt to force them into some theological system of our own invention using other passages to alter, however slightly, the plain meaning of any particular verse.
Hebrews 5 contains a most wonderful account of the reality of the Lord’s manhood: “who in the days of his flesh, having offered up both supplications and entreaties to him who was able to save him out of death, with strong crying and tears; (and having been heard because of his piety;) though he were Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (vs. 7, 8). The writer speaks of One who in “the days of his flesh” offered up prayers to His God. It is a picture of a dependent man. Why did He thus pray? Because He lived to do His Father’s will, and His Father’s will was that He be “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5: 21). As sinless, death had no claim on Him—hence His horror of it, and His praying with “strong crying and tears”. Truly this was One who had “emptied himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking his place in [the] likeness of men” (Phil. 2: 7). However, when we come to verse 8 of Hebrews 5, we are forcibly reminded that the Lord was not only man, but God—indeed His deity shines so bright in the word Son that it causes confusion if we were to introduce the thought of man into it (and yet the One who was Son was also man).
Right from birth, man is familiar with the idea of obedience. Even Nebuchadnezzar, of whom it was said “whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive” (Dan. 5: 19), would have known subjection as a child to his parents. In Hebrews 5: 8 however, we are introduced to One who “learned obedience from the things which he suffered”—the notion of obedience was totally foreign to Him. Why? Because He was the Son. What was this obedience but submission to His Father’s will, a will that involved Him suffering and, ultimately, dying? “I do not seek my will” He said, “but the will of him that has sent me” (John 5: 30). Even as a child He asked his earthly parents “Why [is it] that ye have sought me? did ye not know that I ought to be [occupied] in my Father’s business?” (Luke 2: 49). This statement is coupled with the remarkable fact that “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was in subjection to them” (v51)—that is, He was obedient to them. Now there is nothing remarkable about the Lord as a man being subject to His God and Father—He would expect and be expected to obey. No, what we have before us in Hebrews 5: 8 is One who “though he were Son”, that is, in spite of the fact that He was God He learned obedience. He who had never had to obey and was only ever used to commanding and it was done, had come into this world and put Himself in subjection, as a man, to the will of God. Let us take the Scriptures as find we them!
In John 2, the Lord Jesus told the Jews that “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” and He was referring not to Herod’s temple, but “the temple of his body” (vs. 19, 21). He had a body—He was a real man. He also said He would raise Himself from the dead—making himself equal with the God, who “raised from among [the] dead Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 4: 24). We need to hold tenaciously to these twin truths—He is truly God and truly man. Of course some things in the Word are inexplicable and (to our human way of thinking), even illogical, but they are not unbelievable. As the apostle says, “confessedly the mystery of piety is great. God has been manifested in flesh … has been believed on in [the] world” (1 Tim. 3: 16, my emphasis). Let us then hold to the saving truth that “in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2: 9).