6. The Person of Christ
There are only a few things that make the Christian faith truly distinct from the world’s religions. The three most prominent differences are the nature of the Absolute Triune God, the Person and Work of the founder of the faith and the way of salvation. We’ve already looked at the nature of God; in Chapters 6 and 7, we will outline the drastic difference between the Faith and the world’s religions as to the doctrine of what Christians call salvation, but here we will talk about the Founder. The founders of the world’s religions made various claims. “I have found the way,” says one, “I have seen the way, says another.” Perhaps the message was, “God has shown me the way,” or “I can tell you the way.”
In Christ, however, we have One who says, “I Am the way.” In fact, Christ made the most remarkable statement any man could make--coming from a mere man, it would be a boast of fantastic proportions. He made a claim which makes Him the most narrow-minded Person who ever breathed. He said , “I Am the Way the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” It was statements like this one and many others which led C. S. Lewis to propose the “trilemma” about Jesus Christ. He said that for those who want to say Jesus is not who He claims to be, but is still a good teacher, etc., statements like John 14:6 pose an insurmountable problem. Because of what He said, He was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of Glory. The greatest heresies of the history of the church were about the Person of Christ, and the greatest heresies of today are no different. In fact, they are not really new heresies, just old lies in a new outfit.
We looked at the Godhood of Christ in the last chapter, so in this one, we will look at the other aspects of His Person as our Lord and Redeemer.
The Pre-Existent Christ
The One theologians call “the divine Logos (Word),” the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, our Savior Jesus Christ, did not come into existence when He was born of the virgin Mary. That was His Incarnation (coming in flesh). He was, as the prophet Micah said, “. . .The One to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting . . .” (Mic. 5:2, NKJV) He was pre-existent.
Christ’s pre-existence is obvious from His Godhood. As God, He is Eternal and Immutable (Isa 9:6-7; Rev 1:8; Heb 13:8; Heb 1:12; Psa 102:27), so He always existed. There was never a time when He was not. “ . . .In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “ (John 1:1) Christ’s pre-existence is amply testified by Scripture-- John 8:58; 17:5; 17:24; Col. 1:17; Heb 7:3; Rev 22:13; Phil. 2:5-11--the Bible continually emphasizes it. We also see Him in the Old Testament, as His pre-existence is demonstrated by theophany, or Christophany . These two words, one applying to God generally speaking, and the other to the Son in particular, refer to a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament.
Since it is a Bible teaching that no one has seen, or can see the Father Himself, (Ex 33; John 1:18; 1 Tim 1:17), most evangelical teachers ascribe all visible appearances of God in human or angelic form to the Son manifesting Himself prior to His incarnation. Judges 13:15-22; Zechariah 3:1-5; Exodus 3:16; and Genesis 18:1-33, are among many passages that Bible scholars believe are Christophanies. How do we tell from the Scriptures if a particular angelic manifestation is merely an angel, or if it is an appearance of the pre-existent Son? The following passage is a classic one that illustrates this.
Joshua 5:13-15 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (NIV)
The underlined portion of the verse is the key to understanding this passage as an appearance of Christ before the Incarnation. The Commander of the LORD’s army uses the same words that Jehovah uses when Moses came before the burning bush. That, and the Person’s acceptance of worship, which is reserved for God alone, (Ex 20:1-3) prove this to be a Christophany. There are many Christophanies in the Old Testament. Christ has always been--our Savior did not come into existence on the day of His birth--He came into flesh on that day.
God Incarnate--The Man Christ Jesus
The Incarnation (Christ the Son of God coming into flesh) and the Virgin Birth (the way He came into flesh) are doctrines which cannot be understood logically or scientifically. They involve God acting outside the realm of natural law and intervening in human history in the most direct and personal way possible, by becoming part of it. The Incarnation and the Virgin Birth were part of the ancient promise given to the race about the release from the bondage of the race to Satan (who was the serpent depicted in Gen 3:14-15). The promise was reiterated to Abraham that from his seed “all the families of the earth,” would be blessed (Gen 12:3). Job revealed his faith that “. . . I know my Redeemer liveth, and in the latter days shall stand upon the earth.” The Purpose of His coming was the redemption of His people--all those who would ever believe in Him.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)
Hebrews 2:14-18 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (NIV)
Galatians 4:4-5 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (NIV)
Romans 8:3-4 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (NIV)
The Fulfillment of the promises and prophecies came when the angel Gabriel announced His coming birth to the Virgin Mary. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been attacked by critics inside and outside the church. Sometimes the critics try to slyly suggest that the words translated “virgin” in the Bible can mean something other than “virgin.” However, the words of Mary herself “I know not a man,” (KJV) or in 20th century common language, “I have never had sexual relations with a man,” make plain that she was a virgin, and that the Incarnation and birth of the Savior was a miracle of God.
Luke 1:34-35 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” [Literally, “since I know not a man”] The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (NIV)
Paul and the apostle John both had profound comments on the mystery of the incarnation itself:
1 Timothy 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (NIV)
John 1:14-18 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (NIV)
And, it is very mysterious--how could the Holy, Immutable, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God become a man? The answer to the question “How?” is not given except in the equally mysterious words of Gabriel to Mary, quoted above--but it is true. Our inability to understand the Incarnation does not change the fact of it, any more than our inability to fully fathom all the forces of life and the universe changes them. Finally, the doctrine of the Incarnation was protected by some of the strongest warnings found in the New Testament--a person may be mistaken about a lot of things and still be a Christian, but a mistake in this area exposes false profession--if you do not believe that Jesus Christ is God in Flesh, you cannot be a Christian.
1 John 4:2-3 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (NIV)
2 John 7-11 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the Antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (NIV)
Jude 3-4 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (NIV)
The humanity of Christ, the incarnate God-man, was Real Humanity--He was not a phantom; He was not a new type of being. He was “very God of very God,” as the old statements of faith say, but He was fully and completely man as well. He went through the common experiences of manhood, He suffered the common discomforts, pains, and griefs of manhood, He suffered temptation, and He died a common criminal’s death. He was in every way a man. (For examples, see Matt 1:1; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9; 26:37; Mark 10:48; 12:35; Luke 2:40; 4:2; 8:23; 9:58; John 4:6; 7:42; Rev 5:5.)
Some people think that the humanity of Christ necessitated that He have a sin nature and be innately sinful Himself. However, this is not the case at all. A sin nature is our inheritance if we are children of Adam, but it was not part of man’s original makeup--God did not create the sin nature. Our sinfulness was a reaction, it was a result of the sin our representative headman, the first man, Adam. We are born sinful because Adam became sinful. Christ was the “second Adam,” (1 Cor 15:45-49 ), not a son of Adam. Because of the Virgin Birth, He was “the seed of the woman,” (See Gen 3:14-15), and had no human father. As He had no human father, the sin of Adam and Adam’s sin nature was not passed on to Him. He lived a Sinless life in every way. In the formulation of the old puritans, “He had no sin, knew no sin, and did no sin.” Yet, as the next chapter tells us in detail, the beauty and mystery of The Faith is that this perfect God-man became sin and suffered its penalty for us.
Hebrews 4:14-15 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. (NIV)
See Appendix 8 for A Biblical and Theological Answer to the False Doctrine of Kenosis.