JESUS IS GOD, COME IN THE FLESH!

By Stephen Green

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Christmas, in the Western Christian calendar, is second only to Easter in importance.  In a way, that is saying that the redemption which Christ wrought on the cross and in his resurrection is greater in importance to his incarnation in human form.  Many Christians would identify with that point of view, saying there is nothing as important as an individual’s personal salvation.

But equally, both physically and spiritually, redemption is not possible without incarnation.  Physically, God had to become one of us in order to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice.

Spiritually, God had to be interested enough in mankind to desire the kind of restored fellowship with us which was only made possible by the cross.  And he would not be filling his people with the gift of the Holy Spirit post-resurrection if he had no concern for us.

In the same way, the miracles of Christ did not just establish our Lord’s divinity, but showed compassion for humanity as well.  When the widow of Nain was mourning her son, Jesus did not ask if she was saved, he raised her son back to life to become her material provider again:

Luke 7:12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. 14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. 16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.

So this would be a good time of the year to look again at the importance of God visiting his people, and to remind ourselves, from scripture, that Jesus really was, and is, God in the flesh.

GNOSTICS AND ARIANS DENY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE

The understanding that Jesus is fully man and fully God is fundamental to the Christian faith and the only doctrine consistent with the scriptural witness.

From the earliest days it came under attack from the Gnostics, for whom anything material – including our humanity and that of the Lord Jesus –  is at best second-class to everything spiritual and at worst plain evil and irredeemable.  So God had not, indeed in their terms could not have, come in the flesh.  We see this heresy specifically denounced by the Apostles, so it was a real threat to the truth of the Gospel:

1John 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

2John 1:7  For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

A heresy with the same Christ-denying effect was that of Arius, who insisted that although Jesus was fully man, he was subordinate to God the Father.  For Arius, Jesus was a man with some vaguely-defined apparent divine connections, but was not God incarnate.  Ryan Turner, on www.carm.org, writes:

‘As a result of the spread of his teachings, Arius received opposition from some of his opponents. One of these opponents was Bishop Alexander. He argued that Jesus was the same substance with the Father (homoousios). The contrasting party was known as the homoiousios group. They believed that Jesus was of similar substance with the Father. As a result of this disagreement, there was great controversy among the various local churches. This arguing would convince Constantine to call the Council of Nicea.’

Arianism, as it became known, was condemned at the Council of Nicea.   Its proponents argued on, were eventually denounced as heretics, and Arianism moved to the sidelines of Christianity.  Muslims hold an extreme form of Arianism, in which Christ Jesus was merely a prophet and therefore no more than a man.   But better known as the successors to Arius today are the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES DENY CHRIST’S DIVINITY

The ‘Witnesses’ go even further than simply to deny Christ’s divinity.  They also deny the necessity of being ‘born again’, as Jesus insisted every believer must be.  They are currently baptised (their form of baptism having changed down the years), not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not even into that of the Lord Jesus, but  ‘as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit‑directed organization’, the latter being the ‘Watchtower Society’, the Witnesses governing  body.

As to their understanding of the person of Christ, they propose that Jesus was actually the Archangel Michael before he was born in a manger.  Such a preposterous idea has no warrant at all in scripture.  But then, the Watchtower Society do not so much argue their points from scripture as build a theology and then try to explain scriptures away which conflict with their view.  This approach is technically known as ‘eisigesis’ and is contrasted with ‘exigesis’.  With ‘eisigesis’ one is trying to argue one’s preconceptions into the scripture.  With ‘exigesis’ one is arguing out of the scripture.

John’s Gospel was written specifically to present Jesus as God incarnate.  It begins, in the King James Version, with these famous words:

John 1:1‑2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, 2 The same was in the beginning with God.

The Watchtower New World Translation renders this text: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

They admit the Greek original as transliterating into: “In beginning was the word, and the word was toward the god, and god was the word.”

GOD ‘TABERNACLED’ WITH US

So there is no justification for making ‘the Word’, Jesus, into some sort of a polytheistic deity with the expression ‘a god’.  It is quite clear what John is saying.  He says a few verses on:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,

The Word, who was God, became flesh.  Interestingly the word ‘dwelt’ is the Greek skeno’o meaning ‘encamp’, be in a tent, or ‘tabernacle’ with us.  And in verse 3, John declares that Jesus made all things:

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The ‘Witnesses’ have a distinct problem with Christ creating all things.  In Colossians we read:

Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

They translate that as “For by him all other things were created.”  The word ‘other’ is not in the Greek, but Jehovah’s Witnesses are so certain that Jesus was created rather than begotten that they need once more to add words to scripture to support their Arian contentions.  It seems to me that the Apostles were being led by the Holy Spirit in the years after Christ’s ascension gradually into a full understanding of his nature.  Colossians is one of Paul’s later letters, which is why it so closely mirrors the doctrine set forward in John’s Gospel of a co-creating Jesus, with his father ‘in the beginning’.

In the Old Testament, we have God creating, and no hint that a created being was creating anything at all alongside the Almighty:

Isaiah 44:24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;

In the New Testament, the ‘LORD’, which was how the King James translators rendered the name of God, becomes identified with Christ himself:

Hebrews 1:10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

That this refers to Christ is clear from the quotation of Psalm 45:6 two verses earlier, a verse which the writer declares is written to the Son:

Hebrews 1:8  But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

WHAT IS THE ‘WISDOM’ OF PROVERBS 8?

These are difficult verses for the Jehovah’s Witnesses but they plough on regardless, so intent on proving the Jesus was created that they contend that the ‘wisdom’ spoken of in Proverbs 8 is a representation of him.  Is that possible to do?  The chapter begins:

Prov 8:1 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?

‘Wisdom’ here cannot be Christ, but must be something of the character of God.  Jesus Christ is King of kings, and demands to be honoured by every earthly power, but the consequence of that, in the context of Proverbs 8, is that earthly rulers must call upon the wisdom of God in order to make their decisions:

Prov 8:15 By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. 16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.

The chapter goes on to show that ‘wisdom’ was ‘set up’ by God.  It is impossible to reconcile any idea that Christ was ‘set up’ or ‘possessed’ with what we have just seen in the New Testament.  It is far more plausible that the ‘wisdom’ of God is actually the totality of the laws of God, the physical laws which govern the universe and stop it from disintegrating, which were necessarily put in place before the rest of creation could proceed:

Prov 8:22 The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. 23 I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. … 27  When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

I have in mind the laws of atomic forces, of gravity, of electro-magnetics, all of which had to be in perfect harmony for creation to hang together.  In a similar way, of course, God’s laws governing morality and civil practise were put in place to stop society from blowing apart.

But then, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no interest in society.  Their theology is exclusively redemptionist with a strong emphasis on eschatology, the study of the prophecies of the end times.  They have as much place for a theology emphasising our responsibility to witness to our leaders, to feed the hungry and house the homeless as they have for that incarnational theology we celebrate at Christmas in which God became one of us in Jesus.

CHRISTMAS PROCLAIMS OUR CHRISTIAN HERITAGE

Talking of Christmas, it seems to me from the ‘tabernacle’ reference in John, the impracticality of having sheep out in the Holy Land in December and the time of year of the priestly duties of Zachariah, John Baptist’s father, that our Lord was born at the Feast of Tabernacles, in the autumn.

I am not saying we should not celebrate Christmas, or that supposed pagan origins of a mid-winter festival in these shores invalidate it.  I believe it proclaims our nation’s Christian heritage to keep the feast of our Lord’s incarnation in such a public manner.  I don’t mind that it is really his conception we are marking rather than his birth.  I don’t even mind the fact that it is commercialised.  What public feast-day was never commercialised?  And would we not prefer to see Christmas decorations in the shops from September rather than all the orange and black of Halloween?

Jehovah’s Witnesses hate Christmas, but then, so much of what they believe is reactive and based on guilt by association.  They don’t  like the Trinity because they cannot bear to see Jesus as God the Son or the Holy Spirit as a person who refers to himself in the first person singular:

Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

DENYING THE CROSS BECOMES AN ARTICLE OF FAITH

They don’t like the cross because some pagan religions have a similar symbol, so they contend that Christ was crucified on an upright post without a cross-beam.  The Romans did practice both methods, but early Christian writings speak of a cross-beam, and the church has always believed that.

How does insisting on an upright alone become so important?  How did the Lord Jesus and then Simon of Cyrene manage to carry a ten or twelve foot long piece of structural timber suitable for burying in the ground as an upright?  Even the smaller cross-beam would have been heavy enough to be difficult for a healthy individual to bear and well-nigh impossiblefor a beaten man.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t like the Emperor Constantine because he called the Council of Nicea which denounced Arius and because he saw a cross in the sky as the symbol of his reign.  They aren’t even that impressed by his abolition of crucifixion as a punishment in Roman Empire out of respect to his Lord and Saviour.

And of course the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the cannabis-smoking company of the Rastafarians, don’t like the Christian Church, regarding us all as ‘Babylon’.  (I really should not be indulging in the ‘Witnesses’ own practise of ‘guilt by association’, but being from South London, mention of ‘Babylon’ always brings the Rastafarian movement to mind.)

AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

Christmas also has the undoubted value of bringing any number of people who would not normally darken the doors of church in to hear these words from Isaiah and Matthew and, by God’s grace, take away something of the Gospel of Christ:

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, God with us.

It is easy enough to take the erroneous doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to pieces. In truth, none of them can stand in the face of the wealth of Biblical material stressing the unity of the Godhead and the divinity of Christ.

Jesus tabernacled with us, as John says, because he was and is God with us.  Isaiah refers to Jesus not just as the divine ruler, but explicitly as Mighty God and as Everlasting Father:

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

JESUS IS GOD AS REDEEMER AND SAVIOUR

We know Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Saviour, but Isaiah specifically ascribes that function to God alone:

Isaiah 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Isaiah 43:10,11 You are My witnesses, says the Lord, And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no Saviour.

If God is Saviour and there is no other Saviour and if Christ is Saviour, then Christ is God.  Going further, Jesus identifies himself as that Isaiah 44:6 divine ‘the first and the last’ in his words to the churches in Revelation:

Revelation 2:8  And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

NO OTHER NAME BUT THE NAME OF JESUS

That is far from the only reference in Revelation to Christ being ‘the first and the last’.  John’s vision begins like this:

Rev 1:10  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11  Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. 12  And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13  And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. … 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: …

At the end of Revelation, Christ is still proclaiming himself as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.  These are distinct references to his being very God of very God, begotten not made:

Rev 21:6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

Rev 22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

In the book of Acts, Peter declares that it is the name of Jesus, not the name of Jehovah, which is the name that saves:

Act 4:10  Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. … 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Not only that, but Paul shows how the name of Jesus is above every name:

Philippians 2:5‑11 ‑ Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond‑servant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In his second letter, Peter begins by emphasising that Jesus is both God and Saviour.  The ‘Witnesses’ New World Translation puts the word ‘the’ in before ‘Saviour’ to change the meaning.  It isn’t in the Greek at all, but this is typical of how they simply change scripture and bring damnation on themselves to suit their preconceptions:

2 Peter 1:1 To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Peter is not out on a limb.  The Apostle Paul writes in the same vein to Titus:

Titus 2:13 ‑ looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM

John’s Gospel was written with a specific purpose, to show that Jesus is the anointed one and the Son of God.  He opens with the pre-existent Word and closes with this exhortation to believe in him. Once again, it is the name of Jesus which brings life:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

It is consistent with John’s declared purpose to find him recording certain sayings of Jesus which establish that he regarded himself as God in the flesh and on instances where his listeners drew the same conclusion.  For example:

John 5:17,18 My Father has been working until now, and I have been working. Therefore the Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

The name of God may be rendered as ‘I am that I am’ or as ‘I am’ for short.  It carries the implication that God is self-existent and that he existed before anything was created.  So when Moses asked whom he was to tell the Israelites had sent him, this was the response:

Exod 3:14  And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

So when we find Jesus using the expression ‘I am’ in reference to himself, it is clear that he means to identify himself as God and that he intended his hearers to draw that conclusion, which they most certainly did, regarding such a statement as blasphemy:

John 8:24 Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I AM He, you will die in your sins.

John 8:58 ‑ Then Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.  59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: …

The Jehovah’s Witnesses try to say that John 10:30 means only that Jesus and the Father were of one mind, but such a view is impossible from what follows:

John 10:30‑33 ‑ Jesus answered them, I and My Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me? The Jews answered Him, saying, For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.

Perhaps the most famous of the ‘I am’ sayings is this one.  How can a created being claim to be ‘the way, the truth, and the Life’?

John 14:6‑7 ‑ Jesus said to him, I AM the way, the truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

JESUS IS LORD OF LIFE AND DEATH

The Lord Jesus even established that he was ‘the life’ by proclaiming that he was Lord over life and death and then carrying out his promise.  Only God can do this:

John 10:17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Yes, Jesus did say the Father was greater than he, but we must understand such a saying in the Jewish belief of the relationship of son to father:

John 10:29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

John 14:28  Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

We saw how Christ went on in John 10:30 to say ‘I and the Father are one’.  When the Apostle Philip wanted Christ to show him the Father, he received a reply entirely consistent with the orthodox Christian belief that Christ is God Incarnate:

John 14:9‑11 ‑ Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

JESUS WAS WORSHIPPED ON EARTH

Muslims also have difficulty, to put it mildly, with Jesus as God in the flesh and they too quote John 10:29 and John 14:28, despite the un-Islamic references to God as ‘Father’.  Muslims will commonly ask, ‘When did Jesus ever say he was to be worshipped?’  Well, there are two instances I can think of where people offered worship to Jesus without any rebuke from him:

Matthew 15:25  Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

John 20:28 ‑ And Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God! (Greek ‘Ho kyrios moy kai ho theos moy’. Literally: ‘the Lord of me and the God of me’.) 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

In addition, at the end of Mark’s Gospel, our Lord is asked by the high priest if he is the son of God.  He replies in the affirmative, identifying himself with Daniel’s divine ruler from the vision in Daniel 7:13.  As with the people in John’s Gospel, the High Priest immediately saw Jesus making himself equal with God, which was why he tore his robes at what he saw as blasphemy:

Mark 14:61 … Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? 64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.

In Revelation we read that Christ has washed us from our sins in his own blood:

Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

But in Acts we read that God himself has purchased us with his own blood, so that the blood which Christ shed on the cross was indeed the blood of God:

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

UNLIKE ALLAH, GOD HUMBLED HIMSELF

The early church was entirely consistent in its belief that God had come in the flesh in the person of Jesus.  Unlike than the god of the Muslims, who declares it to be beneath his dignity to become one of us, God humbled himself to be born in a manger.  By his sayings and by his actions Jesus left the people of his day in no doubt that God has been among them.  Finally, he endured the cross, died and was buried, rose to life by his own power and ascended into heaven.  Paul sums all that up like this:

1 Timothy 3:16 ‑ And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

Finally, if all of the above could be set aside, or if all those scriptures could be explained away by clever use of words and smoke and mirrors, the word with which we opened spells out the divinity of Christ in such a way as cannot be overcome by any amount of deceit or machination.  It is clear that the Apostle Paul believed that there would be challenges to the Lord’s divinity, that men would make up all sorts of smart explanations, so he warns the church in Colosse to ‘beware’ of them and hold fast to the true confession of Christ as fully God incarnate:

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

And that is precisely what we shall be celebrating on 25th December.  Merry Christmas!

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