Historically, Jesus Christ has been believed to be God Incarnate by the vast majority of Bible believing Christianity. The central non-negotiable belief within Christianity also known as the “divinity of Christ,” this doctrine asserts that Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh. As the apostle Paul stated, “the fullness of deity dwells in Him (Christ) bodily” [Col. 2:9]. Many Gospel passages promote this, and Old Testament prophetic passages foretell the Incarnation. While debates over other doctrine have divided the church for centuries, unifying it is the firm conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in the flesh.
If anything human is obvious, it is obvious that this conviction was not formed and fixed without evidence for it of the most convincing kind. The account each of Christ’s followers themselves gave of the matter is that their faith was grounded not merely in His assertions, nor merely in the impression His personality made upon them in conjunction with His claims, but specifically in a series of divine deeds, culminating in His rising from the dead, setting its seal upon His claims and the impression made by His personality. Christ claimed to be God; indeed it was for this very reason that he was crucified.
“The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but blasphemy; because thou, being a man, make thyself God” [Jn. 10:33].
In the fourth century, the organized church made the first formal declaration of what has since become the doctrine of the Trinity, defined as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many have argued that any idea of Trinity contradicts God’s declaration that He is ONE, and there are none equal to Him. Attempts to explain how the Trinity does NOT contradict this have been a topic of continued debate for centuries.
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” [1Jn. 5:7].
The pre-existence of Christ is part of the foundation of Christian faith on which these other doctrines depend. It is a necessary premise for belief in Christ’s deity, but by itself it is not sufficient. Because Christ’s pre-existence is foundational, how one understands it or rejects it affects the remainder of Christology and one’s overall understanding of Christianity. This has been nowhere more evident than in the modern attempts to explain (or explain away) the doctrine. Those modern theologians who ignore or deny Christ’s pre-existence do so because it is incompatible with their understanding either of his humanity or of the nature of religion.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning… John bore witness about him, ‘This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me“ – Jn. 1:1-2, 15.
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven; He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all” [Jn. 3:13, 31].
“No one has seen the Father except he who is from God; Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” [Jn. 6:46, 62].
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” [Jn. 8:58].
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” [Jn. 17:24].
My personal understanding is that God has chosen to reveal Himself to Man. He has done so via several manifestations recorded in both the Old & New Testaments. From the Spirit “hovering over the waters” in Genesis, to the burning bush in Exodus; the Pillar of Fire over the church in the wilderness, to the Resurrected Christ who appeared to John recorded in Revelation – ALL manifestations attributed to God.
Many people have trouble grasping the concept of Almighty, Infinite God becoming a human being. The Gospel’s dialogues where Jesus refers to “His Father” cause confusion, and I’ve often heard the argument, “how can the Son and the Father be the same person; does God talk to Himself?” But who is God conversing with if not Himself in these passages?
“Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness” [Gen.1:24].
“But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom” [Heb. 1:8].
“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. You love righteousness, and hate wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” [Ps. 45:6,7].
God desires us to know Him as He truly is. The Creation account tells us that Man was created in His Image. Therefore, much about God’s person must be similar to ours. Obviously, not entirely, but as much as all living creatures produce according to their kind [Gen.1:21], we can assume several traits of humanity are consistent with God’s own existence.
For example, I myself (among millions of others) have been given the distinction of being 1st a son, then a father, & now a grandfather. I understand myself also to be body, soul. & spirit. I am equally all of these, yet I am always a unique individual (as are all the rest of the human race). Being such an individual, I am always only one being – not three different beings.
Likewise, God the Father, God the Son, & God the Holy Spirit are equal manifestations of One and the SAME Almighty, Eternal Being, and that is what scripture clearly declares. Theologians teach and believe Scripture to be the written inspired Word of God.
“All Scripture is inspired by God & profitable fro doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” [Tim.3:16, 17].
The Word takes on physical dimension according to the Gospel of John. God became a human being.
“The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God”. Then “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” [Jn. 1:1, 14].
If Jesus Christ is the Word spoken of by John, how can anyone living now know Jesus Christ truly well, without also knowing well the written Word? As Peter recognized [Jn. 6:68] that only Jesus has the Word of eternal life, only the Bible reveals Jesus to us. Jesus personalized the Word to Himself –
“Heaven & Earth shall pass away, but MY WORD shall never pass away” – Mt.24:35.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” – Jn. 5:39.
However, believing that Christ is God Incarnate does not require us to satisfy reason and rational thought. James makes this argument –
“How is it possible to live the Word of God without first receiving it?” – Jas. 1:21.
To pretend to follow the Word, but never embrace what the Word teaches about Christ’s deity, is to “hold the truth in unrighteousness” [Ro. 1:18].
God has revealed Himself by many names, and they are ALL exclusive to Him ALONE. From the most basic and simple of expressions – “I AM” – (indicating His perpetual state of being) [Ex. 3:14; Jn. 8:58], to the ALL inclusive “Alpha and Omega, the First and Last” [Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8, 11,17; 2:8; 22:13].
To miss His greatest revelation of Himself in the person of His only begotten Son, is to deny what God has said repeatedly throughout scripture – “I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior” [Isa. 43:3, 11; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16; Hosea 13:4; Lk. 1:47; 2:11; Jn. 4:42; Ac. 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 1Tim. 1:1; 4:10; 2Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:3].
It is glaringly obvious to any open minded individual that the scriptures cited above in relation to these three “names” by which God has chosen to refer to Himself in both OT and NT passages inexorably apply to God the Father AND God the Son. The Great “I AM” who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, is the very SAME Great “I AM” who was BEFORE Abraham as Jesus refers to Himself. The OT prophet Isaiah records God referring to Himself as the “First and Last”, just as Jesus does recorded by John in Revelation. There is ONLY ONE Savior – God, and Jesus Christ is referred to by this name.
I myself, just as you, have many “names”, but I am the SAME being under every name. I am a father, a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle, a pastor, a theologian, etc. …. As my many names reveal something different about me, so do the various names of God reveal different attributes of His divinity. But I am a father ONLY to four other human beings. While many can recognize and refer to me as “a” father, ONLY my four children can rightly refer to me as “my” father. I am also the son of two parents; many can rightly say I am “a” son, but ONLY my parents can rightly refer to me as “my” son.
So it is in this relational experience that God has chosen to reveal Himself to mankind. He chose names for Himself that indicate His uniqueness – “I AM”, His eternal existence – “First and Last”, and His love for fallen humanity – “Savior”. These three names are unique to God ALONE. They cannot be rightly applied to anyone else. Either this is absolutely true, or scripture is unreliable. To misunderstand this, is to NOT properly interpret scripture.
In conclusion, the Old Testament prophecy spoken by the prophet Isaiah finds its total fulfillment, according to Matthew, in the birth of Jesus Christ [Mt. 1:23]. How can these names be rightly applied to Jesus Christ unless we are to understand and recognize that He is truly God Incarnate?
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6].