Is Jesus God, or just the Son of God, or is he a human Messiah created by God apart from Adam’s corrupt lineage, or is he no more than a morally perfect man chosen and empowered by God to fulfill a prophesied mission?
According to orthodox dogma, Jesus is said to be the second person of the trinity. The trinity doctrine states that God = Father = Son (Jesus) = Holy Spirit and that Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons yet one God. The word “trinity” does not appear in scripture. This doctrine is derived at by interpretation rather than any one specific biblical statement.
Does the relationship of God to the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit matter? Does it matter if the trinity doctrine is based on an erroneous premise? Is Jesus a separate person or being from the Father and are both God? Is the Holy Spirit also God, or a distinct person or being, or something else? Does any of this really matter?
The whole of Christian religion is built and based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross stands at the center of Christian religion. If Jesus’ bones were found and proven to be his, the whole of Christianity would dissolve in a moment – and rightfully so.
The most basic tenet of Christianity is that to be saved a person must believe in Jesus. What does this really mean? Belief implies awareness and choice. It is something of a paradox that neither knowledge nor choice saves when we are commanded to know God and to choose to place faith in him. God reveals himself to us by various means. This revelation is from him to us – not a human work but a gift from God. The liberty to choose is likewise a gift given. The choice we make is not a work we accomplish, but an act of love in response to our Creator who loved us first.
To say a person must know this or that fact or must do this or that act to demonstrate faith is to make God in our image. That is backward. The most vague awareness of God, if faith is genuine, is sufficient. One of the greatest schisms in church history occurred over whether salvation is by works or by faith alone. This fight divided the church in what is called the Great Reformation. Many Protestant denominations came about following this break from the Roman Catholic position on this issue. At nearly the same time another division was caused over the question of whether man’s free will choice saves him or whether God is sovereign over salvation apart from man’s free will. If we believe Christ is not divided, we must all look at these divisions with sorrowful hearts and wonder at how we who are called to be one came to be so shattered.
To answer our questions effectively requires us to explore who Jesus is, what he said and did, and what we are to be saved from and for. This knowledge is not what saves us, but to have a belief means we need to receive some awareness. It must be revealed to us. This revelation is both the seed and the fruit of salvation. Salvation itself, though, is not knowing but believing. Believing is not merely acknowledgment of fact, but submission to one whom we trust. This all begins and ends with a change, performed by God, which we experience at the core of our being. This change is variously called conversion, repentance, being born again, becoming a new creation, being given a new heart, or something like that. It is a transformation carried out by God for His purposes and glory. We experience and participate, but we have no merit either in the initial event or in the new life as we live it out.
We can look at three specific places to find out who Jesus is. The first place to look is in the Old Testament. The second place to look is in the gospel accounts. The third is in the rest of the New Testament. These are not the only places, but they are three specific places I want to bring to your attention because they are universally and easily available.
Why look for Jesus in the Old Testament? Consider what Jesus said to his disciples following his resurrection: Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk 24:44) The Old Testament contains very specific as well as very general information about Jesus. It describes far more than prophecies about events the gospels record as simple facts. The Old Testament explains why Jesus had to come and the purpose of his suffering and death.
There are wonderful volumes written about the specific Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled, but his purpose, why he did what he did, and what it means to us today is revealed plainly and explicitly throughout the New Testament. We have hope because Jesus did what we could not do on our own. This message is at the heart of most of the epistles, the preaching recorded in Acts, and the triumph of Jesus and the realization of our ultimate hopes described so vividly in Revelation.
The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are considered part of the New Testament, but for the sake of this discussion we will consider them uniquely. The rest of the New Testament talks about Jesus, but the gospel accounts tell us what he actually said and did in graphic detail. The entire bible is a beautifully woven tapestry of revelation, history, and hope, but the climax of it all is arguably found in the closing chapters of each of the four gospel accounts.
Now that we know where to look, let us explore the question at hand – is Jesus God? To be continued…