The Person of Christ - 06 - The Deity of Christ

Chapter 6 - The Deity of Christ

In The Epistles of Paul

Norman Crawford

 

Saul of Tarsus accepted Jesus as God. It would be impossible to find a man in all the annals of history less likely to accept a man as His God. He wasa Hebrew of Hebrews, a fanatical Pharisee, deeply versed in Rabbinical teaching, steeped in the conviction, “Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). It is only against this background, that we can begin to appreciate his whole-hearted acceptance of the Christ who came in the flesh, as “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5).

 

No article so brief can possibly cover all Paul says on the subject of the Deity of Christ. An attempt is made here to trace this truth in (I) his early preaching, (2) his earlier letters and (3) his later prison epistles.

 

HIS EARLY PREACHING

 

“I am Jesus” was a Divine revelation to the smitten Saul on the Damascus Road. It is necessary to look at the question, “Who art thou, LORD?” The light that blinded his eyes opened his heart. Years later he was to write, “I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12). He was suddenly apprehended, arrested, it was cataclysmic, it was miraculous. At that moment, the sight of the glorified Christ convinced him of the Deity of Jesus, whom he had persecuted. In defending his Apostleship to the Corinthians he wrote, “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? (I Cor. 9:1).

Immediately he began in the synagogues of Damascus to “Proclaim Jesus, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). We do not know the amount of time that passed between this proclamation and “the confounding of the Jews” mentioned in v.22. The proving that this is the Christ, suggests the thought of putting the prophetic Scriptures alongside their fulfillment. His teaching according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) has given him such a grasp of O.T. Scripture that he now draws from his great storehouse of learning. It is significant that this passage gives the only occurrence of the title “The Son of God” to be found in the Acts. As we proceed it will be very clear that Paul used the Names of Titles of the Lord Jesus with great carefulness and accuracy, fully appreciating their meanings. To the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica, he said, “This Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). In the same chapter to the Gentile philosophers of Athens he preached “Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).

 

HIS EARLIER LETTERS

 

It is generally accepted that the Thessalonian letters are the earliest of Paul’s New Testament writings. He addresses himself to the “church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thess. 1:1 R.V.). Our KJV repeats the preposition “in” but puts it in italics. It is not repeated. Where there is a difference in relationship the preposition is repeated (see Col. 1:2, 1 John 2:8 etc). Paul is saying that the local assembly stands in exactly the same relationship to the Father as it does to the Lord Jesus Christ. This would be blasphemy if Christ is anything less than God. Perhaps the reader can better appreciate the statement that closes the first chapter of the second letter. The subject is “grace” and it is described as the “grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ”. This is not two kinds of grace, but one grace that flows from two Persons equal in Godhead. Throughout all his letters Paul gives to the Lord Jesus this place of equality with the Father. Many seem to have missed the significance of Paul’s use of “Lord”. To the Corinthians he wrote, “No man can say that that first day on the road. He has clearly stated that Christ is Lord in salvation and resurrection (Romans). and that He is Lord in the local assembly (Corinthians). He now asserts His Lordship in relation to the Body (Ephesians), and finally to the Universe (Colossians).

 

“A Saviour who is not quite God is a bridge broken at the further end” (H.C.G. Moule). In both the Prison and Pastoral epistles the Apostle under the control of the Spirit develops truth he has already taught, that Christ Jesus is “very God of very God”.

 

Philippians two is an exhortation to lowliness of mind. In this very practical teaching, about selfless service, is one of the greatest doctrinal statements of the Bible. Christ Jesus thought it not a thing to be grasped after to be on equality with God, for He had eternal, essential Being, in the form (morphe) of God (Phil. 2:6).

 

The lofty theme of the Ephesian letter is the Christ who has ascended up far above all Heavens and fills the universe with His Presence (Eph. 4:10). He who is far above all men, all angels, all worlds and all Heavens is in Himself the Divine Fulness (Eph. 1:23). This word often used by Paul is the thought of completeness or the sum total. Paul is literally saying that Christ is the totality (pleroma) of God. This fully agrees with His words to the Colossians, “In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). There is nothing of Godhead Glory that is not fully displayed in Christ.

 

Representation can be in varying degrees. The U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James represents the U.S. interests there, but no Englishman can look at him and see all of the United States of America. Yet it is possible to look upon the Lord Jesus Christ and see the full display of the Glory of God. This is at least part of the meaning of Paul’s statement, that Christ is “The Image of the Invisible God” (Col. 1:15). To explain this Paul says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19). How can Christ be less than God, if all that is God, is in Him inherently, as these and many more statements in Paul’s letters show?

 

“Our great God and Saviour” was often repeated in the “Empire Cult”. Those who proclaimed the Caesar as God constantly referred to him as Lord and Saviour. It has been said, “Paul saw the issue clearly drawn between Caesar and Christ for the Lordship of the world. He boldly challenged the Caesar Cult.” This gives very special importance to such passages as Titus 2:13 where the grammar must be interpreted as meaning, “The great God and Saviour” is Christ Jesus, one glorious Person.

 

J.B. Lightfoot’s paraphrase of Colossians 1:16-19 is worth quoting. “His supremacy is absolute and universal. All powers in heaven and earth are subject to Him. This subjection extends even to the most exalted of angelic beings. Yes He is first and He is last. Through Him as the mediatorial Word, the universe has been created; and unto Him as the final goal, it is tending. In Him is no before or after. He is pre-existent and self-existent before all worlds. And in Him as the binding and sustaining power, universal nature coheres and consists.”

Such exalted truth was more than cold logic or doctrine to Paul. His heart was captivated; he was the willing bond-slave of Christ Jesus; he counted all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, Whom he calls ‘My Lord’. Can any believing heart do less?