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Deity of Christ Vs. Pharisaical Religious Establishments (Exposition from John 8)

March 31, 2018

The declaration of the Christian is that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, because this declaration is the open, unapologetic proclamation of Scripture. It is the testimony of the believer, and the common confession of Jesus’ Deity that is an absolute necessity in true biblical discipleship. Jesus Christ testified to being more than a prophet. He testified that He is the Son of God and confirmed the confession of His apostles (cf. Matthew 16:16). In the angelic testimony prior to the incarnation, an angel of the Lord proclaimed that Immanuel ‘God with us’ was to be born in the City of David (cf. Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 2:8-14). Therefore, the Deity of Christ is the foundation, substance, and essence of the Christian faith.

The divine reality that God the Son came into the world as God in human flesh (the second Person of the Triune God taking to Himself human flesh permanently forever) for the purpose of gathering the elect to Himself and satisfying the wrath of God (rescuing the elect from the wrath to come) as a perfect substitute for sinners is the consummation of all history, biblical truth and reality itself. Christ is the living Word (cf. John 1:1) who, although born of a virgin concerning His humanity in the incarnation, was not a created being.

John, the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ testified that God the Son was pre-existent in eternity prior to incarnation and that He was also self-existent, by the Lord’s testimony to the adversarial religious leaders (cf. John 8:58). Jesus Christ testified that He is ἐγὼ εἰμί and the God of Abraham. Because God cannot lie (cf. Hebrews 6:18), this declaration is true and faithful, just as He is Faithful and True (cf. Revelation 19:11).

The chief point of contention among the enemies of Christ was His truth claims that He was and is Deity. John outlined the purpose of his gospel: “ but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).”

To understand the deity of Christ as it relates to John’s Gospel, this writer must set before the reader John 8:45-8:59. Jesus not only testified that His words were true, but that He is the God of truth, the embodiment of truth, and truth personified (cf. John 14:6).

ἐγὼ δὲ ὅτι τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω, οὐ πιστεύετέ μοι

“But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:45).

The clause ‘οὐ πιστεύετέ μοι’ rendered: ‘you do not believe me’, signified not only that the Pharisees failed to listen to what Christ said (τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω or ‘I speak the truth’), but that they failed to believe in His Person and all of the implications concerning the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him (cf. Colossians 2:3). They failed to fear Him and know Him as Messiah and as God the Son. Jesus was not guilty of elevating Himself as men in the flesh elevate themselves. The LORD glorified Him, therefore it was unnecessary for Him to glorify Himself since God had glorified Him (cf. John 8:54). One could not believe His words and then reject His Person. To believe His words and to embrace Him, was to worship God. In fact, it was the height of worship. The religious leaders could not charge Christ with sin, therefore, as His true argument followed, they were to believe He spoke the truth. And if they believed that He spoke the truth, then they were guilty of blaspheming His name because they rejected Him, all the while knowing that He spoke the Truth.    Unrelenting in His indictment toward the religious leaders, Christ pressed the argument that those who hear the words of God, belong to God (cf. John 8:47). Since He spoke the truth to them, and they did not believe He spoke the truth (cf. John 8:45), they did not belong to God. The response of the Pharisees demonstrated that they understood what Christ claimed. He claimed that He was more than a prophet. Prophets prefaced their prophesying with the words, “Thus saith the LORD. . .” followed by a declaration that God had given them. In cases where those words may have not been present, they were still speaking as emissaries of God. However, if any prophet claimed that they were speaking words that were equal to God, and prophesied under their own authority, such men would no longer be true prophets, but false prophets. Christ claimed that His words were equal to God’s word and that ‘thus saith the LORD’ was intrinsic to His speech, because of His Person (cf. John 10:30). The religious leaders, entrenched in their damning deception, concluded that Christ was outside of God’s Kingdom, and that He was possessed by a demon (cf. John 8:48), which amounted to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Contrastively, the implication was that they were in God’s kingdom.

‘ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγὼ δαιμόνιον οὐκ ἔχω, ἀλλὰ τιμῶ τὸν πατέρα μου, καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀτιμάζετέ με.’

“Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me'” (John 8:49).

Jesus’ rebuttal toward the religious leaders was simple, direct, and yet decisive and indicting. His retort showed the eternal chasm between He and His enemies. First, they were liars, and therefore spoke the native tongue of their father Satan (cf. John 8:44). To say that Christ was demonically possessed was satanic slander and the language spoken by Satan’s seed. In the sense that they were ready and willing to blaspheme the living Christ, calling ‘eternal good’ ‘evil’, they clearly demonstrated that they did not belong to God. And yet, grammatically and contextually the chasm is clear by the language of the author in the words of Jesus Christ:

ἀλλὰ τιμῶ τὸν πατέρα μου, καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀτιμάζετέ με.

“but you do not honor the Father, and you do dishonor me.

The conjunction, ‘but’ (Gk. ἀλλὰ) signifies an extreme contrast. Jesus honored the Father, in perfect, sinless, eternal fellowship with the Father, and also was the eternal object of God the Father’s eternal and divine pleasure (cf. Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22, 9:35). However, the religious leaders dishonored Christ, and therefore dishonored God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. It was not that the Pharisees simply disagreed with God, but the Greek term for dishonor (ἀτιμάζετέ) signifies hatred, contempt or to treat someone disgracefully with insult and shame. Since the tense in this verse is ‘present tense’ it expresses continuous action. The Pharisees and religious leaders were guilty of perpetually and continually heaping insult, dishonor, and contempt upon Christ even in spite of His testimony that they should not have done so given the fact that He is God’s Son, and is worthy of all worship. To hate Christ Jesus was to hate God. This is a timeless truth for all who despise the biblical Christ in the modern era, through verbal assault or pragmatic disgraces and renunciations against Him.

When they disgraced Christ, the religious leaders were not merely guilty of insulting Him, they were guilty of disagreeing with God, and waging war against Him, because God was eternally pleased with Christ (cf. John 8:50), whereas they stood as pseudo-judges who were displeased with Christ. God the Father rendered all blessing toward His Son, and the religious leaders cursed Him. It was not simply that they despised the purpose for which He was sent, but that they despised the One who sent Him. Because they did not ascribe glory to Christ and worship Him, they were guilty of the Father’s judgment against them (cf. John 8:51). The One who possesses the ability to bestow eternal life on those whom the Father chooses, must be worshipped as God. For God Himself is the giver of temporal and eternal life, in Him is the light of life (cf. John 1:4). Jesus pressed the implications even further, drawing out the murderous hatred within the religious leaders.

Hatred is not necessarily seen where men are involved with religious activity. In the case of the Pharisees, their defense was that they were nearer to God than Christ, and they held before Christ delusions about their lineage (v. 33), their sin (vv. 33-34), and staking the claims of their supposed righteousness based on their freedom from temporal enemies, and freedom from the immediate consequences of their sin. Thus, the Pharisaical mindset evident in many movements in and outside of so-called evangelicalism, opposed to the Biblical Christ, upholds the same man-centered, performance-based, delusions before God, claiming to do all that they do in His Name and despising Him all the more when His words will not commend their efforts.

Jesus’ entire exchange (beg. John 8:3) with the religious leaders was building toward His testimony about His Deity. In fact, while some may perceive John 8:50 to be an attempt by Christ to diffuse the murderous rage of the Pharisees, it was the opposite. The Pharisees sought their own glory. They not only pursued their own glory, but enslaved men to the pursuit of it, barring them entry into the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 23:13). Contrastively, Christ did not seek His own glory because He perfectly performed the will of the Father. Yet, God the Father sought the glory of Christ and glorified His Son, while also rendering judgment upon those who opposed Him. Jesus Christ therefore pronounced His Deity in the plainest terms (cf. John 8:51). His testimony, prefaced with the statement of extreme verity:

ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν,

‘Truly truly I say to you’ (v. 51)

Jesus Christ distinguished Himself from the apostate rabbinical traditions of the Pharisees, and demonstrated to them that everything they believed was severed from the word of God. He did not use the prophetic introduction, “Thus saith the Lord’ like one who spoke as God’s emissary. ‘I say to you’ was Jesus’ proclamation that His words must be obeyed because He is the ‘I am’ to whom the Pharisees must bow. Therefore, to reject His Words is to reject God. To keep the words of Christ, was to escape eternal judgment and death. Consequently, Jesus’ Person, and words were the epitome of true righteousness. The Pharisees, however, were the gatekeepers of eternal death. Those who kept their teachings were in danger of hell. The Jews understood Jesus’ words as plainly as He stated them. Their accusation against Him was indicative of their position. They were dead in their sins. According to their traditions and so called personal ‘righteousness,’ all their perceptions of their elitism emanated from their deceptions. The sum of Pharisaical religion was exceedingly plan. In their system, Satan was the head of the synagogue, and the Pharisees along with the entire religious establishment were the devil’s disciples. According to the Pharisees, Jesus the Messiah was a rival to their ‘god’ and therefore had to be from the kingdom of Darkness. There is no deception greater than the deception that rebukes the Holy and Righteous One, while simultaneously claiming to serve Him. The Pharisees repeated the words of Christ, and cringed at their meaning. Rightfully, they attributed the necessity of obedience with eternal life, and also tied Jesus’ claims to the prophetic testimony to the faithfulness of Abraham and the prophets. Jesus was not only claiming that Abraham and the prophets were faithful against the faithlessness of the religious establishment, but that He was the Benefactor, Source, and ultimate Object of their faith. At stake was a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

Whereas Abraham worshipped the One, True, God and rejoiced that Messiah would one day spring from His seed (cf. John 8:56), the Pharisees, believing that they were sons of Abraham essentially cursed the faith of Abraham by rejecting the Messiah, claiming to be sons of Abraham and the recipients of the promise. If Jesus placed Himself alongside Abraham, this may have been tolerable to the religious establishment. However, they understood that Jesus made Himself greater than Abraham (cf. John 8:53). Jesus not only testified to Abraham’s words, but He was the culmination of Abraham’s faith. Because He is God, He received Abraham’s worship. For this, the Pharisees blasphemed the Messiah to His face.

The Pharisees charged Christ with blasphemy, and did not ask the question they posed in John 8:53 to repent and worship the living Christ. Rather, they asked the question to heighten the need for formal charges against Jesus. They asked, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” This is the question that Jesus was asked, and it is also the question He answered. Christ has not permitted men leave to interpret this answer outside of His own interpretation. The answer that Christ gave to the question was first to rebuke the way the question was framed: “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (Gk. τίνα σεαυτὸν ποιεῖς;) First, Christ is not a created being, a vital point that would serve as the final answer to the Pharisees, at the end of this passage (He had not ‘made Himself to be’ anyone as if He needed to prove His testimony to the Pharisees. The Father Himself testified that Jesus was the Messiah from the time of the prophets to the age in which Jesus combatted the Pharisees. Their condescending question supposed the following false premises: 1) Jesus was not deity, therefore was a blasphemer and impostor 2) He needed to answer them (as if they possessed authority over Him) 3) He was possessed by a demon, for they spoke to Him as if he belonged to Satan. 4) They belonged to the Kingdom of God. Both the Pharisees and Jesus claimed direct lineage to the Abrahamic Covenant. Both also claimed that they belonged to God. In verse 54, Jesus explicitly stated that He did not ‘make Himself to be’ anyone, for in fact God testified plainly to who He is. The Pharisees claimed they knew God and yet did not corroborate the testimony of God the Father. If Jesus did glorify Himself it would be pseudo-glory unless it was vindicated by the testimony of God the Father, which was the actual case (cf. John 8:54).

The Pharisees did not worship Jesus as God because they were murderers and liars (cf. John 8:44-45, 8:49). They were murderers because they were angry with Christ, and also wanted to execute Him on the basis of His truth claims (cf. John 8:44-45, 59). They were liars because, first, Christ testified that they were, and His testimony is true (v. 55). Secondly, they were liars because they bore the nature of their father, Satan, and thirdly, because they claimed to know God and did not really know Him because they rejected His Son Jesus Christ. Lastly, they were liars because of their false witness against the Triune God. Jesus is the truth (cf. John 14:6) and they charged Him with lies, therefore bearing the false witness native of their origin as they were the seed of the serpent (cf. Genesis 3:15). The Pharisees did not know God, while claiming that they knew Him best. John recorded the verb ‘you have known’ (Gk. ἐγνώκατε) in the perfect tense which signifies completed action with ongoing results. The Pharisees failure to know God through Christ were clear in their reactions toward Christ who stood before them as, “God in human flesh.” Jesus knew God and perfectly kept His Word, in the sense that He perfectly performed the will of the Father  (v. 55).

Ἀβραὰμ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἠγαλλιάσατο ἵνα ἴδῃ τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ἐμήν, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐχάρη (John 8:56)

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Abraham perceived that the Messiah would come and save the souls of the elect (cf. Genesis 15). The purpose for which Abraham rejoiced was because of God would accomplish the redemption of sinners through the Messiah. The clause ἵνα ἴδῃ τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ἐμήν, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐχάρη (John 8:56), signified purpose. God promised Abraham a land, posterity and people. However, among his posterity, Abraham was to also receive the Messiah from his lineage. Messiah was the culmination of Abrahamic promise since He is the fulfillment of the covenants. Abraham discerned and perceived that Messiah would come, although He did not have the exact chronology of His appearance. Abraham’s worship was directed toward the God the Father, and to His future Messiah. Sons of Abraham are those who possess the faith of Abraham (cf. Romans 3:16; Galatians 3:16). Since the Pharisees did not possess the faith of Abraham, they were not true sons of Abraham, nor were they heirs of the covenant, unless they repented of their sins and confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, trusting in Him alone, believing that He died on the cross for their sins.

The Pharisees were near to Christ by proximity, and yet far off from Him in their rejection, which serves as a warning to the cults and modern evangelicalism. The Pharisees of old, like the modern evangelical today, was only consumed with “protecting” the glory of God as long as it was amalgamated with profit. It had become lucrative to counterfeit the truth, while appearing to protect it. Jesus was ‘bad for business’ and rightfully identified them as sons of Satan. Therefore, their whole system needed to be destroyed, which meant that they had to bow the knee in saving allegiance to Christ. Abraham, without the Incarnation of Christ before him, worshipped God for what God would accomplish in Christ, whereas the Pharisees, stood before the Incarnate Christ and cursed the Messiah.

How could a man under the age of 50 years old see Abraham who had long been buried with the fathers? Or, how could Abraham worship a man who had not yet reached the age of 50 years? (cf. John 8:57) The answer Jesus gave to them is plain: Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί (John 8:59)

Jesus prefaced His self-existence with the statement of divine certainty and absolute verity, “‘Amen amen’ (Gk. Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν).” A man under 50 years old could not know Abraham, nor receive the worship of Abraham, unless He was not a mere man. Jesus is the God-man, God in human flesh and the name that He possesses is the ‘I Am’ (cf. Exodus 3:14). Therefore it is to Him that every knee must bow (cf. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10), whoever calls upon His Name will be saved (cf. Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). This signified His self-existence (cf. John 8:58), in the same way that God announced Himself to Moses (cf. Exodus 3:14), in that sinners call upon Him unto salvation and that He is Lord over all things, sustains all things, in Him are all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom hidden (cf. Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-18, 2:3). To this point, the Pharisees should have kneeled before Him in worship and adoration, instead they desired to kill him with stones, charging Him as a blasphemer (cf. John 8:59). However, His testimony is faithful and true, just as He is (cf. Revelation 19:11). Jesus Christ is Lord, God and Savior to the Glory of God the Father, by testimony of the Father and God the Holy Spirit. God vindicated His Son by the Spirit and has rendered all judgment into His hands.

In conclusion, this writer has sought to demonstrate that John 8 is explicit with the consummative and absolutely, essential testimony of the Christian, that is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is God. It is essential, not in the sense that there are “lesser” truths that need to be doctrinally sorted as priorities. It is essential in the sense that the Deity of Christ threads and weaves the unity of sound doctrine together and inseparably constrains every doctrine to the person and perfections of God, which all work together in maximum capacity bearing witness to the very person of God. Therefore, to categorize the truth claims of Scripture, in such a way to suggest that the deity of Christ is a non-essential doctrine is blatant heresy. All such persons must repent or die in their sins. To claim that the deity of Christ is essential, and yet to prioritize or minimize doctrine, reducing doctrine to essentials and non-essentials under the banner of unity in the person of Christ is to also sin against the Triune God. God is One in Being, One Essence, One nature, in three distinct Persons, that is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, yet One God, not three separate gods. Christ’s teachings are united to His person in perfect Trinitarian fellowship, just as the divine Trinity is unified in purpose, being, and function. Consequently, confession of the Deity of Christ is the absolute will of the Father! Jesus Christ is God, the second Person of the divine Trinity, and by testimony of the Holy Spirit, every knee will bow and confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

Doron Gladden

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