The Mystery of His Deity. Why is it important to believe that Jesus was and is divine, that he has always been there and always will be?
Study and Discussion Questions:
- In John 1, the Gospel writer forcefully indicates that Jesus was and is God. Why is that important both for Christian experience and for our understanding about God?
- In John 8:58 Jesus uses those inflammatory words, “Before Abraham was, I am.” What did he mean by that and why were the Jewish leaders so horrified?
Comment: Commentators are clear that when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, ‘I am,’” he was claiming that he and Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, were one and the same God. That’s why the Jewish leaders wanted to stone him. The original narrative describing the revelation of God’s name is found in Exod 3:13-15.
- Isaiah 9:6 seems to point to the deity of the messiah, yet no one really wanted to believe that Jesus was divine, at least not before the resurrection. Indeed, the point doesn’t seem to come clear until the Gospel of John. For Jews living in the first century, was it possible to conceive of the Messiah as being anything other than “human”? Jesus’ claim may have seemed outrageous to the Jews of his day. Is it more believable today?
- Thomas’s exclamation in John 20:28, “My Lord and my God,” is the clearest affirmation of the deity of Christ. Why has that been so hard for the church to accept? The Arian heretics in the early Christian centuries didn’t want to believe it; early Adventists did not want to believe it. What are the gains and losses in making such a striking claim about the man Jesus?
A personal testimony. The author of the Study Guide this quarter (Alden Thompson) admits rather sheepishly that he did not fully grasp the concept of the divinity of Christ until he was a second-year seminary student at Andrews University. A fourth-generation Adventist and a product of Adventist schools, Thompson did not discover the truth about Jesus as God Incarnate until he was twenty-three. Here is a column from the NPUC Gleaner that tells how the discovery was made and the joyous results for Christian experience:
By Alden Thompson
(Cf. Gleaner, 18 September 1995)
It happened in my second year of Seminary at Andrews University. I was 23, a fourth generation Adventist with a theology degree from Walla Walla College. All my formal education had been in Adventist schools. Why hadn”t I seen the light?
I don”t know why. But here”s the story of the what and the how.
It started with a question that was dogging my Christian experience: If God loves me, why do I need a mediator? Sharpening the issue was that troubling line in The Great Controversy that we “are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator” (p. 425).
Tackling the question in a seminar, I discovered a two-part answer in John 14-17, the first part a thunderclap, the second a gentle rain.
I remember sharing the thunderclap with my friend Jon Dybdahl as we walked home from campus one day. “Guess what I discovered!” I exclaimed. “Jesus is God!” It was no surprise to him. He already had realized the truth of Jesus” words, “If you”ve seen me, you”ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). But with me, that message had just struck home. Though words like “Son of God” and “divine” were in my vocabulary, I hadn”t “known” that Jesus is God.
My excitement was heightened by the second part of the answer – the gentle rain – Jesus” promise in John 16:26-27 that we would pray in His name but that He would not pray the Father for us.
And why not? Because the Father Himself loves us.
In short, seeing the Father through Jesus transforms the threat – standing in God”s presence without a mediator – into a promise.
Sin, of course, complicates the story. Like Peter, we sometimes beg the Lord to depart because of our sin (Luke 5:8). But desperate need also drives us, like Jacob, to grasp the Divine and not let go without a blessing (Genesis 32:26).
God knows all that. That”s why Jesus is our Mediator whenever and as long as we need Him. But someday we will meet God face to face. That”s a promise, not a threat.
The long-term results of my discovery fall under three headings:
1. From fear to joy. Most important for me, the thunderclap truth transformed my view of God. If He took our flesh to live and die for us, then salvation was not a begrudging process in which a lesser being paid the price for unworthy rebels. In short, God is not reluctant. He actually wants me in His kingdom.
That meant joyful service to a gracious God instead of strenuous efforts to please a reluctant One. God no longer demanded my obedience; He had won my heart. And all because Jesus is God.
Then I discovered that my own pilgrimage from fear to joy was paralleled in Scripture by the contrast between Sinai and Golgotha: At Sinai, God came to kill: “Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death” (Exodus 19:12, NRSV). At Golgotha, the “author of life” (Acts 3:14, NRSV) came to die. This is not a contrast between law and grace, for both mountains were part of God”s gracious purpose. But the joy in the story comes first and foremost from Golgotha.
2. Diversity. God used different methods and even different “truths” to point me towards Him at various points in my life. Seeing that diversity in myself helps me recognize the diversity of experiences in others.
Perhaps the most challenging task facing the Spirit and the church is to match the right truths with the right people at the right time. It means the right mix of mercy and fear (Jude 22-23), or the choice between stick and gentle love (1 Corinthians 4:21). And all of us see only part of the picture in that respect. As Ellen White put it, “Often through unusual experiences, under special circumstances, He [God] gives to some Bible students views of truth that others do not grasp. It is possible for the most learned teacher to fall far short of teaching all that should be taught” (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 432-33).
3. Patience. I”m sometimes embarrassed that it took me so long to see the light. But that long trek means I have good reason to be patient with those who see things in a different light. Indeed, my “light” may is quite unlikely to be just right even yet. Many aspects of truth defy human explanation. Just ask any two Christians to explain the Trinity….
But you don”t have to be bright or educated to know that Jesus died for you and is coming again. And if God grants you more “light,” rejoice, for it doesn”t have to mean a change in goal, just more joy along the way.
Ellen White once reminded health reform enthusiasts how important it is to recall our own struggles, “remembering the hole of the pit whence we were digged” (Testimonies 3:21, citing the words of Isaiah 51:1, KJV). Theologians can listen in:
“If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we would be very patient with them…. We should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps. In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people” (Testimonies 3:20-21).
And so I try to remember what happened to me when I was 23.