Saturday, January 9, 2016

P1 - How we know Jesus claimed Himself to be Messiah and God-Incarnate - Jesus as authoritative as God

Matthew 5:18-19 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Did Jesus understand Himself to be the Messiah and revelation of God in human flesh? This two-fold question is important to answer, since many today claim that Jesus never understood Himself to be neither. In conversations that I've had over the years with people of differing worldviews, religions and even-skeptics - the charge has been that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah nor God's decisive revelation of Himself in true humanity. Scholar Michael J. Wilkins notes this challenge in a chapter, "Who Did Jesus Think He Was?" from the book "Contending with Christianity's Critics" (Edited by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, B&H Publishing 2009): "Modern Critics read the data of the New Testament differently by consistently making a distinction between what they refer to as the 'Jesus of History' and 'the Christ of faith'." Wilkins later notes: "But they contend that He never explicitly called Himself Messiah, He silenced those who tried to give Him messianic status (Mark 1:2-25; 8:29-30), and He declared that He was different from His heavenly Father, who knew things about the future that He himself did not know (Mark 13:32). Jesus knew He was a special agent of God, but He did not claim that He was anything other than a prophet like those of the Old Testament."

Dr. Wilkin's observations of the critics is important, since if it is the case that Jesus did not understand Himself to be the Messiah nor God incarnate, then His mission clearly had different aims than presented in the rest of the New Testament. Moreover, what pastors preach on Sunday morning and Christians have clung to about Jesus throughout the centuries has been at best a delusion. The Jesus I worship and preach and that Bible believing Christians have staked their trust in must surely be more than another "prophet" or mere "holy-man". This series of posts will aim to explore whether or not Jesus understood Himself (by way of his words and actions) to not only be the Messiah or deliverer of His people, but also God in human flesh, the Savior of the world and other truths that are unfolded in the New Testament.

A quick word about the sources for Jesus' ministry and life
To begin, when understanding the sources for Jesus' life and ministry, one must consider the Gospels, Acts and Epistles not as "one source", but rather several independent ancient sources. Certainly the Gospels, Acts, Epistles (and Revelation) are Divinely inspired to be sure, however when assessing claims made by Jesus, we approach them as historically reliable sources that speak and report about what Jesus said and did. Each book of the Bible was individually written under Divine inspiration, with the books later on collected and regarded together as the "Canon" or "rule and standard of faith". Hence, though our Bibles today do comprise "The Book" we call "The Bible", when understanding the life and ministry of Jesus, each Gospel is counted as "one source". 

Exploring Jesus' self-understanding by His words and actions, or what is called "implicit Christology"
With that caveat out of the way, we can turn to the Gospel records to discern how Jesus understood His life and ministry. Such an approach is designated in New Testament studies as: "Implicit Christology", meaning the message Jesus preaches and acts out relative to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and He being king over it. Dr. William Lane Craig comments on this approach in his book "Reasonable Faith" (Crossway, 2008) - "But we may gain additional insight into Jesus' self-understanding by examining His teaching and behavior." Craig later notes: "In other words, the titles serve only to express 'explictly' what Jesus is in his teaching and behavior had already expressed about himself 'implicitly'."

Jesus understood Himself to be as authoritative as God

In the opening verses of this post, we find Jesus commenting on how the words of the Old Testament (which is all that existed in His day) would never pass way. For millennia, Christians everywhere have rightly understood these passages to be bedrock for establishing the authority and preservation of God's word down through the ages. As Jesus goes on though, it is abundantly clear that in His teaching, He also viewed Himself on equal par with the Old Testament scriptures, and more specifically the first five books or what are termed "Torah" (which means "Law" or "that which guides". Jesus states in Matthew 5:20-22 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall beliable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

Twice Jesus uses the phrase: “but I say”. Oftentimes throughout scripture we will find the formula "it is written" or "thus says the Lord" to indicate the Divine authority of God as expressed by the scriptures. Truly what Jesus said - or more to the point - how He said it - tells us that He in effect viewed Himself as the Divine Son of God speaking forth as God to the people. No other prophet in the Old Testament ever speaks in this fashion. Furthermore, when Jesus remarked about "you have heard it said" or something to that effect, He was contrasting the Jewish tradition of His day that had built up around the Old Testament. Such tradition was comprised of centuries of various teachings by teachers called "Rabbis". What Jesus was doing was not only setting Himself in equal par to the Torah, but also over and against the traditions of men.

I would encourage the reader to look at the following scripture references in the Gospels to witness how Jesus' understood Himself to be Divinely authoritative through His statements of "but I say" (Matt 5:22,28,31-32, 44; 7:28-29; 12:6; 17:22; 26:29; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 4:25; 6:27; 9:27; John 5:34).

This brief study today has skimmed the surface in establishing the first line of evidence concerning Jesus' claim to Messiahship and being God-incarnate. By claiming Himself to be on par with the Torah and claiming to be as authoritative as God Himself in His teachings - we find that Jesus did understand Himself to be the Messiah and Son of God. Tomorrow we will consider another set of Jesus' actions and words (implicit Christology) that demonstrates Jesus' claim as Messiah and God-incarnate.

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