Who Is Christ?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 22, 2010
Copyright © 2010, P. G. Mathew
Who is Jesus? The answer is given in Romans 9:5. First, he is the Christ; second, he is the supreme one; third, he is God; and fourth, he is blessed forever.
Miss the Messiah, and we miss everything. What does it profit if we gain the whole world and miss the Messiah? In our previous study of Romans 9:1-5, we learned that religious privileges do not automatically save anyone from the wrath of God that is revealed against the sons of Adam, whether Jews, Christians, or anyone else. The Jews enjoyed great privileges, and the climactic privilege is set forth in Romans 9:5: "From them the Messiah according to the flesh who is over all God blessed forever. Amen" (author's translation).1
The promised Messiah, the anointed Deliverer, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Lord of David, did not come from Greeks or barbarians, but from the people of Israel, as far as his human nature was concerned. This was the greatest privilege the Israelites enjoyed. Yet the chosen people of God missed their Messiah by not believing in him. If anyone misses the Messiah, he misses all.
The first and most important question we all must ask is the one Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" Peter, by divine revelation, answered: "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God," that is, "You are the Messiah/God." The second question every human must ask is: "Who am I?" Paul answers for all of us in Romans 1-3: "I am a sinner, under God's wrath and judgment." The third question is: "What must I do to be saved from the wrath of God and from his judgment?" The answer is: "Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."
I recently heard a debate as to whether a certain public figure is a Christian or not. There is great confusion, partly because he does not go to church. We must know who we are. Are we Christians who confess Jesus Christ as Lord? We cannot afford to be confused. We cannot be Christians unless we believe the Christian gospel and live Christian lives. There is no salvation outside of Jesus.
Yet this Messiah, who came from the Israelites according to his human nature, did not belong to them. The Greek text tells us that. He is from them, but he did not belong to them because they did not embrace him as their Messiah. His own received him not (John 1:11). As a nation, then, Israel was separated from him and missed their greatest blessing. This is an inconceivable tragedy in spite of all their religious privileges. Israel missed the best blessing, the one thing needful. There is no salvation without Jesus Christ and faith in him. Without him, all remain accursed, separated forever from life eternal.
Let those who call themselves Christians be warned. Don't presume that privileges will save you automatically. Surrender wholeheartedly to this Messiah Jesus, confess him as Lord, and obey him fully.
Jesus the Messiah
"From them the Christ according to the flesh. . . " Jesus received his human nature from the virgin Mary, a true Israelite who believed the gospel message spoken to her by the angel Gabriel. Jesus is the promised seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David. He came to defeat once and forever the devil by his death on the cross and set his people free from the fear of death. The wages of sin is death, and Christ came to die our death.
Do you believe this, Jews and Gentiles? Concerning Jesus, Matthew quoted Isaiah's prophecy: "'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'-which means, 'God with us'" (Matt. 1:23). Jesus was born of Mary, and later baptized by John, at which time he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, as prophesied in Isaiah 61. Jesus himself said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Isa. 61:1-2).
Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah who delivers sinners from their sins and slavery to Satan. He delivers us forever. There is no other Messiah to save us.
Look at what Paul tells us about Jesus Christ ("Christ" means "Anointed One"; "Messiah): "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . who was according to the flesh a descendant of David. . . . Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1, 3, 7); "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. . . . God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement . . . .He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:22-26); "Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2); "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:34-35, 39).2
These verses tell us that this Messiah is central, not peripheral, to our salvation. He is the very heart of our salvation. This Messiah is a Jew, a son of David, a son of Abraham. He was a true Israelite, the sinless One who pleased God fully by keeping God's law. Only he is a fit substitute for sinners to make atonement for their sins.
But the tragedy is that this Messiah does not belong to all the Israelites. Only some of God's chosen people received him as Messiah. The blind beggar Bartimaeus cried out to him, "Jesus, Son of David [meaning "My Messiah"], have mercy on me!" Jesus gave him sight. The Messiah came so that the blind may see, and those who see may become blind. That is what Jesus himself said: "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9:39).
Jesus is the Christ, the hope of Israel. So Paul said, "It is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today" (Acts 26:6). The hope of Israel was this Messiah. Paul also writes, "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). He also declares, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit" (Gal. 3:13-14).
Is Jesus your only hope? Has this Christ redeemed you?
Jesus the Supreme One
Second, this Jesus Christ is "over all." He created the heavens and the earth. We read, "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. . . . He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him" (John 1:3, 10); "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col. 1:16-17). Jesus himself said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18).
He is epi pantôn, over all things. He is the Supreme One who creates every human being. He rules over all beings because he is over all. No one can say to him, "I will not have this man to rule over me." He rules over us, whether we recognize it or not. Everyone must kiss the Son and confess, "Jesus is Lord." Everyone must bend his knees before him who is over all.
Listen to what Isaiah says: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple" (Isa. 6:1). This is speaking about Jesus Christ, as John confirms: "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him" (John 12:41). Jesus is high and lifted up. He is above us, and he rules us. Dr. James Boice states, "Submitting to Christ's lordship is the very essence of true faith."3 Paul writes that God exalted him "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church" (Eph. 1:21-22). He also says, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). Paul also declares, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe" (Eph. 4:10). Peter says, "Jesus Christ . . . has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him" (1 Pet. 3:21b-22).
He is above all creation. He rules over us. He is over both good angels and evil angels. He is over the devil. He is above all God's people. He is above all those who reject the Messiah. He then is the Judge of all.
Jesus the God-man
Third, this Jesus Christ is God himself. Romans 9:5 is the most clear and direct statement of Paul about the deity of Jesus Christ. Formerly, Paul thought of Jesus as a glutton, a Samaritan, demon-possessed, deceiver, blasphemer, a madman, a sinner, and a friend of sinners. But on the road to Damascus, the glorious Christ appeared to him. Now he calls him Theos, God. He is the Messiah, but he is more than that. Jesus Christ is God himself.
Liberal theologians like William Barclay and C. H. Dodd do not accept this clear statement regarding Christ's deity. Their interpretation of Romans 9:5 is colored by their ultimate heart commitment. They dare to deprive Christ of his honor, not agreeing that Paul calls Christ "God" in regard to his divine nature. To such liberal scholars, Jesus is just a man like every other man-not God, not over all, not Creator, not Savior, not Lord, not blessed forever.
But the text, the syntax, the grammar, and the textual criticism all agree that this verse speaks of Christ's deity. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that even the Unitarian Socinus of the sixteenth century was convinced that Romans 9:5 spoke of Christ's deity.4 We also have the historical testimony from many church fathers, as listed by Dr. Lloyd-Jones: "Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Philippi, Tholuck, Delitzsch, Alford, Wordsworth; not to mention Charles Hodge and Robert Haldane."5 Princeton theologian Charles Hodge notes, "It was universally referred to Christ in the ancient Church, by all the Reformers, by all the older theologians, and by all of the modern interpreters who believe in the divinity of Christ."6
Calvin comments, "To separate this clause from the rest of the context for the purpose of depriving Christ of this clear witness to his divinity is an audacious attempt to create darkness where there is full light."7 The pious Reformed scholar Robert Haldane remarks, "The Scriptures have many real difficulties . . . . But when language so clear as in the present passage is perverted to avoid recognising the obvious truth contained in the Divine testimony, it more fully manifests the depravity of human nature, and the rooted enmity of the carnal mind against God, than the grossest works of the flesh."8
What do those who do not believe in the divinity of Christ do with this text? They put a period after the phrase, "according to the flesh." Then they translate the rest as a doxology referring to God the Father: "Blessed be God over all forever and ever. Amen." Thus they deprive Christ of his deity. But in the ancient texts, there was no punctuation or chapter and verse division.
But the following arguments show clearly that the text declares Christ as God:
The word order favors the translation that gives deity to the Messiah because the relative pronoun "who" must follow the noun closest to it, which is ho Christos, "the Christ." So the correct reading is "Christ according to the flesh who is over all God blessed forever. Amen."
Some say the latter part of Romans 9:5 is a doxology to God the Father. But in biblical doxologies, the word eulogêtos ("blessed") normally comes before the one who is praised. In Romans 9:5, Paul does not follow the pattern of his doxology of Ephesians 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The word "blessed" must appear first, but it does not appear that way in Romans 9:5.
A doxology is out of place in this context, which expresses Paul's acute sorrow for Israel's rejection of their crowning spiritual blessing of Christ.
Christ's relation to Israel on his human side calls for a complementary balancing statement on his divine side, as we read in Romans 1:3-4: "regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." When there is a reference to the human nature, we expect a balancing statement about his divine nature. (PGM) That is exactly what Paul does in Romans 9:5. He says Jesus is Christ according to his human nature and God according to his divine nature.
For all these reasons, the text should be translated to mean Jesus Christ is God.
Romans 9:5 is not the only verse that teaches the deity of Mary's son Jesus. Paul writes, "At his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior. . . . We wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 1:3; 2:13-14, italics added).
Paul also says, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, . . . Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-6, 9-11, italics added). Paul is citing Isaiah 45:23: "By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear." So "before me" means "before Jehovah." Paul is calling Jesus Christ "Jehovah" (or Yahweh in the Hebrew) by applying Isaiah 45:23 to him. Jesus Christ is Yahweh. He is God. In fact, the Septuagint translates Yahweh by the Greek word Kurios, and the New Testament repeatedly applies Kurios to Jesus. Therefore, we can understand that Jesus is Jehovah, the "Lord" of the Septuagint. He is more than the Messiah; Jesus is God himself.
Additionally, we cannot be saved unless we confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9), which means that Jesus is God. Yahweh in the Old Testament is Savior: "For I am the LORD [Yahweh], your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior" (Isa. 43:3). We also read, "I, even I, am the LORD [Yahweh], and apart from me there is no savior" (Isa. 43:11). What foolishness, then, when people say, "I received Jesus as Savior but not Lord." God who is Lord is also our Savior. It is the Lord who saves us. We cannot split him and make him Savior and not Lord.
Paul writes, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus Christ], . . . in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 1:19; 2:9). He also declares, "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16). "He appeared" means God appeared in a body.
Paul's assertion that Christ is God is not unique. What did Peter think of Jesus? He says, "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. . . . Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen" (2 Pet. 1:1; 3:18, italics added).
What does the apostle John say? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 1:1; 5:18). In John 10:32-33 we read, "Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'" The evaluation of the Jewish people hasn't changed. They still say Jesus is a mere man.
Later John writes, "In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!' The four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Rev. 5:12-14).
The Hebrews writer says, "But about the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom'" (Heb. 1:8, italics added). We already cited Matthew 1:23, "'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'-which means, 'God with us.'"
People worshiped Jesus even while he was on earth, and he accepted their worship. "Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'" (Matt. 14:33). "Suddenly Jesus met them. 'Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. . . . When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted" (Matt. 28:9, 17). "Then the man said, 'Lord, I believe,' and he worshiped him" (John 9:38). In John 20:28, Thomas worships Jesus by saying, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus the Blessed One. Amen.
Jesus is Christ, he is supreme, he is God, and he is eulogêtos (blessed) for all ages. The word eulogêtos is used only in reference to God, not man. So Jesus Christ is blessed God unto all ages, meaning he is eternally God and eternally blessed. This is true, whether the devil or sinners acknowledge it or not. He is baruch ("the blessed one" in Hebrew).
Finally, Paul says, "Amen." That means that what he just said about the Messiah-that he is God, that he is over all creation, that he has all authority in heaven and on earth, that he is blessed forever-is the truth. Paul is saying, "I am telling the truth. I believe it. So be it. I say 'Amen' to it."
Application to Professing Christians
The Israelites were the people of God, the privileged ones. Theirs was the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, the promises, the fathers, and from them came the Messiah, the Savior, who is God, who is over all, who is blessed forever and ever. It is the truth. But the nation Israel rejected Jesus Christ.
What about us who claim to be Christians and children of Christians? We must acknowledge that Jesus is not just a man, albeit a good one. He is not even just a sinless man. He is God and man, Lord and Savior. He is the promised Messiah, the Prophet, Priest, and King. Therefore, let us confess him as our Lord and Savior. May we fall down and surrender to his lordship. May we worship, love, and obey him without any reservation.
Miss the Messiah and you miss all. Jesus said only one thing is needful (Luke 10:42). We need Christ who is Lord and God. He is life, and he gives eternal life to all who truly repent and believe in him. He is our atonement. Christ died for our sins.
We must not presume we are Christians entitled to salvation. We must not make the mistake the Jews made. The question is, will the Lord Jesus Christ acknowledge us as his obedient subjects on the last day, or will he say to us, "I never knew you; away from me, you evildoers!" (Matt. 7:23).
As Peter exhorts, let us make our calling and election sure today, that we may be granted a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the day we depart from this world (2 Pet. 1:10-11).
1 The great German scholar Delitzch translates Romans 9:5: "Christus, nach dem Fleisch, welcher ist Gott í¼ber alles, hochgelobt in Ewigkeit. Amen," which is translated as "Christ according to the flesh who is God over all, highly blessed for ever." Donald Grey Barnhouse, God's Covenants (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 20.
2 Italics added.
3 J. M. Boice, Romans, Vol. 3: God and History, Romans 9-11 (Grand Rapids: 4aker, 1993), 1039.
4 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: God's Sovereign Purpose, Exposition of Chapter 9:1-33 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 83-84.
5 Lloyd-Jones, 89.
6 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (London: James Clarke & Co., 1960), 511
7 Boice, 1036.
8 Robert Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 445.
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Copyright © 2010, P. G. Mathew
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