John On the Deity of Christ

Now that we’ve been brought back to the very point of the Apostles, it would be helpful to look at the writings of the last remaining apostle by the time of the early church fathers: John.  The evidence seems clear that his Gospel account was written after the Synoptic accounts were circulating so they bear indication that John didn’t intend his account to be read in a vacuum. In regards to literature then, it is interesting to see which stories the Synoptic accounts include and which John feels important enough to bring up once again.

John is the only writer to mention the resurrection of Lazarus and yet, he has no problem repeating the story of the Feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water event. He’s the only writer that takes us to Christ’s first miracle in a very common location while simultaneously not repeating the story of Christ’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Even Christ’s baptism is generally ignored in the story save for the character speech of John the Baptist—a peripheral detail which all the Synoptic accounts treat as important.

So whatever John was dealing with in the publishing of his account had to be refuted by the issues John raised—not in addition to history, but in nature of importance within history. In other words, it’s not that John was overlaying his later theological developments on the past, but that John felt it necessary to underscore details of the past to use in his then current theological discussions. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the Early Church Fathers wound up doing and what the Council of Nicaea was deciding on. Christ’s divinity wasn’t up for vote; the Scripture’s impact on the corporate life had to be admitted.

Be that as it may, we note that John 1 is probably one of the strongest chapters in Scripture regarding the divinity of Christ. He is listed as Creator with God, in a structural format that follows Genesis 1 where we see God creating. John goes out of his way to show that not only is Christ is with God: He is God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Then John repeats the point by jumping to John the Baptist who is making straight the way of the Lord. Not the Lord King. But the call to clear the way for the Lord Yahweh.

He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23)

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

This Word-Made-Flesh is so divine that he is on the one hand baptized by God’s Spirit but on the other goes and baptizes others using God’s Spirit. Not that he’s functioning in that capacity but just as the Baptist uses the medium of water to baptize, this One is using the medium of God’s Spirit to baptize people. This is no mere kingly prerogative.  This is God acting like God.

John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Of course, John the Baptist himself didn’t seem to understand the importance of his own words. In the Synoptic accounts we find out that John goes to prison and goes through a period of sorrow as he wonders if Christ really is who he thought he was (Matt 11:1-19). He expected the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world in a way that probably looked more like his Jewish expectations (whatever that was). But the point of John the Evangelist using the Baptist’s words are not to underscore that what the Baptist thought was right, but that he spoke better than he know.

The Writer goes back in time to a point where John once again spoke better, and it was before he was imprisoned (John 3:24).

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

Which all recalls the Baptist’s testimony that the Evangelist uses in the introduction:

John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:15)

And it is recalled again by Christ himself:

You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:34-36)

The repeated message is that although Christ is fully man, he is much more than anyone thought he would be, even when they speak better than they know in proclaiming him. After all, it is in that very chapter where Christ uses the Baptist’s testimony as a witness of who Christ is that Christ equates his activity with the Father God.

But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)

Something the Jews understood perfectly well not merely to be a statement of kingly activity but rather to something they considered outright blasphemy:

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

This testimony of his God-ness doesn’t end there. It is throughout John’s Gospel account. Christ is offered up as one who knows what is within man (John 2:25) so he refuses to entrust himself to some people (John 2:24); as one who speaks what God wants because he was sent by God into the world (John 3:31-34; 7:28); as the one allowed to work on the Sabbath because of familial responsibilities (John 5:16-17); as God who teaches (John 6:44-46) as the Father teaches; as the Lord God who provides God’s Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 15:26-27;16:5-11); as existent God before Abraham (John 8:58); as one who properly receives worship (John 9:38;); as one with the Father (John 10:30); as having the right of giving eternal life (John 10:28; 11:25); as the revelation of the Lord Yahweh’s power (John 12:37-38); as the very image of God (John 12:44); as the Lord God that Isaiah say (John 12:41); as one who you could trust as God (John 14:1); and indeed as one who is confessed as both Lord and God (John 20:28)

Note even the fear of the Roman Gentile Pilate (John 19:7-10). He hears from the Jews the charge that this one made himself out to be the Son of God and he’s afraid. Once again, the writer’s recording of this fact isn’t in a historical vacuum. We know from Matthew that apparently Pilate’s wife sent him a message saying to be careful with this man Jesus because of troubled dreams she had (Matthew 27:19). So here’s a Gentile, steeped in his Greco-Roman Religion, his wife having dreams and the people are calling him Son of God.

Did he have an understanding of the Jewish expectations? Did he see the Son of God language in the Bible and piece together what this all meant? If that is the case, why did he then proceed to ask absolutely no questions about Christ’s kingdom or his heritage but rather his origin—when it is patently true that he already knew he was a Jew from Nazareth (John 19:19)? Christ’s answers leave him more convinced to let him go since he talks about having authority from above and this is what provokes Pilate to try to release Jesus.

Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him…(John 19:8-12)

Now mind you, in John’s Gospel account there are several themes tying together; I’m not dealing with all that. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the idea of some Demi-God who is the Son of Zeus is what John has in mind and is trying to get across. My point has been that the people John records speak better than they know but when Jesus speaks he is speaking about what he actually does know.

So if you take a step back and look at say John 3, you’ll see that Jesus is speaking about the expectation of the Kingdom of God. Here it would be a mistake to make it solely about a spiritual kingdom (as when people become regenerate and are made part of the Church) or solely about a millennial kingdom (as when the Jews finally receive Christ reigning on a throne here on Earth). Whatever he is speaking is from heaven and speaking the Words of God (John 3:31-34). The fact that it is God who has sent the message about the kingdom is integral to the story John records when we finally see the placard that Pilate places over Jesus.

Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.

We probably shouldn’t be looking solely to the Jewish expectation of a King, or solely to the fact that Israel hadn’t had a king in years, or not even to the fact that Jesus will be King of a spiritual people; but we probably should be looking back to the expanded and repeated claim in Scripture that Israel’s first rejected King wasn’t a man: it was their own God.

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Sam 8:7)

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. (1 Sam 12:12)

Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. (Psalm 5:2)

For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:3)

The fact that Israel was waiting for a man who had to be God (Ezekiel 34) doesn’t negate the conclusion John the Evangelist is pointing to with the Synoptic Writings in circulation. This Jesus was really a man. He was really God in the flesh. He was really a rejected King. He was really Israel’s first King. He was really a temple. He was really the temple Israel was to worship in truth. He was really the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. He did so by dying for the sin of the world. John then requests that people believe this Jesus, based on these few written things, as being the Christ (the Messianic claim), the Son of God so that one might have life—going back to the point of John 3.

These ideas are all repeated in his letters as well. John has no qualms about speaking about the manifested life not as King but actually as something necessary for having fellowship with God Himself (1 John 1:1-3), as the means of purification from all sin (1 John 1:7); as a sacrifice for sins for the entire world (1 John 2:2); as expander of God’s family (1 John 3:1-3; cf .John 20:17); giver of God’s Spirit (1 John 3:24); as the Incarnate God (1 John 4:1-3);  Jesus as Son of God (1 John 5:12); as understanding that Christ is the means for eternal life (1 John 5:13); and that in fact Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (John 5:20).

John’s admonition then of keeping ourselves from idols is pretty impressive. Jesus is to be worshiped. Jesus functions in this capacity. Jesus is God and eternal life. But he’s the real thing. He’s no idol. Keep away from idols.

So at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that John as an apostle and recorder of a Gospel account presents the King, Jesus Christ, as God.

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