I am sure that there will be those readers who will read this title and the hair on the back of their necks will rise.  There will be religious people who will say that the title should be "who was Jesus," and our atheist friends will agree--maintaining that he was at best a man who misled ignorant people in a primitive time to believe he was from a god he knew did not exist.  I would suggest however, that both atheist and religious critics need to look at what Jesus was and is just as they need to look at what God is.  A huge amount of the error propagated by religious people and atheists alike, is rooted in a failure to understand the nature of God and the make up of Jesus Christ.  We would like to explore this subject in this discussion.

God is not physical

To understand what Jesus was, it is essential to understand what God is.  The Bible clearly tells us the nature of God.  On the positive side we use definitions like "God is a spirit..."  (John 4:24), "God is light" (1 John 1:5), and "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16).  Over and over the biblical writers try to get us to understand that God is not physical or human.  This is clear in statements like "God is not a man" Numbers 23:19, "God is the Word" (John 1:1), "God is unseen" (1 John 4:12).  Matthew 16:17 makes it clear that God is not flesh and blood, and God's nature being outside physical limitations are clear in statements like "Do I not fill heaven and earth?"  (Jeremiah 23:23-24), "Heaven of heavens cannot contain him" (2 Chronicles 2:6), and "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  In addition to these statements we have just listed, we have descriptions of God which indicate He is outside of time as well as the capacity to be unlimited in space.  This is made clear in statements like "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8), "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past..." (Psalm 90:4), "and thy years shall have no end." (Psalm 102:27), and "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end..." (Revelation 22:13).

Jesus had the same attributes as God

The Bible makes it very clear in the earliest references to Jesus, what His true nature was.  In Matthew 1:23 "...and they will call Him Immanuel--which means God with us."  The fact that Jesus existed before His birth as a human seems to escape many people, and yet it is abundantly clear in the Bible.  In John 6:38 Jesus says it clearly "For I have came down from heaven...."  In John 8:58 he says "Before Abraham was. I am."  In John 10:30 He says it clearly: "I and my Father are one."  In John 17:5 Jesus says, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self in glory which I had with thee before the world was."   John1:1-14 clearly states that Jesus was present at the beginning of creation, that He was involved in the creation process and that Jesus "became flesh and lived for a while among us."  The separation between Jesus and the physical world is stated clearly in John 8:23 "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."  It is important no matter whether you are an atheist, a Christian, or a member of some other religious system to understand that Jesus is not presented in the Bible as a prophet or a gifted man. Jesus is "God with us."  Jesus said "he that hath seen me hath seen the father" (John 14:9).  Whether you accept or reject Christ, it is important to know what He claims to be.  Suggestions that Jesus was married or gay or an alien from some other solar system are all positions of ignorance of His nature.

It is interesting that people of Jesus' day did not misunderstand this.  His enemies fully understood the import of His statements.  In John 5:18 the Bible says that the Jews sought to stone Him, because He made Himself equal to God.  In John 10:32 the Jews were about to stone Jesus, and their stated reason for it was "you, a mere man, claim to be God."

Being the Son of God does not destroy Jesus' divine nature

The usual response to this discussion by skeptics is to ask why, if this is true, Jesus refers to Himself as "the son of God."  Why did He not just flat out refer to Himself as God.  Try to put yourself in the place of God for a moment.  I know this is dangerous and hard to do, because as someone has said, "if I can understand the mind of God, then God isn't God."  Nevertheless, let us try.  You are a being that exists outside of time and space.  You have negative forces that oppose you that want your created beings to do things contrary to your nature.  (See Ephesians 6:12, Job 1 and 2, etc.)  You are going to provide your created beings with a way to withstand these negative forces without removing their power to choose and thus their capacity to love (without choice, love cannot exist).  How do you do it?  Simply going to earth and forcibly compel everyone to submit to your rules will cause submission, but not a relationship that is based on love.  I suggest that the only possible way to do this, is to enter their dimension (their physical world) as a being that faces all of the problems and limitations that they face.  You do not give up any of your nature by doing this, but you do submit to the same problems and pressures that your created beings have.  Hebrews 4:15 says it well, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin."

Jesus was perfect because Jesus was divine. Jesus could talk about being the way to heaven and forgive sins because Jesus is God.  Jesus could do miracles because Jesus was "God with us."  The amazing thing is that God subjected himself to such abuse and such limitations rather than to just destroy us.  Being humans with imperfect love, that is very hard to understand and believe.  For God to "so love the world that he gave..." is beyond our reach.  We are not divine, but the very act of dying on the cross is a demonstration of the divinity of Christ.  This is where we get to the "who is Jesus" part of our understanding, but realizing the true nature of Jesus as "God with us" must come first.

C. S. Lewis made one of the best statements about Jesus' nature that we have seen.  Lewis said:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 52-53).

--John N. Clayton

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