Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the hardness of heart of mankind proves itself again to be of the utmost formidability against the truth. This is a post about the lengths men will go to in order to avoid the truth, and the absurdity that such efforts inevitably produce – an absurdity which the spiritually blind cannot even see.
I deal a lot with the Deity of Christ on this blog, and this reflects a great deal of time and careful study. It also reflects quite a substantial amount of hours in dialogue with those who would attempt to keep Jesus as Messiah and moral guide, but at the same time choose to deny outright that He is Very God of Very God, being of one substance with the Father. The arrows in my quiver to counter the arguments of the Socinians, Arians, Ebionites, et al. are many and varied, and there’s still so much to learn (I’m nothing next to a James White or Robert Bowman Jr.)!
Now, I certainly do not say any of this to toot my own horn – far from it! I say all of it in order to make the following statement have more impact, that is:
As I continue to study I find that the first major argument I learned to use in defending the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ is still the best. Everything else I have learned since the beginning has been strictly supplemental to this brilliantly clear, and absolutely final, proof of the Deity of our Lord…
His own words.
Memorize this reference: John 8:58.
Yes, when Jesus was speaking to the Jews in the Temple:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was,I am.”
Unitarians say Jesus never claimed to be God? You say, “John 8:58”.*
Now, I wish I could say that this text was a magic bullet and every time you pull it out Unitarians will repent of their error and accept the Deity of Christ as truth. Sad thing is, they will almost universally try to find a way around it. As clear as it is that Jesus is here claiming to be the Almighty “I AM”, some for whatever reason try to get around the clear meaning of Jesus’ exclamation.
To illustrate this, let me tell you about a conversation I had with an [edit: ebionite-style] Unitarian approximately one year ago this month.
I’m going to transcript our words here as best I recall them (which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself – this conversation really made an impression on me).
Unitarian: If Jesus is God, how come he never said so?
Tom: 2 things.
Number one, because to come out and just say “I am God” would be to risk undermining the reality of God as one in being, three in person. If he had just said, “I am God” in the way you seem to want, the risk of misunderstanding and assuming that he was the only person in the Godhead would have been very, very high.
Number two, he did.
Tom: John 8:58.
Unitarian: (flips to the passage and reads it)
Tom: He’s claiming to be the “I AM”, the one revealed to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14.
Unitarian: I don’t think he’s doing that.
Tom: It doesn’t matter what you think he’s doing, the Jews were there and they picked up stones to kill him with. Obviously they thought he was claiming Deity.
Unitarian: Well, even if so, I don’t think that means he’s God.
Tom: What else could it mean?
Unitarian: I think Jesus was just taunting them, going “c’mon, c’mon” (makes prodding movements with finger) trying to get them to crucify him.
Tom: (momentarily speechless at the direction this conversation had taken) Soooo, in order to fulfill his role as Messiah and die for the sins of the world, Jesus was taunting the Jews into crucifying him by making the statement that he’s the I AM even though he’s not?
Unitarian: That’s what I think is happening here.
Tom: So then, according to you, Jesus is lying. He’s saying he’s God to stir up the Jews’ rage so they will kill him so he can be the perfect sacrifice for all mankind. Instead of meaning what he clearly states, he’s just blowing smoke. (beat) No. That would defeat the purpose, because to lie would mean he was sinning; but since the Messiah had to be perfect for his death to atone for sins of humankind, the Messiah cannot lie because the Messiah cannot sin.
Therefore we have to understand this statement as him telling the absolute truth, because if not he was sinning and, again, the perfect, spotless Messiah cannot sin.
Unitarian: He can’t… unless he can.
Tom: … >_< … Ok, I think it’s time for me to be going now.
Now, I don’t record this here to be mean to this gentleman at all. I do, however, think it’s a very telling example of how there are folks out there who are so absolutely opposed to the gospel that they will resort to the most fanciful of speculative, outlandish, and creative-to-the-point-of-being-absurd argumentation to try to maintain their precious skepticism and unbelief. For the gentleman I was dealing with, he was even willing to go so far as to make Jesus into a liar in order to avoid the necessary conclusion if Jesus was telling the truth.
Think about that.
When you’re willing to throw Jesus under the bus and make him out to be a liar (not to mention the Father, since Jesus is only speaking what he heard from the Father, vv. 26, 28) to justify your own belief system… there’s a big problem.
After having a year to think about this conversation and meditate on what I would do differently or how best to approach it should I encounter this exact scenario again, I only this week had the light bulb go from dim to spotlight. Here’s the thing: John 8:58 is not without context.
Ok, ok, this should be obvious, I know. And in truth, I’ve always known. What hit me this week though was that the context roundly refutes my Unitarian opponent’s argument flat-out. John chapter 8 details how Jesus was dealing with the skeptics in his day, and the contrast he set up between himself: the Son of God – and the skeptics: the sons of the devil. And who is the devil? Why, the father of lies, of course.
Yes indeed, John chapter 8 talks about how Jesus keeps his Father’s (God’s) word, and how the skeptics he is addressing do the will of their father (who is, again, the father of all lies). So basically, Jesus is blasting his opponents out of the water, accusing them of being liars (v. 55), but then according to my Unitarian opponent, a mere 3 verses later he himself lies to “aggravate the Jews’ into killing him”?
And if my opponent is right, that makes Jesus’ father the devil, since that one is the father of all lies. In other words, for Jesus to lie would be to not only be a complete hypocrite based on everything else he has to say about lies in that same chapter, but it would effectively make him a son of Satan.
If you Unitarians want a lying son of Satan for a savior, have at it. I’ll keep the Son of God, who revealed himself to be the great I AM, thank you very much.
And now, I think it most appropriate to post John 8:12-59 for a sign-off.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoeverfollows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; butno one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, forunless you believe that I am (he) you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am (he), and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slaveto sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him,”We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, buthe sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yetyou say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
– John 8:12-59
*And make sure you have Exodus 3:14, Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 41:4, 43:10, 43:25, 46:4 and 51:12 handy!