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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 9 of 23
What Jesus Christ Taught About Himself
What did Jesus of Nazareth think about Himself? What claims did He make concerning His person and work? In this place we think and speak of Him as the unique Son of God by Whom the worlds were created and by Whom all things are sustained. We oppose the notion that He was Divine only in the sense that every man is Divine. We oppose the view that He was only a little more Divine than other men; that His Divinity was only in the sense of perfect humanity. We oppose the teaching that He was more like God than other men, but still only a man. In this place we teach the absolute Deity of Jesus Christ, and not divinity in its popular connotation. We believe that Jesus Christ was and is of the same substance as the Father; that He was God manifest in the flesh, the image of the invisible God.
Does Jesus concur with us in what we think and say about Him? If He is in agreement with us, this agreement will be disclosed in what He says about Himself. And the only way we can know what he taught about Himself is to know the record of His teaching concerning Himself as is found in the gospels in John as well as in the synoptics. Dr. Conner thinks the best way to discover what Jesus taught about Himself is to study the titles He used in speaking of Himself. And the titles He applied to Himself are Messiah, Son of Man, and Son of God.
Messiah of the Old Testament and Christ of the New Testament mean the same thing: the Anointed One. The background for our thinking is the Old Testament. In the Old Testament men were anointed to be kings, and priests, and prophets. And we know from the New Testament that Jesus filled these three offices—and your teacher believes He filled them concurrently rather than in successive periods or dispensations. As a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He is a royal priest; King as well as Priest. And as a prophet He still speaks from heaven. “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven,” (Heb. 12:25).
We find that prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming of the Anointed One are in the New Testament applied to Jesus. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears,” (Luke 4:1621). What else could He have been saying, but that He was the Messiah, the anointed one?
While healing the sick in Capernaum, the demons witnessed to Him as the Christ. He rebuked them and shut their mouths, for He did not want testimony from such a source.
When He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He was definitely presenting Himself to Israel as their Messiah, and King. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9). His entry was in fulfillment of scripture and also indicated the kind of king He was. He did not enter as a political and military King, but as one who was meek and lowly, riding upon an ass rather than a warhorse.
When Jesus came into the world the Jews were in a state of expectancy. They were looking for their long promised Messiah or King. But would he meet their expectations? Would he be the kind of Messiah they wanted? They wanted a Messiah who would deliver them from the Roman yoke which is the same as a political Messiah. And Satan did his best to get Him to be that kind of Messiah, and thus meet the popular expectations. But this would have cost Him the very kingdom He came to establish. When He read Isaiah 61 at Nazareth, He read only that portion which related to His first coming, stopping at a comma, for to have read “and the day of vengeance of our God,” would not have been true of His present mission, and He could not have said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” He did not come the first time to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
It is true that Jesus did not urge His messianic claims upon the people, not even upon His own disciples. He wanted them to come to this conclusion for themselves and at the proper time He drew from them such a confession. At the end of His Galilean ministry, at Caesarea Philippi, He questioned His disciples concerning the popular belief. “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matt.16:1316).
It must not be thought that this was the first time His disciples had confessed Him as the Messiah. It was this conviction that caused them to follow Him in the beginning. “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,” (John 1:4041). However, since Jesus did not fully meet the expectations of His own disciples, their faith in Him was sorely tried, and nothing but a God-given conviction would carry them through. Even John the Baptist, who had given such signal testimonies to the Messiahship, was in perplexity as he lay in prison, and sent messengers to Jesus with the question, ...“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). He may have wondered why Jesus had not assumed His Messianic authority in his deliverance.
II.THE SON OF MAN
It has been well said that to determine the meaning of this title is one of the more difficult tasks. This was our Lord’s favorite term for Himself. In the gospels none but Himself uses the term, and in Acts, it is used only by the dying Stephen when he says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God,” (Acts 7:56).
This term also has an Old Testament background. And there it is used in a twofold sense, pointing both to a person of humiliation and also to one of dominion and glory. In Psalm 8 the “son of man” means simply one who shares human qualities in contrast to God. “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Here “son of man” is a designation for man in his characteristics of weakness and frailty. In this sense the title is applied to Ezekiel about eighty times as a reminder of his weakness and mortality, and as an incentive to humility in his prophetic office.
In Daniel 7 we have a symbolic designation of foreign nations under the figure of beasts. The seer beholds in contrast to these powers another figure coming with the clouds of heaven and establishing an everlasting kingdom. And this person is “one like the Son of man,” and speaks of dominion and power.
When we come to the New Testament we find two groups of Scriptures of the same paradoxical nature. One group speaks of the Son of man in humiliation, “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” (Mark 8:31). “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day,” (Mark 9:31). “The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born,” (Mark 14:21). While these and other Scriptures speak of a suffering Messiah, there are others used in connection with His parousia in glory. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory,” (Matt. 25:31). And so these paradoxical Scriptures present the Son of man as both a suffering and reigning Messiah. They comport with Philippians 2 where we have His descent from glory to a condition of humiliation on earth, and then His exaltation in glory. These Scriptures describe Jesus in His mediatorial work which began in humiliation and will end in glory. His mediatorial kingdom was established through suffering on earth, promoted during the gospel age among all nations, and will be consummated when He returns to earth in glory. And so this phrase, “Son of man,” is seen to be a title of dignity as well as humiliation.
The question has been much discussed whether or not the “Son of man” was a current
Messianic title in the days of Jesus. Dr. Conner seems to have been acquainted with the discussions, and reached the conclusion that it was a Messianic title in a veiled form. The term would not necessarily be understood by His hearers as a Messianic claim. If He had plainly told the people that He was their Messiah in the beginning, it would have aroused false hopes and precipitated the crisis of death too soon. And so He waits until well within the last year of His ministry before He even draws from His disciples the confession that He is the Christ.
During the last week of His ministry Jesus spoke publicly and said that the Son of man must be lifted up. The people seem to have associated the title “Son of man” with Messiah. “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” (John 12:34).
III.THE SON OF GOD
1. This title is applied to Jesus by others several times in the synoptics. At His baptism, “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17). In the temptations in the wilderness, Satan acknowledges Jesus to be the Son of God. In announcing His birth beforehand to Mary, “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” (Luke 1:35). He is recognized by the demons as the Son of God. “And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ,” (Luke 4:41). Mark defines the gospel he is going to write as “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mark 1:1). When His disciples saw Him walking on the water, they worshipped Him, saying, “Of a truth Thou art the Son of God,” (Matt 14:33). At Caesarea Philippi, Peter, speaking for all the apostles, confessed Him, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matt. 16:16). Even the Roman centurion, who supervised His crucifixion, was so impressed with the way He died, that He exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God,” (Matt. 27:54). Obviously, all these testimonies mean that Jesus was the Son of God in a peculiar sense, the Son of God in the sense that none others are or ever can be the sons of God.
2. This title is applied by Jesus’ to Himself. We have already seen that Jesus favorite self-designation was “Son of man.” And while there is no passage in the synoptics in which He explicitly calls Himself “Son of God,” He does use the correlative terms Father and Son in such a way as to be the equivalent of such a title. In Matthew 11:27 He says, “My Father,” and adds: “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” So also in Mark 13:32: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” These passages clearly denote that Jesus is the Son of the heavenly Father in a distinct and exclusive sense.
3. It is significant that Jesus in speaking of God to others, even to His own disciples, never uses the term “Our Father.” He never classes Himself with other men under a common term. As the Son of God He never puts Himself in the same category as other sons of God. He says, “My Father,” and “Your Father,” but never “Our Father,” except in the so-called Lord’s prayer, which is not the Lord’s prayer, but the prayer He taught the disciples to pray. It is not the prayer He prayed, but the prayer they were to pray. In Matthew 11:27 He says, “All things have been delivered unto me of my Father”... And in Matthew 6:32, speaking of food and raiment, Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of all these things.” Some years ago a preacher in Memphis tried to demonstrate his claim that one could become so spiritual as to be able to live without food. And he fasted until he just about starved, and awoke to his folly barely in time to eat and live. At that time I remarked, Why doesn’t somebody tell him to read Matthew 6:32 where Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
4. Modernism makes the Sonship of Jesus differ only in degree from that of other men. Stevens in his Theology of the New Testament, says that most recent scholars agree that the term “Son of God” as used in the synoptics is primarily an ethical one, which means that Sonship to God was realized perfectly by Jesus, while in others it is only partially realized. The truth is that Jesus was and is the eternal Son of God. Men may become sons of God by adoption, but not Jesus, for He is the eternal Son of God, of the same essence as the Father. Isaiah calls Him the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.
5. It is granted, that the synoptics do not emphasize the Deity of Jesus as does the gospel of John. The synoptics present Jesus in human and earthly relationships, and therefore, it was not within their province to emphasize His Deity. However, even in the synoptics, His Divine Sonship is guarded as being more than the mere ethical perfection of one who is man only.
6. The title “Son of God” does involve the ethical perfection of Jesus. If He was the Son of God only as a sinless man, how do we account for His unique sinlessness? Why was He the only sinless man? Why has sinlessness never been repeated in any other man? Jesus was the only sinless man since Adam sinned because He was more than man, He was the God man. Jesus stopped the question business of His critics by quoting Psalm 110, and asking “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:45). They could not answer this question, nor can anybody answer it who regards Jesus as man only. We can answer it by saying, that while Jesus was the son of David after the flesh, He was David’s Lord because He was the eternal and ever existent God.
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