The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jesus

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<<<<<<       The following is excerpted from my forthcoming book, Original Reason >>>>>>>>

There was something that separated Jesus Christ from all other men. It is not what most people think it was.

BibleManTreeMany sermons and lessons have been shared on the topic of Christ’s superiority to ordinary men, based on the fact that Christ was not just man, but God. But we have already seen that for God to try to reconcile to God, nothing avails. God did not fail God. God the Son did not need to reconcile with God the Father. Man (because of Adam’s disobedience) needed to reconcile to God. Christ’s humanity achieved that for us. Christ’s divinity—if by divinity we mean His powers as deity, possessed before and after His earthly sojourn—helps us not one bit on that count.

I don’t think anyone out there is trying to contend that, after Jesus emptied Himself of His divine attributes in heaven, He then had those attributes restored to Him at His baptism. He didn’t need them. From His baptism forward, He was accompanied by that Holy Spirit who descended on Him. That Holy Spirit was omnipotent and omniscient. That Holy Spirit could read people’s minds, and He did so for Jesus, just as He also did so for Peter, when Peter confronted Ananias in Acts 5. If it is true that Jesus performed mightier works than the earlier prophets, it is still true that those works were achieved by the same Holy Spirit who parted the Red Sea for Moses and closed the lions’ mouths for Daniel. Jesus controlled the winds and the waves, but it was the Holy Spirit prompting Him and performing the works for Him. In fact, Peter Himself walked on the water, supported by the same Holy Spirit who supported Jesus upon the water. What caused Peter to sink was a lack of faith. What supported Jesus upon the waves was an abundance of faith—the same trait that He urged upon Peter. What was available there to Jesus was equally available to Peter.

Jesus conquered by faith, love, and obedience. Not by having, intrinsically, powers that were not equally available to other chosen men of God.

Here again we have one of these situations in which Christians seem to have drifted back and forth between two answers, not realizing they were even drifting. Either Jesus is different from the other prophets in degree, or He is different from them in kind—that is, He is a different kind of thing than they are. We have seen why it is important that Jesus not be different from other prophets, other humans, in kind.

Most knowledgeable Christians are aware that Christ was empowered by the Holy Spirit and that that empowerment began at His baptism. Nonetheless, when it comes to offering explanations for Christ’s superiority to other human beings, Christians customarily turn to His divinity, and specifically to such attributes as His ability to DoveCameDownread others’ minds, His greater wisdom and knowledge, and His ability to perform great signs and wonders. The general feeling seems to be that these are what set Him apart. But these are not what set Him apart. These were powers supplied by the Holy Spirit. What set Christ apart was His exercise of qualities available to all of us: faith, love, obedience, and will power. Qualities that were as available to Adam as they were to Christ.

Every human will—even an unencumbered free will—expresses itself by acting upon motives. God can lead us by placing positive motives before us or permitting negative ones to test us, but He does not force us to choose either, and in this He respects our free will. But our will, free though it is, is determined, and our character is formed, by our responses to motives.

I think that the essential difference between Jesus and us was one of will, not of power or divine attributes, and that the primary motive confronting His will was that of love. He loved more. That is the difference. An argument could be made that Christ lived the obedient life by fulfilling the Law, and the Law could be distilled down into two commandments: (1) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and (2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (from Matt. 22:37-39). Upon quoting these commandments, Jesus added: “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” In other words, these two commandments were the essence of what the Law was all about. We know that Christ kept these. Given that all other human beings failed to achieve His level of perfection, it seems likely that all other human beings failed in these two commandments. And what are these commandments about? Love. Love for God, love for one’s fellow man.

So we know that we must account for some kind of difference or superiority in Christ, as compared to other human beings, and we know that the essence of Christ’s achievement was the love He had. Would it be wrong of us, then, to designate this trait—his surpassing love—as His difference from us?

Either from having been with the Father or having “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6), He started somehow with a greater innate love. And yet this difference is not a difference of kind (i.e., not something that makes him absolutely different from a human), but a difference of degree, merely something that makes Him relatively better, but still human-like, still human, when “found in the appearance of a man.” Just because He loved more does not mean that we have not had it open to us to love just as much as He did or does. So here again—even in matters of the will—we find no differences in kind between Christ and man. And it is important that we find no absolute differences for, as was mentioned earlier, it does no good for God to be served by the obedience of God. It is only in God’s receiving the obedience of man that any salvation can be accomplished, and the tested man must be perfect, but yet must be fully man. Christ accomplishes all those requisites for us. And He does so—He conquers—with love, and apparently with no other vital distinction, and yet the distinction of love is not something that is inherently non-human. He avails Himself of no advantages that were not equally open to us, whether we took them or not.

FatherKissSonPerhaps, in the end, we will discover that the will was itself never anything except love. That is, that the will was never anything except a condition or greater or lesser love that motivated the individual at any given time.

If that’s “unfairness”—that the Son came from Heaven and none of the rest of us did—then we should ask ourselves if the affair was a competition. A better question, though, would be this: did the Son fulfill a set of circumstances that justified God in extending choice to all? For we ought rather be worried about whether God can be righteous in this exercise. The need for God is that one man be righteous. Whether the man came from Heaven or not is not the determining factor in whether He is a man. I would suggest that if He came here and was “all God” in the supernatural sense—in the sense of embodying all divine attributes, rather than being devoid of divine attributes—then that voids the outcome. An all-powerful God is not the same as a man.

One sometimes hears, in Christian circles, a particular explanation put forth for the unique ability of Christ to save man: “Christ was not half man and half God. He was all man and all God.” It’s clear why Christians find it important that Christ was all man. If He were only half man, then He would not fully satisfy the requirement of being an obedient man before the Father. He would not have been able to save us. The implication, though, of the remark that Christ was “all man and all God” is that His divinity was equally important in His actions of saving man. Obviously, we cannot deny the divinity of the Son. He is Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). He trod this world as the same being who, before this earthly life, spoke the worlds into existence. Had the pre-incarnate Logos not said “Send Me,” we would not be saved. So certainly, in that regard, we are saved by the Son as God, and even by Him as “all God.” So, too, are we saved by Him as “all God” when He, from His throne above, receives us into His covenant.

But that is not what I think people are saying when they refer to Christ as “all man and all God.” For when I’ve heard that remark, the context has been the earthly career of Christ. And so it seems that the implication is that Christ would not have succeeded here if He had not come to earth armed with qualities that men do not have.

But do we need to grant Him those presumed differences from us if He is to save us during His earthly ministry? Or would those differences from us—if they existed—been extraneous to the task of salvation or even antithetical to it?

FatherSonSunsetTo consider this question is not to doubt that God saved man. There are numerous ways whereby we can establish that God—from Heaven—saved man: the Father sent His Son; the Son submitted in Heaven to the will of the Father; the Father resurrected the Son; the Father ordained that the Christ, once resurrected, would hold all power and authority, including the power that is the saving gospel; and the Son, once resurrected, “poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:36).

These indications, then, from both before and after the Son’s earthly career are sufficient for us to establish that God (in the person of the Father or in the person of the Son) saved man—and we can establish these without resorting to any pleas of (presumedly) divine powers possessed by the Son while He was on earth.

The persistent idea that Christ had to have retained some degree of divine power or omniscience in his fleshly existence—despite the fact that scripture says he “emptied Himself”—shows itself in the ongoing debate over how much divine intellect He carried in His bodily form. Some maintain He had the same infinite power and infinite knowledge He had before His incarnation. Some, giving more respect to the idea that He emptied Himself, nonetheless contend that He had supernatural knowledge and power, but that it was somehow limited. There are also those who contend that His knowledge was limited because a finite human brain could not possibly hold the infinite mass of information and insight that Heaven-residing deity would command.

Of course, the phrases “limited omniscience” and “partial omniscience” are not found in the Bible, nor is the phrase “all man and all God,” and any contention that these have scriptural authorization is subject to question. These notions are better understood as analysis—efforts by sincere Christians to account for Christ’s efficacy on earth.

Just the same, these opinions on Christ’s powers betray two mindsets that seem based on some rather large assumptions. First there is the question of the source of Christ’s supernatural powers—are these truly His or are they the Holy Spirit’s? Second, there is the question of whether any purpose could have been served by Christ’s possessing supernatural powers.

Taking the first question first: Given that the majority of Biblical scholars are well acquainted with the idea that the earthly Christ was accompanied and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the question really should be whether Christ also had powers of His own. In other words, the question should be whether Christ was in self-possession of His own miraculous powers or divine intellect, apart from those powers exercised on His behalf by the Holy Spirit.

Suppose we were to again invoke Aristotle’s dictum that an effect can have only one cause. Here, then, is an effect: Christ performed miracles. Now, by virtue of what Aristotle said, we should deduce that His ability to perform these miracles was attributable to only one cause, or source. It should not be necessary, nor even possible, to say that both the Holy Spirit and Jesus were exercising powers—each His own—in performing those miracles. I realize that someone could contend that the sources of power could have been tapped interchangeably: that in one instance, Christ could have merely served as vessel for the Holy Spirit, while in another, Christ could have disregarded the availability of the Holy Spirit and simply exercised powers that He personally possessed. If a person made that contention, then yes, each effect would have only one cause, and so our one-cause-per-effect stipulation is satisfied. But it is satisfied at a cost: we must take the odd step of dividing the miracles into two different classes—those done by the Holy Spirit and those done by the Son.

ServeBut does anyone seriously believe this to be the case—that Christ’s miracles were a series of “taking turns,” with Christ Himself exercising His own powers in some situations and in other situations relying on the power of the Holy Spirit? I personally have never seen anyone contend for it. It would appear to needlessly multiply hypotheses. Nor does it have any scriptural support. Only one of our choices has scriptural support: the understanding that the power was the Holy Spirit’s.

As regards this idea that Christ had some form of bodily “supernature” that He exercised, I suspect that whatever following this idea has is attributable mainly to a widespread unfamiliarity with the fact that the Holy Spirit empowered Christ. Among those Bible followers who are aware of that fact, any “following” is perhaps merely a lack of awareness that one’s viewpoint vacillates between the two concepts, unconsciously. I myself held both views until only a few years ago, never really recognizing that I attributed Christ’s powers both to Himself personally and to the Holy Spirit.

It was when I realized it, however, that certain other things started to become more clear to me. In fact, this realization was a key step in the thought processes that led to this book.

Now, as for our other question—whether any purpose could have been served by Christ’s possessing supernatural powers. As mentioned earlier, when discussion crops up about Jesus’s mental powers, the debate is most commonly about whether or not He had total omniscience or only “partial” omniscience (the latter phrase a contradiction in terms, obviously, but the idea is there). It is interesting that the debaters choose to ponder greater or lesser degrees of supernatural knowledge and awareness, while disregarding (or at least giving short shrift to) the possibility that He possessed no divine intelligence at all. And as for the idea that Christ’s human brain could not contain all that His pre-incarnate divine mind embraced—we can almost hear in that remark an unspoken “if only…” If only His brain could have held it all. If it had been capacious enough, then we’d have seen the intellectual equal of the Father here on earth. That seems to be the suggestion here—that the biological limits of His human brain were all that kept out the infinite knowledge that only deity possesses.

If that was the case, then it is a strange “if only,” for all along, right beside Christ, through every step of His public ministry, there was the Holy Spirit. Christ had the Holy Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34). And the Holy Spirit Himself possessed all of that “excluded” knowledge and intellect that Christ, being hampered by a merely human brain, is somehow trying to make do without. Where was anything lacking? Perhaps the Holy Spirit might not deign to present some truth or other to Jesus’s mind at some stage or other, but whatever knowledge the Father wished the Son to have was transmitted to the Son—we can be confident of that.

Because Jesus was a prophet, there is a reason why He would have emptied Himself before leaving Heaven. Further, we have a reason why He would take all His cues from the Holy Spirit. That’s what prophets did. As Peter remarked in II Peter 1:21, “…no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

ProphetMosesIn Acts 3:22-23, Peter remarked, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. (23) And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ ” The prophet that Peter spoke of here was Jesus—who at the time of this utterance had already ascended to Heaven. The prophecy Peter cited was from Deuteronomy. In Deut. 18:15, we find this: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” In verses 17-18 we read, “The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’ ”

He shall speak to them all that I command him. There is probably no detail about His life that Jesus declares more strenuously than the fact that He does not speak His own words and does not do His own works. On 14 different occasions He asserts one or the other (or both) facts.[1]

He does not do His own works because the Father, acting through His Holy Spirit, performs those works (miracles). He does not speak His own words because the Father, acting through His Holy Spirit, supplies Him with those words.

Consider just these three passages: “I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30); “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (John 12:49-50); and “the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:24).

Yes, there does come a time when Jesus speaks His own words and does His own will. That comes, by Jesus’s own declaration, after His resurrection. (More on that shortly.) This fact escapes many people because they do not stop to really weigh what Jesus is saying. He makes it clear, first, that He is going to die, be resurrected, and ascend into Heaven. Then that He will from that point forward, from Heaven, do the thing that the Father has done thus far. That thing is rule the earth, and decree Heavenly law. That He will do that to the end of the age. That He will do it exactly as the Father has done it thus far: through chosen instruments (only now they are to be the Son’s chosen instruments), which are men on earth—something Christ Himself was for the Father until the cross. That He will authorize the Holy Spirit to empower whom He (the Son) pleases. That these empowered individuals will be His chosen apostles, as well as His other prophets, and His prophetesses also. In other words, just exactly as His Father has done things to this point in time.

No, these considerations are missed by many, and it happens when we fail to understand what the Bible means when it speaks of individuals being vessels of God. When we understand that, then we know that whenever individuals such as Peter or Paul, in Acts or thereafter, open their mouths, the words that come out are the thoughts and intents, the will, of Christ. They are the thoughts of Christ not because Peter and Paul are so good at grasping what Christ would have wanted them to say, but because Peter and Paul have the gift (and calling) of prophecy and likewise are vessels of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is answering to Christ, who, omnisciently, omnipotently, is putting words in these apostles’ mouths. (As the Father said of Christ: “I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” This is what it means to be a prophet.) The Son, being in possession of all power, is writing human and divine history on the face of the universe. These men are His instruments.

The same thing is happening with the apostles, after Acts 2, as happened earlier to Christ when He spoke, by His own admission, only the will of the Father, in the times leading up to the cross.

The changeover is heralded on the night before the crucifixion, when Christ tells His chosen apostles what is to come after He is ascended into Heaven:

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:13-14).

This marks a change. Things were not like this before. From the Resurrection on, the Holy Spirit is no longer referred to as the Father’s Holy Spirit. It is always identified, when identified at all, as the Son’s. Why? Because the Father has given “all power and authority in Heaven and on earth” to the Son. This is why Peter says, in Acts 2:34, that Christ, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit… has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” This is why we see the Son, not the Father, confronting Saul on the road to Damascus. This is why the Son, not the Father, appears to John in the Book of Revelation, with “hair… like white wool, and… eyes… like a flame of fire… and His voice… like the sound of many waters.” This is Christ in possession of all power and authority in Heaven and on earth.

It is the inability of many to see these things that explains why they do not see the Father doing exactly the same thing in public ministry of Christ, just as the Father said He would do.

We see the words “Jesus said” in those passages before the cross and we decide that this is Jesus thinking, deciding, and expressing His views. Just as, in Acts, we see the words “Paul said” and we decide that this is Paul thinking, deciding, and expressing his views. But in neither case is this so. And long habit has caused us not to see what the Word is telling us.

But this is a large subject and we must return to our main thrust. Our question was whether or not any purpose was served by Jesus’s possessing supernatural powers. The answer is no. And this is consistent with what we should expect, if the ultimate cause of salvation is the obedience of one man. To obey, one need not have supernatural powers. One needs faith, and the will to obey.

HandsSky Maybe it would help to think of it this way: in one sense, a small sense, it could be said that man “saved” man. Man failed man, and man saved man. But it was only through the agency of Jesus, who came from Heaven, that man saved man. And only through the man Jesus. But without the humanity of Jesus, there would be no salvation. It is only because the Father will permit that man can “save” man (if we think of perfectly obeying as “saving”) that it is even possible for Jesus to save man. I do not think it is a good thing for us to go around dwelling on this circumstance, this “loophole,” so to speak, of man saving man, but if it helps someone to conceptualize what is being said here about salvation, then to that degree I think it might be a useful insight. For those who are troubled by this idea, there is still the knowledge that the Father saved man by sending His Son. And the Son Himself, a being who was both human and divine, was the instrument of our salvation.

As for our Lord Jesus Christ, He is an emptied God, but He is a faithful one. To show us what it takes He will do it using only what we ourselves had to work with—just our hearts and our free will. Anything else that we might think of as being “ours” is not of us, but of our genetics or of our environment, each of which were bestowed to us—maybe “loaned” is a better word—when our souls were implanted in us upon our conceptions. He will not accomplish a single thing “because He is God”—not anything that we, or Adam, could not have accomplished had not our hearts been true. And He will accomplish every single thing by one means, and one means only. By obedience. By hearing and seeing what the Father says and does, and by permitting that will to be His own will.

From Original Reason copyright 2010 Jesse Mullins

[1] The following verses comprise these instances, all in the book of John: John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38, 7:16-17, 8:26, 8:28, 8:38, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, 15:15, 17:4, 17:8, and 17:14.


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