"Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (Matthew 16:13).
Today it isn't politically correct to state dogmatically that Jesus was more than an extraordinarily gifted person, a moral person, a wise philosopher, a Jewish sage or a political reformist. Nor is it acceptable to say that His teachings are the only route to a life beyond the grave and to lasting peace for the world.
After all, we live in a world that dislikes such absolutes. And some dislike even more the authority that One who claimed to be God might claim over their lives. Thus throughout history all kinds of ideas have sprung up about Jesus of Nazareth.
Why is there so much controversy over one man? He regularly makes the cover of weekly newsmagazines. More books have been written and more scholarly work done about this Jewish teacher from Galilee than any other man who ever lived.
The simple answer is that He claimed to be God—and from the record was able to support that claim, as we have seen.
He assures us He will prove it to the entire world when He comes to earth a second time in glory, majesty and divine supernatural power that will astound people all around the globe.
God comes to earth
The question remains: How was Jesus God? If Jesus was God, then who was the Father He spoke of so often? How could Jesus and the Father both be God at the same time?
Where did Jesus come from? Was He created at some point? Did He come into existence when He was born of Mary? Was He an angel? Was He a spiritual essence or "thought" in the Father's mind prior to His human existence?
The story of how Jesus came to be born tells us that He was no ordinary human being. The record takes great pains to explain that He did not have a human father, but that His Father was God Himself.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18).
"Betrothed" in their culture meant the agreement for them to marry was binding even though the marriage itself had not yet taken place. Both Joseph and Mary knew they had not been together in physical union, and Mary certainly knew she was a virgin. But Joseph was naturally questioning why his intended bride was pregnant, and he worried over how to handle this crisis.
"Then Joseph her [betrothed] husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins'" (Matthew 1:19-21).
Joseph needed reassurance that Mary was telling the truth about her pregnancy, and the obvious way to convince him was by having an angel speak to him. Mary had received a similar message as recorded in Luke 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel appeared and announced to Mary that she would conceive a son whom she was to name Jesus. She insisted that she had never been with a man—she was a virgin.
Gabriel then explained how this would happen. He said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
In traditional theological terms, this is something of an enigma. Jesus recognized that God was His Father, but we are told that what Mary conceived in her womb was by the Holy Spirit. Most people believe the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. But since the Holy Spirit engendered Jesus in Mary's womb, how could God the Father be Jesus' Father?
The answer is simply that the Holy Spirit is not a person, as is assumed in the traditional teaching of the Trinity. The Bible nowhere teaches that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person. It does, however, refer to the Holy Spirit as the power of God, as implied in this very passage (for a detailed examination of this biblical truth, download or request our free booklet Who Is God?).
God, whom Jesus referred to as His Father, used His own power, referred to as the "Holy Spirit," to beget Jesus in the womb of Mary. Therefore, Jesus is the Son of God by birth.
Matthew, writing under divine inspiration, explained the significance of the angel's message to Joseph, showing that it fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy of the virgin birth of "'Immanuel,' which is translated, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).
When Jesus was born, He was God in the flesh—"God with us." This was what the angel was saying and what God had foretold long before.
Who was Jesus before His human birth?
The most definitive and clear statement about Jesus before His human birth is recorded in the first few verses of John's Gospel. John, Jesus' closest disciple, takes great care to explain that this Jesus is no ordinary man.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Who was this "Word"? "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). John goes on to explain that the Word who "became flesh and dwelt among us" was Jesus of Nazareth. He also gives us explicit and definitive statements containing important details about Jesus prior to His human birth.
"The Word" is Jesus and He was with God, and He was God. This language is unmistakable and can mean only one thing: There were two beings—God and the Word.
The Word "was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2). The beginning of what?
Jesus existed before the beginning
Since John's Gospel begins with the words "In the beginning," it seems likely that John is alluding to Genesis 1:1. But while Genesis 1:1 continues with, "God created...," John begins his Gospel with, "In the beginning was the Word..." He tells us that the Word already existed "in the beginning."
In Genesis the creation of the universe and time itself marks "the beginning"; in John the existence of the Word precedes that beginning.
The Creator of the universe obviously existed before the universe because He caused the universe to come into being.
John explicitly says that it was the Word—Jesus Christ—through whom all things were created (John 1:3). Paul agrees completely with John in language that is unmistakable (Ephesians 3:9), adding, "He is before all things and in Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:16-17).
Paul makes the logical point that since Christ was the agent by whom all things were created, then He must have necessarily existed before the creation. Jesus also referred to His existing before the creation when, in praying to the Father, He spoke of "the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:5, NIV).
Jesus speaks of the relationship between Himself and the Father "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24), a phrase echoed by Paul in Ephesians 1:4.
The preexistent Jesus is characterized by the name or title "the Word." Perhaps one of the reasons the Greek word logos, translated "Word," is used is that this best describes one of the major roles of Christ—He was to reveal the Father. Logos means "the expression of thought" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, "Word").
Logos is used in the New Testament of a saying or statement of God, the word of God, the revealed will of God and direct revelation given by Christ, and could be spoken and delivered (ibid.). John applied this word as a personal title to the One who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
What John is saying is that a personal Being, whom he calls the logos or "the Word," became incarnate—became a flesh-and-blood human being—in the person of Jesus Christ. The fact that the Word became a flesh-and-blood person implies that the Word was a specific individual being prior to His becoming a physical human baby born to Mary.
John also tells us that the Word is personally distinct from the Father, though He is at the same time one with the Father. They are the same, eternal, and are of the same nature and essence. The Word is God as truly as is the One with whom He exists in the closest union of being and life. As Jesus said, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30).
The oneness between the Father and the Word has to do with their complete harmony and agreement in working together—not that they constitute only one Being as the Trinitarian theory mistakenly teaches.
Who and what is God?
John's simple but clear statements give us an understanding of God that was now made plain by the appearance of Jesus Christ. The language used expresses to us that there are two Beings, coexisting and called God—God and the Word who is also God.
If they existed in some other form than two self-existing beings, both the Greek and the English language are capable of describing something altogether different. But the language does not do this. It speaks clearly of two, together, both of whom are God. If there was only one, alone, then John wouldn't have said, "the Word was with God."
The question arises: If Jesus was the Word, and thus God, how could God who is infinite become finite? What happened to the Word at the moment He became an ovum begotten with life from the Father in the womb of Mary?
We don't know exactly how God performed this miracle, but it's evident from Scripture that God could become a physical human being and therefore become subject to a finite, physical existence—limited to time and space, subject to pain, suffering and death and to being tempted.
And Jesus did this. As Paul described it: "He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God's equal, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man. And, plainly seen as a human being, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, to the point of death, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal" (Philippians 2:6-8, New Testament in Modern English).
Jesus could die. Jesus could experience human emotion. Jesus could feel hunger and pain. He could agonize at the prospect of pain and death. Yes, God could die. But only if He were to become a physical human being. This He did. And who was He? He was the same person He had always been, even having memories of His past eternity with the Father.
Notice Jesus' prayer in John 17:5: "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (NIV). Here He speaks straightforwardly of His past experiences and memories with the Father, confirming everything John wrote in the first few verses of his Gospel.
Yes, Jesus' sacrifice was one of virtually unimaginable proportions. And knowing who He was and what He willingly gave up should make all the difference to you and me when coming to terms with the enormous magnitude of His sacrifice.