Who Was Jesus?

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 John 1:1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
American King James Version×
).

Except perhaps for the book of Hebrews, the Gospel of John gives the most complete explanation in the New Testament about the divinity of Jesus Christ. As previously noted, John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×
and John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
clearly explain that the Word was God and dwelt with the Father until He later became the Messiah or Christ, meaning “Anointed One.”

As British scholar F.F. Bruce commented regarding Jesus: “The New Testament indicates that he existed before he lived on earth as a historical character. We are thus encouraged to ask not only, ‘What was the mode of this earlier existence of his?’ … but also, ‘What is he said to have done in that earlier existence?’” ( Jesus Past, Present and Future: The Work of Christ, 1979, pp. 11-12).

As The New Bible Commentary: Revised explains about the opening passage of John’s Gospel: “In the prologue the pre-existence and deity of Christ are expressed explicitly. The Logos [the Greek term rendered ‘Word’ here] was not only with God in the beginning, but was God (1:1), and it was this Logos who became flesh and is identified with Christ” (p. 928).

Several other passages in John’s Gospel reveal significant details that help us understand even more fully. Consider an account later in chapter 1: “The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward Him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me” ’” (Jon 1:29-30; compare John 1:15 John 1:15John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
American King James Version×
).

John the Baptist was born before Jesus (Luke 1:35-36 Luke 1:35-36 35 And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
American King James Version×
, Luke 1:57-60 Luke 1:57-60 57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy on her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
American King James Version×
) and began his ministry before Christ began His. Yet John still said of Jesus, “He was before me.” Why? Considering the whole of John 1, the reason must be that Jesus was the preexistent Word prior to His human birth (John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
).

His existence before Abraham

In dealing with accusations from the Pharisees in John 8, Jesus said to them, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from [beside the Father in heaven] and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going” (John 8:14 John 8:14Jesus answered and said to them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know from where I came, and where I go; but you cannot tell from where I come, and where I go.
American King James Version×
).

Later the apostle Paul commented on their lack of understanding: “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, or understand the words of the prophets which are read sabbath by sabbath; indeed, they fulfilled them by condemning him” (Acts 13:27 Acts 13:27For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.
American King James Version×
, REB).

Just as in the first century, relatively few people today truly comprehend who Jesus was, where He came from, what He is doing and what He will yet do.

Later in John 8, the Jews gathered about Jesus asked Him, “Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 John 8:53Are you greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom make you yourself?
American King James Version×
). They simply had no idea of the real identity of the One with whom they were speaking. It is the same today. Few people really understand the true origins of Jesus Christ.

He patiently explained, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56 John 8:56Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
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). But how was this possible? The patriarch Abraham lived around 2,000 years before Jesus’ birth. So those who heard Him challenged, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57 John 8:57Then said the Jews to him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?
American King James Version×
). To this question Jesus gave a stunning response: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
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).

We should pause for a moment to digest what Jesus said.

He was declaring that His existence preceded that of Abraham. Moreover, the phrase “I AM” was a well-known title of divinity to the Jews. This goes back to Moses’ first encounter with God at the burning bush.

A crucial encounter with Moses

Moses was concerned about how the Israelites would receive him and the commission God gave him, so he asked God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name? What shall I say to them?’” (Exodus 3:13 Exodus 3:13And Moses said to God, Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say to them?
American King James Version×
).

Observe the Creator’s reply: “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:14 Exodus 3:14And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.
American King James Version×
).

Note also the next verse: “Moreover God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations” (Exodus 3:15 Exodus 3:15And God said moreover to Moses, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial to all generations.
American King James Version×
).

As is common throughout most English translations of the Old Testament, the word “Lord” here with capital letters is substituted for the Hebrew consonants Y-H-W-H (commonly known as the Tetragrammaton, meaning four letters). No one today knows for certain how to pronounce this name, but the most common pronunciation now is Yahweh. (A common, though errant, earlier rendering was Jehovah .)

The name YHWH is similar in meaning to “I AM” (Hebrew EHYH or Eheyeh ). Both imply eternal, self-inherent existence (compare John 5:26 John 5:26For as the Father has life in himself; so has he given to the Son to have life in himself;
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). No one created God. We should understand that He has many names in Scripture, each of which tells us something about His wonderful, divine nature and character.

Given this background, therefore, when Jesus said in John 8:58 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
American King James Version×
that He preceded Abraham and referred to Himself with continuous existence using the term “I AM,” there really should be no doubt as to just what He meant. The Jews well knew what He meant, which is why they immediately tried to stone Him to death (John 8:59 John 8:59Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the middle of them, and so passed by.
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). Jesus was saying that He was the very God of Israel.

Who was the God of the Old Testament?

The fact is, Jesus Christ is the “I AM“of the Bible. He was the guiding Rock who was with the children of Israel in the wilderness when they left Egypt (see Deuteronomy 32:4 Deuteronomy 32:4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
American King James Version×
). Paul wrote: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed [accompanied] them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 1 Moreover, brothers, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
American King James Version×
).

The “I AM“of the Old Testament is further described as abounding in “goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6 Exodus 34:6And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
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). Similarly, the New Testament tells us that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
American King James Version×
).

There are, it should be noted, places in the Old Testament where YHWH clearly refers to God the Father. For instance, in Psalms 110:1 Psalms 110:1The LORD said to my Lord, Sit you at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.
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, which we’ve noted earlier, King David stated, “The Lord [ YHWH ] said to My Lord …” YHWH here is the Father speaking to David’s Lord, the One who became Jesus Christ. Often, however, the name YHWH refers to the One who became Christ—and sometimes it refers to both the Father and Christ together, just as the name God often does.

Consider that except for Jesus, no human being has ever seen the Father (John 1:18 John 1:18No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.
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; John 5:37 John 5:37And the Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
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; John 6:46 John 6:46Not that any man has seen the Father, save he which is of God, he has seen the Father.
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; 1 John 4:12 1 John 4:12No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us.
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). Yet Abraham, Jacob, Moses and others all saw God (Genesis 18; Genesis 32:30 Genesis 32:30And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
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; Exodus 24:9-11 Exodus 24:9-11 9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: 10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. 11 And on the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
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; Exodus 33:17-23). So the YHWH, the “I AM,” the Word, who later became Jesus Christ, was the One they saw. It was He who dealt directly with human beings as God in Old Testament times. Christ later died for our sins and became the ultimate mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5 1 Timothy 2:5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
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), a role He had already partially fulfilled as the preexistent Word before His human birth.

So the Word was indeed the God of the Old Testament—and yet the Father fulfilled this role in a very real sense as well. For Jesus dealt with mankind on the Father’s behalf as His Spokesman (compare John 8:28 John 8:28Then said Jesus to them, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.
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; John 12:49-50 John 12:49-50 49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatever I speak therefore, even as the Father said to me, so I speak.
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). Moreover, in many passages in the Old Testament it can be difficult to separate these two great personages, whereas the New Testament is usually clear in this respect.

Of course, since Jesus came to reveal the Father (Matthew 11:27 Matthew 11:27All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.
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), the logical conclusion is that the Father was not generally known by those in Old Testament times except for a few of the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets. King David, for example, is one who understood.

Partially quoted earlier, Hebrews 1:1-2 Hebrews 1:1-2 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
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states: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.”

In this opening passage of the book of Hebrews the clear implication is that the Father is the moving force behind the whole Old Testament. In context, verse 2 interprets verse 1. Though God the Father is the prime mover behind the Hebrew Bible, it is through Jesus Christ that He created the entire universe.

Also, the vital principle of the Bible interpreting the Bible helps us to understand the intent of Hebrews 1:1 Hebrews 1:1God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
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in the light of other scriptures. Since God made the worlds through Christ and created all things by Him (Ephesians 3:9 Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
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; Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
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; John 1:3 John 1:3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
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), He dealt with man through the agency of the preexistent Word, Christ.

Jesus—both God and man

Jesus Christ today is the mediator between God the Father and man. But to perfectly fulfill that crucial role He had to have been both God and man. He was truly a man in every sense of that word or we have no salvation from our sins. The apostle Paul calls Him “the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 1 Timothy 2:5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
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), as does the apostle Peter (Acts 2:22 Acts 2:22You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the middle of you, as you yourselves also know:
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).

Paul tells us, in a verse quoted earlier from a different translation, that we should have the same humble, serving attitude of Jesus Christ, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [i.e., held onto], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 Philippians 2:6-8 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×
, New American Standard Bible).

Jesus’ manhood was full and complete in the sense that He lived a life as a physical human being that ended in death. He became hungry and ate, grew tired and rested, and walked and talked just like any other human being. There was nothing in His physical appearance to distinguish Him from other Jewish men
of His time (Isaiah 53:2 Isaiah 53:2For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
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).

The essential difference was in the realm of the spiritual. Jesus continually received needed spiritual power from the Father (compare John 5:30 John 5:30I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me.
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; 14:10). In fact, He possessed God’s Spirit from conception, actually being begotten in Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit. Although tempted like every one of us, Jesus never transgressed God’s law. He never once sinned (Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
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; 1 Peter 2:22 1 Peter 2:22Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
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).

One of the most insidious heresies in the 2,000-year history of Christendom is that Jesus Christ was not really a man—that He was not really tempted to sin. The apostle John condemned this teaching in the strongest terms (1 John 4:3 1 John 4:3And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
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; 2 John 7).

This heresy began in the first century and it persists even today, continuing to lead people away from the truth of God. We need to recognize that if Jesus had not really been human, then His sacrifice for our sins would be null and void.

The Son of Man and the Son of God

Jesus Christ is called “the Son of Man” more than 80 times in the New Testament. It was the term He most commonly used in referring to Himself.

Christ repeatedly referred to Himself as the Son of Man in connection with His sufferings and sacrificial death for the sins of mankind (Matthew 17:22 Matthew 17:22And while they stayed in Galilee, Jesus said to them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
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; Matthew 26:45; Mark 9:31 Mark 9:31For he taught his disciples, and said to 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.
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; Mark 14:41). Although of divine origin, He deliberately identified with our human plight—the sorrows and sufferings of the human race. The prophet Isaiah foresaw Him as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 Isaiah 53:3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
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).

Sympathizing with our human frailties and difficulties, Jesus tells us: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 Matthew 11:28-30 28 Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
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).

He also called Himself the Son of Man when referring to His role as the coming Ruler of humanity in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:28 Matthew 19:28And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That you which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
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). He even used it when He described Himself as “the Lord of the Sabbath,” explaining how the seventh-day Sabbath should be observed with mercy and compassion (Mark 2:27-28 Mark 2:27-28 27 And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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; Matthew 12:8 Matthew 12:8For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
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; Luke 6:5 Luke 6:5And he said to them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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).

Then, when He came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13 Matthew 16:13When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
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). They replied by recounting several commonly held but erroneous beliefs about Jesus’ identity. Simon Peter responded by saying, “You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 Matthew 16:16And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
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). Jesus observed that the Father Himself had revealed this wonderful truth to Peter (Matthew 16:17 Matthew 16:17And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven.
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). And all of His apostles came to recognize the same truth, which is reiterated elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 14:33 Matthew 14:33Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth you are the Son of God.
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; John 20:31 John 20:31But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.
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; Romans 1:3-4 Romans 1:3-4 3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
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).

Indeed, while Jesus was human in the fullest sense, He was also more than simply human—for He was, in fact, the divine Son of God with all that name implies. Indeed, as we have seen, He was the Creator God made flesh. And when His human life was over, He returned to the divine glory He shared with the Father from eternity past.