The Persian Sufi adage goes, “This too shall pass.” This phrase is typically used when in the midst of some unfortunate circumstance as a means of hope for change in the near future. “Just give it time,” we tell ourselves. 1700 years removed from the First Council of Nicea, however, evangelicals are still being pestered with the nagging and relentless temptation to hold Jesus Christ as mere man, as simply “Jesus of Nazareth” with His deity minimized. One can only wonder if such attacks will ever pass.
There are certainly examples in Scripture where Christ’s deity is called into question by non-believers (see Mt. 26:65, 27:25). But perhaps one of the greatest opponents of the deity of Christ was the presbyter Arius. His theology was centered on a poor exposition of John 14:28, which led him to teach that Jesus Christ is entirely distinct, separated, and subjected to God the Father. Christ, according to Arius, was a created being, and definitely not eternal. Evangelicals who are familiar with Arius, or the theology of Arianism, knows that these beliefs are purely heterodoxy and widely considered as one of the earliest church heresies. Yet the Church thinks this problem is no longer an issue. How would 4th-century doctrine that was soundly opposed by our early church fathers still be a problem today?
The truth is, Arianism is alive and well in and out of the Church, and still poses a threat, perhaps even greater than before. It has taken different names, put on different facades, wooing culture into more “reasonable” and “scientific” explanation for the incomprehensible Trinity, most particularly Christ’s subjection to the eternal Father. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons think of Jesus as a created being, one who is not eternal and thus not in line with the evangelical understanding of the Trinity. The Church of God movement believes the Father and Son are “separate beings with separate consciousnesses” and that the Holy Spirit isn’t a being at all. Even today, we find Evangelicals wrapped up in an intense debate over the Trinity, and some have been accused of this heresy themselves among Baptist and Presbyterian churches. These viewpoints leave us with the ultimate question: Does Jesus Christ’s divinity really matter that much?
Jesus Thinks His Divinity Matters.
One of the most dramatics scenes where Jesus reveals His divine identity is found in John 9-10. In John 9, Jesus had just healed a man who was born blind. The man was, needless to say, stunned. After being asked to give an account of who healed him in this way, he eventually proclaims Jesus as divine (9:33). The officials cast the man out (9:34-35), and Jesus responds by finding him and revealing His deity to him (9:37). After being provoked by the Pharisees, Jesus begins a discourse on His divinity. Notice some of the phrases Jesus communicates in John 10:
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” (John 10:24-25)
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
Maybe people just haven’t gotten to John 10 yet in their Bible reading plan, because that seems pretty blatant. Jesus was a wordsmith, but he was also very forthright about who He was.
God Thinks Christ’s Divinity Matters.
Throughout the Scriptures, God affirms Christ’s deity as an essential component of his plan for the creation and redemption of the world. Through prophets (Isa. 9:6, 43:10-11), apostles (Jn. 1:1, 1:14, Phil. 2:5-7, Ti. 2:13) and all of Scripture, this message is not compromised.
Perhaps some of the most compelling language on God’s endorsement of Jesus as eternally submissive and totally divine is found in Hebrews. The author states that the Father “has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world” (Heb. 1:2). Even more convincing is Hebrews 1:8. “Of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” God calls His Son God! For anyone to ascribe such a title to one who does not fit the description is blasphemy in the sight of the Father. If He makes such an endorsement, so we must as well. Anyone who still refutes the hypostatic union of Christ beyond this point denies Biblical inerrancy altogether, and have quite a mess on their hands.
How and Why Should We Defend Christ’s Deity?
We will not know if indeed “this too shall pass.” Regardless, we must labor to defend this sweet doctrine. Even if this debate continues another 1700 years, it is a fight worth fighting. It is by this doctrine that we are purchased and made righteous, redeemed into glory, and have an Intercessor at the right hand of the Father. Careful exegesis of Scripture and faithful preaching of the Word will certainly help some of the confusion. We should also be ready to engage in conversations with those who refute such an essential component of the gospel (hint: reading men like Athanasius will help our apologetics here, so please do so). We can point to these resources all we want, but in the end, only the cross will kill Arianism and its subtleties once and for all. No one in their humanity alone could bear such guilt and shame for a crowd of mockers and scorners. No man devoid of supernatural power could rise from the dead and in turn find dominion over Death. Only Someone beyond human ability could accomplish such feats. Someone that stands outside of time. Someone divine.