Chapter Three: The Deity of Christ

“The basic creed of the church is, “Jesus is Lord!”

“Jesus is Lord” Means that Jesus is Yahweh God

To say that “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is God; and to say that “Jesus is God” means “Jesus is Yahweh (the only true God).”

If Jesus Christ were only a man, he could be pictured. But since Jesus is God he is unpictureable, as the following chapters will show. The historic Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is God. This chapter provides a quick survey of biblical evidence, indirect and direct, that Jesus Christ is God.

The doctrine of the Deity of Christ fits perfectly with the other basic doctrines of the Bible. This doctrine fits into “the one and the many”: that is, it fits both into monotheism and into the plurality of Persons in the Godhead.

The Deity of Christ doctrine also fits perfectly with the fact that Yahweh is the only true God, and beside Yahweh there is no other God. The Deity of Christ is the focal point of this study.

1. The Deity of Christ does not contradict the monotheism revealed in the Old Testament. There can be no departure from monotheism. There cannot be two Gods: “The LORD our God is one God.” Monotheism will forever be true. The Deity of Christ does not mean that Christ is another God.

2. There is a plurality of persons within the monotheistic Godhead if the Deity of Christ is true.

This is a surprise to those who think that Yahweh is only the Father. This plurality is even to be found in the Old Testament. Yahweh’s name belonged to more Persons than just the Father alone.

3. Jesus was preexistent. Jesus existed as Yahweh the Son, the eternal Son, long before he was born of Mary as the Son of man. He eternally existed as God the Son.

4. Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus is one of the Persons within the plurality of the Yahweh Godhead. Jesus must be identified as Yahweh: it must be biblically correct to say that Jesus is Yahweh. The name of God must belong to Jesus if the Deity of Christ is a true doctrine.

5. Jesus has the attributes of God. For instance, see his omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. This is the added proof that he is God.

6. The humanity of Christ will be considered in later chapters. At this time we are establishing in our minds the fact of the Deity of Christ, but we must always remember that Christ is both God and man.

Monotheism: There Is Only One God

Israel’s God is eternally the same one Yahweh who does not change. The Deity of Christ means that somehow Christ is Yahweh, the one God of the Old Testament. No other Deity exists. Monotheism is basic to Judeo-Christian faith. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”

Yahweh is the name of the one true God. Israel’s God revealed the proper name by which he was to be identified. The traditional English way to pronounce his name is “Jehovah,” though recent scholarship says it is probably more accurately pronounced “Yahveh” or “Yahweh.” All of these can be found in modern writing. In this study “Yahweh” will be used, except when quoting sources that write it “Jehovah.”

This name of God is so holy that the Jews feared to pronounce it or even to write it. They usually substituted a word meaning “Lord.” (English translations usually use “LORD” to translate God’s proper name. All the letters of “LORD” are put into upper case type so that it can be discerned that God’s holy name is being translated.)

This holy name of God occurs very frequently in the Old Testament, some 6,823 times by one count (Stevenson). This averages out to about six or seven times per page in most Bibles. Obviously, the Old Testament is a book about Yahweh, if frequency of occurrence means anything. The Bible is Yahweh’s book.

This Yahweh God emphasizes that there is no other God beside him. There is only one God; Yahweh is his name.

Yet the world at large believed (and still believes) in many gods. Israel was surrounded by people who had other gods, gods with names like Dagon, Baal, Astarte, and Moloch. Some Canaanites supposed there were gods of the hills and gods of the valleys. Some worshiped the sun, moon, or stars.

Israel interjected into this polytheistic world the concept of monotheism, the belief that there is only one true God. The historic Christian faith holds to the same monotheism. Christians intend to worship Yahweh, the only true God, the God who is revealed by the Old Testament.

There Is a Plurality of Persons in the One Godhead

Jesus is Yahweh. The Deity of Christ requires the existence of a plurality of persons in the Yahweh Godhead.

Three divine Persons are correctly called by the name of Yahweh, the one true (Elohim) God.

So, while the Old Testament emphasizes monotheism in the face of a polytheistic world, it also reveals a plurality of persons in the Godhead. Here are some of the ways it reveals the plurality:

The name “Elohim” is plural
Elohim is the basic word for “God” in the Hebrew language. Two thousand five hundred fifty three times in the OT this plural word is translated “God,” referring to Israel’s God. On other occasions this same word is translated “gods,” when the context shows that pagan gods (plural in number) are meant.

Why is the plural form used to refer to one God? Those who do not believe in a plurality of Persons in the Godhead try to find other explanations, but surely the possibility exists that the plural form for the name of God is accurately used this way to recognize that a plurality of divine Persons constitutes the one Godhead. This plural for God opens the possibility for further revelation that God is a triune God.

Elohim in conference
Elohim said, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1). This sentence sounds like a conference between plural members of the Godhead. It is another case of the OT speaking of the monotheistic Creator in a way which awaits the NT revelation of the Trinity.

Jesus Was Eternal God Before He Was Born of Mary

The doctrine of the Deity of Christ requires that Jesus must have lived before his birth in Bethlehem. (We are talking about “the preexistence of Jesus.”) It will be helpful, for the purposes of this study, to give more attention to the Angel of Yahweh, and observe that by this name the pre-existent Jesus seems to have been the specific member of the Godhead who delivered Israel from Egypt, led Israel in the cloud, gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and dwelt between the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant.

Before his birth from Mary, Jesus appeared as the “Angel of Yahweh.”

The Angel of Yahweh Was Jesus Pre-Incarnate
This section has special significance for our study of images made to represent Jesus—when it is seen that the “Angel of Yahweh” was Yahweh Jesus in pre-incarnate appearances to Israel, and when it is seen that he is the one the Golden Calves were made to represent, thus making them images to represent Jesus. A future chapter deals with the golden calves. The purpose of this section in this chapter is to show that the Angel of Yahweh was actually Jesus before his incarnation.

The OT shows there is a plurality of Persons in the Godhead when it speaks of the special Angel of Yahweh, speaking of him both as a Messenger of Yahweh, and also as Yahweh himself. This angel is no ordinary angel. Most angels belong to a class of created beings, but the word “angel” itself does not require that it be used to refer to a created being. The word “angel” means “sent one” or “messenger.” Any messenger sent on an errand is literally an angel. In this sense, Jesus himself is truly an angel, for he declared that he was sent from the Father. Jesus was not a created angel: he is the uncreated Son who was sent from the Father.

The Angel of Yahweh did the work which also is ascribed to Yahweh himself. This Angel even answered to the name of Yahweh, and that would be blasphemy and sacrilege if he were not actually entitled to the divine name himself.

This unique Angel of Yahweh appeared at special times in the Old Testament. He appeared to Abraham and to Moses. He led Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire that indicated the presence of Yahweh. (Thus it appears that the “Angel of Yahweh” must have been the “Elohim” who delivered Israel from Egypt—and thus, the Elohim that the people intended to symbolize in their Golden Calves. See the chapter on the Golden Calves as images the people intended as representations of Yahweh.) This Angel gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Law that is said to have been written into the stone tablets by the finger of Yahweh. This special Angel dwelt between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies. He appeared to Joshua as the Captain of the hosts of the Lord at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan. Two things about the Angel of Yahweh that these references show are:

1. This Angel of Yahweh shows that a plurality of persons share the divine name of Yahweh, even in Old Testament times. The Old Testament leaves for the New Testament to reveal how many Persons are in the Godhead, but the Old Testament does reveal that there is some kind of plurality in the Godhead.

2. This Angel of Yahweh appears to have been the manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ who was sent by the Father to deliver and lead Israel. He answers to the divine name of Yahweh, and yet he is also called the Angel of Yahweh.

This special Angel appeared frequently to Israel at crucial times. If it is correct to conclude that this Angel was the pre-incarnate Jesus, then it is correct to observe that Jesus in his pre-incarnate state appeared to Israel at many pivotal junctures.

The pre-existent Jesus, as the “Angel of Yahweh,” appeared to Abraham and his family. On various occasions this Angel intervened in the life of Abraham and his family. He appeared to Hagar in the wilderness when she feared Abraham’s son, Ishmael, would die of thirst. (Gen. 16:7f). He warned Abraham of destruction coming upon Sodom where Lot lived (Gen. 18). He prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (Gen. 22:11f). He guided in the selection of a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:7,40). He appeared to Jacob and said “I am the God of Bethel” (Gen. 31:11f). Jacob wrestled with the angel and said, “I have seen God face to face.” (Gen. 32:24f) Jacob spoke to God and the Angel as being identical (Gen. 48:15f).

The pre-existent Jesus, as the “Angel of Yahweh,” delivered Israel from Egypt. The fact that Jesus was the Elohim (Yahweh) who delivered Israel from Egypt is indicated by comparing Scriptures such as the following:

At the burning bush it was the Angel of Yahweh who “appeared” to Moses (Ex. 3:2) and sent him to the elders of Israel to say that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, had “appeared” to him (Ex. 3:16) and would deliver Israel from Egypt. Moses asked for the name of their God who was sending him to Israel, and Yahweh answered, “Thus shalt thou say, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Ex. 3:14) Jesus often spoke of himself as “I AM” in a way reminiscent of the “I AM” who delivered Israel from Egypt.

The pre-existent Jesus, as the “Angel of Yahweh,” led Israel across the desert (Ex. 13:21). First, it says Yahweh went before them in the cloud: “...(Yahweh) went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud ...” (Ex. 13:21). Next, it says of the angel of God: “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.” (Ex. 14:19) This divine being called Yahweh is here called “the angel of God.” So, in this case, the Angel of God was Yahweh God. This fits with the evidence that Yahweh Jesus is the Angel of Yahweh.

The pre-existent Jesus gave Moses the Ten Commandments. This is indicated by comparing the following Scriptural themes. First, it was Yahweh who gave the Law to Moses (Ex. 20:2). But according to the New Testament, it was the angel of God who gave the Law to Moses: Moses was “... with the angel who spoke to him on Mt. Sinai; and he received living words to pass on to us.” (Acts 7:38) This fits with the evidence that Yahweh Jesus is the Angel of Yahweh.

The pre-existent Jesus appears to have been the Prince (or “Captain”) of Yahweh’s hosts who conquered Jericho for Israel (Josh. 5:13-6:2). He appeared as a “man” (it does not say an “Angel” in this case) to Joshua, but Joshua worshiped him when the “Prince” identified himself. This person then told Joshua to take off his shoes because he was standing on a holy place. “Yahweh” then told Joshua that he had given Jericho into Joshua’s hand. It seems that this “man” who appeared to Joshua was identified also as the Prince of Yahweh’s hosts and also as Yahweh.

The pre-existent Jesus outlined his relationship with Israel early in the era of the Judges (Judg. 2:1-5). The “angel of Yahweh” reviewed for Israel the fact that he had brought them out of Egypt and had brought them to the land “which I sware unto your fathers.” The Angel reminded them that he was the one who had said, “I will never break my covenant with you.” The Angel reviewed how Israel had broken the covenant, so he promised to let other people trouble Israel. Then the people wept and sacrificed to Yahweh.

Here the Angel of Yahweh said he was the one who promised the land in the (Abrahamic) covenant. He was the one who delivered Israel from Egypt in the exodus. He was the one who brought Israel to the promised land, their home at the time the angel was speaking to them.

The Angel of Yahweh claimed to do what elsewhere it says that Yahweh did. The Angel of Yahweh appears to have been the pre-existent Jesus who as a member of the Trinity was very much involved in the covenant with Abraham, the exodus, the forty-year trek across the desert, and the conquest of the covenant land.

The pre-existent Jesus appeared to Samson’s parents foretelling Samson’s birth. This person who appeared to Samson’s parents was called “the angel of Yahweh” (Judg. 13:3,9,13,15-18,20-21; and see Judg. 13:6 where it says “his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible”), “a man of God” or “the man of God” (Judg. 13:6,8), “the man” (Judg. 13:10-11), and “wonderful” (Judg. 13:18, cf. Isa 9:6). This angel ascended to heaven in the flame of the sacrifice, while Samson’s parents watched. After the angel left in this wonderful way, the parents of Samson said, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” (Judg. 13:22)

The pre-existent Jesus dwelt between the cherubim above the Ark. Paul applied Psalm 68:18 to Jesus. Psalm 68 tells about David taking the ark up to Jerusalem when Yahweh (the Presence above the ark) gave gifts to his people. Paul applied this Scripture as a prophecy about Jesus giving gifts to his church when he ascended on high (Eph. 4). Yahweh gave gifts when he entered his earthly tabernacle: this typifies (or “pictures”) how Jesus gave gifts when he entered his heavenly tabernacle.

The pre-existent Jesus was evidently the Person who chose the place where the temple would be built in Jerusalem (1 Ch. 21-22). When David sinned by numbering Israel, God sent his angel. (This fits into the pattern of the other appearances of the One called the “angel of God.” However, we note that in this place he is not clearly called “God.”) The “angel of Yahweh” instructed the prophet Gad to tell David to erect an altar to Yahweh at the location of the threshing floor that belonged to Oman the Jebusite. David bought the place from Oman, built the altar, and offered the sacrifice to Yahweh; then Yahweh commanded the angel to sheath his sword, and thus the people were spared God’s judgment.

It is noteworthy that the place the angel chose was likely the same place known as Mt. Moriah where Abraham started to sacrifice Isaac. There, at that same chosen place, David was to build his altar and there Solomon was to build the temple.

In Deuteronomy 12 Yahweh instructed Moses that the people were not to build an altar anywhere except at the place where he, Yahweh, would choose as the place to put his name. Yahweh would choose the place (Dt. 12:5-27). The “angel of Yahweh” (1 Ch. 21:18), through the prophet Gad, told David where “the place” was to be.

Thus this mysterious Angel of Yahweh appears to have been the pre-existent Jesus appearing to Israel at momentous times, appearing as the messenger of the Father to accomplish the Father’s will. Sometimes he is called “the angel of Yahweh,” and sometimes he answers to “Yahweh.” The title “angel” evidently stood for his office or function, not his nature. He is spoken of as being God. He bore the name of Yahweh. He spoke as God. He had God’s attributes and authority. He received worship.

Yet this “angel of Yahweh” was also distinguished as a separate person. He was sent.

Although the Hebrew word for “angel” appears 214 times in the Old Testament, about half of these clearly refer to human messengers bearing messages from other human men (such as kings or leaders). Sometimes the word is used for priests and prophets as God’s messengers. The other half of the times that the Hebrew word for “angel” is used is divided between references to created, finite beings we know as angels (about 17 percent of the total references to angels) and references to the “angel of Yahweh” (about 33 percent of the total). (Borland, 36)

Jesus Has the Attributes of God

The New Testament confirms the Deity of Christ showing that he has the attributes of God, such attributes as power to create and to work miracles, and having God’s omniscience and omnipresence.

The fact that Christ does have these attributes that belong to God is shown by biblical evidence. Examples: Christ created bread and fish. Christ knew the unspoken thoughts of other people. He could appear suddenly in unexpected places, etc. These are the usual examples given to prove the Deity of Christ, and they are very important.

Jesus Is One of the Persons in the Godhead

If the holy name of Yahweh does not belong to Jesus, he could not correctly be called God.

To believe in the Deity of Christ, we must believe that the name of the monotheistic God, Yahweh, belongs properly to Christ. No true God exists apart from Yahweh God.

A compelling Scriptural reason to believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ is that the New Testament does apply various passages from the Old Testament to Jesus—passages that are specifically about Yahweh. This weaves the doctrine of the Deity of Christ very deeply into the Bible: this doctrine is one of the main threads of the whole cloth of the Scriptures. The Deity of Christ doctrine ties the Old and New Testaments together into one book.

Here are three of the many samples of the evidence that Jesus Christ is Yahweh. To understand them, follow the references where the Old Testament speaks of Yahweh and find that the New Testament connects those references to Jesus. Jesus must be Yahweh if these Old Testament passages are correctly used. These references confirm the doctrine of the Deity of Christ by way of showing that the divine name Yahweh belongs to Jesus.

1. Compare Psalm 23:1 with John 10:11-19. Psalm 23 says Yahweh is the good shepherd. Jesus applied the Shepherd Psalm to himself when he said, “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus classified himself as being Yahweh, the good shepherd. This would be blasphemy if Jesus were not Yahweh.

2. Compare Isaiah 6 with John 12:36-42. Isaiah saw Yahweh on the throne in the temple, and John said that it was Jesus that Isaiah saw on the throne. This is amazing. How could Isaiah see Jesus six hundred years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? Obviously, John said that Jesus was the enthroned “Yahweh” whom Isaiah saw, even though Jesus would not be born of Mary until some six hundred years would pass.

In John 12 the context shows that the Jewish leaders tried to silence the crowd from shouting hosannas to Jesus when he came as king and as God to his temple. The multitude shouted: “Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” The blind leaders of the Jews did not recognize their King, Yahweh, but John recognized Jesus to be the same King that Isaiah saw seated on Yahweh’s throne in the temple.

3. Compare Exodus 3:14-15 with John 8:58. Yahweh revealed himself as I AM to Moses. Yahweh called himself “I AM” in this Old Testament reference. This name I AM comes from the same Hebrew root as “Yahweh.”

In John 8, Jesus told the Jews, “I tell you the truth ... before Abraham was born, I am!” So Jesus was saying, “I am (Yahweh).

Jesus, in this unique sentence, called attention to his preexistence: “... before Abraham ... I am!” Jesus thus claimed to be the I AM (Yahweh) who met Moses at the burning bush fifteen hundred years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. So Jesus did identify himself to be Yahweh God of Abraham and Moses.

More OT references to Yahweh that the NT connects to Jesus:

Num. 20:5-9 John 3:14-15 & 1 Cor. 10:9
Ps. 68:18 Eph. 4:6-8
Ps. 97:5-7 Heb. 1:6
Ps. 102:21-27 Heb. 1:10-12
Isa. 8:14 Rom. 9:33
Isa. 40:3 Matt. 3:3
Isa. 45:23 Rom. 14:11
Joel 2:32 Rom. 10:13
Mal. 3:1 Luke 1:76

When one reads the New Testament passages about Jesus and reads that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament types and prophecies, and then one checks those Old Testament references and finds that some of them refer to Yahweh, how shall these references be understood? Who was it that fulfilled them, Yahweh or Jesus? Is not the Bible showing that the name of Yahweh belongs also to Jesus?

If the OT says Yahweh is one God, and the NT applies “Yahweh”-passages to the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we are forced to make some kind of conclusion. Either the Bible is in error about Jesus here, or else Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also Yahweh, along with the Father.

Either Jesus was guilty of blasphemy when he identified himself by the Scriptures that speak of Yahweh or else he spoke the truth, and the Name of Yahweh belongs to Jesus.

Summary and Conclusion

The mysterious Angel of Yahweh turns out to be Yahweh-Jesus keeping watch over his own people, even before his incarnation. He is the eternal Son, sent from the Father.

We know that Jesus is God because he has the attributes of God.

But more importantly: Jesus has the name of the one true God. Without this name he could not be God. Other persons may seem to possess one or more of the attributes of God, but not be God. For instance, even demons may be able to work miracles occasionally, but that does not make demons to be God. The Old Testament reveals a more basic test for determining if Christ is God: does he rightfully possess the name of God? The Old Testament reveals God’s mysterious name (sometimes translated Yahweh), and reveals that no other person than God can correctly possess this holy name. We have seen that Jesus does truly possess the nontransferable name of Yahweh, who is the unpictureable God. Jesus is Yahweh. Without this name he would be an imposter with no claim to being Deity, for there is only one God.

(This does not say that Jesus is the Father or the Holy Spirit. These divine Persons also possess the name of Yahweh, the one true Elohim God. Each Person is distinguishable from the other, at least at times. For instance, at the baptism of Jesus, all three Persons of the Trinity are distinguishable from each other: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven. New Testament application to Jesus of some Old Testament writings about Yahweh establishes the basic presupposition of this study: that Jesus correctly can be called the Elohim known as Yahweh. In simple English, Jesus Christ is God.)

Whatever the Old Testament says about Yahweh God must be true about Jesus Christ, Yahweh incarnate. Especially, anything true of the nature and being (ontology) of Yahweh must be true of the nature and being of Jesus Christ.

Applying this principle to pictures to represent Christ, any picture that is a picture of Christ means that it is a picture of Yahweh God.

Likewise, any Law forbidding pictures of Yahweh is a Law forbidding pictures of Jesus.

Selected Bibliography

Borland, James A. Christ in the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978). “A comprehensive study of Old Testament appearances of Christ in human form.” Surveys the arguments pro and con.

Geisler, Norman. To Understand the Bible Look for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968). “(I)n ... Christ is the thematic unity of the whole span of scriptural revelation.”

Liddon, H. P. The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Fort Washington, PA 19034: 1977).

Owen, John. “Appearances of the Son of God Under the Old Testament,” The Works of John Owen, D.D., Wm. H. Goold, ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1862), Vol. 18, pp. 215-233 Gives substantial Scriptural evidence that it was the pre-incarnate Jesus who gave the Law at Sinai, delivered and led Israel, etc. (Note: newer editions of Owen’s works are available.)

Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1987). Hymn book of the Christian Reformed Church. See the sections pertaining to the Trinity and to the Deity of Christ in the modern translations of the Apostles’ Creed (p. 813); Nicene Creed (p. 814); Athanasian Creed (pp. 815-816); The Belgic Confession (pp. 817, 822-826); The Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 866, 869).

Stevenson, Herbert F. Titles of the Triune God (Westwood NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1956).