The Eyewitnesses

Jesus had picked very ordinary men to be his followers. He spent three years with them, teaching them about himself and explaining to them the deep truths of God’s Word. During those three years, Jesus performed numerous miracles, made audacious claims, and lived an absolutely righteous life. Later, these apostles wrote down many of Jesus’ words and deeds. These New Testament accounts have been called extremely reliable, far exceeding all other ancient historical documents for authenticity (See Jesus.doc).

Scholars have noted that the New Testament reveals an objectivity that makes the apostles’ accounts about Jesus totally believable. They honestly reported what they saw and heard. Historian Will Durant remarks:

“These men were hardly of the type that one would have chosen to remold the world. The Gospels realistically differentiate their characters, and honestly expose their faults.”[1]

When they first encountered Jesus, the apostles had no idea who he was. However, as they heard his profound words and saw him restore sight to the blind and raise the dead, they may have recalled the prophecies indicating the Messiah would be God Himself. (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2). But as they saw him dying on the cross, Jesus appeared defeated and powerless. Any thoughts they might have had that Jesus was God undoubtedly vanished at the cross.

However, three days after that traumatic event, the one, who had appeared impotent while hanging on the cross, miraculously appeared alive to his followers. And he had risen bodily. They saw him, touched him, ate with him, and heard him talk of his glorified position as the supreme authority in the universe. Simon Peter, who was one of the closest of Jesus’ disciples, and an eyewitness, wrote:

“We saw it with our own eyes: Jesus resplendent with light from God the Father….We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice.” (2 Peter 1: 16, 17 The Message )

But does the fact that the apostles saw God’s glory and heard God’s voice through Jesus mean that they regarded him as God? New Testament scholar A. H. McNeile gives us the answer:

“…no sooner had the Life of Jesus ended in apparent failure and shame than the great body of Christians—not an individual here and there, but the mass of the Church—passed over at once to the fixed belief that He was God.” [2]

So, did the apostles who wrote the New Testament accounts really believe that Jesus is God, or did they regard him as a created being? If they regarded Jesus as God, did they consider him as the Creator of the universe, or something less? Those who deny Jesus’ deity say that the apostles taught that Jesus is God’s supreme creation, and that the Father alone is the eternal God. So, to clarify their beliefs about Jesus, we will examine their words, asking three questions:

  1. Did the apostles and early Christians worship and pray to Jesus as Lord?
  2. Did the apostles teach that Jesus is the Creator written of in Genesis?
  3. Did the apostles worship Jesus as Preeminent in the universe?

Lord

After Jesus ascended, the apostles stunned both Jew and Roman by proclaiming Jesus as “Lord”.[3] And the apostles did the unthinkable and worshipped Jesus, even praying to him as if he was God. Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” as he was being stoned to death. (Acts 7:59).

Other believers soon joined Stephen, who even in the face of death, “never ceased for a single day…to teach and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus (Acts 5:42). The apostles, most of whom were martyred, passed on their knowledge of Jesus to church fathers who carried on their message into the next generation.

Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote about Jesus’ 2nd coming, “Look for him that is above the times, him who has not times, him who is invisible”. In a letter to Polycarp he states “Jesus is God”, “God incarnate,” and to the Ephesians he writes,” … God Himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:13)

Clement of Rome in 96 A. D. also taught Jesus’ divinity, saying, “We ought to think of Jesus Christ as of God.” (2nd Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 1:1)

Polycarp, also a pupil of John’s, was tried before the Roman proconsul for worshipping Jesus as Lord. While the frenzied crowd shouted for his blood, the Roman judge demanded he proclaim Caesar as Lord. But Polycarp went to the stake, rather than renounce Jesus as his Lord, responding,

“Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”[4]

As the early church grew, Gnostics and other cults began teaching that Jesus was a created being, inferior to the Father. This came to a head in the fourth century when Arius, a popular preacher from Libya, persuaded many leaders that Jesus wasn’t fully God. Then in 325 A. D. at the Council of Nicaea, church leaders met to resolve the issue of whether Jesus is the Creator, or merely a creation.[5] These church leaders overwhelmingly affirmed the long-held Christian conviction and New Testament teaching that Jesus is fully God.[6]

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