A RESPONSE TO PHILIP THE ATHEIST
The Divine Son-ship of Christ
A book about ‘Christ’
Easter 2010 saw much media attention being given to Philip Pullman, an English writer and militant atheist. Mr Pullman had written a book about the Lord Jesus Christ – or rather, a book containing his own ‘creative’ thoughts on the Lord Jesus. The title of this book is so offensive to those who love the Lord, that I cannot mention it. As regards the book’s contents though, a reviewer stated that its main thesis is ‘that a man called Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, but that Christ, as the Son of God was the invention of the disciple (sic) Paul.’
It certainly cannot be denied that the Apostle Paul believed that Jesus was the Son of God. As soon as he had his life-changing encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, Luke tells us that ‘in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying ‘He is the Son of God’’ (Acts 9:20). Paul himself was candid when he confessed, ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God...’ (Galatians 2:20). Affirming Christ’s divine son-ship, however, is on a totally different planet from inventing Christ’s divine son-ship. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Christ’s divine son-ship was evident from the beginning, predating the conversion of Saul of Tarsus by some years.
The Evidence of the Gospels
Even before Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, His divine son-ship was latent. The angel Gabriel explained to Mary that ‘the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).
Jesus’ earthly ministry commenced with His baptism in the river Jordan. Remarkably, Scripture records that on that occasion God the Father actually spoke audibly from heaven: ‘a voice came from heaven ‘Thou art my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’’ (Mark 1:11). Similarly, some time later, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when something of Christ’s pre-incarnate glory was manifest, as His ‘face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light’ (Matthew 17:2), Christ’s divine son-ship was reiterated by the voice of God the Father: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him’ (Matthew 17:5). The Transfiguration of Christ, of course, does not fit into the mental framework of those who, whilst not denying Christ’s existence, would like to think of Him as no more than a mere man.
Christ’s death at Calvary was supervised by Roman soldiers under the command of a Roman centurion. These men were rough and ready, but certainly no fools. They had no ‘axe to grind’ in Christ’s favour - if anything, they would have viewed him like any other criminal condemned to capital punishment. Mark, however, records an unsolicited confession of faith from the Roman centurion at Calvary. He records how ‘Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last ... And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that He thus breathed His last, he said. ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Mark 15:37, 39).
Scripture also reveals that Christ’s unique divine son-ship was recognised even from a very unlikely source. Jesus and His disciples once sailed across the Sea of Galilee to the ‘country of the Gerasenes’ (Mark 5:1). There they were met by a somewhat demented, demon possessed man. Whilst this man had never met Christ before, on seeing Him he recognised the truth of His identity, and cried out ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ (Mark 5:7).
The twelve disciples of Jesus were something of a ‘mixed multitude.’ Some were fishermen, another had been a tax collector and others would be classed as political extremists. These twelve men lived with Jesus closely for three years, and were privileged to observe His words and works first hand. On one occasion, in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, having witnessed Jesus’ lordship over nature, through seeing Him both walk on the waters and calm the stormy weather, Matthew says ‘those in the boat worshipped Him, saying ‘Truly, you are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:35).
A turning point in the ministry of Jesus occurred at Caesarea Philippi. Up until then, Jesus had made some stupendous claims, and performed some stupendous miracles: He had healed the sick, calmed the sea, fed five thousand with just five loaves and two fish, and even brought the dead back to life. It all begged the question as to His true identity. Who was He? At Caesarea Philippi Jesus forced the issue. He asked Simon Peter ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:15,16) – and Simon Peter was then commended, not rebuked by the Saviour for making such a confession.
The divine son-ship of Christ therefore was affirmed by those who encountered Him right from the beginning to the end of His ministry on earth. But did Christ Himself believe Himself to be the Son of God? Scripture shows that He did.
Scripture reveals that Jesus was aware of His unique identity even when just twelve years of age. At that age He was taken to Jerusalem by His earthly parents. On losing Him and subsequently finding Him at the temple in Jerusalem, Luke records that ‘He said to them ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’’ (Luke 2:49). Then at the end of His earthly ministry, under oath and on trial for His very life, Mark records how ‘the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am ...’’ (Mark 14,61,62).It was this assertion of His divine son-ship which led to Jesus being condemned to death by crucifixion. In response ‘The high priest tore his garments, and said ... ‘You have heard His blasphemy ...’ And they all condemned Him as deserving death’ (Mark 14:63 ff.).
In conclusion therefore, we have to say that to purport that the divine son-ship of Christ was an invention of the Apostle Paul flies in the face of the clear evidence of the New Testament. Christ’s divine son-ship was no afterthought but part of the very fibre of the Gospel records.
Contend for the Faith
Why, however, is the true identity of Christ so worth contending for? It is so because the uniqueness of the Christian Faith rests on the uniqueness of the One at its heart. Our view of Christ is no mere academic matter, but actually determines where we spend eternity. John wrote ‘No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also’ (1 John 2:23).
It is because Christ is the unique, eternal Son of God that He was able to offer up Himself as an eternally atoning sacrifice for sin, sufficient to save us eternally. Where we will spend eternity, Scripture states, is determined by saving faith in the Christ of Scripture - or the lack of it. Politically incorrect though it is, salvation, according to the Bible, is a black and white matter: ‘He who believes in the Son has eternal life, he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him’ (John 3:36). ‘He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life’ (1 John 5:12).
How crucial it is then that our view of Christ is gained not from the creative speculations of men, but grounded on what God Himself says of His Son in His Word. And how vital it is that our hopes for eternity are based solely upon Him – who He is and what He has done. We know what Philip Pullman allegedly thinks of Christ – a ‘Christ’ who would produce no martyrs! We have seen what Scripture tells us about the true Christ. But the question is always begged: ‘What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is He?’ (Matthew 22:42). It is a crucial matter, because the eternal welfare of our souls depends on our answer to this question. John Newton wrote:-
‘What think ye of Christ?’ is the test
To try both your state and your scheme
You cannot be right in the rest
Unless you think rightly of Him
As Jesus appears in your view –
As He is beloved or not –
So God is disposed to you
And mercy or wrath is your lot
Some take Him a creature to be –
A man or an angel at most
But they have no feelings like me
Nor know themselves wretched and lost
So guilty, so helpless am I
I durst not confide in His blood
Nor on His protection rely
Unless I was sure He is God.
Timothy CrossLast Update: 2012-10-19 17:10