Jesus Christ: Prefigured and Prophesied
Last week I finished my opening argument with a reference to Genesis:
The LORD God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
This is Christianity’s foundation teaching:
- Sin deserves death
- Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
- Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is “other than God”
The OT repeats three principles constantly. They underpin the entire Law of Moses, which underpins NT atonement theology. It is essential to understand these principles and recognise how they were fulfilled by Christ, as they inform our understanding of his identity and purpose. The OT was a guidebook pointing forward to Christ (Galatians 3:24); thus any interpretation contradicting the OT’s view of Christ must be rejected.
The OT refers to Christ in two ways: typology (symbolism) and prophecy. As Rob and I both agree Jesus appears in prophecy, I’ll look closely at the typology and its implications for NT Christology:
- Atoning sacrifice for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)
- Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18; cp. Hebrews 5:10, 7:1-10, 9:11)
- Ram sacrificed by Abraham (Genesis 22:11-13)
- Passover lamb (Exodus 12; cp. John 1:29, I Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:6)
- Sin offering for high priest & (Leviticus 4)
- Brass serpent on pole (Numbers 21:8-9; cp. John 3:14)
- Joseph (Genesis 37-41)
- Boaz (Ruth 2-4)
- King David (I Samuel 17-I Kings 2)
- King Solomon (I Kings 4-I Kings 11)
Jesus is represented in four primary roles: (a) sacrifice for sin, (b) priest; (c) redeemer; (d) divinely anointed king in King David’s family line. As the Jewish Messiah he incorporates all four roles, none of which requires him to be God, and two (sacrifice for sin and descendent of King David) requiring he is not God.
Jesus Christ: Predestined, not Pre-existent
The connections between typology and prophecy in Jewish religious interpretation and ideas of prefiguration and predestination cannot be overlooked; thus, if God says something, it is as good as done, a prophecy uttered is as good as fulfilled, a promise made is as good as kept. If God determines to create something at a future date, it can be described as existing already. Likewise, the subject of a typological reference can be said to have “existed” in the past via a figurative reference made before their literal existence (e.g. I Corinthians 10:4, 9, “For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ … Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents”).
We find examples in the Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 39b:
Seven things were created before the world, viz., The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, The Lord possessed me [the Torah] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. Repentance, for it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world … Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Repent, ye sons of men.
The Garden of Eden, as it is written, And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden from aforetime. Gehenna, as it is written, For Tophet is ordained of old. The Throne of Glory, as it is written, Thy Throne is established from of old. The Temple, as it is written, A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. The name of the Messiah, as it is written, His name [of Messiah] shall endure forever, and [has existed] before the sun!
Also in the apocryphal Assumption of Moses:
So says the Lord of the world. For He has created the world on behalf of His people. But He was not pleased to manifest this purpose of creation from the foundation of the world, in order that the Gentiles might thereby be convicted, yea to their own humiliation might by (their) arguments convict one another. Accordingly He designed and devised me [Moses], and He prepared me before the foundation of the world, that I should be the mediator of His covenant.
Thus Reverend E. C. Dewick (Primitive Christian Eschatology, reprint, Marton Press, 2007):
When the Jew said something was ‘predestined,’ he thought of it as already ‘existing’ in a higher sphere of life. The world’s history is thus predestined because it is already, in a sense, pre-existing and consequently fixed. This typically Jewish conception of predestination may be distinguished from the Greek idea of pre-existence by the predominance of the thought of ‘pre-existence’ in the Divine purpose.
Scripture also uses this predestination language to speak of events and people as occurring and existing before they literally did:
- Jeremiah 1:5, “‘Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.’“
- Ephesians 2:6, “and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”
- Hebrews 7:9-10, “And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Melchizedek met him.
(See also I Peter 1:20, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake”).
In each passage we find a statement not to be taken literally; Jeremiah appointed a prophet before his birth; Paul informing his fellow Christians they already sit in heavenly places with Jesus; Levi paying tithes to Melchizedek before he is conceived in Sarah’s womb. (These texts would assist Rob’s interpretation of other passages appearing to speak of literal pre-existence).
Reverend Sigmund Mowinckel insisted the Jewish conception of predestination and prefiguration must inform our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence:
That any expression or vehicle of God’s will for the world, His saving counsel and purpose, was present in His mind, or His ‘Word,’ from the beginning is a natural way of saying that it is not fortuitous, but the due unfolding and expression of God’s own being. This attribution of pre-existence indicates religious importance of the highest order. Rabbinic theology speaks of the Law, of God’s throne of glory, of Israel and of other important objects of faith, as things which had been created by God, and were already present with Him, before the creation of the world.
The same is also true of the Messiah. It is said that his name was present with God in heaven beforehand, that it was created before the world, and that it is eternal. But the reference here is not to genuine pre-existence in the strict and literal sense. This is clear from the fact that Israel is included among these pre-existent entities. This does not mean that either the nation Israel or its ancestor existed long ago in heaven, but that the community Israel, the people of God, had been from all eternity in the mind of God, as a factor in His purpose. …
This is true of references to the pre-existence of the Messiah. It is his ‘name,’ not the Messiah himself, that is said to have been present with God before creation. In Pesikta Rabbati 152b is said that ‘from the beginning of the creation of the world the King Messiah was born, for he came up in the thought of God before the world was created.’ This means that from all eternity it was the will of God that the Messiah should come into existence, and should do his work in the world to fulfill God’s eternal saving purpose.
(He That Cometh: The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005, p. 334).
Jewish predestination/prefiguration language was understood by the earliest Christians, themselves Jews. The apostle Paul even coined a phrase to describe it; he said that God “…makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (Romans 4:17).
Last week Rob quoted John 17:5 and told us it refers to the literal pre-existence of Christ. Now more familiar with Jewish religious language, we can see why Rob’s interpretation falls short. Jesus claimed ownership of the glory God intended for him long before his literal existence (he also said he had given that same glory to his disciples; a statement Rob didn’t explain).
This is consistent with John 17’s wider context, containing several such predestination statements. Like God, Jesus speaks of things yet to occur as if they are in the past:
- John 17:4, “‘I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do'”
But Jesus’ work was not finished until he said “It is completed” on the cross (John 19:30)
- John 17:11, “‘I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world'”
But Jesus was still in the world; he had not yet ascended to the Father
- John 17:18, “‘Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them [the disciples] into the world'”
But Jesus had not yet sent his disciples into the world; this didn’t happen until after his resurrection (John 20:21; Matthew 28:19-20)
The late G. H. Gilbert, former professor of New Testament Literature and Interpretation at Chicago Theological Seminary (The Revelation of Jesus: A Study of the Primary Sources of Christianity, reprint, BiblioLife, 2009, p. 222), wrote:
The glory of completed redemption cannot literally be possessed until redemption is complete. If now the pre-existence of Jesus, according to the seventeenth chapter of John, is clearly ideal, this fact confirms the interpretation which has been given of the other passages which are less clear.
We conclude, then, that these three passages in John [6:62; 8:58; 17:5] in which Jesus alludes to his pre-existence, do not involve the claim that his pre-existence was personal and real. They are to be classed with the other phenomena of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus, none of which have to do with metaphysical relationships with the Father.
Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man
Rob has yet to address the Bible’s exclusive emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. He will say he accepts the humanity of Jesus in addition to his alleged deity, but Scripture says nothing of this position.
I maintain God predicated our salvation on the involvement in His plan and purpose of a man He would raise up from among men, among his fellows, his brethren, with whom he would share the very same nature, with all its qualities and weaknesses. I further maintain this message was contained in the OT and that NT believers were expected to know it.
Let’s begin with a warning from the apostle John:
II John 1:7, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist!”
For John, the touchstone of orthodoxy is Jesus’ humanity – not his alleged deity. John writes against those who believed that Jesus was somehow more or less than human.
Trinitarians make it a fundamental fellowship issue that Christ was both 100% man and 100% God. But if this was truly the apostolic understanding, why can’t we find it in Scripture?
- Objects to Christ being described as “only man”, but the apostles insisted on it
- Makes the “deity” of Christ a fellowship issue, but the apostles made the humanity of Christ a fellowship issue
- Predicates the saving power of the atonement on the “deity” of Christ, but the apostles predicate the saving power of the atonement on the humanity of Christ
- Focuses on proving Christ was God, but the apostles focused entirely on proving Christ was a man; the Son of God
The difference is profound.
Genesis 3 shows God’s salvation process would involve a human being (the “seed of the woman” in verse 15) and a sinless sacrifice (the coats of skins in verse 21). A further detail was revealed to Moses:
Deuteronomy 18:18-19, “‘I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command. I will personally hold responsible anyone who then pays no attention to the words that prophet speaks in my name.’“
This passage shows how the prophet to come would be:
- Like like Moses; a man acting as God’s agent and representative, just as Moses had (God told Moses He had made Moses “God” to Pharoah; Exodus 7:1)
- A man, raised up from among his brethren, bearing the same nature that they shared
- Divinely authorised as the agent of God, his words considered the words of God Himself
The prophecy did not simply refer to Christ; it also applied to every prophet God raised up. All were mortal men, sharing the same nature as their brethren; all divinely authorised as the agents of God. But the ultimate fulfilment came with Christ, the promised Messiah.
Peter used these very words when preaching the Gospel:
Acts 3:22-23, “‘Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you. Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people.””
Peter tells the crowd that Jesus was a prophet like Moses, from among their brothers, not that Jesus is God, or that he pre-existed. He confirms Jesus was the greatest in this line of prophets, as many of the Jews had recognised:
John 6:14, “Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, ‘This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’“
These people were familiar with the prophecy of Moses, and understood its correlation to the Messiah.
We receive additional insight from another Messianic prophecy:
Isaiah 42:1, 6-7, “‘Here is my servant whom I support, my chosen one in whom I take pleasure. I have placed my spirit on him; he will make just decrees for the nations. I, the Lord, officially commission you; I take hold of your hand. I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people, and a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from dungeons, those who live in darkness from prisons.'”
Matthew applies these words to Jesus:
Matthew 12:18, “‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I take great delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.'”
If Jesus was God, he would already possess authority and power by virtue of his deity. There would be no need to authorise, empower or protect him. Yet we find in Scripture that the prophecies speak of a man who is greater than any other man, but still totally human; he is not the Trinitarian “God-man.”
Rob will probably say he agrees with all of this, but we know he cannot do so without qualification. He must claim that the prophecies merely refer to “Christ’s human nature”, or “Christ’s humanity”, adding what Scripture never says: Jesus had a divine nature in addition to his human nature. He cannot speak of Jesus as Scripture does.
The point I am making from these verses is not merely that Jesus is spoken of as a human being, but that he is only spoken of as a human being, and that this is done in a way which precludes the idea that he is God.
How did Jesus view these prophecies? We know he understood them; we know he believed he was fulfilling them; we know he believed the Jews should have been familiar with them. Thus, the OT prophecies spoke of Jesus and provided sufficient information to prepare Israel for their Messiah. They had no excuse for failing to recognise him:
- Matthew 2:4-5, “After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, [Herod] asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they said, ‘for it is written this way by the prophet'”
- Matthew 2:23, “Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.”
- Matthew 5:17, “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfil them.’“
- Matthew 26:56, “‘But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.’“
- Matthew 26:63, “But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’“
- Luke 18:31, “‘Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’“
- Luke 24:25, 27, 44, “So he said to them, ‘You foolish people — how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ … Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. … ‘…everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.'”
- John 1:45, “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”
- John 5:46, “‘If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.’“
Notice in Matthew 26, the High Priest reveals he understood the Jewish Messiah to be the Son of God (see also Mark 14:61). His question depends on Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah; there is no suggestion Jesus had claimed to be God.
The trial reveals the Sanhedrin’s hypocrisy. Accurately predicting Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4-5), understanding Messiah would be the Son of God (Matthew 26:63, Mark 14:61), they nevertheless accused Jesus of blasphemy despite the increasing weight of evidence proving his claim was valid.
Some had accused Jesus of making himself equal to God (e.g. John 5; John 10) but he successfully refuted this false charge, which was never raised again. Likewise his explanations about healing and working on the Sabbath (Matthew 10, Luke 6). In every case Jesus exposed the flawed logic behind these allegations and his counter-arguments were so compelling that even some of the rulers believed him (John 12:42).
This raises a number of questions for Trinitarianism:
- Why is Jesus never accused of claiming to be God throughout his trial?
- Why is Jesus only ever accused of claiming to be the Messiah?
- Why are none of the alleged “Jesus claimed to be God” incidents (e.g. John 2:19, 5:18, 8:58, 10:30, etc.) raised at the trial?
- If the Sanhedrin had any evidence Jesus had broken their law (e.g. healing on the Sabbath, forgiving sins) why was it necessary to bring false witnesses against him?
- The High Priest equates “Christ” (Messiah) with “Son of God.” If “Son of God” was considered a blasphemous claim to deity, why did the High Priest believe Messiah would be the Son of God?
A common theme saturates the NT: Jesus declares that the Father is the only true God, that he was sent by the Father, that he was empowered and authorised by the Father, that the Father was greater than himself. This is all found in John 17:1-4, which we examined earlier. In that passage Jesus distinguishes himself from the one true God, affirms his power and authority are derived (not innate), gives all glory to the Father, and acknowledges his lower status. These statements reflect a previous declaration in John 5:26-30, where, in response to the accusation he was claiming equality with God, Jesus defended himself by deferring to the Father:
John 5:26-30, “‘For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.'”
(See also John 14:10 & John 12:49).
Christ tells us he was granted life in himself by the Father (he did not have it in himself before), he was granted authority to execute judgment by the Father (he did not have it before), and he was granted that authority to judge; not because he was “God the Son”, but because he was mortal: the Son of Man. This clear explanation of his mission and role was prompted by the Jews’ accusation that he was making himself equal to God (John 5:18). James F. McGrath (The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context, University of Illinois Press, 2009, p. 59) shows that Jesus rejected this false allegation:
How is Jesus portrayed as responding to the charge in John 5? He adamantly denies it. “Note the words which are used: “The Son can do nothing of himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing… By myself I can do nothing… I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:19. 30). The response repeats and negates the two key words used in the accusation: the Greek verb poiein means both “to do “and “to make”, and thus the reply amounts to an emphatic denial: Jesus does not do/make himself anything. Conversely, Jesus is equally emphatically said to be God’s obedient Son and agent.
Jesus’ unqualified denial of equality with God is problematic for Trinitarianism. The standard response claims he was “denying equality of rank, not equality of nature.” But Jesus had not been accused of claiming equality with nature. Ontology is not at issue here. The Jews had been outraged by Jesus’ apparent usurpation of God’s divine authority and privileges. His defence makes no sense in any other context.
Jesus Christ: Son of David; Born of a Woman; Made Like His Brethren
Jesus is referred to as the “son of David” fourteen times in the New Testament, usually in a Messianic context. This title reaffirms his genuine humanity, emphasising his ancient lineage all the way back to the father of Solomon. The Trinitarian Jesus cannot make such a claim, since the Trinitarian Jesus is not a son of David but a divine being who pre-existed in heaven before David was born. What does “son of David” mean in a Trinitarian context? Can Rob explain?
An identical problem arises from the title “Son of God”, which only makes sense in the context of the virgin birth. The Bible insists that this mode of Sonship is unique to Jesus. Yet if Jesus is not literally the Son of God (ie. God’s own special creation in the womb of Mary) then how is his Sonship any different to the spiritual sonship shared by Christians?
How odd that Rob wants us to believe Jesus is literally the pre-existent logos because he is called “the Word of God” in Revelation 19, but refuses to believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God despite the fact that this title is applied to Christ at least 35 times throughout the NT. What does “Son of God” mean to Rob? How does it fit into his belief that Jesus’ Sonship is “eternal”? Will Rob explain the concept of “eternal Sonship” from Scripture? How does he arrive at this conclusion in light of the following verses?
- Acts 13:33, “‘that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.””
- Hebrews 1:5, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my son! Today I have fathered you’? And in another place he says, ‘I will be his father and he will be my son.'”
- Hebrews 5:5, “So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the one who glorified him was God, who said to him, ‘You are my Son! Today I have fathered you'”
The word for “fathered” in the two quotations from Hebrews is the Greek gennaō. It occurs 97 times in the NT, always refers to the act of birth, and signifies the literal commencement of life. Scripture therefore affirms that Jesus’ existence had a beginning and that he was made just like other human beings in every possible way:
- Galatians 4:4, “But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law“
- Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.
Note that Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, which is how he can make atonement for us. The saving power of his sacrifice is predicated upon his humanity.
The Biblical Unitarian Jesus was genuinely born to the virgin Mary following her miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20) and was therefore the literal Son of God (Luke 1:35). He grew up just like any other human child (Luke 2:52), was tempted like any normal man (Matthew 4:1-11) yet resisted sin (Hebrews 4:15) through the strength of his superior will (Matthew 16:23) and his close association with the Father, upon whom he depends for his existence (John 6:57), just as we do. Despite being capable of sin, he lived a sinless life (I Peter 2:21-22), died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:26-27) and was raised to immortality by the Father (Acts 2:22-24, Galatians 1:1).
None of this is true of the Trinitarian Jesus, who remains a theological paradox and a logical contradiction. Visible despite being invisible (Colossian 1:15); seen but “never seen” (John 1:18, I Timothy 6:16); tempted even though God cannot be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11; cp. James 1:13); “made like his brothers and sisters in every respect”, which in Trinitarianism means “not being made like his brothers and sisters at all”; “dying” on the cross yet simultaneously eternal (I Timothy 1:17).
Readers, ask yourselves which Christology is more consistent with the Biblical evidence. If the Trinitarian Jesus pre-existed, he is neither “son of David”, nor “Son of Man”, nor “Son of God.” If he is God, he was not tempted, cannot be seen and was not seen, did not really die, and was therefore not a sacrifice for sin. If his nature was simultaneously human and divine, he was not made like his brothers and sisters in every respect.
Since Rob has not explained his view of the atonement, I invite him to do so in his rebuttal. How does he views the sacrifice of Christ; what was achieved, and how? What was it about Jesus that made him a perfect sacrifice for our sins? Did he need to be God in order to save us? If so, why? Above all, what died on the cross? Was it God Who died, or simply a mortal human body?
Rob has not yet discussed the temptation. Was Jesus genuinely tempted? Was he capable of sin? Trinitarianism is hopelessly divided on this issue. Jonathan Edwards, Wayne Grudem, William G. T. Shedd and others have all argued that Jesus was capable of sin. E. F. Harrison, Charles Hodge, John W. McCormick and others have all argued that Jesus was incapable of sin. Mike Oppenheimer tries to have it both ways by claiming that Jesus “had the choice to sin”, but “he did not have the ability.” Who’s right?
The apostolic testimony is equally perplexing from a Trinitarian perspective. Countless times we read of the apostles being persecuted for preaching (a) the Law of Moses is no longer required, (b) Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah and (c) Gentiles may now share in the promises to Abraham. These ideas shook first-century Judaism to its core and resulted in riots which brought entire cities to a standstill.
Yet nowhere in the book of Acts do we find any apostle preaching the deity of Christ. Nowhere do we find the Jews reacting to any suggestion that Jesus is God. Why not? How does Rob explain this deafening silence on the subject of a doctrine that he believes is vital to the Christian message?
Jesus Christ: First of the New Creation; Last Adam
We have seen that NT Christology is based upon OT principles. Nowhere is this more clear than in the apostle Paul’s use of OT terminology in the context of Jesus’ identity and saving work on the cross. Paul refers to Jesus as “firstborn of creation” (Colossians 1:15) and “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45), using concepts derived from Genesis.
In Philippians 2:5-11 Paul makes the connection explicit: he contrasts the first Adam (who sinned by reaching for equality with God, and fell) against the last Adam (who obeyed by humbling himself, and was exalted). The first Adam brought death; the last Adam brought life. Both are called “Son of God” and both are members of the literal creation, but only the “last Adam” offers salvation through a “new creation.”
We find references to this “new creation” in Ephesians 2:10, 4:24, Colossians 1:15-20, 3:10, & 5:17, where it is presented in language that explicitly differentiates it from the old, literal creation. I expect Rob to present these passages from a Trinitarian perspective, so I will address them in more detail during my rebuttal.