Who is Christ?

Christ God

To the modern mind, Christ is not Yahweh. The Father is not the Son. Marcionism, a second century heresy, holds that Christ the merciful is God and that Yahweh the titan is not. Thomas Merton, the great Catholic convert, wrote that Yahweh was a “fatuous, emotional thing”, unfit to be the Alpha and the Omega. Carl Jung’s Answer to Job is a twist on Marcion, arguing that Yahweh was an unconscious beast, much like his own Leviathan, and that Christogenesis was a process of Yahweh Himself becoming conscious. In his torture of Job, Yahweh reveals that he does not understand human beings, and only in becoming the Christ is he able to taste vinegar on the cross and know what it was to be Job in the desert.

It is comforting to deny Yahweh and accept Christ. It allows one to dispense with the horrors of the Old Testament and reject the warlord God in the name of the comparatively peaceful Gospels. It permits a one-sided view of Christ as something akin to the Buddha with political characteristics – an anti-war, pro-individualism, non-judgmental activist. American Christianity casts Christ as a long-haired man in sandals who rebuked the powers of his day. Christ would have taxed the rich, hated the man, and become a political partisan due to his secular moral goals. In the modern world, this is all Christ is.

But He is the Son of God. He is the Word of God present at the creation of all things. The uncreated light, co-eternal with the Father. He shares one essence with Yahweh and the Holy Spirit, but is a distinct person from the two, through whom all things are made. He has possession of all the kingdoms and the right to stand atop death. He has already defeated death and will return at the end of time to resurrect every human being who has ever lived and judge them according to the laws of the Father. As Christ says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”

John 6 is perhaps the strangest passage in all of mystical literature, where Christ tells his disciples: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” He means this literally. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” The disciples understand how strange this is. They reply to Jesus: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But they did accept it. Millions of Christians drink wine and eat bread that holds the real presence of Christ. This is the Eucharist. The Word became flesh, and was devoured by man.

The problem with American Christianity is that it seeks to make Christ simple, whereas Christ is the strangest thing to have ever entered into the story of history. Christ was not a political leader; he was not executed for secular reasons. He was killed for claiming that he is Yahweh. This is a claim that still dazzles and beleaguers human minds! It is among the deepest paradoxes known to man. On its face, it appears to be madness. After all, for most of my life I believed that Christ came to redeem the wrongs of the wicked Old Testament God, that Christ and Yahweh were ethically incompatible. And yet, the mystical operation of the Logos shows clearly that Christ and Yahweh are one.

Continuity between the Old and New Testament is the foundation of messianic prophecy. Read Isaiah 9:6, and you are greeted by an oddity – in the Old Testament, long before Christ was born, the declaration: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” How is this possible? That a son is born unto Israel, who is also God the Father? It is a prediction of the birth of Christ, clear as day. It is an Old Testament prophecy that came true, that a son in the line of David would be born fully divine, God the Father in human flesh.

He will not give you a stone when you seek a fish – the Old and the New Testament are one continuous document. Consider even the strange details of Revelation 4:6, wherein at the foot of the throne of God is a “sea of glass, like crystal”. We’ve seen this before. In Exodus 24:10, Moses saw the throne of God, and described the floor as a “pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” Even the incomprehensible vision of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, of the creatures with the face of a human being, the face of a lion, the face of an ox, and of an eagle, return in Revelation 4:7 as the cherubim at the throne of God, “living creatures”, singing “Holy, holy, holy”: “the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.” The evangelists themselves are associated in Church tradition with these animals, Mark the lion, Luke the ox, Matthew the human being, and John the eagle.

The New Testament is only a coherent document in light of the visions of the prophets. Read Daniel 12, and one finds the whole of the Book of Revelation prophesized before Christ was ever born. It was known to the Old Testament prophet Daniel that names would be written in the book of life, that the dead would be resurrected and judged: “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Christianity did not invent Revelation – it was always the answer to the dreams of the prophets.

Christ Himself places his divinity in the context of the covenant of Abraham. In John 8:58, Christ moves the Pharisees to grab stones and try to kill him by stating that “before Abraham was, I am.” It is those two words at the end of the sentence that carry such tremendous meaning: “I am.” Of course, this is the name of Yahweh. In Exodus 3:14, God tells Moses “I AM WHO I AM” and further “Thus you shall say to the Israelites ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” The name of God is “I am”, and God declares “This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations.” Christ uses this title specifically to indicate that he is Yahweh. He was with God in the beginning. He is the Word, and he alone bears the name of God, for the Word is God.

In Exodus, this goes deeper yet. Look to verse 23:20, where Yahweh says to the Israelites: “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.” If the name of God is in Him, then the I am is in Him. Yahweh has told us something exceptional – that an angel bears the holy name of God. How can this be? After all, an angel is a created thing. How could a mere creation of God bear His name? In Hebrew, the word “angel” only means “messenger”. An angel of God is not necessarily an angelic creature as we understand the term today. The messenger who bears His name must be uncreated, eternal – like God. But how could God send a messenger who is actually Himself? This is starting to sound familiar. This Old Testament conundrum points clearly toward the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God who is three distinct persons.

In the early Church, it was understood that the “angel of the Lord” referred to the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. This was based on a long tradition of Jewish thought. In the period of Second Temple Judaism (515 BC – 70 AD), long before the Council of Nicaea or formal Christendom, it was already established among studious readers of the Torah that God was actually multiple persons. One reason for this is simple – it is said that no one may see the face of God and live. Only Moses is able to speak to God “face to face”, a veil over the eyes is required to prevent death in the sight of the one true God. Jacob, as well as Samson’s parents in the Book of Judges, both express shock and awe that they are able to see the face of God and live. And yet, throughout the Old Testament, God is seen countless times. This is possible only because God possesses an intercessor, the “angel of the Lord”, a messenger who is God in every way. A second person who shares His essence.

Look to Exodus 3:2, the famous burning bush, and we see two divine persons in the text – “the angel of the Lord” calling out from the bush, then the “LORD” Himself. This harkens back to Genesis 1:26, where God speaks in plural in reference to himself: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”. And in Genesis 3:18, after man eats of the fruit “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Yahweh in the tabernacle speaks to Moses face to face only through the intercession of the second person of the Trinity, Christ. No one may look at God and live. God is a spirit without a body. But Christ sees us face to face.

There are other subtle proofs of Christ’s existence in the Old Testament that merit attention (and many more I cannot possibly fit in one essay). In Exodus 3:5, the LORD in the burning bush instructs Moses to “remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The pattern is established: in the presence of God, sandals must be removed. After Moses’ death, when Joshua leads the Israelites to the plains of Jericho, they are greeted at the gates by a man with a sword (Joshua 5:14). Upon learning that this man is the commander of the army of the LORD, “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped.” We know this man is a person of the Holy Trinity, because otherwise Joshua would be practicing idolatry. It is idolatry to worship a created thing, even an angel. Angels were created by God. Only the uncreated light may be worshipped in Christianity. In response to Joshua’s worship, the man, the commander of the army of the Lord, does not rebuke him. Instead, he says “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.”

The most well-known stories of the Old Testament point to Christ. We all know that in Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with an angel. After the encounter, bone jutting out of his socket, Jacob names the site of his struggle “Peniel”, which means “Face of God.” Jacob says “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” If Jacob wrestled with God face to face, then he wrestled with Christ. Christ even confirms that he knew Jacob in the Gospels. Seeking to explain his divinity to the disciples, Christ says in John 1:51: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” A place where “the angels of God were ascending and descending” in the presence of the LORD is mentioned once before in scripture. It is in Genesis 28:12, Jacob’s ladder. Christ is telling his disciples that they, like Jacob, have now seen the face of God.

The Gospel of John summarizes many of the most powerful proofs that Christ is Yahweh. When speaking to his disciples and to the Pharisees, Christ references Jacob, Abraham, and the prophets. He is the messiah they spoke of, the lamb slaughtered at the foundation of the world. In John 1:1, Christ is declared to be co-eternal with Yahweh “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Before Abraham, he was, and still is, the I AM. Christ is not a creature born in space and time, but the uncreated light at the origin of all things, through which all things are made. The virgin birth united uncreated light with created flesh, two natures, human and divine. In John 1:18, scripture reads “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

And so it was Christ who wrestled with Jacob, who spoke to Moses face to face, who led the Israelites on the warpath to Jericho, who comforts the sick and the widow, who will judge the living and the dead at the end of days. Christ is the strangest being who has ever existed. It is because He is not like us. The Trinity is not like us. Man did not invent God, because nothing so strange as God is possible in the mere minds of men.

Further Reading:

The Religion of the Apostles by Father Stephen De Young
Jay’s Analysis