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The Deity of Yeshua

Written by Daniel Botkin. Posted in Teachings.

If we lose sight of our Messiah’s identity, our faith may be in jeopardy. As we continue to grow together, we must not grow apart from the true identity of Yeshua, our Savior.

In the Messianic community a lot of debate swirls around the subject of the Deity of Yeshua. Much of the debate and disagreement is a matter of semantics. Some people prefer the forthright, unambiguous “Yeshua is God.” Others prefer more subtle wording, and opt for expressions like “divine nature,” or “incarnation of the Word,” or “manifestation of God,” or “angel of the LORD,” etc.

Some people’s attempts to answer the Deity question are so ambiguous that they sound like a denial of Yeshua’s Deity. Unfortunately, some explanations do in fact amount to an unambiguous denial of Yeshua’s Deity.

There is no Bible verse that plainly says “Jesus is God,” but there are plenty of verses that lead to that unavoidable conclusion. Space in this short article will not allow for a lengthy exposition of all the Bible passages, so I will mention just a few of the passages where Yeshua’s Deity is very obvious.

ONE – THE WORD MADE FLESH John 1:1 & 14

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” This alone should be enough to prove the Deity of Yeshua. If the Word was made flesh, and the Word was God, then we can say that God was made flesh.

This is simple logic that even a child can understand. I realize this line of reasoning is “linear Greek logic” rather than “cyclical Hebraic thought,” but that makes it no less true. Those Greek guys weren’t wrong about everything, you know.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation tries to deny Yeshua’s Deity by saying that the Word was merely “a god.” The reason they say this is because when the Greek text says “the Word was God,” there is no definite article “the” before “God.” The JWs claim that if the Greek text does not say that the Word was the God, then the Word was merely a god.

You don’t even need to know Greek to disprove this idea. All you need is a Greek-English interlinear New Testament, and you can see several places where “God” is written in Greek without the definite article “the.” And all these verses refer to God, not to “a god” - unless you want to believe that John the Baptist was a man sent from a god, that we become children of a god, that we are born of a god, that no one has seen a god, and that Nicodemus said Yeshua was a teacher come from a god. (See John 1:6, 12, 13, 18 & 3:2, all of which lack the definite article.)

TWO – WORSHIP ONLY GOD Matthew 4:10 & Luke 4:8

“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”

Yeshua made it unmistakably clear that only God is to be worshipped. We are not to worship mere mortal men nor even holy angels. Yet Yeshua received worship from people on several occasions.

In Strong’s Concordance you can find at least 14 places where people worshipped Yeshua. Unlike the angel who stopped John from offering worship that belongs only to God (Rev. 22:8f), Yeshua freely received the worship that people offered Him. And when the Bible says people “worshipped” Yeshua, it uses the Greek word proskuneo, the very same word that is used in Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8, the verses that say we are to worship only God. The fact that Yeshua accepted worship which belongs only to God is further proof of His Deity.

THREE – PRAYER TO YESHUA OR NECROMANCY? Acts 7:59 & 9:6; Acts 17 & 22:17-21

Necromancy is attempting to communicate with the spirits of those who have departed from this earthly life. Necromancy is forbidden in Deuteronomy 18:11.

If Yeshua were a mere man and not Deity, then Stephen and Paul and Ananias would all be guilty of necromancy, because all three of these men communicated with Yeshua after He left this earth.

As Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit.” Paul conversed with Yeshua on the road to Damascus and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Ananias communicated with Yeshua when Yeshua sent him to lay hands on Paul.

I have heard some people say that prayer and praise should be offered only to the Father, and never to the Son. Prayer to the Father does seem to be the norm. However, that does not rule out prayer and praise to the Son. The communication that Stephen, Paul, and Ananias had with Yeshua was certainly prayer. In regards to giving praise to Yeshua, the Book of Revelation describes the Lamb receiving praise many times. (See Rev. chapters 5, 7, & 14.)

FOUR – THE STATUS OF THE SON Hebrews 1

The Book of Hebrews begins by proclaiming the superior status of the Son of God over that of angels. Yeshua is the One by whom the worlds were made; Yeshua is the express image of God’s person; Yeshua upholds all things by the word of His power; Yeshua is to be worshipped by all the angels. (See Heb. 1:3-6.)

Yeshua’s Deity becomes even more obvious when He is addressed as “God”: “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8).

Without the Deity of Yeshua, how can Yeshua be addressed as “God”? If Scripture calls the Son “God,” then we must conclude that the Son is in some sense God. If the Bible calls the Son “O God,” we should not be afraid to proclaim Him as God.

FIVE – THE FATHER & SON: EQUAL VALUE, EQUAL HONOR John 5:23

In John 14:28 Yeshua said, “My Father is greater than I.” Some take this to mean that Yeshua is less than Deity and therefore not Deity. But in John 5:23 Yeshua said, “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him.”

The Greek word translated “honor” not only means to respect; it also means to fix a value upon. If the Son were a lesser Deity than the Father, He would not be worthy of equal honor as the Father nor be as equally valuable as the Father.

How then is the Father greater than the Son? This greater-lesser aspect is not about the Divine nature; it is about the respective roles of the Father and the Son. The Son willingly submits Himself to the Father’s authority. As Paul says, “the head of Messiah is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). But this headship role of the Father does not deny nor diminish the Divine nature of the Son.

To illustrate, consider the respective roles of a husband and wife. Right before Paul says “the head of Messiah is God,” he says “the head of the woman is the man.” So the headship of man over woman is patterned after the headship of the Father over the Son. My wife submits to my authority, but that does not lessen her human nature. In regards to authority in our family, my wife would say, “My husband is greater than I.” Yet she is just as much a human as I am, and is worthy of equal respect and is of equal value as a human. In the same way, the Father is greater in authority than the Son, yet the Son is just as much Deity as the Father is.

SIX – THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS 1 Timothy 3:16

“And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

How can it be said that God was manifested in the flesh without the Deity of Yeshua? How can it be said that God was justified in the Spirit and seen of angels without the Deity of Yeshua? How can it be said that God was believed on in the world and received up into glory without the Deity of Yeshua?

Some people refuse to accept the truth of Yeshua’s Deity only because they cannot understand it or explain it. How could Yeshua be God in the flesh and yet pray to God in the heavens? Was Yeshua praying to Himself? Was He praying to an empty heaven? How can there be two (or three) God-beings when Yahweh is one?

It is natural that questions like these arise. But these are natural questions that arise from the natural man, and “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14). The idea of God taking on a (1 Cor. 2:14). The idea of God taking on a body of human flesh seems foolish to the natural man, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).

A man does not need to understand the “how” of a spiritual truth in order to believe it. Many spiritual truths are proclaimed in the Bible without explaining how they work. How is it that the lifting up of hands is regarded as the evening sacrifice (Ps. 141:2)? How is it that our old man was crucified with Messiah when we were not yet even born (Rom. 6:6)? How is it that we are now seated in heavenly places when we are still here on earth (Eph. 2:6)? How is it that Yeshua was slain from the foundation of the world when the Crucifixion took place thousands of years after the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8)?

We believe these Biblical truths simply because they are stated in the Bible, even though we do not fully understand how they are possible. We should likewise believe the testimony of Yeshua’s Deity because it is stated in the Bible, even though we do not understand how it is possible.

When Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:16 about God being manifested in the flesh, he introduced this by saying “great is the mystery of godliness.” A mystery is something not yet fully revealed, something partially hidden. The Bible tells us everything we need to know to live a life that pleases God, but it does not explain everything about the anatomy of God. Some of the details of God’s anatomy are none of our business. They are among “the secret things [that] belong to Yahweh our God” (Deut. 29:29).

Even with the testimony of the Scriptures, we still only “know in part” and “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:9, 12). So it should not surprise us if we cannot fully understand the mystery of God with our finite, flawed human minds. Much of the Deity debate amounts to “doting about questions and strifes of words” (1 Tim. 6:4). We are like a bunch of blind-from-birth people arguing about various shades of color.

SEVEN – THE IMPORTANCE OF YESHUA’S DEITY

If so many details about God are unfathomable mysteries, why is it important to believe in Yeshua’s Deity? To give a simple answer, because the Holy Bible proclaims it. A denial of Yeshua’s Deity is a denial of the truth of the Scriptures - not just the few verses discussed in this brief article, but other verses that proclaim His Deity in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

If people are uncomfortable saying the three-word statement “Yeshua is God,” and prefer to word it differently, I do not object. Sometimes it’s probably wiser to word it somewhat differently, depending on who you are talking to. But don’t let yourself be persuaded to deny the Deity of Yeshua because of pressure from others or because of your inability to understand it and explain it. There are lots of things we believe about the natural material world and about the invisible spiritual world without understanding them and without being able to explain them. If we can believe all these things, we should have no difficulty believing in the Deity of Yeshua when we have the sure testimony of the Scriptures proclaiming His Deity.

The Deity of Messiah in the Tenach and Other Jewish Writings

Some people reject the idea of a divine Messiah, either because they do not believe in Yeshua (Jesus), or because they do not believe in the inspiration and authority of the New Testament. They say it is not enough that the New Testament declares the deity of Messiah; if the idea of a divine Messiah is to be accepted, it must also be declared, or at least hinted at, in Jewish writings.

All the books of the New Testament, with the possible exception of Luke and Acts, were written by Jewish writers. Therefore the deity of Messiah is clearly declared in Jewish writings. Nonetheless, for those who do not recognize the inspiration and authority of the New Testament Jewish Scriptures, let’s look at some other Jewish writings that declare the divine nature of the Messiah.

Those who argue against the deity of Yeshua often quote Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man.” In their minds, this five-word statement (three words in Hebrew) settles the matter once and for all. If God is not a man, then the man Yeshua could not have been God in the flesh

That reasoning sounds simple enough. However, it’s not just simple, it’s simplistic and flawed. Why? First, because it ignores the context of the statement, and secondly because it is not really a statement at all. It is only part of a statement. The complete statement says, “God is not a man, that He should lie: neither the son of man, that He should repent. Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”

Balaam’s statement was spoken to explain to Balak the reason he could not curse Israel. God, unlike sinful man, always keeps His word. If we wanted to paraphrase Balaam, we could say that God is not undependable, like men so often are. Balaam’s statement says nothing that rules out the possibility of God taking on a body of human flesh at a later date in history.

A divine Messiah can be inferred from several Messianic prophecies in the Tenach (Old Testament). Micah 5:2 (5:1 in Jewish Bibles) speaks of Israel’s Bethlehem-born ruler “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting [miymei olam, ‘from days of eternity’].” The pre-existence of Messiah is also spoken of in the Talmud, “before the creation of the world.”1

In Isaiah 9:6 (9:5 in Jewish Bibles) the Messiah’s name is called “Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” A child who is given these names is obviously not an ordinary child. No ordinary child would be called “the mighty God.”

Targum Jonathan, one of the pre-Christian Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible, translates Isaiah’s prophecy this way:

“For unto us a son is born, unto us a son is given: and he shall receive the Law upon him to keep it; and his name is called from of old, Wonderful, Counsellor, Eloha [God], the Mighty, Abiding to Eternity, the Messiah, because peace shall be multiplied on us in his days.”2

Before Yeshua, Jews had no problem believing in a future Messiah with divine attributes in this prophecy. Modern-day Jews want to avoid and evade this obvious reference to Yeshua’s deity. The Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 English translation leaves this compound name of Messiah untranslated, and simply transliterates it: “And his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom.” Unless the English reader knows Hebrew, he will not see that this Child has divine attributes and is called “the mighty God.”

Jeremiah 23:6 gives a shorter divine name to the Messiah: “and this is the name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS [Yahweh tsidkenu].” Curiously, the Talmud likewise assigns this divine name to the Messiah: “What is the name of the King Messiah? R. Abba, son of Kahana, said, ‘Jehovah,’ for it is written, This is his name whereby he shall be called, ‘THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’”3

Divine attributes of the Messiah are also declared in the rabbis’ comments on Malachi 3:1, which says, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith Yahweh of hosts.” Commenting on this prophecy, Kimchi said, “’The Lord’ is the King Messiah; he is also the Angel of the Covenant.”4 Aben Ezra said, “’The Lord’ is both the Divine Majesty and the Angel of the Covenant, for the sentence is doubled.”5

The rabbis’ reference to this special “Angel” brings up that which is perhaps the most compelling and convincing argument for the deity of Messiah. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures there are several passages where “the Angel of Yahweh” appears to various individuals -- to Hagar, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses, to Gideon, to Samson’s parents. The Angel of Yahweh is visible and in human form. He walks and talks. He even eats and drinks. He speaks as Yahweh, in the first person (“I”), and appears to be indistinguishable from Yahweh. Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna says, “From several texts it is clear that the demarcation between God and his angel is often blurred.”6

In the Bible Yahweh says to Moses, “Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20). The New Testament likewise affirms this: “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Yet the Bible plainly states that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel… they saw God, and did eat and drink” (Ex. 24:9-11).

How do we reconcile what appears to be a glaring contradiction? We have to understand it this way: No man can see God in His full, unveiled glory, for He is the God who dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Yet God can be seen in a veiled human form. He was seen by men when He took on a visible, tangible human form as the Angel of Yahweh in the Old Testament, and He was seen by men when He took on a visible, tangible human form as Yeshua of Nazareth in the New Testament. This is the reason that people who saw the Angel of Yahweh saw God, and it is the reason Yeshua could say, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Theologians call the Old Testament appearances of the Angel of the Lord “Theophanies” or “Christophanies” -- pre-incarnate appearances of the Messiah. Christophanies are defined by Dr. James A. Borland as “those unsought, intermittent and temporary, visible and audible manifestations of God the Son in human form, by which God communicated something to certain conscious human beings on earth prior to the birth of Jesus Christ,”7 Dr. Borland views Christophanies as “part of God’s advance announcement of the coming of the Messiah.”8

These Christophanies not only announced the coming of the Messiah, they also announced the deity of the Messiah by identifying the Angel of Yahweh as Yahweh in a human form. If Yahweh intermittently and temporarily manifested Himself in human form in the Old Testament, why is it difficult to believe that He visibly and audibly manifested Himself as a human in the person of Yeshua in the New Testament?

If one looks at what the pre-Christian Aramaic Targums say about the Memra (Aramaic, the Word of the Lord), and at what the Jewish writer Philo said about the Logos (Greek, the Word), and at what the rabbis said about the angel they call Metatron, it’s obvious that the idea of a supernatural Messiah with divine attributes was not foreign to Judaism before the Christian era. After the establishment of Christianity, later Jewish commentators are usually silent or evasive about those Scriptures which speak of people seeing God or the Angel of Yahweh.

The reason for the rabbis’ evasive tactics is obvious; these manifestations of God look too much like pre-incarnate visitations of Yeshua. Indeed, many of the pre-Christian Jewish comments about the Memra, the Logos, and Metatron are remarkably similar to New Testament teachings about the role of Yeshua. Such comments are far too numerous to list them all, but here are just a few examples:

According to the Aramaic Targums, the Memra (Word of the Lord) created man; man was created in the image of the Memra; Jacob said, “the Memra of the Lord will be my God”; Abraham was justified through the Memra of the Lord; the Memra of the Lord gave Israel the Law; Moses prayed to the Memra of the Lord.9

According to the Jewish writer Philo (born c. 20 B.C.), the Logos (the Word) was the instrument through whom God created all things; the Logos is the image of God; the Logos announces and interprets the will and mind of God to man; the Logos acts as a mediator; the Logos is the real High Priest, Melchizedek, who by his purity takes away man’s sins and who by his intercession obtains God’s mercy for man; the Logos is the medium of divine revelation to the soul; the Logos is the true Manna; the Logos brings righteousness and peace to the soul, but does not come into any soul that is dead in sin.10

In the Talmud, Metatron is identified as the Angel who went before the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 33:20, the Angel whose voice was to be obeyed, the Angel who had authority to pardon transgressions. Because Yahweh’s name is “in him,” the Talmud refers to Metatron as the Angel “whose name is the same as his Master’s.”11

Because Metatron seems to be divine, the Talmud asks the question “Are there then two Powers?”12 Some say that Christians who believe in Yeshua’s deity believe in two Gods, two Yahwehs. No more so than Jews do. Consider the following, taken from the teachings of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who was “the unchallenged leader of enlightened Orthodoxy” of the 20th century. Commenting on Exodus 34:6, Rabbi Soloveitchik taught:

“’The Lord, the Lord’ [why does it say ‘the Lord’ twice?] - I am He who is there before man sins and I am He who is there after man sins and repents… ‘Your iniquities have separated between you and your God’ (Isaiah 59:2). The end result of sinning is the driving out, as it were, of the Holy Presence. But who, then, will take care of the sinner after the Holy One removes Himself and the sinner is left alone? Who will help him to cut himself off from his sins and escape from their contamination? Who will lead him back home to his heavenly Father? Who will extend a helping hand to rescue him from the quicksand into which he has sunk? ‘Thou extendest a hand to sinners and Thy right arm stretches forth to receive the penitent.’ … Who is it that extends a hand to the sinner and stretches forth his right arm to receive penitents? … ‘The Lord, the Lord’: two times the Ineffable Name is mentioned - the first removes Himself from the sinner, abandons him, but the second, the Lord who is there after man sins, remains… The second Holy Name is ready to listen even after the first has shut the gates of ‘Glory’ through which man passes to stand before his Maker.”13

The above discourse from a prominent Orthodox Jewish source sounds very much like a Christian discourse on the role of Yeshua. Yeshua is the arm of Yahweh stretched forth to receive penitents. He is “the second Holy Name” who rescues us. Those who say that this is impossible are guilty of the same error committed by the generation in the wilderness, that unbelieving generation who “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41). Let’s not limit the Holy One of Israel by telling Him that He cannot appear in a human body in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth.

REFERENCES

  1. Pesiqta Rabbati, Pisqa 36.
  2. F. Kenton Beshore, D.D. LL.D, The Messiah of the Targums, Talmuds, and Rabbinical Writers (Montrose, CA: International School of Biblical Research, 1971), 16.
  3. Midrash on Lam. 1:16 & Midrash on Ezk. 48:35.
  4. Beshore, 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Nahum Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 383 (Excursus 10, Angelology).
  7. Doug Ward, “The Angel of the Lord,” Gates of Eden Vol. 8 No. 3, May-June 2002, 9.
  8. Ibid., 10.
  9. Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 19-21.
  10. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book I (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1976), 49.
  11. Sanh. 38b.
  12. Chag. 15a.
  13. Pinchas H. Peli, Soloveitchik On Repentance (NY: Paulist Press, 1984), 84-87.

Daniel Botkin is the congregational leader and founder of Gates of Eden Messianic Congregation in Peoria, Illinois, and is the editor of an excellent bi-monthly publication of the same name. Daniel can be reached at: 309-699-0199 or by writing to Gates of Eden, P.O. Box 2257, East Peoria, IL 61611-0257.

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