Jesus as the firstborn

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

As we have seen in previous columns, the Bible declares Jesus the eternal Son of God. Even so, why does the apostle Paul depict Jesus as “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15)?

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a disturbing take on this. Consider how the Watch Tower renders Colossians 1:15-17 in its New World Translation:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist …” (emphasis added).

Note the unjustified insertion of the word “other” before “things” four times in the NWT.

The Watch Tower’s official website explains: “Jesus is very precious to Jehovah. Why? Because God created him before everything and everyone else. So Jesus is called ‘the firstborn of all creation.’ Jesus is also precious to Jehovah because he is the only one Jehovah created directly. That is why he is called the ‘only-begotten Son.’ Jesus is also the only one Jehovah used to create all other things.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus is the first created being, whom they identify as Michael the archangel. Michael is sent to earth temporarily as a man, then recreated as an exalted archangel after his death on a torture stake and subsequent annihilation as a human being. But is this the proper way to understand Paul’s meaning of firstborn?

In a word, no.
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The seven churches of Revelation

The apostle John is instructed to write to the “angels” of the seven churches in Asia, a Roman province that is now part of modern Turkey. Some interpreters believe the angels to be human messengers, perhaps the pastors of these churches, while others argue that the Greek word aggeloi in Revelation is used overwhelmingly of spirit beings and therefore in this context means guardian angels.

In any case, the “angel” of each church bears the responsibility of sharing an important message from Christ with the congregation.

Interpretation

There is little controversy among Bible interpreters concerning the letters to the seven churches, primarily because these letters do not predict future events. This does not mean, however, that the four major views of Revelation – preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist – are in complete agreement.

For example, interpreters from the preterist and idealist schools, and some from the futurist school, “understand the letters to be addressed to the actual, historic churches named in them, and by extension to any churches that may find themselves in similar circumstances to theirs” (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, p. 62).
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Other witnesses to Christ’s deity

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

In previous columns, we saw how John and Paul affirm the deity of Jesus. Here, we briefly survey the witness of the author of Hebrews, as well as Peter.

Hebrews 1:2-3 – Note several truths about Christ’s deity in these verses. First, God made the universe through Jesus. That is, Jesus is the Creator. When the writer of Hebrews says “through him,” he does not mean that Jesus is a secondary cause of creation; rather, Jesus is the agent through whom the triune God made everything. This verse corresponds with the testimony of John, who writes, “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3).

Next, the writer tells us the universe (aionas) was made through Jesus. This word means more than kosmos, or the material world. It may be rendered “ages,” and it means that Jesus is responsible for the existence of time, space, energy, matter – and even the unseen spiritual realm.

Next, we are told that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory.” That is, Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible God. The author uses the Greek word apaugasma, a sending forth of the light. Jesus is divine radiance clothed in human skin. He is “the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

The author of Hebrews goes on to describe Jesus as “the exact expression” of God’s nature. The Greek word rendered “expression” is charakter, used to describe the impression made by a stamp or a die on steel. Put another way, Jesus is the precise imprint of deity in human form, the perfect, personal emblem of divinity. This reminds us of Paul’s words in Colossians 1:15: “He is the image (eikon) of the invisible God.”

Finally, the writer assures us that Jesus is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” This is in the present tense. The same Creator who called everything into existence now holds everything together in divine sovereignty.
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Who are you to judge?

This is the last in a series of 10 excerpts from the MBC resource, “The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith,” available here

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Jude describes certain false teachers as “merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19). He seems to be stating plainly that these professing Christians are unbelievers. How can he make such a judgment?

Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1)? Isn’t God the only one who may rightly search the hearts of people (Jer. 17:10)?

How can Jude possibly know that these interlopers are lost? Isn’t it possible they are merely deceived, or backslidden?

First, we should note that Jude describes these particular false teachers as “natural.” Literally, this means “animal-souled” and stands in contrast with “spiritual,” or “having the Spirit.” The apostle Paul describes the unbeliever as a “natural man” who “does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor. 2:14).

Clearly, Jude and Paul are depicting people outside the kingdom of God. Jude’s use of the term psuchikos – soulish, sensual, animal-souled – describes them in sensual rather than spiritual terms.

As John MacArthur puts it, “His [Jude’s] materialistic description exposed them for who they really were – religious terrorists who lacked such internal qualities as a proper self-perception, the ability to reason, and a true knowledge of God. Even though the false teachers claimed a transcendental understanding of God, they did not know Him at all.”
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The witness of Paul to Christ’s deity

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

In the previous column, we explored the eyewitness testimony of John with respect to Jesus’ deity. Here, we briefly survey what Paul has to say about the matter.

Although Paul likely had no personal encounters with Jesus prior to the crucifixion, he meets Jesus in dramatic fashion on the road to Damascus after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 9:1-9). Paul’s conversion, testimony, and epistles bear evidence of his conviction that Jesus was, and is, divine. Here are just three examples:

Romans 9:5 – “The ancestors are theirs [the Israelites], and from them, by physical descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”

This text is significant for at least two reasons. First, it is the earliest New Testament writing that calls Jesus “God” (dating to about AD 57), less than thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Second, the word “praised” (eulogetos) follows the word for God (theos) in the Greek text. This is unusual, for without exception in Scripture, a doxology places the word “praised” (or “blessed”) before the name of God. Here, Paul uses the reverse form, indicating that he intentionally equates Christ with God.
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