Thursday, April 10, 2008

“The Mystery of His Deity”

“Since the beginning of the Advent movement in 1844, the divinity of Jesus Christ has been one of its fundamental beliefs. Formulated for the first time in 1872 and several times since, it was stipulated again in the following terms at the General Conference session of 1980: “God the Eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ.” [1]

However, James White, Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith and, later, Joseph H. Waggoner, “initially believed the semi-Arian concept that although Christ was the Creator and Saviour Son of God, He had a beginning in the infinite past.” [2] “Even [E. J.] Waggoner believed that ‘there was a time when Christ proceeded forth and came out from God, ... but that time was so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension it is practically without beginning. [3]

Ellen G. White seems to have settled the question. One of her clearest statements is quoted in the Quarterly for Monday, April 7: “In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. ...” (Signs of the Times, Aug. 29, 1900).

The 1888 message correctly places a great emphasis on the fact that Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh with regard to His humanity. However, the divinity of Christ is also essential to the 1888 understanding of the plan of salvation. It is not so much that Christ existed before the incarnation, but that He pre-existed as God, not a created being.

“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life. ... The miracle which Christ was about to perform, in raising Lazarus from the dead, would represent the resurrection of all the righteous dead. By His word and His works He declared Himself the Author of the resurrection. He who Himself was soon to die upon the cross stood with the keys of death, a conqueror of the grave, and asserted His right and power to give eternal life” (The Desire of Ages, p. 530).

It was only a Creator-God who could be the “Author of the resurrection.” “The angels prostrated themselves at the feet of their Commander and offered to become a sacrifice for man. But an angel’s life could not pay the debt; only He who created man had power to redeem him” (The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, pp. 64, 65).

It was out of Himself that the human race was given an existence. “By His obedience to all the commandments of God, Christ wrought out a redemption for men. This was not done by going out of Himself to another, but by taking humanity into Himself. Thus Christ gave to humanity an existence out of Himself. To bring humanity into Christ, to bring the fallen race into oneness with divinity, is the work of redemption. Christ took human nature that men might be one with Him as He is one with the Father, that God may love man as He loves His only-begotten Son, that men may be partakers of the divine nature, and be complete in Him” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 250, 251).

The 1888 message understanding of the need for the incarnation, life, death. and resurrection of Christ is unique. The angels, though willing, were not allowed to become the substitute to die in mankind’s place. According to Ellen White, only the Creator-God was appropriate to stand in our place.

By uniting humanity with His divinity, Christ achieved the two things demanded by the law Adam violated. Because God had said, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17; all texts are from the NAS). Christ stepped in as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. By taking humanity into Himself, He qualified as our substitute, and in Him, the human race satisfied the law’s demand that “the soul who sins will die” (Ezek. 18:4). But, the death the law required was not the sleep death with which we are all too familiar. It was the second death that was necessary.

Another requirement of the law that was violated by Adam and Eve’s sin, was perfect obedience. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’” (Gal. 3:10). Only by uniting humanity with divinity could Christ satisfy the second requirement of the law, that is His perfect obedience. This perfect obedience, accomplished by Jesus, is ours, through His faith which is given to us.

Monday’s lesson directs us to John 3:13: “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” One might ask about Enoch and Elijah who were already in heaven when Christ made this statement to Nicodemus. A true understanding of the union of divinity with humanity in Christ realizes that Enoch and Elijah were in heaven only because of their position in Christ, and what He would accomplish as covenanted on the cross.

All believers are described as sitting in heavenly places (Eph. 1:20), but only by our position in Christ can anyone claim this. Even in heaven, every redeemed person will forever owe their presence to their position in Christ. Never will any be entitled to say they earned it. Christ truly is our High Priest forever.

Arlene Hill


[1] Seventh-day Adventists believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1988), p. 36; quoted in Touched With Our Feelings, Zurcher, Jean (Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1999), p. 31.

[2] Touched With Our Feelings, p. 31.

[3] Ibid., pp. 36, 37.


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