by Dr. John H. Gerstner
I: Among the many Christian doctrines we have discussed so far, we haven't yet taken up the doctrine of Christ Himself, have we?
C: No, not directly, although we did ground our doctrine of Holy Scripture on the teaching of Christ.
I: Yes, I recall. That was after we had demonstrated that Christ was a messenger sent from God. And that, in turn, was proved by the miracles He performed.
C: Exactly. From His “credit as a proposer” of doctrine, we noticed that we had to believe every doctrine He taught. Our primary concern there was with His view of Scripture. We agreed that as an authenticated divine messenger, He was to be believed in what He said about the Bible, specifically that Scripture, Old and New Testaments, was inspired of God.
I: Yes. And on that basis, I agreed that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. From that point on, we've grounded all the doctrines we've discussed on what the Bible says. But we haven't yet focused on what the Bible teaches about Christ Himself, have we?
C: No, not yet, even though that is the central verity of the Christian religion.
I: What do you mean?
C: Well, it is not only an important doctrine of Christianity. but the most important doctrine. Furthermore, it is indispensable to Christianity.
I: You mean that if a person doesn't have a sound doctrine about Christ, he is not a Christian at all?
C: Exactly. You see, many who call themselves Christians should not; their very idea of Christ is unsound.
I: But what if they still regard Him as very important and central in their lives?
C: They still would be at odds with the truth. If Jesus is none other than God incarnate, then to think He is merely a man would be a fatal mistake, would it not?
I: A very serious mistake, I grant you. But can you say that they don't believe in Him or follow Him when they do listen to His teachings and try to do what He teaches?
C: That's precisely the point. If He teaches that He Himself is God, and they follow Him as merely a man, can they meaningfully be said to follow His teaching?
I: I see your point. And yet, could they not follow some of His teachings, or even all of them, without realizing who He is as their Teacher?
C: That seems reasonable. But let's take a specific example of His teaching. As you know, He taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would that they do to you.”
I: That's what I have in mind. I know people who follow the Golden Rule and agree with Christ's teaching about it, and yet they don't think He is God. As a matter of fact, they would be appalled by the idea that Christ is divine. They regard Him as a very godly person who taught very sound maxims, including the Golden Rule. If these people take the Golden Rule seriously and practice it rather admirably, how can you deny that they follow Christ's moral instruction, even if they don't share the church's theological estimate of Him?
C: I would grant that they could understand the Golden Rule and live according to it at least superficially.
I: The people I'm thinking of, however, are anything but superficial. They're very serious people, and they do take the rule very seriously. I can't quite see how, though they don't believe in the divinity of Christ, they are superficial in their observance of His moral commandment.
C: I understand your perplexity. As far as our discussion has gone, you would seem to be reasonableness itself, and I would seem to be way off reality. But let me make an observation we have not yet considered.
I: Please do.
C: Well, as you probably know, Christ taught also that He is the vine, and His disciples are His branches. Are you acquainted with that teaching found in the fifteenth chapter of John?
I: Yes, vaguely. He did say something about His being the vine in which they are the branches, and they bear fruit through Him. I'm beginning to see what you're hinting at. But, spell it out, please.
C: Well, as you sense, He teaches there that He is the source of their life and their fruit-bearing, that is, their morality. In another place He says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” Here in John 15 He explains where their good works actually come from, does He not?
I: Yes, I suppose that is the point of the analogy He makes, He, as the vine, is the source of life, which somehow fills His followers, producing in them a moral life. As I ponder this, I see how profound the idea is. Are you saying that Christ not only teaches a morality but also claims that He Himself fulfills that morality in His followers?
C: Yes, that's right. I don't mean to deny that time and again He just issues commandments, as it were. He often sets forth teachings, describes maxims. But occasionally He also talks about the source of power for fulfilling the moral law, as in the vine and branches. In other words, the morality He commands is fulfilled in those who don't simply hear what He says and obey it, but actually look to Him for the necessary strength to fulfill it.
I: I guess my friends who try to follow Christ's morality without acknowledging that He is divine overlook this aspect of Christ's teaching. I can't help wondering if they've ever thought of Jesus' representing Himself as the source for fulfilling His own commandments. I'm not sure they would follow His teaching on that point. I suspect they would not. These people are real moralists. They try to be humble, but they really are proud of their character. They feel it's their character, and they don't need outside help to obey these commandments. If you told them that they could not carry out what Jesus taught without His power, they would not buy that. They would, in fact—well, I don't know quite what to say here.
C: What you're thinking, but are hesitant to say, is this, is it not? If they understood Christ to say His moral commandments could not be kept except by His own power, they would simply reject Him. Isn't that really what this whole thing amounts to?
I: I think you're right. It's hard to say, because I doubt they ever think in these categories. But when you put two and two together your answer seems inevitable. They think Christ is admirable as a moral teacher addressing Himself to moral persons such as themselves. They agree with His ideas. They join with Him in following them. But depend upon Him for the power to do good—you're right, they would not accept that. I have to conclude that they would want nothing more to do with Him. They would reject Him. He would be insulting them.
C: Well, it looks as if we've gotten the answer to our question, doesn't it?
I: It surely does. I'm surprised I didn't even suspect that a few minutes ago. And yet it's obvious, now that I think about it. I'm learning about myself, as well as about my friends. Up until this moment, I myself supposed that even though Christ was a messenger sent from God, whose every teaching I must accept, it was I who accepted them, I who would perform them (if I am forgiven for the sins I've already made).
C: Don't be too hard on yourself. Most people think that way at first. It's only when they realize how deep their depravity is and how little inclined they are to general morality that they begin to look around for help. Once they do realize they are sinners, as your friends apparently do not, then they know that they need forgiveness and power as well.
I: I can see that now.
C: Most people don't think in terms of the parable of the vine and the branches. If, as sinners, they sense that they cannot become new people unless they have a new principle of life within them, they may not realize at first that it's nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself dwelling in them and moving them to morality. But they learn quickly enough once He teaches them that.
I: I, for one, am catching on fast. I wonder why I took so long? Now that I do see it, it's very plain. I get your point that there is no following the moral teachings of Jesus Christ without recognizing who He is. It's really strange to me that just a few minutes ago it would have seemed self-evident that a person could follow the commandments of Christ, regardless of what he thought about Christ. I guess that's because I thought it similar to following Socrates or the Buddha or any other teacher without believing anything particular about the man himself. But a moment's reflection shows me that Jesus Christ is different from these other teachers.
C: Indeed He is. The others can understand certain moral principles and articulate them excellently and strive to fulfill their own moral ideals. You can join with them in recognizing the ideals and trying to fulfill them also. But once you realize that you're a sinner, you know that you do not have the internal power to make your ethics rise up and walk. That's because you've become acquainted with your own heart and with the Christian doctrine. These other teachers have not and, therefore, remain superficial in both their understanding of commandments and their understanding of their own ability to perform them.
I: That's precisely the case. And it was the case with me, also. Now that I am awakened to this truth, I realize that Christ, even in His moral teaching, implies His very— should I say, deity? That's certainly what you're driving at. But how does that follow? Granted that He presents Himself as the power by which His own morals are realized; how does that prove that He must be divine?
C: I don't suppose it does.
I: You don't'? Well, if not, what's all this about? Aren't we talking about the person of Christ as supernatural?
C: We are.
I: I don't get it. That's what I thought this was proving, that He is divine because He dwells in us to make His morals come alive through us. Yet you say it does not prove that He is divine. I'm confused.
C: It would prove, as you have observed, that He Himself must empower us to fulfill His own laws by somehow indwelling us as the vine indwells and energizes the branch to bear fruit. But could you imagine Christ's being used by God in that role?
I: You mean as a spirit of some sort, while God would ultimately be the actual source of our morality? I guess that would be a theoretical possibility. Of course, Christ would have to be superhuman. He couldn't dwell in disciples as one person of a finite character.
C: Indeed no. (Remember, we're just trying this idea for size.) If that wouldn't be possible, then He'd have to be a spirit, would He not?
I: Yes. And moreover, He would have to be more than finite, would He not?
C: I would certainly think so.
I: So aren't we back where we started? That is, for Christ to indwell every Christian who bears moral fruit, He would have to be spiritual and not material, and He would have to be infinite. What else would that be except deity itself?
C: I couldn't agree with you more.
I: Well, I thought you said it did not prove that He was deity.
C: I meant that it did not at first glance prove it. Theoretically God could have used some agent. But as we have probed that concept, we have realized that the agent Himself would have to be divine. So, at a closer look, it does indeed require what you say, and does vindicate your original supposition.
I: In other words, I'm correct after all?
C: I think so; but, I think you do have to prove it, in the way you have just done.
I: In other words, we must conclude from the teaching of Jesus Christ about morals that He Himself is the fulfiller of them, and that, therefore, He Himself must be the infinite divine spirit.
We have our first proof, then, that Jesus Christ is God. Although it's an indirect one, it's a very impressive one for me. Let me see if I have this right. He teaches the way of morality and furthermore teaches that He is the way. Even if He said nothing more, that much would imply that to fulfill His own role He would have to be God.
C: I think that's exactly the case. Obviously He may say much more than that. But, as you put it very well, if Christ said nothing other than that, we would have to conclude that this was a veiled allusion to His deity.
I: I find that most interesting, because I'm still thinking of my friends who consider themselves Christians precisely because they follow the morality of Christ. The next time I talk with them, I'm going to start the conversation right along that line and see if I can't get them to see that the very moralism they regard as Christian would lead them inevitably to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God, contrary to what they now think.
C: I wish you well. That is a fine approach to mere moralists who think they can be Christian without believing that Christ is God.
I: You did say that there were other, more direct indications of the deity of Christ?
C: Yes, many others. Christ says directly that He is God.
I: Directly? I don't know the New Testament as well as you do. But I can't remember ever hearing Christ say, “I am God.” And that's the sort of thing I don't forget. Where does He say that?
C: Nowhere to my knowledge does He say in so many words, “I am God.” But He says the obvious equivalent of it. For example, He says to His apostles, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” There's no question in anybody's mind that the word “Father” there refers to the Deity. So when He says those words to Philip, His obvious meaning is, “He who has seen Me has seen God.” That's the same thing, is it not, as saying, “I am God”?
I: Yes. It could hardly be plainer. I don't know why I didn't notice that before. Strange, isn't it, how we can read the New Testament and not notice things. We can look at certain words and not see them. I must at some time or other, though I don't remember when, have read, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Yet it never struck me as “He who has seen Me has seen God.” If Jesus had put it that way, I think it would have shocked me the first time I read it, and I'd never have forgotten it. Yet, until this moment, I didn't realize what He actually said.
Now that I've gotten over that shock, there's something else that puzzles me.
C: I have an idea what that is, but tell me anyway.
I: It's just that Jesus of Nazareth was the one speaking those words, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” The first thing one would think is that God is a man. After all, there talking to Philip was this man, maybe six feet tall, 165 pounds perhaps, and thirty years of age. I guess that's why I didn't see it the first time I read it. It sounds so absurd to say a six-foot-tall, 165-pound, thirty-year-old man is God. Yet, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” What are we to make of this? The more I reflect on my past, the more I suppose that I simply must have shaken my head when I read that. I must have thought, “I don't know what He means, but He can't mean what He seems to mean”—and let it go at that. Now that you make me stop and look more carefully at it, I have to admit that Jesus is seriously and unmistakably saying that to see Him is to see God. But what does that mean, if it can't possibly mean that God is six feet tall, 30 years old, weighing 165 pounds?
C: You're quite right that Jesus didn't identify deity with His human nature or any other human being.
I: I'm relieved at that, but I still don't know what He does mean.
C: Well, what else can He mean except that, in uttering those words, He is in union with God? In other words, we have here Christ's own reference to the Christian doctrine of the incarnation.
I: Incarnation, meaning “in the flesh.” God in the flesh, Immanuel. I remember that is one of His names, and the Bible itself interprets that as “God with us.” What we have is “God in Jesus,” I take it you are saying.
C: That would certainly seem to be His meaning, would it not? If so, that would be coherent.
I: I see what you are saying. That man who says, “He who has seen me has seen God,” is in union with God. Seeing that man is seeing God, though not with literal eyes, but with the eyes of the mind. Am I right?
C: I think so.
I: Isn't there a sense, though, in which everybody has God dwelling in him. Could I not say in that sense, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”? I tremble even at the utterance of those words because frankly they sound blasphemous. But if Jesus alludes only to being in union with God, would there be anything but a difference of degree between Jesus and His followers in whom He dwells?
C: As you say, you would feel blasphemous in saying. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” I too would feel blasphemous. Why is that?
I: Well, in my case, and I suppose yours also, it's because I know I am not God. Even if I were sure, which I am not, that God dwells in me, I am absolutely certain that I am not God. So whatever Jesus Christ means by that statement, I know I couldn't say it with anything other than a feeling of abhorrence. You'll have to speak for yourself.
C: I couldn't say those words any more than you could, and for the same reason. I know I am not God. It would be a blasphemous falsehood. So we are really answering our question, are we not?
I: Yes, we are. You and I and others like us simply could not say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” because we know we are not God. Which drives us to the conclusion that when Jesus calmly makes such an utterance, He really is God. The only way to make sense of that claim coming from the lips of a visible human being is that He, Jesus of Nazareth, is actually in a unique unity with God. It is so different from the way any other human being is related to God that He alone can say that to see Him is to see the Father. Yes, I think you've proved your point. That statement is, on reflection, a clear claim of deity and simultaneously of incarnation.
C: On another occasion, Jesus said something similar and yet significantly different.
I: What was that?
C: He said, “I and the Father are one.” Surely that sounds like, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” But there is this difference: In the statement we've been discussing, Jesus claims a one-to-one identification between Himself and the Father. But in saying, “I and the Father are one,” He indicates not a one-to-one identity, but a two-in-one identity, if I may use that expression. He has in mind two persons when He says, “I and the Father are one.” Referring obviously to Himself in distinction from the Father, He emphasizes at the same time that He is one with the Father: “I and the Father are one.”
I: I think I see the subtle, wonderful difference here. The statement, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” stresses His identity with God. But, “I and the Father are one” speaks of both identity and diversity.
C: So we have here a reference to two persons in one Godhead, do we not?
I: Two persons in one Godhead? I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess that's true. The two persons, “I” and the “Father,” are “one,” that is, one Godhead. I see what you're saying. But what does that mean?
C: Does that not indicate the doctrine of the Trinity in principle? In other words we have here a reassertion of the oneness of God or “monotheism,” the unity of the divine essence or being. At the same time, we see that Christ is distinct from the Father. So we have, in the phraseology of the traditional Trinitarian doctrine, a reference to two of the three persons in the Godhead. The Son and the Father are one in the same divine essence.
Though our discussion does not focus on the Trinity, but on the deity of Christ, His being a member of the Trinity clearly underlines the full deity of Jesus Christ.
I: That is certainly true.
C: Before we leave the Gospel of John, let's take one other assertion that occurs there. In the eighth chapter, Jesus carries on a dialogue with certain “Jews who believed on Him.” That phrase occurs in verse 31, but before the chapter is over, those Jews who believed in Him were seen not to believe in Him.
I: How is that?
C: When Christ claimed to be deity, these professed believers realized they did not in fact believe in Him. They believed in the person they thought Jesus was. When they learned who Jesus claimed to be, they were outraged at Him.
It was in the course of the dialogue with these “believing” Jews that Jesus indicated that He came from the Father and indeed was one with the Father. These “disciples” were getting the message and not liking it.
I: What happened then?
C: Well, as the chapter unfolds, the more these “believers” learn about Jesus and His claims to deity, the more they become hostile and outraged. Finally, they recognize that Christ unmistakably claims to be God. In their book, that is blasphemy, because Jesus was a human being, and it is blasphemy for a human being to claim to be God. When they put two and two together and came to the inevitable conclusion they picked up stones to kill Him because, as they said, “You being a man make yourself to be God.”
You see, that other statement, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” was made to His believing disciples. They accepted it. But this statement about Christ's deity was made to professed believers who really did not believe. So here we have the testimony of unbelievers to Christ's own self-opinion as we have in the other chapter the testimony of believers to His belief about Himself. Both groups are confronted with the same Christ. One group accepts Him as divine and worships. The other group rejects Him as a blasphemer and endeavors to execute Him.
I: Different reactions to the same proposition of Jesus that He was indeed God incarnate.
C: Correct. John's Gospel concentrates on this theme, but we could also find evidence for Christ's deity elsewhere. Before we go to a direct statement of Christ's that clearly indicates His deity, let's notice a feature of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and Luke that, while not mentioning deity directly, unmistakably implies it.
I: You're referring to the famous sermon-lecture of Jesus on morals, where we have the Lord's Prayer and the Golden Rule and so on?
I: Are you saying that the Sermon on the Mount teaches the divinity of Jesus?
C: Indirectly, yes.
I: That's the first time I have ever heard that. In fact, it is to the Sermon on the Mount that my friends, who do not believe in the deity of Christ, appeal.
C: I hope so. It may make believers out of them.
I: Show me.
C: The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is found in chapters 5 through 7. Here Christ says the type of thing that leaves no doubt He assumes His own deity. For example, consider the Beatitudes in general. We're all familiar with these. Many of us have memorized them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” And so on. I'll not cite them all, but just note that Jesus utters them with absolute finality and on His own authority alone. You know how the prophets would constantly say, “Thus saith the Lord.” They would always ground the authority of their message not on themselves but on its source in God, who had revealed His message to them. They make it very clear that they are the servants and He is the Lord.
I: Doesn't Jesus call Himself the servant of the Lord?
C: True, He does say, “I came to do the Father's will.” He was a man and He was subordinate to the divine will. He says so on a number of occasions. Nevertheless, on other occasions He appeals to nothing and relies on nothing. The authority of His message does not depend upon a source outside Himself.
I: How so?
C: In the Beatitudes, for example, on His own authority, He tells us who will inherit the kingdom of God, who will be the children of God, who will inherit the earth, and so on. No mere human being can say that on His own authority. He can give educated guesses. Or, if he is commissioned by God, he can say it in God's name, but not of himself. Yet this man Jesus spoke these things very calmly with a supreme and serene authority appropriate only to deity itself. Is that not so?
I: I suppose you're right. I had never thought of it that way before. As you say, I've known those Beatitudes for a long, long time. I've even memorized a good many of them. But since Jesus doesn't say so in so many words that He's God, I guess I never noticed that He was really doing something even more impressive than that—just tacitly assuming it. That's what it amounts to. He talks as if He is God, even when He doesn't say so directly. A person might not notice that fact.
C: Maybe that's a tribute to Jesus: that these things sound so natural coming from His lips that we don't notice extraordinary implications.
I: It is as if we have a tacit, unconscious realization of His deity. It doesn't seem strange to hear Jesus speak that way. It certainly wouldn't be appropriate for anyone to speak that way unless He were divine.
C: I had never thought of it that way myself. You have a very fine point there. I thank you for it. I myself never realized that the reason people reading the Beatitudes miss their implicit argument for Jesus' deity is that it seems so natural coming from His lips. They almost instinctively realized that this was no mere preacher, that this was a divine preacher. Thank you, my friend, for that observation.
I: I'm glad to return a favor for all you have done me. What other things in the Sermon on the Mount imply the deity of that preacher?
C: Notice the last beatitude especially. Christ says there. as you know, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.”
I: Wait a minute. Don't tell me. I see for myself what you are about to say. Jesus is saying that the prophets suffered for Him. And the prophets lived hundreds of years before Jesus, did they not?
C: Indeed. Some lived thousands of years before Him. The prophets proper, those whom He may well have meant, were as early as a thousand years before Him. The latest before John the Baptist would have been several hundred years before Him.
I: In other words, people who lived a thousand years before Him suffered for His sake. That implies that He was preexistent, a supernatural being. If He lived hundreds of years before that sermon, and people suffered for Him a millennium before He was born, then He existed in another form before taking upon Himself a human form. Is that it?
C: It would seem an inescapable conclusion that He was preexistent, but not necessarily that He was eternal.
I: Is there not an implication of eternality here?
C: How so?
I: Well, if a person suffered for His sake, that would suggest deity because people don't suffer humiliation and slander and so on for anything other than what they regard as their God, or at least His representative.
C: That seems reasonable. They're willing to suffer for this preexistent person, and such a willingness is almost always reserved for God, or as you say, one who represents God. So, I guess you're right. There is an implication of more than the preexistence. The preacher's words suggest eternal preexistence.
I: It's strange how you can read a statement and not notice its significance the first time around. I've read that more than once and been impressed with what Jesus says about people rejoicing in suffering for Him. Yet I never thought that in mentioning the prophets' suffering for Him, He must be far more than a mere man preaching on the mount. How blind I was.
C: The point is even more plain if you imagine an ordinary person making the kind of statement He does. Suppose, for example, I stood behind a pulpit and said, “Blessed are John Calvin and Martin Luther and John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards because they suffered for my sake.” It would not only be false, because, of course, they never knew me, or suffered for me, or would even think of suffering for me had they known me; it would also be absolutely absurd. I would have to be out of my mind to say a thing like that. But Christ says it as a simple matter of fact. In perfect calmness and secure rationality He casually remarks that men hundreds and thousands of years before suffered for His sake.
I: When you think of it, you realize what an overwhelming assertion of His deity that is. The fact that it comes in this veiled form (once the veil is penetrated) makes it all the more impressive.
C: The same thing is noticeable when Christ comments directly on the Bible. He says, “It is said by them of old time, `Thou shalt not kill,' but I say unto you...” or “It is said by them of old time, `Thou shalt not commit adultery,' but I say unto you...” Do you realize the significance of that?
I: You mean that He's putting Himself on a level with Old Testament Scripture?
C: Yes. For Him and His audience the Old Testament was the Word of God. Granted that some of His comments were not directly aimed at the Old Testament, but at contemporary misinterpretations of the Old Testament; nevertheless, in the same breath that He cites what His audience regarded as the inspired Word of God, He calmly says, “But I say to you.”
I: In other words, by putting His word on a level with what was revered as the Word of God, Christ puts Himself on a divine level.
C: It certainly seems so. Again, I think we can get the impact of this all the better by comparing it with our saying such a thing. Suppose I, from the pulpit, said to a worshipping congregation, “Now, the Word of God says so and so. But I say unto you.” You know what that congregation would say to me. “Who do you think you are?” How dare I put my word on a level with what I and my listeners consider to be the Word of God. Only one person may properly do such a thing: God Himself. The only one equal to God is God. And Jesus Christ certainly sounds as if He is making God His equal. If He were not God. then, of course. He would be just as impertinent and blasphemous as I to say such a thing. His being a perfect man doesn't change the fact that He'd be infinitely beneath the infinite God. Moreover, a perfect man would never utter such blasphemy.
I: Therefore, Jesus Christ is claiming to be God. I hear the argument.
C: There is more in the Sermon on the Mount, but let's move to its conclusion to see what intimations of deity we have there. Notice, that is where Jesus tells the well-known parable of the two men who built their houses on differing foundations. One man built on a rock; the other on sand. One of the houses, you remember, collapsed during a storm; the other stood. Do you recall what Christ was driving at in that story?
I: I do remember that story. It's even sung by kids in a simple chorus. The point of it is that the man who built his house on a rock really was building on Christ, is it not? And the man who built on sand did not build on Christ or His teaching. Am I right?
C: Yes, and you can see the implication.
I: I can indeed. Jesus is saying that if an individual believes in Him and His teaching and obeys Him, he will be able to go through the storms of life, and no doubt the storms of final judgment. If a person does not believe, he will be ruined in this world and the world to come. Knowing Jesus, that's the sort of point He's always making, is it not?
C: Yes. The people, no doubt, got that insinuation. This speaker was divine because no one other than God can assure that a person who does not follow Him will be ruined, and that a person who does will be saved. For anyone else to say that would be consummate arrogance and, again, blasphemy. And yet, what is more natural than for a divine person to say such a thing. If Christ is divine, you could never understand His not saying it; and if He were not divine, you could never understand His saying it. It's that simple.
Probably the most definitive utterance of all in this sermon is at its very end.
I: What is that?
C: Christ ends the Sermon on the Mount by describing the final judgment: “In that day, men shall come before Me and say, `Lord, Lord. Have we not prophesied in Thy name? Have we not cast out devils in Thy name? Have we not done mighty works in Thy name?' And I shall say unto them, `Depart from Me ye workers of iniquity. I never knew you.”
I: In other words, Jesus is saying He's going to be the judge of the last day. He is going to reject some people at His judgment seat. I get the point. The inference is clear. How can anybody miss it? The judge of the last day, who will determine the destinies of men, must be God. Is that what you deduce from this teaching?
C: I can't deduce anything else. There's only one judge of the last day: God Himself. Christ says He's the judge of the last day. Therefore, He is saying unmistakably that He is God.
I: I certainly see that. But something in what He says at the last judgment puzzles me.
C: I think I know what it is. It's that He denies at the day of judgment people who say they were His servants in this world. He even calls them evil-workers, doesn't He?
I: But why?
C: I could give you a flip answer here and say He calls them that because that's what they are. You yourself know that whatever He calls them, that's what they are. But what you're really asking is how could they be what they are. Is that not the question?
C: Well, let's see if we can get to His point. These people before the judgment seat of Christ are saying that they prophesied in His name and did many great things. Can we be sure they're telling the truth? They wouldn't try to deceive that Judge. So, let's assume they really were prophets of Christ or preachers of the Word of God. They were even successful at casting out devils. We are assuming they did many mighty works, because they wouldn't dare lie about a matter like that before the judgment seat. They may have been liars in this world, but not before the all-wise God in the next world.
I: You're fixing the noose ever tighter by making my question all the more difficult to answer, aren't you?
C: It would seem so, wouldn't it? By my saying that they must have spoken the truth about having done mighty works in the name of Jesus Christ, the question is indeed sharpened. Why would Christ reject such persons? But, don't you see, that's the very point. They did these things in the name of Christ, no doubt. But they didn't, apparently, do them in the Spirit of Christ. They could be preachers of the Word as, for example, I am one. They could declare the gospel, the true gospel, as I believe I do. They could even thereby deliver people out of darkness and into light, doing many other mighty works. Is that not so?
I: I guess it is. But, wouldn't the Spirit of Christ be what motivates them when they do preach the gospel and are blessed by conversions?
C: Not necessarily. And according to Christ, apparently not.