by GF Herrin
(A possible scenario in first century Greece)
Before he showed up, Maria had been like many others who lived in the city of Athens. She had grown up in a culture that worshipped many gods. Statues, idols, and altars that honored these gods were abundant throughout the city. Even the name of Athens came from the goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus. The city was immersed in god mythology. Yet, there was one god that no one knew the name of. This unknown god was seemingly a catch all for all the gods that the people might have missed. At least, that is what Maria thought before she heard the stranger speak.
This stranger, Paul, had stood up in the middle of the Areopagus in Athens and had spoken to everyone within ear range about this “unknown god” (Acts 17:22-23). He spoke about this god as if he knew Him personally. This was a strange teaching that Maria had never heard before. She could not say that she ever knew any god personally. She only did what she was told and paid homage to these gods so that things would hopefully go well with her. Yet, despite all of her religious observances, Maria felt an emptiness or void in her life. That very day, she had wondered to herself if she would ever be able to fill that void. Then, Paul showed up and spoke wonderfully of a different kind of god. His teaching on God’s character traits included the following: 1) Personal Nature; 2) Pre-existence; a) Old Testament; b) New Testament 3) Perfection; 4) Passion; 5) Conclusion.
It has been said that the best way to understand a person is to consider things from his point of view and to “climb in his skin and walk around in it.” Also, in order to communicate with someone most effectively one must talk with that person directly. Christian apologist and writer, Josh McDaniel, uses an analogy of a farmer who is in the process of plowing his field and encounters an ant hill in the middle of it. The farmer, because he cares about ants, tries yelling to them to warn them that unless they move out of the way they will be plowed under. Finally, the farmer realizes that the only way to really reach out to the ants is to become one of them.
In a similar way, God throughout the ages, repeatedly sent his prophets to speak for Him, warning mankind to repent from sin and turn back to Him. Finally, God sent His son to walk among them and to speak for Him (Heb. 1:1-2). It is not enough to understand Jesus as someone who was merely sent to communicate with mankind, though. It is essential to understand that Jesus is the God-man who graciously came from Heaven in order to save His creation.
In considering Paul’s writings, the reader comes to understand Jesus’ eternal nature and His selfless act to leave His rightful place as King in Heaven. Phil. 2:5-8 is a key Christological passage that gives insight into God’s incarnation as a man. From this passage, the reader understands that Christ made a willful decision to empty Himself and to live among the humans He had created. In leaving Heaven, Jesus set an example for others by becoming a bond servant to live a life of selflessness. In a sense, Christ lived out the passage, “Whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Matt. 16:25). By losing His life He found it (in the resurrected state) and was glorified and exalted for His faithfulness.
Being fully God and fully human, Christ experienced hunger, pain, fatigue, sickness, disappointment, oppression, vulnerability, and also the fleeting nature of life. He was not content to be distant from mankind either physically or spiritually. Not unlike the farmer who was concerned for the ants’ welfare, Christ was intent on doing everything He could to reach out to them, even if it meant taking the form of an ordinary man and ultimately dying on the cross.
This God in the flesh concept must have been very foreign to first century Gentiles living in Athens and the Roman Empire. The empire’s inundation with gods in the form of inanimate objects must have obscured the idea of a relationship with a personal God. Similarly, today, religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims struggle to understand a God who would humble Himself and take the form of a man. Muslims may believe that God can speak to man through messengers, but they do not believe that God has taken the form of a man. However, Christian pastor and apologist, Erwin Lutzer, writes, “Christianity asserts not only that God has spoken through messengers, but that He Himself became the messenger. The message and the messenger have become the same person.”
It is important to note that Scripture is not ambiguous regarding Christ’s dual nature. There is no debating that He is fully man and fully God. Colossians.1:15 and 2:9 are clear on this point. Colossians 1:15 can be understood to say that if one has seen Jesus, then he has seen God.
Colossians 2:9 clearly states that all of the fullness of God dwells in the form of Christ. So, by nature, even though, He is fully man, Jesus still possesses all of the qualities of God.
As God, Christ is perfect and without flaw. But as man He has experienced weakness of the flesh and attacks from the enemy and still resisted the urge to give in to sin. Does this make Him more personal or able to relate to His children? It would seem so. At the very least, a believer today who undergoes tribulation can draw strength in knowing that Jesus did not cave in but kept persevering until the end. These experiences that Christ went through give Him more firsthand knowledge (for want of a better expression) of His follower’s challenges and make Him a powerful and wise “Helper” in any situation that a believer may face. It is reasonable to suggest that these real life experiences make Jesus seem much more personal.
There are several Scripture references from both the Old and New Testament that bear witness to Christ’s pre-existence before He came to earth as a baby. They must be examined to truly understand the eternal and unending nature of the Son. These instances show Christ’s interaction with people and His revealing of Himself as God prior to His incarnation. As Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
It is very apparent that the pre-incarnate Christ is referenced in several Old Testament passages that refer to the Lord appearing in human form. In Genesis 18:1, when three visitors come to see Abraham and Sarah, Moses writes, “Now the Lord appeared to him” (Abraham). Verse two states, “Three men were standing opposite him”. In verse three, Abraham addresses one of the men as “My Lord”. It seems likely that two of the visitors being referred to are angels and the third man is the pre-incarnate Christ. Abraham singles out the third visitor, calling Him, “my Lord” and apparently realizes that He is talking to God in the flesh. In fact, in chapter 18, Abraham goes on to refer to the third visitor as “Jehovah” nine more times.
In another instance, in Joshua 5 (verses 13-15), the man who appears with a sword is called “my Lord”, receives worship, and instructs Joshua to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground. The man refers to himself as “captain of the host of the Lord.” The Lord also instructs Moses to remove his sandals after God has “come down” (Exod. 3:7) from Heaven to speak to Moses in person before delivering His people from the Egyptians. The Lord is referred to initially as “the Angel of the Lord” when He appears before Moses in the burning bush.
There are actually several appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament that are likely manifestations of the pre-incarnate Christ. This Angel is referred to as “Lord” in several passages including: Genesis 16:7, 22:11; Judges 6:11-23, 13:3-22; Zechariah 3:1-2. What is especially significant about the passage in Judges 13:8 is that the Angel of the Lord refers to His name as “wonderful”, which is the same word used in Isaiah 9:6, which prophetically says regarding Jesus’ name, “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God”. In an amazing example of the consistency and integrity of Scripture, the Angel of the Lord reveals His name to Manoah and it is the very same name used to describe the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The Angel of the Lord’s appearances are only found in the text of the Old Testament Scriptures, prior to the Incarnation. This makes perfect sense, considering Christ’s ultimate identity was not as Angel but as the Redeemer of mankind. Christian apologist and author, Ron Rhodes, reasons, “There is no other way to explain the Angel’s complete inactivity among human beings in New Testament times unless he is recognized as continuing his activity as God-incarnate – that is, Jesus Christ.” In other words, having revealed Himself to mankind as God in the flesh, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ (formerly known as the Angel of the Lord) is now known to everyone by His human name.
There are several passages in the New Testament that point to the pre-existence or eternal nature of Christ. Perhaps the best known passages were written by the Apostle John who describes Jesus’ incarnation when he states, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Paul’s Christological passages also point to the pre-existence or eternal nature of Christ. One passage, Colossians 1:16-17, gives evidence to Christ’s presence at the beginning of creation. Verse 16 says, “All things have been created through and for Him”. Verse 17 says, regarding Christ, “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” So, not only was Christ present at creation, everything was created by Him and through Him. Logically, then, Christ could not have been a created being if He was the creator in the beginning.
Another passage that attests to Christ’s pre-existence, is Ephesians 1:4, which states that Christ’s work in choosing His adopted children began even before the world was created. This verse implies that Christ had foreknowledge of all events to come throughout all time. Again, this foreknowledge implies His pre-existence. If Christ chose His followers ahead of time, He must have existed before the events in time took place.
Philippians 2:6 also points to Christ’s pre-existent nature prior to His mission on Earth. Christ “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6) before being born to Mary. Christ’s pre-existence begs the question, how can one pre-exist before He is born on earth? Being fully God, Christ’s existence is not confined by space or time. He can appear anywhere and anyplace He chooses. It could be suggested that time is almost like a tapestry that is laid out for the eternal Christ to place Himself. After all, He is the creator of time itself, and as such, is also its master.
Unlike Christ, who stated “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58), no other major leader of another religion has claimed to have pre-existed before he was incarnated. Of course, classical Hinduism holds to the belief that a soul will be reincarnated over and over into different manifestations depending on how virtuous the human owner has been. However, Hinduism does not have a pre-existent God-man who was known to have appeared physically over thousands of years and later came to be born of a woman. Hinduism also does not have a leader who died on the cross, was physically resurrected and appeared to five hundred observers at once (1 Cor. 15:6).
Another characteristic that distinguishes Jesus Christ from other gods or leaders of world religions, is His perfection. Neither Buddha, nor Mohammed claimed to be sinless. Practicing Muslims observe the Five Pillars and Five Duties of faith in order to live what many consider to be a good life. Buddhists teach their followers to practice the Four Noble Truths and to follow the “Middle Way” which teaches the avoidance of extremes. Both religions are clearly works based, and one’s enlightenment, or entry into Paradise is dependent on how moral a life the follower lives.
The Christian’s reward or eternal destination, on the other hand is solely dependent on the finished work on the cross carried out by the Lord Jesus Christ. One must make a conscious turn away from sin, put his faith in Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and be born again to be reconciled to God. In essence, though, the forgiveness of one’s sins is solely dependent on the sinless perfect sacrifice that Jesus made for the believer. Salvation is not dependent on works but faith in Christ as the only way to Heaven.
The whole concept of the payment for sin originates from the sacrificial rites of the Jews during the Temple period and earlier. Abel presented a slain lamb before God as an offering (Gen. 4:4) and the Lord accepted it. Cain, on the other hand, presented fruit from his labor (Gen. 4:3, 5) and the offering was rejected. So, it is with any attempted payment for sins by works of mankind. In order for Him to be the Lamb of God (John 1:31), the propitiation for mankind’s sins, Christ Himself had to be perfect: sinless and without blemish (Exod. 12:5).
Ephesians 1:7 describes the result of Christ’s sinless blood sacrifice for mankind. Redemption is dependent on God’s gracious offering of His Son for the forgiveness of sins. 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes the justification that takes place. In essence, Christ’s perfect sinless nature is deposited to the forgiven sinner’s account. Christ’s perfect righteousness is exchanged for the believer’s ugly sinful condition. Jesus became sin on the cross and paid the penalty due. As a result, the believer is no longer viewed by God as condemned, but instead has a positional relationship of righteousness, having benefited from Christ’s payment for his sin debt.
In considering Christ’s sinless perfection one cannot help but wonder if it were possible that He could have sinned. Being God, who is perfectly righteous and holy in nature, could Christ have been tempted while he walked the earth and given in to temptation? There are various views on this subject among scholars. On the one hand, there is the view of peccability which holds to the belief that Christ being fully man as well as being fully God could have sinned. On the other hand, there is the view of impeccability which says that Christ could not have sinned. Whether He sinned or not is not in question since both viewpoints hold to Christ’s unblemished perfection. Those of the impeccable view believe that the divine nature of Christ would have made it impossible for Christ to sin, though.
John Walvoord, scholar, author, and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, presents a careful examination of both viewpoints. He states that unlike an average human, the divine Christ would have only been subject to temptation from outside sources (Satan) and not from within Himself. Did He undergo temptation? Yes, the Bible is clear that He did. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a highpriestwhocannotsympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in allthings as we are, yet withoutsin.” This passage suggests that Christ’s undergoing temptation actually helps Him to sympathize with the experiences and weaknesses of believers.
A specific temptation experience of Christ is described in Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:13, and Luke 4:2. It is clear from these passages that Christ is tempted directly by Satan in the wilderness yet does not sin. Yet, perhaps His greatest moments of temptation, Walvoord suggests, are in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. Imagine a perfect, holy and righteous man undergoing the judgment for sins that He never committed. Imagine the separation from the Father that He likely felt. Would He have been tempted to not undergo His hour of tribulation? It seems reasonable to say yes.
That Christ would be tempted does not mean He was capable of sin. Walvoord uses an analogy of a row boat attacking a battleship. Just because the row boat can attack the battleship does not mean that it can be successful in defeating it. Logically, because of Christ’s human nature He had a vulnerability to be tempted by sin. However, His divine nature would always prevent Him from sinning. Walvoord writes, “If it is unthinkable that God could sin in eternity past, it must also be true that it is impossible for God to sin in the person of Christ incarnate. The nature of His person forbids susceptibility to sin.” Indeed, His is the nature of perfection.
To suggest that Christ came into the world to merely be a good teacher, man, prophet or inspirational leader is the ultimate insult to Him. Without a doubt, teaching, being virtuous, prophesying and inspiring others was achieved by Him. However, His main purpose was to come to die as a payment for sin and reconcile men and women to God. As Paul writes, “It is a trustworthystatement, deservingfullacceptance, that ChristJesuscame into the world to savesinners, among whom I amforemost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15). This verse affirms that Christ knew all about His purpose in the world and embraced His mission. The common misconception among unbelievers is that Christ was a victim who deserves pity for being crucified. Yes, He was an innocent victim, of course. However, Christ in His foreknowledge knew the incredible results of His sacrifice for mankind’s sins on the cross. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joysetbefore Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has satdown at the righthand of the throne of God.”
Another misconception or de-emphasized point regarding Christ’s sacrifice for sins is the absolute passion that He must have felt in regard to His work. In regard to Christ, Paul writes, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Christ, who was willing to be scourged, mocked, spat on, and brutally hung from a tree must have been passionate in His desire to bring redemption to sinners. This passion and love are in turn felt by His graciously forgiven children. Paul, in a heartfelt, yet simple statement says, “The life which I nowlive in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gaveHimself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Christ was passionate for not only the blatant sinners (who understood their condition), but he was also passionate for all of the legalists of the day. Many of the Jews who filled the city of Jerusalem in Christ’s first advent and today have believed themselves to be good people who have tried to follow the Law. They were and still are trying to live moral lives in hope that they will be good enough to get to Heaven. Christ came to set them free from all of the legalistic bondage that leaves their hearts unchanged. Although many Jews have not recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the offer for forgiveness from Christ is a strong one: “He made you alivetogether with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decreesagainst us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Coll. 2:13-14).
Passion is good, but so is reason. Systematic reasoning such as Greek philosophy is actually valuable in evaluating the logic and value of arguments with respect to what is valid. For example, many views of the Greek philosopher, Plato, are consistent with Christian ideas and are actually helpful in defending Christianity. Some of the beliefs that Plato had include: Moral absolutes, Immortality (spiritually), A Life beyond this one, The inborn capacity for reasoning, and Proofs for God. However, several Platonic views are inconsistent with Christian beliefs including: Belief in a finite God, Reincarnation, Humanism, and Anthropological dualism.
Another figure who is often portrayed as being a deep thinker is Confucius, who lived in China in the mid 400s BC. Confucius was an educated man who did not fall in line with the ritual ancestral worship of his time. He wrote the book, I Ching, which was used for spiritual direction based on divination with casting sticks and line patterns that matched up with commentary or advice. Confucius taught an ethical system that he thought would help society. However, it was not based on the belief in a single God.
The portrayals of philosophers such as Plato and Confucius draw many to think that they possessed an incredible power for wisdom and sound decision making. However, they were still simply men and did not possess any definitive answers for the life that lies beyond the grave. God has a different viewpoint of the wisdom of the world. Paul writes regarding the worldly wise, “For the wisdom of thisworld is foolishnessbeforeGod. For it is written, ‘He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness’” (1 Cor. 3:19).
Even though the many teachers or leaders of various religions are looked upon as wise, they did not demonstrate the passion that Christ possessed. Who among these religious leaders felt so passionate about his followers that he was willing to live a sinless guiltless life only to die an excruciating death for them? Christianity is unique in its view that blood atonement (since Jews do not presently carry out the sacrificial rites of the Torah) alone pays for redemption. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been savedthroughfaith ; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
How should believers react to the passionate gift of Christ’s redemption? In a non-Pauline passage, Peter, emphasizing that the blood sacrifice of Christ should not be taken lightly, warns believers that they should be “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishablethings like silverorgold from your futileway of lifeinherited from your forefathers, but with preciousblood, as of a lambunblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Similarly, Paul writes, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). Clearly, from these passages the message can be understood that believers should be just as passionate in their reaction to Christ’s redemption for their sins as the Lord was in carrying out His work on the cross to justify them.
Maria considered carefully the words of the Apostle Paul. As he spoke she considered the many unique characteristics of this “unknown god”. Unlike the gods she had seen statues or likenesses of this God seemed personal. As Paul spoke she felt as if this God was intimately familiar with her life. Indeed, the words Paul spoke concerning this God, struck a chord when he said that all of mankind was placed carefully in time and place so “that they would seekGod, ifperhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from eachone of us” (Acts 17:27). Even now, Maria had the feeling that her thoughts earlier in the day had been preparing herself for the message that Paul spoke to her.
Maria also felt drawn to this God who was willing to leave His heavenly abode and lower Himself to become a simple, humble, and poor man. After all, she had seen rich people in her city that had such high opinions of themselves that they looked down upon her as if she were common trash. Yet, this God, who was supremely rich and powerful, seemed contrite in spirit and very approachable and intimate. Paul’s intimate knowledge of God was something that Maria could not ever conceive of having.
Also, one of the major differences with this God was that everyone seemed to be invited to listen to Paul speak as he reached out to those around him. She had met Jews before and many of them seemed legalistic and unapproachable. This Jes seemed different in that he did not avoid associating with the Gentiles around him. As a matter of fact, Paul seemed to welcome questions from these people and seemed open to women listening to him speak, also. Paul spoke to everyone in the same way, emphasizing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Paul also emphasized the differences between His God and the ones found in Athens, saying that all religions except Christianity involved men and women performing works or following the Law to earn their way to Heaven. Paul emphasized God’s gracious gift of Christ dying for mankind’s sins and how He wanted a personal relationship with everyone. Furthermore, he stressed that Christ was God in the flesh who had come to reconcile man to Him. Paul also stressed that Christ knew from the beginning of time who would be adopted into His family. He stressed that Christ’s blood sacrifice had been successful and this was proven by the fact that He had been physically resurrected and appeared to many afterward.
Then, Paul emphasized that these things he spoke of were “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col. 1:26). Paul shouted, “God has chosen the foolishthings of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weakthings of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 3:19). He also said, unlike many things that were for sale in Athens, this salvation was free and that today if she heard His voice she should repent and be saved. Maria stepped forward and in her mind made a conscious effort to turn away from sin, ask God for forgiveness, and invite Jesus to be the Lord and savior of her life. Then, suddenly she experienced incredible joy and life began anew.
Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About Mythology (New York: Harper Collins), 204.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Rev. ed.(New York: Harper Collins, 1999), 33.
 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 296.
Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ Among Other Gods (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 99.
Ron Rhodes, Christ Before The Manger (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 87.
John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 24-25
Michael A. Harbin, To Serve Other Gods (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 104.
 Ibid., 123, 128.
Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999), 594-595.
Davis, Kenneth C. Don’t Know Much about Mythology.New York: Harper Collins.
Geisler, Norman LBaker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.
Harbin, Michael A. To Serve Other Gods.Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Rev. ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Lutzer, Erwin W. Christ Among Other Gods.Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.
McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Rhodes, Ron. Christ before the Manger. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992.
Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.