On December 16, 1739, George Whitefield preached a sermon on Matthew 22:42 at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Va., in which he asked his audience the very same question that Jesus had asked his hearers 1,700 years earlier: “What think ye of Christ?”
The language Whitefield spoke was different from that of his Lord, but the eternal consequences of the answer were the same. Some of the answers of Jesus’ day—He was John the Baptist risen from the dead; He was one of the prophets; He was Elijah (see Mark 8:27-28)—were similar to answers given in Whitefield’s day. Deists such as Benjamin Franklin, a good friend of Whitefield’s, considered Jesus a peerless teacher, but they stopped far short of confessing His deity. Others regarded Jesus as divine, but in such a way that His deity is less than the Father’s. Whitefield, true to the testimony of Scripture, was not ashamed to tell people that Jesus Christ is fully God and that “if Jesus Christ be not very God of very God, I would never preach the gospel of Christ again. For it would not be gospel; it would be only a system of moral ethics.”
True God of True God
Evidence for the full deity of the Lord Jesus is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus is explicitly called “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him (Col. 1:19; 2:9). He bears titles and names given to Yahweh in the Old Testament (compare, for example, Isa. 44:6 and Rev. 1:17). He is set forth as the object of worship (Heb. 1:6) and is addressed in prayer (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Cor. 12:8). He does things only God can do, such as creating the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-10; Col. 3:13), and judging us on the final day (Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). He possesses divine attributes, such as omnipresence (Heb. 1:3; Eph. 4:10), omniscience (Rev. 2:23), omnipotence (Matt. 28:18), and immutability (Heb. 13:8). The full deity of Christ is integral to the gospel. Any other position distorts the New Testament.
Who Became Incarnate
The New Testament also bears witness to the other truth about Christ’s identity—His complete humanity. As the Apostle Paul puts it, He is “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5; italics added). He was raised in humble circumstances (Matt. 13:55). He experienced the pangs of hunger (4:2). He knew weariness and thirst (John 4:6-7). He wept genuine tears of sorrow (11:35). Yet while His humanity is like ours in all of these aspects, there is one way in which it is totally unlike ours: it is sinless. As we look at Christ’s life, there is not one incident to which we can point and say, “Look, a sin.” To deny the humanity of Christ is to undermine the gospel (see 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7-9).
For Our Salvation … Crucified
After a life of doing good, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel, Jesus was arrested by Jewish and Roman authorities. He who is Truth and a flawless lover of God was accused of being a blasphemer. He suffered shamefully at the hands of Jewish guards and Roman soldiers, being scourged and mocked. He was stripped of all of His clothing and put to death with nothing to cover His nakedness (John 19:23-24; Mark 15:24). His death was the most shameful and painful death known to the Romans—crucifixion (Heb. 12:2; John 19:16-18). The Author of life, who had raised the dead, was buried in a tomb. Most horrific of all, however, was the sense of abandonment by God that flooded the soul of Jesus as He died (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), for in His death He bore and experienced for sinners the hellish wrath they deserve (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:11-14, 28). His death was nothing less than a vicarious, propitiatory death. To deny this is to deny the gospel.
But death could not keep Jesus in the grave, for neither death nor Satan had any claim on Him (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:24-31). So, God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Matt. 28:6-7; Acts 2:32; Rom. 8:11), and He was seen on various occasions by His Apostles and select witnesses (Acts 1:3-8; 1 Cor. 15:4-8). Rejecting the bodily resurrection cuts o our hope of salvation.
This is the gospel that the New Testament teaches, that Whitefield preached, and that we still hold forth: Christ, fully God, became man for our salvation, died for our sins, and was raised from the dead. Believe this and you will be saved.