We often in apologetics circles talk a lot about worldview issues; the age of the Earth? Is there a God? Is there truth? Can we know it? But all of that should be in service to undergird and support our efforts to defend the Gospel. That’s what apologetics is about, is giving an answer for the hope we possess in Christ.
And speaking of Christ, there’s a new survey out from Ligonier, and what they’ve done once a year or every couple years is survey evangelicals and also Americans in general about theology, and they track these responses over time. They gave evangelicals the following statement: They said, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” and 78% of people agreed with them. 78% of evangelicals agreed that Jesus was the first and greatest created being. That would mean he’s not God; you can’t be God and also be a created being. That Jesus was a created being is a very worrisome thing for evangelicals to affirm.
And you might be thinking okay, so with surveys today, they’re always saying evangelicals this and evangelicals that; well who’s an evangelical? Well you’re right to ask that question, and an evangelical in this survey met four criteria: They strongly agreed that the Bible is the highest authority for what they believe, that it’s very important personally to encourage non-Christians to trust in Jesus, that Jesus’s death on the cross was the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of sin, and that only those who trust in Christ alone for their salvation will receive the free gift of eternal salvation.
Now in spite of the fact that evangelicals had to strongly affirm those in order to be characterized as evangelicals, some of the other responses in the survey I think bring those affirmations into question. But I just want to focus on the statement today that Jesus is the first and greatest creation of God that 78% of evangelicals agreed with.
Scripture at so many points disagrees with this. And in fact, just to skip to the end and the conclusion and say why this is important, a created being is not going to save you from your sin. A created being cannot stand in your place and be the substitute for you to be absorbing the wrath of God on the cross that we justly deserve. And to take that a step further, a created being cannot end up crediting us with his perfect righteousness; only God can do that. Was Jesus human? Yes, he was fully human after the incarnation. Was he fully God? Yes, he has always been fully God, and I want to quickly look at three passages to demonstrate this today.
This is such an important thing for us as Christians to have clarity on and to be able to contend for because there are cults out there and non-religious groups that would disagree with this central point. They would either say that yes, Jesus is a god, but he’s just one god and there are many gods; I think of Mormonism here. Or maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses would say that he’s some form of lesser, first creation sort of being. But neither of these can be true, and neither of these are Biblical. And so if we’re going to claim to be evangelicals, where the Bible is our highest authority, let’s go to the Scriptures and see where it says at numerous points that Jesus is fully God, he is not created.
The classic text for this would be John 1:1, which says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was fully God. The word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by Him,” that would be the word, “and apart from Him, nothing has been created that has been created.” Isn’t that interesting? “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God”; so there is this preexistent word, and John says that while it is with God, it was God.
Now some people have tried to say that the underlying Greek grammar here should be translated and the word was “a god.” But if these people who make this claim had actually studied Greek more in-depth, they would understand that no, that that’s not actually required, nor is that the best translation of the grammar there. It’s more likely that it’s saying, “And the word was God,” but it’s picking up this idea of a qualitative nature, that there’s a quality about the word that is God. And that’s why the New English Translation and some other translations say something more like, “And the word was fully God”; it has all of the qualities of God, which means it is God. To have all of the attributes of God is to itself be God.
And so Jesus is the word we go on later to see. If we pick up reading in John 1 at verse 14, it said, “Now the word became flesh and took up residence among us.” That’s Christmas, that’s the incarnation. The word, the preexistent word, which John has just told us was also God, fully God, takes on flesh. There is the incarnation. “And we saw his glory,” John says. “The glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.” So he has been with the Father. Often in the New Testament when the word God is used, it’s referring to the Father. Now yes, that can be a little confusing. We talked about the Trinity before and how the New Testament often uses different words to refer to different Trinitarian members, but nonetheless, we see that the word that took on flesh came from the Father. That’s the same God that verse 1 tells us that the word was with. There’s a parallelism here.
And then John goes on in verse 18 to say, “No one has ever seen God. However, the only one, himself God, who is in the closest fellowship with the Father has made God known.” So who is this one that is himself God that has made God known? It’s Jesus; it’s the word that took on flesh. That’s what’s being said here. And so when you read these verses, and yes, it’s not written in the clearest way, but it communicates such a profound, deep truth: That Jesus preexisted the incarnation. Remember that’s the word in verse 14 that became flesh and took up residence; the word existed before the incarnation. And in fact, it says here that the word was fully God, and to be God is to always have existed, to not have a beginning. If God could be created, well what created God? And what created that thing that created God? See, it doesn’t work. God is the uncreated Creator, the unmoved Mover.
So that’s what John 1 shows us just quickly. But we could go to some other passages. Let’s go to Colossians 1, where Paul says in verse 15 that “He being Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all Creation.” Now let’s just stop there. Some people have said oh see, first born, he was born. But that word prōtotokos in Greek means preeminent one; in the same way that a firstborn in a family would have the largest stake of rule and inheritance, it’s the same way with Christ. Because what Paul goes on to say in verse 16 and following is not what you would describe of someone who has been born, of someone who has been created, because to be born is to be created.
But what does Paul say in verse 16? “For all things in Heaven and on Earth were created in him. All things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers, all things were created through him and for him.” Isn’t that interesting? Now not all of the time in Scripture does all mean all, just like we don’t always mean all when we say all to mean every single thing in existence. But Paul makes it pretty clear here, all things; the things that are in Heaven, okay, or the things that are on Earth, that kind of covers all the locations. The visible things and the invisible things, that covers everything. And if that wasn’t enough, thrones and dominions, and principalities and powers. And he caps it up again, all things were created through him and for him.
So if Christ created every single thing that exists, he could not also have been created. If you are born, you were created, and Christ, while being born, existed before that. We see in John that he was the preeminent, preexistent word that took on flesh. He did not come into existence at the incarnation; he existed before that. And so if you create every single thing on Heaven and in Earth, you are not one of those created things. Things cannot create themselves, contrary to what some modern scientists seem to say to avoid the implication, the very reasonable implication, that God created everything. Things do not create themselves, and Jesus is not a created being; he has always existed.
What we also see here is that Jesus is the one that created the world. He’s the one that created for the Father everything that exists. So who created the world? God did, Jesus did, the Father did, and the Spirit was involved in Creation. All three members of the Trinity participated in Creation, but it’s very fair to say that Jesus created everything. And as Paul goes on to say, “Well all things were created for him and through him. They subsist in him, they hold together in Christ.” Things only continue to exist because Christ wills them to continue to exist; there’s not an atom out of place in the universe.
And in fact, things are only true because Christ believes them to be true. Isn’t this a radical claim, that everything exists exists because of Christ? Not just that it came into existence, but that it sustains an existence because of Jesus. That’s incredible. But that’s what Paul is saying here. That’s not something that happens from a mere created being; that’s something that happens only for God, and Christ is fully God. And yes, there is only one God, but Christ is God, the Father is God, and the Spirit’s God. That’s the doctrine of the Trinity that we’ve talked about in the past.
But let’s go to one other passage today. Let’s go to Philippians 2 where Paul says, “You should have the same attitude towards one another that Christ Jesus had who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be held onto, as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And it goes on to say that because of this, the Father exalted him and raised him.
But you see here that Paul is tying together the fact that Christ existed before he took on flesh, before he looked like other men, before he humbled himself, before he became obedient to the point of death. Paul says that he existed in the form of God, the likeness of God. The type of being Christ was, was God. Once again, that’s the same sort of thing that we see in John 1:1; that Jesus existed in the very likeness of God, he was fully God, that he had the essence of God. These are all ways of characterizing the same thing, that the qualitative type of being that Jesus was, was God.
And Paul says, “While he existed in that form, he did not regard equality with God,” all the rights and privileges that He had in His glorified state in Heaven, “as something to be held onto, but he emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave.” Isn’t that interesting, that it says that he emptied himself by taking on something? So actually in adding human nature to his divine nature … Christ had two natures, a divine and a human nature, and in adding human nature to his divine nature, it’s actually an emptying of sorts; that the glory of God is veiled. Jesus wasn’t walking around all the time shining brightly and looking all glorified like he did on the Mount of Transfiguration.
So there’s a veiling that takes place in the incarnation when the son of God, the preexistent, always existing son of God, adds humanity to himself. Some of his divine nature and attributes become veiled from view. He takes on the form of a slave, he looks like other men, he shares in human nature, but don’t miss it. It was the fact that he existed in the form of God before he came to Earth. And as Paul said in Colossians 1, “Before anything was created”; he was preeminent over everything, he created all things, he could not have been a created thing.
This is so important because right here, Paul in assuming the preexistence of Christ before the incarnation, goes on to leverage that point to talk about how only this Christ, only this person, only the one who was God and took on flesh, could go to the cross and be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. That is necessary for the Gospel. One of the central claims of the Gospel hangs on this point; that it was the God-man who died on the cross. Not some created being but Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man, was the one who went to the cross. And so that in being God, he could actually live a perfect life that we could not; in being man, he could represent us to the Father as we needed someone of our own kind to do. We all died in Adam, Adam was our representative, he was one of our kind, he was man. We needed another man to represent us, but none of us, no natural man, could. We needed a fully God, fully man representative.
And so a created Jesus will not do. A created Jesus cannot save you from your sins. A created Jesus cannot die in your place. You cannot be credited with the perfect righteousness of a created Jesus, and so we must be very clear. If we’re going to claim the Bible’s our highest authority as evangelicals, well let us not be part of that 78% that agrees that Jesus was the first and greatest created being, because a created being by God is not also God. There’s only one God in the universe, and Jesus is God, the Father is God, the Spirit is God. But God cannot create another God; there can only be one. There can only be one being of the type of God in the universe.
As Isaiah records God saying, “Before me, there was no God formed, and after me, there will be no God formed.” There is no God but God, and there is one God, and Jesus is fully God, which means Jesus has always existed. That is the Jesus that can save; no other Jesus can.