One of the most remarkable things in our Lord’s ministry is the quiet assurance with which he unhesitatingly applies to himself titles from the Old Testament which are there indisputably used of Jehovah. Moreover, the New Testament writers ascribe such titles to Christ.
‘First And Last’
A significant title assumed by the Lord Jesus in the book of Revelation is “First and Last” (chapter 1:17; 2:8; 22:13). In 22:16 the speaker says of himself: “I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you of these things,” having already said in verse 13, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” Also in chapter 2:8, there is no doubt about the person to whom the words refer: “These things saith the first and last, who died and came to life.” Now this designation “First and last” occurs three times in Isaiah (41:4; 44:6; 48:12) where on each occasion Jehovah is the speaker.
The ‘I Am’
Jehovah, the incorrect but well-established rendering of the Hebrew consonants YHWH, was regarded by the Jews as too sacred to be pronounced and was replaced by a variety of substitutes, such as “Lord” (Adonai), or “The Name.” We can no longer say with certainty how it was pronounced, but from Exodus 3:14 we know that it was derived from the verb “to be”: “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am’; and he said: Say to the people of Israel ‘I am’ has sent you.” Now on more than one occasion our Lord refers to himself by using “I am” in a way that points unmistakably to this Old Testament title of Jehovah. In a controversy with the Jews he declared: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Had he been merely a pre-existent Being, then he would have had to say “Before Abraham was, I was.” That the amazing implication of his claim did not escape the Jews is clearly shown by the extreme violence of their reaction in attempting to stone him to death for alleged blasphemy. Another occasion on which he used it was at the time of his arrest. To his question to his approaching captors, “Whom seek ye?,” they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” to which he replied, “I am.” The effect that this brief utterance had on them was dramatic: “They went backward and fell to the ground” (John 18:5, 6). The mere literal sense of these words could hardly have produced this extraordinary effect. Then again at the crucial stage of his trial, Jesus, being interrogated by the high priest as to his messianic claims, replied, “I am: and you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). The savage vehemence that this called forth in the high priest and the company can be explained only if it was understood by them to be a claim to personal deity, a blasphemy in their eyes of such magnitude as to be expiated only by death.
Author Of Eternal Words
The Old Testament constantly claims to be an authoritative and immutable communication from God. In Isaiah 40:8 we are told: “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands for ever.” To this view of the Old Testament as a divine revelation our Lord unquestionably subscribes. For instance, his words in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall not pass away from the Law, until all things are fulfilled.” For his own words he makes a substantially similar claim: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
The coming Messiah is designated in two familiar prophecies as “Light” (Isa. 9:2, compare Matt. 4:16; and Isa. 49:6, compare Luke 2:32). Five times in the first chapter of John (verses 4, 5, 7, 8, 9) this description is used. His uniqueness is stressed in verse 9: “The true light.” Our Lord himself said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Now light is a well-known title of Jehovah in the Old Testament; for instance, Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my Light and my salvation,” or even more specifically in Isaiah in a context of messianic prophecies: “Jehovah will be to you an everlasting light” (Isa. 60:19 and 20). Again, following on the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 59:20 we have in 60:1 “light” designating the Messiah, equated with the glory of Jehovah. “Arise, shine [that is, Zion], for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” It is instructive to see how John in his introduction to his first epistle uses the very same epithet of God that he had already used in the opening verses of his Gospel of the incarnate Son, who is there the “light that the darkness found invincible” while in First John 1:5, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”
There are two words commonly used in Hebrew for “rock,” as well as the word “stone.” One is used for instance in Psalm 18:2, “Jehovah is my rock,” the other in Psalm 95:1, “O come let us sing to Jehovah, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” Paul in First Corinthians 10:4 interprets the “rock” of Exodus 17:6 as referring to Christ. “Stone” is used as a title of God in Genesis 49:24, and in the messianic passage in Isaiah 28:16, “Behold I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone.” Peter in his first letter (1 Pet. 2:6–8) understands this passage to be speaking of Christ as the foundation stone of the “spiritual house,” the Church. Although the word here is not the one used in Matthew 16:18 (“and upon this rock I will build my church”), the similarity of function is so obvious that Peter must also have had these words in mind. This seems all the more certain from his application two verses later of “rock,” a description of Jehovah taken from Isaiah 8:14, to Christ. On linguistic grounds there could be no objection to seeing in Matthew 16:18 another instance of our Lord’s taking to himself a common Old Testament title of Jehovah.
The figure of a bridegroom is one that is frequently used either implicitly or explicitly of Jehovah in the Old Testament. In Hosea 2:16, for instance, Jehovah says, “You will call me ‘my husband.’ ” Again in Isaiah 62:5, “As a bridegroom rejoicing over the bride, your God will rejoice over you.” Our Lord early in his ministry and often subsequently depicts himself as a bridegroom. In a reply to the Pharisees, he says concerning himself: “Can the sons of the wedding chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Mark 2:19). Again in the parable of the “Foolish Virgins” he is the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1–13). In that great final beatific vision (Rev. 21:2) the Church is depicted “as a bride adorned for her husband.”
In Psalm 23:1 we read, “Jehovah is my shepherd,” and in Ezekiel 34:15, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” In John 10:11, our Lord uses this title of himself, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Peter calls him “the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25) and again “the chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of him as “the great shepherd” (Heb. 13:20). That the title is unique is clear from John 10:16, “So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
Forgiver Of Sins
In the Old Testament, God alone has the right and power to forgive sins: Jeremiah 31:34, “For I [Jehovah] will forgive their wickedness, and their sin will I remember no more.” Or again Psalm 130:4, “For with Thee is forgiveness that Thou shouldest be feared.” In the New Testament we find our Lord claiming this right for himself. In Luke 5:21 we read of the Pharisees protesting that only God could forgive sins. This was to them, as it would be to us, self-evident. To this Christ replied by substantiating his authority to forgive, by healing the paralytic. In Acts 5:31 Peter proclaims Christ as the One whom “God has exalted at His right hand as Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” In Colossians 2:13 Paul speaks of God “having forgiven us all our transgressions,” while in chapter 3:13, it is, “the Lord [or Christ] has forgiven you.” If the right reading here is Lord, it must stand for Christ, as is clear from such a reference as “Christ Jesus the Lord” in chapter 2:6.
The act of redemption is peculiar to God in the Old Testament. Two Hebrew words are in use, and both occur in Hosea 13:14, “From the power of Sheol, I will ransom them, from death I will redeem them.” Again in Psalm 130:7, “For with Jehovah is grace and abundance of ransom and he will ransom Israel from all his iniquities.” A direct parallel to this is found in Titus 2:13 with the difference that now Christ is identified with God (see verse 10): “Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might ransom us from all iniquity.” A different Greek verb for redemption is found in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has purchased us from the curse of the law.” Again in Revelation 5:9, “For Thou [the Lamb] wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood, men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
Saviour, Or Author Of Salvation
In the Old Testament Jehovah is frequently described as Saviour or as the author of salvation: Isaiah 43:3, “For I am Jehovah, thy God, the holy One of Israel, thy Saviour”: or Ezekiel 34:22, “And I [the Lord Jehovah, verse 20] will save my flock and it will no longer be for booty and I will judge between sheep and sheep, and I will establish over them one shepherd.” The resemblance to John 10:17, 16, is striking: “I [Jesus] lay down my life for the sheep” and “there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” In Isaiah 45:22 a world-wide salvation is promised: “Turn to me and let yourselves be saved, all the ends of the earth,” and a little later (verse 23): “To me every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear,” words taken up by Paul in Philippians 2:10, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” and (verse 11) “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” It would be impossible to quote all the passages in the New Testament that refer to the Lord Jesus as Saviour or the author of salvation. He was given the name Jesus expressly: “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21); in Hebrews 5:9, “He became unto all those who obey him the author of eternal salvation.” In harmony with all this is the significant parallel between “our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” and “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” by Peter (2 Pet. 1:1, 11).
Co-Partner Of Divine Glory
In Isaiah 42:8 we read: “I am Jehovah and I shall not give my glory to another,” and the phrase is repeated again in Isaiah 48:11. Now in that sacredest of all his prayers recorded in John 17, our Lord speaks of the reciprocal nature of his shared glory with the Father and says: “Father, the hour is come, glorify the Son, that the Son may glorify thee” (verse 1). And again a little later: “And now glorify me, Father, with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (verse 5). Paul sums all this up in an arresting phrase. When he confronts the abjection of His humiliation with the sublimity of His exaltation, the title he uses contains two superlatives. “For had they [the leaders] known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor. 2:8).
One of the earliest titles of Jehovah is that of universal judge. Abraham standing before him says: “Shall not the judge of all the earth execute justice?” (Gen. 18:25). And in Joel 3:12 Jehovah says: “I will sit to judge all the nations round about.” Now from Matthew 25:31–46 we learn that Christ will occupy the throne of glory—and there can be none more eminent than this—and preside at the last judgment. Here it is not so much the assumption of a title as the exercising of an office. In Romans 2:3 Paul speaks of the judgment of God, but in Second Timothy 4:1 it is, “Jesus Christ who shall judge the quick and the dead.” It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Second Corinthians 5:10 speaks of the judgment seat of Christ.
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