Dr. H. Arnold presents the first of two letters— written to a Jehovah’s Witness—pointing to Jesus as the eternal Son of God.
LETTER TO KATHRYN
I well remember our “chance” meeting each other for the first time. I was out for an evening walk along the beach at Deerfield Beach, Florida. You handed me a tract as we passed each other. After I got back to our motel room and examined it, I realized it was a Watchtower Tract from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our paths did not cross again until a year later. In fact, it was on the evening of February 7, 2006, when I was again out for my after-supper walk. As I came to the south end of the beach walkway, I again met you as you offered me a tract. I recognized you and said: “Oh, I met you last year; you are a Jehovah’s Witness.” And you answered: “That’s right. I’ve been one for the last twenty-eight years.”
I then engaged you in conversation about Jesus and stated that Jesus was the “eternal” Son of God; and asked, “Do you believe that?” You responded, “I believe that eternal means forever.” And I countered by saying: “No, eternal means without beginning or end. Thus, Jesus is eternal as God the Father is.” At that point you hesitated and made no response.
I continued, “Do me a favor; read the gospel of John. Underline every place where Jesus is referred to as Son of God and count them. Also go to the First Letter of John (1 John) and do the same. Then take note that in the gospel of Mark, the demons recognize Jesus for who He is and they call Him the Son of God. If you do this,” I said, “you cannot fail to be impressed by what you will find. The truth that Jesus is, indeed, God’s one and only Son becomes amazingly clear.”
You seemed to become anxious to move on and said to me: “May I tell you something? I have a problem that if I stand too long I lose my balance.” You then added: “Honest to Jehovah, I really have to go now before I lose my balance.” So I bade you farewell, commending you for your zeal and encouraging you to do as I had asked. You gave me the impression that you would comply with my request.
A few weeks passed before we happened to meet again. In fact, it was the 28th of February—somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 P.M.—when I was out for my last evening stroll along the beach before leaving for home the next morning. As God’s providence would have it, our paths crossed again as you offered me a tract—which you always did to countless numbers of people who walk the beach at night. Apparently you did not recognize me immediately, so I mentioned our conversation of a few weeks before. You then remembered our conversation. My question to you was simple and direct: “Did you do what you promised me you would do?” Your response was: “What was that?” So I reiterated that I had asked you to read the gospel of John and First John, underlining all references to Jesus as Son of God. In this way you would come to realize who Jesus really is—eternal Son of God as well as Son of Man, the promised Messiah. You then confessed that you had forgotten to do that.
I recall clearly, Kathryn that you affirmed that you believed in Jesus as God’s Son and Savior from sin. But your understanding of Sonship was clearly that of meaning first created being. That kind of sonship is not sufficient to save us from sin, Kathryn. We need a Savior who is the perfect and righteous man—that is, without sin—so that He can die for us and make atonement for our sins. This is necessary because since it was man who sinned, man must also die for sin. That’s what Jesus did for mankind. If that is so, why does Scripture insist that Jesus is also Son of God? This is necessary because as eternal Son of God, the atonement He made for sin in human nature now has infinite value and is sufficient to make atonement “for the sins of the whole world.”
(1 John 2:2). Now you can see, Kathryn, why it is essential that we rightly know who Jesus really is. A truly righteous person could only save himself because his righteousness would only atone for his own sins. However, Jesus—as sinless and righteous—is able both to make a perfect atonement for mankind’s sin, and—as eternal Son of God—is able to give eternal value to His sacrifice, so that anyone who believes in Him may be saved from sin and live forevermore.
The apostle John beautifully expresses this union of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. He begins his gospel by writing: “In the beginning was the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1, 2). Thus, John immediately sets forth the eternal nature of Jesus the Christ as God. But, as noted above, the Savior must also be perfectly human in order to die for mankind’s sin. The apostle sets forth this truth a dozen verses later when he writes: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And so, because the eternal Son of God took on human nature, He was able to be “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That’s the kind of a Savior we need, Kathryn, who even when clothed in our human nature still remained God’s one and only Son so that He could bear the name “Immanuel”—“God with us.” In fact, the very name that the angel instructed Joseph to give him—JESUS—means literally: “Jehovah Saves.”
That God acts in behalf of His people’s salvation is nothing new to the student of the Holy Bible. Isaiah speaks beautifully and prophetically of God Himself as being the One who acts to save His people when none else is able, or even willing, to rescue them. Isaiah quotes God as saying:
I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me (Is. 63:5).
The prophet is so amazed at the wonder of God’s salvation that he reacts by saying:
Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him (Is. 64:4).
These Old Testament prophetic texts take on new meaning for the believer’s salvation when we see them fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is “the Word” who was “with God” and “was God.” He is the eternal God who acted “on behalf of those who wait for him,” and He “became flesh” (that is, took on human nature) “and lived for a while among us” (John 1:1, 14). What Isaiah spoke of prophetically, the apostle John speaks of as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ of Nazareth—God’s Son and Mary’s Son. That’s the kind of Savior we need, Kathryn! That’s the Savior I believe in for my own salvation from sin and hope of everlasting life. That’s also the Savior of Whom I bore witness when we spoke together the few times our paths happened to cross. Now once more I urge you to put your trust in Jesus Christ as the Scripture clearly presents Him to us: God’s Son in human nature, the only Savior and hope of a lost mankind.
Well, Kathryn, my guess is that you still may not have gotten around to doing what I asked you to do at our first and subsequent meetings. Therefore, allow me to give you the benefit of some study that I myself have done. First of all, I went through the gospel of John with the help of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and looked up all references under the heading of “Son” in reference to Jesus. Here is what I found.
Aside from the fact that the apostle John begins his gospel with a reference to Jesus as God and Creator (1:1–3), who also took on human nature (1:14), he also includes the testimony of several other people who confessed Jesus as Son of God. The first person John names is John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus (1:15). John the Baptist is very explicit in testifying about Jesus as God’s Son. He tells us that he recognized Jesus as the long-promised Messiah because “the Spirit came down on him [Jesus] and remained on him” (1:33). Thus, the Baptist knew that Jesus was the One that he should baptize. And the Baptist adds: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (1:34). A little further in chapter one, the apostle John includes the testimony of Nathanael to Jesus’ divine Sonship, when he says to Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (1:49). The apostle also records the testimony of Martha when Jesus came to raise Lazarus from the grave. Jesus asked Martha if she really believed that “he who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25, 26). Martha’s response was simple and plain: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (1:27). Further, we must not overlook another significant witness that John adds to confirm the truth of Jesus as Son of God. Thomas, himself an apostle of Christ, doubted that Jesus was actually seen by the other apostles after the resurrection. Therefore, Jesus made it a special point to appear to Thomas in the presence of the other apostles so that his doubts would be removed. Thus, when the resurrected Lord appeared before them, He confronted Thomas and invited him to examine His hands and side to determine that He had really risen from the dead (20:27). No longer could Thomas doubt that Jesus had conquered death and was very much alive. Instead, he confessed without hesitation: “My Lord and my God.” Finally, the apostle John states that the purpose for which he wrote his gospel is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
In summary, Kathryn, the author of the gospel of John not only sets forth his own view of Jesus as God’s very own Son, but he includes the testimony of at least three other people to the deity of Jesus Christ. These testimonies are more than adequate to meet the biblical requirement that “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut. 19:15). We may regard it, therefore, as an established fact that the gospel of John sets forth Jesus as God’s “one and only Son.” Remember, my friend, that the human authors of Scripture were guided by the Holy Spirit so that what they set forth is really the Word of God Himself (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
But wait, there is more to learn from the gospel of John about Jesus as being the Son of God. The opponents of Jesus understood very well that His words and actions made clear to them that Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah and God’s Son. Thus, the Jews tried on one occasion to kill Jesus because “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18, italics added). Moreover, when the Jews wanted Pilate to deliver up Jesus to be crucified, they made this charge against Him: “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7). This additional testimony of Jesus’ opponents should open our eyes to the fact that Jesus was clearly claiming deity for Himself. Let us then, also unashamedly bear our testimony to the reality that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of sinners.
There is also another matter we should still consider, namely, “What did Jesus say about Himself?” We must raise this question because some critics of the Bible have said that Jesus only considered Himself an ordinary person. It was the disciples of Jesus, they say, who—after a period of time had passed—began to idolize Him as God’s Son; and the church continues to perpetuate the “myth” of Jesus’ divinity. Well, my friend, let’s see what Jesus really did say about Himself.
In conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus refers to Himself as Son of Man who “came from heaven” (3:13). As Son of Man who “came from heaven” Jesus says that He “must be lifted up [that is, “die”] that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (3:15). Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that it was God’s love for the world that motivated Him to “give his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Jesus certainly considered Himself God’s special and exclusive envoy to a lost world. For He adds: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (3:18).
After Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (5:5), “the Jews persecuted him because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath” (5:16). After that, Jesus speaks at length of His intimacy with God as His Father (5:17–30). In so doing Jesus asserts that all that He does is simply doing what He has seen his Father doing (5:19). In fact, He declares that He will “raise the dead and give them life” (5:21). Jesus affirms that “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (5:22, 23). So Jesus is really saying that He may be honored and worshiped even as God Himself is. If Jesus is not the eternal Son, equal with the Father, then such honor and worship would be idolatry, something strongly condemned in Scripture. For no creature, no matter how pure and holy, is worthy of divine worship and honor.
It must be getting rather obvious to you by now, dear friend, that Jesus believed Himself to be God’s Son, who was sent on a special saving mission to this lost, sinful world. For example, He claimed to have come “from heaven” (6:41), and that the Father “sent him” (6:44), and that He alone “has seen the Father” (6:46). Further, Jesus plainly states that He relates to us “what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (8:38), and He claims to be an ever-living, eternal being just as God is—“before Abraham was born, I AM” (8:38). Moreover, Jesus defended Himself against the Jews’ charge of blasphemy by saying, “I am God’s Son” (10:36). His answer to their charge was to challenge them to believe in Him because His miracles demonstrated “that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:38). Again, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, He told the disciples: “This sickness will not end in death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (11:4). Finally, when Jesus engages in prayer with God on the night of His betrayal, He addresses the “Father” and refers to Himself as “your Son” (17:1).
There are still more things we could consider about Jesus from John’s gospel, but we have uncovered enough evidence to leave no doubt that Jesus believed Himself to be the eternal Son of God. This is the message Jesus proclaimed, and He called others to believe it and to follow Him. Now either Jesus was a deluded maniac, a pathological liar, or, in fact, the very Son of God clothed in human nature. For myself, I believe Jesus was the Son of God and my Savior from sin. My prayer is that you will also believe in Him as Scripture portrays Him and know the full joy of His salvation.
Cordially yours in Christ’s behalf,
Dr. Harry G. Arnold