Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by John David Clark, Sr.
The “gods” worshipped by the Gentiles were repeatedly denounced by God’s prophets as being nothing at all. Isaiah (41:23) challenged those gods to prove themselves real: “Tell what is coming in the future, and let us know that you are gods! Yea, do good! Or do some damage! That we may all wonder at you and fear!”
At the same time, there are “gods” mentioned in the Old Testament as if they are real. The Psalmist said, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty. He judges among the gods” (Ps. 82:1), and “Worship him, all you gods” (Ps. 97:7). How can God “judge among the gods”, or how can gods worship Him if they are not real? The answer is that, while the gods which men worshipped were nothing, there were people who bore the title “god”!
Moses is an example. God said to him, “See, I have made you a god to Pharaoh” (Ex. 7:1). Was Moses a real god? Ask Pharaoh. To Pharaoh and his nation, Moses was a real god because the Almighty had made Moses a god over them. Pharaoh could please God only by obeying Moses.
Israel’s leaders were all called “gods”, and concerning them, God commanded Israel, “You shall not revile the gods, nor shall you curse the ruler of your people” (Ex. 22:28). Later, Israel’s “gods”, their leaders, became so corrupt that God sent them this strongly worded message: “How long will you judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? I have said, ‘You are gods’, but you shall die like men” (Ps. 82:2, 6–7). We know that God was speaking to men here because Jesus quoted this scripture, saying that the Father “called them gods to whom the word of God came” (Jn. 10:34–35).
So, while heathen gods were nothing, the people anointed by God were real “gods” because they had authority from God to rule. There was no getting around such “gods” as Jeremiah, Isaiah, or John the Baptist. No prayer against them was received by God, and to disobey their message was to disobey God. They stood between God and the people, for God put them there.
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except by me” (Jn. 14:6). Moses or John the Baptist, and other holy men sent by God could have said the same thing to Israel in their time – not that those men were on a spiritual par with the Savior. Jesus is Lord of all. Nevertheless, no one in Israel who lived during the time of John’s ministry will be saved in the Final Judgment unless he repented at John’s preaching and submitted to John’s baptism. Likewise, “anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy” because God had made Moses a god over Israel.
If Old Testament servants of God were deemed worthy of the title, “god”, how much more worthy is the Son of God Himself? The Son was God’s instrument in creating all things (Jn. 1:1–3; Col. 1:16), and certainly, “the one who built everything is God” (Heb. 3:4). Jesus Christ is not only God over us but he is also God over the inhabitants of heaven, and they worship him (Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5). He is also God over the powers of darkness, and they tremble at the thought of the coming Judgment. Still, Jesus has a God over him, whom he loves and obeys, and he commanded us to do the same (Mk. 12:29–30).
There is no such thing as loving God without loving His messengers, especially His Son. The Son is too much like the Father for anyone to be able to love one without loving the other. He is the “exact representation of [the Father’s] being” (Heb. 1:3). Whatever pleases the Father, pleases Jesus. Whatever the Father hates, Jesus hates. Whom Jesus forgives, God forgives – and only them.
God conferred upon His Son the exalted title of “God” and promised him a position of everlasting honor (Heb. 1:8–12), “that at the name of Jesus every knee belonging to heavenly beings should bow, as well as earthly beings, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phip. 2:10–11). It glorifies the Father for us to confess Jesus as Lord and Christ because He made Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). In honoring Jesus, then, we honor the Father. Jesus told us that it is the will of the Father “that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (Jn. 5:23). The Father has given Jesus “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18), but Jesus confessed His Father’s power over him, saying, “My Father is greater than I am” (Jn. 14:28).
Jesus is highly exalted, but he was exalted by somebody. He did not exalt himself. Instead, “God highly exalted him and has given him a name above every name” (Phip. 2:9). The author of Hebrews said it this way: “No one takes this honor upon himself, but one called of God, as in the case of Aaron. Likewise, even Christ did not glorify himself to be made high priest, but He who said to him, ‘You are my Son; today, I have begotten you’ ” (Heb. 5:4–5).
When asked by a young Catholic woman if I honored Jesus as God, I replied that if she would answer my question, then I would answer hers. This is the question I posed to her: “If you had been in ancient Egypt during the time Joseph ruled over the land, would you have honored Joseph as Pharaoh?” Everybody in Egypt, from the lowliest slave to the highest government official, would have answered “Yes” to that question – with one exception: Pharaoh, the one who commanded the Egyptians to honor Joseph as they honored him. Pharaoh’s own words to Joseph say it best: “‘There is no one as understanding and wise as you. You will be over my house, and at your command, all of my people will yield. Only in the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Look, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ And Pharaoh took his ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and he dressed him in garments of fine Egyptian linen. And he put a gold chain around his neck. And Pharaoh had him ride in his second chariot. And they cried out before him, ‘Bow down!’ And he put him over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I am Pharaoh, and without you, no man will lift his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt.’ ” (Gen. 41:39–44).
So, the only one who would not honor Joseph as Pharaoh was the one who made Joseph the ruler of all his domain. The only one who did not obey the royal command to “bow the knee” to Joseph was the one who commanded everyone else to bow before him. Joseph himself, along with everyone else, bowed before Pharaoh. Likewise, we bow before Jesus as God because God has commanded that we bow, and Jesus himself bows before the Father.
It is by God’s power that the Son rules over anything. Jesus sustains this universe (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), but the power by which Jesus does so was given to him, just as Joseph’s power was given to him. Joseph was incomparably great in Egypt, yet his life was in the hand of the one who made him great. Jesus is incomparably great in this Creation, yet his life is in the hand of the One who made him great. Joseph was Pharaoh to everyone except Pharaoh. Jesus is God to everyone except God. Every knee except Pharaoh’s knee bowed to Joseph. Every knee except the Father’s knee will bow before Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all, except of the One who made him Lord.
Paul taught this concerning the Father and the Son (1Cor. 15:27–28): “He [the Father] has subdued all things under his feet. But when it says, ‘all things are subdued’, it is obvious that He who subdued all things under him is an exception. And when all things are subdued under him, then shall the Son himself submit to Him who subdued all things under him.”
When a rich, young ruler approached Jesus with the flattering greeting, “Good Teacher!” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one, that is, God” (Lk. 18:19). John the Baptist denied that he was the Christ when men began to think he was, and Jesus can be heard now denying that he is the Father. Many need to listen to what Jesus, through the Spirit, is saying. And if we do, we will find that he is repeating the humble words he spoke while he was here among us:
“My Father is greater than I am.”