Central to the whole of the gospel, the “good news” of Christianity, is the person of Jesus. Apart from Jesus, there would be no Christian religion. At the same time, a person’s view of Jesus will inevitably define the character of the “Christianity” that he propounds.
Essentially two basic views of Jesus may be proposed, although these two opposing views will come to expression in multiple ways. Jesus in his person and work may be viewed either from a naturalistic or from a supernaturalistic perspective. Either (1) God the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of this cosmos has intervened in a miraculous manner through the person of Jesus or (2) Jesus, his teachings, and his actions are analyzed from the perspective of the boundaries imposed by the naturalistic realities commonly used to distinguish the “credible” (the believable) from the “incredible” (the unbelievable). Unless, of course, a person is quite happy to base his religious faith on mythology.
Without question the four Gospels—the Synoptics and particularly John—represent Jesus as a supernatural person manifesting supernatural powers. This man walks on water, stills the storm with a word, multiplies five loaves and two fishes to feed five thousand. He even raises the dead. He regularly functions well beyond the limitations of normal, natural reality.
Even beyond these testimonies of the miraculous works of Jesus, the most thoroughly supernaturalistic affirmations regarding the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, are the statements that attest his preincarnate state. Jesus Christ had an existence as God himself in all divine glory before he took on the nature of humanity. But how could this affirmation be regarded as reality in a naturalistic worldview? From a naturalistic perspective, only as myth and no more could the man Jesus have existed before the world in which we live from day to day.
Yet the united testimony of Scripture repeatedly affirms his eternal preexistence before his appearance in mortal flesh and blood. Reading no further than the opening verses of John’s Gospel makes that fact apparent:
In the beginning [!] was the logos, and the logos was face to face with God, and the logos was God. . . . And the logos became flesh. (John 1:1, 14)
What is this logos? The logos is the divine personhood that gives purpose to and makes sense out of the whole of reality in this world. Jesus is this same eternal logos embodied in human flesh and spirit, situated in time and space. He resides eternally in inseparable unity with the essence of God the Father, he came from the Father, and he returned to the Father. This concept of the eternal logos who is the Son of God testifies to the true nature of Jesus and the Christian gospel as supernatural to the ultimate.
But how did Jesus view himself? What may be discerned in the Gospel records that define the self-consciousness of Jesus? The progress of revelation from the earliest stages of new covenant realization to the promise of the consummation encourages an exploration of Jesus’ testimony concerning himself. Before considering the distinctive witness of the writers of the four Gospels, it is necessary to explore Jesus’ self-testimony to his own personhood. Indeed, except for the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures (a witness that must be given its full weight), the testimony provided by the four Gospels is the only “Jesus” that can be known. Yet a careful analysis of the Gospels may enable us to uncover Jesus’ self-testimony concerning himself. His person, his teaching, his miracles, his death, resurrection, and ascension as perceived by himself must be explored if Jesus is to be rightly understood for who he actually is. Later the effort will be made to examine the distinctive witness of the various Gospel writers. But first, the self-testimony of Jesus concerning his person and work must be examined.
Jesus’ Self-Testimony regarding the Witness of the Old Covenant Scriptures concerning Himself
One aspect of the self-testimony of Jesus should not be overlooked. It is Jesus’ own assertions regarding the witness of the old covenant Scriptures concerning himself. This witness concerning his person as found in the old covenant Scriptures would have preceded his own appearance among humanity. He confronts his adversaries by saying:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. Yet these same Scriptures are the very ones that testify about me. (John 5:39–40)
In this same discourse Jesus declares, “If you were believing Moses, you would be believing me [ἐμοί], for it was concerning me [ἐμοῦ] that [Moses] wrote” (John 5:46). By these words Jesus claims a unique role in relation to the Scriptures of the old covenant. What other person could so boldly and convincingly claim that these old covenant writings speak so specifically and holistically about himself? Indeed, in generalities a claim may be made. Occasional prophecies about John the Baptist and Judas become evident. But in terms of prophetic words in the old covenant Scriptures that anticipate all the major elements of a person’s life and work, only Jesus can make this claim with any degree of credibility.
Is this witness of Scripture about Jesus, given five hundred, seven hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred years before his appearance in history, to be regarded as a naturalistic phenomenon? Or is not this written testimony, by its very nature of anticipating persons and events centuries before their occurrence, to be viewed as supernaturalistic in its essence? Does not this phenomenon provide clear testimony to its divine origin by unfolding the eternal plan of God for the redemption of fallen humanity hundreds of years before the actual occurrence of these events?
Jesus goes one step further in defining his relationship to the old covenant Scriptures. People who do not genuinely believe the writings of Moses will not be able to believe Jesus’ words. As he says, “If you are not believing in the writings [of Moses], how will you be able to believe in my words [τοῖς ἐμοῖς ῥήμασιν]?” (John 5:47). In other words, anyone not truly believing in the old covenant Scriptures will not be able to believe in Jesus. Contrariwise, anyone truly believing in the old covenant Scriptures will inevitably believe in Jesus once the person hears of him.
These claims of Jesus regarding his relation to the old covenant Scriptures are indeed noteworthy. No other person could make these comprehensive claims with any semblance of authenticity. As this current study of progression within the New Testament proceeds, numerous particulars of the direct relation of Jesus to the Scriptures of the old covenant will be explored. But these generalized testimonies about Jesus’ own self-consciousness regarding his relation to the old covenant Scriptures may serve as an appropriate introduction to the subject. By this testimony, Jesus may clearly be regarded as unique.
If you have not done so in the past, do so now. Search the Scriptures of the Old Testament. If you truly desire to know God and understand his plan for delivering this world from its self-destructive inclinations, see for yourself what these writings say about Jesus. In them you may find fullness of life in relation to God the Creator and Redeemer.
Jesus’ Self-Testimony by His Earliest Recorded Words
Jesus spoke his first words about himself when he was twelve years of age, according to the Gospel records. Although normally treated as a sweet story for children, this incident provides clear insight into Jesus’ self-consciousness. Even with this early utterance, Jesus’ consciousness of himself as unique becomes apparent.
After anxiously searching for Jesus across three days, his distraught mother gives vent to her frustration:
Young child, why have you done this? Ahh! Your father and I have been searching for you in a state of deep distress. (Luke 2:48)
Though only a boy, Jesus replies in a way that provides profound insight into his self-consciousness. He responds to his mother’s frustrations:
Why were you searching for me? Did you not know it was necessary for me to be in the house of my Father? (Luke 2:49)
The contrast between Mary’s reference to herself and Joseph as Jesus’ earthly parents (“your father and I”) and Jesus’ response by identifying his intimate relationship to his heavenly Father (“the house of my Father”) dramatizes his first self-revelation. Completely ignoring his mother’s appeal to his earthly father, Jesus identifies himself with reference to his true and ultimate Father. In addition, he specifies that the temple where he has felt himself to be completely at home is the house of his Father rather than our Father. Jesus’ statement has the effect of excluding his parents from this same intimacy of relationship with the Father. Though only a boy, Jesus affirms his unique relationship as Son in his Father’s house. In New Testament times, people simply did not normally speak about God in such familiar fashion. To personally claim God to be “my Father” went well beyond the accepted mode of expression.
In this context, quite amazing is Jesus’ ongoing relationship to his earthly parents. He returns to Nazareth and lives in submission to them. It may be assumed that this situation prevailed until the beginning of his public ministry when he reached the age of about thirty (Luke 3:23). So even after a clear indicator of his unique personhood as Son to God his Father, Jesus submitted to earthly parents from age twelve to age thirty (2:51).
A later incident clearly displays before a larger audience Jesus’ inherent inclination toward recognizing a more central relationship to God the Father than to his earthly relatives. As Jesus teaches with a large crowd pressing against him, his mother and brothers seek to approach him. Culturally, it would have been expected that special audience would be granted to his immediate relatives whenever they requested it. But Jesus responds by indicating that his disciples—those who do the will of “my Father in heaven”—are his brother, sister, and mother (Matt. 12:46–50; cf. Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21). Once again, Jesus reveals his distinctive role in relation to the Father in heaven. The self-awareness of sonship to God as manifested at twelve years of age remains with him, even though he practices appropriate respect toward his earthly parents. This unique consciousness of sonship to the heavenly Father provides a foundation for understanding his self-consciousness as Son to the Father as it unfolds throughout the remainder of his life. Consider with all seriousness this affirmation of Jesus while still a young boy. The naturalness with which he speaks of God as “my Father” provides a pure attestation of an innocent but naturally mature young person.
O. Palmer Robertson is the author of Christ of the Consummation: A New Testament Biblical Theology. Volume 1: The Testimony of the Four Gospels.
O. Palmer Robertson (ThM, ThD, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia) is the founder of Consummation Ministries. Previously, he was director and principal of African Bible University in Uganda and taught at Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Knox Theological Seminary. He has also served for many years as a teaching elder in various pastoral roles.