Jesus as YHWH – 2
Part 1 of this column1 closed by showing how Hebrews 1:10 depicts God the Father as calling the Son by the sacred name, YHWH, during the post-Resurrection installation of Christ into His heavenly office of King-Priest. Hebrews 1 thus depicts Jesus as being YHWH along with God the Father. Is this a one-off aberration or an obvious example of a more subtle New Testament theme? The evidence supports the latter conclusion.
The most obvious parallel to Hebrews 1:10 is John 8:58. Jesus is being questioned and challenged by the religious leadership for most of the chapter. The conversation culminates with a question as to whether Jesus is claiming to be greater than “‘our father Abraham’” (vs. 53, NKJV),2 followed by the sarcastic challenge that Jesus, being under age 50, could not possibly have had contact with Abraham. Jesus answers, “‘Before Abraham was, I AM’” (vs. 58). The “I AM” is composed of the same Greek words as the opening phrase of Exodus 3:14 in the Septuagint (LXX) version of “‘I am that I am.’” If there is any doubt Jesus was claiming this divine title to Himself, the reaction of His audience—picking up stones with which to execute Him—is sufficient evidence. They understood that Jesus was claiming the sacred designation of YHWH as His own, hence the desire to lynch Him. Such a conclusion is reinforced two chapters later when Jesus claimed that He and the Father were one (10:30). The Jewish leaders picked up stones “again” (10:31)—a reference to John 8:59—to stone Him to death. When Jesus challenged them on what grounds they would execute Him, their charge was the “‘You, being a Man, make yourself God’” (vs. 33). Jesus’ audience knew He was equating Himself with YHWH and was ready to stone Him to death for blasphemy. They understood exactly what Jesus was claiming.
With such clear examples in Hebrews 1 and John 8, other passages also give evidences of Jesus being equated with YHWH, though perhaps in a bit more inferential way. One such example is that Christ is said to be natively self-existent: “In Him [Christ] was life [self-existence], and the life was the light of men [giving life to His creation]” (John 1:4). It is interesting that the name YHWH is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be.” In the same way, so is the title “I AM.” The phrase “I am who I AM” shows God’s native self-existence and self-definition. He is the God who is—who exists—from everlasting to everlasting (Ps. 40:13; 90:2; 103:17; 106:48).
Isaiah 40 especially ties this endless self-existence to God’s creative activity. One who is self-existent has the power to give life to what He makes. John asserts the same connection of self-existence in reference to Christ in John 1:4, and in the same passage, he connects Christ’s self-existence to His being a life-giver to humans. Self-existence and creative power are both linked in Jesus—the Word—just like the same linkage found in YHWH in the Old Testament. It seems quite clear that John is equating of “the Word” with YHWH.
Furthermore, Jesus Himself claimed self-existence of similar nature to God’s self-existence. Speaking from the perspective of being the human suffering servant who is dependent on God, Jesus said, “‘As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself’” (John 5:26). This is why, as a man, Christ claimed no one could take His life from Him but He would lay it down of His own accord, then take it back up again (10:17, 18). Jesus remained self-existent in His incarnation as part of the plan granted to His human phase by His Father. Thus, He told Martha that He was the resurrection and the life, who could give life to the dead (11:25). Self-existence and giving life are qualities of YHWH. YHWH derives His life from no one else. For Christ to have life in Himself in the same way as the Father means that, as Ellen G. White so eloquently put it, “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”3 By depicting Jesus as having such qualities, such New Testament passages are implicitly equating Jesus with YHWH similarly to the explicit equation made in Hebrews 1.
In this same vein, in Part 1 of this column, Isaiah declares three times that YHWH is the first and the last, with none beside Him (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). The Book of Revelation mirrors Isaiah when God declares, “‘I am the Alpha [first] and the Omega [last],’ says the . . . Almighty’” (Rev. 1:8). This claim is repeated in Revelation 22:13, where the one sitting on the throne declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.’” Interestingly, the Book of Revelation records Jesus as claiming these same titles and attributes. In the opening vision, John records, “When I saw Him [Christ], I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore’” (1:17, 18). Just as YHWH is first and last in Isaiah, and God is the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega in Revelation, so Christ is also the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega. If Christ were preceded in existence by the Father, as some claim, He could only be the Beta and Omega—the second and the last. Sharing the designations of first and last, Alpha and Omega, depicts Christ as being the equivalent of YHWH.
As God has no beginning or end, so through the typology of Melchizedek, Christ is said to have no beginning or end. The argument in Hebrews 7:3 is based on the genealogical record of Melchizedek’s life in Scripture. This record lacks any mention of Melchizedek’s parentage, birth, or death, and this record becomes a typological symbol of Christ. Thus, Melchizedek is “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3). Notice that by “having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” Melchizedek resembles the Son of God. The Son is eternal, without beginning or end, as with YHWH. In light of Hebrews 1, this would seem to be an additional example of equating the Son with YHWH.
Another linkage of Christ to YHWH is based in Isaiah 42:8. “‘I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.’” God’s name is reserved for Him alone, hence, as cited above, the audience reaction to Christ’s claiming it. God does not give His name or glory to others. YHWH is the name of the one who is “Most High over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18). Yet Jesus, after emptying Himself of equality with God to become a human servant, ends up being restored to His glory, then having “the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Having the highest of names would seem to be another New Testament example of Jesus being equated with YHWH.
Continuing in the Philippians passage, verse 11 states that the purpose of the exaltation of Christ is that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” It is noteworthy that similar things are attributed to YHWH in Isaiah 45:23. Here, YHWH swears by Himself, that “‘every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.” The parallelism to Philippians 2:10, 11, where these actions happen to Christ is yet another New Testament example of equating Jesus with YHWH.
Finally, in Philippians 2 and many other places in the New Testament, Jesus is confessed as Lord. Part one of this column noted that in Psalm 102, the sacred name YHWH appears eight times, and in every case, the LXX translates it with the Greek word for “lord.” The LXX regularly4 translates the sacred name as “Lord” throughout the Old Testament. Jewish tradition substituted the term Adonai (“my Lord”) for the sacred name in reading or translating the Hebrew text. Thus, whenever the LXX translated YHWH, it used the Greek equivalent of Adonai, namely, kurios. It must be noted, however, that the Old Testament makes limited use of the Hebrew term adon—lord—not Adonai, the sacred substitute of human lords and princes. The LXX follows suit by using kurios, without the obvious distinction visible in the Hebrew. However, human lords are not confessed as Christ is but simply have their social title acknowledged. By contrast, confessing Jesus as Lord, a Man crucified in shame at the hands of evil men, meant much more than a mere titular acknowledgment. Because a significant majority of the occurrences of kurios in the LXX are substituting for the sacred name, for a messianic Jew in the first century to confess Jesus as Lord would be tantamount to calling Him Adonai, that is, YHWH.
In multiple ways, then, the New Testament equates Christ with YHWH. The Father calls the Son “YHWH” in Hebrews 1. Jesus claims to be the I AM in John 8. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, as is God on the cosmic throne in Revelation. Jesus now has the name above all names, like YHWH in the Old Testament. Every knee will bow to Christ as they will to YHWH. Jesus is kurios, that is, Adonai, another name for YHWH. And Jesus is a self-existent Life-giver and Creator as is the Lord God.
The fact that Jesus is depicted as being YHWH along with His Father adds rich depth to understanding of God’s character. As YHWH is the shepherd of Psalm 23, Jesus is the divine Shepherd in John 10. If Christ were a subordinate sent by YHWH, instead of being YHWH, He could not be the true Shepherd but would be, rather, the hireling sent under the authority of the shepherd. But Jesus informs us that He is no hireling who comes under the orders of a superior. He Himself is the sacred Shepherd of Psalm 23. As YHWH incarnate, He is truly Emmanuel—God with us. YHWH did not stay aloof in heaven while sending a deputy for our salvation. Rather, He came Himself, incarnated into human nature to redeem us and to bring us into covenant relationship with God. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, KJV). “In him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19, ESV, italics supplied) and “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9, ESV).
Our God came in person to seek and to save you and me. As Wesley’s hymn proclaims, “Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” There is no greater story than this!
NOTES AND REFERENCES