Divine Works of the Incarnate Lord

Was Jesus true God during his incarnation? Kenotic and Neo-Apollinarian Christologies deny the Jesus was true God or that he retained the fullness of divine attributes. If Jesus did not retain the fullness of divine attributes during his incarnation, then he would not be true God at that time. This theory cannot be accepted because God cannot change (Js 1:17) and because Jesus did divine things and received worship as a divine person during the incarnation. Therefore, the biblical model summarized by Chalcedon must be retained–even during the incarnation Jesus was true God and true man.

Jesus’ deity was demonstrated in the works that Jesus accomplished. Jesus affirmed his deity through the works that he did (Jn 5:36, 10:25, 37-38). Brakel wrote, “He who has created heaven and earth, upholds and governs everything, of Himself performed miracles, regenerates man, and resurrects the dead—He is the true God. No one denies this (cf. Jer 10:11-13; Isa 44:25-28). Since this all applies to Christ, however, He is therefore the true God.”[1]

Creation and Upholding of the Universe

The New Testament affirmed both that Jesus was the Creator of the universe (Jn 1:3) and that Jesus “upholds and governs everything.” The continual work of universe care was taught in Colossians 1:17, “in Him all things consist” and again in Hebrews 1:3 which teaches that the Son “upholds all things by the word of his power.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 affirms that “there is only one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” Brakel wrote that these descriptions of Jesus work in creation was “Through Him, that is, not as a means or instrument (for even then He would have existed prior to creation), but rather through Him as the energizing cause, since the preposition “through” refers to the initial energizing cause.”[2]

These passages, especially 1 Cor 8:6, are important to the “continuous” work of the Logos. In 1 Corinthians 8:6 the continued existence of “all things” and the existence of humanity depends on the “one Lord, Jesus Christ.” That Paul used the name “Jesus” to refer to the divine work of universe care implies that Jesus maintained the universe even during the incarnation. Jesus continual divine work to uphold creation was also affirmed by the Son in John 5:17 when he said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” The Jews sought to kill Jesus because his words were “making Himself equal with God” (Jn 5:18). If Jesus were not equal with God during his incarnation, he could not have made such a bold claim.

Worked Miracles

Christ performed miracles by his own power. Jesus healed many as “power was coming from him” (Lk 6:19). Jesus healed as the woman touched his garment (Lk 8:44). The first miracle Jesus performed was when he turned water into wine at the Cana wedding in John 2. He healed Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5. He fed the 5000 in Mark 6:30ff. He walked on the water in Mark 6:45-52. He healed the blind man in Mark 8:22-26. In John 11 Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. 

His disciples witnessed all these things and came to the conclusion that he was the Son of God. They did not determine that he was just a prophet or miracle worker through whom God worked. They determined that he was in fact the Son of God. Peter confessed in Mark 9:29, “You are the Christ.”

Gives Life

The ability to give life is a particularly divine characteristic. God has the ability to give life because he has life in himself. God exists a se. Bavinck summarized “He is self-existent. He existed before all things, and all things exist only through him (Ps. 90:2; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rev. 4:11). In an absolute sense he is Lord (אָדוֹן, κυριος, δεσποτης), Lord of all the earth (Exod. 23:17; Deut. 10:17; Josh. 3:13). He is dependent on nothing, but everything depends on him (Rom. 11:36).”[3]The aseity of God provided the starting point for Aquinas’ discussion of God’s attributes in Summa Theoligica. There Aquinas demonstrated that God is the logically and ontologically necessary self-existent Being. 

God raised the dead through prophets in the OT and others in the NT. Jesus’ ability to raise the dead was categorically different than the miracles worked through God’s servants in the rest of Scripture. The difference between God working through his servants and the Son of God himself working was noted in John 5:21, “for just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” This unique power of the Son was explained in John 5:26, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” This power over life pertained to physical life and to spiritual life as well (Jn 5:28-29). John 5:26 should not be interpreted as though the Son lacked aseity or the ability to give life by virtue of his nature. The Son shared true deity as he proceeded from the Father. In this way, the Father “gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” 

Bavinck highlighted the divine life and subsequent power to give life when he wrote, “being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good (Ps. 36:10; Acts 17:25).”[4] Jesus’ life-giving power was directly related to his true deity. Life is given “in his name” (Jn 20:31). 

Received Worship

God alone is worthy of worship. There is an honor which is peculiar to God alone. Brakel wrote, “He who must be honored in like fashion as the Father—in whose Name one must be baptized, whom one must worship, in whose name one must believe and in whom one must trust—is the true God (cf. Isa 42:8; Matt 4:10; Jer 11:5, 7). All of this applies to the Lord Jesus, and thus He is the true God.”[5] Jesus received this peculiarly divine honor and worship from humans during his incarnate life. If Jesus was not truly God, the reception of that honor and worship would not have been appropriate. Jesus said, “all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (Jn 5:23).  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the apostles worshiped him (Lk 24:52). 

[1] Brakel, Reasonable Service, 496. 

[2] Brakel, Reasonable Service, 497. 

[3] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 150.

[4] Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 150.

[5]Brakel, Reasonable Service, 497.  

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