THE NEW TESTAMENT IDENTIFICATION OF THE MESSIAH

The first part of this study (Who Is Jesus Christ?) examined the historical context for understanding the true identity of God's Messiah, Yeshua the Nazarene.  We will begin the second part by looking at the information regarding the identity of the Messiah which begins the scriptural letter to the Messianic Jews:

HEBREWS 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed [etheken] heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (NKJV)

This letter was primarily written to Messianic Jews to explain WHO Jesus Christ was, including his role in God's plan.  The author of Hebrews (generally thought to be the apostle Paul) starts with the declaration that Yeshua was the Son of God.  This Messianic identification for Yeshua is used throughout the New Testament, appearing 45 times (e.g., Matt. 8:29; 14:33; 26:63-64; 27:43; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; John 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 9:35-37; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7; 20:31; Acts 8:37; 9:20; Rom. 1:4; II Cor. 1:19; Heb. 4;14; I John 4:15; 5:5; Rev. 2:18).  As the spokesman for God his Father, Yeshua was the successor to the Old Testament prophets.

The author also tells us in verse 2 that the Son was the one through whom God had created the world, and that the Father "appointed" him the heir of all things.  The word translated "appointed" is a form of the Greek tithemi, which literally means "to place," "to lay," or "to set."  The language used here indicates that the Son's place was determined by the will of God, not by his nature.

HEBREWS 1:3 He is the radiance [apaugasma] of the glory of God and the exact imprint [charakter] of His nature [hupostaseos], and he upholds the universe by the word of His power.  After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (ESV)

The author goes on in verse 3 to describe Yeshua as the "radiance" of God's glory.  The Greek word translated "radiance" here (apaugasma) is probably better rendered as "reflection."  This Greek word is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint).

However, it is found once in the Apocrypha, in the Wisdom of Solomon.  In this book (thought to have been written between 100 BCE and 40 CE), "wisdom" is similar to the logos concept found in the writings of Philo and the Gospel of John.  Hebrews 1:3 is very reminiscent of the section from this apocryphal book where this word is found.  This passage describes "wisdom" in terms much like those found in Hebrews 1:

WISDOM 7:24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.  25 For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.  26 For she is a reflection [apaugasma] of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of His goodness. (RSV)

It's possible that the author of Hebrews was paraphrasing his statement in Hebrews 1:3 regarding the nature of Yeshua from this passage of intertestamental Jewish literature.  The Messiah was the reflection of God's glory ("eternal light") in the form of a human being.

This verse also states that Yeshua was the "exact imprint" (charakter) of God's "nature" (hupostaseos).  According to Strong's Concordance, the Greek word charakter has the following meanings:  "1) the instrument used for engraving or carving; 2) the mark stamped upon that instrument or wrought out on it, 2a) a mark or figure burned in (Lev. 13:28) or stamped on, an impression, 2b) the exact expression (the image) of any person or thing, marked likeness, precise reproduction in every respect, i.e., facsimile."  Here the author's use of this word tells us that Yeshua was a "precise reproduction" or "likeness" of God's "nature."

According to Friberg's Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (ALGNT), the Greek word hupostaseos ("nature") means:  ". . . the objective aspect and underlying reality behind anything, w[ith] specif[ic] m[eani]ng derived fr[om] context; (1) as an undertaking plan, project (2C 9.4); (2) as God's substantial nature real being, essence (HE 1.3); (3) as the objective reality which gives a firm guarantee and basis for confidence or assurance substance, ground of hope, foundation (HE 3.14; 11.1)."

In simple terms, Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Yeshua reflected the glory of God because he was an exact reproduction of God's nature or essence.  Clearly a differentiation between Yeshua and God the Father is depicted here, with Yeshua shown to be made in the image of the Father.

HEBREWS 1:4 Having become [genomenos] so much better than the angels, as he has by inheritance obtained [kekleronomeken] a more excellent name than they. (NKJV)

The Greek verb genomenos ("having become") indicates a change in status.  Verse 4 makes it clear that Yeshua's obedient death on the cross caused an elevation of his position.  This verse also tells us that Yeshua received a name greater than the angels through inheritance.  Yeshua speaks of the name he received in the Gospel of John:

JOHN 17:12 "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (NASU)

This name Yeshua inherited was the very name of his Father, YHVH.  It was by his Father's name that Yeshua was known to the ancient Israelites, as the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah shows:

GENESIS 19:24 Then the LORD [YHVH] rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD [YHVH] out of the heavens. (NKJV)

The Targums, ancient Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Tanakh (also known as the "Old Testament"), contain a wealth of information concerning the way the Jewish interpreters of late antiquity understood the Scriptures.  The rendering of this verse in the Jerusalem Targum incorporates additional commentary on the events that took place and more fully explains what happened:

GENESIS 19:24 And the Word of the Lord himself had made to descend upon the people of Sedom and Amorah showers of favour, that they might work repentance from their wicked works.  But when they saw the showers of favour, they said, So, our wicked works are not manifest before him.  He turned (then), and caused to descend upon them bitumen and fire from before the Lord from the heavens. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)

The Jerusalem Targum clearly shows that the common Jewish understanding around the time of Christ was that the first YHVH mentioned in Genesis 19:24 was the "Word of the Lord" (the preincarnate Messiah-John 1:14), who was acting on behalf of his heavenly Father YHVH.  For additional information on the activities of the Messiah before his human incarnation, see my article entitled Christ in the Old Testament.

The author knew that many Jews would identify Yeshua with the Old Testament "Angel of the LORD," the primary messenger of God's word in ancient times.  In order to demonstrate the superiority of the Messiah, he begins in verse 4 to differentiate Yeshua from the other angels ("messengers") that serve God the Father.

HEBREWS 1:5 For to which of the angels did He ever say:  "You are My Son, today I have begotten you"?1  And again:  "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to Me a Son"?2 (NKJV)

In verse 5 we have the first two of several citations from the Tanakh within this passage: 1Psalm 2:7 and 2II Samuel 7:14.  Psalm 2 is a messianic prophecy that details God's promise to His "Anointed" (Heb. Mashiach, "Messiah") that He will establish him in Zion as king over the entire earth.  II Samuel 7 records God's promise to King David.  Specifically, II Samuel 7:16 states that King David's throne would be established forever.

With these two citations, the author lays out scriptural support for Yeshua's position and destiny.  He is no mere angel, but instead he is the promised Messiah, the seed of David, the one who will reign in Jerusalem on David's throne during the millennial Kingdom of God.

HEBREWS 1:6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:  "Let all the angels of God worship him."3 (NKJV)

The author now cites a portion of 3Deuteronomy 32:43 from the Septuagint Greek version of the Tanakh (translated in the 3rd century BCE).  He relates this Scripture to the return of Yeshua, the firstborn Son of God, into the world.  In doing so, he builds on the theme of messianic rulership initiated in verse 5.

DEUTERONOMY 32:43 Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people. (Brenton's LXX)

From the context of the quoted passage, we know that the author is referring to the second coming of Yeshua at the end of the age.  Deuteronomy 32:43 is the last verse in a long passage of prophecy that Moses spoke to the Israelites just before his death.  In this prophecy, Moses describes their fate and speaks of God's eventual judgment upon His enemies, those who have sought to destroy His chosen people.  As many other Scriptures show, the one who will bring this punishment is none other than the Messiah returned to earth from heaven (cf. Rev. 19:11-21).  This reference is intended to show the Messiah's position over the holy angels, who will serve as his army in the end-time destruction of God's enemies (Matt. 13:41-42).

HEBREWS 1:7 And of the angels He says:  "Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire."4 (NKJV)

The next quote comes from 4Psalm 104:4.  This citation is the first part of a comparison (completed in verses 8-9) designed to establish the qualitative difference between the holy angels who serve God and His firstborn Son, Yeshua.  The next two verses point out the greater responsibility and glory of the Son:

HEBREWS 1:8 But to the Son He says:  "Your throne, O God [theos; Heb.'elohim], is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your Kingdom.  9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, your God [ho theos ho theos; Heb. 'elohim 'eloheykha], has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions [metochous; Heb. chavereykha]."5 (NKJV)

There is a lot of meaning in these two verses, which are a citation from 5Psalm 45:6-7.  The first thing we should notice is that the author applies the title "God" specifically to Yeshua (cf. John 20:28).  A thorough understanding of the meaning of the Hebrew word 'elohim is necessary to grasp why he did this.

As Psalm 82 clearly shows, the term 'elohim can refer to the angelic sons of God (Psa. 82:6) who make up the heavenly divine council.  Therefore, the author's use of this title is meant to describe the power and position of the firstborn Son.  As he has already shown, the Son was no regular angel, no simple messenger.  Instead, the Anointed was one of the exalted 'elohim, one of the divine council God had appointed to rule the nations of the earth.  Specifically, God assigned the Messiah to rule over His portion, the nation of Israel (Deu. 32:9).

The next verse of the quotation confirms this identification.  Whereas the Scriptures show that the other 'elohim have acted unjustly in the administration of their duties over the nations (Psa. 82:2-7), Psalm 45:7 tells us that the firstborn Son "loved righteousness and hated lawlessness."  Because he walked in his heavenly Father's ways instead of his own, he was elevated far above his "companions," the other members of the divine council.  He will be given a throne above them all by God the Father, who is his God (cf. John 20:17; Rev. 1:6).

HEBREWS 1:10 And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of Your hands; 11 they will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe You will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed.  But You are the same, and Your years will have no end."6 (ESV)

The next quotation is from 6Psalm 102:25-27, again from the Septuagint translation.  After repeating the words of the heavenly Father to His Son in verses 8 and 9, the author here shows that God the Father is the source of all creation and eternal.  This quote exalting Almighty God sets the stage for the next statement from God to His glorified Son:

HEBREWS 1:13 But to which of the angels has He ever said:  "Sit at My right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool"?7  14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (NKJV)

The author of Hebrews finishes out his exaltation of the Messiah by quoting from 7Psalm 110:1.  Unlike the angels that serve under him, Yeshua is shown to be seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, waiting for the time when God will give him victory over his enemies (all those who resist God's will).  As a final counterpoint to his argument, the author's rhetorical question in verse 14 again points out the superiority of Yeshua to the angelic host.

The first chapter of Hebrews is used by the author to demonstrate that the Messiah, who appeared as the Angel of the LORD before taking the form of a human, was much more than an Old Testament spiritual messenger from the Father.  He was the workman through which God created all things.  He was the promised seed of David, the Anointed one who will rule the earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years as God's representative.  He was a member of the divine council who ruled over Israel, and because of his faithfulness, will rule over all nations.

Now let's skip down to Hebrews 2:9, where the author continues his explanation of the Messiah's identity:

HEBREWS 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.  10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect [teleiosai] through sufferings. (NKJV)

Here the author begins to explain why the divine firstborn Son of God had to become a mortal man.  In verse 9, he shows that Yeshua allowed himself to be made "a little lower than the (same) angels" the author had proclaimed him to be above in chapter 1.  The purpose for this is not totally understood by most believers, even though it is clearly stated:  Yeshua suffered death that he might "taste death for everyone."

Verse 10 contains an amazing piece of information about the nature of the Messiah.  We are told that the Father, in order to bring many sons to glory, had "to make the captain of their salvation (Yeshua) PERFECT through sufferings."  In the context of this passage, the Greek verb teleiosai would be better translated "complete."  In Luke 13:32, a form of this same word is used:

LUKE 13:31 On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill you."  32 And he said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected [teleioumai].' " (NKJV)

The primary suffering of the Messiah was his final agony on the cross.  However, his total experience as a human being also qualified as suffering.  It was the physical and mental distress, as well as the corresponding temptations that he endured, that "perfected" Yeshua.

As the divine spirit being called the "Angel of the LORD," Yeshua led the Israelites out of Egypt during the Exodus and guided them through their 40 years of wilderness wanderings (Jdg. 2:1).  During that time, he saw God's chosen people at their worst.  In order to truly comprehend how people could behave the way that the Israelites did, he had to be subjected to the same temptations and sufferings that humans had to endure.  Only this experience would allow him to be "completed" and become an empathetic High Priest to God's people (Heb. 2:17; 4:15).

HEBREWS 2:11 For both he who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one [ex henos pantes], for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 Saying:  "I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You."8  13 And again:  "I will put my trust in Him."9  And again:  "Here am I and the children whom God has given me."10  14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (NKJV)

In verse 11, the author tells us that Yeshua and those he is in the process of sanctifying ("setting apart for a holy purpose") are "all of one."  By the concluding statement that Yeshua "is not ashamed to call them BRETHREN," we know that the first part of the verse is referring to Yeshua and those he is sanctifying being "all of one" FAMILY, with YHVH being the Father of both (cf. Eph. 3:14-15).

Verse 12 begins another series of quotations from the Tanakh with a citation of 8Psalm 22:22.  Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm that prophetically records some of the actual words later spoken by Yeshua (cf. Psa. 22:1).

The next two quotes come from the last part of 9Isaiah 8:17 and first part of 10Isaiah 8:18.  This too is a messianic prophecy; immediately preceding this passage is the declaration that the Messiah would be "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel" (Isa. 8:14; cf. Rom. 9:32-33; I Pet. 2:7-8).

HEBREWS 2:16 For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but he does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  17 Therefore, in all things he had to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  18 For in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to aid those who are tempted. (NKJV)

Continuing on, the author states in verse 16 that the Messiah became human in order to provide help to the descendants of Abraham.  Verse 17 states that Yeshua's death was a means of providing forgiveness for the sins of the people, that they might be reconciled to God.  This verse reiterates that Yeshua had to be made like his human brethren in order to be a merciful and faithful High Priest for God's people.  In verse 18, we are told that Yeshua had to suffer and endure temptation as a man that he might (as our High Priest) be able to assist those who are suffering and being tempted.

Verse 18 is also a clear indication of the distinction between God the Father and Yeshua.  Yeshua was tempted while in the flesh so that he might understand how temptation affects humans.  However, we are clearly told that God the Father CANNOT be tempted:

JAMES 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. (NKJV)

Further on in the book of Hebrews, the author again stresses the fact that Yeshua was tempted by evil in the same way all mankind is, but that he was without sin:

HEBREWS 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (NIV)

Yeshua's status as the Son of God and his human temptation is confirmed numerous times in the Gospel accounts:

MARK 1:13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. (NKJV)
MATTHEW 4:2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward he was hungry.  3 Now when the tempter came to him, he said, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." (NKJV)
MATTHEW 4:5 Then the devil took him up into the holy city, set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written:  'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.' " (NKJV)

Notice that the devil's entire focus of temptation consisted of attempting to goad Yeshua into proving he was "the Son of God."  Satan was very familiar with the Son in his role as the Angel of the LORD, as the Scriptures show (Zec. 3:1-10).  The devil was, in effect, asking Yeshua to prove that he was the divine Son of God (Pro. 30:4) come down to earth in human form.

Going back to Hebrews 3, we see a statement in verse 2 that is absolutely astounding when properly understood.  As you read the following statements about the Messiah, keep in mind that the context of this letter is an explanation of WHO the Messiah truly is:

HEBREWS 3:1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly vocation consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus:  2 Who is faithful to Him that made [poiesanti] him, as was also Moses in all His house.  3 For this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that hath built the house hath greater honour than the house.  4 For every house is built by some man: but He that created all things is God. (DRA)

The Greek word translated "made" in verse 2 is poiesanti.  This verb participle is a form of the Greek word poieo, which according to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words means "to do" or "to make.' It "is used in the latter sense (a) of constructing or producing anything, of the creative acts of God" (p. 386).

A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD) states that this word is used "of God's creative activity" to mean "make, manufacture, produce τι someth[ing]."  Regarding Hebrews 3:2, BAGD goes on to say that poiesanti is used "of the relation of Jesus to God" (p. 680).

Most English translations render poiesanti in Hebrews 3:2 as "appointed."  But the word literally means "made," referring in this instance to the creative act of God in the origin of the Messiah.  Let's look at Revelation 14:7 to see how poiesanti is used elsewhere in the Scriptures:

REVELATION 14:7 Saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made [poiesanti] heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water." (NKJV)

Based on the definition of this word, as well as its biblical usage elsewhere, it's obvious that poiesanti should be translated "who made" in Hebrews 3:2 (as it is in the 1899 Douay-Rheims American translation), not "who appointed" (as it is in most other English translations).  Both Moses and Yeshua were faithful to God the Father, who "made" all things (v. 4).

HEBREWS 3:5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future.  6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house.  And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (NIV)

The author goes on in verses 4 and 5 to illustrate the pre-eminence of Messiah over Moses (which he first mentioned in v. 3).  Moses served in God's house, but Yeshua the firstborn Son has been given rulership over God's house.

Now let's move on to the 5th chapter of Hebrews, where the author begins explaining the priesthood of Messiah:

HEBREWS 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.  2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.  3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.  4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.  5 So also Christ did not glorify himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to him:  "You are My Son, today I have begotten you."11 (NKJV)

This passage stresses the Father's role in determining the duties assigned to the Messiah.  Yeshua did not make himself the High Priest; rather, the Father designated him as such.  In Hebrews 5:5 we have a repeat of the citation from 11Psalm 2:7 that the author used earlier (Heb. 1:5).  Here the emphasis is on the sonship of the Messiah as the reason for his elevation to High Priest.

HEBREWS 5:6 As He also says in another place:  "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek";12 7 who, in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear, 8 though he was a Son, yet he learned [emathen] obedience by the things which he suffered.  9 And having been perfected [teleiotheis], he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"12 (NKJV)

12Psalm 110:4, quoted twice in this passage (vv. 6, 10), serves as an introduction to the exalted position of the Messiah.  Contrary to the commonly accepted teaching that Jesus was "fully man" and "fully God" while here on earth, the author tells us that during "the days of his flesh" (v. 7), it was ONLY through the Father that Yeshua obtained the ability to accomplish his mission.  YHVH was the one who provided Yeshua the strength to overcome this world, and He did so because of Yeshua's "godly fear" (which manifested itself as total obedience).  The point is very clear:  Even though Yeshua was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things he suffered as a human.

According to ALGNT, the Greek verb emathen, translated "learned" in verse 8, has "a basic m[eani]ng of directing one's mind to someth[ing] and producing an external effect learn; (1) as learning through instruction be taught, learn from someone (JN 7.15); (2) as learning through inquiry ascertain, discover, find out (AC 23.27); (3) as learning through practice or experience come to know, come to realize (PH 4.11; HE 5.8); (4) as achieving comprehension understand, learn (RV 14.3)".  If Yeshua had already been a perfect divine being before (and during) his incarnation, he could not have learned obedience as a result of the adversity he faced.  "Having been perfected" as a direct result of his experiences as a human, we are told that Yeshua became the "author of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (v. 9) and now serves as our heavenly High Priest (v. 10).

Now let's examine one more related passage from the 7th chapter of Hebrews:

HEBREWS 7:26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people's, for this he did once for all when he offered up himself.  28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected [teteleiomenon] forever. (NKJV)

The 7th chapter of Hebrews uses the example of Melchizedek to show how Yeshua (from the tribe of Judah) could serve as High Priest when the Law specifies that the sons of Aaron (from the tribe of Levi) would hold that position.  Once again, the author of Hebrews proclaims that we have a high priest in Yeshua who has been "perfected."  In the process of living a totally obedient life while enduring human temptation, Yeshua's understanding of mankind's plight was "completed."  By this experience, he qualified to be God's High Priest, just as Melchizedek had been in the days of Abram.

Now let's examine some other statements about the nature of the Messiah from the New Testament.  We'll begin in Paul's letter to the Philippian congregation:

PHILIPPIANS 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although he existed in the form [morphe] of God, did not regard equality with [isa] God a thing to be grasped [harpagmon], 7 but emptied himself, taking the form [morphen] of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  8 Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9 For this reason also [dio kai], God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NASU)

When viewed in the proper context, this is an illuminating passage of Scripture.  Paul tells us that before his incarnation, Yeshua existed in the same form (morphe) as God the Father.  Yeshua himself said that God is spirit (John 4:24); therefore, Paul's statement indicates that Yeshua initially existed as a spirit being also.  The two uses of the Greek root word morphe in this passage (vv. 6, 7) contrast YHVH's existence as spirit and man's existence as flesh and blood.

Paul goes on to show that Yeshua was willing to give up his spiritual state of being.  Many English translations render the Greek noun harpagmon ("to be grasped") as "robbery."  However, BAGD states that this translation ". . . is next to impossible in Phil 2:6 . . ." (p. 108).  According to ALGNT, harpagmon (found only once in the New Testament) probably means ". . . not forcefully retaining something for one's own advantage something not to be held onto . . ."

Yeshua did not consider being "equal to" (Gr. isa) God in form something that he should hold on to selfishly.  Rather, he humbly emptied himself of divinity and became flesh and blood that he might fulfill the Father's will.  Living an obedient life as a human here on the earth, Yeshua gave himself as our sacrifice on the cross, that our sins might be forgiven through him.

The Greek phrase dio kai that begins verse 9 is used to indicate a self-evident inference.  Paul tells us that because of his humble, unselfish act, God the Father highly exalted Yeshua and bestowed on him a name above all names.  Not because of his nature, but rather due to his obedience, God will cause "every knee to bow" to Yeshua and "every tongue will confess" that he is Lord.

Verses 10 and 11 are a paraphrase of Isaiah 45:23:

ISAIAH 45:22 "Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other.  23 I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. (NKJV)

Based on the statement in Isaiah 45:22 that "I am God, and there is no other," some try to make the case that Yeshua and God are one and the same being (in either a "Trinitarian" or "Oneness" sense).  This is a misinterpretation of the text, as a close examination of Paul's concluding statement in verse 11 plainly shows.  By every knee bowing to Yeshua the Messiah and every tongue taking an oath that he is Lord, Paul tells us that God the Father will be glorified.  There is only one true God, the Father (John 17:3), as Isaiah 45:22 states.  However, every knee will in effect be bowing to Him when they bow to His Anointed One, Yeshua the Messiah.

Now let's examine another passage from Paul, this one from his initial letter to the Corinthian assembly.  To make the passage easier to understand, I've replaced "him" and "his" with the one being spoken of:

I CORINTHIANS 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  23 But each one in his own order:  Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at his coming.  24 Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when [God] puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  25 For [Christ] must reign till [God] has put all enemies under [Christ's] feet.  26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. (NKJV)

This Scripture speaks of the delegation of God's authority to the Messiah as a means of achieving God's will.  We see that the Messiah's rule will be completed when all God's enemies have been destroyed.  After the destruction of the final enemy, death, Yeshua will return the reconciled kingdom to his Father, just as a craftsman hands over his finished product to the architect of the work.

I CORINTHIANS 15:27 For "[God] has put all things under [Christ's] feet."13  But when He says "all things are put under [Christ]," it is evident that [God] who put all things under [Christ] is excepted.  28 Now when all things are made subject to [God], then the Son himself will also be subject to [God] who put all things under [Christ], that God may be all in all. (NKJV)

This passage specifically shows that, contrary to Trinitarian doctrine, Yeshua will always be subordinate to the Father (not co-equal).  Verse 27 starts with a citation of 13Psalm 8:6.  This is an interesting messianic psalm, and one that most don't fully grasp regarding significance.  Here is the pertinent section of this psalm:

PSALM 8:3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?  5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.  6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, (NKJV)

In the Gospels, Yeshua is referred to as the "Son of Man" 83 times.  The mention of the "son of man" in Psalm 8:4, combined with the use of this prophecy by Paul to specifically refer to Yeshua (as well as a similar usage in Hebrews 2), leaves little doubt that this passage is a messianic prophecy.  The "son of man" spoken of in Psalm 8:4 is plainly the Messiah, who will have all things put under his feet by God the Father (I Cor. 15:25).

I Corinthians 15:27 also specifically states that God the Father has placed all things under Yeshua with the exception of Himself.  Clear distinction is made here between YHVH the heavenly Father and His firstborn Son, Yeshua the Messiah.  The Father has currently delegated all things to His Son, that Yeshua may reconcile them to Him (Col. 1:20).  However, when the reconciliation is finally accomplished, we see that the entire creation, including the Son, will be subject to God (v. 28).

This passage isn't the only place where Paul shows the superior position of the Father in relation to the Son.  Earlier in I Corinthians 11, Paul documented the line of authority from mankind to God:

I CORINTHIANS 11:3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (NKJV)

Once again we see that God the Father is over Yeshua in authority.  Contrary to the doctrine of the Trinity, they are not co-equal.

Additionally, the Scriptures show that only God the Father is omniscient ("all-knowing"):

MARK 13:32 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is." (NKJV)

This declaration shows that the Messiah himself acknowledged only the Father knew the timing of his second coming.  Yeshua's statement confirms the passages we reviewed from Hebrews earlier which show that Yeshua was "completed" by his human experience.  This verification also supports several passages from the Tanakh which show that the preincarnate Messiah did not know all things (cf. Gen. 18:21; 22:12; etc.).

In the final book of the Bible, Yeshua uses a title for himself that is very enlightening, when placed in the proper context:

REVELATION 22:16 "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." (NIV)

Here we see that Yeshua tells us he is the "Morning Star."  Peter confirms this identification of Messiah in his second epistle:

II PETER 1:17 For he received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to him from the Excellent Glory:  "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.  19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; (NKJV)

This title is not just a poetic description of the Messiah.  It identifies his status, as a passage from Job 38 shows:

JOB 38:4 " Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell Me, if you have understanding.  5 Who determined its measurements?  Surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  6 To what were its foundations fastened?  Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (NKJV)

In this Scripture, "morning stars" are parallel to and synonymous with the angelic "sons of God" (Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1).  By his use of the title "Morning Star," Yeshua establishes that he was one of those sons of God present at the creation of the world.  As other Scriptures show, he was the firstborn Son of God through whom the Eternal Father created the world.

Conclusion

When viewed with an open mind, the available historical and scriptural evidence strongly suggests that early believers had a much different understanding of the origin and nature of Yeshua than we do today.  In contrast to modern Judaism, 1st-century Jews who accepted Yeshua as the prophesied Messiah had no trouble assigning to him the status of a second divine spirit being who was subordinate to the Most High God.  He was understood to be the "Angel of the LORD" who had led Israel out of Egypt.  In contrast to modern Christianity, early believers understood that the Messiah was the "firstborn of every creature" (Col. 1:15), the "only begotten" Son of God.  He was the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:24), begotten before all things to be the workman who helped the Father create the world (Pro. 8:22-31).  He was the divine Word (Logos), who was with God the Father in the beginning and was also 'elohim ("God"-John 1:1).

Bryan T. Huie
July 22, 2002

Revised: June 11, 2011

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