THE UNIQUENESS OF CHRIST
March 4, 2007
In 1987 John Hick published his book “The Myth of Christian Uniqueness.” It was a statement of the philosophy which is known as pluralism, the view of things which not only tolerates the different religions of the world, but actively affirms their independent saving reality, thus denying that there is anything especially unique or final about the person and the work of Jesus Christ. A quotation from his book will show you the thought. “It is acknowledged by pluralist,” Hick writes, “that Jews are being saved through the Jewish stream of religious life, Muslims within and through the Islamic stream, Hindus within and through the Hindu stream, etc.” (Stott, I Timothy & Titus, p. 68, 69).
I don’t know of any better way to prepare us for life in our world these days than for us to make ourselves aware of what the Bible means when it speaks of Jesus in some of the unique ways that it does. Since we all have to deal with the thought processes that go on in common life, and since the bulk of the thinking around us very much fits the viewpoint that we have just read, we need to be aware of what makes Jesus different from all others who ever were or ever will be.
In A Class By Himself
Let’s begin by noticing that the scriptures do clearly claim that Jesus is in a class all by himself. The scriptures do this in two ways. First, they speak of Jesus as the only Son. In some way, Jesus Christ is the only Son. For example, in I John 4:9 I read, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” Then in John 1:14 there is this statement, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The word that is translated in this version “only” is the key idea. You may notice that in some of the older versions it is translated by the phrase “only begotten,” but the use of the word in the New Testament, and I think certainly the work of scholars, leaves very little doubt that the idea of the word is “only.” For example, this is the word used in Luke 7:12 of the only son of the widow Nain. In Luke 8:42 this is the word used of the daughter of Jairus, his only child. Notice especially in Hebrews 11:17 it is used of Isaac being the only son of Abraham. You and I can see that Abraham had another son named Ishmael, but in a way Isaac is his only son because he is the only one as far as redemption is concerned through whom God was going to do his work. So this word describes somebody who is the only one within a certain kind of relationship, someone who is unique in kind, someone who is incomparable. I noticed that Brother McCord translates the word “the beloved” to show this idea. Brother Guy N. Woods wrote of the word translated “only begotten” or “only”, “that it signifies the-only-one-of-its-kind, and was used to distinguish Jesus from all other sons of God…. He is a son in a sense characteristic of no other being in the universe…. [And with the use of this word] Attention is directed to the unique position of Christ to sharpen and enhance our concept of the vastness of God’s love …” (I John, p. 296). The Only Son!
But the New Testament also teaches that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. Take a look again at I Timothy 2:5-6. If you have been with us, you know that we have been giving special attention to these last three letters of the apostle Paul, and here is a key statement from I Timothy. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” The thought of a mediator is a go-between. You may remember in Job 9:33, as this great man bore the burden of suffering that he cried out “would that there were an arbiter between him (that is God) and me,” someone who could lay his hand on both of us. That is what a mediator does. A mediator is somebody in the middle, somebody who makes relationship possible. Christ is thought of in this way because he was able to give his life a ransom for us all. Paul is adapting the words of Jesus from Mark 10:45, only strengthening them. Christ said he would give his life a ransom for many. Paul says here that he has done so for us all. The idea is that Christ is an exchange price on the basis of which a relationship with God is possible for all of us.
John Stott observed, “Since in no other person but Jesus of Nazareth has God first become man taking our humanity on himself, and then giving himself as a ransom, taking our sin and guilt upon himself, and therefore he is the one mediator. There is no other. No one else possesses or has ever possessed the necessary qualifications to mediate between God and sinners.” (I Timothy and Titus, p. 71) This idea suggests that the uniqueness does not come from comparing ourselves as Christians to some other religion in the world. The difference is not an “us against them” situation at all, but it is a matter of who Jesus is and what he has done.
The Only One of His Kind
In fact, Brother Wayne Jackson of Stockton, CA in his paper “The Christian Courier” recently listed nine ways in which the scriptures show that Jesus is the only one of his kind. While I realize that any one of these concepts would be worth a quarter of study in a Bible class, I think there is something to be said for looking at the whole picture all at once. Just think of the ways in which Jesus is the only one of his kind.
In the first place, nobody but Jesus was ever conceived of a virgin. We mean by this, of course, that his conception was miraculous. Christians are not foolish people who don’t know how the world works. We claim, though, that scripture teaches that our Lord was born without having had an earthly father, not as the result of some sort of physical union between the gods and a human woman, but as the result of the miraculous work of the God of heaven. The scripture promised that “the virgin shall conceive” (Isaiah 7:14), and that was fulfilled in the manner of Jesus’ birth, according to Matthew 1:23. What claim ever called for more faith than this one does? The scripture teaches that Jesus was “born in the likeness of men” and was “found in human form” (Philippians 2:7), but that it occurred in a completely unique manner.
Not only this, but growing out of this thought is that Jesus is the only one ever who possessed deity in his person. There have been people, of course, who maybe in their madness fancied themselves as divine. There have been people who wanted to claim such a role for themselves, but Jesus is said to have possessed deity because of the unique way in which he entered the world. He was Immanuel, God with us, according to Matthew 1:23. Luke records the fact that the angel said the manner of his birth would prove that he would be called “the Son of God,” or “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32, 35).
This is not merely a thought that appears in the narrative of his birth and then is dropped. It becomes an important theme in the rest of the New Testament. At the transfiguration mount, the one who was the beloved Son is said to have had an authority greater than either Moses or Elijah, and the disciples are commanded to listen to him (Matthew 17:5). And the New Testament teaches that because of his deity as the Son of God, salvation is uniquely tied to him and to his name (Matthew 1:21). He was named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. The apostles preached that there is salvation in no other name. (Acts 4:12).
Thirdly, Jesus is completely different because he is the only one who ever existed already before his conception and birth. The scripture teaches that this individual was one whose origin is from of old (Micah 5:2). Paul wrote that “he was in the form of God” but that he took “the form of a servant” and become flesh (Philippians 2:6-7). John writes that this one who in the beginning was with God and was God is the same one who became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1, 14). In Jesus dealings with his opponents, he would say to them, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (Jn. 8:58). Every one of them, being familiar with the Old Testament story of Moses and the bush and God’s name being I AM, knew exactly what he was claiming and got ready to destroy him because of it. Jesus in the prayer in John 17, right before he was betrayed and arrested, prayed that God would give him back the glory that he had had with him before the world began (Jn. 17:5). That shows that he existed beforehand. Nobody else was ever like that.
And, connected to this idea, Jesus is the only one who was ever constituted of dual natures. I mean by that, both human and divine – Son of man and Son of God – as that song “Fairest Lord Jesus” said a while ago. The father never became flesh and dwelt among us, but Jesus did. And none of us have ever passed through the heavens to partake of deity, but Jesus did. Jesus, then, being both divine and human is able to experience death to deliver us (Hebrews 2:14-15) and then enter heaven in behalf of us to represent us as our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15). Those two statements are keys in the book of Hebrews about who Jesus is.
John Chrysostom was one of the early Christian writers. He wrote, “For this is the property of a mediator, to be in close communion with each of those whose mediator he is. For as he is partaker of the nature of men because he came to men, so is he partaker of the nature of God because he came from God.” (T. Odom, I & II Timothy and Titus, p. 46, 47). Can you see that this is not merely a matter of competing claims, but that if Jesus is who these ideas say he is, he has to be unique? There is nobody else like this!
Let’s turn our attention in the next few ideas to what he has done, then. Notice with me that Jesus is completely unique because he is the only one ever in whom there is no personal awareness at all of any sin in his life. I may try to act to you like I have no pains of guilt or of conscience at all. You may try to appear to others that it is somebody else’s fault, that you have nothing of which you need to repent, but we all know deep down ways in which either in our thinking or in our words or actions we have fallen short. Jesus, though, could stand even before his critics and say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). Imagine that! I always please God! We meet here and pray that what we do might be pleasing to him. Jesus claimed to always do those things. In that same conversation, he stood before people who were angry with him and said, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (Jn. 8:46). I wouldn’t have the nerve to do that, even before my family. Would you? Look at Jesus. There is nobody like this anywhere. The Hebrew writer said that he is the “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was also unique in his teaching. None of us completely are. We can’t think of anything new, and if we did we would have no authority to teach it. But Jesus is different in both those ways. In John 7:46, the officers who were sent out there to lay hold of him came back and said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” His teaching was new, not only in what it said but in how it was said. The people who heard Jesus teach in the Sermon on the Mount were impressed with not only what he said but how he said it. In Matthew 7:28-29, it says “when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, not as their scribes.”
Notice that Jesus is totally different also in that he is the only one ever who had a complete knowledge of mankind. When is the last time you ever thought of someone close to you and said, “I just don’t understand him?” We husbands are frequent confessors of the fact that we don’t understand women. Our wives look at us and don’t even go to the trouble to say that. They just shake their heads at how we men are. Jesus, however, knew what was within man. In John 2:24-25 it says, “He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man for he himself knew what was in man.” As a result, his dealing with all people was always totally fitting. To do the right thing at the right time is so hard, but Jesus could deal with the arrogant, the self-righteous and could rebuke them at just the right time and the right way. He could equally as well look at those who were doing their best but struggling and extend mercy and compassion at just the right time, with a word or a touch. He knew the human soul and its needs in a way nobody else ever did.
Jesus is the only one who was ever raised never to die again. The scripture says in Acts 2:24, “For it was not possible for him to be held by it.” The “it” is death. Others like Lazarus or the son of the widow of Nain were raised up, yet they appear to have died again. Jesus, however, is said to have been raised up and then taken into heaven. He is the firstborn from the dead and the firstborn of the dead. (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). One of the old word study books says that this idea of first born refers to “priority in the resurrection to be followed by others.” (Robertson, cited by Jackson). Jesus is unique in that way.
Last, he has a special relation to the Father. Jesus has made it possible for all of us to call God our Father. He taught us to draw near to God in that way. And yet, as William Barclay observed in his book on the letters to John, “Jesus Christ is in a relationship to God in which no other person ever stood or ever will stand.” (p. 120). John always spoke of Christ as “son” and of disciples as “children.” He used different words to refer to us. We are all in the family, looking forward to an inheritance because of the work of Jesus, but we all know that Jesus was different. He could say “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Look at those nine ideas together. Friends, if those are true, Jesus is absolutely unique! He deserves for every one of us to stand so much in awe of him that we have to be moved in amazement at the fact that this one cares about us. In Paul’s last three letters, he referred to “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). That is who he is. Someone wrote, “Our exclusive faith” – faith that there is one God, one mediator between God and man – “leads necessarily to our inclusive mission.” (Stott, I Timothy, p. 67). The one God wants everyone to be saved and the one mediator gave himself a ransom for all. It is not a narrow minded thing. It is a thing that looks at who Jesus is and realizes that there cannot be another. That happens as we believe this so strongly that it changes our minds, and then we allow ourselves to be baptized in His name for the forgiveness of our sins, and then we devote ourselves to following him in everyday life. Make that beginning today!