Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jewish Christology Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue with our examination of the Epistles of James and Jude in order to provide additional evidence that these two writings emphatically testify to the essential Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus – The Coming of Yahweh God Incarnate

Both James and Jude speak of the coming of the Lord to judge and save: 

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord (heos tes parousias tou kyriou). Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord (he parousia tou kyriou) is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” James 5:7-10

“It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Jude 1:14-15

There is simply no getting around the fact that these writers are referring to the second coming of Christ from heaven, since they have already referred to him as Lord. This would have led their readers to assume that Jesus is the Lord who shall come quickly to save and judge.

There are some additional reasons which substantiate the fact that the authors had Jesus in mind when they wrote of the coming of the Lord.

First, elsewhere we are told that it is Jesus who stands at the door, language that is reminiscent of James 5:9:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

Second, Jude exhorts his readers to build themselves up as they wait for the mercy of the Lord Jesus to come:

“But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 1:20-21

This can only be referring to Christ’s return since that is the time when the risen Lord will bestow mercy upon his followers leading to eternal life.

This brings us to our third reason. The NT expressly says that it is the Lord Jesus who comes on the clouds with his holy ones or saints, whether for the purpose of destroying Jerusalem and the Temple or to judge the entire creation:

“And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Mark 13:26-27

"For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in HIS GLORY and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." Luke 9:26

“‘But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming,” and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful.’” Luke 12:39-46

“so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:7-8

“If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (Maranatha)” 1 Corinthians 16:22

“But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20-21

“For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering -- since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:27-28

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:11-16

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20

As the foregoing examples demonstrate, Christ’s coming is the explicit proclamation of all of the various NT writings, and must have therefore been a belief held by the earliest followers of Jesus. As such, James and Jude’s audiences would have no doubt assumed that these authors were speaking of the return of Christ. 

In fact, some of these texts even employ the word parousia which James himself used to describe Christ’s coming:

“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming (parousias) and of the close of the age?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Take heed that no one leads you astray… For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man… But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man.’” Matthew 24:3-4, 27, 36-39

“But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming (te parousia autou) those who belong to Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:23

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (ten parousian tou kyriou), shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

"May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (te parousia tou kyriou hemon 'Iesou Christou).” 1 Thessalonians 5:23

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (te parousia tou kyriou hemon 'Iesou Christou) and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren… And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming (te epiphaneia tes parousias autou).” 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8

“First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming (tes parousias autou)? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’… waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God (ten parousian tes tou theou hemeras), because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!” 2 Peter 3:3-4, 12

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming (te parousia autou).” 1 John 2:28

James could not have been ignorant of the fact that the term parousia was consistently employed in relation to the coming of the Lord Jesus. He therefore must have known that his readers would have understood from his language that he was speaking of the return of Christ from heaven. As Evangelical scholars Douglas J. Moo states:  

“… the word ‘coming’ translates the Gk. parousia, which means basically ‘presence’ (see 1 Cor. 16:7; 2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:12). It was applied in secular Greek to the ‘arrival’ of a king or dignitary. It is probably from this background that the technical sense of the word in the NT developed, for the early Christians consistently used the word to refer to the ‘coming’ of Jesus at the end of history to judge the wicked (e.g., Matt. 24:37, 39; 2 Thess. 2:8), and deliver the saints (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). To be sure, the exact phrase that James uses here and in v. 8 – ‘the coming of the Lord’ – occurs only one other time to depict the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:15). And the ‘Lord’ here could, of course, be God the Father (as in vv. 4, 10 and 11 in this context). But the frequency with which NT writers apply the language to the return of Christ suggests that parousia quite early took on among the early Christians virtually a technical sense. James certainly intends, and his readers would have certainly have understood, the Lord’s coming to refer to Jesus’ return as judge and savior.” (Moo, The Letter of James, p. 221; bold emphasis ours)

The above examples conclusively prove that James and Jude had Jesus in mind when they spoke of the coming of the Lord.

This brings us to the next section.

Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate!

In Jude 1:14-15, the author cited the Pseudepigraphal work 1 Enoch concerning the time when God himself would come with his heavenly host to judge the wicked:

“The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and righteous, who will be living in the day of tribulation, when all the wicked and godless are to be removed. And he took up his parable and said - Enoch a righteous man, whose eyes were opened by God, saw the vision of the Holy One in the heavens, which the angels showed me, and from them I heard everything, and from them I understood as I saw, but not for this generation, but for a remote one which is for to come. Concerning the elect I said, and took up my parable concerning them: The Holy Great One will come forth from His dwelling, And the eternal God will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai, [And appear from His camp] And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven of heavens. And all shall be smitten with fear And the Watchers shall quake, And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth. And the high mountains shall be shaken, And the high hills shall be made low, And shall melt like wax before the flame And the earth shall be wholly rent in sunder, And all that is upon the earth shall perish, And there shall be a judgement upon all (men). But with the righteous He will make peace. And will protect the elect, And mercy shall be upon them. And they shall all belong to God, And they shall be prospered, And they shall all be blessed. And He will help them all, And light shall appear unto them, And He will make peace with them'. And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly: And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. 1 Enoch 1:1-10

This citation from Enoch is vitally important since it demonstrates that Jude held to the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, the Lord who is coming with his myriads in Enoch is Yahweh God whereas for Jude it is Jesus Christ, thereby equating Jesus with Yahweh!

In fact, the language of 1 Enoch echoes what the OT writings say concerning the coming of Yahweh to judge and save.

For instance, the prophet Zechariah spoke of a day in which Yahweh would descend with his holy ones upon the Mount of Olive, who would then split it in half as a result of his blessed feet touching it:

“Behold, a day of the LORD is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day HIS FEET shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzzi'ah king of Judah. Then the LORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” Zechariahs 14:1-5

According to the NT, it is the Lord Jesus whose feet will touch the Mount of Olives when he descends from heaven with his entire host!

“And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away;” Acts 1:9-12

The men (who happen to be angels) announce to Christ’s followers that Jesus will return to the same place from whence he ascended, that being the Mount of Olives. And:

“so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:13

This means that, as far as the NT writings are concerned, Jesus is the Yahweh God whom the prophet Zechariah saw coming down to the Mount of Olives!

Zechariah wasn’t the only inspired prophet who spoke of Yahweh descending or coming with his hosts to rule and judge:

“This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. He said, ‘The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned from Se'ir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran, he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.’” Deuteronomy 33:1-2

“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’… Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11

For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the stormwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.” Isaiah 66:15-16

For behold, the LORD is coming forth out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will be cleft, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.” Micah 1:3-4

Interestingly, all four Gospels cite Isaiah 40 in reference to John the Baptist being sent as God’s herald to prepare the people for the advent of Christ, thereby equating Jesus with the Yahweh whom Isaiah said would come and whose glory all flesh would see (cf. Mark 1:1-11; Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17; Luke 3: 1-6, 15-18, 21-22; John 1:14-15, 19-36).

Paul himself adopts the language of Isaiah 66:15-16 to describe the coming of Christ in blazing glory to destroy the wicked and save his followers:

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering-- 6 since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12

But that’s not all. Even the Quran itself refers to the Jews as allegedly waiting for God coming in the shadow of the clouds with his angels,

Are they waiting for God to come down to them in the shadow of a cloud, with all the angels? Their fate will have been settled then. To God shall all things return. S. 2:210 N. J. Dawood

And also speaks of him descending with his hosts to judge mankind:

No! But when the earth is crushed to fine dust, and your Lord comes down with the angels, in their ranks, and Hell is brought near – on that day man will remember his deeds. S. 89:21-23 Dawood

With the foregoing in view, does it come as a surprise that the following commentator would refer to Christ as the Divine Judge in his commentary on James?

“Further emphasizing the imminency of Christ's return to judge our works, James warned, behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. Christ, THE DIVINE JUDGE, is depicted as ready to throw open the doors and burst onto the judgment scene. He will make that dramatic entrance at His parousia which, as noted above, is the next event on His personal, historic schedule. Both the encouraging hope of Christ's return as the end of suffering and the recognition of future judgment for believers' works should produce patience in suffering.” (John MacArthur, James: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Moody Press, Chicago, IL 1998], p. 257; capital and underline emphasis ours)

What else could Christ be if not divine seeing how performs the very divine functions which both the Hebrew Bible and the Quran ascribe to God alone?

In fact, this practice of attributing OT texts which speak of Yahweh coming or descending from heaven to explain or describe the coming of the Lord Jesus is simply unprecedented in Jewish literature, and strongly suggests that Jewish Christian circles were already identifying Christ as Yahweh. As renowned NT scholar Richard Bauckham explains:

“…But precisely the direct application of the eschatological theophany passages to a messianic figure seems not to be exactly paralleled in Jewish apocalyptic. It is very important for the development of Christology that early Christian expectation of the parousia owed less to Old Testament messianic texts than to direct use of Old Testament texts about the coming of God. The rationale for such use we can see in the pre-Pauline Jewish Christian hymn in Philippians 2:6-11: in exalting Jesus to be his eschatological plenipotentiary God has bestowed on him his own name, the tetragrammaton ('the name which is above every name'), and in consequence Jesus receives the homage due from all creation to God. But he does so as the representative of God the Father, in God's name, and so 'to the glory of God the Father. We can glimpse here also the consequence for the Christian religious attitude to Jesus. Since the figure in question is no mere figure of speculation, like Melchizedek or a still unidentified Messiah, but Jesus of Nazareth, a known human figure, now absent in heaven but present to the experience of his followers in the Spirit, a figure who could be addressed ('Our Lord, come!'), his divine function inevitably made him the object of divine worship. Implicitly, in religious practice, HE WAS ALREADY ASSIMILATED TO GOD, and the way to his conceptual inclusion in the being of God was open.'” (Ibid, pp. 301-302; bold and capital emphasis ours)

We now turn to our final section.