Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
—Hebrews 13:8, NIV
I have isolated this rather remarkable statement in Hebrews in order to examine its ramifications.
‘Jesus’ is the same thing as ‘Christ.’
Within the New Testament, the word ‘Christ’ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word ‘Messiah,’ which means ‘anointed one.’ The Hebrews anointed their kings, today the practice is to crown them, so the term basically means ‘king.’ In fact, it was applied, in the general sense, to all the Hebrew kings.
In a more specific sense, it refers to a special King who would come in the last days. The New Testament claims that Jesus came at the end of the ages (Hebrews 9:26) to fulfill that very purpose. (Note that in the New Testament, the term ‘last days’ refers to the entire period of history bounded by the first and second comings of Christ.)
Therefore, the term ‘Christ’ is a job title and not a proper name. If I am in England and I refer to either Elizabeth II or the Queen, I mean the same person. ‘Queen’ is not a mystical personality that descended upon a young woman named ‘Elizabeth’ in the early 1950s! ‘Queen’ is just the job title that Elizabeth holds. They are one and the same. However, England has had many queens, but there is only one Messiah in the specific sense. The terms ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ are synonyms in the New Testament, one referring to the man by His name, the other referring to Him by His job title. Therefore the writer of Hebrews can say without discomfort or controversy that ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow,’ without distinguishing between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ.’
If in the New Testament there were a concept of an eternal Christ-figure as contrasted with a mortal man named Jesus, as some people allege, then this statement would be impossible. For mortal men change, yet the writer of the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is once and forever the same. If they are right that Christ and Jesus are two entities, then both history and the New Testament needs correction on this point.
The doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ is ancient.
It is impossible that the epistle to the Hebrews could have been written later than AD 70, for it was in that year that Jesus’ prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem came true. The Romans erected an abomination (=idol) in the Temple and the people rebelled, mistakenly expecting a repeat of the victory they had won under similar circumstances during the Hasmonean era. (See 1 Maccabees or Josephus for an account.) The Romans completely exterminated everyone in the area and destroyed all the buildings, including the Temple. The sacrifices in the Temple ceased because there was no Temple, there was no city, and all the priests who served in the Temple were dead.
One of the main points of this epistle is to describe how Jesus’ sacrifice is greater and more efficacious than the sacrifices in the Temple. The author writes of the sacrifices and the Temple as continuing even as he wrote! In fact, he spends a great deal of time overcoming the difficulty this presents him, for if the sacrifice of Jesus is so much greater, why do the Temple sacrifices continue? Clearly, if Hebrews were written after AD 70, this would have bolstered the argument and the epistle would be much shorter. He could have said, ‘the Temple is no more because it is no longer needed!’ However, He did not say that because the Temple still stood, the sacrifices were still being offered, and the priesthood was alive when he wrote; which therefore had to be some time before AD 70.
If, then, Hebrews was written far enough before AD 70 to depict undisturbed Temple sacrifices and to omit any mention of trouble, it was written during the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and teachings.
The statement that Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever is an attribution of deity; for to Hebrews, only God is unchanging throughout all eternity.
Therefore the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ is not a late accretion to the Christian faith; it was there from the very beginning. A few weeks ago I picked up a book in a bookstore that alleged that Jesus was a simple rabbi whom Paul had transformed into a god. Apparently the author has not examined the evidence that conflicts with his views.
Jesus’ body in the world today is doing the same things it did in Palestine in the first century.
If Jesus is the same today as he was in, say, AD 25, then several things stand to reason:
- His associations are the same.
- He still prefers to rescue sinful people and He still condemns the powerful who are merciless and heartless.
- His teachings are the same.
- He has not added or subtracted any doctrines, nor has He endorsed any new trends.
- His expectations are the same.
- What He said to the rich young ruler, to Nicodemus, to the woman at the well, and to the woman taken in adultery is pretty much what He says to you today. Matthew 25:31-46 means as much to Him today as it did then.
- His activities are the same.
- If you are part of the body of Christ, you should be doing the things that the body of Christ is recorded as doing. Jesus was not known for His reclusive piety. He did not live as an ascetic hermit in a cave on a hillside, preaching platitudes to those with the fortitude to visit Him.
In Acts 10:38, it says that Jesus went about doing good. And if you are a member of His body, what should you be doing right about now?