Where do you start with getting to know Jesus more? It might seem like the answer to that question would be straightforward: start with what is clear. If you begin with what is plain and comprehensible, then you could move from there toward the loftier truths about Him. Established firmly on the footholds of the humanity and historicity that are wrapped around His existence, we could then reach ever upward to understand the fullness of His identity. This methodology seems appealing and describes (in a very general way) the approach most frequently embraced by modern biblical scholarship. Even for conservative scholars, the agreed-upon contours of the historical Jesus become the staging ground for arguing for His preexistence or divinity. No matter how charming its first impression seems, this perspective actually proves to be extremely problematic. It does not take long for what is “historical” to go from being the floor to the ceiling.
“In such an ethos, the humanness of Jesus becomes not only an axiom but a limiting factor: we can assert nothing of Christ which we cannot assert of man. Not surprisingly, many theologians are finding it impossible to move from this starting-point to belief in the deity of Christ.” (D. Macleod)
The greatest deficiency in this methodology is that it is simply unbiblical. Nearly all of the writings of the New Testament open with explicit statements of the divine, miraculous character of Jesus. Far beyond John’s breathtaking prologue, all four of the gospels use the ministry of John the Baptist to clearly place Jesus in the position of Yahweh Himself coming to confront the nation of Israel. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost presents Jesus as the divine Lord exalted to the heights of the heavens alongside the Father. Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica were probably the earliest writings of the New Testament. Penned just over twenty years after the ascension, this introduction to the Pauline corpus offers an astonishing witness to the divinity of Jesus. The Man from Nazareth is included within the unique monotheistic identity of God and described as the One who will fulfill the long-awaited Day of Yahweh promised in the Old Testament. Similar observations – just as potent – could be made concerning the remainder of Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, Revelation, and other New Testament writings.
What can be learned from this? Apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the mind of man is hostile to God (Eph 4:16-17, Col 1:21). The Holy Spirit did not make room for rationalism in His pattern of inspiration. Our minds must be highly engaged in our reading of Scripture, but the journey toward depth in our knowledge of Jesus must begin with faith in what our minds cannot fully comprehend. With every step of progress on the path there should be an accompanying plea for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Belief in the divinity of Jesus becomes the inception of the search for Him rather than triumphant summit. Where do we start? We start at the top – with Jesus from above.