Romans – The Gospel of God (Part 18)

SAMSUNG“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” 1 John 2:18

There is a supernatural being in the universe who is “anti” Christ. In fact, he is called the Antichrist. The people who follow the Antichrist and oppose Jesus Christ are called “antichrists.” The Greek word the Apostle John chose to use for “antichrists” is antichristoi. The word for “Antichrist” is antichristos. Both words have the idea of being “against Christ” and “instead of Christ”. The Antichrist is both “against” Christ and desirous to be “instead of” Christ.

What we know about Satan is that he is a “liar.” In fact, Jesus said that Satan is “a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Satan uses lies to oppose Christ and His Message of Truth. In fact, the devil and his followers deny that Jesus is the Christ.

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22

Another lie is that Christ did not come in the flesh.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” 1 John 4:2-3

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” 2 John 1:7

This deception, that Christ did not come in the flesh, has been a primary tool of Satan since the middle of the 1st Century. Defending the “humanity” of Christ is a battle the Church has waged for almost 2,000 years. We can learn a great deal about how to fight that battle by looking at how Christians who lived before us opposed this false doctrine.

The “antichrist” opposition to the humanity of Christ was strong during the 1st century and continued to grow in the years and centuries that followed. One of the earliest groups was known as “docetics” based on the Greek word dokein (“to seem”) and dókēsis (“phantom, apparition).

Docetism was an early heresy (1st Century AD) that taught the doctrine of Christ’s divinity without true humanity. Docetics believed that Jesus was God, but that His appearance on earth was an illusion (Jesus only “seemed” to be flesh). They believed that matter was inherently evil and God could not be associated with matter. Therefore, God could not become matter (Incarnation) and be born of a woman (Virgin Birth). Docetics taught that Jesus could not be touched by people (since He was just an apparition), could not eat food (since He was an illusion), could not suffer pain (since He was a phantom), could not die on the Cross and was therefore never raised from the dead since He never died.

This is so obviously opposed to the clear teaching of Christ’s Apostles that you might think the early Church easily dismissed it. However, Docetism was a problem for Christians for centuries. Even as Satan raises up his “antichrists” to spread lies about Christ, God raises up Christian apologists to oppose false teaching and tell the truth about Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch opposed Docetism at the end of the 1st Century and beginning of the 2nd Century. Here are portions from two of Ignatius’ letters addressing the humanity of Christ.

“All these things did he suffer for our sake, to the end that we might be saved. And he truly suffered, even as he truly raised himself up; not as certain unbelievers say, that he suffered in semblance, they themselves only existing in semblance; and even according to their opinions shall it happen unto them, since they are bodiless and of the nature of devils. For I also know and believe, that he exists in the flesh even after the resurrection. And when he came unto them who were with Peter he said unto them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not a spirit without a body; and straightway they touched him and believed, being convinced by his flesh and his spirit. On this account also they despised death, and were found superior to death. But after his resurrection, he ate and drank with them, as being in the flesh, though spiritually he was united to the Father.” The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, translated by Charles H. Poole, 1885

“Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him — His Father, I say, will raise us — in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not true life.” Ignatius to the Trallians, translated by Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891

Iranaeus was born in the early part of the 2nd Century and raised in a Christian family. He was a student of Polycarp of Smyrna who claimed to be a student of the Apostle John. Iraneaeus traveled to Gaul (France) and ministered there for many years. He wrote many books and became one of the great defenders of Christian doctrine. Here are portions of Iranaeus’ letters concerning the humanity of Christ.

“Now the Lord would not have recapitulated in Himself that ancient and primary enmity against the serpent, fulfilling the promise of the Creator (Demiurgi), and performing His command, if He had come from another Father. But as He is one and the same, who formed us at the beginning, and sent His Son at the end, the Lord did perform His command, being made of a woman, by both destroying our adversary, and perfecting man after the image and likeness of God. And for this reason He did not draw the means of confounding him from any other source than from the words of the law, and made use of the Father’s commandment as a help towards the destruction and confusion of the apostate angel. Fasting forty days, like Moses and Elias, He afterwards hungered, first, in order that we may perceive that He was a real and substantial man— for it belongs to a man to suffer hunger when fasting; and secondly, that His opponent might have an opportunity of attacking Him. For as at the beginning it was by means of food that [the enemy] persuaded man, although not suffering hunger, to transgress God’s commandments, so in the end he did not succeed in persuading Him that was an hungered to take that food which proceeded from God. For, when tempting Him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.  But the Lord repulsed him by the commandment of the law, saying, It is written, Man does not live by bread alone.  As to those words [of His enemy,] If you be the Son of God, [the Lord] made no remark; but by thus acknowledging His human nature He baffled His adversary, and exhausted the force of his first attack by means of His Father’s word. The corruption of man, therefore, which occurred in paradise by both [of our first parents] eating, was done away with by [the Lord’s] want of food in this world. But he, being thus vanquished by the law, endeavoured again to make an assault by himself quoting a commandment of the law. For, bringing Him to the highest pinnacle of the temple, he said to Him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down. For it is written, That God shall give His angels charge concerning you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest perchance you dash your foot against a stone; thus concealing a falsehood under the guise of Scripture, as is done by all the heretics. For that was indeed written, [namely], That He has given His angels charge concerning Him; but cast yourself down from hence no Scripture said in reference to Him: this kind of persuasion the devil produced from himself. The Lord therefore confuted him out of the law, when He said, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God; pointing out by the word contained in the law that which is the duty of man, that he should not tempt God; and in regard to Himself, since He appeared in human form, [declaring] that He would not tempt the Lord his God. The pride of reason, therefore, which was in the serpent, was put to nought by the humility found in the man [Christ], and now twice was the devil conquered from Scripture, when he was detected as advising things contrary to God’s commandment, and was shown to be the enemy of God by [the expression of] his thoughts. He then, having been thus signally defeated, and then, as it were, concentrating his forces, drawing up in order all his available power for falsehood, in the third place showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, saying, as Luke relates, All these will I give you—for they are delivered to me; and to whom I will, I give them—if you will fall down and worship me. The Lord then, exposing him in his true character, says, Depart, Satan; for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.  He both revealed him by this name, and showed [at the same time] who He Himself was. For the Hebrew word Satan signifies an apostate. And thus, vanquishing him for the third time, He spurned him from Him finally as being conquered out of the law; and there was done away with that infringement of God’s commandment which had occurred in Adam, by means of the precept of the law, which the Son of man observed, who did not transgress the commandment of God.” Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 21), Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut, 1885

Tertullian was another defender of the Doctrine of Christ’s Humanity from the latter part of the 2nd century to the early part of the 3rd century. You can read more about his position on this important teaching in his books On the Flesh of Christ and On the Resurrection of the Flesh.

The battle concerning the humanity of Christ raged for centuries. Churches were divided about Christ’s Nature and Substance (hypostasis). That battle opened the Christian Church to a variety of false doctrines, including:

Docetism – the belief that Jesus Christ was divine and whose human appearance was just an illusion

Apollinarianism – the belief that Jesus Christ’s divine nature was greater than and replaced the human nature and that the two natures of Christ could not coexist within one person

Monophysitism – the belief that Jesus Christ had only one nature, divine

Nestorianism – the belief that Jesus Christ was two persons in the sense that the human and divine are separate

Adoptionism – the belief that Jesus Christ was a man who lived a sinless life and was adopted by God at the baptism of John (also known as dynamic monarchianism)

Subordinationism – the belief that Jesus Christ is less than the Father in His essence and His attributes and that the Holy Spirit is less than Christ in His essence and attributes

Modalism – the belief that God is one Person in three modes (also known as Sabellianism)

Marcionism – the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of a good god who came to redeem humanity from the evil god of the Old Testament (Marcion proposed a New Testament canon that included only Luke’s Gospel and some of Paul’s letters)

Arianism – the belief that Jesus Christ was a created being, mutable and less than God

Anomeanism – the belief that Jesus Christ was “unlike” the Father

Monarchianism – the belief that God is only one Person, the Father, and the Son and Holy Spirit are different manifestations or aspects of the one God.

Kenosism – the belief that Jesus Christ gave up some of His divine attributes during His earthly ministry

Socianianism – the belief that Jesus Christ was a deified man and not part of the Trinity.

Tritheism – the belief that Jesus Christ was one of three separate gods

What’s important to notice here is that each of the heresies attacks  some or all of  the central truths of Christianity: (1) Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word of God, the great Creator of the universe, (2) Jesus Christ the Eternal Word of God became flesh through incarnation by conception through the power of the Holy Spirit and birth to a virgin mother, (3) the flesh of Jesus Christ was crucified unto death, (4) the flesh of Jesus Christ was raised from death, and (5) the resurrected flesh of Jesus Christ ascended back to Heaven where He sits on the Eternal Throne of God.

The successful attack on any one of these fundamental and critical truths of Christianity would do irreparable damage to the Faith as given to us by the Holy Spirit through the hands of the Apostles. Church leaders called multiple councils to deal with these heretical attacks on Christianity. The false doctrine of Docetism was addressed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD and led to this confession: *

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.” Chalcedonian Creed, 451 AD

The decisions made at the council did not end the teaching of false doctrines concerning the Nature and Substance of Jesus Christ. Satan has not changed the target or tactics of his attacks. The devil continues to divide the Church through false teachings concerning the Diety and Humanity of Jesus Christ. It is also his attempt to keep millions of lost people from hearing the truth about salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. ” Ephesians 6:11-12

* The “confessions” of Church councils through the centuries were written by fallible men who were not writing under the “inspiration” (theopneustos) of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, their decisions may also be fallible. The only infallible Writings about Christian doctrine are those of the Apostles canonized in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. They did write as “given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16), so it is vital that Christians obey the Writings of the New Testament and compare every other teaching to those “Scriptures.” Adopting the “confessions” of men against the clear teaching of the Holy Bible can lead to disobedience, division and disappointment at the least — heresy at the worst.

In Christ’s Love and Grace,

Mark McGee

GraceLife Ministries

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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One thought on “Romans – The Gospel of God (Part 18)

  1. Pingback: Romans – The Gospel of God (Part 19) | GraceLife Blog

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