Topical Scripture: Revelation 5
The Da Vinci Code is the most controversial book of this generation. Never before in American history has a bestselling book so defamed biblical Christianity. The movie version will only fan the flames.
It is crucial that you know the truth behind the fiction, for the sake of your own soul and spiritual health. And for the sake of those you know. The book and movie give us an unprecedented opportunity to talk to friends and neighbors about the controversy and the One at the heart of it all. But we have to know the truth before we can give it to those we care about.
We’ll start today with the central issue of the book and the controversy: the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Da Vinci Code Jesus
Dan Brown centers his plot in two so-called experts: a Harvard professor of religious symbols named Robert Langdon and an English historian named Leigh Teabing. Mr. Teabing makes especially astounding claims against Jesus:
“Until that moment in history [at the Council of Nicaea, AD 325], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233, emphasis his).
It was Emperor Constantine who made Jesus a divine figure, according to Teabing: “By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (p. 233). Making Christ divine “not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel–the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 233, emphasis his).
In conclusion, “It was all about power…Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power” (p. 233, emphasis his).
This position should not surprise us, according to Teabing. A character named Sophie asks, “And I assume devout Christians send you hate mail on a daily basis?” Teabing replies, “Why would they?…The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith. Jesus was indeed a great and powerful man. Constantine’s underhanded political maneuvers don’t diminish the majesty of Christ’s life. Nobody is saying that Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives. All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ’s substantial influence and importance. And in doing so, he shaped the face of Christianity as we know it today” (p. 234).
Here’s the summary: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (p. 235, emphasis his). I have never read a more devastating indictment of Christianity’s central affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Made in the guise of a supposedly reputable historian, claiming that “the vast majority of educated Christians” agree with him, it is easy to see why so many readers have been confused and misled.
Is there objective evidence for biblical Christianity and its affirmation of the divinity of Jesus Christ? Absolutely.
The historical Jesus
We can start with Scripture itself. God’s word contains the most astounding claim to divine authority ever uttered, when the resurrected Christ states: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). “All” authority–so that we have none. In “heaven” and on “earth,” the entire universe. He possesses all the divine authority there is.
But you’d expect the Bible to make that claim. The Koran claims that the Muslim Allah is the one God; the Book of Mormon presents the central truth claims of that religion. Is there evidence outside of Scripture that early Christians did not see Jesus as a “mortal prophet” but worshiped him as God? Is there non-biblical evidence that Mr. Brown is wrong and the Bible is right?
Consider Tacitus (AD 55-120), the greatest ancient Roman historian. In his Annals he writes (ca. AD 115): “Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition broke out” (Annals XV.44). “Superstition” makes clear the fact that the followers of Christus believed something miraculous, not simply that he was a great human teacher.
Pliny the Younger was a Roman administrator and governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; 2 volumes of his letters are extant today. The tenth of his correspondence books (written around AD 112) contains the earliest non-biblical description of Christian worship: “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Note that they worshiped Christ as God, not merely a religious teacher or leader. And they did so in AD 112, not AD 325 after Constantine.
And what of early non-biblical Christian records?
Clement of Rome (AD 95) repeatedly refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ.” He also promises a “future resurrection” on the basis of his “raising the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead” (24.1).
Ignatius (AD 110-15) refers to “Jesus Christ our God” (intro. to Ephesians). To the Smyrnaeans he writes, “I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has thus given you wisdom” (1.1).
And Justin the Martyr (AD 150) repeatedly refers to Jesus as the Son of God (cf. Apol. 22). He also describes the fact that God raised him from the dead and brought him to heaven (Apol. 45).
We could go on and on. Evidence that the first Christians believed Jesus to be divine is simply overwhelming. The early Christians were absolutely united in their common affirmation, Jesus is Lord.
Teabing claims that “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet” until “that moment in history” when Constantine and the Nicean Council declared him divine. But Teabing is simply wrong on the merits. The historical record conclusively proves otherwise. The “vast majority of educated Christians” know this to be the true story of our faith.
The heavenly Jesus
We’ve seen the Da Vinci Code Jesus and the historical Jesus. Let’s close with a glimpse at the heavenly Jesus, for he is the Jesus who will change your life today. Revelation 5 gives us the fullest picture in Scripture of Jesus as he is now. Every detail and dimension of John’s vision conveys something important about the nature and character of our Lord.
The chapter moves as a drama in three parts. Scene one: the Father holds an unbreakable seven-sealed scroll (vs. 1-4). We’ll discuss that scroll and its significance next week.
For our purposes, note that a “mighty angel” (perhaps Gabriel?) cannot break these seals (v. 2). “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth” could do so (v. 3). This description encompasses all of creation. So John “wept and wept” because no one could break these seals and reveal the scroll’s contents (v. 4); clearly this matter possessed great spiritual significance.
Scene two: the Lion/Lamb takes the scroll (vs. 5-7). Jesus is here described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” God’s word had predicted that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10) and the line of David (Isaiah 11:1).
“Horns” were symbolic of strength; this lamb has seven, strength to infinity. He is the omnipotent God. “Eyes” symbolized knowledge; seven of them shows him to be omniscient. His omniscience is tied to the “seven spirits of God,” better translated “the seven-fold Spirit of God.” The Spirit who sees all that is–who is watching your worship and reading your mind right now. He is worthy to take the scroll, the word of God.
Scene three: all of creation worships the Lion/Lamb (vs. 8-14). The same elders and creatures which had been praising the Father (Revelation 4) now turn their worship toward his Son (v. 8). Each one has a harp, symbolic of musical praise (from this verse we get most of our concept of angels playing harps in heaven).
They are holding golden bowls full of incense (a picture from Jewish Temple worship); but this incense is “the prayers of the saints,” showing that God hears and keeps our prayers before himself.
Hear their praise (vs. 8-10). Hear the praise of the numberless angels who join their worship (v. 12). Hear the praise of “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” (v. 13).
Not the “mortal prophet” of The Da Vinci Code, is he? A million men and women and children would not willingly die for a human religious leader, but that many in the Roman Empire chose to join the worship of this Jesus at the cost of their lives. And that was generations before Constantine “made Jesus divine.”
Will you join their worship today?
When last were you awed by Jesus? When last did you give him this kind of worship? You can attend church and miss Christ. Millions have, unfortunately.
I’ve toured the White House, but I don’t have a personal relationship with the president. I’ve seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but I’ve never met the queen. I used Microsoft Windows to type this sermon, but I’ve never spoken with Bill Gates. I love reading Tom Clancy novels, but I don’t know Tom Clancy.
Millions of Americans think that going to church makes them Christians, just as living in America makes us Americans. But it’s not true. Christians are people who worship Jesus with their lives, who have a life-changing personal relationship with him as their Lord. When last did you worship Jesus as heaven does today? When next will you?
A few years ago Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon Johnson, took her grandchildren on a tour of the Smithsonian. They came to that famous display of the First Wives in their inaugural gowns.
Mrs. Johnson was about to tell her grandchildren about her gown as it was modeled on her wax figure when a tourist said rudely, “Hey, lady, would you move out of the way? I’m trying to get a picture of Mrs. Johnson.” The real Mrs. Johnson politely stepped to the side so the man could take a picture of the wax figure. He snapped the photo and went happily on his way, never knowing that he missed the real person.
Have you met the real Jesus today?