“Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Dec. 2001, 8
Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ
From a fireside address given at the University of Utah Special Events Center on 9 December 1979.
The Savior’s birth, ministry, atoning sacrifice, Resurrection, and promised coming all bear witness to His divinity.
There are fundamental truths about our Lord which we must believe if we are to consider ourselves truly His disciples. I also warn you about some of the heresies that are sponsored by those who would undermine His holy mission. If I have one desire for you, … it would be that you will be valiant in your testimony of Jesus Christ.
The First Mark of His Divinity Is His Divine Birth
The most fundamental doctrine of true Christianity is the divine birth of the child Jesus. It is a doctrine not comprehended by the world, misinterpreted by [many] Christian churches, and even misunderstood by some members of the true Church.
The paternity of Jesus Christ is one of the mysteries of godliness. It may only be comprehended by the spiritually minded. The Apostle Matthew recorded, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:18). Luke renders a more plain meaning to the divine conception. He quotes the angel Gabriel saying to Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [being] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35; emphasis added). Alma’s testimony, given fourscore years before the Savior’s birth, beautifully reconciles the testimonies of Matthew and Luke: “He shall be born of Mary, … she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10; emphasis added).
Some 600 years before Jesus was born, Nephi had a vision. He saw Mary and described her as “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.” He then saw her “carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time.” When she returned, she was “bearing a child in her arms, … even the Son of the Eternal Father” (1 Ne. 11:15, 19–21).
Thus the testimonies of appointed witnesses leave no question as to the paternity of Jesus Christ. God was the Father of His fleshly tabernacle, and Mary, a mortal woman, was His mother. He is therefore the only person born who rightfully deserves the title “the Only Begotten Son of God.”
We must keep in mind who Jesus was before He was born. He was the Creator of all things, the great Jehovah, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was and is the Holy One of Israel.
An angel of the Lord who appeared to Nephi used a word to describe the willingness of the Holy One of Israel to step down from His throne divine and make flesh His tabernacle. That word is condescension. It means to descend or come down from an exalted position to a place of inferior station. This our Savior did. In fact, He Himself has testified, “The Son of Man hath descended below [all things]” (D&C 122:8; see also D&C 88:6; emphasis added). [Here is] the testimony of King Benjamin concerning our Lord’s condescension: “The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:5; emphasis added).
When the Great God of the Universe condescended to be born of mortal woman, He submitted Himself to the infirmities of mortality, to “suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7). These infirmities He inherited from His mortal mother. But because His father was God, Jesus Christ had powers which no human had before or since. He was God in the flesh—even the Son of God. These powers enabled Him to accomplish miracles, signs, wonders, the great Atonement, and the Resurrection—all of which are additional marks of His divinity.
From the time of His heaven-heralded birth there have crept into the Church heresies which are intended to dilute or undermine the pure doctrines of the gospel. These heresies are, by and large, sponsored by the philosophies of man and in many instances are advocated by so-called Christian scholars. The attempt is to make Christianity more palatable, more reasonable, and so they attempt to humanize Jesus and give natural explanations to those things which are divine. An example is Jesus’ birth. There are those who would seek to convince us that the divine birth of Christ as proclaimed in the New Testament was not a divine birth at all—nor was Mary, the virgin girl, a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception. They would have you believe that Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, was His physical father, and that Jesus was therefore human in all His attributes and characteristics. They appear generous in their praise of Him when they say that He was a great moral philosopher, perhaps even the greatest. But the intent of their effort is to repudiate the divine sonship of Jesus, for on that doctrine rest all other claims of Christianity.
I am bold to say to you, … Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!
The Second Mark of the Divinity of Christ Is His Ministry
The entire ministry of the Master was characterized by His voluntary subordination to His Heavenly Father’s will. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). As the Messiah, He fully understood His atoning mission and the will of His Father. He testified:
“My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross … , that I might draw all men unto me. …
“… Therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Ne. 27:14–16).
He came to restore the fulness of a gospel which had been lost by apostasy. He came not to repeal Moses but to subordinate Mosaic law to the higher law of Christ. In order that His own people would know that He had authority to do so, He proclaimed His messiahship with words and metaphors which they could not mistake: “I am that bread of life” (John 6:48). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25). “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The hallmark of His ministry, as prophets before Him testified that it would be, was many mighty miracles—“healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases” (Mosiah 3:5). One of the greatest of these miracles was the raising of His friend Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus received word that His friend Lazarus was sick, He deliberately delayed coming to Bethany to minister to His friend. It was a custom among the Jews to bury their deceased on the same day they died. It was also a superstition among them that the spirit lingered around the body for three days, but on the fourth day it departed. Jesus was very familiar with their beliefs. He therefore delayed His arrival in Bethany until Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. In that way there would be no question about the miracle He was to perform.
On arrival outside of Bethany He was met by Martha, sister to Lazarus. She said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother Lazarus had not died.” Jesus said, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Not understanding, Martha replied, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Then Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (see John 11:21–26). Jesus was then taken to the place of burial, a cave with a stone in front of it. He commanded them to remove the stone, after which He offered up a prayer to His Father. He then cried in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). Here is the Apostle John’s record of what took place: “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin” (John 11:44).
That miracle was such irrefutable proof of the messiahship of Jesus that the Sanhedrin determined Jesus must die because, they said, He “doeth many miracles” which will cause the people to believe (see John 11:47). Sadly, however, John also recorded, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet [the people] believed not on him” (John 12:37).
Today there are unbelievers among us who would spread seeds of heresy that Jesus could not cast out evil spirits, did not walk on the water or heal the sick or miraculously feed 5,000 or calm storms or raise the dead. They would have you believe that such claims are fantastic or that there is a natural explanation for each alleged miracle. Some have gone so far as to publish psychological explanations for His reported miracles. … But I say, Jesus’ entire ministry was a mark of His divinity. He spoke as God, He acted as God, and performed works which only God Himself can do. His works bear testimony of His divinity.
A Third Mark of His Divinity Is His Great Atoning Sacrifice
Were it not for the power that Jesus inherited from His Father, His great Atonement would not have been possible. You are all familiar with the facts. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took three of the Twelve and went into the place called Gethsemane. It was there He suffered the pains of all men, which suffering, He said, “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18).
In spite of that excruciating ordeal, He took the cup and drank! He suffered as only God could suffer, bearing our griefs, carrying our sorrows, being wounded for our transgressions, voluntarily submitting Himself to the iniquity of us all, just as Isaiah prophesied (see Isa. 53:4–6). It was in Gethsemane where Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane where His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane where He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him. The mortal mind fails to fathom, the tongue cannot express, the pen of man cannot describe the breadth, the depth, or height of the suffering of our Lord—nor His infinite love for us.
Yet there are those who arrogantly declare the most pernicious heresy, that the blood which extruded from the physical body of our Lord on that night had no efficacy for the redemption of man. They would have you believe the only significance to Gethsemane was that Jesus made His decision there to go to the cross. They say that any suffering Jesus endured was only personal, not redemptive for the whole human race. I know of no heresy more destructive to faith than this, for the individual who so accepts this delusion is beguiled to believe that he can achieve exaltation on the basis of his own merit, intelligence, and personal effort. Never forget … that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23).
As I contemplate the glorious Atonement of our Lord which extended from Gethsemane to Golgotha, I am led to exclaim with reverence and gratitude:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died. …
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!
(“I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 193)
A Fourth Mark of His Divinity Is His Literal Resurrection
I have stood in reverent awe at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It is history’s most significant tomb—because it is empty!
In the third day following His burial, Jesus came forth. The empty tomb was a cause of consternation to His disciples and others in Jerusalem. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene. He approached her as she was weeping in the garden. “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Mary, who supposed it was the gardener speaking, said, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus then said, “Mary.” She now recognized His voice and exclaimed, “Rabboni,” or in other words, “Master” (John 20:15–17).
Of all the marks of Jesus’ divinity, none has greater support by the testimony of eyewitnesses than His literal, bodily Resurrection. Several women testified that they saw Him alive. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus dined with Him. Peter proclaimed himself an eyewitness to the Resurrection. There were many special appearances to the Twelve. In addition to these testimonies, over 500 saw Him at one time. And Paul certified that he saw the resurrected Lord. Since the day of Resurrection when Jesus became “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20), there have been those who disbelieve and scoff. They maintain there is no life beyond mortal existence. Some have even written books which contain their fanciful heresies to suggest how Jesus’ disciples perpetrated the hoax of His Resurrection. But I say, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest historical event in the world to date. In this dispensation, commencing with the Prophet Joseph Smith, the witnesses are legion. As one of those called as a special witness, I add my testimony to those of my fellow Apostles: He lives! He lives with a resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured, or know better by personal experience, than the truth of the literal Resurrection of our Lord.
The Fifth Mark of His Divinity Is His Promised Coming
He told the Twelve, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again” (John 14:2–3; emphasis added). As the time of His departure drew nigh, He took them to a place outside of Bethany. There He imparted His last instructions and blessing to the Twelve. He then arose “while they beheld” and ascended to heaven, “and a cloud received him out of their sight.” As the Apostles stood looking up, two heavenly messengers appeared and spoke: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9–11; emphasis added).
Since that day, 19 centuries have come and gone. Because He has not yet come, some scoffingly say, as Peter prophesied, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4).
Before He comes, the testimony of the servants of God will be rejected, by and large. Because of this rejection great calamities will befall the nations of the world, for the Lord Himself has declared:
“For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
“And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
“And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88:89–91).
“And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
“But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.
“And there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another” (D&C 45:31–33).
The world will present a scene of conflict such as has never been experienced before. Still, men’s hearts will be hardened to the revelations from heaven. Even greater signs shall then be given to manifest the approaching great day of the Lord. “And they shall see signs and wonders, for they shall be shown forth in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath.
“And they shall behold blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke.
“And before the day of the Lord shall come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood, and the stars fall from heaven” (D&C 45:40–42).
I realize this is not a pleasant picture. I take no delight in its portrayal, nor do I look forward to the day when calamities shall come upon mankind. But these words are not my own; the Lord has spoken them. Knowing what we know as His servants, can we hesitate to raise a warning voice to all who will listen that they may be prepared for the days ahead? Silence in the face of such calamity is sin! But there is a bright side to an otherwise gloomy picture—the coming of our Lord in all His glory. His coming will be both glorious and terrible, depending on the spiritual condition of those who remain.
His first appearance will be to the righteous Saints who have gathered to the New Jerusalem. In this place of refuge they will be safe from the wrath of the Lord, which will be poured out without measure on all nations. Modern revelation provides this description:
“And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
“And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
“And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another” (D&C 45:67–69).
The second appearance of the Lord will be to the Jews. To these beleaguered sons of Judah, surrounded by hostile Gentile armies, who again threaten to overrun Jerusalem, the Savior—their Messiah—will appear and set His feet on the Mount of Olives, “and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake” (D&C 45:48). The Lord Himself will then rout the Gentile armies, decimating their forces (see Ezek. 38–39). Judah will be spared, no longer to be the persecuted and scattered. The Jews will then approach their Deliverer and ask:
“What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? …
“… I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God.
“And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king” (D&C 45:51–53).
What a touching drama this will be! Jesus—Prophet, Messiah, King—will be welcomed in His own country! Jerusalem will become an eternal city of peace! The sons of Judah will then realize this promise: “The tribe of Judah, after their pain, shall be sanctified in holiness before the Lord, to dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever” (D&C 133:35).
The third appearance of Christ will be to the rest of the world. Here is His description of His coming:
“And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat.
“And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places” (D&C 133:48–49).
All nations will see Him “in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels. …
“And the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it; and the nations of the earth shall mourn, and they that have laughed shall see their folly.
“And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire” (D&C 45:44, 49–50).
Yes, come He will! He will come in a day of wickedness, a time when men and women will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38). He will come at a time of great upheaval and tribulation when “the whole earth shall be in commotion” (D&C 45:26). He will come at a time when the Jewish nation is faced with extermination. He will come as a thief in the night—when the world least expects Him to come. “But of that day, and hour, no one knoweth; no, not the angels of God in heaven, but my Father only” (JS—M 1:40).
I gratefully bear testimony of the marks which bear witness to His divinity: His divine birth, His ministry, His atoning sacrifice, His Resurrection, His promised coming. I testify of His great love and condescension for all our Father’s children and His willingness to receive all who will come to partake of this goodness and mercy. Yes, as the Book of Mormon testifies, “He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto [Him]” (2 Ne. 26:33). God bless you … to believe and to be valiant in your testimony of Him whom we declare to the world to be our Lord, our Master, our Savior, our Redeemer, our God.