By Tim Sullivan


The Gospel of Mark recalls a fascinating encounter between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus asked, “Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” (Mk. 8:27-28).

Almost 2000 years have passed since Jesus posed this question, yet the church still cannot agree on the correct response. Christians – whose very name designates them as followers of Jesus – are hopelessly divided over the nature of their leader. There is no issue that sends Christians scurrying into their isolated camps more than the issue of the identity of Jesus. But how can one pledge allegiance to a leader he cannot identify? Could there be a more important issue to a Christian than to know who Christ is?

Not long ago, the Holy Spirit confronted me with this question, stated somewhat differently. Could Jesus have failed in his mission? I realized my response would reveal my true opinion of Christ. To be honest, my immediate answer was, “Yes, Jesus could have failed, just like Adam.” But this answer troubled my spirit, and I knew God wanted to lead me to a higher understanding. Now I believe differently, and I want to show you why Jesus could not have failed, and why this revelation is so important to our faith.


Romans 11:33 says, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” The word of the Lord in Isaiah 55:9 agrees with this testimony, declaring, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In depth and height, God’s wisdom lies beyond our reach. He cannot show himself to us as he is, for as he told Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). God dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Furthermore, we have nothing in our frame of reference with which to favorably compare him. As Isaiah 40:18 asks, “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”

As sinful creatures living in a sinful world, we have no idea what purity is. But we do know what freshly-fallen snow looks like; therefore we understand when God says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). The lesser makes known the greater.

God condescends to make himself known to us in terms we can recognize from the world around us. That is why he speaks to us from behind a human mask. In literary terms, he uses “personification” – the application of human qualities to something that is not human.

God is not physical; he is Spirit (Jn. 4:24). He does not have eyes as you and I; he has no pupils, no retina, no iris. Still, “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth” (2 Chron. 16:9). This is personification. He has no arms or hands, but Psalm 98:1 says, “his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” He has no body with which to sit, but Psalm 47:8 says, “God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.” He has no physical attributes that make him male or a father in the way that you and I understand gender. Nevertheless, in order to make himself knowable, God expresses himself in terms that human beings – even in their simplicity and idiocy – can grasp. He laughs; he stands; he bares his right arm. None of these things are literally true; they are figuratively true. In the Old Testament, God expressed himself figuratively as a human being. With the birth of Jesus, the personification became literal.


John 1:1-2, 14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

In the Bible, God tells his story using many voices. Remarkably, the Word of God is not limited to the words that God speaks to man. We also read the words of people holy and unholy. Even the words of Satan are part of the Holy Scriptures.

In Exodus 20:2-3 we read, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Clearly, this is the voice of God, speaking to his creation. But in Psalm 119:11 we read, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Here the creature speaks to his Creator. Both passages of scripture are equally divine, “given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), purified “as silver tried in a furnace of earth” (Ps. 12:6). How remarkable this is!

Jesus, the Word made flesh, embodies both perspectives at the same time. He is God speaking to man, and man speaking to God. Whenever Jesus spoke, it was the Word speaking. Jesus was not a man speaking the Word. He was the Word speaking through a man.

Jesus said, “God is a Spirit” (Jn. 4:24). This has been a stumblingblock to people since the day Jesus was born. People reason that Jesus cannot be God because God is Spirit, and Jesus came in the flesh. But Jesus also said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). If the same reasoning is applied, the Bible cannot be the Word of God, because Jesus’ words were spirit and the Bible is in print!

The Word of God has been made manifest both in writing and in the flesh. Holy Scripture is the Word of God expressed in writing. Jesus is the Word of God expressed in the flesh. He is “the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). He is God “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus is the figurative expression of God made literal.

John 1:18:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.


The Gospel of Luke records the triumphant message of the angel to the “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8).

Luke 2:10-11:
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Who was born that day? Not a man auditioning for the job of Saviour. Not a man who would try his best to save us by always choosing to say and do the right thing at the right time. No, on that glorious day, our Saviour was born. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” As Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” God sent his Word when he sent his Son.

John 3:17:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.


Some people have suggested that God sent Jesus to avenge Satan’s defeat of Adam in the Garden of Eden. According to this reasoning, Jesus had to have the same potential for failure as did Adam. This argument is invalidated by the fact that it was Eve, not Adam, who was tempted by Satan. There is no evidence that the serpent ever spoke to Adam. Why then is Jesus called “the last Adam”?

1 Corinthians 15:45:
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

Jesus is the “last Adam” because like Adam, he heralded a new generation. Speaking of Adam, Acts 17:26 says, God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” By his sinful blood, Adam gave death as an inheritance to all generations that followed him. By his sinless blood, Jesus has given everlasting life as an inheritance to all that believe. His generation is “the generation of the righteous” (Psa. 14:5); the “generation of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 1:1).


Matthew 4:1 reads, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” In the past, whenever I read this passage of scripture, I only saw a man being tested. Then my eyes were opened and I saw beyond the superficial reality. This was not a man being tested. This was the Word being tested. That is why Jesus answered every challenge with “It is written.”

Luke 4:3-4:
And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

The devil tried to make it personal. “If thou be the Son of God,” he said. The devil always tries to make it a personal battle between you and him. That is because he wants you to try to oppose him in your own strength, for then you will most certainly fail. Make your stand on the Word, for “the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40:8).

Psalm 18:30 says, “the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.” The Word of the Lord has been tested. It has been tried and proven in every situation and circumstance. Jesus, the Word made flesh, was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He could not be broken, because, as he himself said, “the scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). His Word will not, indeed it cannot, fail you!

Has there ever been one to whom this verse of Scripture more applied?

1 John 3:9:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Yes, Jesus was tempted. He was tested. But he did not sin because he could not sin. As the Scripture says, “He cannot sin, because he is born of God.” This puts Jesus in a different category than you and me. You and I are not born of God. We are born again of God. We are sinless in spirit, but not in flesh and blood. Jesus was sinless through and through.

In the story of David and Bath-sheba, the king stood upon his rooftop “and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 Sam. 11:2). Soon he was looking upon her from a much closer vantage point. But in the eyes of God, the sin had already been committed. Do you remember what Jesus said?

Matthew 5:27-28:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

You and I think that we’ve done a good thing when we only consider doing evil, but do not go through with it. We count it a victory when we cast down our evil imaginations, and bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5:
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

Jesus, on the other hand, never even considered doing the wrong thing! The obedience of Christ was perfect. That is why he is the standard of obedience. As he said in John 6:38, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Jesus did not even think of refusing his Father’s will. The closest he came was when three times he expressed a desire for a different way to accomplish our salvation.

Matthew 26:39, 42, 44:
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

My God! Can you not see the heart of the Father pouring out through his Son? Can you not see God’s heart breaking, as he looked high and low for any other way to secure our salvation rather than watch his only-begotten Son mocked, tortured and crucified by the enemy of righteousness? If there ever was a time when God anguished over his own plan of salvation, when he required all of his power to restrain himself from interfering with the necessary sequence of events, this was it.


The Word of God cannot fail. That is the testimony of God himself.

Isaiah 55:11:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

1 Kings 8:56:
Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.

If Jesus could fail, he was not who he said he was. But Jesus was the Word made flesh. He could not fail because the Word cannot fail.

In the end, what other people say about Jesus will not affect your life. It is your answer to the question “whom say ye that I am?” that makes the difference in your life. You will never commit your way to the Lord until you trust in him, and you will never trust in him until you realize that, as the song says, “God can do anything but fail.”

Psalm 37:5-6:
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.



From the March 2007 issue of The Vine & Branches