How Do Pentecostals View Jesus?

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from 40 Questions About Pentecostalism
by Jonathan Black

There is nothing more central to the Pentecostal faith than Jesus Christ. He is “the substance of the Bible,” “the sum of our redemption,” and “at the centre of everything.”[1] For Pentecostals around the world, “the sweetest and most precious name is the name of Jesus.”[2] Back in the 1930s, when Norwegian Pentecostals opened a brand-new building for their central assembly in Oslo, they wanted to make that very clear:

There is a name which is at the center of our divine service, and that name, seen in large letters on the front of the platform, is—JESUS. Everything centers around this one point—this holy name of JESUS. Our preaching is centered around this name. Many are of the opinion that we Pentecostal people are always in a state of ecstasy, because we, like the first Christians, speak in tongues and believe in miracles. But the main points of our doctrine, our speaking in tongues and interpretation, our prophesying, our song and music, our meetings, all are centered around Jesus.[3]

Jesus, not the baptism or gifts of the Spirit, is at the center of Pentecostalism. Even the way Pentecostals speak about the “foursquare gospel” points back to the centrality of Christ, for Pentecostals do not simply believe in salvation, healing, the baptism in the Spirit, and the second coming; they believe in Jesus the Savior, Jesus the healer, Jesus the baptizer in the Spirit, and Jesus the soon-coming King. The gospel is not merely good news about blessings Jesus provides; the gospel is the good news of Jesus himself.

God in the Flesh

Jesus is God the Son, “co-existent and co-eternal with the Father.”[4] He is “not a secondary deity, a god, or a being like God, but God himself, of the very same essence as the Father.”[5] Through him and for him all things were created (John 1:3; Col. 1:16) and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). In ancient times, he was seen by Abraham and Isaiah (John 8:56; 12:41), and it was he who delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt (1 Cor. 10:1–2; Jude 5). Yet, in the fullness of time, he came into the world to be “born of woman” in order to redeem us and bring us into the family of God (Gal. 4:4–5). For us, and for our salvation, “he was willing to leave the glory that he had with the Father before the world was, and to be ‘born of the Virgin Mary.’”[6] In “the condescension of the Almighty in the incarnation: not the poverty of the manger, but the advent into the human race,” he humbled himself in a way far beyond our “power to describe,” as he came “to partake of human weakness, always to be the son of man, always the kinsman redeemer of a fallen and lost race.”[7] Christianity is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, for, as one early Hong Kong Pentecostal publication put it, “the incarnation . . . grants the fountain of life.”[8] Pentecostals are very clear: “Doubt the incarnation, then you doubt Christianity.”[9]

The articles of faith of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church set out with detail what the incarnation entails: “We believe that the Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the manhood were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and perfect man.”[10]

Notice a few significant details here. First, the eternal Son took on human nature. The one person of Jesus Christ is the person of God the Son; he is the same Son before and after the incarnation. Second, the one person of the incarnate Son exists in “two whole and perfect natures.” Therefore, Christ is not part God and part man. Nor is there anything insufficient in either his deity or his humanity. (They are whole and perfect.) He is also not a mixture between a divine nature and a human nature (which would be neither whole and perfect man nor whole and perfect God). Rather, he is “very . . . God” (i.e., “of one substance with the Father”) and “perfect man” (i.e., of the same nature as us, except that, unlike us, his humanity is not fallen and sinful). Third, these two natures in one Person are “joined . . . never to be divided.” Thus, Jesus is not sometimes acting as God, and sometimes acting as man; every act of Christ is an act of the one incarnate person. Furthermore, Jesus will never cast off our nature. He has united humanity to himself forever. Neither nature can be abandoned; neither nature can be laid aside.

He Humbled Himself

In recent years, a controversial teaching about the incarnation of Jesus has had an impact in some charismatic and Pentecostal circles. Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, and an influential charismatic speaker and writer, has taught that Jesus “laid His divinity aside as He sought to fulfil the assignment given to Him by the Father.”[11] For Johnson, this means that Christ “had no supernatural capabilities whatsoever! While He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He was redeemed. . . . He performed miracles, wonders, and signs as a man in right relationship to God . . . not as God.”[12] This view of Christ’s self-emptying (Phil. 2:7) is neither orthodox nor a standard Pentecostal position. Rather, orthodox Pentecostals have always warned, any claim that Jesus laid aside his deity “would mean the destruction of the whole fabric of Christianity.”[13]

Most early Pentecostals understood the self-emptying of Christ in Philippians 2:7 not as a giving up of divine attributes, but in terms of the Lord of Glory humbling himself to “serve [his]inferior.”[14] An early Pentecostal Bible college principal clarified that “the phrases that follow, ‘the form of a servant’ and ‘likeness of man,’ must be considered as explaining its meaning. It does not mean that the Lord emptied himself of his Deity or Godhood.”[15] Mary Boddy reflected on this in Sunderland, seeing Christ’s self-emptying in terms of the substitutionary nature of his life and work in taking on our sin and being “numbered with the transgressors.”[16] An early American Pentecostal, Gustav Sigwalt, explained it by writing that Christ “humbled Himself down to us, identifying Himself with us in our low estate.”[17] British Pentecostals wrote of this as a “veiling [of]His inherent glory.”[18] The early British Assemblies of God leader L. F. W. Woodford was very clear that “by the mystery of the Incarnation He did not surrender any of the perfections of His Divine nature and character.”[19]

Contemporary Pentecostals still agree: “Jesus emptied himself by his assuming the nature of a servant. . . . Jesus, the second [person]of the Trinity does not lay aside his deity. God cannot divorce himself from his very nature.”[20] In France, André Thomas-Brès is emphatic that to suppress either the divinity or the humanity of the person of Christ “is to reject the teaching of the Word of God.” While some of Christ’s divine attributes were “veiled” during much of his ministry on earth, he nevertheless still shared “equally all the attributes” that belong to the Father “throughout the whole of his earthly ministry,” and furthermore, these attributes were “manifested in the course of his ministry.”[21] These Pentecostal voices hold fast to orthodox Christology. It is very clear that Jesus could not have laid aside his deity.

As Johnson sees a laying aside of divinity in Christ’s incarnation, he accounts for Christ’s divine works in his earthly ministry with an anointing of the Holy Spirit in a way that suggests Christ is a model of living under such an anointing for Christians to emulate. “The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine, enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil. . . . If the Son of God was that reliant upon the anointing, His behavior should clarify our need for the Holy Spirit’s presence upon us to do what the Father has assigned.”[22] In this, Jesus is portrayed as the perfect example for us to follow in our attempts to climb up to God, rather than as God himself who has stooped down and entered into our humanity to rescue us from our death in sin and trespasses.[23]


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[1] W. R. Thomas, L’Emmanuele (Naples: Edizioni Ricchezze di Grazia, 1965), 7, 92, 97.

[2] Thomas, L’Emmanuele, 102.

[3] William S. Johnson, Opening of the Filadelfia Temple (speech), Oslo, 1938, quoted in Stanley H. Frodsham, With Signs Following: The Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century, rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1941), 72.

[4] FDF, 2.

[5] Noel Brooke, “The Eternal Deity of Christ,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (January 31, 1970): 14.

[6] Alexander Boddy, “Christ in His Holy Land,” Confidence 2, no. 10 (October 1909): 238.

[7] “Latter Rain Blessings,” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 3, no. 55 (February 1, 1910): 4.

[8] “Truth: Burning Heart,” trans. Connie Au, Pentecostal Truths 3, nos. 7–8 (July–August 1910): 1.

[9] “The Birth of Christ and Its Message to Us,” The Pentecostal Evangel (December 20, 1924): 4.

[10] IPHC, “Articles of Faith,” 2.

[11] Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2003), 79.

[12] Johnson, When Heaven Invades, 29.

[13] “Fundamental Truths,” The Apostolic Church: Its Principles and Practices (Penygroes: Apostolic Church, 1937), 191.

[14] D. W. Kerr, “The Mind of Christ,” Pentecostal Evangel (January 17, 1925): 2.

[15] A. L. Greenway, Philippians: Analytical Bible Study Course (Manchester: Puritan Press, n.d.), 2:18.

[16] Mary Boddy, “The New Creation 3,” Confidence 3, no. 2 (February 1910): 38.

[17] Gustav Sigwalt, “Humility,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 1, no. 10 (July 5, 1917): 3.

[18] E. C. W. Boulton, “Editorial,” Elim Evangel 5, no. 9 (September 1924): 189; cf. E. C. W. Boulton, “The Incarnation,” Elim Evangel 6, no. 24 (December 15, 1925): 285; John H. Carter, “Studies on the Fundamental Truths 2,” Redemption Tidings 2, no. 2 (February 1926): 11; D. P. Williams, The Trinity (Penygroes: Apostolic Church, n.d.), 2:24.

[19] L. F. W. Woodford, “Studies on the Person and Work of Christ 7: His Perfect Life,” Redemption Tidings 15, no. 15 (July 14, 1939): 2.

[20] David Demchuk, “Philippians,” in Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament, ed. French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstad (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 1103.

[21] André Brès-Thomas, La Foi Donné aux Saints Une Fois Pour Toutes (Grézieu le Varenne: Viens et Vois, 2016), 85–86, 88.

[22] Johnson, When Heaven Invades, 79–80.

[23] There are striking parallels here with the connections between Nestorianism and Pelagianism. Johnson’s Christology is not Nestorian, although it does display some Nestorian tendencies.

This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Pentecostalism by Jonathan Black. This title is set to be released on June 18, 2024. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

How to understand the beliefs and practices of Pentecostalism

At just over a century old, the Pentecostal Movement accounts for over 500 million believers worldwide and continues to grow. Still, confusion abounds over what Pentecostals believe and teach about the Holy Spirit, worship, salvation, healing, and much more.

In 40 Questions About Pentecostalism, Jonathan Black provides an accessible overview of the historical, theological, biblical, and experiential factors that make Pentecostalism a vibrant and worldwide Christian movement. He answers questions such as these:

    • How did Pentecostalism begin?
    • How are Charismatics different from Pentecostals?
    • Do Pentecostals affirm the prosperity gospel?
    • What is the Pentecostal doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?
    • What do Pentecostals believe about healing?
    • What ministries has Christ placed in his church according to Pentecostal theology?
    • What is “speaking in tongues”?

As with all the 40 Questions books, the question-and answer format offers readers targeted guidance on the questions that matter most to them, and controversial issues are addressed with robust scholarship and in a spirit of grace.


About Author

Jonathan Black (PhD, University of Chester) is a minister in the Apostolic Church and formerly taught theology at Continental Theological Seminary (Belgium) and Regents Theological College (UK). He also served as codirector of the Institute for Pentecostal Theology. His previous books include Apostolic Theology and The Lord's Supper.

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