Is Christianity guilty of the sins of Jeroboam?

by Luke Wayne
05/19/2020

In the books of 1 and 2 Kings, all the kings of the northern ten tribes never depart from a set of sins frequently called the "sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat." In the end, these sins lead to God's severe judgment through the Assyrian exile. The sins of Jeroboam consisted primarily of 1) replacing the true God with a golden calf which Jeroboam claimed was, in fact, the God which brought the people of Israel up out of Egypt, and 2) appointing priests outside of those whom God Himself had exclusively appointed for that role. These sins are obviously a very serious issue about which the author of 1 and 2 Kings is warning future generations. (You can read about this in more detail in our article: What are the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat?)

Yet, some critics have accused Christianity of being guilty of these very same sins. They claim, first of all, that the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Christ are like Jeroboam's golden calf, replacing Israel's God with a different god while claiming it to be the same deity. Secondly, they claim that Jesus cannot be a true high priest because He is not a descendant of Aaron, and thus we are also guilty of appointing a false priest like Jeroboam. A careful look, however, shows that both the Christian conception of God and the priesthood of Christ are thoroughly biblical and in no way deviations from what the God of Israel plainly revealed about Himself and about the Davidic Messiah.

Personal Plurality in One God

Critics will argue that the New Testament doctrine of the Trinity presents a picture of God entirely alien to the Hebrew Scriptures and thus represents a golden-calf-like substitute for the true God of Israel. The truth is, however, that the God of the Old Testament is presented with the same personal plurality in His nature as the God in the New Testament. The New Testament may more clearly reveal the persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but this is perfectly consistent with what God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament.

In the very first chapter of the Bible, we read:

" Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them," (Genesis 1:26-27).

God says "let Us make man in Our image," and the text is equally clear that "God created man in His own image." God says "let us make," and then He alone makes. God proposes to make man in Our image and then makes man in His, not in the image of Himself and someone else. God speaks and acts as more than one person here, yet it was one, singular God making man in His own, singular image. (see further discussion of this in our article HERE). Other similar verses display the same tendency (e.g., Genesis 3:2, 11:7, Isaiah 48:16, etc.) God speaks and identifies Himself as a personal plural while being equally clear that He is one God.

And this entails far more than just God's use of plural pronouns. Note, for example, passages like:

"'Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,' declares the LORD. 'Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you,'" (Zechariah 2:10-11).

It is the LORD who is speaking. The LORD says that He Himself will dwell in Israel's midst. Yet, He also says that the LORD sent Him. The LORD is both the sender and the one who is sent. It is God who sends God, and we are only talking about one God! Indeed, "the LORD" here is not merely a title, but rather the personal name YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah). I can't send me to go do something. You are not able to send you. But God can send God, because God's personal nature is not like ours! He is one God who exists in personal plurality! Through these and many other like passages, we see that the God of the Old Testament is perfectly consistent with the New Testament teaching of the Trinity. The Christian scriptures have not substituted a new and different God.

The Deity of the Messiah

Likewise, the Christian teaching that Jesus is the God of Israel incarnate in flesh does not replace God with an idol. Indeed, the prophets promised that the Messiah would, indeed, be God! To take one clear example, Isaiah said of the Messiah:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace," (Isaiah 9:6).

The promised one to come would be called "Mighty God." That "god" here is not meant in some lesser sense is made clear if we just keep reading. In the very next chapter, Isaiah says:

"Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God," (Isaiah 10:20-21).

The "mighty God" to whom the remnant of Israel will return is none other than "the LORD, the Holy One of Israel." Thus, when Isaiah says that the Messiah will the "mighty God," it is quite plain the Messiah will be the LORD, the one true God. Thus, while Jeroboam's golden calf was a sinful rebellion against what God had already said about making and worshiping images, the New Testament teaching that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh is a precise fulfillment of exactly what the prophets said would happen!

A Priest from the Tribe of Judah?

The New Testament is clear that Jesus, the Messiah, is both our king and our high priest. Yet, the law only permitted Levites to be priests, specifically the descendants of Aaron. Jesus, a descendant of David, was of the tribe of Judah. Thus, by God's commands in the Mosaic law, it seems as though Jesus could not be a priest. And as we have noted, it is a great sin to declare someone a priest whom God has not appointed. This was one of Jeroboam's sins that brought condemnation on Israel. The New Testament authors were actually quite sensitive to this apparent issue. Hebrews 7 addresses it directly, noting:

"For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests," (Hebrews 7:14).

Yet, the Book of Hebrews points out that God also promises that the Messiah will be a priest, noting, for example, God's prophetic oath to the Messiah:

"The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek,'" (Psalm 110:7).

Thus, God Himself actually appointed the Messiah priest just as He appointed the sons of Aaron priests. Indeed, Hebrews goes on to show that the Messiah's is a better priesthood:

"for they [i.e., the levitical pirests] indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, 'The Lord has sworn And will not change His mind, "You are a priest forever"'); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently," (Hebrews 7:21-24).

Thus, Jesus' priesthood is not like the sinful priests of Jeroboam. Jesus was not an unauthorized priest usurping a role God had given to another in defiance of God's commands. Jesus, as the Messiah, was appointed by God as a priest, not under the Mosaic law, but in the same manner that Melchizedek, king of Salem, is said to have been "a priest of God Most High." God swore an oath that the Messiah would not only be a priest, but would remain a priest forever! Thus, again, Christians regard Jesus as high priest in accordance with what the Hebrew Bible itself said would be so.

So, no, Christianity is not guilty of the sins of Jeroboam.