The title “Holy One of God” means that Jesus is infinitely and absolutely holy, fully and perfectly divine. He is transcendent and majestic. He came down from above to save sinners, yet He is set apart from sinners in that He is completely sinless, without any moral blemish, perfect in all of His ways. His being is holy. His character is holy. His mind is holy. His motives are holy. His words are holy. His actions are holy. His ways are holy. His judgments are holy. From the top of His head to the bottom of His feet, every inch, every ounce, the totality, the sum and the substance of the second person of the Godhead is equally holy with God the Father.
What is the holiness of God? First, it has to do with “apart-ness” or “other-ness.” The idea of holiness speaks to the profound difference between Him and us. Holiness encompasses His transcendent majesty, His august superiority. He is distinctly set apart from us. As one infinitely above us, He alone is worthy of our worship and our adoration. Moses asked: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11). This is the holiness that the demon recognized; he knew that Jesus is the high, lifted up, supreme being of heaven and earth.
Second, it speaks to His untainted purity, His sinless perfection. God is morally flawless, blameless in all of His ways. The prophet Isaiah stressed this aspect of His character through repeated use of a formal title for God, “the Holy One of Israel.” It has been well said that the book of Isaiah is divided into two halves, the first thirty-nine chapters and the last twenty-seven chapters. In the first thirty-nine chapters, this title is found twelve times in reference to God. In the last twenty-seven chapters, this title is found seventeen times. Twenty-nine times in the book of Isaiah, God is identified as “the Holy One of Israel.” Some examples include: “They have despised the Holy One of Israel” (1:4); “For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (12:6); and “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (41:14).
No doubt Isaiah’s use of this title flowed out of his encounter with the living God, recorded in Isaiah 6, when he went into the temple and saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and the seraphim surrounding the throne, crying out to one another day and night, “Holy, holy, holy,” declaring by their repetition that God is the holiest being, supreme in His holiness in the entire created order. Given that experience, it is no surprise that Isaiah so frequently identified God as the “the Holy One of Israel.” Franz Delitzsch, the great Old Testament commentator, writes that this title “forms an essential part of Isaiah’s prophetic signature.” In other words, this is the unique imprint of Isaiah, stamped on the pages of his book, identifying God as holy again and again.
When the demon in Mark 1 used a title that was very similar to Isaiah’s—”the Holy One of God”—he left no question as to the identification he was making. Let us think about the meaning of this title as applied to the Lord Jesus.
First, it is a title of deity. We have already seen how similar this title is to the title Isaiah assigned to God. In a similar way, God calls Himself “I AM WHO I AM” in Exodus 3:14, then Jesus takes that title to Himself and says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), and “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25, emphasis added in all references). He takes the divine title of the Old Testament for Himself to show that He is equal to God. Something similar is happening here, though in this case the title for Jesus is voiced by a demon.
The title “Holy One of God” is found in only one other place in the New Testament. When some of Jesus’ disciples decided to stop following Him, Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:66-67). Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69). With these words, Peter accurately identified their Master as God incarnate, for that is what this title signifies.
Second, it is a title of humble humanity. It acknowledges that the holy God, who is enthroned in the heavens, has come down to be among unholy men. It speaks of the fact that the transcendent, majestic, regal God of heaven has taken on human flesh, yet without sin. Jesus Himself said, “I have come down from heaven” (John 6:38). Jesus was holy God in human form.
Third, it is a title of sinless perfection. If He is God, even though He is a man, Jesus is infinitely pure. Scripture affirms this repeatedly: “In him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5); “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22); “him … who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Likewise, Jesus said: “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (John 14:30). The Lord was saying here: “There is no point of access that Satan has gained into My being. He has established no beachhead. There are no satanic strongholds in which he has hatched the poison of hell within Me.” He steadfastly resisted every temptation. Jesus could say to His enemies, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) because He had no sin.
At Calvary, all of our sins were laid on the sinless Lamb of God, and He gave to us His pure, sinless, perfect obedience to the law of God. This is the great exchange of Calvary: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus had to come as He did, born of a virgin, in order to be what He was, sinless and perfect, in order to do what He, the Holy One, did—die on the cross as the sinless Lamb of God, in order to become sin for us.
Through death, the Bible says, Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, the Devil (Heb. 2:14). He bound the strong man, plundered his house at the cross, and set the captives free (Matt. 12:29; Eph. 4:8). His victory shows that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Therefore, we ought to cry out, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
This excerpt is adapted from Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God.
Ligonier Ministries Blog