A body of beliefs about God, man, Christ, the church, and other related concepts considered authoritative and thus worthy of acceptance by all members of the community of faith.
The human-divine Son of God born of the Virgin Mary; the great High Priest who intercedes for His people at the right hand of God founder of the Christian church and central figure of the human race.
To understand who Jesus was and what He accomplished, students of the New Testament must study:
(1) His life,
(2) His teachings,
(3) His person, and
(4) His work.
The Life of Jesus. The twofold designation Jesus Christ combines the personal name Jesus and the title Christ, meaning "anointed" or "Messiah." The significance of this title became clear during the scope of His life and ministry.
Birth and upbringing - Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town about ten kilometers (six miles) south of Jerusalem, toward the end of Herod the Great's reign as king of the Jews (37 BC - 4 BC). Early in His life He was taken to
Nazareth, a town of Galilee. There He was brought up by His mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph, a carpenter by trade. Hence He was known as "Jesus of Nazareth" or, more fully, "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John ).
Jesus was His mother's firstborn child; he had four brothers (James, Joses, Judas, and Simon) and an unspecified number of sisters (Mark 6:3). Joseph apparently died before Jesus began His public ministry. Mary, with the rest of the family, lived on and became a member of the church of Jerusalem after Jesus' death and resurrection.
The only incident preserved from Jesus' first 30 years (after his infancy) was His trip to
Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary when He was 12 years old (Luke -52). Since He was known in Nazareth as "the carpenter" (Mark 6:3), He may have taken Joseph's place as the family breadwinner at an early age.
village of Nazareth overlooked the main highway linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. News of the world outside Galilee probably reached Nazareth quickly. During His boyhood Jesus probably heard of the revolt led by Judas the Galilean against the Roman authorities. This happened when Judea, to the south, became a Roman province inA.D. 6 and its inhabitants had to pay tribute to Caesar. Jews probably heard also of the severity with which the revolt was crushed.
Galilee, the province in which Jesus lived, was ruled by Herod Antipas, youngest son of Herod the Great. So the area where He lived was not directly involved in this revolt. But the sympathies of many Galileans were probably stirred. No doubt the boys of Nazareth discussed this issue, which they heard their elders debating. There is no indication of what Jesus thought about this event at the time. But we do know what he said about it in Jerusalem 24 years later (Mark -17).
Sepphoris, about six kilometers (four miles) northwest of
Nazareth, had been the center of an anti-Roman revolt during Jesus' infancy. The village was destroyed by the Romans, but it was soon rebuilt by Herod Antipas. Antipas lived there as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea until he founded a new capital for his principality at Tiberias, on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee ( A.D. 22). Reports of happenings at his court, while he lived in Sepphoris, were probably carried to Nazareth. A royal court formed the setting for several of Jesus' parables.
Israel's history could be seen from the rising ground above Nazareth. To the south stretched the Valley of Jezreel, where great battles had been fought in earlier days. Beyond the Valley of Jezreel was MountGilboa, where King Saul fell in battle with the Philistines. To the east MountTabor rose to 562 meters (1,843 feet), the highest elevation in that part of the country. A growing boy would readily find his mind moving back and forth between the stirring events of former days and the realities of the contemporary situation: the allpervasive presence of the Romans.
Beginnings of Jesus' ministry - Jesus began His public ministry when He sought baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. John preached between A.D.27 and 28 in the lower
JordanValley and baptized those who wished to give expression to their repentance (Matt -17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). The descent of the dove as Jesus came up out of the water was a sign that He was the One anointed by the Spirit of God as the Servant-Messiah of His people (Isa 11:2; 42:1; 61:1).
A voice from heaven declared, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased" (Luke ). This indicated that He was Israel's anointed King, destined to fulfill His kingship as the Servant of the Lord described centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 42:1; 52:13).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus' baptism is followed immediately by His temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark
-13; Luke 4:1-13). This testing confirmed His understanding of the heavenly voice and His acceptance of the path which it marked out for Him. He refused to use His power as God's Son to fulfill His personal desires, to amaze the people, or to dominate the world by political and military force.
Apparently, Jesus ministered for a short time in southern and central
Palestine, while John the Baptist was still preaching (John ). But the main phase of Jesus' ministry began in Galilee after John's imprisonment by Herod Antipas. This was the signal, according to Mark 1:14-15, for Jesus to proclaim God's Good News in Galilee: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." What is the character of this kingdom? How was it to be established?
A popular view was that the
kingdom of God meant throwing off the oppressive yoke of Rome and establishing an independent state of Israel. JUDAS MACCABAEUS and his brothers and followers had won independence for the Jewish people in thesecond century B.C. by guerrilla warfare and diplomatic skill. Many of the Jewish people believed that with God's help, the same thing could happen again. Other efforts had failed, but the spirit of revolt remained. If Jesus had consented to become the military leader, which the people wanted, many would gladly have followed Him. But in spite of His temptation, Jesus resisted taking this path.
Jesus' proclamation of the
kingdom of God was accompanied by works of mercy and power, including the healing of the sick, particularly those who were demon-possessed. These works also proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God. The demons that caused such distress to men and women were signs of the kingdom of Satan. When they were cast out, this proved the superior strength of the kingdom of God.
For a time, Jesus' healing aroused great popular enthusiasm throughout
Galilee. But the religious leaders and teachers found much of Jesus' activity disturbing. He refused to be bound by their religious ideas. He befriended social outcasts. He insisted on understanding and applying the law of God in the light of its original intention, not according to the popular interpretation of the religious establishment. He insisted on healing sick people on the Sabbath day. He believed that healing people did not profane the Sabbath but honored it, because it was established by God for the rest and relief of human beings (Luke 6:6-11).
This attitude brought Jesus into conflict with the scribes, the official teachers of the law. Because of their influence, He was soon barred from preaching in the synagogues. But this was no great inconvenience. He simply gathered larger congregations to listen to Him on the hillside or by the lakeshore. He regularly illustrated the main themes of His preaching by parables. These were simple stories from daily life which would drive home some special point and make it stick in the hearer's understanding.
The mission of the Twelve and its sequel - From among the large number of His followers, Jesus selected 12 men to remain in His company for training that would enable them to share His preaching and healing ministry. When He judged the time to be ripe, Jesus sent them out two by two to proclaim the
kingdom of God throughout the Jewish districts of Galilee. In many places, they found an enthusiastic hearing.
Probably some who heard these disciples misunderstood the nature of the kingdom they proclaimed. Perhaps the disciples themselves used language that could be interpreted as stirring political unrest. News of their activity reached Herod Antipas, ruler of
Galilee, arousing His suspicion. He had recently murdered John the Baptist. Now he began to wonder if he faced another serious problem in Jesus.
On the return of His 12 apostles, they withdrew under Jesus' leadership from the publicity that surrounded them in Galilee to the quieter territory east of the Lake of Galilee. This territory was ruled by Antipas' brother Philip-"Philip the tetrarch"-who had only a few Jews among his subjects. Philip was not as likely to be troubled by Messianic excitement.
But even here Jesus and His disciples found themselves pursued by enthusiastic crowds from
Galilee. He recognized them for what they were, "sheep without a shepherd," aimless people who were in danger of being led to disaster under the wrong kind of leadership.
Jesus gave these people further teaching, feeding them also with loaves and fishes. But this only stimulated them to try to compel Him to be the king for whom they were looking. He would not be the kind of king they wanted, and they had no use for the only kind of king He was prepared to be. From then on, His popularity in
Galilee began to decline. Many of His disciples no longer followed Him.
He took the Twelve further north, into Gentile territory. Here He gave them special training to prepare them for the crisis they would have to meet shortly in Jerusalem. He knew the time was approaching when He would present His challenging message to the people of the capital and to the Jewish leaders.
At the city of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus decided the time was ripe to encourage the Twelve to state their convictions about His identity and His mission. When Peter declared that He was the Messiah, this showed that He and the other apostles had given up most of the traditional ideas about the kind of person the Messiah would be. But the thought that Jesus would have to suffer and die was something they could not accept. Jesus recognized that He could now make a beginning with the creation of a new community. In this new community of God's people, the ideals of the kingdom He proclaimed would be realized.
These ideals which Jesus taught were more revolutionary in many ways than the insurgent spirit that survived the overthrow of Judas the Galilean. The Jewish rebels against the rule of
Rome developed into a party known as the Zealots. They had no better policy than to counter force with force, which, in Jesus' view, was like invoking Satan to drive out Satan. The way of nonresistance which He urged upon the people seemed impractical. But it eventually proved to be more effective against the might of Rome than armed rebellion.
: the last phase - At the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall ofA.D. 29, Jesus went to Jerusalem with the Twelve. He apparently spent the next six months in the southern part of Palestine. Jerusalem, like Galilee, needed to hear the message of the kingdom. But Jerusalem was more resistant to it even than Galilee. The spirit of revolt was in the air; Jesus' way of peace was not accepted. This is why He wept over the city. He realized the way which so many of its citizens preferred was bound to lead to their destruction. Even the magnificent Temple, so recently rebuilt by Herod the Great, would be involved in the general overthrow.
During the week before Passover inA.D. 30, Jesus taught each day in the
Temple area, debating with other teachers of differing beliefs. He was invited to state His opinion on a number of issues, including the question of paying taxes to the Roman Emperor. This was a test question with the Zealots. In their eyes, to acknowledge the rule of a pagan king was high treason against God, Israel's true King.
Jesus replied that the coinage in which these taxes had to be paid belonged to the Roman emperor because his face and name were stamped on it. Let the emperor have what so obviously belonged to him, Jesus declared; it was more important to make sure that God received what was due Him.
This answer disappointed those patriots who followed the Zealot line. Neither did it make Jesus popular with the priestly authorities. They were terrified by the rebellious spirit in the land. Their favored position depended on maintaining good relations with the ruling Romans. If revolt broke out, the Romans would hold them responsible for not keeping the people under control. They were afraid that Jesus might provoke an outburst that would bring the heavy hand of Rome upon the city.
The enthusiasm of the people when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey alarmed the religious leaders. So did his show of authority when he cleared the Temple of traders and moneychangers. This was a "prophetic action" in the tradition of the great prophets of Israel. Its message to the priestly establishment came through loud and clear. The prophets' vision of the Temple-"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Isa 56:7) - was a fine ideal. But any attempt to make it measure up to reality would be a threat to the priestly privileges. Jesus' action was as disturbing as Jeremiah's speech foretelling the destruction of Solomon's Temple had been to the religious leaders six centuries earlier (Jer 26:1-6).
To block the possibility of an uprising among the people, the priestly party decided to arrest Jesus as soon as possible. The opportunity came earlier than they expected when one of the Twelve, Judas Iscariot, offered to deliver Jesus into their power without the risk of a public disturbance. Arrested on Passover Eve, Jesus was brought first before a Jewish court of inquiry, over which the high priest Caiaphas presided.
The Jewish leaders attempted first to convict Him of being a threat to the
Temple. Protection of the sanctity of the Temple was the one area in which the Romans still allowed the Jewish authorities to exercise authority. But this attempt failed. Then Jesus accepted their charge that He claimed to be the Messiah. This gave the religious leaders an occasion to hand Him over to Pilate on a charge of treason and sedition.
While "Messiah" was primarily a religious title, it could be translated into political terms as "king of the Jews." Anyone who claimed to be king of the Jews, as Jesus admitted He did, presented a challenge to the Roman emperor's rule in
Judea. On this charge Pilate, the Roman governor, finally convicted Jesus. This was the charge spelled out in the inscription fixed above His head on the cross. Death by crucifixion was the penalty for sedition by one who was not a Roman citizen.
With the death and burial of Jesus, the narrative of His earthly career came to an end. But with His resurrection on the third day, He lives and works forever as the exalted Lord. His appearances to His disciples after His resurrection assured them He was "alive after His suffering" (Acts 1:3). These appearances also enabled them to make the transition in their experience from the form in which they had known Him earlier to the new way in which they would be related to Him by the Holy Spirit.
The Teachings of Jesus. Just as Jesus' life was unique, so His teachings are known for their fresh and new approach. Jesus taught several distinctive spiritual truths that set Him apart from any other religious leader who ever lived.
kingdom of God - The message Jesus began to proclaim in Galilee after John the Baptist's imprisonment was the good news of the kingdom of God. When He appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, He continued "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?
When Jesus announced that the
kingdom of God was drawing near, many of His hearers must have recognized an echo of those visions recorded in the Book of Daniel. These prophecies declared that one day "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (Dan ). Jesus' announcement indicated the time had come when the authority of this kingdom would be exercised.
The nature of this kingdom is determined by the character of the God whose kingdom it is. The revelation of God lay at the heart of Jesus' teaching. Jesus called Him "Father" and taught His disciples to do the same. But the term that He used when He called God "Father" was Abba (Mark ), the term of affection that children used when they addressed their father at home or spoke about him to others. It was not unusual for God to be addressed in prayer as "my Father" or "our Father." But it was most unusual for Him to be called Abba. By using this term, Jesus expressed His sense of nearness to God and His total trust in Him. He taught His followers to look to God with the trust that children show when they expect their earthly fathers to provide them with food, clothes, and shelter.
This attitude is especially expressed in the Lord's Prayer, which may be regarded as a brief summary of Jesus' teaching. In this prayer the disciples were taught to pray for the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose (the coming of His kingdom) and to ask Him for daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation.
In Jesus' healing of the sick and proclamation of good news to the poor, the
kingdom of God was visibly present, although it was not yet fully realized. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary for Him to tell His disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come" (Matt ). One day, He taught, it would come "with power" (Mark 9:1), and some of them would live to see that day.
In the kingdom of God the way to honor is the way of service. In this respect, Jesus set a worthy example, choosing to give service instead of receiving it.
The death and resurrection of Jesus unleashed the
kingdom of God in full power. Through proclamation of the kingdom, liberation and blessing were brought to many more than could be touched by Jesus' brief ministry in Galilee and Judea.
The way of the kingdom - The ethical teaching of Jesus was part of His proclamation of the
kingdom of God. Only by His death and resurrection could the divine rule be established. But even while the kingdom of God was in the process of inauguration during His ministry, its principles could be translated into action in the lives of His followers. The most familiar presentation of these principles is found in the SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matt 5-7), which was addressed to His disciples. These principles showed how those who were already children of the kingdom ought to live.
Jesus and the law of Moses - The people whom Jesus taught already had a large body of ethical teaching in the Old Testament law. But a further body of oral interpretation and application had grown up around the Law of Moses over the centuries. Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it (Matt ). But He emphasized its ethical quality by summarizing it in terms of what He called the two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God" (Deut 6:5) and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev ). "On these two commandments," He said, "hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt ).
Jesus did not claim uniqueness or originality for His ethical teaching. One of His purposes was to explain the ancient law of God. Yet there was a distinctiveness and freshness about His teaching, as He declared His authority: "You have heard that it was said...But I say to you" (Matt
-22). Only in listening to His words and doing them could a person build a secure foundation for his life (Matt -27; Luke -49).
In His interpretation of specific commandments, Jesus did not use the methods of the Jewish rabbis. He dared to criticize their rulings, which had been handed down by word of mouth through successive generations of scribes. He even declared that these interpretations sometimes obscured the original purpose of the commandments. In appealing to that original purpose, He declared that a commandment was most faithfully obeyed when God's purpose in giving it was fulfilled. His treatment of the Sabbath law is an example of this approach.
In a similar way, Jesus settled the question of divorce by an appeal to the original marriage ordinance (Gen
-27; -25). Since husband and wife were made one by the Creator's decree, Jesus pointed out, divorce was an attempt to undo the work of God. If the law later allowed for divorce in certain situations (Deut 24:1-4), that was a concession to men's inability to keep the commandment. But it was not so in the beginning, He declared, and it should not be so for those who belong to the kingdom of God.
Jesus actually injected new life into the ethical principles of the Law of Moses. But He did not impose a new set of laws that could be enforced by external sanctions; He prescribed a way of life for His followers. The act of murder, forbidden in the sixth commandment, was punishable by death. Conduct or language likely to provoke a breach of the peace could also bring on legal penalties. No human law can detect or punish the angry thought; yet it is here, Jesus taught, that the process which leads to murder begins. Therefore, "whoever is angry with his brother...shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matt
). But He was careful to point out that the judgment is God's, not man's.
The law could also punish a person for breaking the seventh commandment, which forbade adultery. But Jesus maintained that the act itself was the outcome of a person's internal thought. Therefore, "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt ).
Jesus' attitude and teaching also made many laws about property irrelevant for His followers. They should be known as people who give, not as people who get. If someone demands your cloak (outer garment), Jesus said, give it to him, and give him your tunic (undergarment) as well (Luke
). There is more to life than abundance of possessions (Luke ); in fact, He pointed out, material wealth is a hindrance to one's spiritual life. The wise man therefore will get rid of it: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark ). In no area have Jesus' followers struggled more to avoid the uncompromising rigor of his words than in His teaching about the danger of possessions.
Jesus insisted that more is expected of His followers than the ordinary morality of decent people. Their ethical behavior should exceed "the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matt
). "If you love [only] those who love you," He asked, "what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke ). The higher standard of the kingdom of God called for acts of love to enemies and words of blessing and goodwill to persecutors. The children of the kingdom should not insist on their legal rights but cheerfully give them up in response to the supreme law of love.
The way of nonviolence - The principle of nonviolence is deeply ingrained in Jesus' teaching. In His references to the "men of violence" who tried to bring in the kingdom of God by force, Jesus gave no sign that He approved of their ideals or methods. The course which He called for was the way of peace and submission. He urged His hearers not to strike back against injustice or oppression but to turn the other cheek, to go a second mile when their services were demanded for one mile, and to take the initiative in returning good for evil.
But the way of nonviolence did not appeal to the people. The crowd chose the militant Barabbas when they were given the opportunity to have either Jesus or Barabbas set free. But the attitude expressed in the shout, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" (Matt 27:15-26) was the spirit that would one day level
Jerusalem and bring misery and suffering to the Jewish nation.
The supreme example - In the teaching of Jesus, the highest of all incentives is the example of God. This was no new principle. The central section of Leviticus is called "the law of holiness" because of its recurring theme: "I am the Lord your God...Be holy; for I am holy" (Lev
). This bears a close resemblance to Jesus' words in Luke 6:36, "Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." The children of God should reproduce their Father's character. He does not discriminate between the good and the evil in bestowing rain and sunshine; likewise, His followers should not discriminate in showing kindness to all. He delights in forgiving sinners; His children should also be marked by a forgiving spirit.
The example of the heavenly Father and the example shown by Jesus on earth are one and the same, since Jesus came to reveal the Father. Jesus' life was the practical demonstration of His ethical teaching. To His disciples He declared, "I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John
This theme of the imitation of Christ pervades the New Testament letters. It is especially evident in the writings of Paul, who was not personally acquainted with Jesus before he met Him on the
Damascus Road. Paul instructed his converts to follow "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor 10:1). He also encouraged them to imitate Him as he himself imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). When he recommended to them the practice of all the Christian graces, he declared, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom ). Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the One who left us an example, that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter ).
The Person of Christ. The doctrine of the person of Christ, or Christology, is one of the most important concerns of Christian theology. The various aspects of the person of Christ are best seen by reviewing the titles that are applied to Him in the Bible.
Son of Man - The title Son of Man was Jesus' favorite way of referring to Himself. He may have done this because this was not a recognized title already known by the people and associated with popular ideas. This title means essentially "The Man." But as Jesus used it, it took on new significance.
Jesus applied this title to Himself in three distinct ways:
First, He used the title in a general way, almost as a substitute for the pronoun "I." A good example of this usage occurred in the saying where Jesus contrasted John the Baptist, who "came neither eating bread nor drinking wine," with the Son of Man, who "has come eating and drinking" (Luke
-34). Another probable example is the statement that "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke ). In this instance He warned a would-be disciple that those who wanted to follow Him must expect to share His homeless existence.
Second, Jesus used the title to emphasize that "the Son of Man must suffer" (Mark
). The word must implies that His suffering was foretold by the prophets. It was, indeed, "written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt" (Mark ). So when Jesus announced the presence of the betrayer at the Last Supper, He declared, "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him" (Mark ). Later on the same evening He submitted to His captors with the words, "The Scriptures must be fulfilled" (Mark ).
Finally, Jesus used the title Son of Man to refer to Himself as the one who exercised exceptional authority-authority delegated to Him by God. "The Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sins" (Mark
), He declared. He exercised this authority in a way that made some people criticize Him for acting with the authority of God: "The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark ).
The Son of Man appeared to speak and act in these cases as the representative man. If God had given man dominion over all the works of His hands, then He who was the Son of Man in this special representative sense was in a position to exercise that dominion.
Near the end of His ministry, Jesus spoke of His authority as the Son of Man at the end of time. Men and women "will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory," He declared (Mark
). He also stated to the high priest and other members of the supreme court of Israel: "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62). He seemed deserted and humiliated as He stood there awaiting their verdict. But the tables would be turned when they saw Him vindicated by God as Ruler and Judge of all the world.
Only once in the Gospels was Jesus referred to as the Son of Man by anyone other than Himself. This occurred when Stephen, condemned by the Jewish SANHEDRIN, saw "the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts
). In Stephen's vision the Son of Man stood as his heavenly advocate, in fulfillment of Jesus' words: "Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8).
Messiah - When Jesus made His declaration before the high priest and His colleagues, He did so in response to the question: "Are You the Christ the Son of the Blessed?" (Mark 14:61). He replied, "I am" (Mark 14:62), "It is as you said" (Matt 26:64).
The Christ was the MESSIAH, the Son of David-a member of the royal family of David. For centuries the Jewish people had expected a Messiah who would restore the fortunes of
Israel, liberating the nation from foreign oppression and extending His rule over Gentile nations.
Jesus belonged to the family of David. He was proclaimed as the Messiah of David's line, both before His birth and after His resurrection. But He Himself was slow to make messianic claims. The reason for this is that the ideas associated with the Messiah in the minds of the Jewish people were quite different from the character and purpose of His ministry. Thus, He refused to give them any encouragement.
When, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus directed him and his fellow disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. After His death and resurrection, however, the concept of messiahship among His followers was transformed by what He was and did. Then He could safely be proclaimed as Messiah, God's Anointed King, resurrected in glory to occupy the throne of the universe.
Son of God - Jesus was acclaimed as the Son of God at His baptism (Mark
). But He was also given this title by the angel Gabriel at the annunciation: "That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke ). The Gospel of John especially makes it clear that the Father-Son relationship belongs to eternity-that the Son is supremely qualified to reveal the Father because He has His eternal being "in the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18).
At one level the title Son of God belonged officially to the Messiah, who personified the nation of
Israel. "Israel is My Son, My firstborn," said God to Pharaoh (Ex ). Of the promised prince of the house of David, God delclared, "I will make him My firstborn" (Ps 89:27).
But there was nothing merely official about Jesus' consciousness of being the Son of God. He taught His disciples to think of God and to speak to Him as their Father.
But He did not link them with Himself in this relationship and speak to them of "our Father"-yours and mine. The truth expressed in His words in John
is implied throughout His teaching: "My Father and your Father...My God and your God."
As the Son of God in a special sense, Jesus made Himself known to the apostle Paul on the
Damascus Road. Paul said "It pleased God...to reveal His Son in me" (Gal -16). The proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God was central to Paul's preaching (Acts 9:20; 2 Cor 1:19).
When Jesus is presented as the Son of God in the New Testament, two aspects of His person are emphasized: His eternal relation to God as His Father and His perfect revelation of the Father to the human race.
Word and Wisdom - Jesus' perfect revelation of the Father is also expressed when He is described as the Word (logos) of God (John 1:1-18). The Word is the self-expression of God; that self-expression has personal status, existing eternally with God. The Word by which God created the world (Ps 33:6) and by which He spoke through the prophets "became flesh" in the fullness of time (John
), living among men and women as Jesus of Nazareth.
Much that is said in the Old Testament about the Word of God is paralleled by what is said of the Wisdom of God: "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth" (Prov
). In the New Testament Christ is portrayed as the personal Wisdom of God (1 Cor ,30) - the one through whom all things were created (1 Cor 8:6; Col; Heb 1:2).
The Holy One of God - This title was given to Jesus by Peter (John 6:69, RSV) and remarkably, by a demon-possessed man (Mark
). In their preaching, the apostles called Jesus "the Holy One and the Just" (Acts ). This was a name belonging to Him as the Messiah, indicating He was especially set apart for God. This title also emphasized His positive goodness and His complete dedication to the doing of His Father's will. Mere "sinlessness," in the sense of the absence of any fault, is a pale quality in comparison to the unsurpassed power for righteousness which filled His life and teaching.
The Lord - "Jesus is Lord" is The ultimate Christian creed. "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). A Christian, therefore, is a person who confesses Jesus as Lord.
Several words denoting lordship were used of Jesus in the New Testament. The most frequent, and the most important in relation to the doctrine of His person, was the Greek word kurios. It was frequently given to Him as a polite term of address, meaning "Sir." Sometimes the title was used of Him in the third person, when the disciples and others spoke of Him as "The Lord" or "The Master."
After His resurrection and exaltation, however, Jesus was given the title "Lord" in its full, christological sense. Peter, concluding his address to the crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, declared, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts ).
The title "Lord" in the Christological sense must have been given to Jesus before the church moved out into the Gentile world. The evidence for this is the invocation "Maranatha" (KJV) or "O Lord, come!" (1 Cor
). The apostle Paul, writing to a Gentile church in the Greek-speaking world, assumed that its members were familiar with this Aramaic phrase. It was an early Christian title for Jesus which was taken over untranslated. It bears witness to the fact that from the earliest days of the church, the one who had been exalted as Lord was expected to return as Lord.
Another key New Testament text that shows the sense in which Jesus was acknowledged as Lord is Phil 2:5-11. In these verses Paul may be quoting an early confession of faith. If so, he endorsed it and made it his own. This passage tells how Jesus did not regard equality with God as something which he should exploit to his own advantage. Instead, He humbled himself to become a man, displaying "the form of God" in "the form of a servant." He became "obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,...and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:8-11).
The "name which is above every name" is probably the title Lord, in the highest sense that it can bear. The words echo Isa 45:23, where the God of Israel swears, "To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath [or, make confession]." In the Old Testament passage the God of Israel denies to any other being the right to receive the worship which belongs to Him alone. But in the passage from Philippians He readily shares that worship with the humiliated and exalted Jesus. More than that, He shares His own name with him. When human beings honor Jesus as Lord, God is glorified.
God - If Jesus is called Lord in this supreme sense, it is not surprising that He occasionally is called God in the New Testament. Thomas, convinced that the risen Christ stood before him, abandoned his doubts with the confession, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
But the classic text is John 1:1. John declared that the Word existed not only "in the beginning," where He was "with God," but also actually "was God." This is the Word that became incarnate as real man in Jesus Christ, without ceasing to be what He had been from eternity. The Word was God in the sense that the Father shared with Him the fullness of His own nature. The Father remained in a technical phrase of traditional theology, "the fountain of deity." But from that fountain the Son drew in unlimited measure.
The Bible thus presents Christ as altogether God and altogether man-the perfect mediator between God and mankind because He partakes fully of the nature of both.
The Work of Christ - The work of Christ has often been stated in relation to His threefold office as prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, He is the perfect spokesman of God to the world, fully revealing God's character and will. As priest, Jesus has offered to God by His death a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. Now, on the basis of that sacrifice, He exercises a ministry of intercession on behalf of His people. As king, He is "the ruler over the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5) - the one to whose rule the whole world is subject.
The work of Jesus can be discussed in terms of past, present, and future.
The finished work of Christ - By the "finished" work of Christ is meant the work of atonement or redemption for the human race which He completed by His death on the cross. This work is so perfect in itself that it requires neither repetition nor addition. Because of this work, He is called "Savior of the world" (1 John ) and "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John ).
In the Bible sin is viewed in several ways: as an offense against God, which requires a pardon; as defilement, which requires cleansing; as slavery, which cries out for emancipation; as a debt, which must be canceled; as defeat, which must be reversed by victory; and as estrangement, which must be set right by reconciliation. However sin is viewed, it is through the work of Christ that the remedy is provided. He has procured the pardon, the cleansing, the emancipation, the cancellation, the victory, and the reconciliation.
When sin is viewed as an offense against God, it is also interpreted as a breach of His law. The law of God, like law in general, involves penalties against the lawbreaker. So strict are these penalties that they appear to leave no avenue of escape for the lawbreaker. The apostle Paul, conducting his argument along these lines, quoted one uncompromising declaration from the Old Testament: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them" (Deut 27:26; Gal
But Paul goes on to say that Christ, by enduring the form of death on which a divine curse was expressly pronounced in the law, absorbed in His own person the curse invoked on the lawbreaker: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')" (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13).
Since Christ partakes in the nature of both God and humanity, He occupies a unique status with regard to them. He represents God to humanity, and He also represents humanity to God. God is both Lawgiver and Judge; Christ represents Him. The human family has put itself in the position of the lawbreaker; Christ has voluntarily undertaken to represent us. The Judge has made Himself one with the guilty in order to bear our guilt. It is ordinarily out of the question for one person to bear the guilt of others. But when the one person is the representative man, Jesus Christ, bearing the guilt of those whom He represents, the case is different.
In the hour of His death, Christ offered His life to God on behalf of mankind. The perfect life which He offered was acceptable to God. The salvation secured through the giving up of that life is God's free gift to mankind in Christ.
When the situation is viewed in terms of a law court, one might speak of the accused party as being acquitted. But the term preferred in the New Testament, especially in the apostle Paul's writings, is the more positive word justified. Paul goes on to the limit of daring in speaking of God as "Him who justifies the ungodly" (Rom 4:5). God can be so described because "Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom 5:6). Those who are united by faith to Him are "justified" in Him. As Paul explained elsewhere, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor
). The work of Christ, seen from this point of view, is to set humanity in a right relationship with God.
When sin is considered as defilement that requires cleansing, the most straightforward affirmation is that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). The effect of His death is to purify a conscience that has been polluted by sin. The same thought is expressed by the writer of the Book of Hebrews. He speaks of various materials that were prescribed by
Israel's ceremonial law to deal with forms of ritual pollution, which was an external matter. Then he asks, "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb 9:14). Spiritual defilement calls for spiritual cleansing, and this is what the death of Christ has accomplished.
When sin is considered as slavery from which the slave must be set free, then the death of Christ is spoken of as a ransom or a means of redemption. Jesus Himself declared that He came "to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark
). Paul not only spoke of sin as slavery; he also personified sin as a slaveowner who compels his slaves to obey his evil orders. When they are set free from his control by the death of Christ to enter the service of God, they find this service, by contrast, to be perfect freedom.
The idea of sin as a debt that must be canceled is based on the teaching of Jesus. In Jesus' parable of the creditor and the two debtors (Luke
-43), the creditor forgave them both when they could make no repayment. But the debtor who owed the larger sum, and therefore had more cause to love the forgiving creditor, represented the woman whose "sins, which are many, are forgiven" (Luke ). This is similar to Paul's reference to God as "having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands" (Col, RSV).
Paul's words in Col 2:15 speak of the "principalities and powers" as a personification of the hostile forces in the world which have conquered men and women and hold them as prisoners of war. There was no hope of successful resistance against them unti1 Christ confronted them. It looked as if they had conquered Him too, but on the cross He conquered death itself, along with all other hostile forces. In His victory all who believe in Him have a share: "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor
Sin is also viewed as estrangement, or alienation, from God. In this case, the saving work of Christ includes the reconciliation of sinners to God. The initiative in this reconciling work is taken by God: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor
). God desires the well-being of sinners; so He sends Christ as the agent of His reconciling grace to them (Col).
Those who are separated from God by sin are also estranged from one another. Accordingly, the work of Christ that reconciles sinners to God also brings them together as human beings. Hostile divisions of humanity have peace with one another through Him. Paul celebrated the way in which the work of Christ overcame the mutual estrangement of Jews and Gentiles: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us" (Eph
When the work of Christ is pictured in terms of an atoning sacrifice, it is God who takes the initiative. The word propitiation, used in this connection in older English versions of the Bible (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), does not mean that sinful men and women have to do something to appease God or turn away His anger; neither does it mean that Christ died on the cross to persuade God to be merciful to sinners. It is the nature of God to be a pardoning God. He has revealed His pardoning nature above all in the person and work of Christ. This saving initiative is equally and eagerly shared by Christ: He gladly cooperates with the Father's purpose for the redemption of the world.
The present work of Christ - The present work of Christ begins with His exaltation by God, after the completion of His "finished" work in His death and resurrection.
The first aspect of His present work was the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell in His people. "If I do not go away," He had said to his disciples in the Upper Room, "the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (John 16:7). The fulfillment of this promise was announced by Peter on the Day of Pentecost: "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
The promise of the Holy Spirit can be traced back to John the Baptist, who prophesied that the one who was to come after him, mightier than himself, would "baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8).
But the present work of Christ that receives the main emphasis in the New Testament is His intercession. Paul, quoting what appears to be an early Christian confession of faith, spoke of "Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom
). So too, the writer to the Hebrews says that "He ever lives to make intercession" for His people (Heb ). He describes in detail Jesus' exceptional qualifications to be their high priest.
Jesus' presence with God as His people's representative provides the assurance that their requests for spiritual help are heard and granted. To know that He is there is a powerful incentive for His followers. No good thing that Jesus seeks for them is withheld by the Father.
The exaltation of Christ is repeatedly presented in the New Testament as the fulfillment of Ps 110:1: "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." This means that Christ reigns from His present place of exaltation and must do so until all His enemies are overthrown. Those enemies belong to the spiritual realm: "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Cor ). With the destruction of death, which occurred with the resurrection of Jesus, the present phase of Christ's work gives way to His future work.
The future work of Christ - During His earthly ministry, Jesus declared that He had even greater works to do in the future. He specified two of these greater works: the raising of the dead and the passing of final judgment. To raise the dead and to judge the world are prerogatives of God, but He delegated these works to His Son. While the Son would discharge these two functions at the time of the end, they were not unrelated to the events of Jesus' present ministry. Those who were spiritually dead received new life when they responded in faith to the Son of God. In effect, they were passing judgment on themselves as they accepted or rejected the life which He offered.
The raising of the dead and the passing of judgment are associated with the Second Coming of Christ. When Paul dealt with this subject, he viewed Christ's appearing in glory as the occasion when His people would share His glory and be displayed to the universe as the sons and daughters of God, heirs of the new order. He added that all creation looks forward to that time, because then it "will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom
Both the present work of Christ and His future work are dependent on His "finished" work. That "finished" work was the beginning of God's "good work" in His people. This work will not be completed until "the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6), when the entire universe will be united "in Christ" (Eph