THE NATURE OF CHRIST...

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True Bible Teaching - Gods Word Explained

THE NATURE OF CHRIST...

The NATURE of Christ - Who is he?

Christ in agony in the Garden of GethsemaneThere has been much controversy about the nature and character of Jesus Christ.

It began in New Testament times when many people were asking who he was and where he came from.

Once Jesus asked his disciples the question: “Who do you say that I am?” and it was Peter who answered correctly, that Jesus is the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).

Since then the question has been asked many times and has been answered quite differently in creeds and confessions.

In this article  Derek Vyse looks at some of the creedal statements and then explains what the Bible really teaches.

A Brief History

The Apostles Creed (the oldest surviving confession of faith) uses simple language to explain who Jesus is:

1.      I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

2.      I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

3.      He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

4.      He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

It was much later on that a controversy arose between two priests in the church at Alexandria, in Egypt.  Arius and Athanasius worked there together and responded very differently to a sermon they heard.  The Arian view was that “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not.  It therefore  necessarily follows, that he [the Son] had his substance from nothing.”

Controversy

That controversy lasted for centuries and was said to hinge on one Greek letter making the difference between a word meaning ‘of like nature’ (Arius) and another word meaning ‘of the same nature’ (Athanasius).  It eventually resulted in the formulation of the Creeds relating to God and Christ.

The Nicene Creed (AD 450) introduced terms like “the Son Incarnate”.  The Athanasius Creed (6th century AD) used very complex language to declare the belief that Jesus was “God the Son”.  So, in the space of 600 years, a complete reversal of doctrine had taken place compared to the message that had been preached by the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

By now the Creeds have been recited many times and are viewed as a fundamental part of established Christianity.  But it should never be forgotten that they emerged as the result of great and sharp controversy using the full range of Greek philosophical methods which were applied to the interpretation of the New Testament.

These later Creeds were forced upon the established Churches.  This is why a Bible scholar could say that ‘The doctrines of the Nicene and Athanasius Creeds find no part in the original Gospel.

These Creeds would sound strange in the ears of the apostles Paul and John.’

Bible Teaching

If we take a brief look at what the Bible teaches we can compare the various propositions that were negotiated in the Creeds with what the Bible actually says.

1.    Was Jesus Co-Equal with God?

Nathan the prophet made this remarkable prediction concerning a descendant of King David, and he made it about one thousand years before Jesus was born of the virgin Mary:

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom … I will be his Father, and he shall be My son (2 Samuel 7:12–14).

A Father and Son

Now in the nature of things a father exists in time prior to a son who is a descendent.  And, humanly speaking, a Father is greater and a Son lesser. Was that the case in New Testament times?

Listen to what Jesus said to those who suggested that he was making himself equal to God:

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29);

“You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Asked once about the timing of his return to earth as king, Jesus said:

“Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).

Now in Heaven

If you think that this inferior status was only appropriate when Jesus was living on earth, note that, after his ascension to the Father’s right hand, the apostle Paul could say that the Lord Jesus:

"…being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6–7).

And in describing the time when Jesus will return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, the apostle describes the end of the Millennium in these words:

Now when all things are made subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

These sayings of Jesus and the inspired utterances of his apostles make it clear that Jesus was his Father’s Son and that he never once tried to claim equality with his heavenly Father but was subservient and obedient in all things.  As the unnamed writer to the Hebrews said, Jesus had come to do his Father’s will (Hebrews 10:9) and he did it perfectly, being obedient in all things, even to the extent of laying down his life (Philippians 2:8).

After his ascension to heaven, Jesus gave a prophetic forecast of events that must come to pass before his return, but notice how he describes this revelation:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants – things which must shortly take place (Revelation 1:1).

And when the apostle Paul explains the God-given order that should exist in a Christian congregation, where men should accept the responsibility for preaching the gospel, he can say without any qualification:

"I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).

So Bible teaching is quite clear. Father and Son are not part of a triune godhead of which they are co-equal parts.  God is the Father who brought about the birth of Jesus when His power overshadowed the virgin Mary. Jesus is His Son who never claimed equality with his Father and who never will.

2.    Was Jesus Co-Existent with God?

The people of Israel were given a fundamental truth when God spoke through Moses which is still at the heart of Judaism, and here it is:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

This belief in the Unity of God is a profound Old Testament truth and it appears to be at the heart of the difference between Judaism and Christianity.  Followers of Islam are also convinced that Allah is

One, not many. Does the New Testament change this teaching, and introduce or make explicit that there is in fact a Trinity, not a Unity?  Judge for yourselves when you look at these New Testament passages:

"For us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Corinthians 8:6);

"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5);

"Keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power. Amen" (1 Timothy 6:14-16).

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Unity not Trinity

These New Testament Scriptures make it clear that the teaching of the Old and New Testaments is entirely consistent.

Throughout the Bible the message is that God is One, not three persons in one God head.

3.    Was Jesus Co-existent with God?

The nation of Israel was once taught something which has become a fundamental of their faith and belief in God:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5).

Jesus said that this was the first and most important commandment in the Old Testament, but does it change, when the New Testament explains about the Lord Jesus Christ?  You can see for yourself from the following Bible passages:

"For us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Corinthians 8:6);

"There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…" (1 Timothy 2:5);

"Keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He (God) will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power. Amen" (1 Timothy 6:14-16).

Notice how careful Scripture is at all times to distinguish between the Father and the Son. God is the source and originator of everything. He dwells in unapproachable light and has never been seen by any mortal.  Jesus is His Son and came into existence when he was born of the virgin Mary by the power of God – the Holy Spirit. He is described as “the man Christ Jesus”.

4.    Was Jesus Co-Eternal with God?

Contemplating His death upon the Cross, Luke says that Jesus’ sweat was as it were great drops of blood (Luke 22:44), such was the pressure and agony that Jesus endured.  Death was the prospect that loomed large, with all Jesus the Son of Godthe aspects of shame and public exposure, and Jesus willingly submitted himself to that ordeal.

But we should never think it was easy or that it took no effort on the part of the Lord.  He had come to give his life as a sacrifice for sin and thus to save humanity.

Mortal not Immortal

That Jesus could die at all indicates his mortality.  An immortal being cannot die: that’s what immortality means!  So when at last Jesus endured the cross and gave up his life, uttering the great cry “It is finished!”, he was dead.

By that the Bible means he had ceased to exist, for death is the cessation of existence, an unconscious and powerless state or condition.  So how did Jesus come back to life again?  Did he raise himself, because he was coeternal with God his Father?  Let the Scriptures answer that question again:

"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32);

"Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man stands here before you whole" (Acts 4:10);

"Him God raised up on the third day, and showed him openly" (Acts 10:40);

"But God raised him from the dead" (Acts 13:30);

"He whom God raised up saw no corruption" (Acts 13:37).

Look how clear this is and how straightforward, compared with the complexity of the creeds. Jesus was a mortal man who had to earn immortality and this he did by his perfect obedience.

As the apostle Paul explains it:

"Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and 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, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:8–11).

5.    Did Jesus Pre-Exist?

Luke’s record of the birth of Jesus indicates a nine month gestation period.  Mary became ‘great with child’ and the days of her delivery were accomplished (Luke 2:5, 6).  Matthew uses the word ‘begat’ in the genealogy of Jesus and about Jesus’ birth for he was conceived or begotten in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:20).

The apostle John uses the phrase ‘the only begotten Son of the Father’ (John1:14, 18; 3:16, 18), to explain that Jesus was born by the power of God overshadowing Mary.  She was not someone through whom a pre-existent Christ was given access to the world of men.  Mary was a key contributor to the nature and characteristics that Jesus inherited from her.

It is a crucial New Testament teaching that Jesus was born of a woman and that from his mother he inherited the characteristics that are common to all descendants of Adam and Eve:

"Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).

This New Testament teaching is matched by Old Testament promises about One who was to be born to fulfil the following:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15);

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

So Jesus was not pre-existent but came into existence when he was born of Mary some 2000 years ago.  In the mind of God his birth was known about and was predicted, but Jesus faced all the problems we too share and triumphed wonderfully over them.  There was nothing automatic or inevitable about this: his life was a display of perfect purity and absolute obedience.

Flesh and Blood

Jesus inherited a nature like ours with its inbuilt tendency to do wrong, rather than right, and we substantially undervalue his achievements if we misunderstand what these Scriptures are saying and opt instead for man made creeds which confuse the truth.

"For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many" (Romans 5:15);

"For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3);

"When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4);

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15);

"... who, in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:7–8).

Conclusion

Jesus inherited Adamic sinful nature, fought against it throughout his life and formally conquered it by his victorious resurrection, when God his Father raised him from the dead and gave him immortality.

He was not God; was and is not part of a Trinity; and did not pre-exist.

Instead Jesus was the Son of Man (his favourite description of himself) born of his mother Mary and he was the Son of God because he came into existence by Holy Spirit action in bringing about the conception in Mary’s womb.

The choice we all have to make when answering the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” is whether to believe the creeds or the Bible.  They offer two quite different answers to the question.

One set of answers is man made.

The other is the explanation that God himself provides.

By Derek Vyse