Part 2a The Divinity of Christ

Part 2a

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of the Father before all worlds,
[God of God,] Light of Light,
True God of true God,
Begotten, not made,
Consubstantial with the Father,
By whom all things were made;

–Nicene Creed

Who is Jesus? Was here merely a great moral teacher or was he something more? The central pillar of Christianity is Jesus, his existence, and his work in the world. But why is Jesus the central pillar of Christianity? The answer to this is that true Christianity, above all else, must affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. It is this one core fact of Christianity that lays the groundwork for the redemption of humanity and its reconciliation with perfection. This deity of Christ can be examined from three perspectives: a historical overview of Christ’s deity, the nature of the deity of Christ, and the effects of the deity of Christ.

To first address the historical overview of Jesus Christ, it must be said that scholarship points, overwhelmingly, to the existence of a historical Jesus, even in secular histories of Christianity. Indeed, the crucifixion is attested to by Jewish, Christian, and Roman scholars of the classical era and the current majority of classical scholars in the current age (this is in contrast to the Muslim view that Jesus was not crucified). And if the historicity of Jesus is accepted the question turns to whether or not the Christian conception of Jesus is correct. I for one, am inclined to believe so. Jesus, as recorded in the Christian tradition, claims to be God by equating himself in eternal existence [1] and level of authority [2], fulfilling the prophesy mentioned in Isaiah calling the coming messiah to be called “Mighty God [3].” It is of note that the response of the Religious leaders of the day was correct, provided that Jesus was anything except God. However, in this right reaction, they failed to recognize that Jesus was indeed God by his demonstrated power and associated claims of authority. To that end, however, the disciples did follow this man. This is what sets the stage for the Lewis Trilemma as stated in C.S. Lewis’s book (and radio show) Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [4]

And while this has been criticized as a false dilemma [5], it also represents an orthodox view of Christ as established in Christian history and as explained in the scope of a Christian understanding of theology. I for one have decided to accept him as Lord, accepting Christian history as a true representation of Jesus Christ, and ultimately accepting this radical claim that one human in history was also fully God.

So if Jesus is fully God, what does it then mean to be fully God? To answer this question I turn back to the section of the Nicene creed at the beginning of this post. Jesus is called “[God from God], light from light” and the meaning of this image can be [imperfectly] captured in the image of a candle. In this image we can take one candle and use it to light another resulting in two flames originating from the same substance (in this case the substance of God) and yet having two different physical manifestations, two yet one. In the same way Christ is God from God, two persons in role and action, but also one essence in total divinity [6]. This essence has been the same for all eternity and is from the Father and yet is ontologically the same in both Father and Son; this is called the Eternal Generation of the Son, a doctrine touched upon in the beginning quote as Jesus Christ being “Begotten of the father before all worlds [7].” So this is the summary of Jesus Christ’s divinity. Jesus was not created at some time in the past; he was not a man adopted by God for the purpose of our salvation. No, he is, rather, the exact imprint of the nature of God in whom the fullness of deity dwells, the person by whom and for whom all things were made, very God of very God [8].

This divinity of Christ is the central pillar of Christianity because it allows Jesus to become our high priest before God and ultimately become able to reconcile humanity to himself.  By this, I mean to say that Jesus was able to satisfy the wrath of God, an act known as propitiation. John Calvin describes this divine act of propitiation in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

When we say, that grace was obtained for us by the merit of Christ, our meaning is, that we were cleansed by his blood, that his death was an expiation for sin, “His blood cleanses us from all sin.” “This is my blood, which is shed for the remission of sins,” (1 John 1:7; Luke 22:20). If the effect of his shed blood is, that our sins are not imputed to us, it follows, that by that price the justice of God was satisfied. [9]

It is the very divine nature of Christ that allows him to overcome death, defeating the dominion of sin to ultimately become seated at the right hand of God where he now acts as our high priest [10]. Indeed the Epistle to the Hebrews says “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [11]” Being God, Jesus shares in the omnipotence of God and is able to work with all power for the good of those that love him [12]. Finally, because he is God and because he has worked to save us from slavery to sin and death and to bring us to life, Jesus Christ is worthy of all praise and honor and glory [13]. That is to say that while no mere man is worthy of the praise reserved for God alone, because Jesus is God, it is imperative and necessary that we give him his due respect in the light of what he has done to bring us salvation.

The divinity of Jesus Christ is the central pillar of the Christian faith in that it allows him to execute his offices of Prophet (brining us the Word of God), Priest (mediating for humanity before God), and King (ruling creation which was created for him and through him). It is this that all Christians must understand before we ever come to a solid conviction of salvation in Jesus Christ. However, through Jesus is God and fulfills these three roles, he is also our redeemer, a role that necessitates a human nature of Jesus Christ and it is this duality that will become the focus of the next post.

Post 4 in a series on basic Christian theology

 References

[1] John 8.38
[2] Luke 5.21-24
[3] Isaiah 9.6
[4] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity,  (1943) Book II Part iii
[5] Somewhat rightly so, but I mention it because, after accepting various details about Christianity, such as the crucifixion and resurrection (as I have done for other reasons not mentioned in this post), it can be treated in the manner presented.
[6] John 1.1-3
[7] Not all evangelicals accept this doctrine, based upon my readings of history and my understanding of the Bible I do. I point to this and this
Also note that ontology is a nature of being.
Also note that before all worlds means before time itself, it is good to remember when contemplating this that time for a transcendent being is not anything we can imagine.
[8] Hebrews 1.3, John 1.3, Colossians 1.16
[9] Cavin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. p429
[10] Luke 22.69, Hebrews 10.12
[11] Hebrews 4.14,16
[12] Romans 8.28
[13] Revelation 4.11

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3 thoughts on “Part 2a The Divinity of Christ

  1. Your quote by Calvin, “it follows, that by that price the justice of God was satisfied”, assumes an acceptance of the penal substitution theory of atonement that has not been established.

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    1. hmm indeed it does. I dont know if i’ll change it though *handwaving for generally accepted evangelical theology* I really should add a justification, but length and time sigh. Perhaps a further elaboration in later posts.

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