Category Archives: Jesus Christ
In Paul in Fresh Perspective, N. T. Wright reflects on Paul’s ‘redefinition of God.’ There he says,
Paul’s thought can best be understood, not as an abandonment of [a Jewish monotheistic] framework, but as a redefinition of it around the Messiah…All this and more is summed up for Paul in one of the titles for Jesus which, though he does not use it very often, comes with great force when he does. The phrase ‘son of God’ was known in Judaism as a reference to angels, but it is the two other uses which indicate where Paul sees its roots: Israel itself as ‘son of God’ (not least in Exodus 4.22), and the Messiah as ‘son of God’ in 2 Samuel 7.14 and Psalms 2.7 and 89.27. What Paul has done is to take this idea and fill it with new content, without losing the messianic meaning and the cognate of representing Israel. What has happened in, to and through Jesus has convinced Paul that hidden within the divinely intended meaning of Messiahship was God’s determination not just to send someone else to do what had to be done but to come himself to do it in person. Only so can we make sense of passages like Romans 5.6-11, where the death of Jesus (precisely as the son of God, as in 8.3 and 8.32) expresses more clearly and anything else the love of God. This can only be so if Jesus is understood as the very embodiment of the one God.
-N. T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 84, 95
Here’s a short clip from my lecture last week on the book of Hebrews. Here I discuss a major theme in Hebrews 7-10: Jesus as both high priest and final sacrifice.
Let’s focus on this verse;
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25)
Let’s ask a few basic questions: First, what’s the subject matter of this verse? Second, what’s the ground for Christ’s successful redemptive work? In brief, the answers are as follows: First, the verse speaks of redemption. Christ is able to save perfectly those to come to God through Him, “the way” (cf. Jn 14:6). Second, the verse also provides the reason why, or the instrumental cause, of His guaranteed success, namely his continual intercession for believers as priest. He saves perfectly “since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
Theological Inference. I find it very difficult, in light of this verse, to make sense of any understanding of Christ’s high priestly activity that states that Christ can mediate on behalf of someone who is ultimately lost in the final judgment. In continuity with the Old Covenant priests, Christ intercedes or mediates for all for whom a sacrifice is made. Yet, if all for whom Christ mediates are “saved to the uttermost,” then logical demands that Christ does not mediate for every single individual (cf. John 17:9). If He does, would this not, according to Hebrews 7:25, lead us to accept the doctrine of universalism? Do we really want to say Christ’s intercession could fail to save? I for one don’t. Christ always pleases the Father (John 8:29).
Let’s look at this from a slightly different angle. The argument of Hebrews as a whole is to demonstrate the superiority of Christ over the multitude of ways God spoke to his people in the Old Testament (cf. the “in former days” with the “but now” of Heb. 1:1). Jesus is greater than angels (who delivered the law), greater than Moses, provides a greater rest than Joshua, etc. How can we affirm that Christ is a better sacrifice and a better priest than those of the Old Covenant if he can present his perfect sacrifice before the Father in behalf of sinner X, yet sinner X is eternally lost? Such a conclusion would run against to the author’s argument. If his entire point is that Christ is not like the sacrifices of old, yet His sacrificial death and priestly mediation do not guarantee salvation for any one then Christ’s work is exactly like those offerings.
Clear and precise hermeneutics demand that we never interpret an author’s words in a particular passage so as to make it contradict his overall message. Instead, Jesus is the final sacrifice because his life cleanses those for whom it is made. He is the perfect high priest because his mediator secures the salvation of his people. Rather than demoting the work of Christ, the doctrine of particular redemption upholds, relishes, and adorns the complete saving power of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and continued priestly work. He saves to the uttermost!
PS: My thanks to Matt Kenyon for providing and editing this clip.
Over and over [in the Old Testament], we are told that God performs his mighty deeds so that people “will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 14: 4; cf. 6: 7; 7: 5, 17; 8: 22; 10: 2; 14: 18; 16: 6, 12; 29: 46; 31: 13; Deut. 4: 35; 29: 6; 1 Kings 8: 43, 60; 18: 37; 20: 13, 28; 2 Kings 19: 19; Ps. 83: 18; Isa. 37: 20; 2 Jer. 16: 21; 24: 7; Ezek. 6: 7, 10, 13, 14; 7: 4, 9, 27; 11: 10, etc.), or so that “my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9: 16; Rom. 9: 17). We find “name” and “Lord” throughout the Scriptures, in contexts central to God’s nature, dignity, and relationship with his people. “Lord” is found in the New International Version of the Bible 7,484 times, mostly referring to God or to Christ.
The name Lord is as central to the message of the New Testament as it is to the Old Testament. Remarkably, in the New Testament the word kyrios, meaning “Lord,” which translates yahweh in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is regularly applied to Jesus. If the Shema summarizes, in a way, the message of the Old Testament by teaching that Yahweh is Lord, so the confession “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10: 9; 1 Cor. 12: 3; Phil. 2: 11; cf. John 20: 28; Acts 2: 36) summarizes the message of the New Testament.
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of God
In Jesus Christ…meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God.
John Piper, The Pleasures of God
J. C. Ryle was a marvelous preacher and expositor of Scripture. His words on John 1:43-51 are worth quoting at length:
Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. To Him the earliest promises pointed in the days of Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. To Him every sacrifice pointed in the ceremonial worship appointed at Mount Sinai. Of Him every high priest was a type, and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow, and every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure.
He was the prophet like unto Moses, whom the Lord God promised to send, and the King of the house of David, who came to be David’s Lord as well as son. He was the Son of the virgin, and the Lamb, foretold by Isaiah,—the righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah,—the true Shepherd, foreseen by Ezekiel,—the Messenger of the Covenant, promised by Malachi,—and the Messiah, who, according to Daniel, was to be cut off, though not for Himself.
The further we read in the volume of the Old Testament, the clearer do we find the testimony about Christ. The light which the inspired writers enjoyed in ancient days was, at best, but dim, compared to that of the Gospel. But the coming Person they all saw afar off, and on whom they all fixed their eyes, was one and the same. The Spirit, which was in them, testified of Christ. (1 Pet. 1:11.)
Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see His name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the Book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away.
Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up ‘Moses and the prophets’ again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen Him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures, ‘They are they which testify of me.’ (John 5:39)”
–J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 55-56.
(HT: Tolle Lege)
I just stumbled upon a help short piece by Dr. Anthony Le Donne on four theses on the the historical Jesus. Below is simply a highlight of the points I found most interesting.
I. The Historical Jesus is not …
- The untheological Jesus
- A fifth gospel
- A harmony of the Gospels
- A conflation of the Gospels
II. The Historical Jesus is Faith Seeking Historical Understanding
- The Gospels themselves claim to have a historical character and invite critical scrutiny (e.g., Luke 1.1-4).
- The “historical Jesus” is the narratives that emerges when the Evangelists invite sociologists, archaeologists, Talmudic scholars, and Graeco-Roman historians to work on seminar project about Jesus.
- Study of the historical Jesus is a necessary question since sooner or later Christians are bound to ask, who is the kyrios [the Lord] how did he become ho stauromenos [the crucified]?
III. The Canonical Jesus is Faith seeking Narratival Understanding
- The task of the Gospels is to narrate the gospel of Jesus as part of Israel’s history and religious literature and in light of the church’s witness to Jesus and worship of Jesus.
IV. Jesus: Historical and Canonical
- The “Jesus” part of a New Testament Theology should have the following tasks: (1) To answer the question of “Who is Jesus?” in light of historic testimony; (2) to postulate how the historical Jesus impacted the formation of the Four Gospels; (3) To define the literary, rhetorical, social, and theological fabric of the Four Gospels in their own right; and (4) To summarize what the Four Gospels and their reception in the church have to say about Jesus as a whole.
As I said, these are only summaries. Most of these points are fleshed out in the article. The whole piece is worth reading. Le Donne is the author of The Historical Jesus: What Can We Know And How Can We Know It?
Here’s a sampling of the literature I’ve worked through to prep for my Life and Teachings of Jesus course.
- Knowing Jesus from the OT- Christopher J. H. Wright
- Jesus and the Victory of God- N. T. Wright
- How God Became King- N. T. Wright
- The Shadow of the Galilean- Gerd Theissen
- The Sage from Galilee- David Flusser with R. Steven Notley
- Christology in the Synoptic Gospels- Sigurd Grindheim
- A New Vision for Israel- Scot Mcknight
- Are You the One Who is to Come?- Michael F. Bird
- Jesus and the Gospels- Craig Blomberg
- The IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels- eds. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall
- Jesus According to Scripture- Darrell Bock
- Jesus and the Restoration of Israel- ed. Carey C. Newman
- Jesus and the Old Testament- R. T. France
- Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage- eds. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Richard B. Hays
- Jesus and the God of Israel- Richard Bauckham
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 2- John P. Meier
Coupled with the works I’ve researched on the interestamental/Second temple period, I thank God for the works listed above. Did I agree with every word of them? No, of course not. Have they stretched my grasp of Jesus embedded as he was/is within his biblical and historical backdrop? Yes. Have they challenge assumptions, forcing me to reevaluate the texts of Scripture in order to see what they were really saying? Absolutely. Have they helped me to love my Savior who loved me and gave himself for me (cf. Gal. 2:20)? You bet.
Many scholars have observed that the words from heaven during Jesus’ baptism are rooted in the Old Testament. This is Mark’s account:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
Though these words have meaning on their own, they come alive when set in their Old Testament context. Briefly, Christopher J. H. Wright draws out their significance:
This is/you are my son:
This is an echo of Psalm 2:7 which was originally a Psalm about King David and then any king descended from him. He need not fear the posturings and antagonism of his enemies because it is God himself who has anointed him king and protects him. The declaration: “you are my son; today I have begotten you”, which was probably said at the coronation or enthronement of Davidic kings as God’s way of endorsing their legitimacy and authority. However, the fall of Jerusalem and exile in 587 BC was the end of the line for the Davidic kings. So this Psalm was given a future look and applied to the expected, messianic, son of David would reign when God would restore Israel. The heavenly voice at his baptism identified Jesus as that very one.
My loved one, in whom I delight [am well pleased]:
This is an echo of Isaiah 42:1 which is the opening verse of a series of ‘songs’ in Isaiah 40 – 55 about one called the servant of the Lord. He is introduced rather like a king, but as the song develops (42:1, 49:1-6, 50:4-10, 52:13-53:12) it becomes clear that this servant will accomplish his calling, not by kingly power as we know it, but through frustration, suffering, rejection and death. By willing to pay that cost, however, the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but also be the instrument of bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.
My son, my beloved son:
Many scholars find in this phrase a third echo from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22:2, where God told Abraham, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”, and sacrifice him to the Lord. In the end, Isaac was spared, but Abraham was commended for his willingness to trust and obey God even to that ultimate end. This story, known in later Jewish lore as “the binding of Isaac”, was deeply studied and reflected on for double theme of Abraham’s willingness as a father to sacrifice his son, and Isaac’s willingness as a son to be sacrificed.
Lastly, Wright highlights the meaning of this last phrase in light of Romans 8:32:
Paul probably had this story in mind when he wrote Romans 8:32, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And almost certainly it was in the mind of God the Father as he identifies Jesus at his baptism as his only Son whom he loved, but whom he was willing to sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Only this time it would be for real. There would be no ram to substitute at the last minute. -Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 106-107
For more, see:
Some have made the claim that the apostle Paul wasn’t interested in the ‘historical’ Jesus. As far as they are concerned, Paul was more interested in the ‘theological’ Christ of his redemptive narrative. Regularly referenced to support this claim are Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 5:16:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
This of course potentially is a huge blow for Christians who root their faith in real history. After all, part of the common Christian confession is (according to The Apostles’ Creed) Jesus the Messiah “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That places the significance of Jesus’s life and ministry within a particular geographical and historical setting.
In his Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, Michael F. Bird brilliantly summarizes the theme of messiahship in the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s story of Jesus essentially unpacks the designation “Jesus Christ” from the incipit (1:1) so as to show that the Messiah who Christians confess is made known as
- The Son of God, who is beloved by the Father, commissioned for his messianic mission by reception of the Spirit, and exercising command over God’s enemies, be they demons or the armies of Rome.
- The Son of Man, who is authorized to speak for God, appointed to suffer and rise from the dead, and destined to judge the inhabited world.
- The Son of David, who heals the afflicted of Israel, is greater still than David himself and ushers in David’s coming kingdom.
- The King of the Jews, who in an ironic twist, at the end of his triumph, is enthroned as the King of Israel on the cross and there reveals the true power of his kingship by refusing to save himself.
In one sense this is a fairly radical reinterpretation of messiahship, but in another sense it is also an apology [defense] for Jesus as the Messiah. The crucifixion is not thrust upon Jesus as a pure accident of unfortunate events; rather, he deliberately embraces it as part of a larger redemptive purpose. Mark’s Gospel is fundamentally an apology [defense] for a crucified Messiah, something that was pertinent theologically, sociologically, and culturally for Christians in the Greco-Roman world. In other words, Mark’s Jesus is not the Messiah despite the cross, but precisely because of it.
-Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 145. Emphasis added.
In the ongoing debate on the biblical status of homosexuality, a not-so-infrequent objection to the conservative (and classical, mind you) approach is that Jesus himself never addressed homosexuality. After all, if it were really a big deal, wouldn’t Jesus himself address it?
The nub of this argument is a half-truth (and the wrong end at that). First, though we have no explicit statements from Jesus on same gender attraction and relationships-using the word ‘homosexual’ or one of its cognates- we do have his positive definition of marriage with its undeniable link to sexuality (Mark 10:6-8). Second, Jesus never explicitly denounced homosexuality as a deviation from God’s design for human sexuality for one primary reason:
…the same reason why a GOP candidate doesn’t argue for lowering taxes at the RNC national convention.
… the same reason why Whoopi Goldberg doesn’t argue in favor of a woman’s “right to choose” at a Planned Parenthood rally.
… the same reason why a Jehovah’s Witness doesn’t argue against the deity of Christ in a Kingdom Hall.
…the same reason why a Muslim doesn’t try to convince those at his local mosque that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.
I think you get the picture.
The argument of Romans 5:12 – 21 involves a synkrisis, or comparison between the two ‘types’ or figures, Adam and Christ. In Adam, we have a story of a world gone horribly wrong. As the one who was made to rule over creation is now subject to it, he forfeits his wonderful privileges of intimate fellowship with God. He suffers a severe loss of fortunes, loses divine favor, is exiled from paradise, and even his own being becomes disfigured and corrupted. The one created for immortality experiences the painful horror of death, and so do all of his offspring, as they share his guilt and new-found disposition towards evil. It is not blessings but sins that are multiplied to future generations, as humanity forgets and then forsakes God altogether and so recapitulate the story of Adam’s disobedience in their own persons. Death begets death. Sin dehumanized humanity, so that, despite possessing the divine image, they are little more than complex beasts, fighting and devouring one another.
But in Christ we have a story of a world put right, as Christ is faithful where Adam was faithless, and is obedient where Adam was disobedient. Through his act of righteous obedience, Jesus overturns the transgression of Adam and so is able to deliver and transform the fallen progeny of Adam. Christ creates in himself a new humanity, which, through the renewing power of the Spirit, is able to undo the effects of the fall and become the new Adamic race.
N. T. Wright on the John’s link between kingdom, cross, and the love of God:
…[I]n the broader Johannine perspective, we discover that the only word to do justice to this kingdom and cross combination is agape, “love.” The death of Jesus is the expression of God’s love, as the famous verse of John 3:16 makes clear. For John, it is also the expression of Jesus’s own love: “He had always loved his own people in the world; now he love them right through to the end” (13:1). And, with that, John introduces the powerful and tender scene in which Jesus washes his disciples feet. In between these two, we find a “good shepherd” discourse, where the mutual love between Jesus and the father leads directly to Jesus his vocation to “lay down his life for the sheep” (10:15).
Throughout, Jesus remains God’s anointed king, crowned as such by the pagans, however ironic the crown of thorns is (John 19:1-3). As such, he is the truly human being. When Pilate says “Here’s the man! (19:5), We are surely to hear echoes of that primal Johannine moment, the Word becoming flesh as the climax of the new Genesis (1:14). But this Genesis call this new creation, is aimed at redemption; and the suffering Messiah, wearing the ironic royal robes, which acquire a second level of irony in John’s treatment, does for his people and the world what he had said all along he would do, as the shepherd giving his life for the sheep, as the seed sown in the ground to bear much fruit. The cross stands at the heart of John’s kingdom theology, the vision of the love of God revealed in the saving action in the death of his Son, the Lamb, the Messiah.
For more, see
With his usual polemical edge, N. T. Wright, in How God Became King, both corrects common Christian misunderstandings of the term” Messiah” and instructs us to view the significance of Jesus’s humanity and deity in a vocational, redemptive-historical light:
As we contemplate the scene at Caesarea Philippi [in Mark 8:27-30], it is vital that we do not short-circuit the messianic meeting in our quest for creedal affirmations about Jesus’s “divinity.” Yes, the four Gospels do indeed a firm, often in subtle and profound ways (not so often in the rather clunky in obvious ways that some would clearly prefer), that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God, come back at last to rescue his people. But the meaning of Peter’s confession of Jesus’s the messiahship is not, “you are the second person of the Trinity,” but “you are Israel’s Messiah.” The phrase son of God in this connection is of course once more an echo of the messianic passages as Psalm 2, 2 Samuel 7, and elsewhere. And in those contexts it’s primary meaning is ” Israel’s messiah, adopted and anointed by God as his own son.”
The much fuller meanings that the phrase “son of God” came to carry quite early in the Christian movement (as early as Paul; see, e.g., Romans 8:3-4, Galatians 4:4-7) are fresh depths that the early church discovered within this Jewish meaning. They did not indicate that the meaning of “Messiah” had been abandoned and something else (“divinity”?) put in its place. We approach that full or meaning – and, ultimately, trinitarian theology itself – through the messianic, kingdom-bearing gateway. That is, in fact, the gateway to the meeting both of Jesus is “divinity” and of his “humanity.” But how much better to replace those dry, abstract categories with their biblical originals. As Messiah – as the about-to-be- crucified Messiah! – Jesus embodies the vocation of Israel, and within it the vocation of the human race itself. But he also embodies the returning, rescuing, promise-keeping God of Israel himself.
N. T. Wright, in his latest work How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, on the deity of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the cross:
It is possible to state the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity in such a way as to let it float loose from both kingdom and cross, but this is what the New Testament never does. The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the other sheep in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s the launch of the kingdom – God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven – is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.
How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah.