Who is Jesus?
This class has been looking at the rudimentary teachings of the Christian faith. The foundational truth to the Christian faith has Jesus Christ at its core. Today we are going to be looking at the biblical doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ. Our objective in this course has been to grow in the knowledge, image and ministry of Christ. What better way to accomplish this than to study the person of Christ? The question that we are asking today is: Who is Jesus?
If you ask a Jehovah’s Witness, they will say that he’s an angelic being, Michael the archangel to be specific. If you ask the Mormons, they will say that he is one of many gods, in fact the brother of Lucifer, that is the brother of the Satan. If you ask a Muslim, he will say that Jesus is a prophet, a Rasul as they say. If you ask a person of Judaism, you will get either of two main replies- either he was good religious rabbi who was very misunderstood or he was a false prophet. Many today are very content with saying that Jesus was a good man, a moral teacher. Today people are saying a lot about the identity of Jesus and it was so in Jesus' own day.
Matthew 16: 13-15 says, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” The way we answer that question matters. Who is Jesus? The study of the person of Christ is a study into what God has revealed in his word about who Jesus is. So, I want to begin to answer this question in three ways by looking at three texts. The first text begins with the one we just read.
1.) Matthew 16:13-17 Jesus is the Messiah.
When Jesus has questions to ask the disciples, we can always count on one particular disciple to be very eager to speak up. In this case, Christ asks the disciples about his identity, “Who do you say that I am?” We don’t know if Peter contemplated the question, but he did answer, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” In other words, Peter answers something like this, “You’re Messiah, the king to whom God said in the second Psalm, “You are my son.” That’s who you are Jesus; that is your identity.” Peter probably didn’t grasp the full weight of what he said. Later, after the crucifixion, he realized the depth of his confession, which seems to be the way Christian life works. Often we speak better than we currently know. We sing of the glory of the cross, but in passing years, the same hymn may seem as though we’re singing it for the first time. Many times we’ll say the same thing, but given different circumstances, our whole grasp of the statement is different. For instance, we say that God is faithful. A trial comes and God sustains our faith. God is faithful. Temptation comes, we falter. God is faithful. Storms of doubt come and our faith triumphs. God is faithful. Trouble comes upon us and we can’t see the light of day. God is faithful. The enemy of our faith takes aim, but our faith conquers. God is faithful. Each time the meaning of ‘God is faithful’ becomes more profound to us. Joy and faith in his faithfulness becomes so insightful that at some point when we sing ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’, it feels like it's the first time we really sang it. And, I’m sure as Peter lived and ministered as an Apostle, his confession that Jesus is the Messiah grew sweeter year by year, and the meaning more profound, but especially in light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, in Peter’s day, most of the people were expecting a Messiah who would come and conquer the enemies of Israel and restore the Davidic kingdom, bringing world peace and order. They were expecting a conquering Messiah, a hero who would rescue them from the clutches of Roman oppression. Jesus corrects this popular, incredibly reductionistic and biblically misinformed idea in a few verses and gives a more robust and wider view of what he was to accomplish as Messiah.
Jesus welcomes the confession of Peter, and he says, “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are you because you were smarter than everyone else.” Neither did he say, “Blessed are you because you were paying attention,” or “Blessed are you because you talked to the right people.” Jesus says that he was blessed because he didn’t find this out on his own, but that the heavenly Father revealed this to him. Peter was given the identity of Jesus through revelation. There is a sense in which we need this kind of revelation as well. We have God’s words in the Bible. We have Jesus set before us, but in order to grasp not just the facts, but the glory of his true identity and hear the word of God, we need ears to hear. We need the Holy Spirit to make clear the identity of Jesus as we interact with scripture. The Bible tells us the identity of Jesus. It doesn’t leave us guessing. However, to really see and believe the true person of Jesus, we must have the Holy Spirit working inwardly these truths that are put to us outwardly in scripture. In other words, God must take the truths revealed in scripture and speak them to our hearts. When we came to believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from the dead, we did so because God gave us ears to hear through his total sovereign grace. The more we study God’s word, the more we are in desperate need for God, by his grace, to work these truths into our hearts. We need an inward work as well as outward propositional truths to grasp and delight more fully in these things.
From this text, we see that Jesus is Messiah. He is the promised king, a descendant of David, and the one who is to fulfill all that God had promised. He was not, however, the kind of Messiah everyone thought he was. Later in the next passage, Peter learns this. Jesus, following this confession from Peter, proceeds to prophesy in the next few verses about his future suffering, death and subsequent resurrection, but Peter does not buy it. Messiahs don’t die in Peter’s thinking. They don’t come to suffer; they come to rule, to crush the Romans. So, Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus turns and rebukes Peter and tells him something like, “You want to follow me? Join the death march and take up your cross. I’m headed toward suffering, so anyone who wants to follow me, get in line.” You see, what he was going to accomplish was not the ending of the oppression of Roman cruelty (not yet anyways). He was going to accomplish the salvation for the oppressed and the oppressors. He was going to do something far greater, far better than come and smite the Romans giving immediate retribution to those who don't know God. But, he was going to come and be smitten by God on behalf of sinners to redeem them from their sins and to bring them to the knowledge of the true God. He was to die under God’s complete and full wrath, so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life. The triumph of Messiah would occur through his death on behalf of sinners and by rising from the dead vindicated.
Jesus is the Messiah who first had to suffer, but will return to judge the living and the dead which will bring about the final judgement. It's not that they got the fact that Messiah would reign on earth and subdue all of God's enemies wrong, it's that they didn't get the whole picture of what the Bible had foretold.
For instance, in the Old Testament there were three offices that were said to be anointed. Christ and Messiah in the original languages both mean "anointed one." When you read about David in the Old Testament as being an anointed one, he was a “messiah” in the sense that he was an anointed one. In fact, the kings of Israel were all said to be anointed in their particular office. Prophets likewise were anointed by God, chosen to bear the oracles of God to the people of Israel. Then, there were priests anointed by God to make atonement for the people's sins and intercede on their behalf before God.
The Messiah was often looked at as coming merely to fulfill the office of King. They believed that he would come as the new Davidic King to subdue the enemies of God. The prophecies in the Old Testament that did not just prophesy of a King Messiah, but a Messiah who would in fact fulfill all three of these offices were often overlooked. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies not just as a King, but as a priest and a prophet. Jesus as King was the heir to the Davidic dynasty and is Lord over all the people and everyone owes to him their absolutely true allegiance. But, he also was to fulfill the office of prophet by disclosing God by his very person in a more intimate way than any before him. Not only did he speak the very words of God, he is the very word of God. He is the radiance of God, and he made known to us the Father. Not only this, but he is also the fulfillment of the priesthood and it is this priestly aspect that was so easily missed by the people of Jesus’ day. Hebrews has a lot to say about this. Jesus is a High Priest as well as a prophet. As the fulfiller of the priesthood, he provided himself as a sacrifice once and for all to atone for our sins and make us right with God. After he was raised from the dead, he now intercedes on behalf of his elect people for whom he died. Jesus fulfilled and currently now is fulfilling all three of these offices as Messiah. So, who is Jesus? He is the Messiah who came to fulfill all of the prophecies written about him, to make atonement for his people, to make the Father known in a more intimate way and to rule the world as the Davidic King.
2.) Philippians 2:5-11 - Jesus is truly God and truly man.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:5-11 gives us another aspect of the person of Christ.
Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. Here in this text we see this clearly. He was in “the form of God.” This simply means that he is God. He always has been; there never was a time where he wasn’t. He is, was and always will be God. The "form of God" can sound a bit strange, but "form" in the original language speaks to the essence and function rather than making some weird distinction between those two. Jesus is eternally God. But, the text strikes us with an incredible statement. "He took on the form of a bondservant." The one who is eternally in the form of God takes on human form. Now, whatever you did with the word “form” in the previous, you have to do again with “form” here. If “form” in the previous verse meant that he was like God but not really God, or that he was a kind of God, then in this verse, he's only a kind of man, but not really a man. That would contradict the whole passage and would go against the very definition of the Greek word for “form” here. Jesus is being said to have been really God for eternity, and now the text tells us in history that he became really human.
Some people have attempted to say that Jesus becoming nothing or emptying himself means he somehow gave up his deity completely or just gave up some of his divine attributes in order to become a man. This is not the case at all. Rather, the divine nature or attributes aren’t being subtracted from Jesus, but what Bruce Ware (an American theologian) has called subtraction by addition. Jesus does not empty himself or make himself nothing by giving away his deity, but rather he becomes nothing by adding to himself humanity. The subtraction is not taking away his divinity, but the adding of humanity. As God, he had no need to ask for anything, and so by becoming man, it was all a matter of giving. We can shout here, “Grace, grace, grace!” God gave by becoming poor. The Apostle Paul says that he became poor for our sake. He gave by becoming needy.
The wonder of the incarnation is that it ever happened, but in what man cannot conceive, God is pleased to do amazing things. The person of Jesus is a person in whom there are two natures, the human nature and divine nature.
This has been called the hypostatic union. Jesus is one person in whom there are two distinct natures, one divine and one human. He is truly God and truly man. He is not fifty percent God and fifty percent man. He’s not twenty-five man and seventy-five God. Neither is he an outer human shell with God on the inside working his human side like an alien operating a human clone. Neither are the divine nature and human nature fused together in some odd manner. They are united in one person, but yet still distinct. He is truly God with all his attributes intact and he was truly human having true human weaknesses. He got tired, and worn out; he had to learn things as a man. And, yet as God he never got tired, never got hungry and knew everything. The issue of how the divine nature interacted with the human nature of Jesus is beyond the scope of our conversation at the moment, but this is mind blowing: the creator and creature respectively are found in the one person of Christ Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah and he is truly God and truly man.
3. John 14:6 - Jesus is the only Redeemer.
A third text I want to look at for a moment is John 14:6. "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The third way we will answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” is by saying that he is the only Redeemer. There may be many people with the same name of Jesus; there may be many people out there claiming to be Jesus or claiming to do things that only he can do. Or better yet, you might come across more people saying that Jesus is one of many ships crossing the same channel. They may say that there are many ways to God and salvation and Jesus is just one of them. Jesus doesn’t claim to be one of many ships, but more like the sole bridge over a channel that none of our man-made boats could cross and trust me we've tried.
Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” The claims here are exclusive. The disciples had been asking Jesus how to get to the Father. What’s the way there? Is there some hidden truth we need to learn? If we read the end of the Gospel, we see that he’s been telling them what they don’t understand: that he is going to the Father by way of the cross. Jesus the Messiah must die on their behalf. We were reading earlier in Matthew 16 that this is exactly what Jesus was telling them, that it was necessary for Messiah to suffer, die and rise again for their sake. In John 14, Jesus is telling them that the only way to the Father is the same way in which he’s going, by the cross of Jesus Christ. He is the truth and the only road to true eternal life. Jesus is the only way to a right relationship with God, because he is the only one who can provide full satisfaction of God’s wrath in his death and full acceptance in resurrection. There is no other way.
Our third answer could be phrased another way. Jesus is not about being one of many pathways to God, but the only one. Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man, and only he who is both God and man could be. Jesus is not a pluralist. He does not teach that there many ways to God, but he is an exclusivist who insists that he alone is the way. John Chrysostom, a preacher in the fourth century, said what I think is the whole point: “Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon hath shone forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death hath set us free. In as much as he was held captive of it, he hath annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He angered it when it tasted of his flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was angered, when it encountered thee. . . . It was angered, for it was abolished. It was angered, for it was mocked. It was angered, for it was slain. It was angered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was visible, and fell upon the invisible. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigneth.”
Chrysostom was making the point that not by any stretch was Jesus just one of many ways to take care of that hell problem, but absolutely the only way. “Don’t weep for your sin, for your iniquities,” he says, not because it’s okay if your good outweighs your bad, or that hell is not that big of a deal. But, don’t weep even though hell is a big deal, because where our sin abounded the grace of God abounded all the more through Jesus Christ. He was condemned on our behalf and died for our sins. He paid our penalty and he put death to death by dying and rising. He’s risen! The King is alive and he calls all men to acknowledge him as Lord and the only one who can save.
Now, we’re going to wrap up here, but before we do I want to quote a section out of a paper by C.S Lewis entitled, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” He begins saying, “This is a question, which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make an elephant has comic elements about it.” He proceeds later, “The things he says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, ‘This is the truth about the universe. This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’ He says, ‘No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.; He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am Life. Eat ME, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’ That is the issue.”