— The Supreme Revelation: Jesus Christ
1. Christ The Key To Scripture
JESUS CHRIST is the key to the interpretation of Scripture. He is the keystone in this vast arch of spiritual truth. One of the most conspicuous features in the Old Testament literature is its Messianic element. In many and varied forms the rich contents of the Messianic hope are expressed. Interpreters may attempt too much in the process of tracing out details of prophecy and fulfilment. But the great salient fact remains. The prophets expected a Deliverer, a great Leader, a holy kingdom, a reign of a righteous King, God’s presence among men, a world transformed under the power of God’s chosen One. It follows, then, that the Gospels are for us central in our approach to the Bible. The Old Testament in all its lines of development culminates in Jesus Christ. He is the great historical fact and corner-stone of Christianity. The Epistles of the New Testament are devoted to the task of interpreting him. We come into very close relations with the first Christians when we consider the question who and what was Jesus of Nazareth. The modern regenerate man knows in himself the working of a power which calls for explanation. The New Testament Christians faced the same question. These men who saw and heard Jesus undertake to tell us in a conscious and deliberate way their own impressions of his power and of his person. Without any knowledge whatever of modern scientific methods these men adopt a strictly scientific spirit in their approach to the subject. There is no theory, no speculation, no abstract reasoning. They begin with the words and deeds of Jesus. They follow him through his life and the events which followed. They consider him in relation to the facts of their own redeemed and morally transformed life, and in relation to the Christian movement. In this way arose the doctrine of the person of Jesus. There are at least three general stages which may be noted in the New Testament representations. First, that contained in the synoptic Gospels; secondly, that found in the Book of Acts; thirdly, that presented by Paul and John. The teachings of Hebrews, of James, and of the book of Revelation might be specified further as containing distinctive elements. But space forbids exhaustive treatment, and the latter books do not contain material which affects the general result. Hence they are not given separate treatment here. It will be necessary to limit ourselves to the more salient passages.
1. In the synoptic Gospels there are at least five facts which stand forth clearly
in the accounts of Jesus: First, his complete humanity; Secondly, his sense of Messianic calling; Thirdly, his sinlessness; Fourthly, his unique relation to God; and Fifthly, as a consequence to the preceding, his unique relation to man, to nature, and to history. (1) The humanity of Jesus is manifest in all the synoptic records. Luke declares that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. (Luk. 2:52.) He suffered from hunger (Mat. 4: 2), weariness, and pain (Mat. 26:38), and finally death. He was tempted not only at the beginning (Mat. 4: 1-11), but throughout his ministry. (Luk. 22:28.) He prayed. (Mat. 14:23.) He declared himself ignorant of the “day and hour” concerning which disciples made inquiry. (Mar. 13:32.) He had a human body and a human soul. (2) His sense of Messianic calling is another outstanding fact in the synoptic account of Jesus. Criticism has expended much labor to prove that this sense of vocation was wanting in Jesus, but it is impossible to expunge it from the record without violence. The name “Christ” designates Jesus as Messiah or anointed of God. At his baptism the approving voice of God the Father must have deepened in him this conviction. (Mat. 3:17.) The temptation in the wilderness can only be explained on the basis of a deep-seated conviction of Messianic vocation on the part of Jesus. (Mat. 4: 1 ff.) The incident of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi brings it into great prominence. (Mar. 8:27-30.) Many incidents in the life of Christ point in the same direction, such as his message to John the Baptist in prison (Mat. 11: 2 ff.), his confession before the high priest (Mat. 26:64), and other incidents. There is not space to discuss the self-designation of Jesus as Son of Man. It was probably based on the passage in Dan. 7:13, and was intended by Jesus as a Messianic title pointing to his universal relations to men. It involved the idea of suffering and future glory which would come to Jesus in his Messianic vocation. The reserve of Jesus in announcing his Messiahship in the early stages of his ministry was probably owing to the danger of abruptly thrusting the idea of his own spiritual kingdom upon a people looking for a kingdom of temporal power, and to the desire that the disciples might grow spiritually into an appreciation of him and his work. He desired that his revelation might become their discovery.
(3) The sinlessness of Jesus. The formal claim to sinlessness did not constitute a leading element in the teaching of Jesus. But it is clearly implied in all his words and actions. Alleged weaknesses and sins, such as his anger at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, are virtues, not faults. One passage seems to imply a denial of sinlessness. In Mar. 10:18 Jesus declares that “none is good save one, even God.” But here Jesus is thinking of goodness in its absolute or eternal form as it exists in God. The goodness of Jesus was a human goodness achieved through temptation and struggle. He learned obedience. (Heb. 4:15; 5: 8.) He was made perfect through sufferings. But his imperfection was not that of sin, but rather of an unfolding life. If this be not true, how can we explain the absence of confession of sin? Why is it that we search in vain for any trace of penitence in his recorded words and deeds? How can we explain his unclouded and unbroken fellowship with God? In John’s Gospel we have a saying which denies sinfulness: “Which of you convicteth me of sin?” (Joh. 8:46.) In numerous other passages in the Epistles we find the same view expressed. (1Pe. 1:11; Php. 2: 7, 8; 1Jo. 3: 5; Heb. 7:26.) His baptism was not a confession of sin, but a self-dedication to righteousness and to his Messianic vocation. (4) Jesus sustained a unique relation to God. Central in his consciousness was the relation to the Father. He never addresses God as “our Father.” He frequently says, “My Father” (Mat. 7:21; 10:32; 12:50). He never refers to himself as “a son of God,” but he often refers to himself as “the Son.” The most notable passage is that in Mat. 11:27: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” f8 This passage is one of the most remarkable found anywhere in the Gospels. It declares that Jesus sustains to the Father an extraordinary relation; possesses unparalleled knowledge of the Father; and performs a unique function in revealing the Father. He correlates his own knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of him. He claims to possess “all things” from the Father. His own consciousness dwells completely in the divine consciousness. The center of his own will coincides with the center of God’s will. Doctor Denney remarks f9 on this passage: “The sentence as a whole tells us plainly that Jesus is both to God and man what no other can be.” Dr. H. R. Mackintosh adds the following f10 as to the special sonship here defined:
“Looking at both Jesus’ own mind and at Christian experience, there is no reason why we should not use the word metaphysical to denote this special Sonship, not as though metaphysical stood in contrast with ethical, but to mark the circumstance that this Sonship is part of the ultimate realities of being.” (5) Jesus Christ sustains a unique relation to man, to nature, and to history. In the synoptic Gospels there is a remarkable unity in the portrait of Jesus as that portrait stands related to man, nature, and history. We give here a bare summary merely. We have already noted his own sinlessness. We add here that he forgives sin in others and thus exercises a divine prerogative. (Mar. 2: 6, 7, 10-12.) His blood was shed for remission of sins. (Mat. 26:28); and he declared after his resurrection that repentance and remission of sins would be preached in his name. (Luk. 24:47.) In his relations to Moses and the law, Jesus declares that he came to fulfil (i.e., complete) the law. (Mat. 5:17.) He is greater than the temple (Mat. 12: 6); he is Lord of the sabbath (Mat. 12: 8); he is the King who founds and rules in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5 to 7; Luk. 22:29, 30; 19:12.) Jesus controlled the forces of nature, as witness the stilling of the tempest and other miracles. Future events were under his control. In the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew we have an extended prophecy of his future relations to mankind. He is to be the judge on the throne before whom all nations are to be gathered. The preceding is by no means an exhaustive statement. It is rather a bare suggestion of the salient features. But they are sufficient to show how high above the level of ordinary men was this man. He assumes a central place in man’s religious life. He is not only our religious example, but also our religious object. In the Son we find the Father. His resurrection and ascension complete the picture. His gift of the Holy Spirit is the true explanation of his continued presence and power among men.
2. In the book of Acts, the teachings as to the person of Christ mark an
advance over those in the synoptic Gospels in some respects. This is due to the changed situation. Jesus has been raised from the dead and has ascended to the right hand of the Father. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit has followed. A new era in the experience of the disciples has dawned. New powers work in and through them. One passage contains a brief summary of the teaching in Acts. They are the words of Peter, “God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Act. 2:36). Two points require emphasis. First, Jesus the crucified is the Christ, the anointed of God, the Messiah. It was he who was predicted in the Old Testament. It is he who is to be received by faith as the Redeemer sent
from God. Secondly, this crucified Jesus, who is the Christ of God, is also Lord. From every possible point of view the work of Jesus as the anointed Lord is set forth in the early chapters of the book of Acts. His miracles are mentioned. (Act. 10:38.) His resurrection from the dead is the supreme disclosure of his Messianic dignity and Lordship. (Act. 2:32; 10:41.) His gift of the Holy Spirit is especially pointed out. (Act. 1: 4, 5.) In his name alone is salvation to be found. (Act. 4:12.) He is to return and restore all things. (Act. 3:21.) He is to judge the world. (Act. 17:31.)
3. The teachings of Paul occupy an important place in the New Testament
history as to Christ’s person. The Christology of Paul presents two important aspects. First, that which is the immediate expression of the experience of salvation through Christ, and secondly, the theological statements which interpret this experience. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is the key to his theology. Jesus Christ there appeared to him in glory. There his pharisaic creed collapsed and fell in ruins. There the new life of faith began with Paul. No explanation of the marvelous revolution of this man’s life other than that contained in his own simple narrative can adequately account for it. The mystical or inward and experiential elements in Paul’s life run through all his Epistles. A man becomes a new creature in Christ. (2Co. 5:17.) In him the Christian is created anew unto good works. (Eph. 2:10.) “In Christ” is Paul’s comprehensive phrase employed in every possible connection to set forth the believer’s relation to his Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in the believer, and in the church he is the bond of unity in Christ. Jesus Christ is the head of the body in vital union with it through the Holy Spirit. (Col. 1:18; Eph. 4:15.) A man who is in Christ is in the Spirit. He who has the Spirit of Christ alone belongs to Christ. (Rom. 8: 9.) Paul does not identify Christ and the Spirit. But he clearly defines the sphere of the Spirit’s activity by means of the phrase “in Christ.” In the teachings of Paul there is not a great deal about the earthly life of Jesus. Yet this element is not lacking. The resurrection is especially emphasized. (Rom. 1: 4.) Here the statement is not that Christ became, but was declared to be, the Son of God by the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ, along with the crucifixion, is the central fact in Paul’s gospel. The resurrection is the guaranty of the resurrection of believers. The exalted Christ is Lord of the church, just as in Acts. (1Co. 15: 4, 12, 13, 20-28.) Jesus is the new spiritual head of the human race, as Adam was the natural head. (Rom. 5:12; 1Co. 15:22.)
Paul’s statements as to the deity of Christ are usually incidental to other teachings. But they are the more rather than less impressive on this account. His hearers raised no question on the point. It was the accepted view. What he says, however, is entirely clear and convincing as to how he regarded Christ. In Rom. 9: 5 the word “blessed” follows the word “God,” which would not be the case if it were simply a doxology. Moreover, the word “is” would be out of place in a doxology. The translation as Doctor Sanday gives it is, “of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.” In Heb. 1: 8 we have a quotation from the Old Testament in which Christ is addressed as God. So by Paul in Tit. 2:13 he is described as “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” In Php. 2: 6 begins an extended passage describing Christ as preexisting in the form of God, as emptying himself and taking the form of a servant, and being exalted and given a name above every name. A passage in Col. 1:15-17, expresses Christ’s relations to the universe in very explicit language. The following is asserted: (a) Christ was the medium of creation: “through him were all things created.” (b) He was before all things, although not as a creature; “He is the firstborn of the whole creation.” (c) He is the bond of unity of all things: “In him all things consist,” cohere, are held together. (d) He is the end and goal of creation; all things are “unto him.” In the benedictions of Paul’s Epistles he uniformly combines the name of Christ with the name of the Father and the Spirit, clearly showing the dignity with which he invests him in his ordinary thought. We pass by many other notable passages in Paul’s writings to consider a few in those of John. In the prologue to the Gospel Jesus is described as the eternal Word who was in the beginning. i.e., possessed an eternal existence; who was “with God,” i.e., distinct from God; who was the creator of all things: “All things were made through him”; who “was God”; who was the source of all life and all light to all created beings; who became incarnate and dwelt among us; and who gave to those who received him power (authority) to become sons of God.
Philo, the Jewish-Alexandrian philosopher, had developed a speculative doctrine of the logos or divine reason. Some have thought John borrowed his conception from Philo. Upon this point two things may be said. First, if John was influenced by the logos idea of philosophy, it was in harmony with the Christian movement generally. Not to combat or destroy, but to transform and purify the partial and inadequate ideas of men was the Christian method of dealing with these ideas. Secondly, a comparison of John’s Logos with that of Philo presents a marked contrast. In Philo the idea is abstract, speculative, variable in meaning, and bound up with the intellectual attempt to explain the divine being. In John the idea is very definite, ethical, and inspired by the historic facts as to Jesus, and bound up with the redemptive aim of the gospel. The whole of John’s Gospel is an account of the manifestation of the divine Son of God, and the results of that manifestation among men. John is at once historian and interpreter. In a great variety of passages his teaching as to Christ appears. In Joh. 5:23 the Son receives equal honor with the Father. In Joh. 5:27-29 authority to judge man is given to the Son. In Joh. 6:62 the Son of man is described as ascending where he was before. In Joh. 16:28 he is said to have “come out” from the Father. In Joh. 17: 5, in his intercessory prayer, Jesus prays to the Father that he may be glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was made. In Joh. 20:28 Thomas addresses Jesus as “my Lord and my God.” The above is by no means an exhaustive setting forth of the New Testament doctrine of the Person of Christ. There is really an embarrassment of riches in the material. It has seemed better to select a limited number of typical and representative passages than to attempt an exhaustive array of citations. That the deity and preexistence of Christ are taught in the New Testament is one of the most assured results of modern scientific exegesis. Scholars who object to the supernatural of course reject the doctrine as untrue. But as a matter of exegesis there are few who question the conclusion we have reached. We may now sum up briefly our review of the New Testament teachings. (1) We are impressed, in the synoptic records, with the fact of the perfect humanity of Jesus. That humanity is seen in the life of his body with its limitations, its hunger and thirst, its need and dependence. It is seen in his mental growth in wisdom, along with his physical growth in stature. It is seen in the reality of the temptations he endured. These he overcame without sin, but they were none the less real. His humanity is seen further in his
dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is seen finally in his gradual achievement of his life purpose and mission under the earthly conditions of time and space. (2) In the synoptic Gospels we have also an account of the human Jesus which presents him as possessing attributes and functions which are wholly extraordinary. His relations to God and man are far above the level of ordinary men. He is in relation to God the supreme and authoritative revelation. In relation to man he is the religious object and medium of salvation. (3) In the book of Acts we find the next stage in the development of the doctrine of Christ’s Person. The new facts of the resurrection and ascension, along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, called for a corresponding expression of Christ’s significance for the individual believer and for the church. That expression we find in the declarations as to his crucified and risen life, his Messiahship and Lordship, his exaltation at God’s right hand, his reign over his kingdom, and his expected return in glory. The interpretation of his person kept pace with his redeeming activity. (4) In the writings of Paul and John we find the answer to the questions which inevitably arose out of the redemptive power of Christ in the experience of the first Christians. The mind could not rest in the assertion that Jesus was Lord and Saviour. Men were certain to ask what were the relations of this Lord and Saviour to God himself. In the words of Paul and John we find the following: a. There was an eternal relation between the Father and the Son. There was mutual knowledge and love, a mutual sharing in the divine life. b. The coming of Christ into the world cannot be explained in terms of ordinary evolution or natural causation. He did not arise out of time, but entered into time relations for a divine end. c. The coming of Christ into the world was more than the entrance of God into the life of an ordinary man. It was a coming of God into the world, not the rise of an extraordinary man into unique relations with God. In Jesus Christ, God himself has come near to men for their redemption. He lives and reigns in and through Jesus Christ and in him fulfils his eternal purpose of love. d. This relation of Christ to the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose among men arises out of an eternal relation between the Father and the Son, and is in harmony with the activity of the Son as the outgoing principle of the divine nature. In virtue of this relation the Son is the eternal medium of creation for the entire universe. e. As a consequence of the redemptive activity of the incarnate Son, a new interpretation of history is given. In this interpretation all lines of development
converge upon and meet in Jesus Christ. Without him the course of the world cannot be understood. f. In his incarnate life he is sometimes represented as being subordinate to the Father. This is due to the human conditions and the life of obedience. It does not detract from the reality of his deity.
2. Jesus Christ In Modern Religious Experience
The preceding view of Jesus in its main points has been central in the development of Christian life and doctrine. The great creeds of Christendom are conclusive on this point. Recent biblical scholarship is practically unanimous in its conclusion to the same effect. But the experience which modern regenerate men have of God in Christ is, for them, the most convincing evidence. It is well to recall at this point how the doctrine of Christ’s Person arose in the New Testament, and how it arises with us. For one thing we do not frame our teaching as the result of a priori reasoning or merely logical inference from objective facts. Again, while the knowledge of Christ is mediated to us through the New Testament, and while the New Testament is absolutely indispensable for that knowledge, our faith in Christ is not to be confounded with mere belief in a record of past events, however convincing in itself. It is rather a view which results from the redeeming activity of Christ in our experience. It is thus the revelation of God in and through Christ, completed and made effective for us by the redemption wrought for us and in us. Since Christ works now as he wrought then, our own experience becomes the Amen, as it were, of the New Testament experience. What we have, then, on the one hand is not the bare belief of a history of events which took place two thousand years ago; nor, on the other hand, mere trust in our own subjective experience apart from the historical records. It is the union of the two forms of knowledge which completes our view of Christ. Our construction of Christian doctrine rests on a fact basis entirely: first and primarily, the facts of the New Testament records, and secondly, our direct and immediate experience of Christ as redeeming Lord.
Affirmations as to Christ in Experience
The following statements are necessary to express what Christ is to the redeemed man. First, Christ is the revealer of God. In him we have not indeed a disclosure as to the “substance” of the divine nature. Ultimate realities of this kind are the material of philosophic speculation. But in Jesus is made known to us the
ultimate reality of God as a moral and spiritual being. In him God appears as righteous love. In him God comes near for our salvation. In him the grace and power of God are manifested for our redemption. In him God takes the initiative in seeking us. We are found and awakened by the gospel. But our sin binds us. We know ourselves alienated in heart and life from God. We are unable to redeem ourselves. We belong to a kingdom of evil and are held captive. We need forgiveness and reconciliation. Through his atoning work Christ brings God near in forgiving grace. We need moral and spiritual transformation. Christ supplies the motives which lead to repentance and the new life. He also supplies through the indwelling Spirit the ideal for our inner life. “In Christ” is the phrase which expresses the total meaning of the new life. He is its source, its structural law, and its goal. We are, in other words, regenerated and spiritually reconstituted in Jesus Christ. Secondly, through Christ we now become identified with the community of believers, the church. In it our social relations are reconstituted in Christ. The goal and end of his activity and of ours is the kingdom of God as it is summed up in the great petition of the prayer he taught his disciples. Our wills become identified with his. Thirdly, we thus come to know Jesus Christ as Lord of the kingdom, who guides and rules in it, and assumes a relation to all secular history and to the powers of nature. It is impossible that he should remain as a merely detached and spiritual influence over men if his kingdom is a reality in the world. The kingdom of evil is everywhere in evidence. The New Testament Christians, as clearly seen in the book of Revelation, thought of Jesus as the Lord of all history gradually conquering the hostile powers. In the Fourth place, Christ is the key to doctrine. If we know objects by what they do, by their activities, we are bound to seek some satisfactory expression of the meaning of Jesus in all his various relations. He works in us in our salvation that which we recognize as a divine work. Hence we seek to know his relations to God through definitions of his person. He emancipates from sin. Hence out of experience arises a consciousness of sin in relation to him. Thus we are led to formulate a doctrine of man and his sin. We see in him the central movement of God’s purpose toward mankind. In this way we are led to the doctrine of the eternal purpose or decrees of God. Christ’s relations to the ongoing of the world bring us to the doctrine of Providence. His atoning work, which, along with his incarnation, constitutes the basis of his redeeming activity, leads to the general doctrine of salvation in its personal significance, its present ethical and social expression, and in its outcome in the future life. All these themes will be developed in the following pages. In the next chapter we discuss the deity of Jesus Christ. In the proofs therein presented we assume
all the New Testament evidence of his deity we have set forth in the present chapter.