Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ

Moving on in my series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to the second article, about the Lord Jesus Christ. I will split the second on Christ into three parts to give every statement its due. The first part:

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

So can we learn anything from these simple statements? As Paul might say, much in every way!

I believe in Jesus – This should surprise us, but we are quite used to it by now. Yet, immediately after declaring belief in God the Father, the Creed moves to affirming belief in someone named Jesus, a human name. Here a human being is given a priority of belief with God Himself. And unless we are to violate the Jewish creed from wich Christianity was born, that God is one and alone is to be worshipped and trusted for all things, then we must realize that even by putting Jesus here it implies that this man, Jesus, is to be included in the worship of God Almighty. Jesus must be God, in at least some way, shape, or form.

Christ – “Christ” means “anointed,” and specifically translates in Greek the Hebrew “Messiah.” Jesus is here identified as the Messiah, the anointed king God promised to Israel from the line of David. This means that Jesus is, for one, irreducibly Jewish. He is a man of Israel, indeed Himself the true Israel in whom Israel’s destiny always was determined. He cannot be separated from these roots. Everything this article will say is said about a Jew specifically. And this Jew is the true Jew, the one man for whom Israel existed from the beginning, who fulfilled Israel’s destiny in His own life. This part of the Creed announces that the God whom we worship in worshipping Jesus is no other than the God of Israel, and thus the story of His relationship with Israel in the Old Testament is inseparable from who He is for us in Jesus and how we are supposed to understand Him. This undercuts all efforts to suggest that maybe we don’t really need the Old Testament or that Jesus and God of Israel can be set against each other in any way. He is Yahweh’s anointed.

His only Son – There is a dual significance to this phrase. On the one hand, “son of God” originated as a description of Israel (Exod. 4:22, Hos. 11:1) and Israel’s king (Ps. 2:7), and this is essential to the Messianic meaning of the first part of this line. Israel became a rebellious son before God, but Jesus fulfilled their calling as the faithful Son, the true Israelite. On the other hand, in the New Testament is has become clear that the Sonship of Jesus is something greater and deeper than the sonship of Israel. Jesus is a unique Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father. He is homoousios, of one being or nature, with His Father. The Father and the Son are one and the same being. Jesus is the exact expression of the nature of God by virtue of being the Son who bears in every way His Father’s likeness and image. When we see Jesus, we see the Father. There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. Everything Jesus does and says is the very act and word of God Himself.

Our Lord – This one title could perhaps be called the Gospel itself. To call Jesus “Lord” is to blaspheme all rivals. This man rules the world and no one else. All other authorities exist only because He as their Lord allows them to do so. In the end they are accountable to Him, as are all men. The claim of Jesus’ Lordship has unique meaning both in its Jewish and Gentile origins. On the Jewish side, to claim the title of Lord is necessarily put one in a special relationship with God, as God alone has any true authority. If anyone is to be Lord, it must be by God’s designation. Yet in Scripture this was taken even further. The word “Lord” was used in the Old Testament to translate Yahweh, the covenant name of God, and on more than one occasion Old Testament verses which orignally referred to God as Lord are now referred to Jesus. Jesus is Lord means not only that He is the ruler and king, but that He is the God over all rulers and kings, the one God of Israel who rules the whole earth. On the Gentile side, the title “lord” was chiefly for Caesar. He considered and even worshipped as the lord of the world. To call anyone else “lord” was a challenge to him, and this was especially so for the early Christians. Unlike all others, no Caesar could force the Christians to bow to him as lord, for his only power was the tyrant’s power, death, a power to which the Christians refused to yield. Even today, Jesus remains this Lord. He stands over and against all human powers and authorities, whether American or Russian or Iranian or Chinese. They are all subject to Him and will all give an account to Him, and none of them should be able to control us (*cough* for example, by forcing us to endorse people like Trump or Hillary *cough*) when we recognize His absolute Lordship.

Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in Jesus Christ

Early Evidence for Belief in Jesus’ Deity

[This is an article I made for an apologetics forum. I decided I might as well post it here as well.]

An argument frequently made by those who deny orthodox Christianity is that Jesus was not believed to be God until a very long time after His death. Among those who have the Internet but nothing else to their credit, this development supposedly came as late as the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, or at least the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Not everything is this absurdly extreme, of course. Among the more reasonable and learned of skeptics, Jesus’ deity is acknowledged to reach back to at least some time in the first century. The best example of this is probably Bart Ehrman, who believes that some kind of belief in a divine Jesus existed by the time John was written.

I do not intend to argue particularly against Ehrman’s account of belief in Jesus’ deity here. I merely intend to lay out some of the basic evidences from the New Testament that Jesus’ deity was already at least partially present, or perhaps strongly so, in Christian doctrine within a generation of Jesus’ death.

Paul

Paul’s epistles (mostly AD 50-60) do not often make any explicit statements about Jesus’ deity, though there are verses in the contested Pauline letters which make such a statement (Titus 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:1). However, in all of Paul’s letters Old Testament verses which spoke of Yahweh in the original context are applied to Christ, with YHWH appearing in the Greek citation as adonai, “Lord.” Examples include Romans 10:13 (cf. Joel 2:32, probably the strongest), 1 Corinthians 2:16 (cf. Isa. 40:13), and 2 Corinthians 10:17 (cf. Jer. 9:24).

Also in Paul we have the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2, which is difficult to interpret in ways which do not ascribe to Jesus in some way a preexistent divine nature. In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul reworks the Shema, which was the defining declaration of Jewish monotheism, around the Father and His Son Jesus in a way which applies the lordship, oneness, and role as creator to both of them (of particular interest would be the new developments on this by Crispin Fletcher-Louis).

Hebrews

The anonymous letter of Hebrews, most likely written sometime before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, has an undeniably high Christology. While an exact and explicit identification of Jesus as deity is not present, the entire first chapter demonstrates a strong belief that Jesus shared a relationship with God that far surpasses the royal sonship in the psalms which he cites. He clearly sees in Jesus a nature as the Son of God. This appears to cross the line into affirming true deity when he cites Psalms 45 and 102. There he not only says that the Son is addressed by God as God (and in the context of his argument he seems to take this beyond the original sense of royal adoption), but even speaks of the Son as the Lord (YHWH in the cited verse’s Hebrew text) who created the universe and is eternal before and after it.

John and Revelation

Remaining to mention are John and Revelation, both supposedly the work of the apostle John, who tradition says died around the close of the first century. Both of these books are usually dated to the 90s, which is a little later than the rest of the New Testament evidence, though still just within a lifetime of Jesus’ death. Of particular interest, though, is the theory increasingly considered by even secular and liberal scholars that John was actually written in part before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This is argued mostly on the basis of John’s portrayal of the Temple authorities, along with a peculiar feature of John 5:2.

John opens up with what is arguably the highest Christological declaration in the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since, by the end of the passage, this Word is clearly identified as Jesus, there is no possible way of understanding this except to say that Jesus had, at least in some way, a preexistent divine nature. Even Ehrman admits this, though is careful not to anachronistically assume this takes a post-Nicene shape. Adding interest, most scholars think John’s prologue is came from earlier traditions. If this is the case and it were the case that John was written before the Temple fell, then we have an extremely strong statement of Jesus’ deity dating very early.

Revelation, although without doubt later than all of the other books in the New Testament, with consensus placing it during Domitian’s rule (AD 81-96), is nonetheless an interesting case. By this time there can be no doubt that, even if no one else agreed, the author held a view which somehow identified Jesus as God. The entire books operates on that assumption, repeatedly attributing to Jesus divine attributes and actions, especially in allusion to Yahweh’s roles in the Old Testament. Citing verses would be a tedious task here, but enough evidence can be found simply by reading the book with a good list of cross-references. A clear theme is that the Lamb who was slain shares in every way the life, names, character, and roles of God Himself.

Early Evidence for Belief in Jesus’ Deity

Jesus Is Still Human! (And Why It Matters)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was lifted up and glorified, and then the Word was no longer flesh.

Huh?

I’ve heard it said by more than one person that Jesus is no longer human. Once He ascended, He went back to being all God. Even people who don’t say this is true still wonder why it wouldn’t be, or why it matters either way. But as far as I am concerned this is the result of serious theological negligence in common modern preaching. It is not enough to say that Jesus was completely God and completely human. We must also affirm that He remains the God-man forever and ever.

Of course, the immediate response for many of you will be, “Why should I believe this is true? Is this Biblical?” In fact, this is the clear teaching of Scripture. I’d go so far as to say the New Testament leaves open no possibility that Jesus ceased to be a human being after He ascended. To prove this beyond doubt, I will offer three kinds of arguments: a few proof texts, a theological explanation, and finally a summary of the ridiculous implications which would result from saying that Jesus is no longer human.

Proof Verses

There are many verses in the NT which require or imply that Jesus never stopped being human, and remains human right now. Examples:

For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:5

This verse tells us that there is one Mediator. Jesus in the present tense is the Mediator between God and humans. Yet what does the Scripture say here? This present Mediator is “the man Christ Jesus.” So in the present tense Jesus is a human Mediator.

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest.

Revelation 1:13

John has this vision over 90 years after the Ascension, and here he identifies “someone like the Son of Man.” As the context makes abundantly clear, this phrase is part of the description of Jesus, who was known in His earthly life also as the Son of Man, a title which very much emphasizes His human nature. So if Jesus is no longer human, then why should He be called “someone like the Son of Man?” Unless you want bear on the word “like” as if that proves He is no longer actually the Son of Man, but such nonsense is easily ignored.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:31

Again, after the Ascension, when the Apostles have been publicly preaching for some time, Jesus is referred to as the man God has appointed to judge the world. This judgment is still future, of course, so we would have to be stretching to absurdity to say, “He has set a day to judge the world with justice by the ex-man he has appointed, who is actually 100% God now…” This verse only makes sense if Jesus is still a human and will remain so at least until final judgment.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Acts 1:11

If Jesus is to return just like He ascended, does that not require that He returns in human form just as He left? So He must remain human at least for that. The only other option is to say that Jesus switched back to pure God, and later will become human one more time.

The Theological Argument: Jesus as Eternal High Priest, and the Guarantee of Resurrection

My next major argument involves Jesus’ role as our High Priest. While unfortunately most modern theology is laid out in a way that this ministry of Jesus becomes unimportant, the truth is that Jesus’ priestly mediation is essential to our salvation. Not only did He make atonement, but now He lives forever at the right hand of the Father actually exercising the reconciliation He achieved in God’s presence. Without this mediation, we could not be saved. The atonement would be one crucial and eternal step short of completion. Of course, if this seems strange, modern preaching/theological emphasis is to blame. A quick read through the book of Hebrews confirms what I am saying.

If this is true, as Hebrews tells us, then we must also note that Jesus’ priestly ministry is associated in the Scriptures exclusively with His human nature. In order to be our priest and make us holy before God, He had to become like us in every way, taking on our flesh and blood existence. Really, this is the entire point of Hebrews 2, not to mention 1 Timothy 2:5 which I cited above. The High Priest must be a human to minister to God for humans. And Jesus is our human High Priest.

The major point to note, then, is that Jesus’ priestly mediation before the Father is emphatically viewed as a present and eternal reality. Notice how often Hebrews calls Him a high priest forever. Then comes this important declaration:

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Hebrews 7:24-25

Here the author of Hebrews states clearly that Jesus’ role as High Priest mediating before God and humans will last forever. Yet, as I said before and as Hebrews 2 especially demonstrates, this priestly ministry is part of Jesus’ humanity. If He were not human, He would be no more eligible to our High Priest than an angel, or even a monkey. For the priest of humanity must Himself be a member of humanity. Again, all I am saying here is made clear in Hebrews.

I have a second important theological argument, though, despite that I think the first is proof enough of Jesus’ eternal humanity. This one is grounded in the Resurrection. Even a brief skimming of the New Testament is enough to show that our future bodily resurrection is based on and comes from Jesus’ own resurrected life. But this cannot be simply a one-time event that we then copy. If Jesus stopped being human, then He no longer has a resurrected and glorified human body. So in that case, how will we be raised if we cannot participate in a Savior who is still living resurrected human life?

Simply put, if Jesus’ resurrection body was only temporary before He ceased to be human, then how can the Bible say that He is the firstfruits/firstborn from the dead? Can He really be the pattern and base of our own future, eternal resurrection if He Himself was only raised to a body that lasted 40 days? Of course not! The Scriptures say that we will be resurrected like Jesus was, and that obviously does not mean into a temporary human existence.

The Ridiculous Problems If Jesus Isn’t Still Human

Finally, I will demonstrate that we run quickly into absurd results if we are willing to accept that Jesus stopped being human. For example, since the Bible clearly affirms that Jesus will return in human form just like when He left, then He would have to have a brand new human nature created for the second time if He no longer has the one He had when he left. Will the Word become flesh twice? Surely that’s nonsense. Jesus isn’t a transformer.

Another problem would be this: if Jesus is no longer human, then the human Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Remember, before Bethlehem there was no “Jesus,” there was simply the Son who existed eternally as the divine Word. The name “Jesus” applies to the human being who the Word become, the man from Nazareth. So if the Word unbecame flesh, then Jesus no longer exists, and only the Son in His original divine form does. The man Jesus would be dead, His body having vanished from all reality. In fact, He would be more dead that we could ever be! For we have not only a human body but a human soul. Jesus’ human soul is also part of His human nature. But our souls do not die, they continue to exist forever even when the body is dead. Yet if Jesus stopped being human, then even the human soul He had would have ceased to exist, meaning the man Jesus was ultimately even more mortal then we are, and this after His victorious resurrection!

Speaking of His resurrection, wouldn’t the Resurrection be a bit pointless if a mere 40 days later Jesus’ glorified and resurrected body would simply cease to exist? What’s going on here? “I sent me Son to die, then I raised His body from the dead, and then I made that body disappear from all reality.” Does this make any sense at all? By no means! If the body Jesus had after His resurrection was only temporary, then I dare to say His resurrection was no more than a divine prank and means nothing to our salvation!

As if all this were not enough, if the Word stopped being flesh—Jesus quit being human—then apparently Jesus was not truly 100% God and 100% human in one person. For besides the fact that humans live forever either in bliss or torment, and if Jesus stopped being human then He did not fulfill that, the Word merely shedding off His human nature after the Ascension would all but prove He never really held a human nature as a serious part of His person. Instead, Jesus’ human nature would seem to be more like clothes, easily donned and easily taken off when necessary. But this, of course, is rank heresy.

Conclusion

Hopefully by this point I’ve proved my case. If not, I am at a loss, for I believe the Scriptures tesify quite plainly about what I’ve said. Jesus did not merely spend 33 years out of all eternity as one of us. Once God committed Himself so dearly to humanity that He sent His one and only Son to become our saving Brother, the Word made an eternal and irrevocable dedication to be God as human as so that humans could forever meet Him as God. This is essential, for all Christ’s work from the moment He died depends on the permanence of His human nature. Praise God that He so loved the world He even made an eternal change in His divine life for us, sending the Son to be like us so that we could also be sons like Him! Amen.

Jesus Is Still Human! (And Why It Matters)