This is part 5 of a 10 part series on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. This reformed systematic theology for children was prepared for my own family. Much of the content is based on Bruce Ware’s Big Truths for Small Hearts. This article reviews what the Bible teaches that Jesus is.
Who Jesus Is
A Person Who Was Alive Long Before He Was Born
Jesus is God and is pre-existent, alive before he was born to the virgin Mary.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:56-58)
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The Incarnation – God and Man Together
The incarnation, the joining together of the eternal Son of God with a full human nature, is one of the greatest wonders of all history. God brought this about for our salvation since this is the only way that our loving and holy God would be able to save us from our sin.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)
The Word has always been with God. This does not mean that the Word is not God himself. Rather, the one God is more than one Person. The Word has always been God. The Word is eternal and has no beginning.
- As the Word who is the eternal Son of the Father, this Word has always existed with God his Father.
- The Word is in nature the eternal God, and this Word has always existed as God.
- The Word has come to earth and has become also fully a man.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Son is the greatest revelation of God, since now God is speaking to us through his own Son. The Son shows forth the radiance of God’s very glory, and the Son is the exact imprint of God’s own nature. God the Son with the full glory of God should unite with full man in order to make the glory of God known to other men.
How Jesus Emptied Himself in Becoming Also a Man
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus, the Son who was fully God, rather than refusing to leave the glories of his place with the Father, poured himself or emptied himself out, taking the form of a servant. Christ “poured himself out,” not that he poured out qualities from himself.
He poured himself out (all of who he was as God) by taking the form of a servant; he emptied himself (all of who he was as God) by taking on human nature.
Christ willingly gave up the rightful use of some of the abilities of his divine nature in order to experience fully his life now as a man. So, while he was in nature fully God, yet in order to live in nature fully as a man, he gave up the expression or exercise of some of his divine abilities. He did not give up those divine abilities themselves.
Jesus Lived in the Power of the Spirit
Isaiah speaks of a coming day when the long awaited Messiah would come to bring good news of restoration for the people of God. To do this, the Spirit of God would be upon the Messiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The ability and power for the Messiah to carry out this calling came from the Spirit who had come upon him.
“And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)
Peter said that Jesus lived faithfully and performed miracles because God (his Father) had anointed him “with the Holy Spirit and with power,” that God was “with him” throughout his life.
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
To live by his power as God, Jesus would not and could not live as one of us. So instead, as a man, he relied on the Spirit of God to grant him all that he needed to live life faithfully and to carry out everything that the Father sent him to do. As a man, empowered by the Spirit, he fulfilled his calling.
Jesus Resisted Temptation, Living a Sinless Life
Jesus committed no sin
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:22-23)
“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
Why is it that Christ could not have sinned?
Answer: because as God he could not sin. God cannot sin, and Christ could not do something that would stain his divine nature.
Why is it that Christ did not sin?
Answer: because as a man, empowered with the Spirit and filled with God’s word, he used everything that was given him by the Father to remain obedient.
What the Early Church Believed about Christ
Modalism taught by Sabellius (False)
There is only one God, and the Father is that eternal God. But the Father decided to come to earth in the “mode” of the Son, being born as Jesus Christ of Nazareth. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, then the Father decided to come to earth in the “mode” of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost (Acts 2), the Father, now as the Spirit, came and dwelt in the lives of the early Christians.
God is first the Father, and then he is the Son, and then he is the Spirit, one at a time, rather than being Father, Son, and Spirit all at the same time, eternally.
Subordinationism taught by Arius (False)
The Son was the first created being and was great in power. But only the Father was uncreated and eternal. So even though the Son was great, as a creature he was “subordinate” or lesser in his nature than the Father.
Council of Nicea in A.D. 325
The Nicene Creed that was written and is still recited in many of our churches today followed Athanasius, insisting that Christ was “one nature” or the identically “same nature” (homoousios) with the Father.
Docetism taught by Apollinarius (False)
Apollinarius denied that Christ was also fully man. Apollinarius could not see how Christ could be both fully God and fully man, and so he began to teach that in Christ, the full divine nature had come to rest within a human body but was not joined to a full human nature. So Christ looked like a man from the outside, but on the inside he was fully, but only, God.
Council at Constantinople in A.D. 381
The council of Constantinople met and rejected the Apollinarian view, arguing that if Christ had not taken on our full human nature, he could not have offered himself as one of us and died in our place, for our sin. If Christ was not fully human, Christ could not be our Savior. So the full deity of Christ and the full humanity of Christ were defended in the first two councils of the church.
Nestorian Controversy View (False)
Nestorius could not understand how Christ could have the full nature of God and the full nature of man without also being two persons, one divine and one human.
Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431
Eusebius and Cyril of Alexandria proposed that the Person of the eternal Son came and joined himself to a human nature, but he did not join himself to a human person. If Jesus was two persons, he would not truly be an individual who lived, ministered, and died on the cross. Rather, Christ is one person with two natures, insisted the Council of Ephesus. Christ, then, is fully God (Nicea) and fully man (Constantinople), two natures in one person (Ephesus).
Eutychian View (False)
Eutyches had proposed that the divine and human natures in Jesus had co-mingled, so that a divine-human blend of natures had resulted. Jesus had both a divinized humanity and a humanized deity in his natures.
Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451
The Council of Chalcedon rejected the Eutychian view, proposing instead that the two natures of Jesus be understood as joined together but with “no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.” Each nature was fully present without “confusion”, but also without separation, so that the human and divine natures would be together forever in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion of Four Councils
So all four councils contributed very importantly to the church’s understanding of Christ. Jesus Christ was fully God (Nicea) and fully man (Constantinople), with a divine nature and a human nature that are conjoined but not confused (Chalcedon) in one Person (Ephesus).
Basic Christian Beliefs Series
|Part 1||Who Is God?|
|Part 2||What Is the Trinity?|
|Part 3||God the Sovereign Creator|
|Part 4||Our Human Nature and Sin|
|Part 5||Person of Jesus Christ|
|Part 6||Works of Jesus Christ|
|Part 7||Holy Spirit|
|Part 8||Our Salvation|
|Part 9||Church of Jesus Christ|
|Part 10||Second Coming of Jesus Christ|