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Lesson 7: The Study of Christ

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I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity. ―Napolean Bonaparte

Who is Jesus?

Jesus once asked the question of his disciples, “Who do people say that I am” and after some answers he quickly followed with a second more important question, “But who do you say that I am.” (Matt 16:13-15). This is life’s greatest question and our whole eternity is hinging on the correct response. C.S. Lewis once stated: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”1

The study of who Jesus Christ is and what he did is something that deserves our lifelong pursuit until as Paul says we see him face to face (1 Cor 13:12). The study of Christ is referred to as Christology. This lesson will survey the study of Christ from his preexistence to his future return and earthly reign. Did Jesus exist prior to his birth? How did the Old Testament point to Jesus? What is the incarnation? What is the biblical evidence that Jesus was both God and man? What is Jesus doing right now? What will his future reign look like? These are some of the questions that this lesson is designed to answer.

The Eternality and Preexistence of Christ

The eternality of the Messiah was stated as early as in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah 9:6 reads: “For a child has been born to us a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: . . ., Everlasting Father (cf. Micah 5:2). Here the “son” to be born is described as the “Everlasting Father.” But how can a son be “everlasting” and how can he be father? Clearly, something unique is being said about this promised son. This son is identified in the New Testament as Jesus Christ (Is 7:14; Matt 1:23). Also, John points to the preexistence of the Word who became flesh at the outset of his gospel where he states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning . . . The Word became flesh (John 1:1-2, 14). The Word clearly refers to Jesus Christ. John the Baptist also gives testimony about Jesus’ preexistence: “On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me’ (John 1:29-30). Even though John the Baptist was older than Jesus, John states that he existed before him. Lastly, in a conversation with his fellow Jews Jesus gave testimony himself about his preexistence prior to His birth. The Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:57-58). That sums it up pretty well. In summary, Jesus not only existed prior to his birth, but he also existed from all eternity past. This means that Jesus was not a created being but rather eternal God.

Christ in the Old Testament

Since Jesus Christ did exist prior to his birth and is the promised Messiah, then a question one could ask is how and where he is seen in the Old Testament. A very important testimony regarding Christ in the Old Testament can be found spoken by Jesus himself in the gospel of Luke. “Then he [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The reference to the Law, Prophets and Psalms is a reference to the threefold division of the Old Testament canon sometimes referred to as the Tanakh.2 We should expect to find Christ in all the sections of the Old Testament. Besides general designations for God, there are three primary ways that Christ can be seen in the Old Testament: direct prophecy, typological prophecy, and what is called theophanies or christophanies.

Direct prophecy

Direct prophecy refers Old Testament passages that give explicit predictions of the coming Messiah. These predictions then are fulfilled in Jesus Christ some of them at the first advent. A good example of this is the prophecy of the virgin birth: “For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel” (Is 7:14; cf. Matt 1:23).3 Other direct prophecies will be fulfilled at the second advent when Jesus returns to earth. A good example of this is found in Zechariah 14. “Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward” (Zech 14:3-4).

Typological Prophecy:

Typological prophecy refers to Old Testament people, places and events that are intended by God to illustrate and point forward to Jesus’ Christ’s person or his work. Sometimes these prophecies are explicitly validated in the New Testament and other times they are not. A good example of this was the Passover Lamb sacrifice instituted by God in Exodus 12. The Lamb had to be male and perfect. Its blood had to be applied to the house for the angel of death to pass over it. This sacrifice would then point forward to the ultimate Passover sacrifice that God would accept. Paul makes this explicit tie when he states, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7).

Theophanies

Various manifestations or appearances of God himself in the Old Testament are referred to as theophanies. These are sometimes called christophanies if one makes an explicit connection by later revelation to the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. One example of this, in my view, is the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament who is equated with God in Exodus 3:1-6. This Angel followed Israel as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod 13:21; 14:19). The New Testament makes an allusion to this which appears to specify this Angel as Christ. Paul writes, “For they [the Israelites in the wilderness] were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4 cf. Exod 17:6).

The Incarnation of Christ

What does the incarnation refer to? In short the word means “in flesh” and it refers to God, who is spirit, taking the form of human flesh. A more precise theological definition would be that the incarnation “defines the act wherein the eternal God, the Son took to Himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth.”4 One of the main biblical passages on the incarnation is from John 1:14: “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Another important passage is from Paul, “Christ Jesus . . . who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature (Phil 2:6-7). This emptying was not emptying Jesus of his deity, rather it was the adding of his human nature into a humble situation to even death on a cross. C. S. Lewis well articulated, “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”

The Humanity of Christ

The result of the incarnation was that the preexistent Christ became a man, and as such Jesus experienced the realm of humanity. Luke emphasizes this when he says, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus had the title of Son of Man (Matt 8:20) which was the most common way he referred to himself. He had the human lineage of son of Abraham and David (Matt 1:1). As a man Jesus was: hungry (Matt 4:2); thirsty (John 19:28); grew tired (John 4:6); grieved to the point of tears (John 11:35); tempted (Matt 4:1); experienced physical death (Luke 23:46). In short he was a man and he experienced humanity to the full. He was one of us. The only qualification one would have to make regarding Jesus’ humanity is that while he came in the “flesh” he came only in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3), and that while he was tempted in all things as we are, he was without sin (Heb 4:15). At the same time, sin is not an essential part of humanity the way God created man. After God created Adam and Eve, they were perfectly and fully human and God declared it good. God even stated it was very good prior to the sin that led to man’s fall (Gen 1:31; Gen 3). In the first and second century A.D., there was a heretical movement known as Gnosticism which denied that God who is good could take on an actual human body which they thought was sinful. In essence, they were deniers of the doctrine of the incarnation (cf. 1 John 4:2).5

The Deity of Christ

Jesus is not only presented in the Bible as a man but he is also presented as having the nature of God. He has a unique identity with the Father. Jesus stated, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) and “the person who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Also, Jesus had the titles of Son of God (John 10:36) as well as Lord and God (Matt 8:20). He is equated with Yahweh in the Old Testament (1 Cor 2:16; Is 40:13). As God Jesus is creator (Col 1:15-16), had power over nature (Matt 8:26), had power over death (John 11), forgave sin (Mark 2:1-12) and rules as God (Heb 1:8). He was and is the exact representation of God inwardly and outwardly (Heb 1:1-4). Martin Luther stated, “If Christ does not remain the true natural God . . . then we are lost. For what good would be the suffering and death of the Lord Christ do me if He were merely a man such as you and I are? Then He would not have been able to overcome the Devil, death and sin. He would have been far too weak for them and could not have helped us.”6

The theological term used to describe the teaching of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, is called the hypostatic union and was articulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D7. A simple definition of the hypostatic union is this. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man (= two natures) united in one person.8 In other words, Jesus is the God-Man.

The Roles of Jesus

While this is most certainly too simplistic, it is nonetheless helpful that Jesus is sometimes described as prophet (first advent ministry), priest (death on the cross and current ministry) and king (his rule now from heaven and in the future on earth). The earthly ministry of Jesus can be divided into two major activities, his words and his works. He called people to repentance and associated with sinners (Matt 4:17; Mark 2:16); he identified with humanity (Matt 1:23); he rebuked hypocritical religion (Matt 23); he gave sermons (like the Sermon on the Mount; cf. Matt 5-7); he drew lessons from life (such as parables)(cf. Matt 13), he gave prophecies about the future (Matt 24); he selected, trained and commissioned the 12 (Matt 4:18-22), he did miracles (Matt 8-9); he revealed the Father (John 17) and so much more.

The Passion of Christ

About one third of the gospels cover the last week of Jesus’ life. This shows the importance of these final events in Jesus’ earthly life to the gospel writers. Jesus clearly stated the reason for his coming: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:25).

The following is a short chronology of the last week of Jesus’ life: On Saturday, Jesus arrives at Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 11:55-12:11). This town is near the Mount of Olives a short walk to Jerusalem. Here Jesus is anointed for burial with the expensive oil (John 12:1-7). On Sunday, there is what is termed the triumphal entry as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19). Here the people shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” which can be understood as save now, the promised Messiah. On Monday, Jesus drives out the money changers in the Temple and later curses an unfruitful fig free symbolizing the dire state of Israel’s condition (Matt 21:12-19; Mark 11:12:18; Luke 19:45-48). In the temple he rebukes them saying, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are turning it into a den of robbers!” (Matt 21:13). On Tuesday, Jesus’ authority is debated with the Jewish leadership, the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees (Matt 21:23-23; Mark 11:27-12:40; Luke 20:1-47). The story of the widow who out of her poverty gives a very small amount (a mite = less than a penny) happens in the midst of this turmoil (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4). The Olivet Discourse explains the fact of the Temple’s future destruction and circumstances surrounding the second coming of Jesus (Matt 24-25; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36). The main point is to “be ready” for the coming of the Son of Man. On Thursday, events really start to pick up. First Jesus is betrayed by Judas one of the twelve. (Matt 26:17-25; Mark 14: 12-21; Luke 22: 7-13, 21-23). Washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20), the Last Supper (Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20) and the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17) give Jesus the opportunity to give some final teaching to the disciples. After Jesus’ prayer in a garden called Gethsemane (Matt 26:30, 36-46; Mark 14: 26, 32-42; Luke 22: 39-46; John 18:1) the arrest occurs (Matt 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12) and the trials of Jesus start. On Friday, the trials continue when Jesus appears before the Sanhedrin, the Roman Governor Pilate and Herod Antipas (Matt 26:57-27:31; Mark 14:53-15:15; Luke 22:54-23:25; John 18:12-19:6). At the verdict and scourging Pilate tries to release Jesus but the crowd wants death. Pilate asks “Why? What wrong has he done?” They shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” Jesus then is placed on the cross (Matt 27:31-34; Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-33; John 19:16-17).

The last words of Jesus on the cross give us a glimpse of Jesus’ concern and mindset in his final hours. Seven of these sayings are recorded in the gospels and while a lot can be said about each one perhaps just a reading of them without comment has a powerful impact when they are seen together: “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). “He said to his mother, ‘Woman, look, here is your son!’ He then said to his disciple, ‘Look, here is your mother!’”(John 19:26-27). “‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:46). “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). “It is completed" (John 19:30). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

The Resurrection of and Ascension of Christ

Jesus predicted his resurrection (Matt 16:21). If he would not have been raised from the dead he would have been considered a false prophet. After Jesus died, his tomb was guarded by a Roman guard and sealed with the Roman seal (Matt 27:62-66). Yet the tomb was opened, Jesus came out in a resurrected physical body and it became empty. The empty tomb that was guarded and sealed continues to be one of the strongest proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. There is also the eyewitness testimony of the disciples that they were willing to die for. He was seen by the disciples and over 500 brethren (1 Cor 15:1-7). He talked with them and ate with them (Luke 24:39-43). After 40 days of being with the disciples, Jesus was taken up into heaven from the Mount of Olives. This is referred to as the ascension. Luke records, “After he [Jesus] had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).

The Current Ministry of Christ and the Second Advent

While many studies about Jesus focus on what he did at his first advent or even what he will do at his second advent, Jesus is not inactive in the present age. He has a current role and ministry. Christ is the head of the body directing the activities of the church. Paul teaches, “He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church” (Col 1:18). Also, Christ as High Priest intercedes in prayer on our behalf. The author of Hebrews states, “So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb 7:25). What a wonderful proclamation about Jesus praying for us which keeps us and our salvation in God’s omnipotent grip. Robert Murray McCheyne once stated, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; He is praying for me.”9

The second coming of Jesus Christ can be divided into two major parts. The first is the coming in blessing for the church, which is referred to as the rapture. The word rapture means “caught up.” The primary passage on it occurs in 1 Thess 4:16-17.10 There Paul writes, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-17).

The second phase is the coming in judgment for the world and the rule of Jesus on the earth. John writes, “Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice he judges and goes to war” (Rev 19:11). After Jesus comes back to earth he will set up his rule. Jesus himself said in Matthew: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt 25:31).

Summary

Amazing! Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord, the Savior, the Alpha and Omega, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Son of David, the Word, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the light of the World, Judge, Prophet, Priest, King, Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords and much more. As John states if everything that Jesus said and did were recorded there would not be enough books in the world to contain it (John 21:25). In closing, contemplate Jesus as described in the hymn “I Saw One Hanging on the Tree” by John Newton.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood;
He fixed His loving eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive:
This blood is for your ransom paid,
I die that you may live.”

Discussion Questions

  1. How does preexistence differ from the eternality of Christ?
  2. What objections have you heard in regards to the deity of Jesus?
  3. How do the Jehovah witnesses, Mormons or Muslims view Jesus?
  4. Why do you think Jesus did miracles?
  5. Why didn’t the Jewish leadership accept Jesus as Messiah?
  6. Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?
  7. Why was the sacrifice of Jesus necessary for God to forgive our sin?
  8. What is the evidence for the resurrection and what would the consequences be if Jesus was not raised from the dead?
  9. How should Jesus as head of the church affect us in our local churches? Do people in the church understand this concept?
  10. Why do you think the Bible tells us that Jesus is coming back?
  11. Where is Jesus coming back to and what will he do when he gets there?

1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: The McMillian Company, 1952), 58.

2 The Tanakh refers to the Torah = Law, the Nebiim = Prophets, and the Kethubiim = the Writings.

3 Matthew 1:23 reads,Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Note that the Hebrew word translated “young woman” in Is 7:14 in the context of Old Testament Israel would normally refer to young woman who was a virgin and the Greek translation of the Old Testament specifically translates it as virgin as well as the fulfillment of the passage in the Greek New Testament regarding the virgin birth of Jesus.

4 Peter Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology – Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 713.

5 John seems to write against Gnosticism in 1 John 1:5–8; 4:1–3. One major form of Gnosticism was called “Docetism” = the Christ only appeared to be human (cf. 1 John 1:1–4; 4:2; John 1:14). Also, “Cerinthianism” taught that the divine Christ descended on the human Jesus at his baptism and left before his death (cf. 1 John 5:6).

6 Roy Zuck, The Speakers Quote Book (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009), 74.

7 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987), 534.

8 A longer definition of the Hypostatic Union is, “A theological expression that refers to the dual nature of Christ. God the Son took to Himself a human nature and He remains forever true God and true man—two natures in one person forever. The two natures remain distinct without any intermingling, but they nevertheless compose one person, Christ the God-man.” Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 713.

9 Zuck, The Speakers Quote Book, 78.

10 The other major passage on the Rapture is, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53).

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Christology