PERSON OF CHRIST, 4-8 [ISBE]
PERSON OF CHRIST, 4-8
- VI. Teaching of Jesus.
1. The Johannine Jesus:
The Gospel narratives not only present us, however, with dramatizations of the God-man, according to their authors' conception of His composite person. They preserve for us also a considerable body of the utterances of Jesus Himself, and this enables us to observe the conception of His person which underlay and found expression in our Lord's own teaching. The discourses of our Lord which have been selected for record by John have been chosen (among other reasons) expressly for the reason that they bear witness to His essential Deity. They are accordingly peculiarly rich in material for forming a judgment of our Lord's conception of His higher nature. This conception, it is needless to say, is precisely that which John, taught by it, has announced in the prologue to his Gospel, and has illustrated by his Gospel itself, compacted as it is of these discourses. It will not be necessary to present the evidence for this in its fullness. It will be enough to point to a few characteristic passages, in which our Lord's conception of His higher nature finds especially clear expression.
(1) His Higher Nature.
That He was of higher than earthly origin and nature, He repeatedly asserts. "Ye are from beneath," he says to the Jews (Jn 8:23), "I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (compare Jn 17:16). Therefore, He taught that He, the Son of Man, had "descended out of heaven" (Jn 3:13), where was His true abode. This carried with it, of course, an assertion of pre-existence; and this pre-existence is explicitly affirmed: "What then," He asks, "if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?" (Jn 6:62). It is not merely pre-existence, however, but eternal pre-existence which He claims for Himself: "And now, Father," He prays (Jn 17:5), "glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (compare Jn 17:24); and again, as the most impressive language possible, He declares (Jn 8:58 the King James Version): "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am," where He claims for Himself the timeless present of eternity as His mode of existence. In the former of these two last cited passages, the character of His pre-existent life is intimated; in it He shared the Father's glory from all eternity ("before the world was"); He stood by the Father's side as a companion in His glory. He came forth, when He descended to earth, therefore, not from heaven only, but from the very side of God (Jn 8:42; 17:8). Even this, however, does not express the whole truth; He came forth not only from the Father's side where He had shared in the Father's glory; He came forth out of the Father's very being--"I came out from the Father, and am come into the world" (Jn 16:28; compare 8:42). "The connection described is inherent and essential, and not that of presence or external fellowship" (Westcott). This prepares us for the great assertion: "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30), from which it is a mere corollary that "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn 14:9; compare 8:19; 12:45).
(2) His Humiliation
In all these declarations the subject of the affirmation is the actual person speaking: it is of Himself who stood before men and spoke to them that our Lord makes these immense assertions. Accordingly, when He majestically declared, "I and the Father are" (plurality of persons) "one" (neuter singular, and accordingly, singleness of being), the Jews naturally understood Him to be making Himself, the person then speaking to them, God (Jn 10:33; compare 5:18; 19:7). The continued sameness of the person who has been, from all eternity down to this hour, one with God, is therefore fully safeguarded. His earthly life is, however, distinctly represented as a humiliation. Though even on earth He is one with the Father, yet He "descended" to earth; He had come out from the Father and out of God; a glory had been left behind which was yet to be returned to, and His sojourn on earth was therefore to that extent an obscuration of His proper glory. There was a sense, then, in which, because He had "descended," He was no longer equal with the Father. It was in order to justify an assertion of equality with the Father in power (Jn 10:25,29) that He was led to declare: "I and my Father are one" (Jn 10:30). But He can also declare "The Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28). Obviously this means that there was a sense in which He had ceased to be equal with the Father, because of the humiliation of His present condition, and in so far as this humiliation involved entrance into a status lower than that which belonged to Him by nature. Precisely in what this humiliation consisted can be gathered only from the general, implication of many statements. In it He was a "man": `a man who hath told you the truth, which I have heard from God' (Jn 8:40), where the contrast with "God" throws the assertion of humanity into emphasis (compare Jn 10:33). The truth of His human nature is, however, everywhere assumed and endlessly illustrated, rather than explicitly asserted. He possessed a human soul (Jn 11:27) and bodily parts (flesh and blood, Jn 6:53 ff; hands and side, 20:27); and was subject alike to physical affections (weariness, Jn 4:6, and thirst, 19:28, suffering and death), and to all the common human emotions--not merely the love of compassion (Jn 13:34; 14:21; 15:8-13), but the love of simple affection which we pour out on "friends" (Jn 11:11; compare 15:14,15), indignation (Jn 11:33,38) and joy (Jn 15:11; 17:13). He felt the perturbation produced by strong excitement (Jn 11:33; 11:27; 13:21), the sympathy with suffering which shows itself in tears (Jn 11:35), the thankfulness which fills the grateful heart (Jn 6:11,23; 11:41; 16:27). Only one human characteristic was alien to Him: He was without sin: "the prince of the world," He declared, "hath nothing in me" (Jn 14:30; compare 8:46). Clearly our Lord, as reported by John, knew Himself to be true God and true man in one indivisible person, the common subject of the qualities which belong to each.
2. The Synoptic Jesus:
(1) His Deity.
(a) Mark 13:32:
The same is true of His self-consciousness as revealed in His sayings recorded by the synoptists. Perhaps no more striking illustration of this could be adduced than the remarkable declaration recorded in Mk 13:32 (compare Mt 24:36): `But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, nor yet the Son, but the Father.' Here Jesus places Himself, in an ascending scale of being, above "the angels in heaven," that is to say, the highest of all creatures, significantly marked here as supramundane. Accordingly, He presents Himself elsewhere as the Lord of the angels, whose behests they obey: "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity" (Mt 13:41), "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Mt 24:31; compare 13:49; 25:31; Mk 8:38). Thus the "angels of God" (Lk 12:8,9; 15:10) Christ designates as His angels, the "kingdom of God" (Mt 12:28; 19:24; 11:31,43; Mark and Luke often) as His Kingdom, the "elect of God" (Mk 13:20; Lk 18:7; compare Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; Tit 1:1) as His elect. He is obviously speaking in Mk 13:22 out of a divine self-consciousness: "Only a Divine Being can be exalted above angels" (B. Weiss). He therefore designates Himself by His divine name, "the Son," that is to say, the unique Son of God (Mk 9:7; 1:11), to claim to be whom would for a man be blasphemy (Mk 14:61,64). But though He designates Himself by this divine name, He is not speaking of what He once was, but of what at the moment of speaking He is: the action of the verb is present, "knoweth." He is claiming, in other words, the supreme designation of "the Son," with all that is involved in it, for His present self, as He moved among men: He is, not merely was, "the Son." Nevertheless, what He affirms of Himself cannot be affirmed of Himself distinctively as "the Son." For what He affirms of Himself is ignorance--"not even the Son" knows it; and ignorance does not belong to the divine nature which the term "the Son" connotes. An extreme appearance of contradiction accordingly arises from the use of this terminology, just as it arises when Paul says that the Jews "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8), or exhorts the Ephesian elders to "feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28 margin); or John Keble praises our Lord for the blood of souls by Thee redeemed." It was not the Lord of Glory as such who was nailed to the tree, nor have either "God" or "souls" blood to shed.
We know how this apparently contradictory mode of speech has arisen in Keble's case. He is speaking of men who are composite beings, consisting of souls and bodies, and these men come to be designated from one element of their composite personalities, though what is affirmed by them belongs rather to the other; we may speak, therefore, of the "blood of souls" meaning that these "souls," while not having blood as such, yet designate persons who have bodies and therefore blood. We know equally how to account for Paul's apparent contradictions. We know that he conceived of our Lord as a composite person, uniting in Himself a divine and a human nature. In Paul's view, therefore, though God as such has no blood, yet Jesus Christ who is God has blood because He is also man. He can justly speak, therefore, when speaking of Jesus Christ of His blood as the blood of God. When precisely the same phenomenon meets us in our Lord's speech of Himself, we naust presume that it is the outgrowth of precisely the same state of things. When lie speaks of "the Son" (who is God) as ignorant, we must understand that tie is designating Himself as "the Son" because of His higher nature, and yet has in mind the ignorance of His lower nature; what He means is that the person properly designated "the Son" is ignorant, that is to say with respect to the human nature which is as intimate an element of His personality as is His Deity.
When our Lord says, then, that "the Son knows not," He becomes as express a witness to the two natures which constitute His person as Paul is when he speaks of the blood of God, or as Keble is a witness to the twofold constitution of a human being when he speaks of souls shedding blood. In this short sentence, thus, our Lord bears witness to His divine nature with its supremacy above all creatures, to His human nature with its creaturely limitations, and to the unity of the subject possessed of these two natures.
(b) Other Passages: Son of Man and Son of God:
All these elements of His personality find severally repeated assertions in other utterances of our Lord recorded in the Synoptics. There is no need to insist here on the elevation of Himself above the kings and prophets of the Old Covenant (Mt 12:41 ff), above the temple itself (Mt 12:6), and the ordinances of the divine law (Mt 12:8); or on His accent of authority in both His teaching and action, His great "I say unto you" (Mr 5:21,22), `I will; be cleansed' (Mk 1:41; 2:5; Lk 7:14); or on His separation of Himself from men in His relation to God, never including them with Himself in an "Our Father," but consistently speaking distinctively of "my Father" (e.g. Lk 24:49) and "your Father" (e.g. Mt 5:16); or on His intimation that He is not merely David's Son but David's Lord, and that a Lord sitting on the right hand of God (Mt 22:44); or on His parabolic discrimination of Himself a Son and Heir from all "servants" (Mt 21:33 ff); or even on His ascription to Himself of the purely divine functions of the forgiveness of sins (Mk 2:8) and judgment of the world (Mt 25:31), or of the purely divine powers of reading the heart (Mk 2:8; Lk 9:47), omnipotence (Mt 24:30; Mk 14:62) and omnipresence (Mt 18:20; 28:10). These things illustrate His constant assumption of the possession of divine dignity and attributes; the claim itself is more directly made in the two great designations which He currently gave Himself, the Son of Man and the Son of God. The former of these is His favorite self-designation. Derived from Dan 7:13,14, it intimates on every occasion of its employment our Lord's consciousness of being a supramundane being, who has entered into a sphere of earthly life on a high mission, on the accomplishment of which He is to return to His heavenly sphere, whence He shall in due season come back to earth, now, however, in His proper majesty, to gather up the fruits of His work and consummate all things. It is a designation, thus, which implies at once a heavenly preexistence, a present humiliation, and a future glory; and He proclaims Himself in this future glory no less than the universal King seated on the throne of judgment for quick and dead (Mk 8:31; Mt 25:31). The implication of Deity imbedded in the designation, Son of Man, is perhaps more plainly spoken out in the companion designation, Son of God, which our Lord not only accepts at the hands of others, accepting with it the implication of blasphemy in permitting its application to Himself (Mt 26:63,65; Mk 14:61,64; Lk 22:29,30), but persistently claims for Himself both, in His constant designation of God as His Father in a distinctive sense, and in His less frequent but more pregnant designation of Himself as, by way of eminence, "the Son." That His consciousness of the peculiar relation to God expressed by this designation was not an attainment of His mature spiritual development, but was part of His most intimate consciousness from the beginning, is suggested by the sole glimpse which is given us into His mind as a child (Lk 2:49). The high significance which the designation bore to Him is revealed to us in two remarkable utterances preserved, the one by both Matthew (11:27 ff) and Luke (10:22 ff), and the other by Matthew (28:19).
(c) Matthew 11:27; 28:19:
In the former of these utterances, our Lord, speaking in the most solemn manner, not only presents Himself, as the Son, as the sole source of knowledge of God and of blessedness for men, but places Himself in a position, not of equality merely, but of absolute reciprocity and interpenetration of knowledge with the Father. "No one," He says, "knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son ...." "varied in Luke so as to read: "No one knoweth who the Son is, save the Father; and who the Father is, save the Son ...." as if the being of the Son were so immense that only God could know it thoroughly; and the knowledge of the Son was so unlimited that He could know God to perfection. The peculiarly pregnant employment here of the terms "Son" and "Father" over against one another is explained to us in the other utterance (Mt 28:19). It is the resurrected Lord's commission to His disciples. Claiming for Himself all authority in heaven and on earth--which implies the possession of omnipotence--and promising to be with His followers `alway, even to the end of the world'--which adds the implications of omnipresence and omniscience--He commands them to baptize their converts `in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.' The precise form of the formula must be carefully observed. It does not read: `In the names' (plural)--as if there were three beings enumerated, each with its distinguishing name. Nor yet: `In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,' as if there were one person, going by a threefold name. It reads: `In the name (singular) of the Father, and of the (article repeated) Son, and of the (article repeated) Holy Spirit,' carefully distinguishing three persons, though uniting them all under one name. The name of God was to the Jews Yahweh, and to name the name of Yahweh upon them was to make them His. What Jesus did in this great injunction was to command His followers to name the name of God upon their converts, and to announce the name of God which is to be named on their converts in the threefold enumeration of "the Father" and "the Son" and `the Holy Spirit.' As it is unquestionable that He intended Himself by "the Son," He here places Himself by the side of the Father and the Spirit, as together with them constituting the one God. It is, of course, the Trinity which He is describing; and that is as much as to say that He announces Himself as one of the persons of the Trinity. This is what Jesus, as reported by the Synoptics, understood Himself to be.
(2) His Humanity.
In announcing Himself to be God, however, Jesus does not deny that He is man also. If all His speech of Himself rests on His consciousness of a divine nature, no less does all His speech manifest His consciousness of a human nature. He easily identifies Himself with men (Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4), and receives without protest the imputation of humanity (Mt 11:19; Lk 7:34). He speaks familiarly of His body (Mt 26:12,26; Mk 14:8; 14:22; Lk 22:19), and of His bodily parts--His feet and hands (Lk 24:39), His head and feet (Lk 7:44-46), His flesh and bones (Lk 24:39), His blood (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). We chance to be given indeed a very express affirmation on His part of the reality of His bodily nature; when His disciples were terrified at His appearing before them after His resurrection, supposing Him to be a spirit, He reassures them with the direct declaration: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold me having" (Lk 24:39). His testimony to His human soul is just as express: "My soul," says He, "is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Mt 26:38; Mk 14:34). He speaks of the human dread with which He looked forward to His approaching death (Lk 12:50), and expresses in a poignant cry His sense of desolation on the cross (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). He speaks also of His pity for the weary and hungering people (Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2), and of a strong human desire which He felt (Lk 22:15). Nothing that is human is alien to Him except sin. He never ascribes imperfection to Himself and never betrays consciousness of sin. He recognizes the evil of those about Him (Lk 11:13; Mt 7:11; 12:34,39; Lk 11:29), but never identifies Himself with it. It is those who do the will of God with whom He feels kinship (Mt 12:50), and He offers Himself to the morally sick as a physician (Mt 9:12). He proposes Himself as an example of the highest virtues (Mt 11:28 ff) and pronounces him blessed who shall find no occasion of stumbling in Him (Mt 11:6).
(3) Unity of the Person.
These manifestations of a human and divine consciousness simply stand side by side in the records of our Lord's self-expression. Neither is suppressed or even qualified by the other. If we attend only to the one class we might suppose Him to proclaim Himself wholly divine; if only to the other we might equally easily imagine Him to be representing Himself as wholly human. With both together before us we perceive Him alternately speaking out of a divine and out of a human consciousness; manifesting Himself as all that God is and as all that man is; yet with the most marked unity of consciousness. He, the one Jesus Christ, was to His own apprehension true God and complete man in a unitary personal life.
VII. The Two Natures Everywhere Presupposed.
There underlies, thus, the entire literature of the New Testament a single, unvarying conception of the constitution of our Lord's person. From Matthew where He is presented as one of the persons of the Holy Trinity (28:19)--or if we prefer the chronological order of books, from the Epistle of James where He is spoken of as the Glory of God, the Shekinah (2:1)--to the Apocalypse where He is represented as declaring that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Rev 1:8,17; 22:13), He is consistently thought of as in His fundamental being just God. At the same time from the Synoptic Gospels, in which He is dramatized as a man walking among men, His human descent carefully recorded, and His sense of dependence on God so emphasized that prayer becomes almost His most characteristic action, to the Epistles of John in which it is made the note of a Christian that He confesses that Jesus Christ has come in flesh (1 Jn 4:2) and the Apocalypse in which His birth in the tribe of Judah and the house of David (Rev 5:5; 22:16), His exemplary life of conflict and victory (Rev 3:21), His death on the cross (Rev 11:8) are noted, He is equally consistently thought of as true man. Nevertheless, from the beginning to the end of the whole series of books, while first one and then the other of His two natures comes into repeated prominence, there is never a question of conflict between the two, never any confusion in their relations, never any schism in His unitary personal action; but He is obviously considered and presented as one, composite indeed, but undivided personality. In this state of the case not only may evidence of the constitution of our Lord's person properly be drawn indifferently from every part of the New Testament, and passage justly be cited to support and explain passage without reference to the portion of the New Testament in which it is found, but we should be without justification if we did not employ this common presupposition of the whole body of this literature to illustrate and explain the varied representations which meet us cursorily in its pages, representations which might easily be made to appear mutually contradictory were they not brought into harmony by their relation as natural component parts of this one unitary conception which underlies and gives consistency to them all. There can scarcely be imagined a better proof of the truth of a doctrine than its power completely to harmonize a multitude of statements which without it would present to our view only a mass of confused inconsistencies. A key which perfectly fits a lock of very complicated wards can scarcely fail to be the true key.
VIII. Formulation of the Doctrine.
Meanwhile the wards remain complicated. Even in the case of our own composite structure, of soul and body, familiar as we are with it from our daily experience, the mutual relations of elements so disparate in a single personality remain an unplumbed mystery, and give rise to paradoxical modes of speech which would be misleading, were not their source in our duplex nature well understood. We may read, in careful writers, of souls being left dead on battlefields, and of everybody's immortality. The mysteries of the relations in which the constituent elements in the more complex personality of our Lord stand to one another are immeasurably greater than in our simpler case. We can never hope to comprehend how the infinite God and a finite humanity can be united in a single person; and it is very easy to go fatally astray in attempting to explain the interactions in the unitary person of natures so diverse from one another. It is not surprising, therefore, that so soon as serious efforts began to be made to give systematic explanations of the Biblical facts as to our Lord's person, many onesided and incomplete statements were formulated which required correction and complementing before at length a mode of statement. was devised which did full justice to the Biblical data. It was accordingly only after more than a century of controversy, during which nearly every conceivable method of construing and misconstruing the Biblical facts had been proposed and tested, that a formula was framed which successfully guarded the essential data supplied by the Scriptures from destructive misconception. This formula, put together by the Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD, declares it to have always been the doctrine of the church, derived from the Scriptures and our Lord Himself, that our Lord Jesus Christ is "truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son,. Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures-inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ." There is nothing here but a careful statement in systematic form of the pure teaching of the Scriptures; and therefore this statement has stood ever since as the norm of thought and teaching as to the person of the Lord. As such, it has been incorporated, in one form or another, into the creeds of all the great branches of the church; it underlies and gives their form to all the allusions to Christ in the great mass of preaching and song which has accumulated during the centuries; and it has supplied the background of the devotions of the untold multitudes who through the Christian ages have been worshippers of Christ.
The appropriate sections in the treatises on the Biblical theology of the New Testament; also A. B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, 2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1881; R. L. Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation, London, 1896; H. C. Powell, The Principle of the Incarnation, London, 1896; Francis J. Hall, The Kenotic Theory, New York, 1898; C. A. Briggs, The Incarnation of the Lord, New York, 1902; G. S. Streatfeild, The Self-Interpretation of Jesus Christ, London, 1906; B. B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory, New York, 1907; James Denhey, Jesus and the Gospel, London, 1909; M. Lepin, Christ and the Gospel: or, Jesus the Messiah and Son of God, Philadelphia, 1910; James Stalker, The Christology of Jesus, New York, 1899; D. Somerville, Paul's Conception of Christ, Edinburgh, 1897; E.H. Gifford, The Incarnation: a Study of Philippians 2:5-11, London, 1897; S.N. Rostron, The Christology of Paul, London, 1912; E. Digges La Touche, The Person of Christ in Modern Thoughts, London, 1912.
(NOTE.--In this article the author has usually given his own translation of quotations from Scripture, and not that of any particular version.)
Benjamin B. Warfield