The writer of Hebrews began with Who Jesus Is.
Jesus is of one essence and substance with Almighty God, the One True and Living God, He is the Son and Heir of God,
Jesus is the Incarnate Word, the word through whom all creation came into existence and for whom the cosmos was created.
Jesus is the visible Glory of God, the shekinah, the manifestation of God’s divine radiance.
Jesus is one Person of the Godhead, having all the divine attributes of God.
Jesus is the sustaining power that holds all things together, that keeps all things alive, that brings all things forward into each new day.
Jesus is both Savior and High Priest, the offering and the offeror, and through Him the sins of the world—
- The death to be destroyed and the Antidote to destroy it.
- The corruption of evil to be cleansed and the Agent to cleanse it.
- The sin to be judged and the Atoner to satisfy judgment.
- The enslavement to be freed from and the Avenger to set free.
Jesus now reigns as Sovereign King, the Son at the right hand of the Father, for He has finished the work He began, all is accomplished, all is fulfilled
Jesus alone, in all of heaven is seated by God’s majesty; Jesus is due all honor and glory. He is God the Son, He is Lord. God reveals God to us through God’s Son.
The church spent centuries trying to understand Who Jesus is, for what Jesus did and does has to be understood in the framework of His identity.
How can a human be divine?
How can eternal, infinite God be a finite, three-dimensional human?
As a body from the first believers, Christians believed Jesus most certainly is both a human being and also God, but to articulate that, and to guard against misunderstanding took the church through several councils and at least seven rebuttals of alternate theories.
The Apostles Paul and John both indicate in their epistles (c. 60 – 80 AD) they were already contending against the false doctrines and teachers of the Gnostic movement.
There have been many strains of Gnosticism over the centuries, both in Jewish and Greco-Roman forms, and they did not all agree on a particular theology or methodology. However, it is fair to say they generally believed Jesus was as a kind of embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring special knowledge and celestial revelation (gnosis) into the world.
However, other strains of Gnosticism did insist the supreme being did not come in the flesh at all, but rather Jesus was simply an ordinary human being who attained enlightenment through gnosis and taught his disciples to do the same.
John’s first epistle was a direct counterargument to the docetists, who received their name from the Greek word dokesis, which means “Apparition.” Essentially, claimants thought Christ’s body was not human but either an illusion or apparition of some kind, or made of real but celestial substance. Not being an actual human being, they asserted Jesus’ suffering was not “real” but rather only “apparent.”
What was the point? Well, since Jesus didn’t “really” suffer, neither should Christians have to, either. The cross of the believer became metaphorical, in this view, and should not include actual pain, suffering, and death.
Marcion (c. 85 – c. 160 AD) taught that the God of the Hebrew Testament was an evil demiurge—which in Greek mythology was a god able to create—but that Jesus was sent be a good and benevolent God who sought to free humanity from the evil god of the Hebrew scriptures.
Monarchian or Adoptionist Heresy
Arising sometime in the second century (100 – 200 AD), adherents held that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God somewhere between at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension. Therefore, Jesus is currently divine and has been since his adoption, although he is not equal to the Father.
Sabellian or Modalist Heresy
Sabellius (c. 170 – c. 235 A.D.) tried to explain the triunity of God by saying the persons of the Trinity represent only three modes or aspects of the divine revelation, not distinct and coexisting persons in the divine nature. Therefore, Jesus was not an actual person like you and me, but rather only a mode (or perhaps mask or manifestation) of God in that moment.
Arius (256 – 336 AD) wrestled with questions of Jesus’ divinity and place in heaven. Was Jesus the same in being, or the same in essence with God the Father? Or was Jesus the first being to come into existence from God?
It may seem a fine point, but it is not. If by “begotten of God” we mean of the same being and essence, then we acknowledge Jesus’ full divinity in eternity, and His incarnation as a point in history.
But if we mean by “begotten” that the Father existed before the Son, then the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. They are not equal, and this is what Arius insisted upon.
Basically, those who held to a Monophysite view were saying Jesus had only one nature—or if He had two, then they were two separate natures representing two separate entities.
- Nestorius (d. c. 450 AD) asserted Jesus had two separate and distinct natures, one of which—Jesus’ human body—was not part of the Trinity
- Eutyches (c. 380 – c. 456 AD) went in the opposite direction, saying Jesus had only one nature in which human and divine had combined and fused.
Eastern and Western Doctrine
The claim that Christ’s nature remains divine and not human (or is a fusion of divine and human), or remains eternally subordinate to the Father was rejected by the western church.
Dogma is different than doctrine.
Doctrine allows room for disagreement on the fine points. However, dogma unites all believers in a single creed. One example of dogma might be found Ephesians 4, when Paul urged all believers to be
diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—
1. There is one body
2. and one Spirit,
3. just as you also were called in one hope of your calling;
4. one Lord,
5. one faith,
6. one baptism;
7. one God and Father of all, the One over all and through all and in all.Apostle Paul, Ephesians 4:3-7 (DLNT)
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.The Nicene Creed Concerning Christ
[A note on the Eastern church] The Eastern and Western churches remain divided on this issue. There is still not a united view on the nature of Christ, and therefore the trinity. Though I come from an admittedly western view, I know in my heart of hearts that Jesus is so much bigger than human struggling with how to understand Who He is.
What matters is knowing Jesus at all, and God has sustained and empowered the Eastern the church through horrific, millennia-long persecution. May we embrace each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord, even though we have landed on different core doctrines concerning our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
[Symbolum Nicaeno-Constantinopolitanum. Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. | By Unknown author – ,, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=117976%5D