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A Christological Reflection: Who is Jesus Christ?

Updated: Apr 17


  The purpose of this paper is to explore the natures of Jesus and the way it is perceived in the world today. I will , however, begin the paper by studying the historical or Pre-Easter Jesus. I will look at what Jesus revealed to His followers and how this first generation of believers began to interpret the messages given to them, thereby transforming the human image of Jesus into a divine being.

 

As the disparate Christian Communities wrestled with their own sense of identity, they began to introduce stories or ‘Gospels’ that explained who they were in light of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. After the initial Canons or rules were established, the Creeds or beliefs were than developed, culminating in the Nicene Creed in 325 CE. This paper will cover that incredible transformation from Jesus followers, to Christ communities, to established Church. I will conclude with a reflection on discipleship, the Christian journey and my own revised creedal statement on Jesus.

 

The Humanity of Jesus

 

The historical Jesus was born around the year 4 BC. He entered ministry in His twenties and was executed by Roman authorities in the early 30’s AD. His message and influence remained strong for the ensuing decades, as noted by the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 A.D. - 100 A.D.) in his Chronicles of the Roman Wars and the Great Jewish Revolt (66-70) entitled Josephus recorded the Great Jewish Revolt (AD 66–70), including the siege of Masada. His most important works were The Jewish War (AD 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (AD 94). In his works, Josephus briefly remarked about the absolute faith of the Jesus followers, who felt they had found the Messiah.


At this point, Jesus was becoming ‘the Christ’. For many followers, particularly in the first century, Jesus was simply accepted as God. There developed a belief that Jesus, himself, knew that he was God from birth. 


As American New Testament scholar and Theologian Marcus J. Borg (1942-2015) put it in his book The God we never knew, “He knew things and spoke with divine authority because he had the mind of God, and he could do miracles because he had the power of God.” 1. Borg goes on to show how an all-powerful view of Jesus can reinforce His larger- than – life image. However, this view if taken to the extreme, can become the heresy known as Docetism, which affirms the absolute God-hood of Jesus, without acknowledging his human characteristics. In light of this, how do we view the humanity of Jesus over two thousand years? Does the humanity of Jesus even touch us today?

 

Borg summarizes five main points that exemplify the character of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that these points still resonate in today’s world. Jesus was a “Spirit Person”. This means that He was frequently in touch with the ‘Sacred’, with ‘God’ and the ‘Spirit’. Jesus was a “Healer”. There is strong evidence that He performed paranormal healing. Jesus was a ‘Wisdom Teacher”. Using aphorisms and parables, He incited His listeners to reflect on His words. In this way, His enlightened wisdom revealed His experience of the Sacred.


Jesus was a “Social Prophet”. He not only challenged the oppressive political and religious power structures of the day, but also offered an alternative social vision, which was rooted in the compassion of God. Lastly, Jesus was a “Movement Founder”. A movement built up around Him that offered inclusiveness and equality.

 

I believe Marcus Borg gives a concise description of who the historical Jesus was. “There was a spirit dimension to Jesus, a wisdom dimension, and a political dimension. Jesus was a Jewish mystic and healer, an enlightened wisdom teacher, and a social prophet”. 2. Those who followed Jesus began to believe that Jesus knew the Spirit of God, and in Him they could experience that presence.


According Canadian Religious Studies Educator Pamela Dickey Young (1955- ), in her book Christ in the Post Modern World, “ In Jesus, those who encounter him discover the ultimate source, means, and ends of their lives.” 3. Additionally, through Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was experienced and for that reason, Jesus was not yet divine, but certainly enroute. Dickey Young states that when people responded to Jesus, they believed they were responding to God. When they encountered Jesus, they were experiencing the claim that God has on them. They were feeling the boundless love of God through Jesus. Dickey Young reiterates, “The divinity of Jesus is not some substance joined on to his humanity. Rather one experiences Jesus’ divinity through and because if his humanity.” 4.

 

I believe that the humanity of Jesus reveals His Sacredness and that His Divinity rests, not only in His personal life, but also in how He effected others.


Jesus as “Revelation of the Sacred”

 

If we acknowledge that the human Jesus is indeed the Revelation of God and the Sacred, we are now able to move on to exploring what Jesus actually reveals. Jesus reveals that God can be known, and it is through His Holy Spirit that the Community of Believers, the Church, experiences His reality. God was not in some far away place, only known in the future or in death. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in the world.

 

Secondly, Jesus reveals that the Sacred is obtainable apart from institutional mediation. In Jesus’ day, the Temple in Jerusalem was mediator between God and humanity. Jesus proclaims the accessibility of God without the need for Religious establishment.

 

Thirdly, Jesus reveals that God is compassionate. Compassion is the primary characteristic of the Father in the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Compassion, embodied in Jesus, is a Manifestation of the Sacred.

 

Fourth, Jesus reveals that the Divine-human relationship is not based of meeting set human requirements in order to obtain union with the Divine. Jesus’ alternative style of teaching helped others look at the world differently. In a way, He taught others to look outside the box, and to re-center themselves. Institutional demands mattered little. Life in the Spirit demands no requirements for entry beyond the need to love and care for others, including enemies.   

 

Fifth, Jesus reveals a social vision that is God-centered. He indicts the elite’s of His day as exploiters of both the poor and the oppressed. Jesus offers inclusiveness and a world that holds no boundaries. Jesus reveals that God cares about humanity past, present and future.

 

What is Sacred in Jesus’ Revelation? Jesus shows us that God is always with us. God is compassionate. To live a religious life, one need not be caught up in requirements, but enveloped in the relationship, that connects us with God, with the Sacred. God, as Ruler, has given humanity the free will to seek an egalitarian and just social order, which will over ride all oppressive social systems. However, Jesus states with authority that the “Kingdom of God” subverts all human models of power structure. They are flawed and God is perfect. God is Sacred in this perfection.

 

I believe that the “Sacred Revelations of Jesus” has held up over the centuries. While human social orders have come and gone, people have taken solace in the understanding that there is something beyond human imperfection. In today’s world of Secular globalism, terrorism, and bombs of mass destruction, a Divine-centered view of the world can be seen as a positive factor in restoring our own sense of power. Jesus reveals to us a relationship that we can enter into, with confidence, when we are faced with injustice. That relationship is a truly union with the Divine.

 

Jesus the Christ: A Communities Revelation of the Divine.


We now turn to the Post-Easter Jesus. This is the Jesus after His death. Future Christian experience and doctrine developed and presented Jesus as the ‘Divine’. It is the Jesus of Tradition and Experience. The Post-Easter Jesus becomes the ‘Christ” or the “Anointed One”.


One of the main differences between the Jesus Movements and the Christ cults of the first century was the mythology that centered on Jesus. According to American author and scholar Burton L. Mack (1931-2022) in his book, A Myth of Innocence, the Jesus followers remained loyal to the principals of their teacher Jesus, but did not regard him as a Saviour or god. The Christ cult mythology focused on the Resurrection and Jesus’ reward for His obedience, being ascension to both ‘cosmic and community leadership’.


Unfortunately, as Mack puts it, “ Jesus the cynic sage, whether as teacher or founder of the community, by miracles, was erased in the transformation”. 5. Nevertheless, the Christ Congregations developed a tradition that enabled their continuing existence beyond the lifetime of the first generation, which awaited the return of Jesus. The Christian communities therefore became the keepers of the Sacred bond between humanity and God.

 

The Apostle Paul was drawn into this mindset and latter became a central figure in creating a Theological foundation for doctrines that would continue over the coming centuries. The Christian communities developed two different ways of expressing who Jesus was for them. They were the Canonical Jesus and the Creedal Jesus.


The Canonical Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels and the Creedal Jesus is the quintessential statement of faith on the role of Jesus, developed primarily in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Communities now experience Jesus as the Risen Living Christ known to the first generation of His Followers. Jesus then becomes an object of the present and not of the past. He is no longer the mortal Jesus, limited to time and space, knowledge and power. Jesus is now a spiritual reality who is in Communion with God and possesses the very same qualities of God. After His death, Jesus became part of the experience and language of His communities, the embodiment of God and eventually the second person of the Trinity.

 

Developing the Image of Jesus

 

How did this image of Jesus develop? Borg describes it as a process that moved through three different phases. First, it was the Easter Experience, than the Metaphorical Expression and finally the Conceptual Formulation


The Easter experience is the personal and communal encounter of the living spiritual Christ. This encounter was the foundation for the Christian Communities. The conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead became widespread and in many ways was the first Christian creed. This belief moved beyond the first generation travelling through the centuries into our own time.

 

Saint Paul, in his letters to various Christian churches expounded the Easter experience. In 1 Corinthians, he tells them, “I have seen Jesus our Lord”. Of course Paul is not describing the physical Jesus, but the Risen Christ. And that is the point he wants to make. The essential meaning of Easter is that Jesus continued to be experienced after His death. This experience was radical in the sense that it involved a Spiritual and Divine reality. In this way, Jesus can be experienced both on an individual and communal level. What is unique is the fact that such experiences of the Risen Christ, as a living presence, is not limited to physical observations restricted to both time and geography.

 

This experience of knowing Jesus as the Risen Christ implies two things. First, it can be interpreted as God’s vindication of Jesus. It means that God validated the pre-Easter Jesus in contrast to the rejection of Jesus by temporal authorities. It is through the Resurrection of Jesus that God ratifies the message of the  “Good News”. Secondly, the Risen Christ implies Jesus was and is at God’s right-hand. To be at God’s right hand means that Jesus holds a place of honour, power and authority. To say this, also means that Jesus possesses Divine status. Put simply, the Easter Experience means that Jesus lives and is the Lord.

 

Metaphorical Expression and Conceptual Formulation

 

The Easter Experience led to a newer and more powerful perception of Jesus by His followers. Christian Communities began to use large numbers of metaphors and images to speak about Jesus and His significance. They began to refer to Jesus as the Servant of God, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Door, Vine, the Shepherd, the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of God, and the Word of God; plus many more. These metaphors and images began the process of expressing the essence of who Jesus was and what he meant to the Christian Communities, which eventually led to the writing and codifying of the Gospels, along with the creation of Christian Doctrine.


Subsequently, the Christian Gospels became objects of theological reflection and debate. The end result of all of this was that “Doctrine” or codes of belief came into existence, which eventually led to an image of the Post-Easter Jesus of Christian tradition. The creation of this image, the Post-Easter Jesus, resulted in the formulation of the Canonical Jesus and Creedal Jesus.

 

The Canonical Jesus


The various Christian Communities developed stories about Jesus as a way to explain their experience of the Risen Christ. As these stories became known, many were written down. The most accepted stories of Jesus were correlated and became part of the Church Canon known as the Synoptic Gospels. For the most part, in these Gospels, Jesus was more human than Divine. At times, however, He possesses extra-ordinary powers, such as walking on water and multiplying loaves. Jesus and His followers never refer to His Divine Status. We only find out who Jesus is in private Epiphanies, such as Peter’s affirmation where Jesus is recognized as “The Christ”.

 

It should also be noted, however, that in Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus is shown as more Divine than human. Jesus openly confirms His status and it is here where we receive the great metaphorical proclamations. Jesus tells us, "I am the Light of the World; The Bread of Life; The Way, the Truth and the Life; and The True Vine”. Even the people arresting Him seem to recognize His Divinity. There is simply no need for Epiphanies. Saint John’s view of Jesus can not be dismissed as untrue. His view of Jesus is based on his particular Community’s experience of the Post-Easter Jesus. In their experience, Jesus became the light that empowered them and carried them through times of persecution.

 

Jesus and the Gospels: A Revelation of God

 

We can look at the Gospels as a way of presenting the Revelation of God through mythological stories. According to Marcus J. Borg, Religious or Sacred Myths are used in the Gospel stories as a way to explain humanities relationship with God. Myths can be true and powerful, even if the stories are symbolic and historically skewed. Though not literally true, there is an underlying truth to the message being presented. It is true in the purest sense.


The completed Christian myth, as found in the Gospels, is the story of Jesus and our relationship with God. From His birth stories, to His Death and Resurrection, the completed story of Jesus affirms that God is present through Him. The story of Jesus becomes a Revelation of God and an opportunity for Epiphany for those who seek God. The Revelation of God proves to the believer that God is concerned for their well being and He wants to secure their freedom from Sin and Oppression. The myth of Jesus reveals what He became intimately involved in the experience and life of the early Christian Communities.

 

The Creedal Jesus

 

The Canonical Jesus over the next two hundred years inspired the Church to develop and create the Creedal Jesus. According to Borg, the process of imaging Jesus as a fully developed conceptual and doctrinal expression culminated with the Nicene Creed in 325 AD. The Creed was a fourth century document filled with Hellenistic philosophical concepts current for its day. By this point in time, Jesus is fully Divine and of ‘One Substance’ with God. The Nicene Creed had a Trinitarian pattern with the first section emphasizing God as Creator, the second section emphasizing Jesus and the third section expounding the Holy Spirit. The Creed integrates Jesus into the ‘Doctrine of the Trinity’ and places Him as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

 

So what does the Trinity affirm? Firstly, the Trinity affirms what the Christian experience already expressed. That is, the Post-Easter Jesus is both the Living Risen Christ and His Divine reality. Secondly, the Trinity resolved the issue of Monotheism by recognizing 'One God in three persons'. Taken from ancient texts, the Church took the position that “Person” meant the mask worn by an actor. In those days, a mask was not viewed as a form of concealment, but corresponded to the role played by an actor. Therefore, to refer to God as three persons is a way of expressing three different roles of the Divine. In essence, we know God in three different ways and Jesus is one role, mask or face. This decision by the Church preserved Monotheism.

 

And finally, the Trinity is a product of the Easter Experience. Even though it acknowledges the Sacredness in the humanity of Jesus, it also affirms the Divinity of the Post-Easter Jesus. It confirms Jesus as the incarnation of God and the embodiment of the Spirit. It recognizes both the Pre-Easter and Post-Easter Jesus as important to fully understanding what God wants to reveal to humanity.


Discipleship and the Christian Journey.


Marcus Borg describes discipleship as, “not a student of a teacher, but a follower after somebody.” 6.  Discipleship, as it relates to the Gospels means a following after Jesus. It is the starting point of a journey. It is an offer to journey, not just for the first generation, but for all generations throughout time. To journey means accepting God’s love for us through Jesus. It means acknowledging God’s desire to have us offer this love freely to the world. The Feeding of the Five Thousand exemplifies this. The purpose of Communion is to be nourished with the love of God as a journeying Faith Community.


Response to Jesus, beginning with the early Church, often took the form of activity that emphasized concern for neighbour. Indeed, following Jesus also means being part of a Community that celebrates the Living Christ, expressed socially through worship, stories, music and art. I agree with Pamela Dickey Young when she states that the kind of Christian identity she seeks, “is the one that recognizes the interconnectedness of all that is and fosters partnerships among all creatures in working together toward integrity for all who share the world.” 7 . 


I believe that God’s love, Jesus’ teachings and Christian Discipleship promotes that very interconnectedness and harmony with the world. During the Christian Journey, the Disciple is understood to be Imitators of Christ. And if they wish to be like Jesus, they are expected to be compassionate people. Compassion is the defining mark of a true Disciple and the ethos of the Faith Community. In this way, the Community sets itself apart from a somewhat less compassionate secular world. Indeed, to journey with Jesus means to listen to His message, sometimes accepting it, sometimes struggling with it and even at times rejecting it, but always being aware that we are in God’s Presence.

 

The Christian Journey enables us, thereby giving us the possibility of Transforming ourselves, from being “under the Lordship of culture to the life of companionship with God.” 8. This Transformation can make us more compassionate if we choose to be Disciples and follow the Christian Journey. We are simply offered an opportunity to accept both the Message and the Messenger.

 

I believe that Jesus is a Catalyst for chance in the world. Whether we are affected on a personal level or as a Faith Community, the message is clear. There is something good beyond our-selves and it is hopeful. In John Dominic Crossan's opinion, “Christianity must repeatedly, generation after generation, make its best historical judgement about who Jesus was then, and on that basis, decide what that reconstruction means as Christ now.” 9.

 

As I reflect further, I am reminded of a previous paper I wrote. It was a Creedal statement on Jesus. I began the Creed by placing the Humanity of Jesus as a starting point, and than culminating in His divinity. It describes the effect that God, through Jesus, has on our world. I believe that this Creed is pertinent to this paper. Though, this time I will present it differently. The Creed will travel back to the beginning, with the Divinity of Jesus as a starting point, culminating in his Humanity, a gift from God, given to us.   


Who Jesus is for us: A Creedal Statement.



I believe in Jesus, who became Christ, who Transcends Humanity through His Spirit. It is in Jesus’ Resurrection that we are reminded of the Glory of God, who not only Creates, but also Regenerates that which was thought dead.  It is in Jesus’ death that we are reminded of the Sacrifice that must be made if evil is to be defeated. It is through the Spirit of Jesus that we are able to triumph over the bondage of evil that exists in our world.

 

I believe in Jesus the Healer, as the One who cures by Rejuvenating the spirit of those who lose hope for their world. I believe in Jesus as Sage, as one who teaches that our world can be a better place if we Serve others. I believe in Jesus as Prophet, as one who proclaims a vision of equality for all people. I believe in Jesus as a person, who empowers all that come to know His message of love and compassion.


Bibliography


The God we Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a more Authentic Contemporary Faith. Marcus J. Borg  Chapter 4   “ Imaging God: Jesus and God.” 

Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco. 1997.

 

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus & The Heart of Contemporary Faith Marcus J. Borg   Chapter 1 “Meeting Jesus Again”; Chapter 6

“ Images of Jesus and the Christian Life.”   Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco. 1995.

 

Christ in a Post-Christian World Pamela Dickey Young   Chapter 3 “ Understanding Jesus  Within Christianity.”; Chapter 7 “Contours of a Feminist Christian Theology for a Religiously Plural Age.”   Fortress Press. Minneapolis. 1995.

 

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography John Dominic Crossan   Epilogue “ From Jesus to Christ.”   Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco. 1994.

 

A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins Burton L. Mack Chapter 4 “ The Congregation of Christ.” Fortress Press. Minneapolis. 1991.


Quotations


1. The God We Never Knew   Marcus Borg   Page 86   “The Composite Jesus

    of  Childhood: Jesus as Divine”

2. Ibid    Page 91   “ Imaging God: Jesus and God”

3. Christ in A Post-Christian World   Pamela Dickey Young   Page 47   “ Early Views

    of  Jesus as Implicit Christologies”

4. Ibid   Page 57   “ The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ”

5. A Myth of Innocence   Burton Mack   Page 100   “ The Christ Cult”

6. Meeting Jesus for the First Time   Marcus Borg   Page 135   “Jesus and the

    Christian Life”

7. Christ in A Post-Christian World   Pamela Dickey Young   Page 146   “Christian   

    Claims alongside Other Claims”

8. Meeting Jesus for the First Time   Marcus Borg   Page 136   “Jesus and the

    Christian Life”

9. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography   John Dominic Crossan   “The One Who Did

    Not Go Away”


Original Paper submitted to the Rev. Dr. William Cantelon as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement for 506E - Who is Jesus? St. Stephen's Theological College, University of Alberta Published on October 12th, 2002 {Revised April 16th, 2024}


© Dr. Charles Warner 2024


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