Friday, October 25, 2013

The person and work of Christ

The person and work of Christ


Writing about the Person and work of Christ is a major endeavor. It would be arrogant of anyone to think he or she could write a comprehensive and detailed work that would truly and accurately portray Jesus in His fullness. Truly, only by means of revelation can a person come to begin to understand who Jesus is. So prayerfully and with great humility, this paper will try to unpack the work and Person of Jesus with the writings of Paul. It would be a major challenge to stay in one letter to unpack Paul’s thoughts on the Person and work of Christ. Though Romans will be mainly used, it is necessary to pull from all of Paul’s letters to gain a fuller picture of how Paul understood Jesus and his works. All scripture quotations are from the NIV or NKJ unless otherwise noted.
Who do you say I am?
While the question was asked in Luke 9:20, “Who do you say I am?” is in the Gospels, it is here the core of Paul’s writings begin. While Luke may have copied from the other gospels, he was a traveling companion and chronicler of Paul and his journeys. Believing Luke faithfully, and accurately, portrayed all the adventured, there seems a straight shot to many of the concepts Paul presents as an answer. Paul’s conversion story in itself is based on the revelation of Jesus imparted by Jesus to Paul directly the road to Damascus. While Luke tells the story of Paul’s conversion three times, Paul, himself never actually gives details in his letters. We have glimpses of Paul’s conversion in a couple of letters:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:3–8). [1]
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being (Galatians 1:11-16). [2]
While the point may be a little belabored, the idea of revelation is a major part of Paul’s understanding of Jesus. Understanding this point allows for a relational view that opens up Jesus as a person. It is a foundation that builds on the idea Jesus is alive and “relatable” unlike the “gods” before.
Jesus the man
Paul talks of Jesus as a man, however a man like no other man. This man “who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh”, was also, “declared to be the Son of God with power”. [3] This verse also points out another declaration about Jesus the man; He was from the linage of David of whom the promised Messiah would come. Here Paul makes bold claims that, if challenged as lies, could seemingly be disproven. However, Paul often takes the human “Adam” as a contrast to the human “Jesus”. While Adam is lifted up as all that is wrong with humanity, Jesus is lifted as all that is right with God and through whom all humanity is now set to right. As Stower acknowledges, one must understand Paul’s use of the analogy of the contrast between Adam and Jesus is about a set time between Adam and Moses as all humanity was under the curse of Adam’s sin until Moses when the Law added transgression to individuals.[4] However, to return to the point Paul was making, using Adam, as summed up in Romans 5:14-19:
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.

More than a man who would be king
Jesus according to Paul was the exemplary example of the perfect man. However, Jesus fulfilled the Jewish idea of the coming Christ (or Messiah, King). According to Romans 9:5 Jesus was of the Israelites who were “the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God”. In that verse, it is obvious that something more is happening than a declaration of an earthly king. While earthly kings may have declared godhood, few would declare to be the “eternally blessed God”. Here, according to N.T. Wright, is a launching pad where Paul begins to retell the story of Israel around the Person of Christ Jesus.
The best example of Paul’s retelling the story of Israel around the Person of Jesus would be Galatians 3 and 4. Here as N.T. Wright again argues, “God made the initial promises to Abraham; subsequently, he gave the Law through Moses; but was always a strictly temporary stage, designed to keep Israel under control, like a young son, until the moment maturity.”[5] By retelling the story of Israel Paul puts the spotlight on Jesus in such a way that Jesus becomes the point of the story. Jesus is to be understood as the endpoint and the reason for all God did in and through Abraham, and Israel.
The issue of sin
Romans 8:3-4 shows how Paul explains Jesus’ work as well as the ramifications of what Jesus has done:
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Paul explains that Jesus did what the Law could not do. N.T. Wright states it this way:
God had, it seems, called Abraham and his family to be the solution-bearing family knowing that, because they too were ‘in Adam’, they were themselves bound to become part of the problem, and that the shape of their own history was thus bound to bear witness  their own share whose solution the none the less carry.[6] 
Paul personalizes this dilemma of the “solution-bearer” in Romans 7:22-23 “22.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (NKJ). Paul exposes that while he was faithful to the Law, the Law only revealed his most inner being as captive to sin. However, Paul cries out to Jesus as the solution, as N.T. Wright may say, against evil.[7] The eradication of evil being, of course, is core of the work of Christ Jesus.
The God who humiliated himself
Here we must bring in the “Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
            The claims Paul makes of Jesus would, by any means, be a major overstepping of a description of a mere human, let alone a great king. Here Paul demands attention to the Person of Jesus and what He accomplished. Christopher R.J. Holmes sums Karl Barth’s view succinctly as, “The twofold action of Jesus Christ, ״ in terms of his coming low and his being lifted high, is one work, which fills out and constitutes His existence in this twofold form.”  Paul shows that while Jesus does not grasp for equality with God, (being God), that to empty himself of deity would accomplish more with humility. Here is appears that Jesus, being God, does what no descendant of Adam, let alone anyone under the Law could do. That the very act of humiliation, becomes the pivotal point of exaltation.
It should be noted that Paul is also stating in the Philippians passage, that Jesus was pre-existent.[8] Paul pushes this idea further in Colossians 1 15-20 by stating “he [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God”, as well as declaring Jesus the One who creation came, while furthering his claims with “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (NKJ). As noted above with the thoughts of Karl Barth, the humiliation of becoming a man that is to die out of obedience to The Father cannot separate Jesus’s humility and his exaltation any more than anyone can separate Jesus’s humanity from His deity. However, in Christ Jesus we have true humility overcoming evil out of a loving servitude toward humankind. Jesus, “being in very nature God”, as revealed by and through Paul shows us God’s love in action. 
God’s work through Jesus
Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.[9] For Paul, Christ’s death as the demonstration of the Father’s love for humankind and becomes part of God’s work through Jesus as Messiah. This act of grace becomes the center of Paul’s theology and as Penner states, “The effect of God’s love and grace is reconciliation. By nature he is a reconciling God”. [10] This reconciliation did not come without God being willing to take on human suffering. In the willful suffering of Christ Jesus, all made right. Here we dip into 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Man alive!
While all this was happening on the Cross, it is easy to overlook the power of the Resurrection. Jesus did not just die, for messiahs come and go even today (as in the case of the Sun Myung Moon). However, people die every day, even good people. With Jesus, there was something different from, other messiahs – He rose from the dead. We may not grasp the astonishment of those first hearing the Gospel though there is a record of Paul addressing the Areopagus in Acts  17:19. Some of the greatest Greek minds gathered there either mocked Paul or asked, "We will hear you again on this matter.'' The resurrection is often the most overlooked topic, yet the most powerful when its importance comes to realization.
Paul writes in Romans 5:10, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. While forgiveness and reconciliation came at the price of Jesus’s death, the resurrected life of Christ is what saved us. Without the Life of Christ in us, we are the forgiven dead. It was how God declared Jesus “to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”. [11]  After Jesus was glorified and was seated by the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit is the seal of promise that we are alive in Christ. [12]
The choice
Once again, the ultimate questions is, “Who do you say I am?” in regards to Jesus. When one looks at the claims made by Paul, as well as others in the New Testament, there can only be two choices, to listen again and try to grasp the reality offered through Christ Jesus or sit in mockery. Paul’s sophisticated argument was enough to capture many of the greatest minds in Greek thinking, and that alone should enough to make anyone take some time to consider the question Jesus asked.

[1] (Emphasis added)
[2] (Emphasis added)
[3] (Rom: 1:3-4)
[4] (Stowers 1994, 254)
[5] (Wright 2005, 44,45)
[6] (Wright 2005, 126)
[7] (Wright 2005, 96)
[8] (n.a. 1993, 356)
[9] (Romans 5:8, NKJ)
[10] (Penner, 2012, 73)
[11] (Romans 1:4, NKJ)
[12] (Ephesians 1:13)

Holmes, Christopher R J. 2013. "The person and work of Christ revisited: in conversation with Karl Barth." Anglican Theological Review 95, no. 1: 37-55. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 21, 2013).
n.a. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Ralph P Martin, Daniel G. Reid Gerald F. Hawthorne. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Penner, Erwin. 2012. "Christ died: love, grace, and the reconciling work of God." Direction 41, no. 1: 72-79. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 8, 2013).
Stowers, Stanley K. A Rereading of Romans. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1994.
Wright, N.T. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.