MAPAC Notes in Christology
The Apostles Creed
The Nicene Creed
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
his only Son, our Lord.
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,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven:
He was conceived by the
power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge
the living and the dead
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.
Introduction to Christology
1. Basic to what Jesus taught was what he revealed about himself and how the disciples were led and awakened to their faith about him.
2. But then later, over the course of time, there were people who announced the faith received by the disciples, especially the Apostles. This transmission has reached us. We were perhaps born raised in a “Christian culture” with is “ready-made” teachings and dogma. Just look at the “I believe” prayer during mass. Note the part where we confess our faith about Jesus.
3. Reflect a bit on our social life. We are born in a social world with its fixed patterns. Many things have come to us “ready-made” and we do not even ask how they started. A child is socialized into the fixed patterns of society. So we have inherited the “I believe”. We have our different religious practices like going to mass, having novenas, processions, candles, statues, priests and religious. How did each of these really started? We would not really ask. An ordinary Catholic would take all these for granted without asking too much.
4. Yet breaks can happen and questions can be raised. Just read the “I believe”. Are there questions about what we confess about Jesus?
5. Some people are allergic to questions and they say that a believer should just accept “hook, sink and line”. It does not always hold this way. The Church herself admits that faith must be accompanied by reason and reason can ask questions that challenge the faith.
6. By which path has our faith taken so that today we say “I believe”? How did out act of faith emerge? Many young people seek for the credibility of their faith affirmations. It is not anymore wise to tell them, “Shut up and believe”. Pastorally this may lead to harmful consequences.
7. If we look at the history of early Christianity what we can notice is that the early Christians had a strong sense of the Incarnation. The actual historical Jesus was not so distant from their memories. The early Christians read the Scriptures in reverse: they started with Jesus and then they “retro-spected” back to the Old Testament. They said that what was written before pointed to the presence of the man Jesus. The Old Testament was understood to be a “preparation” for Jesus Christ.
8. Jesus Christ was encountered and remembered. He was a real man experienced in the flesh just like all other humans. That man invited disciples to follow him even if it meant passing through difficulties like the threat of the cross. That man Jesus presented himself as “the Way” to God. Early Christians remembered this and they proclaimed that the real human Jesus was the Way to God. The humanity of Jesus was understood to be a sign or “sacrament” of the divine.
9. Later even Church Fathers gave emphasis on the human Jesus. They saw, in Jesus, how God himself made it a point to live among us, to “dwell” among us. A saint, like St. Augustine struggled with himself and his own physical humanity. How can he go to God in his own human limitations? He saw the solution in the humanity of Jesus. To go to God is through the humble humanity of Jesus, through the Incarnate Jesus.
10. The picture of Jesus “from below”—from his being human—was very strong in the history of the Church. So in the faith of the Church this man Jesus is God. This is a strong point of our faith but it is also very difficult to understand. To accept that a human is God and saves us requires a free act of faith.
11. Actually Jesus himself moved in this direction. He was a man living in Palestine and he met and called some persons to be his disciples. He led his disciples to a faith starting from their experience of his humanity. With Jesus the faith of the disciples was not “ready-made”. It was not a faith already marked by official dogma. The disciples had to pass through experiences with Jesus. Their faith in Jesus had a development. It had a history. The origins of our “ready-made” faith today was in the growing and developing faith of the disciples living with Jesus.
12. Today, if we look closely at our confessions—like the “I believe”—we will notice the affirmation about Jesus “from above”. Already we see Jesus up in heaven, sitting on a throne with power and majesty and dominion. Our view of Jesus is heavily “from above”. But how did it all start?
13. It started with encountering a man named Jesus. It started with an experience with Jesus and how disciples were slowly led to an affirmation. The experience started with encountering Jesus “from below”, the man of Palestine during the first century. That man, Jesus, taught his disciples certain things about himself. Slowly and gradually the disciples will say, “I believe”.
14. Over time and centuries this “I believe” grew and developed through new angles and points of view of the Church. We have inherited from this growth and development and we have our prayer during mass. Yet let us not forget that our faith is anchored in the experiences and affirmations of the disciples—especially the Apostles—as they encountered the man Jesus. (For the historical basis of the existence of Jesus, look at our discussion below, “Searching for the Historical Jesus”, in the excursus section.)
New Testament Christology
This is a course in Christology. What is Christology? The word has two roots that you are so familiar with. There is, of course, Christ. Then there is “logy”, from the Greek word “logos”. Logos is often translated as study or discourse. So Christology is a “study about Christ”; it is “discourse about Christ”. We talk about Christ. We deepen our understanding about the Lord.
Our discourse will begin with people’s experience of encountering Jesus as he lived among them. These “people” were, in particular, people of the 1st century Palestine. Among those who met Jesus, there were disciples who had very close contact with him. Jesus was quite a personality. The disciples had difficulties trying to know who Jesus was. “Who is this man?” they would ask. They were following him, giving up many things in their lives just to participate in his ministry. They had to be clear with their leader. The difficulty would continue up to the crucifixion when Jesus suffered and died. However, the story did not end with the passion and death of Jesus. There was also the resurrection. This event was key to uniting all the ideas about Jesus. This event gave resolution to the difficulties of the disciples. This event gave birth to the faith that we profess today.
So Christology—or discourse about Jesus—took shape already at the start of encountering Jesus as he lived on earth. But it was not yet a very clear understanding about Jesus. It was only after the resurrection that things became clear. “Ah, so that is Jesus Christ”. We will therefore also look into discourse about Jesus after the resurrection. Our course in Christology will be composed of two parts—the “before Easter” and the “after Easter” parts.
Before Easter: The Side of Jesus
1. “God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you have crucified” (Act.2/36). This was the immediate expression of faith of the disciples of Jesus. This Jesus has been glorified after having died. This shows that there was an experience about Jesus whose life’s “end” turned to glorification. The life process of Jesus takes to glory. This was in the faith of the disciples. Jesus had risen—this was his glory. It took time for the disciples to arrive at this faith. They had to live with Jesus and have living experience with Jesus.
2. It all began with an encounter. Individuals came in contact with Jesus of Nazareth, and some stayed with him. There were two general “audiences” who encountered Jesus. There were the “crowds” and there was a more limited group of disciples. The disciples had a closer contact with Jesus. They had a colder view of Jesus, of the way Jesus lived. Jesus taught them “in private”. Later they would be witnesses to the resurrection.
3. The encounter was a coming into contact with a person just like anybody else. Jesus was like anybody else, he was a human person living during the first century in Palestine. Jesus, like everybody else, went hungry, thirsty; he drank and he ate, rested and slept. He showed emotions and reactions, he asked questions. He prayed.
4. He had a life with a direction. He was absorbed by it. He followed it to the end. People asked about him, “Who is this man? Who does he think he is?” There were negative and positive attitudes towards him. Many resisted Jesus, while others accepted him. Let us keep in mind that it was the 1st century Palestine. The Jews were going through a lot of struggles. The people were always under foreign powers. At the time of Jesus, the Romans were ruling. The family of David—the King family—was finished. But the old belief that someone from the David family would again rule and be king. That king will restore Israel.
5. In the minds of the people was a question. Will there again be a king who will represent God’s definite reign and restore the Jewish nation? The word “messiah” was an important word at that moment. Many have, however, given up the idea that the David line could rise again. Since the Babylonian exile nobody from that line ruled. In some Jewish writings, therefore, there was no mention of “messiah” even if hope for restoration was still recorded. Other tiles, not just “messiah”, were circulating in the 1st century Palestine society. For example there were the titles like “the Chosen One”, “the Son of Man”, etc. We can just imagine how it was at that time. People were so absorbed with the hope that a real good life will take place. Who can be the leader?
6. Could it be possible to identify who is “messiah”? Two popular beliefs were held. In some New Testament passages we read about them. In Mt.2/4-6 and Jn.7/42, for example, there are indications that people hoped for a liberator coming from Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? It was the city of David. Other passages, like Jn.7/27 and Mk.8/29 indicate that the leader would be hidden and nobody could really say from where he would come.
7. From the start of his ministry Jesus already spoke of the “Kingdom of God”. At times Jesus would say that the Kingdom will “come”. At other times he would say that the Kingdom was already a present reality. People, hearing him speak of the Kingdom, thought of him as a prophet. A prophet was someone telling people about the design of God, about the desire of God. A prophet was someone who would speak on behalf of God, telling people about God’s plan to free people from their suffering.
8. With Jesus, something different was perceived. Yes, he was like the prophets, but also not like the prophets. Why? The prophets of before were “spokesmen” of God. They were also receiving graces of God’s plan. Jesus was different. The reign of God was linked to him. The Kingdom would be real because of the presence of Jesus. The reign of God is the Lordship of God, the manifestation of glory and liberation. The glory of God and the liberation of people go together. Jesus incarnated this in himself. He was seen as the autobasilea. This word (Greek in origin) can be cut in two: auto means “self” and basilea means “kingdom”. Jesus was the “self-Kingdom”. To see Jesus was, at the same time, to perceive the Kingdom. Let us look into this.
9. Jesus had a message; he could not be different from his message. He was the proof of what he said. As he spoke of the Kingdom, he himself was the proof. This explains why, after the resurrection and all the way through the history of the early Church, the disciples preferred to talk about Jesus. Jesus preached the Kingdom, the disciples preached Jesus. Why? For them Jesus and Kingdom were one and the same.
10. “The Kingdom of God is like…” Jesus had a style in preaching the Kingdom. He spoke in parables. Each time he would speak in a parable he would “inject” the events happening to his life. For example, when he spoke of the “sower and the seed”, the image of sower would be associated with Jesus. Jesus, moving around and casting his teaching, would be the sower sowing seeds. When Jesus spoke of the bridegroom at the wedding banquet, he would be that bridegroom. The presence of the bridegroom is the cause of joy for others. He would be the one concerned for the lost as he spoke of the lost coin. Somehow, Jesus was constantly implicated in his parables.
11. The parables also touched on the concrete lives of those who heard Jesus. In the parables was the message of the accomplishment of the Kingdom. Upon hearing the parables people would see how their very own lives have hope. Life had a meaning thanks to the Kingdom, and Jesus was there to affirm it.
12. There was a strong link between words and person in Jesus. Jesus gave the impression of authority. This explains why some would be impressed and ask, “What is this teaching? It is a new teaching, he speaks like a man with authority and not like the scribes” (Mk.1/21-27). When people hear Jesus they had the impression that Jesus was so close to God and that Jesus knew what was in their hearts.
13. The words and deeds of Jesus revealed the message of the Kingdom. In a way, to see Jesus was to see the Kingdom. Jesus “did good things” (Mk.7/37). We can mention two interesting aspects, namely the way Jesus treated sinners and the way he did “signs and wonders”. Let us discuss these.
14. How did Jesus treat sinners? He went to be in touch with publicans, tax collectors. He was in touch with prostitutes. Jesus allowed himself to be invited. (Remember Zachaeus). He would eat with them even at the risk of scandalizing others who were on the side of “the Law”. Jesus had an open attitude; he spoke of God’s forgiveness. It was a forgiveness that liberated; it anticipated the final plan of God.
15. What about “signs and wonders”? Biblical experts are in agreement that Jesus imprinted a lot on the memories of people and he had the reputation of having accomplished “marvels” and actions so “extraordinary”. In other words, Jesus had the reputation of someone having done miracles. (We will go in detail about this later in the course when we will discuss the theology of miracles. For now, we can only be very brief.) Miracles were always associated with his message of the Kingdom. Miracles gave the idea of inaugurating the Kingdom. “If by the finger of God I expel demons, the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Lk.11/20). The miracles spoke of liberation from the fallen situation of the human body.
16. Again we repeat: Jesus gave the impression of someone with authority. He spoke and acted with authority. He showed conviction in what he said and did—he was not a hesitant man. He did not compromise his message to look “popular” among his listeners. He was willing to even be unpopular just to be faithful to his message. He was a man of confidence. Let us mention indications of this confidence. a. He was confident in forgiving. b. He was confident in “correcting” the Law. c. He was confident in calling others to discipleship. d. He was confident in having a deep and intimate relationship with God who he called as his “Father”. Let us look into each of these.
17. Jesus had confidence in forgiving sinners. The gospels show how often Jesus forgiving, saying, “Your sins are forgiven”. What happened during such occasions? Jesus scandalized those who saw him forgive. He shocked them. “He blasphemes. Who can forgive sins if not God alone?” (Mk.2/7) “Who is this man who can go as far as forgive sins?” (Lk.7/49). According to Bible experts, the fact of showing strong reactions against Jesus is proof of how historically true Jesus was. Jesus really gave the impression of being someone who would take the role of God forgiving sinners.
18. How clear this is in Luke 15. We read very fascinating parables of forgiveness. In fact the parables were more pointed against the critics who kept their doors locked. They would say, “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them” (Lk.15/2). In the parable where the young son leaves, we read about the father waiting for the son’s return. How glad was the father upon seeing his son—the “prodigal”. How disappointed was the elder brother—just like the critics of Jesus. Jesus emphasized that God makes feats with sinners who return.
19. Jesus had confidence in “correcting” the Law. Jesus had an attitude towards the Law. At times he would go against it. At other times he would say he would “accomplish” it. There are times when he would make demands beyond the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus saying constantly, “You have heard it said…” Then Jesus would conclude, “But I say to you”. (See Mt.5/21-22.27-28.33-34.38-39.43-44) Jesus went above Moses. He showed himself as someone who was source of the Law: “I say to you”.
20. Let us look at the time when he was arguing about the question of divorce. He said, “Moses allowed divorce because of your stubborn hearts. But it was not like this from the start” (Mt.19/8). Jesus showed that he knew what was “from the start”, as if he was “there” at the start. He showed that he knew what was in the mind of God as God made the Law. Look at the time when he was confronted with the issue of purity. Legal purity meant washing the hands, abstaining from some food, etc. Jesus took a stand. For him, it was a matter of purity of the heart. It was in the heart where it mattered most. (See Mk.7 and par.) Jesus corrected the Law. He went beyond it, as if he was God’s mouthpiece. It was as if he knew what exactly God wanted in the Law.
21. Jesus had the confidence in calling others to discipleship. Discipleship meant service to the Kingdom. It had to imply acceptance to take the path of Jesus. Just think of what amount of confidence is needed to ask others, “Come follow me”.
22. Jesus required preference for following him over the family. Following Jesus was the priority even if it meant leaving family ties (see Mt.10/37 and par.) This was a strong demand, involving the confidence that Jesus had. The demand of discipleship went even as far as giving up everything for Jesus (see Mt.10/39). Discipleship was a matter of choosing “for or against the Kingdom”. Jesus would emphasize, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in Heaven. Whoever rejects me before others, I will reject before my Father in Heaven” (Mt.10/32-33)
23. Jesus was confident in having a deep and intimate relationship with God who he called as his “Father”. We know that prayer of Jesus, the “Our Father”. In Mk.14/36 we read that Jesus called God “Abba”—papa. No Jew would call God that way. Biblical experts say that it was habitual in Jesus to call out “Abba”.
24. In Matthew we read Jesus saying, “Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (11/27). Jesus was actually stating “like father…like son”. As he recognized he was Son, Jesus showed a very deep relationship with the Father. When people heard about the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, they could not avoid associating Jesus with the son sent by the landowner. Jesus was so controversial at that point; he was bound to face death. In the parable, when the tenants saw the son, they killed him. Jesus was that son, and he came from the Father.
25. So, people asked about Jesus. “Who did he think he was?” or “Who did he take himself to be?” Clearly the person, Jesus, and his message were united; mission and life were so linked. Eventually, Jesus had to face resistance and trials along the way. He got himself into trouble, as we know. In the gospels we read how this getting into trouble moved gradually in intensity. The movement towards Jerusalem, for example, signified that more and more trouble was brewing. It would culminate in Jerusalem, up the cross. The movement towards death was a movement too towards the Father. It was a movement of accomplishing the mission. Jesus was confident that he was doing the will of the Father.
26. Jesus did not bend away from threats coming to him. He gradually saw that he was facing the possibility of a violent death, as illustrated by his different announcement of the passion (see Mt.16/21 17/22-23 20/18-19 and par.) He spoke of the cup which he would drink (see Mt.20/22) and the baptism-passion (see Mk.10/38). He said, “Do not fear those who put to death the body and after can do no more” (Lk.12/4).
27. Jesus did not change his style and he did not re-arrange his message simply to please his hearers. He did not divert from his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom. He went on even as he knew the consequences. He was a “man-for-others”. The Kingdom was so real in him; he was willing to live totally for other and totally for God. He said that he came to serve and be ransom for others (see Mk.10/45). Jesus, finally, did not refuse the cup of the will of the Father (see Mk.14/36).
28. In the Last Supper Jesus “sealed” the meaning of his mission and his message. He declared that his death was to be in the service for all. The coming of the Kingdom and the destiny of all humanity depended on what was to happen, namely his death. The agony of Jesus showed how much of a Son he was. The cross signified a crisis, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt.27/26 Mk.15/35) Jesus, as Son, also experienced himself as a creature. Yet, he continued in faith, recognizing that God was always “in-charge”. He abandoned himself in the hands of the Father.
29. Jesus used the expression “Son of Man”. Bible experts are quick to observe that the expression is placed on the lips of Jesus, and very likely it was Jesus himself speaking the words out. Was Jesus identifying himself with the figure in Dan.7/13? In the Aramaic it reads as “one like a son of man”. Scholars say that it was an Aramaic expression to mean “one like a person”. In the book of Daniel we read about beasts representing the nations around Judah. One beast, an eagle, represents “the 4th nation” (12/11). Then someone emerges “in the form of man”. He comes up from the sea then flies up to heaven with the clouds. He will destroy the forces of evil. It is possible that the image opened up people’s thoughts about a messianic figure, glorified by God and made judge of all nations. So the expression “Son of Man” was not an ordinary expression at the time of Jesus. It was loaded with meaning taking from the book of Daniel—a “bestseller” during that time.
30. In Mark 14/61-62 we read that during his trial Jesus spoke the expression “Son of Man”. The high priest asked if he was the Messiah. Jesus might have used the expression “Son of Man” to interpret the messiah issue, explaining his affirmative answer to the High Priest. This might also give weight to the accusation of Jesus as making blasphemy—his pretension to participate in God’s life. So how might we see the expression “Son of Man”? What could Jesus have meant by using that expression?
31. Bible experts say that if we observe well, when Jesus used the expression, very often he was emphasizing a distance a distance between himself and the “Son of Man”! He was not, of course, talking of someone else but he had to emphasize that he was not the heavenly figure going to heaven in clouds as described in Daniel. The mission of Jesus was on earth. Jesus used the expression “Son of Man” while at the same time taking a distance from it—read well and we will notice that the “Son of Man” is grammatically in the third person. Jesus saw his mission in the expression. Maybe there was something “heavenly” in his mission—but only in so far as origin. The mission leading to the end of time had to take place through an earthly mission. The world had to transform. Maybe the figure of “Son of Man” looked like a prophetic figure, but it was a prophet to suffer. It was not a “big time” figure full of splendor. Jesus was Son of Man and he was not Son of Man. Both went together. He used the expression while keeping a distance from it. He was Son of Man but “here is someone greater than Jonah…someone greater that Solomon” (see Mt.12/41-42). He was Son of Man but not in the way people expected.
32. A biblical historian (C. Perrot) would put it this way. “Son of Man” was probably the way through which Jesus said “I”. It was, perhaps, an Aramaic style of substituting the third person (in grammar) for first person (in grammar). The gospel writers put the expression on the lips of Jesus because Jesus left a strong impression that the disciples could not forget. Very likely the expression was used by Jesus himself and remembered later in the writing of the gospels.
33. Our next discussions would be on “before Easter, the side of the disciples”.
Before Easter: The Side of the disciples
1. In the story about Peter’s confession we read about the style of Jesus in presenting himself. Jesus did not make a lecture about himself like a professor in a classroom. That would be an abstract self-presentation. Recognizing Jesus, however, had to be concrete—and by “concrete” is meant personal relationship. Jesus never said, “Hey, now this is who I am”. Instead he relied on his relationship with his disciples, “And you, who do you say I am?” (Mt.16/15). Who was Jesus in the heart of their personal relationship with him? Peter, in the name of the other disciples, spoke out in reply. The reply showed that Peter had faith. Jesus authenticated it saying that Peter’s confession was a result of the Father’s revelation. But the faith of Peter was “young” and had to ripen still.
2. What happened in encountering Jesus? The story of Peter’s confession can give us an idea. In front of Jesus, other people had to situate themselves. People could not just ignore Jesus and let daily life pass on. Somehow in the encounter with him, people had to take a stand. They had to adjust themselves and take Jesus into account. One group of people mentioned in the Bible was the “crowds”. The crowds were changing their minds; they did not have a fixed treatment of Jesus. Then there were the authorities. They took a hard stand against Jesus and they became “crispy” and stubborn. What about the disciples?
3. The disciples, as we read in the gospels, were opening up in faith. That faith needed some form of expression. So the disciples had to consult the figures and images found in their tradition. For example, there was the figure of prophet. The figure of prophet was applied to Jesus. Yet, Jesus was more than a prophet. Something in Jesus made him “more than” that traditional figure. The disciples needed to consult their tradition and take from that tradition to say who Jesus was. One way was to give Jesus titles. Yet the disciples had to give new meaning to the titles because, as we just said, in Jesus something was “more than”. In front of Jesus the disciples experienced something more, something unique and different from what tradition could say. There was just something else. Later, after Easter, things will be clear. But before Easter the disciples were groping, checking and re-checking their views about Jesus.
4. We said that Jesus was viewed as “prophet”. To be more precise, the prophet seen in Jesus was an “eschatological prophet”—or “prophet of the end of time”. In the tradition of the disciples there was a notion of such a prophet. This could be traced as far back as the book of Deuteronomy where Moses was mentioned. “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like Moses from among the people to whom you shall listen” (18/15). The people of Palestine hoped that a prophet like Moses would return and, like Moses, liberate everyone. Later there was the figure of the prophet Elijah. He was so important in the memories of the Jewish people. He was said to be taken up in heaven on a chariot of fire—he did not die (see 2Kg.2/1-18). He will return one day, at the end of time. His return would therefore be “eschatological”. In the minds of the people of Palestine there was still hope for Elijah’s return and Israel would then be restored (see Mal.3/23 and Sir 48/10). So both Moses and Elijah were expected. They were liberators. They were the prophets to inaugurate the end of time, the end of suffering and injustice. In the gospel texts of Mark and John and in the Acts of the Apostles, both prophets are mentioned. In Mark, a question was raised. Could Jesus be John the Baptist (see 6/16)? No. Could he be Elijah (see 6/15)? Again, no. Could he be a “prophet similar to one of our prophets”—namely Moses (see 6/15)? Notice that in Mark both Elijah and Moses are made to be connected with Jesus. Jesus was so associated with them Yet, Jesus was “more than” the eschatological prophets.
5. Jesus was prophet—but he was more than prophet. He was “eschatological prophet”—yet he was more than that. The point is, for the disciples Jesus had to be viewed one way or another and the tradition could offer the figures. Yet, Jesus went beyond. Anything taken from tradition and linked with Jesus had to be adjusted, corrected and re-adjusted. It was just so hard to fit Jesus anywhere in the tradition.
6. There is one note we need to make regarding the word “eschatological” as attached to Jesus. We learn that it is about the “end of time”. But this notion of “end” would not be a specific date. In Jesus, “eschatology” would imply what is at stake in his life and preaching. With Jesus something was definitely revealed. An “accomplishment” was shown about the plan of God. In the presence of Jesus the disciples felt a sense of “end”—an end that meant “fullness”. But the faith of the disciples had to grow, and before Easter they still had to grope. After Easter, this notion of “end” will be clear. We will discuss more about this later.
7. Another title applied to Jesus was “Messiah” or “Christ”. It meant “the anointed one of God”. “Christ” was not as family name. We know this. It was a title applied to Jesus. For so long, the people were expecting restoration of the nation—and hopefully a leader, a “messiah” would come to bring it about. The presence of Jesus must have “triggered” thoughts about a messiah. Could Jesus be that expected one?
8. The title “Christ” was never recorded as coming from the lips of Jesus. Jesus must have hesitated to link himself with the title. Why? There was a political risk involved. We read in the gospels that accusers presented Jesus to the Romans as someone to be feared. So on the cross “king of the Jews” was placed (see Mt.27/37). In the legal process against Jesus the messianic question was involved, and it was political in nature.
9. Let us return to the confession of Peter story. Peter applied the title Christ to Jesus: “You are the Christ” (Mt.16/16 Mk.8/29 Lk.9/20). The faith of Peter was “young”. Even before Easter, disciples may have been seeing in Jesus the Messiah. But faith had to deepen. Faith had to take a more solid quality—and it would happen only after Easter. While living with the disciples Jesus had to help purify their faith by removing the temporal and political associations. Remember what Jesus did right after the confession of Peter. He said he was to suffer and die. Peter reacted. He could not accept that type of Messiah. He had in mind something political. Jesus had to correct that. Peter still had some learning to do.
10. Then there was the tile of “Son of David”. This was linked with the “Christ-Messiah” title (see Mt.9/27 15/22 20/30-31). The Messiah was to come from the line of David. So the Messiah had to be “Son of David”. King David had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem making the city the religious center of the people (see Sam.2/6). David wanted to build a Temple there but the prophet Nathan advised him not to do it. The advice of Nathan, however, included a promise. That promise stated that all the peoples would find their salvation through the line of David. Since David was not to build a “house” or Temple, still from “the house of David” will come the Messiah (see 2Sam.7). The title “son of David” was also popular during the time of Jesus. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds greeted him with the title “son of David” (see Mt.21/9 Mk11/10). So the David figure was applied to him. As usual, Jesus had to be careful. The title, which was messianic, was so linked with politics too.
11. There was the title “Son of God”. Actually the title was already applied to the people of Israel, long before Jesus (see Ex.4/23-25). In the psalms it was applied too to the expected Messiah and the people of Israel (see Ps 2 and 110). It was not strictly a messianic title. Jesus did not apply it to himself. In the gospels we read that particular individuals applied the title to Jesus. But, according to Bible experts, the application was already marked by the after-Easter experience. In other words, the idea that Jesus was truly “son of God” was confirmed only after the resurrection. The title was then placed backwards into the before-Easter time. In Matt 16/16, for example, “Son of God” was an addition inspired by the after-Easter experience. But this could not have been done without having had an impression about Jesus even before Easter. In other words, even before Easter Jesus was showing signs of very deep intimacy with God the Father. It was an intimacy that was so unknown to the people at that time. It was an intimacy so unique and original that only Jesus had the confidence to assume. Remember how, before Easter, Jesus called God “Abba”—papa.
12. There were a lot of tensions and misunderstanding in identifying Jesus. His death was considered a “scandal”. What happened to all those figures and images that the disciples were applying to Jesus when, in the end, all that was left was a dead body on the cross? How could “prophet”, “Christ”, “Son of David” and “Son of God” be someone dead on the cross? Truly it was a “scandal”.
13. We need to turn next to the after-Easter experience.
After Easter: A Retrospect on the Life of Jesus in the light of the Resurrection
1. The resurrection was the resurrection of someone who lived and died. There is, thus, a correspondence between the life/death and resurrection. Just think about our won idea of the Paschal message. Do we not say that we “must die” and then “live again”? To “live again” presupposes a “dying” first. This, we say, is in following the same path that Jesus took.
2. The early Church asked about the life of Jesus and she saw that everything in that life was integral to the whole revelation of Christ. The early Church “retro-spected”—she looked back at the life of Jesus. There was a correspondence between the life of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. Let us discuss this.
3. For the early Christians, Jesus manifested according to the flesh and according to the Spirit. (This is just another way of saying “from below” and “from above”). Jesus is from the line of David—and therefore “flesh”—and he was established Son of God—and therefore according to the Spirit. Let us read Paul: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.1/3-4). Both, Jesus “according to the flesh” and Jesus “according to the Spirit” complement each other. He who was established Son of God was already Son of God even “according to the flesh”.
4. ALWAYS remember that the starting point for all these insights is the resurrection. Starting with the resurrection reflection moves retrospectively because the resurrected man is also the same man who lived in Palestine.
5. The New Testament texts moved retrospectively. The authors put in writing memories about the life/death of Jesus in the light of the resurrection. For the New testament authors, the resurrection showed that Jesus WAS already Son of God. In other words, while Jesus was still alive in Palestine before Easter he was already Son of God. The realization, however, was confirmed only by the resurrection. Before the resurrection, people who encountered Jesus were still asking and figuring out things about him.
The gospel authors
6. Let us then look at the gospel authors and see their style of retrospect. Mark started his gospel account with this verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. So Mark was to show Jesus already as Christ and as Son of God …but with “hidden” characteristics. Jesus was a “hidden Messiah” in Mark. The Son of God was humble and even weak. Yet the tile Son of God would be repeated over and over again. For example we see the tile during baptism (1/11) and during the transfiguration. Both stories are clearly anticipating the glory of the resurrected Jesus.
7. In the parable of the tenants who murdered the son of the vineyard owner, we see Mark saying that the tenants killed “the beloved son” (see 12/6). And who was this son? He was “…the stone that the builders rejected and has become the cornerstone” (12/10). So Mark was referring to the resurrected Jesus and applying it to the rejected stone. This clearly tells us the retrospect of Mark.
8. Matthew himself had the same style. In the story of Peter’s confession of faith, we read Peter saying: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16/16). So for Matthew, the title “Christ Son of the Living God” was being applied to the Jesus in his times in Palestine. The glorified title of the resurrected Jesus was attached to the earthly Jesus—again a retrospect.
9. Luke also had the same style. A big membership of the community of Luke was Greek in upbringing. Luke would show them that Jesus, while living on earth, cannot be understood apart from Jesus resurrected. In Luke we find many stories in which Jesus is already considered “Lord”. (An Excursus on the “meals” in Luke is being constructed—and hopefully finished by this week…if it comes out read it to see how Luke applies a retrospect of the resurrection in the meals stories.)
10. The synoptic gospels also show an earthly Jesus manifesting power. The miracle stories tell us about how people were surprised about Jesus. The gospel authors showed the identity of Jesus through the miracles…up to the point in which the disciples proclaim: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Mt.14/33).
11. The synoptic gospels also show a tension between humiliation and power. Remember what we said before about the “authority” of Jesus. It was an authority that would get him into trouble—and eventually be hanged on the cross.
12. The synoptic gospel authors wrote of the scenes in the life of Jesus as “gospel”—that is, as “good news” about the Kingdom and liberation. Clearly the “good news” was about the identity of Jesus. The retrospect of the authors rested on the conviction that Jesus was not adopted Son of God at the time of the resurrection. In other words, the authors were emphasizing that even as Jesus lived and walked the roads of Palestine and met people and spoke and acted, he was already Son of God. There was no discontinuity between the “before Easter” and the “after Easter”.
A modern question
13. A modern mind might question this. Could it be that the gospel authors put in their views of Jesus and made additions, thereby invalidating the historical reality? Let us say this point: among all the literary works in the world, the gospels are the most scrutinized and studied and researched on. There is a general agreement among Bible experts that the behaviours, words and actions of Jesus have been historical enough to mark the writing of the gospel accounts.
14. Jesus really lived in a specific—and original—way that made an impact on the memories of those who encountered him. The memories found their way into the writing of the gospel texts. The life of Jesus really triggered people to apply titles to him. People did not just arbitrarily create titles. Jesus could never be called Christ if he himself did not awaken in people’s minds the “Christ”. The historical fact that he was accused as “King of the Jews” is proof about how he must have impacted people’s minds.
15. The retrospect of the gospel authors were their attempts to correlate the “before Easter” with the “after Easter” experiences. This is important also for us if we want to understand why, in our Church, Jesus has those titles. His earthly life has already been triggering the application of the titles. It was the resurrection tat sealed the confirmation.
16. The gospels invite us to re-live the times of accompanying Jesus. What was happening then between Jesus and the disciples? Of course we are already marked by the “after Easter” and glorified Jesus-Christ. But we can always try to re-live the moments that led to that and re-live the retrospect that the early Christians undertook to say who Jesus really was.
Christology in Church Tradition
1. We have finished discussing the movement of understanding Christ within the New Testament. Let us now turn to the tradition of the Church much after the time of Christ and the early Christians.
2. During the era of the early Church Fathers (1st and 2nd centuries)# the Christology of the New Testament continued. In other words, the Church Fathers started with the exalted Christ and then went back—in retrospect—to the pre-existence of Christ. The Church fathers understood an ascending Christology and a descending Christology.
3. One Church Father, Clement of Rome, repeated the insight found in the letters to the Hebrews. He presented Christ as the exalted and glorified path who leads us to God. Clement of Rome wrote: “This path, my beloved, through which we have found our salvation, is Jesus Christ. He is the high priest of our offerings, the protector and help of our weaknesses. Through him we fix our eyes to the heavens; through him we contemplate like in a mirror the face of the immaculate and incomparable God” (Epistle to Corinthians 36/1-2). For Clement of Rome, Jesus Christ is the splendor of the glory of God. Clement of Rome mentioned the Apostles and said that the Apostles were sent by the Son just as the Son was sent by the Father. They “received instructions, they were very sure of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit and affirmed by God’s word, they went around preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is coming” (Epistle to Corinthians 42/3).
4. Let us take a look at another Church Father, Ignatius of Antioch. He would often add the virginal conception of Jesus to his proclamation about his life, death and exaltation. Ignatius of Antioch would speak of Christology of “two degrees”: that which is “according to the flesh” (the earthly Jesus) and that which is “according to the Spirit” (the pre-existing and exalted Jesus). Ignatius of Antioch would add something from the gospel according to St. John: “There is only one God manifested by Jesus Christ his Son who is the Word coming out of Silence” (Magnesien 8/2).
5. We can still mention one Church Father, Justin. He had put together different prophetic names of the Old Testament and applied them to Jesus. For example he would say that Jesus is “King of Glory” or “Lord of Power”. For Justin these names were realized when Jesus rose from the dead and sat beside God. The heavenly powers opened the door to heaven. Justin spent his time arguing with the Jews of his time, and part of his task was to emphasize the virginal conception of Jesus. He sees in it the pre-existence of Christ. Christ could not be a man among others. Following the intuition of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Justin stated that because Jesus was the first born from the dead, he too was the first born of all creation. Jesus would be both creator and creature.
6. After the first two centuries of Church history, new questions began to rise. As we enter the 3rd and 4th centuries, a new way of speaking had to be done. Greek culture and thinking was taking roots throughout, the Church had to situate her understanding of Christ in front of the Greek world. This was a time of lots of Councils regarding Christ. In spite of the new questions, the Church did not lose touch of the Christology of the New Testament. Theologians of this era approached an understanding of Jesus beginning with his humanity in order to prove his divinity.
7. For example, the Nicene council in 325 would state that the human Jesus was eternally engendered as divine. The humanity of Jesus pointed to his divinity. God, according to the council, wanted to have a Son while remaining as one God. The Savior was glorified because he was originally already divine. Then the council would repeat the stage of going down. Jesus as pre-existing God, as eternal Son of God, became human.
8. Two other councils can be mentioned: Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedony (451). Both of these councils emphasized the fact that the divine God engendered the humanity of Christ. The divinity of Christ pointed to his humanity. The Word became flesh.
9. In general, the Church Fathers and the Council theologians emphasized the act of Jesus to go down and humble himself. The Word decided to incarnate as human. The choice of Christ to be humble, to suffer and become poor was the choice of the Word. The obedience of Jesus to go as far as die on the cross show the beginning of involvement. That beginning was the Word who went down, who emptied himself. The humility of the human Jesus was already, from the beginning, the humility of the divine Word.
10. The discussion might make us think that the New Testament, the Church Fathers and the Councils were playing an intellectual game. We might have the impression that the ancient Christians were having the luxury of speculating about Jesus Christ. We might have the impression that Christology was an intellectual play. Actually, something more “practical” was involved.
11. The basic question about Christ—for everyone since the beginning of the history of the Church—was: Who really is Christ that we can consider him as our Savior? Who really is Christ so that the members of the Church he established be free from sins and placed in communion with God?
12. St. Paul struggled with this question and he had a response to it: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching, empty too your faith. Then we are false witnesses to God…your faith is vain, you are still in your sins” (1Cor.15/13-17). Paul refused to accept the useless ness of faith and the life of sin. He opposed with the reality of the resurrection of Christ. This resurrection is the basis for all resurrection from the dead.
13. The ancient Church Fathers were following the same line of belief. Our salvation relies on the exchange between us and God in Christ. Ireneus of Lyon wrote: “The reason why the Word became human and Son of God is so that the human, mixing with the Word, can become child of God, receiving the adoption”. Everything about Christ—his humanity and his divinity—is related to our salvation.
14. If Christ was never human, he could not be one of us and he could not be able to save us. The only way he could bring us to God is by becoming human. Now, the other side must be said. If Christ was never God, he could never share our adoption to become children of God. If there was no unity of the human and the divine in Christ, nothing will be shared between God and humanity. The gap separating the human from God remains. The “going down” of Jesus from above has to be linked with his “going up” from below. The death and resurrection of Christ, the one sent by God, leads us to God. The reason for coming down from above rests on the reason for going up from below. Put simply, the reason why Jesus “came down” to us is so that we can “go up” with him.
15. Let us move in Church history and go to the so-called “Middle Ages”. During this time, the university became an important institution in Europe. There was the new trend in doing theology. The style became more speculative. But there was a constant link with the thoughts of the Church Fathers and the Scriptures. In the course of time, however, there was a growing distance from the Scriptures and from the ancient Fathers. Theologians began to speculate about many things regarding spiritual matters even if they were already going far from the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, especially the gospels, we read about the earthly life of Jesus. But theology thinkers cultivated abstract discussions so that their Christology became too oriented towards the “from above”. We can say that there was period in Church history when the earthly-human dimension of Jesus was not given enough emphasis. Theologians preferred talking about speculative ideas.
16. Today there is a renewal of looking at Jesus “from above” and “from below”. Theologians see this in terms of the whole flow of time from the very beginning to the end. Theologians move to discuss the link of the “end of time” (eschatology) with the beginning of everything. They see a Christology involved. For example the incarnation of Jesus is linked with all his earthly life and with all his mission from beginning of time to the fulfillment of time. One protestant theologian, Moltmann, would ask, “If Jesus Christ is today Lord, who was he in his earthly life?” For Moltmann this is not just a question of history. It is a question that unites all time. For him we must read the history of Jesus as connected with the beginning and end of all time. A Catholic theologian, Thüsing, would say that the pre-existence and incarnation of Jesus have meaning also for the end of time. A Catholic bishop and theologian, Walter Kasper, would say that when we ask about the end of time we link it to the pre-existence of Jesus. The fulfillment of all time is also found in the beginning with Jesus Christ. Christology today is still rooted in the intuitions of the New Testament and the Church Fathers.
17. Looking at Christ we are led to discover the design of God. Not only do we retrospect, we also retro-act. To be retroactive means to see the future in the light of what is going on now and what has happened in the past. Following the Christology of the New Testament, the Church Fathers and Councils and even contemporary theologians, we are led to see a plan that God has conceived. We see in Christ our election even before the foundation of the world (see Eph.1/4) and we have an idea of the end of time that is the gathering of all universe under one Lord, the Christ (see Eph.1/10).
Return to the New Testament Texts
Today some Christians might ask: “Jesus Christ? So what?” Jesus Christ may be “God” for them, but what does Jesus have to do with daily work and salary and family struggles etc.? In a way this is due partly to the fact that all talk about Jesus Christ in the Church seems so abstract, “too churchy” and “too preachy”. All talk about Jesus Christ belongs to seminaries and priests’ refectories…but not in where people live everyday. However, if we go deep into the scriptures—especially the gospel texts—we might see a very amazing Jesus Christ who is, in fact, very relevant to daily work and salary and family struggles etc. Church history may look like a history of abstract ideas about Jesus, but a closer look will reveal that there were great efforts—council efforts—to stay as close as possible to the Jesus Christ of the gospels. So let us see how things are moving within the Church and among her theologians.
- There is a question these days, among theologians, regarding our being near to the New Testament intuition of Jesus Christ. Remember that the New Testament is a set of texts expressing faith in the historical man, Jesus Christ. There was a “shock” or “surprise” experienced in encountering the risen Jesus and the texts “recapitulated” the times when Jesus was in Galilee and Jerusalem.
- More and more Christians are invited to return to reading and studying the New Testament—especially the gospel texts—for reference and inspiration. Many are beginning to appreciate the fruitfulness in looking at the faith of the ancient Christians and how the ancient Christians really saw Jesus with their eyes of faith. Catholics with Protestants have become more attentive to the gospels as areas of studying Jesus.
- We can start, with the awareness of the resurrection, with the identity of Jesus in his human condition. Then we can see how, because of the resurrection, he has been made Lord and Christ. This is the movement of “Christology from below”. We can start, however, with a discussion of the pre-existence of Jesus—with the infancy narratives for example—and then see how Jesus became human and lived among people. This is the movement of “Christology from above”. Both, “Christology from below” and “Christology from above” come together. We do not separate them. The New Testament has both of them.
- But why is the return to Scriptures, especially the gospels, so important? It helps bridge a gap. What is this gap? There is the biblical study about Jesus Christ. And there is the dogmatic study about Christ. They are not necessarily opposed to each other but in practice they tend to go on separate ways. The dogmatic discussions can go on their own way quite far from the New Testament.
- Faith tells us, however, that God entered into human lives—in history. Jesus came in 1st century Palestine and was involved with the lives of people there. So for the Christian believer it is important to see how God has become present in concrete history. If discussions become purely dogmatic there is a risk in forgetting the concrete Jesus Christ of Palestine.
- Very dogmatic discussions tend to focus on general doctrines and statements. In terms of dogmas about Christ, there is a lot of focusing on the big titles given to Jesus. This is alright but people today are not very quick in accepting dogmas. For example if we tell people that Jesus is “Son of God”, the title might be taken to be a myth or worse, an “ideology”. (Remember what we said about ideology in our socio-anthropology class? Ideology is a tool to justify the status of the elite. To say that Jesus is ideologically useful for a group of elites is very sad and not fair). Many—even among Christians—are very critical about the Church and the Christian faith because they feel that dogmas are imposed on them to believe. By returning to the New Testament and taking a closer study of the gospel texts, for example, it is possible to show how the dogmatic affirmations about Jesus Christ arose. It is possible to show the birth of those labels. It is possible to show that the titles were not just myths and ideologies made but rather responses to the “shock” in encountering Jesus Christ.
- Is this return to the New Testament something new? No. In fact, it is an old practice. The ancient Church Fathers have been doing it already. Of course they did not have the same approaches as modern biblical studies have, but they were giving a serious status to the New Testament. Whenever Church fathers spoke of and wrote about Jesus Christ they would use their own styles of language, but they looked to the New Testament for references. Theology, at that ancient time, was rooted in the New Testament faith. The Church was developing her tradition but she was doing it with roots in the New Testament.
- It may look as if the Church developed a tradition with very abstract language. Sure, the Church made many dogmas—and many of the dogmas look far from life and far from being important in liberating people. They look so abstract and too speculative. Many Christians get disappointed with the abstract ways of talking about Jesus and the faith. With very modern people, Jesus Christ might already be too mythical and ideological.
- A closer look at tradition, however, will show that this is only partly true. Of course there are abstract ideas in the Church. But underneath them are really solid foundations rooted in the New Testament. Church tradition and Scriptures were never so separated. When we talk about the Church councils dealing with the identity of Jesus Christ, we will see this link with the scriptures.
- There is one final point that we need to clarify. If tradition is rooted in scriptures, scriptures are also rooted in a tradition. Before the gospels were written, for example, the ancient Christians were already talking (and even singing) about Jesus Christ. The ancient Christians—especially the Apostles and the disciples—were preaching about Jesus Christ. They kept memories of him and orally transmitted the memories. This was the tradition before the texts were written. When the scripture texts were composed, a lot of traditional materials from people’s memories were used. The New Testament written texts were rooted in the tradition of the time of Jesus and the Apostles. So there is a “circle” of relationship between tradition and scriptures.
- What if after the time of the Apostles all…all…the Christians were killed? Then they left behind some manuscripts. Scientists might use the manuscripts for academic studies. But it will be very hard to say if the faith could continue. Thanks to the continuity of tradition, the faith could be passed on.
- The Church has put the Scriptures in our hands. For the scriptures to come to us they passed through the process of “canon”. The “canon” of texts was an attempt of the Church to stay as faithful as possible to the “Jesus Christ event”.
- To make “canon” is already an act of interpretation of the Church. The Church interpreted the Scriptures and decided which will be part of the community and which will be set aside. Of course the Church was doing this in faith.
- Over time the Church was obliged to dialogue with different cultures. So on one hand the Church had to stay faithful to the “Jesus-event”. The Church had to stay faithful to the Christology of the New Testament. This had to be translated to the new cultures encountered. New questions kept on arising over time and the Church had to face them one after the other. The Church had to be creative yet faithful. She had to be creative in order to face new questions and she had to be faithful to the New Testament.
- Questions kept on coming out regarding Jesus Christ. The Church had to organize councils to reply. But there was a time when it was not possible to have councils—because the Church was still under a lot of persecution. That was the first two or three centuries of Church history. Check it out with your class in history. Let us take a look at one of the first big questions.
- The first big question was about the “flesh” of Jesus. Now when we see this word “flesh” we have to understand it as “humanity” or “human condition”. A question arose as to the humanity of Jesus. Could the Word really be flesh, as the prologue of the 4th gospel would say (See Jn.1/14). It was, for some people, a scandal that God become “flesh”, human. It was a scandal that God took the human condition.
- So there were those who started to say that God did not really become “flesh”. He only APPEARED to be human. The Word only appeared to be human but was not really human. The Word kept his divinity without ever becoming human. This was a movement that became known as “Docetism” (from dokein, Greek for “appear”). So what did Docetism say?
- For Docetism, God appeared human so that humanity will see something about God. But whatever that appearance was, it was mere appearance. It was impossible that God became human. It was unthinkable that God be born from a womb—with all that blood and body fluids! Yech. It was impossible for God to suffer and die up the cross—with all that blood and body fluids! Yech. What a shame! What a humiliation! Never for God.
- It would be a scandal that the Word become flesh. It is a promiscuity that can never happen to God.
- There was a philosophical view of the world that Docetism held. The world, it would say, is a created world. Humanity and human flesh is created. To be created is to be inferior to the creator. To be creature is not good. So if God is creator, God cannot go low enough and become human.
- Between humanity and divinity, Docetism dropped humanity. So Docetism was ready to accept a “from above Christology” but without the “from below”. Jesus Christ was quasi magical. His presence was just “appearance of being human”…but not real human. Jesus Christ escaped all human conditions. He was God taking a walk on earth appearing like a man.
- Already there were reactions from the Church. Take one reaction. Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “Our Lord Jesus Christ … was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, (Romans 1:3) and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled (Matthew 3:15) by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard (Isaiah 5:26, Isaiah 49:22) for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, I).
- If only the Church could organize a council…but it was not possible. So theologians—like Church Fathers—had to come in. Church Fathers insisted that Jesus Christ came and died and rose again. His death could never happen if he was never born. If there was no birth, there would be no dying on the cross and no rising from the dead. Jesus did not just appear to be born. He really was born as human. He really took the human condition. Here is Tertullian writing: “Christ, however, having been sent to die, had necessarily to be also born, that He might be capable of death; for nothing is in the habit of dying but that which is born. Between nativity and mortality there is a mutual contrast. The law which makes us die is the cause of our being born” (The Flesh of Christ VI).
- It was not enough to talk about the identity of Jesus as human. It was also crucial that Jesus had to be human to save us! If Jesus never became human he could never have saved us. The incarnation is the solidarity of the Word with humanity. Tertullian, for example, would say that when God was making us, humans, he was thinking of Christ because the Word will one day become flesh! Again Tertullian continued: “We know by experience the goodness of God… Now, as He requires from us love to our neighbor after love to Himself, (Matthew 22:37-40) so He will Himself do that which He has commanded. He will love the flesh which is, so very closely and in so many ways, His neighbor… (Resurrection of the Flesh VIII). God so loves us—he loves the flesh! The flesh could not be naturally bad. So the holy humanity of Jesus made our humanity liberated from sin and darkness. Our humanity was united to the humanity of Jesus—and this could happen only because Jesus became human himself. God united with us—the Word became flesh.
- Let us not forget that the Church, from the earliest times of her history, was trying to be faithful to the New testament Christology. So when we look at her responses to Docetism, we will note the influence of the ideas, for example, of St. Paul who introduced this notion of our becoming “adopted children” of God (Gal.4/5). We are adopted thanks to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The Nicene Council
1. A man named Arius had a question about Jesus. He wondered what “Son of God” meant. Ok, he said, if we agree that Jesus was Son of God, what could that really mean? What would make Jesus Son of God? Arius started to ask: could it be possible that a human—born, suffered and died—be God? Could the human Jesus be divine?
2. The question of Arius had a notion of God behind it. Arius was from a Greek mentality, so he was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. What was the Greek idea of God?
3. In Greek mentality—at that time—God would be an absolute being. God did not move and change. God cannot be created. If God moved something else would move him. So something else would be greater than God. If God were created, something else would make him exist. So something else would be greater than God. If God is God, he cannot be a God who moves, changes and created. God is absolute. Nothing else is greater than God.
4. What about Jesus? Christians say he is God. Ok, said Arius, so he is Son of God. But, Arius would say, Jesus is a creature. He is a result of God’s creation. As creature, Jesus is inferior to God! Because he is created, he is not God. Jesus cannot be divine. He was born, he grew up—he changed over the years. Then he suffered up the cross. That cannot happen to God-Absolute. Even if we say he is Son of God, he is still a creature of God. He cannot be God.
The Church returns to the New Testament
5. So for Arius, Jesus was only a creature and cannot be divine; Jesus cannot be equal to God. The Church reacted. She had to find a way to react. She looked back to the New Testament. This has always been the healthy reaction: return to the intuition of the New Testament. The Church had to be faithful to the New Testament while creatively addressing the question of Arius.
6. The New Testament insisted that Jesus is Word. Jesus pre-existed. The prologue of the gospel account of John showed this. Jesus was Word and Son. The Church focused on this. She organized the Nicene Council with focus on the notions of Word and Son. For the Church, if the Word became flesh, it would mean that the Father begot the Son. So the crucial word is “begot”.
7. To beget means to have someone similar. A parent may have a child—they are both human. The child is similar to the parent. The parent begets a child—the parent has a child similar in humanity to the parent. They are humans.
8. So this can be applied to Jesus, Son of God. Jesus was Word begotten by the Father. So he was similar to the Father as Word—similar in divinity. Jesus, the Word made flesh, shared the same divinity with the Father. But this was not the same in human begetting. In the human level, a parent begets a child…and the two of them are separate. They are two distinct individuals. This did not happen with Jesus and his Father.
9. The Council noted that Jesus was Word. So what could it mean?
10. If we have an idea, let us say a word, our idea is distinct from our thinking but it stays inside our thinking. It is not separated. It remains in our thinking. It is not apart. This is how we can understand the way God the Father begot Jesus, the Word and Son. Jesus is Son, begotten by the Father. He is distinct from the Father but not apart. He remains in the Father…just like an idea remains in our thinking.
11. So the Nicene Council affirmed what the New Testament said about Jesus. Jesus, Son of God, was born of the same substance as the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. This was a matter of begetting…not creating! We repeat: This was a matter of begetting…not creating! The Father begot the Son, he did not create the Son. The Son, Jesus, could not be creature nor inferior to God.
12. The Nicene council then declared that Arius was wrong. God did not create his Son…he begot. Jesus could not have been a creature.
13. This was very important for the Church. If Jesus was only a creature, he could not be divine. He could not be united with God. He would be inferior to God.
14. Sure, he might have been a great man more superior to us. But he remained inferior. If he remained inferior and separated from divinity, he could not save us! So for the Church, the problem Arius raised was not just about speculation about who was Jesus. It touched on the notion of salvation. Jesus had to be God—divine—to save us.
This time let us look at the Council of Ephesus (431)
1. About a century after Arius, a maned named Nestorius showed up. He asked about the divinity of Jesus. Yes, he had a similar question. But it took a new turn. Nestorius wondered how God, divine, could be Jesus, human. Let us see.
2. Nestorius was worried about the "nearness" of the divinity to the human. He was worried that the eternal Word could undergo the same experiences and conditions as human. Is it possible, he would ask, that the divine should be born, suffer and die? If the divine incarnated, it seems like a scandal for Nestorius.
3. Nestorius did not want that the human events--like birth and death--should happen to the divine. Nestorius refused that the human conditions should affect the divine. But look at Jesus Christ. Christians say he is "Word made flesh" (Jn1/14). Jesus is divine becoming human. So Nestorius felt that there was a confusion there. "Divine" and "human"...how could they be linked? If the divine cannot have the human condition, what do we do with the divine?
4. Maybe, according to Nestorius, there is a confusion between the divine and the human in Jesus. Note the word confusion. The divine and the human in Jesus get confused.
5. Ah! Nestorius came out with his idea. Ok, so Jesus has divinity and he has humanity. Accept! But the two do not mix. For Nestorius, Jesus had two sides, the human and the divine. There was a gap between the two. They cannot be united. They were just "glued". The Word cannot be human, for Nestorius. In Jesus there was the human part and the divine part. The divine was set apart and protected from human conditions. If we look at Jesus we can say he has two parts "glued" (conjoined) together.
Reaction from the Church
6. The Church reacted. Again she had to rely on the New Testament. The Church insisted: "The Word became flesh" (Jn1/14)...the Word participated like us in flesh and blood (see Heb.2/14)...the Word was "born from a woman" (Gal4/4).
7. Jesus said, "Before Abraham was 'I am'"(Jn8/58). For the Church this was an affirmation of the pre-existence of Jesus. Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn14/19) because Jesus and the Father are one (Jn10/30). So the Word really underwent the human conditions--the Word became flesh. It would be wrong to accept Nestorius who said that the divine had to be protected from the human life. "No", said the Church, "No no no". If the Word became flesh, then there are no two separate parts. The divine himself became human. The divine and the human are united--and not simply glued--in Jesus.Jesus is BOTH HUMAN AND DIVINE.
8. The divine did not have a humanity. The Word BECAME human. The Word IS human, in Jesus. Nestorius was also like Arius, using Greek thinking. The divine, for Nestorius, could not be born, suffer and die. So Nestorius prohibited the divine from becoming human. The Church took from the New Testament and said that the Word was born, suffered and died.
9. So Jesus was both human and divine.
10. So what? Well, remember that the council was not just interested in the "who" of Jesus. It was also interested in how Jesus could save.
11. The unique mediator between God and humanity (see 1Tim2/5) could not be sliced into two glued parts. The Word made flesh could save because he was both human and divine.
1. The Council of Ephesus has declared the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. It could have been enough for us. But suddenly, a new question arose. The question went like this: How exactly are the two—divinity and humanity—together? Ok, so the Word became flesh. He divine became human…and in Jesus both are present. But when the divine became human, what happened to the human? Did the human dissolve in the divine?
2. One big name here is Eutyches. Eutyches was a little into Docetism and was doing a reversal of Arianism. Remember that Arius denied the divinity of Jesus and thought that it was impossible for God to be creature. Eutyches wanted to protect the divine by questioning the human nature of Christ. For him, the humanity of Christ was affected by the divinity. When the Word became flesh, a confusion took place. Jesus did not really become “of the same substance” with humanity. Instead the humanity of Jesus was “absorbed” in the divinity. The humanity of Christ was one person with one nature: divine-human. These are not two natures, they form one.
3. How can they form one? The absorption of the human into the divine, in the way of Eutyches, could be like a drop of sweet honey…just one drop…that is put in the sea. What happens to that little sweet drop of honey? It really disappears—it is absorbed—into the big wide salty sea. So the human side of Jesus was absorbed by the divine so that a confusion of human-divine nature arose. Jesus was not 100% human…a change happened to his humanity. We really cannot see that humanity since it got absorbed—so Jesus had only one nature. His human nature was "dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea". Notice how this is so close to Docetism.
4. Eutyches was among many individuals before him who tried to preserve God and keep God from getting involved with the human world. It was just unthinkable that God, divine, can become flesh, human.
5. Of course the Church had to react. The Church had to show that the divine nature and the human nature of Christ were united without confusion and without separation! No change happened to the humanity of Christ. The Word—divine—became flesh, human. Yet, the divine stayed divine, the human stayed human. A council was needed to explain this. This was the Council of Chalcedon of the year 451.
6. The Council of Chalcedon claimed that it was always faithful to the past councils and to the New Testament. It claimed that it was not adding anything new to the insights of Scripture and Tradition. Let us take a look at the central declaration of the council.
So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ:
the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity,
the same truly God and truly man…;
same consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity;
like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity;
One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten,
acknowledged in two natures which undergo
no confusion, no change, no division, no separation;
at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being;
he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ…as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.
7. Let us take a “closer view” of the declaration. First we can note that the declaration—which is also a confession of faith—starts with the unity of Jesus: the one and the same Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Then in the middle is again a declaration of theunity of Jesus: One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten. The Council of Chalcedon is repeating the confession of the Council of Ephesus. Remember that in Ephesus the divinity and humanity had to be one and not “glued”. In Ephesus there had to be one Jesus Christ with one person in him—not two persons, one divine and the other human. So the Council of Chalcedon re-emphasizes the unity.
8. Ok, so there is unity. But in this unity there are two of the same substances. Jesus is of the same substance as God and same substance as human. Jesus is 100% divine and 100% human: same consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity. There are also distinctions in Jesus—the human and the divine. They are distinct while at the same time they are united. They are and the same in Jesus.
9. If we go back to the question of Eutyches (what happened to the humanity of Jesus) the response would be: the humanity stays. It does not change. It is not absorbed. It stays as the same consubstantial with us. Jesus is always human.
10. The council had to make sure that sin is not in Jesus. It took inspiration from Heb2/17 and 4/15. Jesus remains human even if without sin.
11. There are two in Jesus Christ: the divine and the human. As divine he was begotten before the ages from the Father. In the last days, however, he is serving as Savior. He was the same for us and for our salvation from Mary for the last days.
12. In the middle part, we see, is again the theme of unity: One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten. Then the council takes a new turn by emphasizing the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly human and truly divine. Notice that the council does not say that there is a one person Jesus and natures. The way the council expresses the faith is by saying that the two natures are IN Jesus. Jesus is acknowledged in two natures. The human-divine unity stays and it is a unity in two natures. The council is being so careful with its use of words. The Word became flesh and in this unity the divine remains divine while the human remains human. The human remains in-tact. Divinity is divinity, humanity is humanity. They are in one and the same Jesus Christ. The nature of the divine is not human and the nature of the human is not divine. The differences are not suppressed.
13. This is why the council says: no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.
· “no confusion, no change”: This means that there is nothing changed in the human nor in the divine…no mixing and no absorbing
· “no division, no separation”: This means that the human and the divine are not “glued”, there are no two persons in Jesus joined together. In one and the same Jesus is the human and the divine. The humanity is in the same Jesus Christ. The divinity is in the same Jesus Christ.
14. So Jesus Christ is one person of two natures. Or he is two natures in one person. Divinity is divinity. Humanity is humanity. In Christ they are one with no confusion, no change, no division, no separation. The Council of Chalcedon excluded the mixture of the natures human-divine and included their unity.
15. Are you scratching your head? Well, this is the council that explains to the full our faith in Jesus Christ. It is the council to which all Christian Churches refer. Technically, if a church or community using the name of Christ does not refer to this council and does not hold the faith of this council, that community or church is not “Christian” in the full sense of the term. Yet, surely we need time to digest what the Council of Chalcedon is saying. Cyril of Alexandria himself once said, regarding the discussions of the council: “it is absolutely incomprehensible”. Yet the council stays faithful to the revelation of the New Testament. It may be hard to comprehend, but it has been the way Jesus Christ was revealed in the Scriptures.
Our Faith in the resurrection of Christ
1. Historians are not able to prove the historical rising of Jesus. But historians agree on the historical reality of the AFFIRMATION about the resurrection. This affirmation put disciples on the path to starting the life of the Church. The resurrection of Jesus is in the heart of the proclamation of the Good News. The conviction of the disciples—that Jesus has risen from the dead—has given the disciples the force to reach out to the far corners of the world. This conviction had given them the courage to risk their lives for the Good News.
2. The resurrection of Christ signified for the disciples the definite victory of life over death, light over darkness. It is a victory for them shown by what happened to Jesus.
3. For the disciples, the resurrection meant that Jesus shared the life of the Father—totally. The New Testament writers expressed this in many ways. But for them, the resurrection of Jesus was not the same as the immortality of the soul.
4. The disciples met Jesus in Galilee, in Palestine. It was a very « body encounter ». They ate and drank with him. The passed through happy and rough moments together. Jesus was put to the cross—clearly also a body reality. Then they affirmed the presence of Jesus after the death of Jesus. They really saw—and touched—and ate and drank with Jesus. All, again, were « body realities ».
5. The New Testament thus showed a continuity between the Jesus before death and the Jesus at the resurrection. The man of Nazareth and Palestine was the very same man who rose from the dead. Yet, the New testament report a « break ». Something new took place. Those who met Jesus after the resurrection did not recognize him immediately. At one point Jesus had to show the scars of his wounds suffered on the cross.
6. Christians would say that Jesus is risen and is living. He is glorified with the Father. This implicates the Christians too ! For the Christian, the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the human person is called to rise with Jesus.
7. Now, let us go slowly here. The word « flesh », remember, is not in the Greek sense. Nor is it in the modern scientific sense (minerals, atoms, cells and genes). « Flesh » is human person, embodied. Remember Marcel’s notion of « having » a body and « being » my body.
8. For the Christian, the resurrection does not just affirm the return to earthly life—to the life before death. It also means a new life—a life IN GOD.
9. The Church knows the difficulty involved when speaking of the « resurrection of the body ». Remember the Apostles’ creed prayed during mass where we say : «I believe in…the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting ». Originally, in the Nicene council, it is written as « resurrection of the flesh » or « of the body ». The Church went through long reflections on this phrase. It was not easy. Let us look at St. Paul and see how he can help.
10. St. Paul, in his 1Corinthians, affirms the reality of the resurrection. But he also says that we cannot imagine what that « after life » could be. Let us read the crucial passage—which is not easy to fully appreciate because of the vocabulary :
« But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body. Not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for human beings, another kind of flesh for animals, another kind of flesh for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another.
11. The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one. » (1Cor. 35-49)
12. St. Paul seems to be extremely abstract here—although we have encountered parts of this in our study of miracles. One of the difficulties is in his use of the words «natural body » and « spiritual body ». St. Paul, however, is frank and honest enough to admit that we cannot imagine the form that we would take at the rising again. His faith in the resurrection is based on his certainty about the resurrection of Jesus.
13. St. Paul is convinced that this resurrection of Jesus concerns us too—you and me and everybody else—and it is NOT JUST ABOUT THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL. If Jesus rose as one total Jesus Christ, so too we.
14. Do not forget that St. Paul was semitic—a Jew. So he was not dualist like the Greeks or modern people. For St. Paul, each of us is « my body », a «body reality » in full and not just partial. So we are called to resurrection in full, just like Jesus.
15. St. Paul also notes that there is continuity and break. A seed, for example, « dies » to become sprout and then plant and then tree. The tree or plant is not the seed anymore—there is a break. There is the path from death of the seed to the emergence of the plant. Yet, the tree or plant started from the grain—there is continuity. The body that St. Paul wrote about is not just a mass of cells and genes. It is body as I am—or more precisely, body that I have AND I am…the paradox. It is the body that gives me my identity and puts me in relationship with the world.
16. Again : When St. Paul wrote about the body, he mean the person—the entire person. The body is what makes me who I am, distinct from others. It is my identity. It is the core of my communication, my relation. It is beyond « just skin » or « just clothes and things I own ». I am called to rise again, just like Jesus, all together of who I am.
17. If you are interested in reflecting about the history of the notion of the resurrection, see below “Death and Beyond in the Bible” in the excursus section.
Jesus Mediator: New Testament Insights
Jesus mediator in St. Paul and St. John
1. Jesus is the mediator between God and us. This was expressed by the early Christians and we read this in 1Tm2/5-6: “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all”. Note the two main points in the confession of faith. First, there is one God. Second, there is only one unique mediator.
2. The mediator is from the side of God. He comes from God—which is a “going down”. This mediator is also from the side of the humans thanks to the Incarnation. Now this mediator, Jesus Christ, gave himself as ransom for all. So we find in this confession of faith a Christology—the “who is Christ”—and a soteriology (salvation theology)—the action of Christ “for all”. In other words the mediator, Jesus Christ, has become our savior. His mediation is our salvation.
3. In St. Paul this mediation “for all” is also a mediation “through” Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came “for all” and “through” him salvation happened. Creation is understood in the light of mediation. Creation took place “through” Christ. We read this is 1Cor8/6: “…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist”. Notice the use of the two expressions: “for us” and “through him”. Through Jesus there is existence and through him we go to the Father.
4. The letter to the Colossians has something explicit about this. “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him” (Col1/16). Then we also see mediation in the prologue of John. Jesus is mediator in creation (see Jn1/3 and 1/10) and Jesus becomes mediator of salvation through the incarnation (see Jn1/14).
Mediation in Letter to Hebrews
1. In the Old Testament we see that Moses was a mediator by the promulgation of the Law. Now, for the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the “new mediator”: “…he is mediator of a new covenant” (Heb9/15; see 12/24). This is a very important covenant made according as promised (see Heb8/6). The mediator makes the new covenant possible. God has taken the initiative to offer the new covenant while we are called to respond. Jesus Christ accomplished both—the initiative to “come down” and the response to “go up”. In other words, Jesus Christ was sent. He was a gift to us. In him we have access to God (see Heb7/25).
2. The Letter to the Hebrews also mentions the priestly character of the mediation of Jesus. Christ is definitely the “High Priest”. Now, in the ancient times—the Old Testament times—the priesthood was already “mediating” between God and people. The priest communicated with God through rituals and sacrifices. The work of the priest then was a “going up” work; he was sending to God the aroma of sacrifices. Consequently the people will obtain blessings and forgiveness from God. The consequence of making the sacrifices was the “going down” of God to give blessings.
3. In Jesus Christ something radically different happened. Although it was an ambition for ancient men to be High Priest, it was a matter of humility for Christ. For the ancient High Priest—being a member of society—it was necessary to separate from people through purification rites. When it comes to Christ it is not a matter of separation. Rather it is a matter of “solidarity” with humanity. Jesus then became High Priest of mercy and faith: “…he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb2/17).
4. The ancient High Priest started with rituals and sacrifices—a “going up”. This was necessary so that the “going down” of God giving blessings can happen. With Jesus it was different. His being High Priest was due to his being Son of the Father. It was not the Son who glorified himself to be High Priest. It was the Father who assigned him as High Priest (see Heb5/5-6). So “from above” he went down and humbled himself and thereby established, for us, a communion with God (see Heb9/24-28).
Mediation as exchange
1. What is this “exchange”? How is mediation an “exchange”? Let us call it an exchange of wealth and poverty. Jesus was rich. He became poor. By becoming poor he made us rich. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2Cor8/9). He was a weak man put up to the cross. But then he has risen by the power of God. Now, we are weak too. But in Christ we will live also by the power of God: “For indeed he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God” (2Cor13/4).
2. We can see the exchange between the fullness—the wealth—of Christ and our poverty. Christ “comes down” and humbles himself. In that humility he enters into solidarity with us and he fills us up with the fullness of God: “…the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph3/19). See the beautiful hymn of Ph2/6-11.
3. Let us look at the core meaning of the exchange. Jesus Christ had the same human conditions. By the solidarity with us Jesus has opened the path that can make us move to God. We are, indeed, sinners and because of our sinfulness we have very horrible experiences. But through Christ we can become just. His crucifixion opens our eyes to our sinfulness.
4. We see this Biblically. Yes, Christ underwent the same human conditions. He also experienced the curse of life—the hardship of the life of us, humans, sinners. By exchanging his “status” with our conditions, Jesus has offered us the access to the Father, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal3/14). Jesus has communicated to us his holiness—his seriousness—with his mission to tell us about the love of God—the Kingdom. He really went down and humbled himself to tell us about the love of the Father. Even with the violence of the cross against him, Jesus did not pull out. Consequently, as we see how human sinfulness can kill Jesus who came to tell us about the love of God, we are called to conversion. In the Acts we read that after the speech of Peter telling the crowds about how they killed Jesus who was Lord, the crowds were converted: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’” (Act2/37).
Mediation in Salvation
Let us place this discussion in the light of salvation. The mediation of Jesus Christ had two movements: from above (going down) and from below (going up). Jesus was from God and from us, humans.
From Above (going down)
1. Because he is Son of the Father, he has accomplished the gift of God to us. Jesus, we say, is God with us. The retrospect to the prophets have made the early Christians see in Jesus the Immanuel. Jesus is Son of God who came so that we can have abundant life (see Jn10/10). This offering was rejected by sin. So the offering took a turn towards an offering of salvation. The gift had to be a gift of winning against sin.
2. Indeed God so loved us that he sent his Son (see Jn3/16). Life in the fullness was given to us. Jesus came and live with us…dwelt among us. This “going down” to us in the Incarnation included the reality of death. The “going down” was a love “to the max”.
3. We can, in fact, discern salvation here.
· First, the “going down from above” is about Christ revealing to us who is the Father. The mission of Jesus was to announce the love of God in the Kingdom. God is a God of love, not of revenge. God is a God who wants our fulfillment—our joy and happiness.
· Second, the “going down from above” is about Christ redeeming us. (Remember the go’el that we spoke about in your first year). To redeem is to pull us out of what holds us—pull us out of sin. We have been captivated by the slavery of sin and Jesus pulled us out. Today many theologians like to use the word “liberation”. Thanks to this redemption-liberation of Jesus we know what it means to enter into communion with the Father. In this communion we have become adoptive children of God with Jesus as the “eldest brother”.
· Third, the “going down from above” is about Christ “justifying” us. This word has been a source of many debates and misunderstanding. Usually it would lead us to think that the Father was looking for his justice. The Father wanted compensation from the hurt we (symbolized by Adam) have done him. But actually, justification means the act of God saying we are ok. We are ok in his eyes. We are “justified” in his eyes.
From Below (Going up)
1. First, Jesus came in solidarity with us. This accomplishes our return to the Father. We welcome the gift of God—we welcome the Incarnation and solidarity of Jesus with us. So in turn we give ourselves as gifts to God. We are “married” to God; we say “yes” to God’s love.
2. In principle this was happening with the first couple—Adam and Eve. In the garden there was a mutual self giving—a communion. God and human were giving themselves to each other. There was a communion, a “fraternity”. But then somewhere along the way a break was done. There was a refusal to stay in communion with God. Consequently it also meant the refusal to be who we really are—who we have been created by God. Of course we know that this story symbolizes our human condition. We are, in fact, really in communion with God. But we have rejected this.
3. Christ, the New Adam, did not follow the same path of rejecting God. Whereas Adam disobeyed, Jesus Christ obeyed. How did Jesus do this? He offered himself as “sacrifice”. What was this sacrifice? It was the sacrifice of his solidarity with us. We experience the pain of being separated with God. Our human condition is marked by toil, anguish, struggles. Well, Jesus came to be one of us. He dwelt among us. He too underwent the same human conditions.
4. The sacrifice of Jesus passed by the cross. On the cross he confronted sin. Jesus won! He was victorious over the claims of injustice, darkness, hatred—in short, sin. Jesus so loved the Father that he was willing to die for that love. We repeat: Jesus did not back out from his mission to tell us of God’s love even in front of the cross. The sacrifice of Jesus, his solidarity with us, went as far as his willingness to die on the cross. He faced death so as to show us the beauty of God’s love. (Note that it is a grave mistake to say that God put him on the cross.) The Father replied to this gesture of Jesus by rising him from death.
5. We see how the human Jesus is able to say yes to God. We too can say yes and we know that there is always the rising again. It is possible. We can turn to God and offer ourselves to God. Just like Jesus we too confront sin. We enter into solidarity with those who are really experiencing the excruciating effects of sin and we are willing to struggle with them against the forces that enslave them. This is our sacrifice. (Note that we do not look for suffering. We look for love and justice and we want this fulfilled in our lives even if it means having a hard, suffering time.)
6. In the New Testament we see words like “expiation” and “atonement”. These words have been so misunderstood that later on, in the history of the Church, other notions were added like “substitution”, “vicarious substitution”, “satisfaction”, etc. But now we see that the more appropriate word is really “solidarity”. Jesus was not a “substitute”. He entered in solidarity with us. His solidarity called us to conversion. It is a conversion of turning to God and living in solidarity with one another. This is salvation.
7. Second, the going up “from below” form of salvation is about reconciliation. Of course God has always been wanting us to return to him. God has always wanted us to be with him in the garden. We really belong to the garden. The parable of the prodigal son teaches us a beautiful image of the Father. With the solidarity of Jesus we can reciprocate with the Father. This is our act of “going up from below”. We accept God, we accept his love. We reconcile. This is so liberating. Consequently even our relationship with each other is really a matter of reconciliation. We live reconciled.
Both the “from above” and the “from below” movements form a unity. Maybe we need to chop them into two as a default of our language. But both movements form a solid unity of salvation. Both have been accomplished by Jesus Christ. His life, his words, his actions all revealed God (“from above”) and have allowed us to return to God (“from below”). This mediation of Christ has accomplished the definite covenant between us—humanity—and God.
Searching for the Historical Jesus
1. Christianity is rooted in history. We say that whatever is from God is not in an imagination. Christianity sees God as having historically engaged—in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a historical person for the Christian.
2. Archaeology is one branch of science that helps us see the historical world during the time of Jesus. But who exactly is Jesus? What was in his thoughts, in his way of living, in his understanding about himself? Archaeology cannot help with these questions.
3. We can look at documents. There are non-Christian documents. These are not plenty. Once a “Pilate Stone” was discovered with the name of Pontius Pilate in it. This stone is a block (82 cm x 65 cm) of limestone with a carved inscription. It reads: “To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum ...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]”. This is proof that Julius Caesar was a true historical man.
4. There is another Roman document from a historian named Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117). He was a historian (and senator) of the Roman Empire. He wrote one book, Annals. In this book (15/44), written at around 116 AD, Christ and Pontius Pilate are mentioned. There was a mass execution of Christians. Tacitus wrote: “…Nero …inflicted the most exquisite tortures on…Christians by the populace. Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”
5. There was a Roman historian named Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He is more known simply as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130). He was historian and a good horse-rider. He wrote a book Life of Claudius (25/4) and there he wrote about the emperor Nero expelling Jews from Rome: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Suetonius spelled Christ as “Chrestus”.
6. And then there was another Roman historian named Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61 AD – ca. 112 AD). He is better known as “Pliny the Younger”. He was a historian and lawyer. Why was he called “the younger”? Well, someone was older: Pliny's uncle was “Pliny the Elder” who helped raise and educate him. Pliny the Younger wrote, in around 110AD, about Christians: “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god….” (Epistulae X.96)
7. The Jews themselves had their own historians, one of which was Flavius Josephus. He wrote a text sometime in the 90-95, also very close to the time of Jesus. In his books he mentioned the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. He mentioned Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus. He mentioned “James the brother of Jesus”. He even mentioned the “Essenes” of the Qumran community. In his book Antiquities (20.200), he said that in AD 62, the high priest Ananus (or Ananias) had assembled “…the Sanhedrin. He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned”. See, he mentioned Jesus Christ.
8. There are a few other documents referring to the time of Jesus and the people around Jesus, but those texts were written already in the 10th century. Historians find them important for the historical studies about Jesus, but we need not mention them here.
9. Let us conclude: From the non-Christian documentary point of view, there are evidence of the historical truth about Jesus Christ. But these non-Christian documents only mention Christ. They do not give more information than that. The best documents we have about Jesus Christ is the New Testament, and in particular the gospels.
10. Experts note that the oral Aramaic at times found its way in the Greek writing. When gospel authors recall the words of Jesus, they would write in Greek but with the Aramaic turns of Jesus. So, this tells us how historically “near” the gospel texts are to the man himself, Jesus.
11. Let us not forget that the gospel accounts were written for the communities of the evangelists. Mark had his community to write too, Matthew, Luke and John had their own communities. So when the gospel authors were writing, they had in mind the context and the needs of their communities. They organized their text according to those needs. This explains why they are versions of the same event—the Jesus event. In our synoptic class we spoke about “the Jesus for Mark”, “the Jesus for Matthew”, “the Jesus for Luke”. It is not that there were three Jesus, but it was that they showed profiles—versions—of Jesus.
12. The gospel texts were primarily confessions of faith. They were expressing the faith of the authors and the communities. So, in a way, it would be difficult to see them as “historical texts”. The authors did not write the Jesus-history like modern historians. They wrote with the influence of faith. In fact, they wrote to promote and support the faith. So we cannot—and should not—read the texts as historical texts in the modern style. But through them we can discern the historical Jesus.
13. Jesus had such an impact on the lives and minds of people. So when people shared their faith in Jesus, they also kept memory of his presence. Through the faith colour of the texts we therefore can see how people—the early Christians—had historical memory of Jesus. We can see the impact Jesus had on their lives—and the impact was so powerful that it left a mark on the written texts.
14. The gospel texts, therefore, cannot be considered purely “non-historical”. No. In and through them the memories of the early Christians were stamped.
15. Do not forget that in the early times—a little before the resurrection of Jesus—the early Christians believed in the presence of Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead and although he was not visible he was still present. How? There was the belief in the Spirit. But then also, through the apostles and through St. Paul, the words and gestures of Jesus were still present. The activity of the Apostles, including St. Paul was preaching or proclaiming about Jesus: kerygma. There was still a strong sense of the presence of Jesus among the communities through those preaching. In fact whenever the early Christians would make major decisions, they would call for the inspiration of the Spirit and ask what would Jesus do in their situations.
16. People kept memory of Jesus. They recalled the Passion and death as a Prelude to the Resurrection. The risen Lord suffered and died…and then rose again. So it was one big story: Passion-Death-Resurrection. It was a story of someone present in their lives.
17. But then over time the Apostles started to die. Those who actually saw Jesus were also dying. Memory had to shift. Suddenly, the early Christians began to realize that they were having a memory of the “past”. The kerygma had to be supplemented by didache, or “teaching”. It was then from proclaiming to teaching and giving lessons. In the time of preaching there was a strong sense of Christ being present among the communities. When the time of didache came, it became important to make that sense of presence felt and accepted. This time, it was no longer the words and gestures of the Apostles that made Jesus present. It was the time of the gospel texts. They had the role of making Jesus actual in the lives of the communities.
18. The communities needed a “foundation story”—the Jesus-event story. The words and deeds of Jesus were recorded so that the early communities could have reference and make Jesus actual in their lives. So the gospel texts were marked by a memory of the historical Jesus actualized in the faith of the people.
19. The Jesus that the gospels were referring to was living sometime in the 1st century Palestine. There is a large agreement among experts that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate. It was perhaps in the year 30…and some would specify the date as April 7,30. This is still a matter of verification, as experts are still working out the dates. Jesus became known, and therefore started his ministry, at around the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Tiberius. As for the date of the birth of Jesus, a lot of researches are still on going. There are indications that Jesus was born a little before the death of Herod the Great.
20. Let us leave the debate on details to the experts. Let our data be enough for us. The experts read the Gospel texts and try to make dates comparing with the historical dates outside the Bible. It is a technical job. One thing is for sure: Jesus was a historical man. He lived and died at the time of Pontius Pilate, at the time of Herod Antipas, and at the time of the Baptists—the Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes etc. In other words, Jesus really lived in the 1st century Palestine.
“…keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb.12/2)
1. Today, many people—Christians in particular—are very critical about their faith. It is not anymore very automatic to simply accept things about Jesus and the Church without some questions arising. Take the example of questions we saw in the last meeting in class. There were questions about the virginal conception and the adolescence of Jesus. There was a question about the “sexual impulses” of Jesus—putting to question his divinity. It seems that to accept without questions the things that the Church and our Catechism teach us does not happen automatically. In fact, maybe many of us say we believe—but with some doubts and questions.
2. How did Christians, and specifically the disciples of Jesus, arrive at their belief that Jesus is Christ and God? What was behind their act of faith?
3. Is our faith credible—is it really believable? This is our main concern for our Christology class. We have been taught and told many things about Jesus. We have been living a “Christian life” assuming that the beliefs will be followed. But maybe we need to see what is behind our belief in Jesus Christ. What led Christians to accept the belief in him?
4. To do this we need to go to the source—and this is Jesus Christ himself. He showed something about himself. Then later his disciples dais something about him—and what they said was rooted in what he showed about himself. What the disciples of Jesus said about him came from their experiences about him.
5. What exactly were the experiences? Later we will go into details about the experiences. Right now let us just say that the experiences were about the humanity of Jesus. People encounter Jesus as a human person—as a man belonging to the Palestine society of the 1st century.
6. Actually even during the time of the early Church—and the time of Paul—this was already a topic of discussion. So it is not so modern as we think. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews already wrote: “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Heb.2/2). In other words, if we want to know what exactly it is that we believe in, then it is best to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Everything started with him anyway.
7. Jesus was known to have been someone who invited disciples to follow him. The invitation involved “taking up the cross”. In following Jesus the disciple would be assured of joining God! By following Jesus, one “picks up the cross” and be sure of going to God.
8. So already during the time of Paul and the early Church it was clear that to understand the faith it was necessary to “keep the eyes on Jesus”. Jesus was a true historical man—a man of the 1st century Palestine. So the belief had historical roots. We cannot separate the two: belief and history.
9. What does this have to do with our Christology? We will look at how our faith traces itself back to Jesus and what Jesus revealed. Only this way can we realize the credibility of our Christian faith.
10. Most of us may have been formed in knowing Jesus “from above”. Jesus, for many of us, already sits on the throne and is so glorious and even powerful. We are so accustomed to this that we feel uneasy about the human side of Jesus. In our class we saw the uneasiness when we presented our questions about Jesus. How much did Jesus know? Did he get involved with sex? Did he really do miracles? Etc. We are so used to the aspects “from above”, we are not sure about who is Jesus “from below”—from the human side.
11. What happens to people who get fed up with the Jesus “from above”? What can happen is that they may start emphasizing the Jesus “from below” and putting him on a motorcycle, smoking marijuana, playing a guitar and smiling to girls. Jesus then becomes exclusively human, “from below”. It is really not easy to see how Jesus is “from above” and “from below” at the same time. Our Christian faith actually says that Jesus is both at the same time. If we want to know what this means, then we need to “keep the eyes on Jesus”.
12. Jesus met his disciples. The disciples encountered Jesus. All this happened in concrete life—in concrete space and time: 1st century Palestine. It did not happen in thin air. This tells us that our Christian faith did not happen from thin air. There was a process in the development of our faith. Christian faith did not arise in a flash. It had a beginning in concrete history. Individuals encountered Jesus and later they confessed that he was the Christ, that he was the Son of God and that he was God! Beginning with the concrete human—“from below”—experiences, the confession of faith that Jesus is “from above” took shape. Beginning with experiences of Jesus “from below”, the believer confesses that Jesus is “from above”.
13. Our course in Christology then will begin with the experiences that the disciples had when they encountered Jesus. Those experiences led them to believe that Jesus was Christ and God. There were two stages in the experiences. The first stage was the stage of living and moving around with Jesus up until the crucifixion. This was the “before Easter” stage. Then the second stage happened after the disciples met the risen Jesus. Jesus was met living again after the death on the cross. This was the “after Easter” stage. At this point, the confession of faith about Jesus began to crystallize and take a more formal feature. The Acts of the Apostles expressed this faith like this: “God has made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah), this Jesus whom you crucified” (Act 2/36).
14. Then we will move to look at the formal statements about Jesus. We will end the semester with discussions of major Christological issues: the resurrection, the miracles, the virginal conception, and the human-divine knowledge of Jesus. You yourselves have raised these issues at the start of our semester, and it is wise to look at them with more depth.
Death and Beyond in the Bible
By Patrice Bergeron, Sébastien Doane et Yves Guillemette
(Our adaptation of http://www.interbible.org/interBible/decouverte/ressources/dossiers/dib_mort.pdf)
1. If we do not believe in “paradise”, If we do not believe in “hell”, If we do not believe in “resurrection”, what then do we say will happen after death? Curious but note that for the Hebrews during the time of Moses and even during the time of the Kings and the prophets there was no solid “theology” about what happened after death. Death was simply the end of life…Nothing more. There was the idea of “sheol”. The idea of sheol was that of a tomb—a deep hole in which cadavers were put. So when someone dies and is put to the tomb, that person is in sheol.
2. The Hebrews did not have the idea of separation between body and soul. The human was a whole unit—not a divided “body-soul” unit. One simply died and went to sheol. One notion of shoel is that it was a place of darkness, slence, dust, absence and forgetfulness. Communication in shoel was impossible—God was absent there. The dead cannot get out of sheol. Sheol was a total break from the living world.
3. The Old Testament would look at death without making any drama or decoration. The human, for the Old Testament, was limited and finite.
4. Sometime in history when the notion of life after death was being developed sheol would become a place of waiting for God’s judgement. It would be a place in which one waited for the final resurrection.
A Theology of retribution
5. Without the resurrection how then can God be faithful to the just person? On earth God can punish the “bad guy” and reward the “good guy”. The good person who was just can have a prosperous life and have descendants. No, it was in in heaven where the reward will be given. Reward was on earth. This was the idea of “retribution”. If a person was just, that person will have wealth, prosperity, many children and grandchildren etc. If a person was unjust and very bad, that person will have punishment in the form of illness, poverty, sterility, no descendant, etc.
6. Abraham was a just man. So God gave him many descendants and a big troop of sheep. He had women and concubines. He lived long.
7. So even if there was no idea of life after death, God was seen to be faithful to his covenant because he gave reward on earth to the just. We Christians are familiar with the idea of life after death and we may forget that life in the here and now on earth is where we can relate with God. The great men and women that we read about in the Old Testament had no notion of life after death yet they had faith in God.
8. But how then do we appreciate retribution if a just person suffers injustice? Job is an example. He observed the commandments. He followed all the prescriptions. He was a just man obeying the commandments of God. Yet, he fell ill—very ill. He also lost his possessions including his family.
9. The book of Job seems to show that there may have been two authors. One author, the author who wrote the early chapters wanted to keep the idea of retribution. The Lord God blessed the just and cursed the unjust. Take the following verse: “’We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?’ Through all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2/10).
10. But then there are parts of he book written by the other author. Job could not agree with his friends regarding retribution. His friends were telling him that God punished the unjust. If someone did wrong that person merited punishment. Because Job was ill and lost his family, he must have done something wrong.
11. But Job did not agree. The retribution idea made no sense. The just also suffered—and in the case of Job it was even a physical suffering. The God that Job knew did not function well. The reality was so different from his idea of God. Now, Job had an idea of sheol. For him it was a place of rest and tranquillity! “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why did knees receive me, or breasts nurse me? For then I should have lain down and been tranquil; had I slept, I should then have been at rest” (Job 3/11-13).
12. Life was just a passing reality for Job. “Man born of woman is short-lived and full of trouble, Like a flower that springs up and fades, swift as a shadow that does not abide. … For a tree there is hope; if it is cut down, it will sprout again, its tender shoots will not cease. Even though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the dust, Yet at the first whiff of water it sprouts and puts forth branches like a young plant. But when a man dies, all vigour leaves him; when a mortal expires, where then is he?” (Job 14/1-2 and 7-10).
13. So Job had that question: if a person died what happened next? Job may have been asking the question that we ourselves also might be asking. In the end Job accused God. “Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature:* let the Almighty answer me! Let my accuser write out his indictment!” (Job 31/35).
14. The Lord God gave his reply to Job by asking Job questions: “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size? Surely you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid its cornerstone, While the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? “ (Job 38/4-7). God was telling Job that Job had no perspective. He did not understand God’s vision of creation. He was ignorant. It is also a reply for us. We should not try to be God as if we can explain everything including life after death. Only God knows. God is the one and only creator.
15. How did the whole book of Job end? It ended like it was at the start. There was the idea of retribution. Job regained his possessions, his health and his family. “After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; and he saw his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grandchildren. Then Job died, old and full of years” (Job 42/16-17).
16. The story of Job was a kind of representation of the history of the Hebrews. It was the period of exile in Babylon and the people asked themselves why suffer when in fact they were living justly. The idea of retribution was put to question during the exile. The questioning was to open up a new idea of the link between life and death.
17. Let us look at Qoheleth. The book of Qohelet (or the “Book of Ecclesiastes”) was written during the Greek occupation. Palestine was under the Greek-Seleucides in 250 to about 200 BC. The book was similar to the book of Job. It also questioned the traditional notion of retribution. The assertion about retribution did not correspond with reality.
18. “Bad guys” seemd to be prosperous while the just suffered! It did not matter if one was just or unjust. Happiness and good luck seemed to have nothing to do with being just or unjust. So the idea of retributiuon was not reliable for understanding life—or death. “This is a vanity that occurs on earth: There are those who are just but are treated as though they had done evil, and those who are wicked but are treated as though they had done justly. This, too, I say is vanity” (Ecc.8/14).
19. The human shares the same fate as the animals. Both share the same death. This is what Qoheleth said: “For the lot of mortals and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other. Both have the same life breath. Human beings have no advantage over beasts, but all is vanity. Both go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return. Who knows if the life breath of mortals goes upward and the life breath of beasts goes earthward?” (Ecc 3/19-21).
20. Just like the animals we too die. We are as equal as the animals. Remember that at that time there was no belief in the after death yet. So Qoheleth was really pointing at this absurdity. Yet, he proposed hope—a light of hope. He suggested that we enjoy life in the presentmoment. The pleasures are like gifts of God: “Go, eat your bread* with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. At all times let your garments be white, and spare not the perfume for your head. Enjoy life with the wife you love, all the days of the vain life granted you under the sun. This is your lot in life, for the toil of your labors under the sun” (Ecc.9/7-9).
21. Yet, even if we have fun and have pleasure, all that is still vanity. Pleasures pass away. “Should one have a hundred children and live many years, no matter to what great age, still if one has not the full benefit of those goods, I proclaim that the child born dead, even if left unburied, is more fortunate.Though it came in vain and goes into darkness and its name is enveloped in darkness, though it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet the dead child has more peace. Should such a one live twice a thousand years and not enjoy those goods, do not both go to the same place?” (Ecc 6, 3-6).
22. And so Qohelet repeated over and over again: “Vanities of all vanities, all is vanity”. But what is “vanity” here? The Hebrew word is hèvèl and it is usually translated a vanity. Hèvèl imples what is lasting only for a while, brief, not constant. For Qohelet experiences in life are vain— hèvèl …whther they are good or bad. In front of death all life is passing away; it is absurd. Qohelet leads us to an aspect of our human reality. He tells us not to remain in illusion. He reminds us not to get stuck in the reality of our finitude. Death is death. It is frustrating for those who desire for the infinite.
The rise of the idea of Resurrection in Judaism: The Maccabees brothers
23. The idea of the resurrection came slowly and progressively. There were texts written a little before the time of Jesus. There came an time of aspiration and hope. Very difficult events happened in the life of Israel. Slowly Israel began to start thinking about the possible resurrection of the just. It all started at a time of persecution. The Jews were under the Greek empire. The Seleucid Greeks took over Palestine. Antiochus IV Epiphanes became ruler of that empire.
24. When the Greek Emperor Alexander the Great died the Greek empire was divided into sections. Greek rulers reigned over Palestine and they had different kinds of attitudes towards the Hebrews. Some were tolerant but others were strongly inclinded to change the Jewish culture. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was not very tolerant. He tried to prohibit circumcision, the observance of Sabbath, the different practices of the Law. He obliged Jews to participate in ceremonies honouring other gods. The Jews were told to share in sacrifices using pork and they were to eat pork. There was opposition from the Jews. Many wanted to conserve the tradition. Many refused to follow the commands of the Greeks. We can read a lot about this in the two books of Maccabees.
25. The Greek ruler commanded that everyone conform to the rule of the King and that everyone should give up the tradition. The customs of Greeks were imposed; the sacrificial holocausts were prohibited; Sabbath feasts were prohibited; pork was eaten; boys were not circumcised; etc. Whoever refused would be killed. The Greek ruler then created a group of inspectors to check how the people were obeying him (see 1 Mac 1/41-51).
26. The Greek culture was dominant in the region and it was an attractive culture. Even the Jews of Jerusalem and the priests of the Temple were attracted—they were open to some form of assimilation. We read this in Maccabees: “In those days there appeared in Israel transgressors of the law who seduced many, saying: ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.’ The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the ordinances of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They disguised their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing” (1Mac.1/11-15).
27. A high point of the story is when the Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, consecrated the Temple to the Greek god Zeus. The Jews saw this as a deep profanation of the Temple. It was an abomination of desolation. Antiochus IV Epiphanes conctructed the abomination of desolation on the Temple’s altar. Then he has similar altars built around Judah. So we read: “On the fifteenth day of the month Kislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five,* the king erected the desolating abomination upon the altar of burnt offerings, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars” (1 Mac 1/54).
28. The identity of the Jews was hit and insulted. Those who did not want assimilation with the Greeks had to react. There were two possible reactions. One was by resisting violently—take arms and fight. The other was by resisting in relious terms—be more zealous in observing the Jewish religion. These reactions will be proof of fidelity to God and to the Law.
29. During this time of the persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, two Jewish movements were born. One was the Zealot movement which was revolutionary. The other was the Pharisee movement. These movements have taken roots in this time of persecution. The Maccabees brothers took leadership of a revolution that hoped to liberate politically and religiously. So the Greeks faced a resistance of a religious form of very intense religious observance.
30. How then did the idea of resurrection surface here? The persecutions opened up the conviction that if someone died to the point of martyrdom faithful to the Law and refused to offer to idols, God will recompense that person after death. So during this dark time the idea of “recompense after death” was born. This was to be realized in the resurrection of the just at the end of time. We read about this in the story of the brothers who were being forced to eat pork: “After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?” Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first. With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up* to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws” (2Mac. 7/7-9).
31. And so too, at this time, a conception about the dead emerged. It was the idea of intercession for the dead. Believing that it was possible to live after death, the idea that we can intercede for the dead became possible. Take the example of the story of the defeat in one battle. It was the defeat of a troop of Judas Maccabees. Some of the dead were carrying idols and amulets of the foreign divinities. It was a serious sin of idolatry. Judas Maccabees then offered a sacrifice for the expiation of the sins of soldiers with idols. We read: “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Mac. 12/43-45).
32. So the sun regarding resurrection has risen. With the Maccabees episode we can state the following: à There was born the idea of the resurrection of the Just. There is reward after death for those who remain faithful to the Lord God and to the Law. The martyr will be glorified by resurrection after death; and will have eternal life. à The unfaithful will have the fate of going to sheol and staying there. à Those still living can intercede for the forgiveness of sins of the dead.
33. We make a big step with the Maccabees episode. It makes us feel closer to the Catholic line of belief in the resurrection, the reward for saints and intercession for the dead.
Life after death in the Book of Wisdom
34. This book contributes something new on the theme of life after death. The book was written about fifty years before Christ. The author is unknown. He may have been from the Jewish community in Egypt. The book is in Greek. The book is a clear example of the mixing of cultures—notably Greek and Jewish cultures. The author took inspiration from Hebrew scriptures and from Greek writing. He was writing for Jews who had little or no idea of the ancient Jewish culture because they have been so marked already by the Greek ways. He was also writing for Greek readers as he wanted to show them the superiority of Judaism.
35. The question of life after death is treated in the first section (chapt 1-5). It deals with a reflection on the human condition in the light of faith in God. The author compares the fates of the just and the unjust. What happens to each of them before and after death?
36. So the just may look like having lived a failure. The unjust may look like having a success. But after death, there will be a reversal. The author faces the problem of the just dying without reward. The author gives an answer saying that even if the just people are persecuted on earth, their souls will enjoy perfect peace with God and they will be rewarded on the day of Judgement. The souls of the just will be on the hands of God. They will never experience torment.
37. They may seem dead—in the view of the unjust. The unjust will see them as unfortunate. But actually the just will be in peace. Their hope is filled with immortality. God, in fact, has put them on trial and God has found them worthy of him. They are like gold tested in purity. God has found them a perfect holocaust; very acceptable. When they come to visit, they will glitter; they will be sparkling. They will judge the nations and dominate over people. The Lord will reign over them forever.
38. Those who will put their confidence on the just will understand the truth. Grace and mercy are for the saints. (See Wis 3/1-9). There are two words (typically Greek) that give the idea of the future reward of the just: “Immortality” (see Wis 1/15 ; 3/ 4 ; 4/ 1 ; 8/ 17 ; 15/ 3) and “incorruptibility” (see 2/ 23 ; 6/
39. 18-19). The author or Wisdom wants the reader to realize that the life of the just does not end with physical death. The life of the just is eternal and glorious with God.
40. For the author the search for wisdom is also the way of justice; justice is life led in conformity with the will of God and expressed in the Law (Torah): concrete fidelity to what is good, the refusal of what is evil, sinful, duplicity, insult and telling a lie (see Wis1/4-11). “Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being, and the creatures of the world are wholesome; There is not a poison among them nor any domain of Hades on earth, For righteousness is undying” (Wis.1/13-15). Immortality and wisdom go together: “immortality lies in kinship with Wisdom” (Wis8/17).
41. What about the unjust? The unjust people give up immortality even now. They are, in fact, already dead. Immortality is not abstract—it already is applied to the soul of the unjust. The unjust thinks that life is short and sad. There is remedy when one dies because nobody has returned from after life. The human is born by chance. After death we will be exactly like we never existed. We are like smoke or the breath of our nostrils. Our thoughts are like sparks that will die off. The body will return to dust and the soul will disperse. Soon we will be forgotten and nobody will remember us. Life will be like a passing cloud. Life will be like a fog removing the rays of the sun. Our days are like the passing shadows; we will not return. The seal is stamped; no one returns from death. This is how the unjust thinks. They do not see the secret of God. (See Wis 2/1-5) The reality is this: “God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it” (Wis2/21-24).
The debate about resurrection in the time of Jesus
42. Now we move to the time of Jesus. We see that during his time the belief in the resurrection was not yet accepted by all. There were differences in views about it. There were those who already believed in it. Martha was one of them. In the gospel according to John we read that Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. Before doing that he spoke to Martha. We read: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise’. Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day’ (Jn 11/23-24).
43. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection. The faith of the Pharisees have taken roots at the time of the Maccabees. But the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees were very conservative. They were focused on the written Torah (what we call as Pentateuch). The books there are the most ancient Jewish texts. They represent the ancient Jewish beliefs. In the texts the resurrection is never affirmed. So the Sadducees could not accept the fact of the resurrection.
44. The situation is well attested by the story of the woman with seven husbands who all died. The question was raised then. “Now at the resurrection, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had been married to her” (Mt 22/28). Jesus took a position. He seemed to have taken the position of the Pharisees. “Jesus said to them in reply, ‘You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Mt 22/29-30).
45. Of course we will need to study what “like angels” mean. But the point we note in the answer of Jesus is that he tried to remove the materialistic view of the resurrection implied by the Sadducees. The after-life will not be a continuation of the present life. It will not be a repetition of the present life—like in marriage and inheritance. For Jesus, to resurrect is to be in a radical transformation—a change—and it is to pass to another form of relationships that will not perish.
46. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about the antagonism between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Paul was questioned regarding his belief. He was put in front of the Sanhedrin. Noticing that the assembly was composed of Pharisees and Sadducees he provoked the group, saying: “’My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead’. When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided” (Act 23/6-7).
47. Let us keep in mind that during that time—and during the time of Jesus—nobody was forced to believe in the resurrection. The Judaism at that time had many opinions about the question of the resurrection. What we might have to do now is look at what Jesus taught.
Death and Beyond in the Bible
By Yves Guillemette
(Our adaptation of http://www.interbible.org/interBible/decouverte/ressources/dossiers/dib_mort.pdf)
Part II: What Jesus Taught
1. We never had an experience of dying and then resurrecting. Some say that the afterlife will not be the same. Yet others say that after death is nothing. We are really in front of something so unknown. There are more questions than clarifications about it. No dead has come back to explain. In the book of Wisdom we read: “Short and sad is our life, there is no remedy when the end comes and none of us knows of anyone returning from the land of death” (Wis 2/1).
2. But still, we really know someone who has been there. This is Christ. We believe that he is eternally living and that he has entered the fullness of life. Yes, he has promised that for anyone who believes in him that person will be given eternal life. Yet Jesus has not given any details of the beyond.
3. When Jesus speaks of the life after death he evokes the feeling of joy—the joy of having communion with one another and with God. Life after death is associated with the accomplishment of the Kingdom of God and Universal Judgement. There is joy is participating in the messianic banquet (see Mt 22/1-14; Lk 14/16-24). There is joy in being accepted as faithful servant that has cared for the affairs of the master (see Mt 24/37-51). There is joy in the rewards of having loved the neighbour (see Mt 25/31-46). See also the parable of the poor Lazarus who ends with Abraham while the rich man is in torture (see Lk 16/19-31). All these show something in common: chase away fear in front of God. Heaven is about the encounter with God, Our Father, to whom we place confidence just as Jesus has given him confidence. God is also someone who knows our fragility and is happy to see even a small sign of good will from us as we respond to his love. Do not forget the parable of the “prodigal son” (see Lk. 15/11-32).
4. So what we have are images that can awaken in us but not describe for us life after death. The image of the house of the Father is very interesting. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.” (Jn 14/2-4). Put this image together with the prologue of John in which Jesus says that faith in the Son makes one adopted child of the Father: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (Jn 1/12).
5. In Hebrew and In Aramaic, the word “bayit” refers to both “house” and “family”. Family links are never really destroyed. Faith in Jesus makes us re-born in the life of God forever—in the house of the Father. Image of this house of the Father is applied to the life-after. It evokes fraternal communion of all the children of the Father, united in the same faith in the beloved Son in whom there is life. “Through him was life” (Jn 1/4). Each has a place in the family of the Father. We hope that each will conserve the character of one’s person.
6. This perspective about the future gives direction to the present. It shapes our way of living; it shapes the way we are to live. This is fraternal love done here and now. This already gives us a taste of joy, knowing that we will have fullness of life in loving communion with the Father and his children.
7. The gospel of John gives a very developed theology of the eternal life. In the prologue life is affirmed as a reality of the Word of God: “…this life was the light of the human race” (1/4). This life has been given by the Father to the Son so that the Son will pass it on to us. This life is communicated to all who, believing in the Word become flesh, become children of the Father. For John eternal life is knowledge of God and communion with God.
8. The life of God meets with humans through the mission of the Son: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (10/10). Because the life of God is transmitted by the work of Jesus, Jesus himself is presented as himself being Life: “I am the resurrection and the Life, who believes in me, even if he dies, will live; whoever lives and believes in my will never die” (11/25-26).
9. Jesus gives living water—water of eternal life. He offers bread that is eternal. He is the light that leads to life. He has the words of eternal life (see 6/68).
10. The gift of life is linked with the elevation and glory of Jesus. It is the highlight of his work: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3/16).
11. In chapter 17 we read about the request of Jesus to his Father to glorify him—that is, to reveal his divine nature so that life can reach those given to him by the Father. ““Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people,b so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life,c that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (17/1-3). In his death and rising again Jesus has found the communion he has always had from the beginning with God. He associates us with this communion. We can receive the life of God through faith in Jesus. Faith is our response to the work of God realized by Jesus: ““This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (6/29).
12. So we enter in life by listening to the Son; believing in him and recognizing that he was the one sent by the Father: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day” (6/40).
Main authors consulted:
Bernard Sesboüé S.J.
Thomas Rausch S.J.