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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Vasilca

What is the Christian Faith? Part II (CC-3)

This blog is the third in a short series dedicated to the Christian faith. As the title clearly implies, the Diamond Soul book is addressed primarily to a Christian audience. It would only make sense, therefore, to provide a brief refresher on the Christian theological doctrines which are applicable to the subject matter of my book.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that the teachings contained in the Diamond Soul are highly relevant to all open-minded people interested in self-growth and personal development. I take, therefore, this opportunity to introduce them to the beauty, mystery, and richness of the Christian faith.

The head of Jesus Christ the Man
Jesus Christ

What is the Christian Faith? Part II

The Doctrine of Christ

In surveying the Doctrine of Christ, we will briefly address the following topics: Jesus the Man, Christ's Preexistence, Christ's Humiliation, and Christ's Exaltation.

Jesus the Man and his environment.

The humble presence of Jesus Christ dominates the unpredictable development of human history in the past two millennia. No other man has ever accomplished so much in so little time to affect the world's course. For this reason, Christians consider Jesus at the center of human history. No serious historian denies the fact that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived in Palestine at the beginning of the first century of our era. That he articulated spiritual and moral teachings that challenged existing religious laws and left a legacy that profoundly impacted the community of followers that survived him. That he incurred the opposition of the religious and political establishment of the day, and he was put to death as a troublemaker.

The Bible does not provide a direct description of what Jesus looked like. However, scholars agree that most likely he was a dark-skinned Sephardim Jew of short stature, with thick black hair, deep-set brown eyes, a prominent nose, and robust facial features. By trade, he was a carpenter, which in those days was essentially an outdoor job. It required physical strength and multiple skills such as masonry, stonework, and woodwork. Since he was an outdoors manual worker, he probably had a laborer's physique with broad shoulders, strong arms, and tanned face furrowed by exposure to sun and wind. Most people called him "the Galilean" because his birthplace of Nazareth was located in Galilee. There is no question that Jesus the Man made an impression of a physically strong person both on his followers, who adored him, and on his detractors, who were afraid of him.

What was the political, spiritual, and religious environment in which Jesus lived? During that time, Judea was a Roman province, including the regions of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, headed by a prefect named Pontius Pilate, who ruled from AD 26 to 36. The seat of Roman military and civilian power was the city of Jerusalem, which was also the location of the Jewish sacred Second Temple. Despite being an occupying power, Rome allowed the local Jewish population to govern itself to a great extent and practice their traditional religious beliefs.

Roman occupation was resented by most Jewish people, particularly by a group of secret guerrilla warriors called Zealots. The Zealots were trying to stir unrest in the population to believe that a Messiah-Warrior would be sent by God to lead them to victory against the Romans. Besides the Romans and Zealots, there were two more power groups in Judea at that time: Pharisees and Sadducees.

The Pharisees were members of a devout sect that represented the land's religious establishment, namely Judaism. They were the learned priests and scholars, people of the Law who enforced the obedience of a very complex set of rules intended to cover every aspect of human behavior. Early in his ministry, Jesus denounced the sham of Pharisee-made forms and rituals that were going further and further away from the God-given Law. The Jewish High Priest during Jesus' time was Caiaphas.

The Sadducees were a political party that represented the interests of the priests, officers, and guardians of the Temple. Their power base among the people was derived from their control of the Temple, the central shrine for worship and offering sacrifices. The Sadducees were also friendly towards the Romans, who therefore allowed them to become influential and wealthy.

Much more is available in the Gospel record on the character of Jesus than on his appearance. Biblical records contain an abundance of reports on his words, attitudes, actions, emotions, and responses, which allow the informed observer to evaluate his character and personality.

Christ in his Preexistence

Preexistence is the word used by theologians to refer to two beliefs about the person of Christ. The first is that Christ existed eternally as a person within the triune God before anything else, including the created universe. The second meaning is that this eternal Christ is the same person who came into the world as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Christ was pre-existent to Jesus. The transition from eternal Christ to the human Jesus is called Incarnation.

The Bible contains three explicit teachings concerning Christ's preexistence: Christ the Logos (John 1:1-18), Christ in Kenosis (Philippians 2:6-11), and Christ the First Born (Colossians 1:15-20). Christ the Logos refers to the term "Word" used in the Old Testament as God's agent whose function is to execute God's will. At the same time, in the New Testament, the same word defines the organizing principle that keeps the universe together. As such, the "Word" has become a distinctly Christian concept, identified with God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at the same time.

Christ in Kenosis illustrates the teachings of mutual servanthood and humility (Kenosis means "emptying" in the Greek language) in which Christ did not lose his divine nature by taking the human form. Still, he gave up the advantages of being holy.

Moreover, Kenosis is regarded as a downward mobility, or Christ's succession of demotions from the highest to the lowest. He let go of his equality with God, he took the form of a human, he humbled himself, and he became obedient to the point of death on the cross. With his death on the cross, Jesus died as a sentenced criminal, reaching the very bottom of the human condition.

Christ the Firstborn shows that Christ is first in everything because he is the beginning of everything and the source of existence for everything. He has chronological precedence over all that exists, except the Father. He is also the final destination of all things. In other words, he is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

Christ in His Humiliation

Christ's humiliation is the process by which he, the creative source of all things, became human through his birth as a baby, lived as a man among men, eventually died on the cross as a victim of his own creation. To this end, we will survey together Christ's birth, baptism, ministry, and death.

The miraculous birth of Christ as a baby is treated with discretion in the Gospels, except in Matthew and Luke. These two Gospels, however, agree about the central affirmation that the conception of the child Jesus in the womb of virgin Mary occurred throughout the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. The significance of the Immaculate Conception and virgin birth of Jesus is twofold: it demonstrates Christ's complete identification with the human race and his uniqueness as the Son of God. Through his adoptive father Joseph, Christ's family tree links him to the great King David as well to several Gentile women, proving Jesus' identification with all sinners, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, to whom he came to offer salvation. Yet as the Son of God in the form of flesh, Christ retains his divine nature, integrating both the human and the divine in such a way as to be fully human and fully godly at the same time.

Christ's baptism in the River Jordan occurred when he turned thirty, and it was performed by John the Baptist. John was an old-style prophet whose message was that the people of Israel had strayed so far from God's purpose that they needed to repent and receive baptism, like all sinners. By going to be baptized in the river, Christ the God identified himself with all the sinners and took his place among them in order to minister to them. During the baptism, two incidents reminded John the Baptist and all witnesses about the divine nature of Jesus: the voice from above recognized Jesus as his Son, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

Christ's three-year-long ministry was one of ceaseless dispensations of God's love. Not only did Christ assume a human form, but he became the servant of humans. He devoted himself to meeting the needs of others––precisely what a servant does. He described himself as preaching good news to the poor, releasing captives, giving sight to the blind, setting free the oppressed, and proclaiming God's acceptance of sinners. The miracles that he performed were the expression of divine transcendence at the service of human need. By suspending, delaying, or accelerating the laws of nature––the very essence of miracles––God the Father was serving God the Son, while God the Son was serving humans. Love, compassion, and humility were all put to help the sinners. Therefore, Christ was a servant to both God and humans without being subordinate to God or humans. He was servant to God, but equal to him; he was servant to humans, but Lord over them.

The death of Christ was inevitable, having been predicted numerous times by the prophets of old. The Gospels make it clear that the death of Jesus was the expected climax of his whole ministry. Even more tragically, the work of redemption required the death of the Son of God, the only one who did not deserve to die. The death of Jesus was ordered by a sham tribunal controlled by his enemies, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and executed by a Roman military squad. He was crucified as a common criminal, next to two men sentenced to death for their crimes. Had Jesus been an ordinary human being, the memory of his deaths would have long been forgotten. But his crucifixion is viewed as the turning point in human history because of Christ's divine nature. Jesus' death was interpreted as both a sacrifice and a victory. At the outset of his ministry, John the Baptist called Jesus the "sacrificial Lamb of the God who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus himself was fully aware that his ministry would be short and that it would end up tragically. He described himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He even explained the meaning of his death as the natural outcome of a ministry of servanthood, where he would give his life as a ransom for the deliverance of many. The death of Christ is also viewed in the New Testament as a victory over Satan in the age-long battle between God and evil, life and death. It is also the end of his humiliation.

Jesu carrying the Cross
Christ's Calvary

Christ in His Exaltation

In this review of the doctrine of Christ's exaltation, we will survey his resurrection, ascension, and session. These are essential doctrines of the Christian faith and should be treated as such.

Christ's resurrection is perhaps the Christological teaching most difficult to consider by modern people. Such an event would be too extraordinary to accept as fact, simply because we know that dead men don't rise. But the Bible tells us otherwise: on the first Easter Sunday, three days after his death on the cross, Jesus got out of the tomb before sunrise. During his ministry on earth, Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection on several occasions. The resurrection was the natural outcome of his ministry and the appropriate expression of who he really was: the Son of God. The resurrection has profound theological meaning for the Christian faith.

First, it provides an undeniable confirmation of Jesus' teachings and his claims. Because of it, the apostle Peter could stand in a public place just a few days later and declare, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses...therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:32).

Easter flowers celebrating the resurrection
Ressurection of Jesus Christ

Second, Christ's resurrection is the theological principle that shows believers the benefits of the redemption achieved on the cross. By dying on the cross, Christ obtained the forgiveness of sins; he became a "life-giving" agent by returning to life. Just as he was raised to new life from death, his followers may now walk in newness of life also. The divine power that energized the dead body of Christ is also the power that energizes the dead souls of sinners who come to faith in him. And finally, the resurrection of Christ is the first evidence of a victory that will become complete in the last days when those who have died in Christ will also rise. It also gives us an insight into the mystery of a divine mode of existence where life has permanently conquered death. In other words, Jesus laid the pattern for our own resurrection in a state of eternity.

Christ's ascension to heaven happened forty days after his death. He used this extra time on earth to prepare his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit and to commission them to their task of reaching out to the world. The account of his departure is brief: Jesus was first lifted up from among his disciples, and then a cloud took him out of their sight. Both in the Old and New testaments, the cloud is often considered a sensory manifestation of the presence of God. In this case, under cover of cloud, Christ the Incarnate was being reunited with the God of transcendence. Christ's departure in a cloud is also a reminder that he would come again to give history its final consummation and to deliver the redeemed creation to the Father.

Christ's session is the theological term for the last phase of Christ's ministry conducted from heaven, while sitting on the throne at the right hand of the Father, the place of supreme preeminence. The New Testament defines Christ's ministry during his session in terms of three functions. First, Christ is achieving cosmic victory by subduing all hostile forces in the universe. Second, Christ continues to function as a mediator between God and humans. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, in terms of God's ultimate purpose, Christ now acts as "head" concerning the church, God's eternal community.






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