Theological Foundations: Jesus Christ

by J. R. Cuevas

Who is Jesus Christ? Can you think of a more fundamental question a person can answer? What separates a Christian from a non-Christian is how he responds to none other than Jesus Christ himself. The salvation of a sinner depends not on the morality of his deeds or his faithfulness to his religion. What rescues a man from hell and ushers him into heaven is not his level of piety or even “spirituality,” but how he thinks of and responds to Jesus Christ. Responding appropriately to Christ depends fundamentally on understanding his nature. A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” And what comes to mind when a person thinks about God is revealed by what comes to mind when he thinks about Jesus Christ.    

Most would agree that Jesus did, in fact, exist. That Jesus was born around 4-5 BC, began his public ministry at age 30, and was publicly crucified three years later is undisputed as a historical fact by both Christians and non-Christians. What is widely disputed is not his existence, but his identity and nature. Was Christ God? Was Christ a human? Was he both? Was he neither? Was he a hybrid of the two? Did he continually switch from one form to the other? Was he an angel? Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, Oneness Pentecostals, Modalists, Unitarians, Buddhists, and Humanists all have their perspectives and opinions on Jesus’ true identity.

Survey any mainstream American university regarding the same question Christ himself posed to Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” and prepare yourself for a plethora of answers just as it was among ancient Palestinians. But in the same way that the identity of my parents, DNA, and ethnicity is not a matter of popular opinion but factual truth, the same holds true for the identity and nature of Jesus Christ. Our duty as men is not to decide who Jesus is and what He was like, but rather to discern his identity accurately.

In Matthew 16:16, Peter answered correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was more than a teacher, prophet, preacher, and healer.  He was the Son of God Himself. Philippians 2:5-7 expounds on the very nature of Christ, and its delineated doctrines one can’t afford to ignore:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made into the likeness of men (emphasis added).

Philippians 2:5-7

This verse could not be more straightforward. That Christ existed in the form of God means that he is God; that Christ was made into the likeness of men means that he is man. So what exactly was the nature of Christ?  He was fully God and fully man. The Scriptures attest to both the full deity and fully humanity of Christ in a hypostatic union.

Christ was not partially God, but fully God. Colossians 1:19 states that it was the Father’s good pleasure for “all the fullness to dwell in Him.” Colossians 2:9 follows that up, saying that “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Christ was not a lesser form of God, but the only God Himself—equal to and sharing the same glory as the Father (John 5:18; 17:5; Phil 2:6). Though he did not always publicly exercise his divine attributes or rights, at no point in his earthly life did Christ ever cease to be God.

Thus, to him the Scriptures apply divine names (Isa 9:6; 45:23; John 1:1; 20:28; Phil 2:9-11; Titus 2:13). To him also are applied divine attributes such as omnipresence (Matt 28:20), immutability (Heb 13:8), omnipotence (Luke 8:25), and omniscience (Col 2:13; Isa 40:28). And to him are applied divine works such as the creation of the universe (Col 1:16) and forgiveness of sins (Mk 2:10). And to Him are applied divine claims (Matt 16:19; John 8:58; Rev 1:8). What separates Christ from every other religious figure in the history of humanity is that, unlike every other religious figure, Christ is God Himself. As God, he has neither a beginning nor an end. As God, he is the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe.  As God, he is perfect and holy, without sin.

Yet, that Christ was without sin does not take away from the fullness of his humanity. In the same way that he was not partially God but fully God, Christ did not exist as a partial man but as a full man. Hebrews 2:14 says that just as man is made of flesh and blood, so Christ “likewise also partook of the same,” implying that he himself also existed in flesh and blood. Hebrews 2:17 states that Christ “had to be made like His brethren in all things.”

He was, in other words, a human being in the same way that you and I are human beings. The Scripture attests to this. Christ had a human life cycle, being born as an infant of a woman (Luke 2:7) and developing in both physical maturity and wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52). He had human physical experiences, was made of blood and water (John 19:34) and experienced hunger (Matt 4:2; John 19:28), fatigue (Luke 8:23) and stress (Luke 22:44). And not to be ignored, he experienced human temptations (Heb 2:18; 4:14; 12:3-4).  

The reality of Christ’s deity and humanity has redemptive implications for the Christian. Christ was able to accomplish substitutionary atonement because he is both fully God and fully man. His full deity enabled Christ’s once-and-for-all death to atone for the sins of all of humanity who believe in him over the course of all generations (Heb 7:23-28). His full humanity qualified him to atone for man as a man, flesh for flesh, blood for blood (Lev 17:11; Heb 2:14-15). If Christ was not God, he would not have been able to die once for all of humanity who believe in him and satisfy the justice of God. If Christ was not man, he would not have been able to die in the place of man.

For this reason, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash