Category Archives: Jesus Christ

Does Jesus Christ Fulfill the Promises Made to David?

In 2 Samuel 7, verses 11-14, God speaks to the prophet Nathan about King David:

The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.

The New Testament writers certainly believed that these promises to David applied to Jesus. But why?

First, The NT writers recognized Jesus as a physical descendant of David (see Matt 1:1; Acts 13:22–23; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16). Second, God did indeed “raise up” Jesus when He resurrected Him from the dead. Third, Jesus claimed He would build a temple (see Matt 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19–22). Fourth, Jesus claimed to possess an eternal throne and an imperishable kingdom (see Matt 19:28–29; Luke 22:29–30; John 18:36).

Fifth, Jesus’s disciples understood Him to be the literal Son of God. Robert Bergen, in 1, 2 Samuel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), writes,

Jesus is unambiguously understood in the New Testament to be the Son of God (Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Acts 9:20; Heb 1:5), an understanding fostered by Jesus’ own self-claims (cf. Matt 27:43; Luke 22:70). In taking this verse literally and applying it to Jesus, the New Testament connected it with Jesus’ virgin birth (cf. Luke 1:32).

Taken together, it is easy to see how the New Testament writers believed Jesus to be the fulfillment of the promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7. Jesus certainly thought of Himself as David’s successor and provided evidence that He was in a number of ways.

Were the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ invented in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

Post Author: Darrell

(This post originally appeared on Darrell’s Thoughts and Reflections and is being reposted here for the benefit of TQA readers.)

One of the charges I often hear leveled against Christianity today is that both the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ were “invented” by the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Ecumenical Councils.  Proponents of these charges claim that the Church prior to the Ecumenical Councils believed neither in the Trinity, nor in the Dual Nature of Christ.  I freely admit that the language by which the Church codified these doctrines was fortified in the Ecumenical Councils.  However, I believe those who charge that the Church invented the doctrines themselves in the Councils and that the Church prior to the Councils did not hold to them are gravely mistaken.

One of the earliest Church Fathers to articulate a basic understanding of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ is Saint Ignatius.  Saint Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, serving from 70 AD to 107 AD.  He was a disciple of the Apostle John, and Church Tradition teaches that he was the child Christ held in His arms when He said, in Matthew 18:3, “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Shortly after the turn of the second century, Saint Ignatius wrote several Epistles while in captivity on the road traveling to his martyrdom.  Seven of these epistles have survived to our day.  In the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, he says:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.  This is completely consistent with Nicene Theology, which teaches that both the Father and the Son are God by nature/essence.  The Nicene Creed calls Christ “true God of true God”, saying He is “of one essence with the Father” as God.  Had Ignatius been an Arian or had he held to a non-Trinitarian Doctrine that teaches Christ to be something less than or other than God, He would not have referred to Him as God.

Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Last, Ignatius explains that Christ took on our nature in order to free our souls from death and corruption, heal us, and restore us to health.  This speaks to the true reason for the Doctrines of the Trinity and Dual Nature of Christ.  Rather than being doctrines for doctrine’s sake, created as purely intellectual pieces of information to be discussed by dry theologians over coffee and tea, they are doctrines directly tied to our understanding of how Christ redeemed us.  He was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God of true God.  Yet He chose to take upon Himself our nature, becoming man for our sakes, so that He could unite our nature to the Divine Nature in His Person, giving us a rebirth in Him.  Had He not been God and had He not taken on our nature, He would have been unable to redeem us.  The Church understood this from the earliest times, and as the writings of Saint Ignatius show us, it is not an understanding created in the fourth and fifth centuries.  It is Apostolic Doctrine that has been handed down to us and is a product of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church.

How Does Jesus Help Us Understand the Binding of Isaac?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The story, in Genesis 22, of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac has always been perplexing to readers. However, this story takes on special significance to Christians, for it foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s Son for mankind.

David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Moralitybring this significance to light. Before doing so, they chide readers of this text who fail to take into account the theological context of the story:

Kierkegaard is famous for taking the passage as paradigmatic of the “teleological suspension of the ethical,” according to which obedience to God trumps morality itself. He no doubt has pushed many readers to personalize the narrative of the binding of Isaac and ask themselves what they would personally do if they thought God commanded something like this.

But of course the story thus construed has been shorn of nearly all its unique theological and historical significance. The quest to derive universal principles from a story like this is at cross-purposes with the particularistic, gradualist, and narrative-driven character of many portions of scripture, particularly in the Old Testament.

How should one approach the interpretation of Genesis 22?

One who wishes to read [it] with a genuine openness to [its] wisdom and revelatory nature would be well advised not to so recklessly and spuriously traverse the hermeneutical gap. Genesis clearly states that God was testing Abraham, so that the reader knows in advance that it is not really the will of God for Abraham to do this. Abraham, of course, does not know it, and so the point of the test is to see the extent of Abraham’s obedience.

For the reader, the dramatic tension is not the content of the command, but whether Abraham will fully trust God, and what God will do to stop it. Including Abraham’s story in the history of revelation was a much more powerful way to show that God does not, in fact, want child sacrifice than just to say so.

So how does Jesus figure into the Christian understanding of Genesis 22?

Christian readers, however, have always seen in this story a profound fore-shadowing of another scenario in which the Father actually allowed his Son to be sacrificed. Rather than being spared by a ram caught in the thickets, the Son was himself the lamb of God who died to take away the sin of the world. And he went to his death not as a helpless child, but as a perfect man who willingly offered his full obedience to his Father in a fallen world bent on killing him.

While the story of Jesus is even more surprising than the story of Isaac, perhaps in another sense it is not. Is the face of Jesus surprising when omnibenevolence takes human form? It is worth emphasizing here that the book of Hebrews, which reflects at length on the sacrifice of Christ, describes him as one “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The sacrifice of Christ was not a sacrifice into oblivion, but a sacrifice with the prospect of resurrection and exaltation as its final outcome. In view of this, perhaps it is not surprising that the author of Hebrews explains that Abraham obeyed God when called to sacrifice Isaac because he reasoned that God can raise the dead, and must have been planning to do so if he were to fulfill his promises through Isaac, as he had promised. God’s ultimate ability to rectify things as shown in the resurrection provides ways to square even difficult commands with his perfect love and goodness that are simply out of reach if death is the last word.

Was Jesus Just a Good Moral Teacher?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are people who take the Gospels to be more or less reporting history, but who claim, nevertheless, that Jesus was merely a good man, and nothing more. I am not here talking about skeptics who question virtually everything in the Gospels, who believe that almost all of the material is legendary.

The people I am referring to generally have a cursory knowledge of the New Testament and are turned off by traditional religion. They are fans of Jesus in a shallow way. If you stopped them on the street and asked them what they thought about Jesus, they would say he was a great teacher of peace and love, an exemplary moral figure. Jesus is still popular, even nowadays.

What is frustrating about these shallow-Jesus-fans is that they have completely missed what Jesus stood for. The only group that would be more frustrating would be the Jesus-is-a-great-carpenter club. C. S. Lewis gives voice to this frustration in Mere Christianity by pointing out the absurdity of the shallow-Jesus-fans:

Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, ask us to imagine our neighbor making these kinds of claims:

“I am the first and the last—the self-existing One. Do you need your sins forgiven? I can do it. Do you want to know how to live? I am the light of the world—whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Do you want to know whom you can trust? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Do you have any worries or requests? Pray in my name. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. Do you need access to God the Father? No one comes to the Father except through me. The Father and I are one.”

What would you think about your neighbor if he seriously said those things? You certainly wouldn’t say, “Gee, I think he’s a great moral teacher!” No, you’d say this guy is nuts, because he’s definitely claiming to be God.

Shallow-Jesus-fans, don’t be ridiculous. Jesus did not come to teach moral platitudes in a long line of religious moralizers. No, he came to demand your allegiance to him, for he is King.

Was Jesus Sinless and Does It Matter?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Yes, he was, and this is an essential doctrine of Christianity. I was quite surprised several years ago when I was talking to a friend of mine at work about Jesus, and he asserted that obviously Jesus was not sinless because he became angry.

My response to him was that anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is good to be angry about sin. There is such a thing as righteous anger.

But what disturbed me even more was his further claim that Jesus’s sinlessness, as far as he knew, was not taught in Scripture, and that it really didn’t matter anyway. Is that the case? Does it matter whether or not Jesus was declared sinless in Scripture?

First, we need to establish whether the Bible claims that Jesus was sinless. That is pretty easy to do, as there are several passages:

  • In 1 Pet 1:19 Jesus is referred to as a “a lamb without blemish or defect.”
  • In 1 Pet 2:22 Peter applies the prophet Isaiah’s words to Jesus: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
  • In 1 John 3:5 John proclaims about Jesus that “in him is no sin.”
  • In 2 Cor 5:21 Paul reminds us, about Jesus, that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”
  • In Heb 4:15 the writer explains that in Jesus “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

So it seems clear that the New Testament writers stated unequivocally that Jesus was sinless. However, it wasn’t just Jesus’s followers who claimed he was sinless. His enemies, likewise, found no fault in him.

  • In Mark 14:55 we read, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.”
  • In Mark 12:14 the Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”
  • In Luke 23:22 Pilate asked, “What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.”

But why is it so important that Jesus is sinless? Why is this an essential doctrine of the Christian faith? Theologian R. C. Sproul explains in his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith:

The sinlessness of Christ does not merely serve as an example to us. It is fundamental and necessary for our salvation. Had Christ not been the “lamb without blemish” He not only could not have secured anyone’s salvation, but would have needed a savior Himself. The multiple sins Christ bore on the cross required a perfect sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be made by one who was sinless.

Sproul adds:

It was by His sinlessness that Jesus qualified Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. However, our salvation requires two aspects of redemption. It was not only necessary for Jesus to be our substitute and receive the punishment due for our sins; He also had to fulfill the law of God perfectly to secure the merit necessary for us to receive the blessings of God’s covenant. Jesus not only died as the perfect for the imperfect, the sinless for the sinful, but He lived the life of perfect obedience required for our salvation.

In summary, only the sinless God-man could bridge the gulf between God and man.

Who Can We Worship?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In every human institution, there are individuals who are at the top because of their athleticism, charisma, intelligence, personality, or physical appearance. The people who aren’t at the top often look up to those leaders, admire them, and in some cases, worship them.

This phenomena takes place regardless of the particular kind of institution, although some institutions are more prone to instill worship than others. Cults are particularly notorious for having charismatic leaders who are worshiped by the membership. Political parties also seem to regularly spawn worship of their leaders.

Even if there is not outright worship of a leader, followers often excuse or rationalize the bad behavior of their leadership. They argue that just because so and so verbally assaults his co-workers, cheats on his wife, or lies about his professional credentials, we should still respect and admire him. We simply look the other way when our leaders sin.

I want to argue that if you find yourself regularly excusing the immoral actions of your leader, you are doing yourself and your organization a grave disservice.

This point hit home to me recently when I was reading an open letter written by mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ryan Hall. In this letter, Hall is calling out his friends in the MMA world to stop the hero worship of the MMA fighters and instructors who are at the top of the profession. In these words from the heart, Hall reminds each of us what happens when we keep issuing our leaders a pass:

I understand now that poor character is poor character and there is never any reason to support it, no matter what carrot that person dangles in front of you or threat that person holds over your head. If an individual is willing to blur or even outright ignore the rules of right and wrong, of human decency, on any level, they are highly likely to do the same in other aspects of their life whether I have witnessed them do so yet or not. If they have mistreated others, it’s only a matter of time before my number is called.

What does this have to do with Christianity, you might ask. Well, here it is. Christianity is the only religion, the only major institution, where worship is only directed toward the morally perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ. We do not worship fallible, morally flawed, human beings who let us down time after time.

Jesus’s character is unmatched by any other human, his love for us is unequaled, and his holiness is unsurpassed. As Christians, we never, ever have to worry about our leader embarrassing us. No other human institution on the planet can claim that.

Who can we worship? Jesus the Messiah.

Has God Dealt Justly with the Human Race? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Picking up from part 2, we continue the narrative of God’s dealings with mankind. Recall that God has sent messengers which his people have killed. What will he do next?

Finally, God says to himself, “They just don’t want to hear from these messengers, so I guess I will go myself.” In the supreme act of condescension, The Creator clothes himself in the flesh of the creature in the form of the eternal Son of God, to try to call the people back to him.

The son arrives on the scene and proceeds to call his people back to him. He begs them to renounce their wicked ways. He calls on them, saying “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

This son, who is God incarnate, heals the people and even raises some from the dead. He is sinless, he does not lie, he does not gossip. Never a wicked thought remains in his mind. He is perfect in his humanity. He loves like nobody has ever loved. The people watch him and, eventually, they decide what to do about him.

Their decision: assassination! Before they kill him, they hold a farcical trial where nobody is allowed to defend him. Not only do they kill this perfect son of God, but they ensure that he suffers the fate of a common criminal in one of the most excruciatingly painful means of death that men have ever invented. They nail him to a tree and let him suffocate to death over several hours.

Has God failed yet again to reach his people? Is there no hope for mankind? They have betrayed him, broken his covenants, killed his messengers, and now killed his very son.

But in an incredible act that bespeaks his unparalleled mercy and grace, God, seeing his innocent son murdered, decides that he can still be reunited with his creatures through the death of his son. All that they must do is trust his son as their savior, and he will still receive them into his kingdom. They can still have eternal life if they will only place their faith in his son.

Now I ask you, why should God do this for a rebellious and treasonous race of creatures who have rejected him, tortured and murdered his prophets, and ultimately nailed up his son who was sent to save them? Under what obligation is he? Put yourself in his place. You are dealing with a people who have cursed you, mocked you from the first.

How can anyone say that God is unjust, that he hasn’t provided enough ways to heaven? Given what has happened, why has God provided any way at all? It is unbelievably callous to ask God to provide yet another way. Should he should provide more sons for us to slaughter. Is one savior not enough? Should more innocent “sons of God” be murdered for us? No sane person can answer “yes.”

To question God’s justice is insulting and foolish. Now that you know the whole story, you should never doubt the fairness of God the Father asking us to trust Jesus Christ. Who can ask for more grace? Who can ask for more mercy?

Was Mary the Mother of God?

I recently had a conversation with a Christian on Facebook regarding some of the passages in the Bible that refer to Mary.  During the conversation, I referred to Mary as The Mother of God (Theotokos).  This brought a rather stern reaction from him.  He stated, “Mary isn’t the Mother of God.  God is not born or created.  That’s heresy. Mary is the mother of Jesus’ flesh of his human body, not of His Divinity, which already existed before Mary was born.”  While I can understand his concerns, I wonder if this gentleman realizes that his position was thoroughly discussed, analyzed, and subsequently rejected by the Church roughly 1600 years ago.

During the first 500 years of Christianity, the Church dealt with the rise of several Christological heresies that necessitated the formulation of a clear theological expression of Christ’s Person and Nature.  In the early fifth century, one of these heresies questioned how Christ’s two natures, that of God and Man, related to one another. Following the teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, taught that Christ’s nature as God was utterly separate from His nature as man.  In this understanding, Christ’s early life was that of a human being in contact with God.  God foresaw that Christ would lead a virtuous life and chose Him to be a vessel of divinity.  At Christ’s birth, his contact with divinity was incomplete, becoming so later in His life.  Nestorius preferred the term Christotokos (Mother of Christ) to that already accepted as part of Holy Tradition, Theotokos (Mother of God), for He believed that Mary’s baby was not fully divine.

This teaching, which came to be known as Nestorianism, led to the calling of the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 AD.  In this Council, the Fathers of the Church upheld the teaching that in Christ the dual natures of divinity and humanity do not merely come in contact with one another, but that they are, rather, in union.  At the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, took on human nature, adding it to His Person, while at the same time retaining the fullness of His Divinity.  At the birth of Christ, Mary gave birth to a baby who was both God and human, each in the fullest sense of the word.  As a result, to deny that Mary was the Mother of God is to deny the full reality of the Incarnation and its resulting efficacy in our salvation.

In a letter to John of Antioch in 433 AD, Saint Cyril summed up this aspect of Christology very well.

Thus we confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, is perfect God and perfect man, consisting of a rational soul and body, that he was begotten from the Father before all ages according to the Divinity, and that in these latter times was begotten for us and for our salvation from the Virgin Mary; that he is consubstantial with the Father in his Divinity and consubstantial with us in his humanity, for in him there was accomplished the unity of two natures.  Therefore we acknowledge one Christ, one Son, one Lord.  On the basis of this union without confusion, we confess the Most Holy Virgin to be the Mother of God because God the Word was incarnate and became man and in the conception itself united with himself the temple received from her. . . God the Word came down from heaven and, taking the form of a servant, emptied himself, and was called the Son of man, remaining that which he is – God.

The title Mother of God is a confession about Christ.  As I have heard said in the past, it says more about Him than it does about Mary.

Is Fundamentalism Bad?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There are fewer words that are more loaded with a negative connotation than fundamentalism.  Generally when we hear that word, we have been trained by the media to react with either fear or disdain, or both.  After all, fundamentalists are supposed to be ignorant and violent.

To be a fundamentalist used to mean that a person believed in the fundamentals of their religious system or worldview.  They were people who stuck to the core beliefs, that did not stray away from them.  At some point, this meaning morphed into something else more sinister.

Can we save this word and return it to mean what it used to mean?  Maybe not, but I would like to challenge the idea that fundamentalists of all worldviews or religious systems are all ignorant and/or prone to violence.  There are fundamentalists who are ignorant and violent, but there are many fundamentalists who are not ignorant and not violent (me being one of them).

Whenever we approach a person who claims to believe in the fundamentals of their religious system, we should first ask, “What are the fundamentals you believe in?”  Their specific beliefs are far more relevant than the fact that they hold core beliefs at all.  We shouldn’t fear people who have fundamental beliefs, but we possibly should fear the fundamental beliefs that some people have.

Tim Keller addresses the issue of fundamentalism with the following:

It is common to say that “fundamentalism” leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-loving behavior?

Of course, the prime example in the history of the world of humility and love was Jesus Christ.  Here is a man whose last act as he died on a Roman cross was to ask God to forgive his enemies.  Here is a man who sacrificed his own body for the rest of mankind.

When you see what the fundamentals of Christianity are, you realize that the true Christian fundamentalist is not someone to be feared at all.  In fact, imagine what the world would be like if everyone totally embraced Jesus as their model to live by.  If you’ve dedicated your life to Christ, one day in the future you won’t have to imagine, because it will become a reality.