Grace Communion Seminary
by Linda Rex
One of the hazards of being a pastor, I am learning, is receiving emails from concerned people who diligently attempt to correct what I believe and teach. For the most part, the emails I have received from these people directly contradict sound theology and attempt to persuade me to believe some esoteric prophecy about the end of the world coming at a particular time in the near future. And of course, none of these things have happened as predicted in these emails.
I received one of these emails recently in which the author boldly declared a new prediction of upcoming events in the light of what occurred with the ministry and death of Herbert Armstrong. I won’t go into what he believes or predicts because it is not worth your time or mine to review it, but I was struck by his statement that with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus is no longer the Son of Man, but is today only the Son of God.
I’m sorry to hear he believes this. It is a useful belief for him, because in his predictions, saying the Son of Man is Jesus would contradict what he believes. It does away with what he believes is going to happen in the future. Apparently, it seems to me, it is inconvenient for him to believe the risen Jesus Christ is today, both the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Personally, I feel it is very important we understand who Jesus Christ is. Understanding who he is as the Son of God and the Son of Man establishes a basis for our belief in God and who he is, and what he is doing in the world today and will do in the future. If we do not grasp who Jesus is as the God/man who delivered us from sin and death, how can we understand ourselves and who we are? How can we understand who God is, and how much he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us?
Believe me, I cannot be critical of anyone who sees this whole thing differently from me. There was a time in my life when I had no clue of the significance of Jesus being both the Son of God and the Son of Man. I don’t think I even knew what this meant. I had no idea of the fundamental nature of this belief, much less how the early church came, by the Spirit’s direction, to establish the boundaries around this doctrine.
For this reason I am very grateful for my classes at Grace Communion Seminary on the history of the church since the time of Christ. So much I had been taught as I grew up in Worldwide Church of God was not true, or at the least, very misguided. The more I learned, the more I began to see how the Spirit worked to bring the church (and no, back then it was not the Roman Catholic Church or any other specific church. It was just the universal body of believers.) into a unified understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and the central core beliefs surrounding this truth.
In one of my textbooks, “What Christians Believe: A Biblical and Historical Summary” by Johnson and Webber, the authors quote a rule of faith which appeared at the same time in various parts of the Roman Empire toward the end of the second century. I’d like to quote it here:
“[We believe] in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father.” (p128, 129)
Even back then, while there were still people who were closely related to those who had known, heard and seen Christ, there was the understanding of the humanity of Jesus continuing on after his death into a glorified humanity. It was important to the body of believers to stress this because of the Gnostic heresy which was pressing in upon them.
The authors go on to say, “The rule of faith clearly affirmed an enfleshed God. Jesus Christ, it proclaimed, is no apparition, but a true human being who lived in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose in the flesh. In this affirmation the church made a statement that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.” (p. 129)
This, of course, was hammered out then in greater detail as the earlier church fathers met and began to clarify just what the incarnation of Jesus Christ involved, and what occurred before and after his crucifixion and resurrection. And fundamental to this discussion was, “Who is and was Jesus Christ?” The conclusions drawn from the Chalcedon council in 451 A.D. clarified the creed, and spoke of Jesus Christ as having two natures present in one person.
Of course, there has always been some debate as to the nature of Jesus’ person—how can someone be both God and man at the same time? What does this mean? Does he only have God’s will, or does he have a human will as well?
These are all great questions and worth consideration, but we need to consider some of these things pertain to the divine mystery of God’s transcendent being. Subsequent councils discussed and hashed out many things. There were disagreements and contradictions, and errors were made. At times, believers, especially those with more naturalistic or liberal interpretations, have drifted away from this fundamental belief about Who Jesus was.
In recent years, Karl Barth challenged these views and called the church back to an understanding of God being present in Jesus Christ in his human flesh, and in this way drawing all humanity up into true relationship in his resurrection and ascension. In spite of the Gnostic and other heresies which continue to raise their heads, there are believers today who hold to the understanding that Jesus was indeed God the Word present in human flesh, who both was and is God and man, and who has not ceased to be the Son of man now that he is risen from the dead.
I believe it was Athanasius who said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” If Jesus did not and does not bear our humanity now, as he did then, then we as human beings have no hope. I agree with Johnson and Webber who write, “We stand in the historical tradition and affirm that our Savior was fully divine, for only God can save, and we affirm that our Savior is fully human, for only that which he became in the Incarnation is saved (salvation requires one who is fully man to represent us).” (p. 146)
I worship a God who is so holy and pure and just he is able to take on our humanity and transform it into something completely new. If he had and has the capacity to take on our humanity, to “be sin” on our behalf, he has the capacity to remove our sins and to make us new, uniting us with himself in his own being as Jesus Christ, the God/man. And as Jesus himself said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:6) Let’s not separate God from us as humanity, for he has joined himself to us forever in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Father, for your great love, and your faithfulness in fulfilling your covenant with humanity and with Israel. Thank you that in Christ and by the Spirit, you took on our humanity and transformed it, and you have brought us up in Christ’s glorified humanity to participate in your divine life and love forever. Open our hearts and minds to fully grasp and receive the truth of your loving gift to us of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, who lives forever in glory with you, and your precious Spirit, by whom you dwell in us. In your Name we pray, amen.
“You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 NASB
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NASB
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” 1 John 3:2 NASB
By Linda Rex
During my time pursuing my master’s degree with Grace Communion Seminary I was deeply impacted in my understanding of God and humanity and life itself through the instruction and counsel of my professors. I found theology to be quite fascinating, especially when it intersects with science. This is why reading T.F. Torrance’s books, though quite a challenging process, is something I enjoy doing.
One of my professors, Dr. John McKenna, gave an interesting workshop that brought together the science of light with the biblical revelation of light. I had known that the word light is often used in the Bible and many times in reference to God. But as we went through and talked about light and God and humanity and the creation in which we live, I began to “see” light in a new way.
One of my favorite traditional hymns talks about God and light. It is thought-provoking poetry that points to the glory of the God who is Light:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
Then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.
Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!
(Walter C. Smith, 1824-1908)
Light and life are inseparable. When my daughter and I visited Mammoth Cave earlier this year, we learned that there are creatures who live there in complete darkness. But they are unable to live in the light. And a person or animal that can see and live in the light will not be able to see at all when in that deep darkness. They may even lose their ability to see if they remain there for an extended length of time without some form of light to penetrate their eyes.
Without the light of the sun, we would not be able to exist or do much of what we consider necessary to life. Light is essential to our life. Just as we need the physical light of the sun to sustain our life, we also need the inner light of God to sustain us and give us both physical and spiritual life. Our life, our existence and being, are dependent upon the Father of Light and the Light of the world, his Son Jesus Christ. Light and life are inseparable.
Light itself is invisible. What we commonly see or experience is the refraction/reflection of light. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as the wind we cannot see but we experience the effects of all around us. In the same way, when we “look” at God, he is invisible. But he is Light. We experience the reality of God in everyday life in every part of our existence.
In Christ we have been freed from the chains of darkness and brought into his ‘marvelous light.’ What this means is that we have been brought out of the cave of darkness, evil and depravity and into the light of God’s love. It’s going to take a while to adjust. We have to learn new ways of thinking and doing life. We will find it much easier and more comfortable to run back into the darkness. It will seem a lot less painful and frustrating. It will seem to be the way of freedom. But true freedom is finding our life in the Light and allowing that Light to slowly and surely transform and heal us.
Holy Father of Light and Jesus, Light of the World, we praise you. Thank you for your gift of life and light. Grant us the grace to embrace your gift and to never cease to turn to you for the strength to hold tight to all you have given us. Thank you that it’s not all up to us. You hold us in your hands and shine your marvelous light upon us in unceasing love. We trust in you, Jesus, and in your healing love. Fill us the marvelous Light of your Holy Spirit. In your name we pray. Amen.
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:3–5 NIV