The Nature of Man
The Nature of God
Who is God? Maybe we are tempted to describe God as we want Him to be: an always-merciful, forgiving God who gives us what we want: a type of Santa Claus. Maybe we are tempted to describe God as harsh and cruel, and blame Him for everything that goes wrong in the world; from earthquakes to international terrorism. This is a God to be feared and placated. Perhaps we’re enticed by the notion of God as businessman who can be bargained with: ‘if you just do this for me, God, I’ll go to church, I’ll be good to my spouse, I’ll be a better person, etc.’
Just as there are differences of opinion over God’s character, opinion is also divided concerning the nature of God. God is one, or God is three in one. He lives either far away from us in Heaven, or He is an eminent God, who is all around us, filling everything.
Here is what God says about Himself in His Word the Bible:
And the LORD passed by before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7 KJV)
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed- I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.” (Isaiah 43:10-12)
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. “You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:5-8)
The Bible speaks of one God: Unique, immortal. A God who is the creator and provider of life, who controls the world and its future and who cares about the creation He has made. Human words and thoughts cannot fully describe Him. But by reading His Word, and studying it thoroughly, we find ourselves encountering that perfection that is beyond us: the divine. When we read the Bible, we get our only certain knowledge about God, through the words He caused to be written and thus we increase our knowledge of Him and begin to build our relationship with Him.
Looking in the Bible we find one of the commonest metaphors for describing God is that of a Father caring for and watching over His children (us). Additionally, while we are spoken of in scripture as adopted children, the Bible presents God as having one true Son: Jesus, the Christ. This is important to understanding the nature of God because the characteristics of any parent can be seen in any “true” son. In looking to Jesus, therefore, we have the opportunity to learn more about God Himself.
The Nature of Jesus Christ
Who is Jesus? There are two really basic definitions that we will look at, which in turn encompass essentially the whole of Bible teaching about him. The first has to do with Jesus’ relationship to God; the second with his relationship to his disciples. They are these:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – Simon Peter, Matthew 16:16
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” – Jesus, John 13:13
Peter’s declaration is called by Jesus, “this rock” and it stands to this day as the starting point for every statement of faith: essential for any Christian conviction.
Jesus is called Christ so often and so regularly that one might just assume it’s his last name, sort of like Newton is Isaac’s last name. But “Christ” is a title, not a name: the Greek word means “anointed” and refers to an Old Testament practice of sanctifying things or persons that are dedicated to God’s service by pouring or smearing special scented oil on them (e.g. Exodus 40:9-15)
The kings of Israel were anointed in this way so that they were dedicated to God’s service and were referred to as the LORD’s anointed. So while the title Christ applies to every one who was sanctified to God’s service, it applies most of all to the king. This reinforced the important precedent that all men must be subservient to God since even the king, the highest ranking man, was seen as appointed to service by God. This also helps us understand that anyone who is “Christ” cannot be God, since they are appointed by God and therefore necessarily set in service to Him.
One who was the LORD’s Anointed in particular was David. This great king, called by God “a man after my own heart,” received this promise from God:
“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. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16)
All the kings of Judah were descendants of David; and Jesus himself, as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, is called the Son of David. Notice the prophecy above is explicit: the promised seed would be a descendant of David’s own body. This physical ancestry is corroborated by both Peter and Paul’s writings in the New Testament (Acts 2:29-31, Romans 1:1-3). This is important because it rules out the option that Jesus was God Himself, or some other special creature, since no such being could be properly described as the ‘fruit of David’s loins’ (Romans 1:3)
So when we speak of Jesus as the Christ, we are speaking of a man who was foretold to be the heir of David, a direct descendant of David according to the flesh, anointed to God’s service as the king of Israel. For the Jews of Jesus’ day – and to this very day – the fulfillment of these prophecies was the core of their hope. There has not been a king of David’s line since about 587BC, when the Babylonians dissolved the kingdom of Judah. So, when Peter confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” (Matt 16:16) he’s placing on Jesus all the hopes of Israel, that they will be restored to God’s favor, regenerated as a righteous and free kingdom under the promised son of David. And there is more to the nature of Jesus than this.
Son of the Living God
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ ” If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45)
How does one person come to be both the son of David and the son of God? The angel explained to Mary, the mother-to-be:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
The angel explains Jesus will be called the Son of God because he’ll be the son of God, literally – as Jesus was explaining to the Pharisees, who refused to accept the truth of his authority. The Bible teaching is that simple: Jesus is God’s son.
Now there are many in the Bible who are called the sons of God. We read:
“as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12 KJV)
But in the special sense in which Jesus is God’s son, his “one and only,” there has never been any other. Those others referred to as God’s sons in the Bible are seen as adopted sons (Romans 8:15). Jesus is uniquely the true son of God. Why is this important? Jesus is presented to us as the fullest manifestation of God. He tells his disciples, “he who has seen me has seen the Father (God)” (John 14:9). Jesus is “the express image of [God’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3). Every word he spoke, every act he did, he learned from his Father and so showed his Father’s works and will. And because he had no father except God, no other father is shown in his works and in his teaching.
The appearance and character of a father are evident in his children, e.g.: “you have your father’s eyes” or “your father used to do that.” Every son of God except Jesus has another father, a human, whose appearance and character are evident in the son. But in the case of Jesus we get the “express image of his person” because Jesus had only one Father. That’s why it is important for us to know that he is God’s son by miraculous conception.
It was always God’s intention that His son would have dominion over everything He created. Adam, who is called the son of God (Luke 3:38), was made in God’s image and likeness with the express purpose that he should have dominion over everything on land and in the sea, and even the birds of heaven (Genesis 1:28). But Adam sinned, marring the likeness of God, and it fell to Jesus, the only begotten son of God, to take up the dominion. So when we read of Jesus saying, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” we see him taking more fully the position that God had intended for his son from the beginning. This would have been particularly understandable at the time of Jesus, because it was natural for a son to “inherit his father’s business” in that culture. Thus, as Jesus spoke of his future “inheritance” of authority, this would have been a further assurance of who his Father really was. Additionally the assurance to us, his disciples, that the one we follow is the son of God, is vital to our confidence in his leadership: he will never fail us or mislead us, because he is in full accord with his Father.
The disciple also needs to understand his own relationship with Jesus. In Jesus’ declaration at the Last Supper, we have the relationship distilled into two titles: “Teacher and Lord.” A Teacher is a leader who shows his followers how to lead a worthy life; a Lord commands in governing and defending a nation. We are called on to follow Jesus in both these ways.
The title “Teacher” in the time of Jesus did not refer to an employee of an educational establishment. Teachers in the first century were more on the order of what we’d call a guru today. A teacher was more than some one who would give instruction in literature or civics: he was a life-guide, teaching his disciples how to think and how to live. Even when we think of Jesus as the High Priest, we should remember that, as well as duties concerning prayers and sacrifice as an intermediary between God and man, the heart of a priest’s role is to be a Teacher: explicitly to teach the people about God, and how to live as the people of God. This is highlighted in the Old Testament:
For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 2:7 RSV)
Jesus was tireless in teaching. We read about this work throughout the Gospels:
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. (Matthew 9:35 RSV)
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. (Mark 2:13 KJV)
In teaching his disciples how to live before God, Jesus was following the example of his Father. There are repeated references in the Old Testament to God instructing his people:
Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. (Psalm 25:12 RSV)
Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:135)
This is what the LORD says- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
Jesus taught his disciples by word and, even more importantly, by example in deed, of which the ultimate culmination was his sacrifice on the cross. The consequence is that we are called to fundamentally change ourselves by following and emulating him in our discipleship.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
“God has made him [Jesus] both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36 RSV)
As with the title “Christ” this title “Lord” is used so often of Jesus that there is danger of losing its meaning. It is all too easy to overlook the critical factor in our relationship to Jesus: he is our Lord. The concept of a lord has very little meaning in contemporary Western democracies. In the world of the New Testament, a lord was a ruler, as a king or prince. Such a person would have power not only to govern, to enforce laws and collect taxes; but also to establish laws without council or parliament, even to imprison or kill with a command. Such is the position of Jesus our Lord. More than that, the Lord Jesus has power such as no lord in history has ever had: he has the power to give life to his servants (e.g. John 11). If the ancients honored their lords, how much more should the subjects of this Lord honor him, rendering homage and obedience in gratitude for the life he gives them?
Now if Jesus will give life to some and death to others, he must also be the judge: this too is part of what it means for him to be Lord – and perhaps this aspect of the Lord Jesus may make us uncomfortable. For this reason it will be important to distinguish our Lord from all other lords.
The Lordship of Jesus rests on his appointment by the Father; and although God is not answerable to His creatures He does not act unjustly. Jesus submitted himself to every aspect of God’s will, even to humiliation and death. In this Jesus, unique among men, showed his absolute dependence and faith in the Father. We are obliged to honor this faith, and to acknowledge his excellence. Therefore God has given him a name that is above every name – the name of God Himself! – that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:5-11).
It would be a mistake to think that Jesus the Lord will rule in the same way mortal lords have ruled through the ages. His rule is not aimed at furthering his own power, or even the prosperity of his nation. His rule is intended at all times to glorify God; and the end of his rule is no less than a transformation of the fundamental nature of human life:
For he [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28)
Nor is Jesus’ dominion limited to his disciples, nor even to mankind. As we noticed above, Adam was originally appointed to have dominion over all living things on the land, in the sea and in the air (Genesis 1:28). It is clear Adam never achieved that dominion: indeed, to this day there are very many creatures that do not acknowledge the dominion of man. It remains yet for Christ to fulfill the will of God in this scripture, which he will do in the coming Kingdom of God.
Such is the Lord we serve, and such is his dominion.
God is one: unique, the creator of everything, even Jesus. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God, Teacher and Lord. The Bible speaks of God and Jesus as being one: one in unity of purpose, and heart, and mind:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
God and Jesus are not the same person, any more than Jesus’ followers are one giant creature with a lot of legs. Unity, in the Bible, is about separate people joining together, which objective is also God’s will and our prayer. May God bless all of our efforts to know better the Lord God and his Son the Lord Jesus, the one who faithfully reflects the image of the Father, and follow them and honor them as we should.