Christological heresy arises through failing to affirm of Christ all that Scripture asserts: by either denying the divine or human nature at the expense of the other, confusing or conflating his natures, or dividing his person. I remember Sinclair Ferguson teaching at PRTS on the importance of knowing Jesus Christ to the ends of the page found in chapter 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, but then strongly warning us, anything beyond that page is heresy. Looking back to that lesson from 2010, it still surprises me that I receive more questions regarding Christology than any other loci. Just like the title Son of Man, the scope of Son of God encompasses Jesus’ humanity as well as deity. Jesus Christ is both the eternal Son and the true and faithful human son; he is both the one who speaks the divine law and the one who answers the summons with perfect obedience for us.
Sonship: Ontological and Official
The New Testament claims Adamic and Abrahamic senses of sonship for Christ: he is Son upon condition of obedience, according to the image of God, and he is Son unconditionally and forever—except that in the latter sense, Jesus’ unique divine sonship is not by grace but is his very nature as the one and only Word and Son, eternally begotten of the Father (e.g., Matt. 22:41–46; John 1:1–3, 14, 18). The narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, Paul’s consistent witness to the humbled and exalted Lord (e.g., Rom. 1:3–6; 8:3–4; Gal. 4:4–5; Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 1:15–17, 18–23), and many similar passages clearly testify to the character of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the Spirit, as the fully divine and fully human Son of God.
The trajectory of liberal theology since the Enlightenment has been essentially Arian (or Adoptionist, discussed below). In this view, “the Jesus of history” was a pious rabbi who was transformed into “the Christ of faith” through the influence of Greek philosophy on developing Christian orthodoxy. Yet even critical scholarship has found no basis for any sharp distinction between Jewish and Hellenistic Christologies in the early church. Jesus was crucified for claiming equality with God; he claimed to be “Lord” prior to David (Matt. 22:41–45), the “Word” prior to creation, and the “I AM” prior to Abraham (John 8:58). The New Testament authors urge faith in and worship of the man Jesus as God and Lord. The doctrine of the incarnation is the center of Christology, bringing together Scripture’s testimony to the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ, as summarized in the Definition of Chalcedon (451).
While the Word “was” God (John 1:1), he “became” flesh (v. 14) by taking to himself our human nature in all its aspects in Mary’s womb, yet he was without sin (Heb. 4:15), by the power of the Spirit. Each nature is entirely preserved in its distinctness, in an incomprehensibly intimate union in and as one integral person, Jesus Christ. Scripture gives no place to a view of Christ that pits his divine nature against his humanity, nor assigns some actions of Christ to one nature and some to the other. Jesus, God and man, does all things from the Father by the Spirit. Likewise, Jesus’ growth and limitations and temptations were real; without surrendering or compromising his divinity, the Son fully assumed our humanity and redeemed us in and through it.
This section concerns the main traditional heretical christological views, rather than specific persons who may be associated with them. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, the formal delineation of Christology arose, not from academic or philosophical speculation, but from the concrete faith and practice of the Christian community. The chief historical heresies regarding denial of the incarnation (defined above) are the Ebionite heresy, Adoptionism, Docetism, Gnosticism, and Arianism. The chief heresies regarding the relation between Christ’s divinity and humanity in one person (also defined above) are Apollinarianism, Monophysitism (or Eutychianism), and Nestorianism. The Monophysite and Nestorian heresies represent the extremes of two tendencies of christological reflection: the Alexandrian and Antiochene, respectively. Alexandrian Christologies tend to emphasize the unity of Christ’s person, sometimes to the extent that his humanity is absorbed into his divinity. Antiochene Christologies, on the other hand, emphasize the distinction of Christ’s natures, sometimes to the point that Christ seems to be two persons acting in tandem, one divine and one human. The Council of Chalcedon condemned both views, affirming the ancient catholic consensus that Christ is one person in two natures. During the Reformation, as a result of controversy over the Lord’s Supper, the Reformed came to suspect Lutherans of Monophysitism (because they affirmed the omnipresence of Christ according to both natures), while the Lutherans suspected the Reformed of Nestorianism (because they affirmed the omnipresence of Christ’s divine nature only). The Lutheran-Reformed debate turns on two key concerns: (1) the communicatio idiomatum and (2) the extra Calvinisticum. With the rise of Socinianism and then Protestant liberalism, Arianism returned to the fore; often by way of either Nestorian or Monophysite trajectories, Jesus’ true and full divinity was rejected.
Barth did much to revive a salutary emphasis on Christology “from above,” stressing that God was at work in Christ for redemption and that the Son is eternally divine and became fully human (but not without problematic elements in his views). Theologians like Karl Rahner and Wolfhart Pannenberg have come from a different direction in line with broader modern trends, emphasizing Christology “from below” by beginning with the character of Jesus’ humanity to illuminate the character of his divinity. The latter approach, however, tends to end up with a divinized man who is quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, distinct from all other persons. Only in the distinctiveness of each nature, united in one person, do we find the complete Savior who can bring total redemption from sin and death.
All of God’s covenantal purposes converge in Jesus Christ. As the eternal Son who would take on our humanity, he is Mediator of the covenant of redemption; as the second Adam, he has fulfilled the covenant of creation on behalf of the elect; as the incarnate, crucified, and risen Savior and Lord, he is head and heir of the covenant of grace, along with all whom he has redeemed.
The Faithful Adam and True Israel
Like Adam, Israel failed to drive the serpent out of God’s sanctuary, succumbing to his seduction. But God promised to preserve a remnant from destruction, from whom the Messiah would come, who would finally crush the serpent’s head and deliver not only Israel but the nations.
Messianic Savior: Son of David
The Davidic covenant is like that with Abraham: an unconditional, unilateral promise of God’s own faithfulness to his Word—in David’s case, the promise of an heir who would reign everlastingly (2 Sam. 7:11–17 and reiterated throughout the prophets). The New Testament takes pains to identify Jesus as this royal son of David’s line. Yet he would not restore the temporal theocracy of the Jewish nation but rather would reign over all the earth in righteousness and peace, bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the unending kingdom promised to David.
Son of Man, the Second Adam
The Son of Man is God’s earthly messianic representative, who is given everlasting dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth—although his kingdom does not arise from any earthly regime (see esp. Dan. 7:9–27). In the Gospels, this title is Jesus’ favorite self-designation, emphasizing his mission to judge, to save, and to reign. Although Son of Man, as the fulfillment of Adamic sonship, often emphasizes Jesus’ humanity (e.g., Matt. 20:28; Mark 2:27–28), especially in John’s gospel this title carries a simultaneous emphasis on Jesus’ deity (e.g., John 3:13; John 6:53–58; 8:28).
Servant of the Lord
In Isaiah’s Servant Songs (esp. chaps. 42, 49, 50, 52–53, 61), Israel’s corporate commission as God’s covenant servant is embodied in the person of the Messiah to come, the true and faithful Israel, who will secure redemption through obedience and suffering. Jesus proclaimed himself to be this servant (Luke 4:16–21), as did the apostles (e.g., Matt. 12:17–21).
Explain Nestorianism and the differences betweenthis view and the traditional orthodox understanding on the person of Christ?
Nestorianism maintains that Christ having two distinct natures, existed as two distinct persons. Many understood Nestorius to be arguing for two personal subjects in Christ, a man and a god similar to the ancient heresy of Paul of Samosata who argued that Jesus a man had been possessed by the divinity. Nestorius did not mean that but this has become the popular meaning of the heresy of Nestorianism. The Councils of Nicea in 325 A.D.Costantinople 381 A.D. and Chalcedon helped to establish the orthodox understanding on the Person of Christ. These Councils affirm that Christ is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds God of God, Light of Light very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. This same Lord Jesus Christ for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Christ is one person with two natures one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of nature’s being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated in to two persons, but one and the same Only begotten God the Word, Jesus Christ.
Explain the distinction John Owen made concerning the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament compared to the revelation of Christ in the New Testament?
John Owen made an important distinction concerning the revelation Christ delivered to the church in the Old Testament, the Son revealed God’s will to the prophets in His divine person, sometimes mediated through angels. In the revelation of the gospel Christ taking on humanity then taught it immediately Himself. Owen explains how Christ being omniscient, He knows everything there is to know. However in his mediatorial office, He revealed the will of the Father in an according to His human nature.
What were the two functions Stephen Charnock and John Owen ascribed to Christ priesthood explain?
Charnock noted that there are two functions of Christ’s priesthood one of oblation and intercession, Charnock notes they are both joined together, but one as precedent to the other. The oblation precedes the intercession and the intercession could not be without the oblation. John Owen agreed that these two acts must not be separate for it belongs to the same mediator for sin to sacrifice and pray. Owen states how in heaven Christ’s intercessory work is continued oblation of Himself. Christ impetrated, merited, or obtained by His death, must be applied on to upon them for whom He intended to obtain it, or else His intercession is in vain, He is not heard in the prayers of His mediatorship. Owen makes the point that the particularity of Christ’s death on the cross relates to His intercessory work in heaven.
How did Puritans such as Reynolds describe Christ exaltation in relation to His office as King?
The Puritans and particularly Reynolds addressed this issue of Christ’s exaltation in relation to His kingship. The exaltation of Christ as King is fully realized in His enthronement said Reynolds. Goodwin saw this to be realized at His ascension when a military triumph is accorded Him (leading captivity captive) which shows that Christ subdued His enemies at the cross according to Goodwin.
Explain the threefold view Thomas Goodwin held pertaining to the glory of Christ and it application to Christ’s role as mediator?
Goodwin saw Christ glory as threefold, the first glory which all the orthodox agreed upon is that the Christ divine nature cannot be diminished in any way. The Son in His divine nature is coequal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Goodwin saw this glory as Christ essential glory. Secondly Goodwin saw how Christ has a personal glory not shared with the Father or the Spirit namely the glory of His person as the God-man; this belongs to Christ alone on account of the hyposatical union. Christ thirdlypossesses the glory of His office as mediator of the covenant of grace.
The past two weeks I have been taking an expositional and applicable look at Matthew 16 verses one through four, just one of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees. This week I am going to continue to do the same, taking a look specifically at verse four where it reads “An Evil and Adulterous Generation Seeks for a Sign.” Matthew 16:1-4 reads in its entirety;
“1 And the Pharisees, together with the Sadducees, came, and tempting desired that he would show them a sign from heaven. 2 But he answering said to them, About the commencement of the evening you say, It will be fine weather; for the sky is red. 3 And in the morning, There will be a storm to-day; for the sky is red and lowring. Hypocrites, you can judge aright of the face of the sky; but can you not judge of the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous nation demands a sign, and no sign shall be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them, and departed.”
One question that comes to mind after reading, why would Christ call them an “evil and adulterous generation?” He did not accuse them of being guilty of physical adultery, but of spiritual adultery (Isa. 57; James 4:4). These men were worshiping a false god of their own manufacture, and this was spiritual adultery to Christ. Had they been worshiping the true God, they would have recognized the Sign, His Son when He came. The Pharisees and Sadducees were never satisfied with any signs, but continued their own wicked desires to tempted God. John Calvin writes about this matter saying,
“He (Christ) does not call them an adulterous nation merely because they demand some kind of sign, (for the Lord sometimes permitted his people to do this,) but because they deliberately provoke God.”
Jesus is telling them to read what is there in Scripture and is obvious that has been written in their Scriptures. The famous English writer C. S. Lewis wrote a famous essay on ‘Fern Seed and Elephants’, in which he talked about people claiming to see the significance of the smallest things while not seeing the elephants in front of them. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are like that—unwilling to accept the clearest revelation from God, Himself, Jesus Christ.
Do we not see the same type of nation today here in America? One that is in ruin, one that does not accept to hear the truth, and one that does not accept to see the Great Sign given by God. We live today with two types of people, there is no in-between, those that are in Christ and those that are not. Here I must make two points of application. One for the unbeliever and one for the believer. For the unbeliever, do not continue to follow a path of those who seek after the signs of this world, and not that of Christ. Do you not foresee your own ruin coming for rejecting Christ because you seek the pleasures of this evil and adulterous generation like the Pharisees and Sadducees? For the believer, what are you seeking after today? Are you seeking the signs of this world or are you seeking the sings of being something or someone special – maybe a better person than you are now, maybe better finically, maybe a better worker at your job, or a better husband or father? Those are all good things, but if you seek them for the sake of this generation, for your own good and self righteousness you are no different from that what Christ calls an “evil and adulterous generation.” You have lost your focus upon God’s Great Sign, His Son. Not to please those here on earth, but to please an everlasting good and pure generation apart of this world.
For this is why Christ came, to save those in “an evil and adulterous generation.” Unbeliever may you come to know Christ, who He is, what He has done and what He is doing in His Church today. Believer, may you today take refuge in Christ, what Christ has already done and accomplished for you, and rejoice that you are apart of what He is doing today in His Church.