Who Is the Christ?

Who is the Christ?

The obvious answer is Jesus.

But, as I wrote in my two previous posts, the New Testament seems to clearly provide a distinction between Jesus and the Christ based on its language. Further, while the gospels seem to be about Jesus because “Jesus” is the overwhelming focus of the stories, their structure actually reveals the writers were really focusing on “Christ.”

So, is the obvious answer that the Christ is Jesus the best and  most complete answer to the question “Who is the Christ?”

Galatians 3.28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was a Jew and not a Greek. But, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek.

Jesus was a slave and not free. But, in Christ, there is neither slave nor free.

Jesus was male and female. But, in Christ, there is neither male or female.

So, when we answer the question “Who is the Christ?” with Jesus, we have unnecessarily and artificially limited the Christ to a Jewish male slave. But, the Christ is not just a Jewish male slave. The Christ includes all people. So, our vision of the Christ tends to be too small.

So, who is the Christ?

Romans 16.25 says, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.”

According to Ephesians 1.9, God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”

Ephesians 3.4 says, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

In Ephesians 5.32, Paul says “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Colossians 2.1-2 tells us that Paul struggled for his newly created communities so “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.”

In Colossians 4.3, Paul asks the churches he planted to pray for him and his co-workers “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.”

Jesus was a Jewish man that lived like a slave under King Herod and the Roman Empire. Jesus’ life is attested to by many ancient writers. It’s actually quite shocking how much is written about Jesus outside of the New Testament given who Jesus was. Therefore, Jesus is fairly well known.

But, the Christ?

As the scriptures above declared, the Christ is a mystery. But, there is something we can definitively say about who the Christ is.

So, who is the Christ?

In Matthew 22.34-46 (Mark records a similar account in Mark 12.28-37), Jesus is engaged in discussion with the Pharisees. Jesus had just silenced the Sadducees, but one of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And, he says there is a second commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself – that is like the first. All of the law and prophets depend on these two commandments.

Having given this answer, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Jesus didn’t ask them “Who am I?” or “Who do people say that I am?” His question has clued them the Pharisees in to the fact that he is the Christ. And, Jesus has clued the Pharisees in to the fact that he is a son. The question is whose son?

The Pharisees respond that Jesus is “the son of David.” There are several instances in Matthew, the gospel of Jesus as king, where Jesus is referred to as the son of David. But, take note of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees answer that he is the son of David. “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘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 is he his son?”

Jesus did not affirm the Pharisees’ answer that he was the son of David. Rather, Jesus calls that answer in to question. For, if Jesus was the son of David, why would David call Jesus Lord? Since David called Jesus Lord, Jesus indicated he must be someone else’s son. So, he asked the Pharisees how he was David’s son. And, the Pharisees had no answer.

Why did Jesus not affirm that he was the son of David even though the Jews called him that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

I believe because David was a man of war. Speaking of David, 1 Samuel 16.18 says, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” As a man of war, David was deemed to be like the Lord because Exodus 15.3 says, “The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name.”

However, because David was a man of war, David was not allowed to build a temple for God. In 1 Chronicles 22.8, David says to Solomon, “But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.”

We should pay careful attention to the fact that Matthew records the Pharisees’ declaration that Jesus is the son of David, and therefore a man of war, immediately after Jesus says the two greatest commandments are love for God and neighbor and that indeed all the law and prophets depend upon love. Therefore, by not affirming the Pharisees’ answer that he is the son of David, Jesus is rejecting the notion that he is a man of war because he is rejecting that he is the son of David, meaning that he is like David and will act like David. The Jews expected the Christ to be a king like David. But, Jesus is telling the Pharisees that the Christ does not wage war and does not shed blood. For, if the Christ did those things, then he would not be able to build a house for God.

Interestingly, Jesus is not called the son of David in the gospel of John, and it will become clear why in a moment and in future posts. Further, the phrase “son of David” is never used in the New Testament outside of the first three gospels. Jesus, in physical lineage, may have been the son of David, but in reality, in truth, as the Christ he was not David’s son.

If Jesus is not the son of David, then whose son is the mysterious Christ?

In Matthew 16.16 , Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Mark 1.1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

When Jesus laid his hands on people and healed them, Luke 4.41 says the “demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.”

In John 11.27, Martha said, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

John tells in John 20.31 that he wrote his book “so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” John’s entire gospel was written to reveal that Jesus was the son of God, which is why the phrase “son of David” is never used by John.

Jesus is the mysterious Christ, the son of God. The Christ, the son of God, is far bigger, far grander, far more marvelous than a Jewish male slave.

When was the son of God begotten?

What does it mean that the Christ is the son of God?

What was the significance of the early Christian proclamation that Christ was the son of God?

These questions will be explored in upcoming posts.

The Gospels Are About Christ not Jesus

In my previous post, Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?, I showed how “Jesus” is found far more often in the gospels than “Christ.” Further, when “Jesus” is used alone without “Christ” in the New Testament, the vast majority of the time this occurs in the gospels.

Yet, the gospels are about Christ, not Jesus.

Wait a minute. The gospels are not about Jesus?

Admittedly, perhaps I am overstating the case, but, yes, the gospels are not about Jesus. They are about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, or Jesus who became Christ.

How so?

Well, let’s look at the introduction to each of the gospels.

Matthew 1.1 says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Oops…that’s not right.

It really says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

As Matthew works through the genealogy of Jesus Christ, he concludes it in Matthew 1.16 by saying, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

Then in verse 17, Matthew summarizes the genealogy, saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Not the deportation to Babylon to Jesus, but the deportation to Babylon to the Christ.

Finally, in verse 18, Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.”

Throughout the introduction to the gospel of Matthew the emphasis is on the Christ, or Jesus Christ, not Jesus. Although Herod inquires where the Christ was to be born in Matthew 2.4, the early emphasis on Christ in Matthew is all the more striking when we recognize that the word “Christ” does not appear again in Matthew’s gospel until 11.2. There are two more uses of Christ in chapter 16. Then, the gospel closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 22 through 26.

By emphasizing Christ at the beginning and end of his gospel, Matthew is signaling that he is not writing about Jesus, the son of Mary, or Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, a carpenter’s son, or Jesus, a great teacher, or Jesus, a prophet, or Jesus, a king, or Jesus, a healer, or any other way we want to describe Jesus. Yes, Jesus was all of those things, and Matthew wrote about many of them. However, Matthew’s gospel is about Jesus the Christ.

The gospel of Mark primarily presents Jesus as a servant. Yet, the very first words of the gospel in Mark 1.1 state, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like Matthew, Mark’s gospel uses “Christ” in its introduction but doesn’t use the term again until two isolated uses in chapters eight and nine. However, like Matthew, the gospel of Mark closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 12 through 15. Again, in ancient writings, this sort of bracketing in a story provides important insight into the true subject matter of what is written. This bracketing reveals what is really important, what is being stressed In the case of Mark, the true subject matter of the entire gospel is Christ.

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not use the term “Christ” in the opening sentence of his gospel. Instead, Luke gives a lengthy sort of preamble to the birth of Christ. So, in Luke 2.10-11, when the angel of the Lord announces the Christ’s birth to the shepherds, he says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Who did Luke say was born?

Not Jesus.

But, the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Just before the child Jesus was brought into the temple for purification, “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had the Lord’s Christ.” Luke emphasizes that Simeon was not going to see Jesus, a mere child like any other, but the Christ.

Just like Matthew and Mark, after the introduction and birth of Jesus Christ, Luke uses the term “Christ” quite sparingly with just three mentions in chapters three, four, and nine. However, Luke closes his gospel with seven uses  of “Christ” in chapters 20 through 24. Once again we see the bracketing of the entire story of Jesus with the term “Christ” to emphasize exactly who Luke is writing about – the Christ, or Jesus Christ, and not Jesus.

The beginning of John’s gospel, the famous prologue, is one of my favorite portions of the Bible. John begins by telling us about the Word. Everything was made by the Word. In the Word was life. The Word was the true light of all men. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was the son of God, full of grace and truth.

Who was this Word?

Not Jesus.

Rather, the Word is Jesus Christ.

The conclusion of the prologue, John 1.17, says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

We received grace and truth through Jesus Christ, and it was the Word that became flesh that was full of grace and truth. Therefore, Jesus Christ and the Word are one and the same.

Unlike the first three gospels, the gospel of John uses the term “Christ” throughout. Instead of introducing the gospel of the Christ, telling the story of Jesus, and closing with the recognition of the Christ, John’s gospel is about the Christ all the way through. I plan to cover why John’s gospel is unlike the others in this respect in a future post.

So, even though “Jesus” is far more prevalent in the gospels than “Christ,” even “Jesus” takes up the bulk of the story of the gospels, the construction of the gospels tells us they are not simply about Jesus. Instead, God’s good news, God’s gospel, is the Christ.

The gospels are about the Christ not Jesus.

Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?

Jesus Christ has been on my heart and in my mind a lot lately.

You might be saying to yourself, “Of course he is. You are a Christian. And, you write a blog about seeing Jesus Christ in the Bible.”

But, that is not what I mean.

Christians are very accustomed to saying “Jesus Christ” without truly thinking about what they are saying. As the cliche goes, Christ is not the last name of Jesus. At the very least, Christ is the title, the office, of Jesus. In reality, Christ is something much more than that.

Therefore, when I say that Jesus Christ, or, more clearly, Jesus the Christ, has been on my heart and mind a lot lately, I mean to say I have been meditating quite a bit on the difference Jesus and the Christ. In meditating on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ, I have come to understand that this distinction is important and significantly affects how we worship and trust God in our daily lives.

So, in this post and the ones following (I don’t know how many), I’m going to write about my meditations on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ.

I take lots of long walks, and these meditations started on those long walks with the simple question “Do the New Testament writers use the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ with different frequencies?” Based on the many times I have read through the Bible the last 10 years, I suspected the answer was yes, but I did not know for sure. And, if the answer was yes, then what does the different usage of “Jesus” and “Christ” by the New Testament writers mean for me and you?

Not only was my suspicion correct that the New Testament writers use “Jesus” and “Christ” in different frequencies, there is a staggering difference in the usage of the two words between the four gospels and Acts (hereafter “gospels”) and the rest of the New Testament (hereafter “the letters”).

Based on my best effort to count the uses in Greek, the word “Jesus” appears 909 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Jesus” is used 632 times in the gospels and 277 times in the letters. Therefore, 70% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the gospels while just 30% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the letters.

The word “Christ” appears 529 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Christ” is used just 79 times in the gospels. But, in the letters, “Christ” is used a whopping 450 times. Therefore, only 15% of the uses of “Christ” are in the gospels while an overwhelming 85% of the uses of “Christ” are in the letters.

Notice how the gospels and the letters make use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in almost exactly the opposite proportions. The gospels are very much focused on Jesus while the letters are very much focused on Christ.

Of course, the words “Jesus” and “Christ” often appear together in the New Testament as either Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. So, the above analysis becomes more interesting when we consider how often “Jesus” appears on its own in the gospels and the letters.

OF the 909 times, “Jesus” is used in the New Testament it is used alone, that is, without Christ, 693 times. “Jesus” alone is primarily found in the gospels. In fact, 88% of the uses of “Jesus” without Christ occur in the gospels. So, in the letters we find “Jesus” alone just 12% of the time.

These numbers are virtually flipped if we consider the use of “Christ” alone. Of the 529 times “Christ” is used, it is used on its own 313 times. Just 19% of the uses of “Christ” without “Jesus” are found in the gospels while the other 81% are found in the letters.

Instead of looking at the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” across the New Testament, we could look at the use of the two words within the gospels and within the letters.

In the gospels, “Jesus” is used 632 times. Of these 632 uses, “Jesus” is used without “Christ” 612 times, which means that 97% of the time in the gospels the “Jesus” is used without the “Christ.” That means the phrase “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus” makes up just 3% of the uses of the word “Jesus” in the gospels. However, in the letters, “Jesus” is used 277 times. But, “Jesus” is found alone just 81 times, or a mere 29%. In the letters, if we find “Jesus” we are far more likely to find “Christ” attached.

While the gospels are dominated by “Jesus,” eight out of the 22 books of the letters never use the word “Jesus.” A number of those do mention “Christ” either, but it is noticeable that “Jesus” disappears from many writings outside the gospels.

It’s not the case that the gospels were written first therefore they focus more on Jesus while the understanding of Christ developed later and therefore the letters contain more of Christ and less of Jesus. In fact, most of the letters were written before the gospels.

So, the gospels are about a particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived three years with. But, the gospels rarely mention Christ even though by the time they were written the gospel writers would have had plenty of time to reflect on “Christ.” It would have been possible for them to mention Jesus as the Christ, or Jesus Christ, for more frequently like the letters.

The letters, even though they were written before the gospels, make far more mention of Christ of Jesus Christ than the gospels. Seemingly, the gospels are no longer about this particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived with for three years. Rather, the letters are about someone the same as Jesus but distinct from Jesus.

What happened to cause such distinction in the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” within the books of the New Testament?

The simple answer is the eventual identification of Jesus as the Christ, which Peter makes before the crucifixion. In Luke 24, Jesus specifically says that it was necessary for the Christ, not Jesus, to suffer and rise from the dead to enter his glory.

And, the distinction in use between “Jesus” and “Christ” begs the question “Why?”

What happened to Jesus for him to be known as the Christ and why it matters to us will be the subjects of future posts.

Can White Christians Count All that America Was and Is as Loss?

It is the fourth of July.

For many Americans, it is a day to worship the greatness of America.

Somewhat surprisingly, for many Christians it is also a day to worship the greatness of America. Although, most will deny that what they do this day and what the feel about America every day is an act of worship.

On this day (as well as the Sunday before or the Sunday after in their church services), many Christians will worship America’s independence, freedom, democracy, capitalism, wealth, rule of law, flag, and, maybe most of all, the military.

Therefore, there is probably no better day to meditate on the words of Paul in Philippians 3.3-9.

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

To worship America and all that it was and is is to put confidence in the flesh. All the things I listed above are things deemed to be advantages of being American. They are things that Americans glory in. But, Paul says we are to glory in Christ.

Paul counted every advantage and privilege he had as loss. The Greek word has the idea that these things should now be counted as a disadvantage, something to be penalized or punished for.

Further, Paul goes on to say he counts all these things as rubbish. The Greek word also means dung or excrement. We could take Paul as saying he counted every privilege he had as s***.

Therefore, can you, like Paul, count everything that is worshiped about America on the fourth of July as loss, rubbish, dung, excrement, s***?

Can you spend the day typically wrapped in extreme pride, patriotism, and nationalism reflecting on your privileges and advantages while reckoning them as things that are worthless and a pile of dung?

To imitate Paul in counting our privileges as loss and dung is really to imitate Jesus. Paul’s list of advantages or privileges that he counts as loss mirrors what Paul wrote about Jesus earlier in the letter to the Philippians.

Philippians 2.5-8 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. In other words, he counted every privilege and advantage of being God as loss and rubbish so that he could become a man. But, not just any man. A servant.

But, why do I specifically call out white Christians in the title of this post to count all that America was and is as loss?

Because more than anything else, whiteness is what has been worshiped in America.

Because the foundation of America was white. And, although not as obvious, the foundation of America is still white.

Blacks, native Americans, and other people of color did not, and do not, have the same benefits and privileges as whites in America.

So, many of the things Paul lists about himself can be equated to being white in America. Whites were the special people. The group, or tribe, of people set apart in America. Whites have certainly had the zeal to persecute blacks and native Americans throughout America’s history in addition to communists, Muslims, and Arabs more recently. And all the while whites have deemed themselves blameless.

To be white is the greatest privilege there is in America. Therefore, more than anything else, whites should count their whiteness and all the advantages and privileges that come with it as loss, rubbish, dung, excrement, s***.

According to Paul, it is necessary to count our supreme advantage as loss and rubbish so that we may gain Christ and be found in him. This is how Paul was able to be all things to all people that he might save some. This is how Paul, in imitation of Jesus, was able to identify with the other, the stranger, and the foreigner. This is how Paul was able to love all people.

For whites, counting whiteness as loss and rubbish is the way to be ministers of reconciliation in this land. It is the way to understanding the thoughts and feelings of many blacks and Native Americans regarding the 4th of July. Because their thoughts and feelings are often quite different about the fourth of July than the thoughts and feelings of whites.

Frederick Douglas said, “What, to the American slave, is your fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Yes, that quote is from a long time ago, but many blacks still feel the same way today.

The Declaration of Independence, shortly after it declared all men were created equal, stated, “He [the king of England] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Yep, the Declaration of Independence, the document of July 4, 1776, called native Americans savages.

Mark Charles, a native American, wrote about this in “The Dilemma of the Fourth of July” on www.nativenewsonline.net. He wrote:

“If the poster [of the Declaration in a restaurant he and his wife were eating in] had labeled any other group of people as “savage”, or if the source of the words was anything else besides one of our country’s founding documents, the restaurant in question would have long ago been sued and the parties responsible for hanging the poster most likely disciplined. But because the targeted group was Natives, the source was the Declaration of Independence and the responsibility for hanging the poster belonged to the restaurant’s national corporate offices; not only is the poster still hanging today, but on July 4th the entire nation will celebrate the message of this poster and the signing of this Declaration. For we have declared it a national holiday complete with fireworks, parades and speeches.

This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.”

And there are many other native American voices just like this one.

To truly hear these voices and to bring healing to our land, what better day for Christians than the fourth of July to count all our advantages and privileges, particularly our whiteness, as loss and rubbish.