The Transformation of Jesus to the Christ

In my last post, I wrote about how the disciples and Paul knew Jesus was the Christ, the son of God. Both the disciples and Paul knew Jesus was the Christ, not from knowledge of scripture, but by revelation from the Father who is in heaven. This leads us to another question.

What does it mean that  to know that Jesus is the Christ?

To know Jesus as the Christ means that we know Jesus as he really is. In other words, we know Jesus’ true self. To know Jesus as the Christ means we no longer know him as a poor Jewish man considered to be a rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago in the Roman empire. Instead of seeing Jesus, we see the Christ in whom is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus’ true self was none of these things. His true self was the Christ. The Christ is the image of God. The Christ is exact representation of God’s character and nature. The Christ is the son of God.

In 2 Corinthians 5.16, Paul said, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” To say that we once knew Christ according to the flesh is to say that we once knew Christ as Jesus. But, we no longer know Christ by the flesh, by Jesus. We now know Christ as the true self hidden behind or under the flesh of Jesus.

What does it mean that the flesh, Jesus, hid the true self, Christ?

We have tended to think of the flesh as the natural, physical body as opposed to the spirit our soul of a person. However, I believe this makes a mess of what Paul meant and what all scripture, all sacred text (Jewish, Christian, or otherwise) actually is trying to say.

The flesh is our personality. It is our view of the world that has been shaped by nature and nurture, genetics and the events that have happened to us. While I don’t have the space of skill to go through it all, in some sense, the flesh is a combination of the defense mechanisms that we have built up to protect ourselves from the world around us.

In Philippians 2, the Christ took the form of a slave and the likeness of a man. That’s not what the Christ truly was. Rather, the Christ took the form of Jesus. Or, as John 1 says, the Word, which is to say the Christ, became flesh, which is to Jesus the person or personality we know as Jesus, and dwelt among us.

Therefore, to know Jesus as the Christ the personality, the flesh, that is Jesus has to be removed. When Jesus is removed, then we know the Christ. When we no longer see a poor, Jewish man, then we see the Christ.

How is that we no longer see Christ after the flesh?

How is it that we see no longer Jesus but the Christ?

Jesus was transformed or transfigured.

The personality, the flesh, of Jesus was transformed into the Christ.

In my last post about the disciples knowing Jesus as the Christ, I focused on Matthew 16..13-20. In this passage, Jesus asked the disciples who he was. Peter answered, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said Peter was blessed because the Father in heaven, not flesh and blood, had revealed this to him.

But, look at what happens next.

It was from the moment that the disciples declared that Jesus was the Christ that Jesus began to teach them that he had to go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day (Matthew 16.21-23). It’s fascinating that Jesus never taught this to the disciples until they could declare that he was the Christ.

However, Peter refused to accept this. He rebuked Jesus for saying that he had to suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day. Peter thought that this could not be true of the Messiah, the Christ, the son of God. Of course, Jesus corrected Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Immediately after this (Matthew 16.24-28), Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if you wan to follow Jesus, then you are going to have to go through the same thing that Jesus went through.

The very next thing in Matthew is the transformation or transfiguration of Jesus. Matthew 17.2-5 says, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here, If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.'”

Jesus was transfigured or transformed. To be transformed means to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition. In Matthew 17, Jesus was changed into a face that shone like the sun with clothes that became white as light. Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to speak of this vision until he was raised from the dead. I take this to mean that what is described is not literal but metaphorical, symbolic.

What does it mean that Jesus was transformed into a face shining like the sun with clothes as white as light?

I believe it means that the disciples got a vision, a foretaste of Jesus as his true self, the Christ, before he actually went through his transformation. The personality of Jesus was removed and they saw the Christ, the amazingly bright, pure light of God that had been hidden underneath the personality of Jesus. The poor, Jewish man had been removed and the Christ shined forth.

Peter, James, and John had conceived of Jesus as a rabbi, a teacher, of the law and prophets. Hence, in the vision of transformation Moses and Elijah appear. But, Jesus was not this personality. So, when the three disciples try to fix Jesus as a rabbi and teacher of Jewish law, Moses and Elijah disappear. The personality of Jesus was removed so that the disciples could see the true self, the Christ, hidden behind Jesus. Therefore, the voice from the cloud tells the three disciples to listen not to the Jewish rabbi that they knew but his son with whom he was well pleased.

The transformation of Jesus to the Christ came about through his suffering, death, and resurrection. This had to happen so that everyone could know Jesus the poor, Jewish man as the Christ, the son of God. This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples once they had identified him as the Christ. But, even though the disciples had identified Jesus as the Christ, they rebuked Jesus for it. They didn’t want Jesus to be transformed. This is why Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” It is the accuser (Think our ego) that doesn’t want our personality, our defense mechanisms, to be killed so that our true self can come through. Again, this is why Jesus said the disciples were not about the things of God but the things of man.

Jesus also told the disciples that just as he had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, which is to say be transformed, that they would to if they wanted to follow him. To be transformed like Jesus to the Christ was the only way to truly follow Jesus.

We once knew Jesus after the flesh, the personality, as poor, Jewish man that was a rabbi. But, now we know him that way no longer. Instead, we know him as the Christ, the son of God.

Jesus was transformed into the Christ through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

How Did the Disciples and Paul Know that Jesus Was the Christ?

In my last few posts, I have written about the distinction between Jesus and Christ in the gospels. While the gospels seem to be about Jesus, they are ultimately accounts about Jesus as the Christ.

How did the disciples come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

The letters of the New Testament focus almost exclusively on the Christ. Even when the name Jesus is used it is tied to the Christ. Most of these letters were written by Paul, who was thoroughly trained in the scriptures.

How did Paul come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

Let’s start with the disciples.

As is commonly known, the disciples were not men studying to become rabbis. In other words, they were not students of the law and the prophets, which is to say the scriptures. Instead, the disciples were uneducated men. Acts 4.13 says that the rulers, scribes, and elders “perceived that they [specifically Peter and John in this case] were uneducated, common men.” While we don’t know what each disciple did, some were fishermen, another was a tax collector, and another was a zealot, which was not a profession per se but did describe what Simon was about perhaps is closest to some political activists today.

So, if Jesus’ disciples were not students of the scriptures, then how did they come to know Jesus as the Christ?

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus asks the disciples, “But, who do you say that I am?” But, I want to focus on the account in Matthew 16. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had read the scriptures and logically reasoned out that Jesus was the Christ that the law and the prophets had foretold would rescue Israel from its exile?

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had a teacher who instructed him in the idea and belief that Jesus was the Christ?

The answer to both questions is no.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Flesh and blood means that no person revealed to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. Further, I think we can understand Jesus as saying that nothing that flesh and blood has done, including writing the scriptures, revealed to the disciples that Jesus was the Christ.

I believe we are safe in taking Jesus’ statement this far because in John 5.39-40 Jesus said to students of scripture, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The scriptures indeed bear witness about Jesus as the Christ, but the scriptures do not reveal Jesus as the Christ to you. For the only way to see Jesus as the Christ in the scriptures, which in the Bible means the Old Testament, is to have already had Jesus revealed to you as the Christ.

Matthew specifically records Jesus saying that it was not flesh and blood that revealed Jesus as the Christ, but it was the Father who is in heaven revealed this to the disciples. Jesus elsewhere says that the kingdom of heaven is within you. So, the Father that reveals Jesus as the Christ was in the disciples. And, if it wasn’t flesh and blood that brought about this revelation then it must have been spirit, or the Spirit. That the Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus as the Christ to the disciples fits with many other scriptures where Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher who will bring to our remembrance everything Jesus said and no one is need of a teacher because they have the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit speaks of Christ only.

So, the disciples had Jesus revealed to them as the Christ by the Holy Spirit not the scriptures or the Bible.

It was only after this revelation that they were able to go back to the scriptures and see where they prophesied about the Christ (see Luke 24).

Interestingly, the disciples’ revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, occurred in Caesarea Philippi. Notice the word caesar there? That’s because the city received this name in AD 14 in honor of August Caesar. It was at this time that Caesar Augustus’ image was put on coin with the title “Son of God” on it. So, do you think that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, taking place in Caesarea Philippi has special significance? I sure do.

Surely, it must have been different for Paul who was a great student of the scriptures. If anyone could have reasoned Christ from the scriptures it would have been Paul. In Philippians 3.4-6, Paul said, “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.” Surely, if anyone could have known the Christ through flesh and blood and the scriptures then it would have been Paul.

Yet, Paul was admits that flesh and blood caused him to be nothing but a persecutor of the church, which Paul understood to mean that he was a persecutor of Jesus Christ himself.

So, if all of Paul’s scripture knowledge did not reveal Jesus as the Christ, then how did Paul know that Jesus was the Christ?

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1.11-17)

How was Jesus revealed as the Christ, the son of God, to Paul?

It pleased the Father to reveal the Christ, his Son, to Paul. Once again, the Father revealed Jesus as the Christ.

Further, Paul says that what he preached, Jesus as the Christ, was not man’s gospel. Paul did not receive this revelation from any man.

Nor was Paul taught this revelation of Jesus as the Christ. Paul studied in Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in Israel. Yet, despite all of Gamaliel’s scripture knowledge, he did not teach Paul that Jesus was the Christ. Paul did not learn that Jesus was the Christ from scripture. In fact, because of his scripture knowledge, which only puffed Paul up with pride, Paul became a persecutor of the church and the Christ. Despite what many Christians believe, scripture knowledge without a prior revelation of the Christ by the Holy Spirit leaves us proud and zealous, persecutors of those who truly know the Christ.

To receive revelation of Jesus as the Christ, Paul did not consult with anyone. Again, no man, no flesh and blood can cause you to know Jesus as the Christ. Nor did Paul go to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Going to the religious center of the world to learn from who already knew Jesus as the Christ was not have Jesus was revealed to Paul as the Christ.

What did Paul do instead?

He went away to Arabia. Paul went into the desert. He went into what is a dry and lonely place. It was in this dry, lonely place that Paul could clearly hear from God that Jesus was the Christ. Interestingly, Paul went to Arabia. There are some that believe this means that Paul went to Mt Sinai where the law was given. Why would Paul go there? He went deep into the place that his whole life was based upon and he allowed God to turn it upside down.

So, Jesus is revealed as the Christ by the Father in heaven through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts.

This revelation does not come through scripture. In fact, it is only after this revelation has occurred within us that we are able to see Jesus as the Christ in scripture. The New Testament, which we call scripture, reveals that those who rely on scripture without this prior Holy Spirit revelation of Jesus as the Christ become persecutors of the church, who are those to whom the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus as the Christ.

What Is Significant about the Proclamation that Christ Is the Son of God?

In my last post, we saw that the Christ is not simply Jesus. Nor is the Christ the son of David. Rather, the Christ is the son of God.

What is significant about the early church’s proclamation that Christ is the son of God?

  1. Jesus Christ is the son of God, not Caesar or any other king, politician, or military ruler.
  2. Jesus is the image of God.

Early Christians were making a politically charged and radically revolutionary statement when they declared Jesus Christ the son of God. Why? Because they were living in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, was declared to be a god, which was why statues and temples were to be built in his honor. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted (interesting) son, Octavian, better known as Augustus, became Caesar and known as the son of God. So, to declare that Jesus Christ was the Son of God was to declare that Caesar Augustus, and every Caesar after him, was not the son of God. Instead of pledging allegiance to Caesar, early Christians were pledging allegiance to Christ and the Father.

But, it wasn’t just the Caesars who were declared the son of God. In almost every culture, kings and rulers were thought to be divine and, in some form or fashion, declared to be the son of God. So, the declaration that Christ is the son of God is a statement of allegiance in every culture and every nation at any time because all rulers – kings, presidents, prime ministers, etc. –  believe themselves to be closer to the divine, if not divinity itself, than the people they rule. This is why Jesus Christ said in Matthew 20.25 (and Mark 10.42), “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles, lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

As the son of God, a king or military ruler had all power. He needed to be militarily victorious and conquer his enemies with strength and power. These kings did not yield, submit, or surrender. Often, when they died, it was assumed they ascended to heaven and lived forever. And, it wasn’t just the Gentiles that had this kind of king. According to 1 Samuel 8.4-5, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.'” Israel wanted a militarily powerful king that would defeat their enemies with strength and power too.

God’s response to Israel’s desire for a king, a son of God, like every other nation was, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8.7) So, Israel got Saul, David, Solomon, and all of their other kings to lord it over them as sons of God like every other nation. Eventually, the Messiah, Israel’s true king, was to come as the son of David. But, remember from my last post that Jesus never affirmed he was the son of David while he did affirm that he was the son of God.

Why is this important?

Jesus Christ did not use power and military force to conquer his enemies. Instead the greatest military force the world had known at that time was used against him to crucify him. Crucifixion was the most shameful death possible and meant to be a political deterrent to those who even had a mere thought of not giving their full allegiance to Caesar, the son of God. Instead of using power and military force to conquer his enemies, Jesus Christ died. Therefore, Paul wrote in Colossians 2.14-15, “…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Not only did Jesus Christ, the son of God, not use power and military force to conquer his enemies, he suffered, which is to say he yielded, submitted, and surrendered to others. This was how Jesus Christ was delivered over to the authorities of the Jews and Gentiles. in Matthew 20.26-28, Jesus Christ also came to serve, saying, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Caesar, the son of God, or any other king, president, or ruler would never say this. They would never make themselves a slave or servant. Instead, they made other people slaves and servants to them.

All of this feeds into understanding Paul’s opening to his letter to the church in Rome. Paul writing to Christians at the heart of Caesar worship says that Christ, who was crucified is the true son of God, not Caesar. And, even though the one Paul worships and serves Jesus Christ as the true son of God died, Paul is not ashamed of this gospel, this good news.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.1-6, 16)

Everything that Paul writes here subverts the allegiance and worship due to Caesar as the son of God and transfers it to Christ, the true son of God. Imagine writing this to people in Washington D.C., Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh or the capital city of any other kingdom and then declaring your desire to come to that city to preach the message that the ruler of that nation is really not the one in power, but Jesus Christ is the true president, king, emperor, premier, or prime minister.

Stating that Jesus Christ is the son of God is also significant because as the son of God Jesus Christ is the image of God.

I work in a family business. So, I worked in the office with my dad for a quite a long time. We were in lots of meetings together. During one meeting, I noticed that my dad and I were sitting in the same position in our chairs. Then, at the exact same time, we shifted to the exact same position. This happened several times without either one of us consciously deciding to do it. My dad didn’t tell me to do this. I just did it. We were in sync with another because I was his son. I was the image of my dad.

Jesus Christ is the image of God because he does everything exactly as he has observed his Father doing it. He doesn’t consciously try to do it. But, he has been in his Father’s presence so much and watched him for so long that he can’t help but do exactly what his Father is doing exactly when his Father is doing it.

Colossians 1.15, 19 says, “He is the image of the invisible God…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

Hebrews 1.3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

To declare that Jesus Christ is the son of God is to say that God is exactly like Jesus Christ. We can’t see God, but we can see Jesus Christ. The disciples saw and lived with him for three years in the flesh. Today, we see Jesus Christ in the spirit when we see love in action – feeding the poor, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting those in prison, causing the blind to see, and making the lame walk.

But, there’s another aspect to Jesus Christ as the image of God that ties back my first point. In ancient cultures, kings routinely set up images of themselves in far away and foreign lands. While the king could not be physically present everywhere, he could put up an image to represent his authority and rule in that place.

God is invisible. But, Jesus Christ was the physical image of this invisible God. Jesus Christ was what could be looked to to see the authority of God in the earth. And, as we will see in a future post, we are to be images of God to so that his authority is established in us as well as expanded to every place as more men and women become images of God, sons and daughters of God, by pledging their allegiance to Christ and the Father and not the kings and rulers of the world.

When Was the Son of God Begotten?

In my previous post, I asked the question “Who is the Christ?” Of course, Jesus is the Christ, but there is far more to the answer to this question than Jesus. Repeatedly, the New Testament declares the Christ to be a mystery. And, the gospels proclaim the Christ to be the son of God.

Sons (and daughters) are born. So, a natural question would be, “If Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, when was he born?” Or, in more biblical terms, “When was Jesus Christ, the son of God, begotten?” Was Jesus the begotten son of God at his physical birth when he was conceived by the Spirit in Mary’s womb? Was Jesus the begotten son of God at his baptism when the Spirit came down from heaven and rested on him like a dove? Some even argue if Jesus begotten or was he created.

To begin to answer these questions, we need to understand the word begotten. For most of us, I think the word begotten immediately brings to mind someone being born. So, we read John 3.16 in the King James Version, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”, and assume that it means Jesus was born of God as we were born of our parents. I don’t care to debate whether or not that is true on some level, because I don’t think that strikes at the heart of the idea being expressed about the son of God.

In the Greek, the phrase “only begotten” is the word monogenes. Depending on your Greek dictionary, monogenes can mean only, one and only, unique, only begotten, alone, kind, or the only member of a kin. Many of these definitions move us away from the idea of Jesus being born, or begotten, the son of God toward the idea of Jesus being the one, the unique, the only son of God.

How was Jesus the one, unique, only son of God, the Christ?

A look at the uses of monogenes in the New Testament will help us answer this question.

Monogenes is used just nine times in the New Testament – three times in Luke, four times in John, one time in Hebrews, and one time in 1 John. But, not all of these are in reference to Jesus.

Luke’s three uses of monogenes are not about Jesus, but they each share a similar context that does relate to Jesus. Luke 7.12, 8.42, and 9.38 all mention a son or daughter as the only child of their father or mother. The common thread of these stories about the only child is that the first two were raised from the dead and the third was delivered from an unclean spirit.

What does Luke’s use of monogenes teach us about when Jesus Christ, the son of God, was begotten?

In a sense, all three stories are about resurrection. Therefore, we can understand that Jesus was the son of God when he was begotten at his resurrection. The resurrection was a process of going from suffering to death to life. In other words, the resurrection was a transformation. Jesus was transformed into the Christ, at least from our perspective. Transformation is a key concept about the Christ, the son of God, that I will address in a future post.

Just like Luke’s three uses of monogenes, the one time the word is found in Hebrews does not refer to Jesus. Hebrews 11.17 says that when Abraham was tested he was in the process of offering up his “only” son. Of course, Isaac was not Abraham’s only son as Abraham had an older son, Ishmael.

What does this teach us about Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God?

That Jesus was the only begotten son of God doesn’t mean that God does not have other sons and daughters, for example you and me. In Acts 17.25-28, when Paul was witnessing to the Greeks at the Areopagus, Paul quotes Greek poets to declare that all people are children, sons and daughters, of God. However, it does mean that there is a special sense in which Jesus Christ is the son of God and we are not.

(Yet.)

It is this special sense of Jesus Christ being the son of God that comes through in the gospel of John and 1 John. We need to remember why John wrote. John 20.31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” While we all may be children of God, Jesus is the Christ. In this sense, he is unique. Even in John’s statement for his purpose in writing the gospel we can understand what made Jesus Christ unique – life.

John 1.14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only [monogenes] Son from the Fahter, full of grace and truth.”

And, John 1.18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only [monogenes] God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Jesus Christ, and perhaps more accurately just the Christ, was unique because he had the glory of the Father and has always been at the Father’s side throughout eternity. This means that Christ shared the Father’s life. As John 1.4 says, “In him was life.” This life, this Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.

Another way of thinking of this is that the Christ became Jesus. Of course, this is from God’s perspective. From our perspective, Jesus became the Christ. Again, we have the idea of transformation. This idea comes through in the very word monogenes. Genes is from the Greek word ginomai, which means to be, to become, to come into being. Jesus is the Christ in the sense that he is the only (mono) one who has come into being, or into the life of God, who is being and life itself.

John 3.16, 18 and 1 John 4.9 all speak of the “only” (monogenes) son of God as being given or sent. Jesus, the man, was born in a particular time and place. He was not sent or given by the Father. But, the Christ, the son of God,, was given or sent by the Father. And, the Christ, the son of God, dwelt among us in the person of Jesus.

While I believe the Christ was always in Jesus, we did not recognize this until the Christ had suffered, died, and was resurrected. In other words, we do not recognize the Christ as begotten in Jesus until his process of transformation is revealed in us by the Father.

So, when was the son of God begotten?

At the resurrection when we understood Jesus to have become the Christ, the son of God, which is why we see such a distinction in the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in the New Testament in the gospels (pre-resurrection and focused on Jesus) and the letters (post-resurrection and focused on Christ) that I wrote about in a previous post. Again, this stresses the idea of transformation through resurrection, which is an idea that, for the most part, seems to have been lost to Christianity.

Next, we will look at what it means that the Christ is the son of God or what it means that Jesus became the Christ, the son of God.

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.

Do You Believe the Bible Is the Word of God?

Do you the believe the Bible is “the word of God?”

I don’t.

I believe holding the Bible as “the word of God” is a very subtle form of idolatry. because we are putting a book before the actual Word of God, Jesus Christ. Anything we put before God, before Jesus, becomes an idol. And, idolatry is not worship in spirit and in truth.

Let me show you what I mean.

“In the beginning was THE BIBLE, and the THE BIBLE was with God, and THE BIBLE was God.” – John 1:1

Is that what it is says?

No.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. HE (a person) was in the beginning with God.”

So, the Word of God is a he, a person.

“And THE BIBLE continued to increase.” – Acts 6:7

“But THE BIBLE increased and multiplied.” – Acts 12:24

“And THE BIBLE was spreading throughout the whole region.” – Acts 13:49

“So THE BIBLE continued to increase and prevail mightily.” – Acts 18:20

Is that what any of these scriptures say?

No.

They all the say the “word of God” or the “word of the Lord.” Clearly, the Bible is not what Luke has in mind. Jesus Christ, the word of God, continued to increase, multiply, spread and prevail. I only picked the most obvious scriptures in Acts to show you this. Once you have seen the most obvious ones, it’s easier to see all the others refer to Jesus too.

“But it is not as though THE BIBLE has failed.” – Romans 9:6

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through THE BIBLE.” Romans 10:17

Is that what Paul means in these verses?

No.

It’s the word of God, the word of Christ, Jesus Christ, that has not failed and through whom faith comes by hearing.

“Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make THE BIBLE fully known.” – Colossians 1:25

Is the Bible what Paul came to make known?

No.

Paul came to preach Jesus Christ, the word of God, and him crucified. He said that was all he wanted to know among us.

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received THE BIBLE, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what is really is, THE BIBLE, which is at work in you believers.” – 1 Thessalonions 1:13

Is Paul saying these people received the Bible and the Bible is at work in them?

No.

Ironically, the Bible is the word of men, although inspired by God. So, of course Paul wasn’t constantly in thanks that people had received the Bible. The Bible didn’t even exist at that time, nor could many even afford a copy of the scriptures or read them. They received the word of God, Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is at work in them.

“But the THE BIBLE is not bound.” – 2 Timothy 2:9

Is the Bible bound?

Why, yes it is.

The end of Revelation says that we should add nothing to or take anything away from the book. No one is adding to the Bible anymore. It is bound. But, the word of God, Jesus Christ, is not bound. We saw in Acts that he is increasing, spreading, multiplying, prevailing. And the gospel of John says that if every act of Jesus were to be recorded all the books in the world could not contain them.

“For THE BIBLE is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from HIS (a person) sight.” – Hebrews 4:12-13

Is the Bible living and active?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, is living and active. He divides soul from spirit within us. No creature is hidden from HIS sight. The Bible is not looking into the heart of every creature.

“By faith we understand that the universe was made by THE BIBLE, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” – Hebrew 11:3

Did the Bible make the universe?

No.

Is the Bible invisible?

No.

The Bible did not make the universe. Yes, the Bible is visible. Therefore, it could not have been the invisible thing that made the things that are seen.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, made the universe. Read John 1 and Colossians 1.

“Since you have been born again, not of persihable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding BIBLE.” – 1 Peter 1:23

Are you born again by the Bible?

No.

Is the Bible the imperishable seed that was planted in the ground to bring new life?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, is the grain of wheat, the imperishable seed, planted in the ground that sprang up to new life. (John 12:24) Jesus Christ is the living and abiding word of God.

“And the earth was formed out of water and through the water by THE BIBLE.” – 2 Peter 3:5

Did the Bible form the earth?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, formed the earth. He made everything.

These are just the most obvious places where the word of God is clearly not the Bible. The word of God is Jesus Christ, a person. But, once you have seen the obvious places, you will be able to see Jesus as “the word” in all the other places too.

When you see that in the New Testament, then you should do a study in the Old Testament on “the word of the Lord.” You will notice that many of the uses of that phrase refer to a person.

The Bible calls itself not the word of God but the scriptures. And, so does Jesus.

Jesus said in John 5:39-40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

Like the Jews Jesus was speaking to, you can search the scriptures all you want to find life. But, you won’t find life in the scriptures. The scriptures, the Bible, is simply a witness to Jesus, the true word of God, true life. We have to go to him for life. In fact, we can’t even understand the scriptures without his life, the Holy Spirit, in us and teaching us. The Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance everything that Jesus said. The Holy Spirit takes the dead letters and brings them to life (2 Corinthians 3).

Throughout scripture, God states that he wants people to listen to his voice, his word, Jesus Christ. He never stated that he wanted people to listen to a written book.

I posted the above on Facebook more than one year ago. The following is my reply to a comment on my Facebook post. The comment stated that there was a difference between “the word of God incarnate” and “the word of God written.”

Let’s assume that trusted theologians for centuries have made the distinction between “the word of God incarnate” and “the word of God written.” Assuming that, I would respectfully disagree with them.

For the obvious reason that no one knew the word of God was Jesus until he came, I can only compare what the New Testament says about, as you say, “the word of God incarnate” and the “word of God written.”

I already showed in my post that the New Testament says the “word of God” is a person, Jesus Christ. Also, I said in my post that God has always desired a people that would listen to his voice. It is a voice that speaks or proclaims a word. Voices are listened to and heard, hence Jesus’ statement that those who knew him would know his voice.

The exact phrase “word of God” appears 44 times in the Bible.

Of those, 9 times the “word of God” was heard (Luke 5:1, 5:21, 11:28, John 8:47, Acts 13:5), received (Acts 8:14, 11:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), or accepted (1 Thessalonians 2:13). I included received and accepted because the vast majority of anyone at that time would have received or accepted whatever the word of God is by hearing as they could not read.

Of those, 8 times the “word of God” was taught (Acts 18:11), proclaimed (Acts 13:5, Acts 17:13), preached (Acts 6:2), spoken (Acts 4:31, Acts 13:46, Hebrews 13:7) or uttered (John 3:34).

Therefore, if just over one-third of the uses of the exact phrase “word of God” are used in the context of hearing or speaking. then God wants us to hear his voice.

So, what about the “word of God written?”

Is that even a thing?

Well, what does the Bible say about itself?

Over and over, the Bible refers to what is written as the scriptures. The word scripture(s) is used 51 times.

Of those, 3 times the scripture is specifically referred to as being read. Not one time is the “word of God” referred to as being read.

Of those, 27 times the scripture is mentioned in the context of being fulfilled or believed. Therefore, more than half the uses of “scripture,” what is written, are to show that the true “word of God,” Jesus, fulfilled what had been written. In this way, what was written, the scripture, is a shadow of the reality, the true word of God, Jesus Christ. The scriptures are no more the word of God than any of the other Old Testament types and shadows – Joseph, Joshua, the offerings, the tabernacle, etc. – are the word of God in some other form. Just like all the types and shadows in the Old Testament, the scriptures are a witness to Jesus Christ, the word of God.

Of those, 8 times the scriptures are mentioned in the context of searching/examining or reasoning/showing/encouraging. The scriptures were used, not to prove that they were the word of God, but to prove that Jesus Christ indeed is the word of God.

Of those, 3 times Jesus is said to interpret or open the scriptures. Jesus took what was written and translated it into the actual word of God for the disciples. He showed them where he, the word of God, was (and wasn’t) in the scriptures.

The scriptures, the Bible, never call themselves the word of God

Muddling the word of God, Jesus Christ, with the scriptures, the Bible, the written word, is actually what calls the whole thing into question and has people confused.

In some manner, Jesus Christ did pit himself against the scriptures, what was written. In the sermon on mount, he repeatedly said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Also, look through the gospels and you will see that Jesus never called the Law “his law” or “his Father’s law.” He almost always said “your law” or “their law.”

You mention Moses and the prophets speaking the “word of God.” Yes, they did. But, they had a veiled view of God. They did not see him clearly. Therefore, they could not write about him clearly. This is why Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 about God raising up another prophet, Jesus Christ, that Israel would listen to (not read, and isn’t interesting that we don’t have a single thing written from the most important person in the world).

But, Jesus himself said that John the Baptist was the greatest man of the old covenant, but even he was the least in the kingdom of God.

Why?

Because he was not born again, filled, by the Holy Spirit the way we are. This is important because 2 Timothy 3:16 says that scripture is God-breathed. But, do you know what else is God-breathed? Every person is filled with the Holy Spirit, God-breathed as it were. Each human being is as inspired as the scriptures. Therefore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 that we are living letters as opposed to the dead letters of the old covenant scriptures that can only point to life when read by the Spirit within us.

Something that is God-breathed contains the Spirit, but it is clearly not the Spirit. Just as the Bible witnesses to, or contains, Jesus, but it is not the Word of God. Without this understanding we get a lot of twisted ideas about God and Jesus.

As for making the book less “sacred,” or less important, you know me better than that. Writing about the Bible every day for an entire year, as I have on this blog, cannot be considered making the book less sacred or less important.

But, we need a right understanding of what it is and what it isn’t. We need to put the Bible and Jesus Christ in their rightful places.

Are You Following a Man-Made System or Jesus?

We have a choice to make. We can follow a man-made system. Or, we can follow Jesus.

How do we know whether we are following a man-made system or Jesus?

Simply consider how you are being watered.

Consider Deuteronomy 11.10-12.

“For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

In these verses, we can see Egypt as a symbol of life following a man-made system and Canaan as a symbol of life following Jesus.

In many ways, the land of Egypt was like the land of Canaan. In both places, dirt, water, seed, and sun combined to produce fruit. Similarly, following a man-made system can look very much like following Jesus.

But, there is one critical difference between Egypt and Canaan – how they are watered.

The fields of Egypt were in very flat land. Therefore, they were watered in one of two ways. The first was the annual flooding of the Nile River. Once a year, the Nile would overflow its banks and water the fields of Egypt. But, for the remainder of the year, the fields were watered by a system of canals. The Egyptians had to dig out and maintain these canals. Further, the water was “pumped” through the canals by foot pedals. The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 11.10 literally says, “where you sowed your seed and water it with your feet.”

The fruit of the fields of Egypt was dependent on a man-made system to get water. But, this was not the case with the land of Canaan.

In Canaan, “the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” The produce of Canaan was not reliant upon a single annual flood from a great river. Instead, God watched over the land throughout the year and provided rain as necessary. Instead of being flat like Egypt, Canaan was full of hills and valleys to direct the water where it needed to go. Further, Deuteronomy 8.7 says, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills.”

Unlike Egypt’s fields that were dependent on a man-made system of canals, Israel’s fields on “the rain from heaven,” or the Spirit who is given by Jesus.

In John 4.10, 13-14, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Notice the similarities in Jesus’ language to the passages in Deuteronomy. Jesus’ words from his conversation with the woman at the well are the reality of how we are to be watered just as the fields of Canaan were to be watered.

We learn more about this living water in John 7.37-39, which says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

What is the living water that flows out of our hearts?

The Spirit.

Where does the Spirit come from?

Heaven.

Jesus gives the spirit as rain from heaven to water our life.

Notice that in order to receive this water you must go to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let him come to me and drink.” But, those following a man-made system do not go to Jesus.

Where do those following a man-made system go?

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40)

Those following a man-made system depend on scripture only. They don’t actually go to Jesus to receive the Spirit, living water, the rain from heaven. This scripture-only dependence treats scripture like the land of Egypt – flat. Everything in the scripture becomes equally important. But, this flat reading of scripture requires a man-made system of canals and foot-powered pumps to force water, or life, through them.

However, those following Jesus understand that scripture is full of mountains and valleys. Some portions of scripture are closer to God than others. Some portions of scripture more fully reveal God than others. Therefore, some portions of scripture are more important than others.

So, while Egypt and Canaan have many similar features, their source of water, and therefore life, are completely different. One is man-made. The other comes from heaven. Only the Spirit can show us the difference.

Why Was Jacob’s Name Changed to Israel and What Is Its Significance?

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Perhaps you are familiar with the story. But, in case you are not, I will tell it to you.

God appeared to Jacob as he came from Paddan-aram and blessed him. God said that his name was Jacob, but Jacob should not be his name any longer. From now on, his name should be Israel. God told Jacob that his own name was God Almighty (El Shaddai). God Almighty then commanded Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. He told Jacob that a nation and a company of nations as well as kings would come from him. God Almighty was going to give Jacob and his offspring the land that he gave to Abraham and Isaac. So, Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar of stone. Jacob called the place Bethel.

Is that the story you were expecting to hear?

Probably not.

You were probably expecting to me to tell you how Jacob sent his family across the Jabbok stream, but Jacob stayed alone on the other side of the stream. During the night, he wrestled with a man until day broke. The man was not able to prevail against Jacob so he put Jacob’s hip out of joint. The man asked Jacob to let him go, but Jacob said he wouldn’t let the man go until he blessed him. The man asked Jacob his name. When the man was told it was Jacob, the man said that he would no longer be called Jacob but Israel, since he had striven with God and men and prevailed. Jacob asked the man his name, but the man did not tell Jacob. The man merely asked Jacob why he wanted to know. So, Jacob called the place Peniel because he had seen God face to face and lived. The sun came up on Jacob as he passed Penuel. Therefore, the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh on the hip socket.

If you are familiar with the story of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel, then that is most likely the story you are familiar with. But, this story is completely different in every way than the first one I told. The first account in this post is from Genesis 35.9-15. The second account, the more familiar one, is from Genesis 32.22-32.

What is going on here?

Why are there two completely different accounts about the changing of Jacob’s name to Israel in the Bible?

Both accounts are from the book of Genesis. In fact, these accounts are just a few pages apart in the modern Bible.

Did Moses forget what he wrote in the first one when he wrote the second one?

Or, did Moses not write either account?

After reading Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman at the end of last year, I have come to believe that Moses did not actually write either account. In fact, Moses most likely did not write any of the first five books of the Bible, at least in the form that we have them.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman persuasively shows that there were actually four writers of the first five books of the Bible. This is commonly known as the JEPD theory. The letters JEPD stand for the “identity” of the four writers. Based on a combination of textual, linguistic, historical, and archaeological data, scholars have been able to identify four (at least) separate writers of the first five books of the Bible as well as which particular parts of those five books they wrote. I will summarize the identity of the four writers according to Friedman below.

The J stands for Jehovah. This writer only referred to God as Yahweh, or Jehovah, and therefore the letter “J” is used to identify him. This writer was someone particularly concerned with the kingdom of Judah. He focused on the patriarchs, the Abrahamic covenant, and the family of David.

The E stands for Elohim. This writer always referred to God as Elohim. That is, until Moses saw God in the burning bush and God told him that his name was I Am That I Am, or Yahweh. This writer was likely a Levite priest from Shiloh and a descendant of Moses. Unlike the J writer, the E writer emphasized the Mosaic covenant.

The P stands for Priest. Like the E writer, this writer likely was a priest too. However, the P writer most likely descended from Aaron and lived in Jerusalem. The P writer most likely wrote after the J and E writers. The P writer follows the same stories in the same order but retells the stories in a different way to emphasize the Aaronic priesthood in Jerusalem. In fact, the P writer distinguishes between the priests, who were from Aaron, and the Levites.

The D stands for Deuteronomist. The D writer wove the writings of J, E, and P together and wrote the entire book of Deuteronomy. That’s all I will say about the D writer because the D writer does not factor all that much in to Jacob’s name change for the purposes of this post.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman shows that each of these writers retold the history of Israel from a specific perspective. And, that retelling was crafted in a way to add credibility, weight, gravitas, to the kingdom – the northern or southern, Israel or Judah – they were from or their class of the priesthood.

So, about those two completely different stories of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel…

The account in Genesis 32.22-32, the more familiar account of Jacob wrestling with an unidentified man, was written by the E writer. The less well-known, certainly the less talked about, account in Genesis 35.9-15 was written by the P writer. We know this because of how the stories were told.

The P writer only has priests as the intermediary between God and man. The P writer never mentions angels. He never uses anthropomorphisms, dreams, or talking animals to reveal God. The accounts of the P writer tend to be shorter and more matter of fact. For the P writer, God is more cosmic and distant. This is exactly how the story of Jacob’s name change is told in Genesis 35.9-15.

Yet, the account in Genesis 32.22-32 has a mysterious, unidentified man wrestle with Jacob. Jacob believed this person to be God in some way. The E writer anthropomorphized God in his retelling of the story. God is more personal for the E writer in that Jacob believed he wrestled God in hand-to-hand combat and Jacob declared that he saw God face to face.

But, why two different accounts retold in two different ways?

What was the significance of these stories to these two writers?

Ultimately, these stories were about how Jacob/Israel received not just a blessing from God but the blessing of God. Therefore, the E and P writers were trying to lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham for their kingdom/priesthood. You know…the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

Remember, the E writer wrote from the perspective of the northern kingdom, Israel, and the Levites that descended from Moses. But, the P writer wrote from the perspective of the southern kingdom, Judah, and the descendants of Aaron. Hence, the P writer was more focused on Jerusalem, which was ultimately the capital of the southern kingdom, Judah.

Interestingly, the J writer records nothing about Jacob’s name being changed to Israel. But, that doesn’t mean the J writer had nothing to say about how Jacob got the blessing. The J writer told how Jacob got the blessing when Jacob tricked or deceived (some would say stole) Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25.29-34 and 27.1-45).

Why would the J writer recount Jacob instead of Esau receiving the blessing given originally to Abraham this way?

Why would the J writer portray Jacob in a negative light?

Remember, the J writer wrote from the perspective of the kingdom of Judah and the family of David. Judah sat between Israel and Edom, the kingdom that came from Esau. Israel was to the north while Edom was to the south of Judah. At one time, David had conquered Edom and effectively made it part of the kingdom of Judah. But, Jacob was more associated with the northern kingdom of Israel. John 4.4-6 says, “And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” This is why the Samaritan woman (Samaria being synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel) at the well said to Jesus, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” (John 4.11-12)

In a subtle way, the J writer was saying that the northern kingdom, Israel, which was closely associated with Jacob, could only lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God because Jacob tricked Esau and deceived Isaac into giving it to him. But, Judah, the kingdom of David, could lay claim to that blessing because David defeated Edom, the kingdom of Esau. Further, David had conquered lands in the northern kingdom too. Therefore, David, and consequently Judah, had a much more legitimate claim to the blessing of Abraham.

However, the E writer was laying claim to the blessing for the northern kingdom, Israel. In the E writer’s account of Jacob’s name change to Israel, Jacob says to the unidentified man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32.26) Jacob believed he received that blessing because wrestled and prevailed against this unidentified man. Even though Jacob never gets the man’s name, he calls the name of the place Peniel. “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32.30) Peniel, or Penuel, was in the northern kingdom, almost due east of Shechem. It was in the tribe of Gad, which meant it was on the east side of Jordan. So, the city that the E writer mentions as important was in the northern kingdom.

But, interestingly, it was not a city of religious importance in the northern kingdom. It was not Dan or Bethel, which were the cities Jeroboam set up as religious centers of worship. Nor did the writer mention Shiloh, which was in the northern kingdom and one of the resting places for the tabernacle. Nor was it one of the three cities that Samuel went to on his circuit of judging. Remember, the E writer is writing from the perspective of a Levite priest descended from Moses in the northern kingdom of Israel. This priest likely favored the northern kingdom politically but not religiously. Politically, because the northern kingdom did not have the place of centralized worship (Jerusalem) that the Aaronic priesthood had control over in Judah. Not religiously, because Jeroboam had set up his own priesthood passing over the Levites. Hence, the E writer associated a city that was in the northern kingdom but not a city of worship in that kingdom to the Jacob’s name change.

The E writer’s account also alludes to Moses because Jacob says he saw God face to face. There is only one other person in the first five books of the Bible that saw God face to face and that was Moses. But, unlike Jacob, Moses got the name of God when he encountered God. Therefore, Moses had more importance than Jacob. So, we can see the elements of the E writer’s story of Jacob’s name change to Israel fit with a Levite in the line of Moses in the northern kingdom trying to lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God.

The elements of the story in the P account try to lay claim to that blessing too. The P writer does it more blatantly though. In his account, Jacob doesn’t ask for a blessing in a subtle allusion to Abraham’s blessing by God. In the P account, God tells Jacob, “Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” (Genesis 35.11) This story is very much about who really has the blessing God gave Abraham. In fact, God gave Jacob the same commission he gave to Adam and the patriarchs.

For the P writer, who has claim to that blessing has to do with worship, which is why the P writer’s account has “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he [God] had spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He [Jacob] poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.” (Genesis 35.14) Jacob called the place Bethel. Yes, Bethel was one of the places Jeroboam put a center of worship in the northern kingdom. But, it was on the border of the kingdom of Israel and Judah. Technically, Bethel was in Benjamin. And, at one point had been conquered by David. Plus, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, it did not capture Bethel, which became a part of Judah. Hence, the P writer could be seen as laying claim to Bethel for the kingdom of Judah.

Further, in the P writer’s account, Jacob does get the name of God. God identifies himself to Jacob as God Almighty, or El Shaddai. Psalm 91 speaks of the shadow of Shaddai. This shadow was under the wings of the cherubim in the most holy place of the temple. Psalm 91 was written by David, which would please the P writer since David was from Judah. Further, only a priest from the line of Aaron was allowed to enter the most holy place because the high priest always came from the descendants of Aaron. Therefore, the P writer is emphasizing that Jerusalem, Judah, and the Aaronic priesthood have the best claim to the God’s blessing of Abraham because Jerusalem was the place of centralized worship. That is perhaps why the name El Shaddai is mentioned in this account of Jacob’s name change to Israel as an attempt by a priest of Aaron in Jerusalem to lay claim to the the blessing of Abraham.

There is so much more that could be said about the different accounts of how Jacob became the heir of the blessing of Abraham and his name change to Israel. Clearly, it is not what appears to us on the surface thousands of years later. And, we haven’t even spoken of the wrestling (the Hebrew word is used only in this story) between Jacob and the unidentified man or the strange saying about not eating the sinew from the hip because Jacob’s hip was put of socket in the wrestling match.

But, does any of the underlying political and theological intrigue that motivated these writers even matter to us today?

What significance does any of this have for us?

Is it even important to us what this may have meant to the original writers and hearers?

Does the “plain” meaning, if there even is one, matter to us today?

Or, is there an inspired meaning to Jacob’s name change to Israel, a meaning beyond what the original writers intended, that is just as important today as ever?

Ultimately, what matters to us is that Jesus is true Israel – not a certain ethnic group of people or certain small plot of land in the Middle East.

Isaiah 49.3, 5-6 says, “And he said to me, You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’…And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him – for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength – he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Luke applies this passage to Jesus in Luke 2.29-32. Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus – not some faction of the nation, kingdom, priests, or people of earthly Israel – is the one to whom the promises of Abraham belong.

Paul explicitly says this in Galatians 3.16 – “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offpsrings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Or, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.20, “For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

Remember those blessings..the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

They belong to Jesus. Those that find their identity in Jesus, true Israel (Romans 10 and 11), are the great nation God made of Jesus.

They speak of all peoples, nations, tribes, and languages belonging to Jesus and being blessed by him.

They refer to Jesus receiving all the land on the entire earth as his.

Jacob’s name change to Israel is not important so that a country almost 3,000 years later called Israel can lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham.

The name change is important and has its meaning in Jesus and Jesus alone.