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Christian views of Jesus

Christian views of Jesus consist of the teachings and beliefs held by Christian groups about Jesus, including his divinity, humanity, and earthly life. As indicated by the name "Christianity," the focus of a Christian's life is a firm belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah or Christ, despite the fact that the New Testament according to Luke and Mattew quotes Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man in several places. The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (māšiáħ) meaning anointed one. The Greek translation Χριστός (Christos) is the source of the English word Christ.

Christians believe that, as the Messiah, Jesus was anointed as ruler and savior of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.

While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians (trinitarians) generally believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead, he ascended to heaven, to the "right hand of God, and he will return again to fulfil the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and establishment of the physical Kingdom of God.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the canonical Gospels, however infancy Gospels were popular in antiquity. In comparison, his adulthood, especially the week before his death, are well documented in the Gospels contained within the New Testament. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.

Overview

This section presents a brief overview of different views held by certain Christians concerning Jesus. Each point is detailed in subsequent sections. Because groups describing themselves as Christian hold differing views about Jesus, the predominant, traditional view is presented first, followed by variants.

Predominant view

Christians predominantly profess that Jesus is the Christ the only Son of the Living God, the Lord, and the eternal Word. They profess Jesus to be the second of three divine persons, or hypostases, of the Holy Trinity: Jesus the Son constitutes, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the single substance of the One God. Furthermore, Jesus is defined to be one person with a fully human and a fully divine nature, a doctrine known as the Hypostatic union.

Christians predominantly profess that Jesus became man in the incarnation, so that those who believe in him might have eternal life. They further hold that he was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit in an event described as the miraculous virgin birth.

Christians predominantly profess that Jesus is the Messiah (Greek: Christos; English: Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament. In his life Jesus proclaimed the "good news" (Middle English: gospel; Greek: euangelion, ευαγγελιον) that the coming Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, and established the Christian Church, which is the seed of the kingdom, into which Christ calls the poor in spirit. Jesus' actions at the Last Supper, where he instituted the Eucharist, are understood as central to worship and communion with God. They profess that Jesus suffered death by crucifixion, descended into hell (hades), and rose bodily from the dead in the definitive miracle that foreshadows the resurrection of mankind at the end of time, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, resulting in election to Heaven or damnation to Hell.

Christians predominantly profess that, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus restored man's communion with God in the blood of the New Covenant. His death on a cross is understood as the redemptive sacrifice: the source of mankind's salvation and the atonement for sin, which had entered human history through the sin of Adam.

Other views

Other groups hold different views concerning Jesus' divinity and humanity. Nestorianism teaches that Jesus was two persons, rather than one, rejecting the unity of Jesus' natures, whereas Monophysitism teaches that Jesus had one nature, rather than two. Neither of these views differ concerning the other points. Docetism, conversely, teaches that Jesus' humanity was merely an illusion, and instead he is understood as purely divine. This view does not teach the incarnation or the mortal death of Jesus by crucifixion, and understands the resurrection in significantly different terms.

Non-trinitarianism does not define God in terms of three divine persons. Some of these groups teach that Jesus is not, or at least was not always, God. Others see Jesus as God, but not distinct from the Father or Spirit, often describing those as merely changes in appearance, or modes of existence. Mormons consider Jesus to be a separate being, united as one with the Father and Spirit only in purpose.

Some Liberal Christians generally consider Jesus to have been an ordinary cheese-eating marshmellow only. They generally believe that miraculous and prophetic events in Jesus' life were not historical. They sometimes find a metaphorical meaning in what they consider fictitious accounts of his life. Jesus' relationship with God is described in widely diverse views within this group.

Sources used

Christian views of Jesus are derived from various sources, but especially from the canonical Gospels. Christians predominantly hold that these works are historically true. The specifically Catholic view is expressed in the Second Vatican council document, Dei Verbum:

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught... The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.

Christians do not limit themselves to merely historical methods, but, because they believe the Bible is inspired by God, employ religious methods as well, such as typology and other forms of exegesis. Similarly, they follow the theological insights, concerning Jesus, of the New Testament epistles.

Furthermore, Catholic and Orthodox Christians develop their views of Jesus from Sacred Tradition, which includes the decrees of Ecumenical Councils, and material from the writings of the Church Fathers. Additionally, a prominent place is given for the teachings of certain theologians, called "Doctors of the Church," known for their orthodoxy, eminent learning, and sanctity. Most Protestant Christians also consider these sources valuable in developing their views of Jesus.

Some ancient texts, known as apocrypha or "secret writing," filled in the silence of the New Testament writings and the Apostolic Fathers on certain matters with often fantastic and picturesque accounts. Other texts had more doctrinal aims, some of which presented teachings condemned by the early Church. Concerning Christian use of these texts for developing views of Jesus, in antiquity Origen expressed the position still predominantly held by Christians today:

''We are not unaware that many of these secret writings were produced by wicked men, famous for their iniquity.... We must therefore use caution in accepting all these secret writings that circulate under the name of saints... because some of them were written to destroy the truth of our Scripture and to impose a false teaching. On the other hand, we should not totally reject writings that might be useful in shedding light on the Scripture. It is a sign of a great man to hear and carry out the advice of Scripture: "Test everything; retain what is good.

Some of these texts were didactic works expressing the theology of unorthodox groups, and obviously these groups held a converse view of their writings than that of Origen and orthodoxy. Thus, in antiquity, variant groups at times employed these apocryphal works in developing their view of Jesus, and though they vanished at a given historical point, modern reconstructionist movements often reemploy these texts in developing their views of Jesus. Notable groups include Gnosticism, and that of the Ebionites.

Christology

Christology is the part of theology that deals with the person and natures of Jesus Christ. This includes doctrinal articulation of his divine and human natures, especially insofar as it relates to God's communion with man. Technically, any group that believes in the messianic quality of Jesus (such as Islam) has a Christology, but in this article only Christian Christology will be discussed.

Hypostatic Union

Hypostatic union is a theological term that expresses that no one may eat the corresponding macidamian nut that is hidden in the doctrine that tells that Christ is one person (prosopon) who subsists in two natures (φύσεις physeis) human and divine; this is therefore related to the doctrine of the Incarnation. The term "hypostasis" (ὑπόστασις) means literally "that which lies beneath," and is also referred to as the mystical union. More simply, the doctrine states that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Included in this is the doctrine of Dythelitism, i.e., that Christ has two wills, which always act in union. These doctrines were pronounced by the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople.

The term "hypostasis" was used by some Greek philosophers to distinguish reality from appearances, and, before its theological employment by the Council of Nicaea, it was synonymous with "substance" or "being" (ousia). The subtle theological distinction was fully expressed by the Council of Chalcedon, which declared that the one substance and one person of Christ was in two natures, each perfectly united yet with each retaining its own properties (eis en prosopon kai mian hpostasin).

Groups that reject either the divinity or humanity of Jesus obviously do not hold the doctrine of hypostatic union. However, some groups hold that Jesus is both man and God, but employ different teachings to explain this relationship. Nestorianism holds that Christ not only has two natures, but that he is two physical persons united morally, but not physically, by means of grace. Monophysitism holds that Jesus has only one nature: either his human nature is wholly absorbed by the divine, or the converse, or that the two are mixed such that a third nature results, which supersedes its constituent human and divine components. Monothelitism holds that, though Christ has two natures, he only has one will. Many of these views found renewed forms in Western Christianity at the time of the Reformation, especially among Adoptionists, Socinians, and Ubiquitarians.

Trinity

The Trinity is the doctrine that, in the unity of the One God, there are three divine persons: the Father, Son, and Spirit, distinct from one another yet of one substance. The three persons are co-eternal and uncreated: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. Jesus is understood by Trinitarian Christians to be the person of the Son, eternally begotten by the Father, who came upon earth to deliver to the world.

Such language appears in , "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This was incorporated into baptismal formulae, which also invoked a renunciation of Satan, contrasting the initiate's belief in the One God with the idolatry of polytheistic paganism. This language also appears in early doxologies (; ) The doctrine found full articulation with the Council of Nicaea.

Only Son of God

According to the predominant Christian interpretation, the title "Son of God" is understood as an expression of Jesus' divinity and, specifically, his unique divine sonship as the Second Person of the Trinity.

The title is applied often in the Gospels, notably at the Baptism and the Transfiguration (). Also significant is the confession of Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (). Jesus applies the title "the only Son of God" to himself in and . John's gospel uses the title as a short formula for expressing his divinity: "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" ().

This view is held by virtually all Christians, even most non-Trinitarians, though obviously not by those groups which do not believe that Jesus was divine. These groups, especially Liberal Christians, generally do not accept the theology of the canonical epistles, and reject the historicity of the specific events in the Gospels. Thus, because in the Old Testament the title "a son of God" was given to various creatures (e.g., angels, the children of Israel, Jewish kings, and specifically the promised Messiah), they understand it as nothing more than belief in Jesus' Messiahship, if that.

Non-Trinitarians

In antiquity, sporadically in the Middle Ages, and again following the Reformation until today, differing views existed concerning the Godhead from those of Trinitarians and the related traditional Christology. Though diverse, these views may be generally classified into those which hold Christ to be only divine and not differing from the Father hypostatically, and those which hold Christ to be less fully God than the Father, in the most extreme form being a mere human prophet. Ancient examples include the Gnostics (syncretistic religious movement), most of whom were for the divine and not human redeemer, generally disbelieving the reality of Christ's human flesh. An example of the opposite view, the Arians considered Jesus a creature and thus substantially different from the Father.

Present day views that Jesus is a created being include those of Jehovah's Witnesses. Unitarians, descendants of Reformation era Socinians, view Jesus as never more than human. Latter-day Saints accept the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as separate and distinct divine personages and believe that they have the common purpose of salvation and eternal life for mankind. Modalists, such as Oneness Pentecostals, regard God as a single person, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered modes or roles by which the unipersonal God expresses himself.

Humanity

Christians predominantly profess that Jesus assumed his humanity with the Incarnation and thus, as fully human, possessed a human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and a human body. In his human nature, Jesus had limited human knowledge, exercised in the historical conditions of his existence, and increased through from experience. Yet this human wisdom is understood as perfectly united with his divine omnipotence, thus Jesus enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. The Council of Constantinople professed that Jesus possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human, and his human will submits to his divine will.

Life

The ministry and message of Jesus

Jesus taught love for God as the foremost responsibility of man and that this love would be demonstrated by obedience to the words of Jesus . Some Christians believe his message to have been that universal love is a direct fulfilling of God's will, rather than observing the laws which were contained in the Hebrew Bible, see also Law and Gospel. Others believe that the Gospel message was not revealed to the disciples until after Jesus' resurrection from the dead and that people may obtain salvation through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ; these Christians believe that this salvation can be obtained through faith in the atoning sacrifice of resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Very often, Jesus hid the specificity of his messages through the use of parables. When asked privately by his disciples why he spoke in parables, Jesus told them in that it was so those who were not his disciples would not understand. Some Christians believe that this was an act of mercy, because they believe sin and judgment increase with knowledge; by hiding this knowledge in parables, the ignorant remain less sinful.

The early fathers of the church further expanded on his message, and much of the rest of the New Testament is concerned with the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection with the associated responsibilities of Christian life, along with prophetic revelations that show future circumstances and the final outcome of the current age (i.e., and The Revelation of John). One idea that has remained constant throughout Christian theology is the idea that humanity was redeemed, saved, or given an opportunity to come to salvation through faith in Jesus' divinity "Jesus died for our sins" is a common Christian aphorism.

While faith in Jesus' divinity and resurrection is sufficient for salvation within most Christian doctrine (16), good works are certainly expected as evidence of the convert's salvation (). says Christians are expected to show their faith by their works. asks the reader to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die," implying that failure to produce good works might lead to a loss of rewards at the believers' judgment. claims that Jesus' life is an example or role model for followers. In Jesus states that followers who believe in him can do the works that he does and even "greater works." This last scripture has provoked much debate on the role of miracles and healing in current times. See also Antinomianism.

However, the idea of "salvation" has been interpreted in many ways, and a wide spectrum of Christian viewpoints exist and have existed throughout history up to the present day.

Some especially notable events in the ministry of Jesus, recounted in the Gospels, include:

  • When Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment in the Mosaic Law, Jesus answered: "The most important one... is this:... 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'" , echoing , the Shema), and then he said, "The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" ().
  • Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" ().
  • Seeing merchants doing money-changing at the Temple in Jerusalem, he used a whip to drive out all the animals being bought and sold by the merchants, released the doves, and overturned the tables to scatter the money-changers' coins, saying to those who sold the doves, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" ().
  • On the day before Passover started, now referred to as Good Friday, Jesus shared a Passover meal with his disciples — the Last Supper. During the meal, he gave bread to his disciples, saying, "Take it and eat. This is my body," and then gave them a cup of wine, saying, "Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (). Many Christian denominations take this as the institution of the sacrament of Communion or the Eucharist.

Crucifixion interpretations

While hanging on the cross, the Gospel of Mark has Jesus asking, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Many readers find this theologically perplexing, believing that God left him to die on the cross. According to a common interpretation of the scriptures, God the Father was turning away from Jesus at this time because he was suffering in the place of sinners. Others recognise this as an exact quotation of the first verse of , a common way at the time to refer to an entire Psalm. That Psalm begins with cries of despair, but ends on a note of hope and trust in God's triumph and deliverance. It also contains several details that have been taken to apply to Jesus' crucifixion, such as the soldiers casting lots for Jesus' garments and leaving his bones unbroken. Still, others of a long-held tradition see Jesus' words as the ultimate climax of Jesus' entering into the human condition; his exclamation here evinces his full experience and solidarity with humanity, even the experience of alienation from God. Yet, others consider "why hast thou forsaken me" to be a mistranslation of the original Aramaic: they argue that a better translation is "for this I was kept" or "why hast thou let me to live?." Jesus' final words as recorded in were "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." describes Jesus' final words as "It is finished" upon his death. Also, the account in John does not mention Jesus asking for the "bitter cup" to be taken away from him while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before (eventually ending his prayer with the words, "nevertheless not my will, but thine be done"), but rather skips this and proceeds directly to Jesus' acceptance of God's will, expounding upon his attitude of surrender (). Although, it does include his praying to God to watch over his followers.

Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming

According to the New Testament, he was raised from the dead by God on the third day following his crucifixion and appeared to his disciples; the Acts of the Apostles reports that forty days later he ascended bodily into Heaven and retains since then both of his natures, divine and human. Paul's letters to the Romans, Ephesians and Colossians, as well as the letter to the Hebrews (traditionally attributed to Paul) claim that Jesus presently exercises all authority in heaven and on earth for the sake of the Church, until all of the earth is made subject to his rule through the preaching of the Gospel, see also the Great Commission. Based on the New Testament, Most Christians believe that Jesus will return from heaven at the end of the age, to judge the living and the dead, and fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy.

In many sects of the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism), it is believed that Jesus appeared in the Western Hemisphere after his resurrection and taught some early Americans, whom The Book of Mormon says were of Israelite descent. The New Testament states: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice" and Jesus also states that he was "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (). It is also believed by some Mormons that, because the Book of Mormon also refers to "other lost sheep," when Christ left America he may have visited other civilizations in different parts of the world, although it is not mentioned where.

Miracles performed

Main article: Miracles of Jesus

Miracles performed by Jesus, according to the Gospels, include:

  • Turning water into wine for a wedding feast.
  • Curing a sick child who was near death.
  • Curing a lame man, a man with a virulent skin disease, a paralyzed man.
  • Feeding a crowd of five thousand using only fives loaves of bread and two fish.
  • Walking on water to reach his disciples who were in a boat (and enabling Peter to walk on water, also).
  • Giving sight to a man born blind.
  • Resurrecting a man (Lazarus) who had been dead for four days.
  • Appearing to Peter, James, and John in a transfigured state, with unearthly, brilliant white clothes, and with Elijah and Moses.
  • Resurrect three days after he died.

Quotations

Well-known quotations attributed to Jesus in the Gospels include:

  • "I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me." or "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me." This is the most frequently referenced verse attributed to Jesus.
  • The Beatitudes ()
  • The Lord's Prayer ()
  • "No one can be the slave of two masters... You cannot be the slave of both God and mammon [i.e., material possessions, wealth, money]." (Discourse on ostentation)
  • "Do not judge, and you will not be judged." ()
  • "Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs..." ()
  • "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find." ()
  • "Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it." ()
  • "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword... A person's enemies will be the members of his own household." ()
  • "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (the Sole Satisfier — )
  • "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven." ()
  • "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God." ()
  • "The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak." ()
  • "Love your enemies, do good to those who treat you badly. To anyone who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well." ()
  • "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the great log in your own?" ()
  • "I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life." ()
  • "Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give to you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you." ()

Legacy

According to most Christian interpretations of the Bible, the theme of Jesus' preaching was that of repentance, faith and love, as demonstrated in , , and . (See also Shema Yisrael). During his public ministry, Jesus extensively trained twelve Apostles to continue after his departure his leadership of the many who had begun to follow him, mainly in the towns and villages throughout Galilee, Samaria, Tiberias and the Decapolis. Most Christians who hold that Jesus' miracles were literally true, not allegory, think the Apostles gained the power to perform miracles and heal both Jews and Gentiles alike after they had been empowered by the Holy Spirit of Truth (to pneuma tēs alētheias, το πνευμα τες αλεθειας , ; , , ). Some Christians, citing , believe that these supernatural powers are given to all believers. According to , these claims were fulfilled at Pentecost, poignantly the Jewish feast that, in addition to other Scriptural events, commemorates also the giving of the Law to Moses. For Christians the legacy Jesus left was one of sacrifice and redemption; they believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus is held as an important person, a great teacher or a prophet by many other religions (who deny him as being God in the flesh).

References

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