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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 by Jesus, according to the Gospels, include: