In LD 5 we asked how we, sinners, can escape the punishment of hell that we deserve. The conclusion was that we need a very special Saviour. He must be a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is at the same time true God.
Now the Catechism identifies this special Saviour: he is our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the heart of the message of the Bible: Jesus is the only one who can atone for us and give us peace with God. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Of course, there is much to say about Jesus, and we will spend much time talking about what he has done for us. In LD 6, we explore some of the basic teachings about who he is.
Jesus Christ, the God-Man Saviour
1. His two-fold nature
2. His divine perfection
3. His saving work
His two-fold nature
In q&a 16 and 17, the Catechism repeats much of what it said in previous questions. Why it is, that Jesus must be a true and righteous man in order to be our mediator and redeemer. And why he must at the same time be true God.
He must be a true man, because in order for justice to be done, a human being must pay the price for the sin committed by human beings. At the end of Hebrews 2, we read that the Son of God shared our flesh and blood, and was made like us in every respect, so that he could be an effective high priest and make the sacrifice of atonement that was necessary.
He must be a righteous man, because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others. In Heb. 4:15, Jesus is described as someone who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Just as the sacrifices in the Old Testament required an unblemished animal, that is, an animal with which nothing was wrong, so Jesus the righteous one is the unblemished sacrifice needed for our sin.
And he must be true God, because it takes more than a mere human being to undergo the judgment of God, let alone to give righteousness and new life to others. This is why it is so important that we know Jesus as more than just a fellow human being. This is why the Nicene Creed insists: he is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God.”
But if all that is true, then Jesus is indeed the most remarkable person ever. He is at the same time true man and true God. Not half human and half God; not some new kind of creature that is halfway between man and God; but at the same time true man and true God. When you think about it, it may seem a contradiction. Man is finite, God is infinite. Man is physical, God is spiritual. Man is limited, God is all-powerful. How can someone be all of that at the same time?
I don’t have the answer. Nobody really has the answer—the fact that Jesus is the God-man (as the old church fathers called him) is a deep mystery of the faith. Theologians speak about the hypostatic union. “Hypostasis” is another word for Person; so “hypostatic union” means that in the one Person of Jesus Christ, the divine nature and the human nature are united.
It is worth reading what the Belgic Confession has to say about this, in Article 19.
“We believe that by this conception the person of the Son of God is inseparably united and joined with the human nature, so that there are not two sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person. Each nature retains its own distinct properties: His divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth. His human nature has not lost its properties; it has beginning of days and remains created. It is finite and retains all the properties of a true body. Even though, by his resurrection, he has given immortality to his human nature, he has not changed its reality, since our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body.”
“However, these two natures are so closely united in one person that they were not even separated by his death. Therefore, what he, when dying, committed into the hands of his Father was a real human spirit that departed from his body. Meanwhile his divinity always remained united with his human nature, even when he was lying in the grave. And the divine nature always remained in him just as it was with him when he was a little child, even though it did not manifest itself as such for a while.”
This article shows just some of the deep mystery of the hypostatic union, of the two natures in the one person of our Saviour. This is something to ponder, not so much to really grasp how it works, but to be filled with praise and admiration of our Lord Jesus himself.
Some people complain that the teaching about Jesus’s two natures is not found in the Bible. It is true that the Bible does not explicitly say that he is the God-man, that he has both a divine nature and a human nature. Those terms were developed by theologians as a handy summary. But it is a summary based on the Bible. The Christian church recognized this truth early on. For instance, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed very explicitly say that you cannot be saved if you don’t believe that Jesus is true God and true man.
To show that the Bible indeed points us this way, let me quote just a few passages from the New Testament. First, some passages that confirm that Jesus Christ is true God.
John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Later in this chapter, “the Word” is clearly identified with Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 1:2. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
And some passages that confirm that Jesus Christ is true man:
John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” The word “flesh” here means a physical being.
Hebrews 2:17. “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect.”
Also, Paul in his letters often makes a comparison between Adam and Jesus. This comparison would not work if Jesus was not a true human being like Adam.
The most important thing to remember from all this, is how special Jesus is. He is the God-man; and if he were anything less than true man and true God, he could not possibly be an effective mediator between God and us. We need a Saviour who is both God and man; and, thanks to the wonderful grace of our God, that is precisely who Jesus is.
His divine perfection
In q&a 18, the Heidelberg Catechism finally presents Jesus by name. Who is that Mediator? Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ! In the rest of that answer, the Catechism quotes a verse from 1 Corinthians 1 (:30), which gives a wonderful description of our Lord, and especially the divine qualities that make him able to save us. In the rest of the lesson I will focus on this description.
First of all, this verse says that Jesus became to us wisdom from God. If you were to ask a random Christian what Jesus is, you probably won’t get this answer: “he is the wisdom of God.” But it is really a beautiful and profound answer, as we discover when we dig a little deeper.
When Paul wrote this verse, he was dealing with a specific problem in the church of Corinth. There were people who thought that Paul’s message about Jesus was strange and not quite sophisticated. It was not as interesting and fascinating as some other philosophical ideas. Paul admits that there is truth to this: the gospel sounds silly and foolish, because it is not the kind of message people typically enjoy hearing. But what is more important, the gospel brings you to Jesus Christ, and he is the wisdom of God in person.
In Paul’s time there were several cultural movements with a philosophical bent. Many people listened to lectures of their favorite speaker, to get advice about life—similar to today’s podcasts. Many of these speakers called themselves philosophers, “lovers of wisdom”. When they spoke about “wisdom”, it was often in lofty terms. Wisdom as the way our human minds can share in something divine. Wisdom as access to God’s mind. Wisdom as the deepest principle in the universe that helps us make sense of things. To this Greek culture of wisdom-pursuers, Paul says: Jesus is that Wisdom. He is the way and the truth that give access to God.
Also, many in Paul’s audience would have been Jews, familiar with the Old Testament and with later Jewish philosophy. In the Bible we find the character of Wisdom personified, in Proverbs 8. In this chapter, Wisdom introduces herself as a guide to give us fellowship with God; but Wisdom herself seems to be a divine person, representing God himself. This line of thinking was taken up by Jewish theologians. You see this, for instance, in the apocryphal book called “Wisdom of Solomon”, a document from around 50 BC, which is still printed in Roman Catholic Bibles.
So when Paul writes that Jesus “became to us wisdom from God”, he is not just saying that Jesus helps us know God better. Rather, he identifies Jesus as the divine person who represents all that God is to us, as the deep principle that keeps the world together, as the only way to truth and understanding.
Elsewhere, Paul works this out in more detail. For instance, in Col. 1 he says about Jesus Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God;” “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth;” “in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
When you encounter the person who is the Wisdom from God in person, you essentially meet God himself. And that happens when you believe in Jesus Christ. He is everything we could possibly need to be close to God. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” said Jesus. And his disciple John said famously: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and mercy.” In Jesus Christ, God has come directly into our world and into our lives; and he has come to save us and to love us. We could not possibly ask for more!
His saving work
The Catechism, in quoting 1 Cor. 1:30, mentions three keywords that summarize what this means for us. Jesus, who is the ultimate Wisdom from God, is also our righteousness and our sanctification and our redemption.
Righteousness is related to God’s justice; it means that in the eyes of God, the Judge, we are in the right, free from guilt. As we saw in the previous lessons, we have lost that righteousness because we have sinned. But Jesus brings righteousness with him, and gives it to us. That is how he can be our Saviour. One way the Bible describes this is in terms of “putting on” God’s righteousness like a dress or a robe: “The LORD has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Is. 61:10)
Sanctification is related to God’s holiness; it means that Jesus makes us holy, that he consecrates us, makes us fit to be in the presence of the holy God. When Adam and Eve had sinned, they hid from God because they felt how unholy they were. Jesus brings up back in the open, back into the light of God’s holiness. He takes away our unholiness, bit by bit, so that we are more and more comfortable in our fellowship with our great God. In practice, this means that we grow in understanding of who God is, in love for him, in eagerness to worship him, in intimacy of prayer, in living a life of commitment and self-sacrifice. Through sanctification, we become more and more able to fulfill that command: “Be holy, as I, the Lord, am holy.”
Redemption is one of the words that summarizes our salvation. The coming of Jesus means freedom. Freedom from all the things that keep us bound, that keep us away from deep enjoyment of God. Through his preaching, Jesus sets us free from ignorance and lies. Through his atoning sacrifice, Jesus sets us free from guilt. Through his victory on the cross, he sets us free from the devil and his minions. Through his victory over the grave, he sets us free from death. Through his Holy Spirit, he sets us free from a meaningless life in the depths of sin.
Our Lord Jesus Christ became for us the wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. He can be all these things because he is uniquely qualified, being true man and true God, free from sin, full of grace and love and power. And because he is all these things, we have hope in life. We can look forward to perfect peace with God, unending blessing, and eternal life with him.
The most amazing thing is that such a special Saviour exists. The Lord did not have to provide a mediator for us. The Son of God could have remained in heavenly glory, instead of taking on our human life. But he came, anyway, and because of that all is well. God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, to save all his people from their sin.
We spent quite some time talking about our sin and guilt, and how seriously in trouble we are because of it. But now, in Lord’s Day 6, we see why this was necessary. Now we can appreciate all the more who Jesus is. He can and will take care of all our sin and shortcomings. He is the God-man. He is the very Wisdom from God. And if only you believe in him, you will find all righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that you will ever need.
- How does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ is true God? Give at least two passages.
- How does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ is true man? Give at least two passages.
- What does it mean that Jesus has become for us the wisdom of God? (1 Cor. 1:30)
- Explain what it means that Jesus is (a) our righteousness, (b) our sanctification, and (c) our redemption.
- It is not easy to understand or explain the two natures of Christ. If an unbelieving friend asks why this teaching is so important, what would you say?
- In Jesus, the wisdom of God became available for sinful people. How do you take hold of the wisdom of God? How does it affect your life?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||1 Corinthians 1:18-30. If the world thinks our Christian faith is silly, what is our response?|
|Tuesday||Proverbs 8. The personified Wisdom in this chapter is often identified with Jesus Christ. What is said about Wisdom that sheds light on our Saviour and his work??|
|Wednesday||John 3:1-15. What, according to Jesus himself, is so unique about his identity that he can reveal truth that no one else knows?|
|Thursday||Hebrews 7. Name at least three things that make Jesus better qualified than mere human priests to save us. (Hint: v. 16, 21, 27.)|
|Friday||1 Corinthians 15:42-49. In what way is Jesus essentially more glorious than Adam ever was?|
|Saturday||1 Timothy 2:1-7. How does Jesus’ mediatorship affect the way we deal with other people?|