Lesson 5 - The Person and Work of Jesus Christ





We have already stated that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  We believe he is our savior.  We believe he died on the cross after living a perfect life that did not deserve death.  We believe that he rose again.  But is there more that we need to know and realize to truly understand how and why he is qualified and able to be our savior?  The answer is yes.

Before we can truly understand why Jesus is qualified to be our savior, there are two critical aspects of his life that we must address – and that we must believe – about Jesus.  The first is the fact that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man.  The second is his virgin birth.  Without these two critical facts, Jesus is not qualified to be our savior.


Our understanding of who Jesus Christ is has not always been as clear-cut as we might think.  The early church had a very difficult time reconciling the divine and human aspects of Christ.  As a result, many views were presented and taught.  At some point, every one of them – including the one we hold today as truth – were deemed heresy by those not holding that particular view.  Yes, there was a time in church history when it was considered heresy to believe that Jesus was both 100% man and 100% God.  Once this doctrine was finally adopted, though, there were still many who did not agree with it.  Ultimately, they were cast out of the orthodox church, but these heretical view still maintained a following for a very long period of time.  Believe it or not, some of them may have even been instrumental in spreading the gospel.


Early Heretical Views of Christ


Gnosticism (pronounced nah-sti-cism) and Docetism.  The term Gnosticism originates from the Greek word, gnosis, which means knowledge.  During the early church period, Gnostics believed they held a secret, mystic, knowledge that no one else held.  Gnosticism became a fairly popular view because it appealed to the intellectually minded.  Gnostics generally held a Greek philosophical dualistic view of good vs. evil.  That means that many believed that anything in the flesh was evil and anything in the spirit was good.  As you can imagine, this presented many problem, because under this view even evil spirits would be seen as good.  Furthermore, if the flesh was evil, then it did not matter what we did in the flesh.  As such, Gnostics often believed they could live a sinful, fleshly life without consequence.

Because of such passages as Colossians 1:24-27 – which basically speaks of how Christ has made known to us the mysteries hidden for ages - “Christian Gnostics” believed that Jesus came to grant us the “secret” knowledge of God.   While this is true, we know that Paul was referring to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ rather than by works of the Law – and not some secret to which only a few select were given access.  Docetism developed out of Gnosticism as early as 70AD from those “Christian Gnostics” who thought that since flesh was evil, God would never send his son as a human.  They believed that Jesus was “pure spirit” and only appeared to be physical for our benefit.  John’s gospel and the letters of John are a response to early Gnostic beliefs – arguing very strongly in support of the fact that Christ was, without question, in the flesh (see for example 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7).


Arianism.  Arianism originated from the teachings of the late 2nd/early 3rd century Alexandrian church leader, Arius.  Arius taught that Jesus, the “begotton” son of God, was the highest created being – created in eternity past – and not God himself.  He was rightfully divine, but not THE God and not equal to God.  One passage he used to support this claim was John 14:28.  Other than the fact that Arius did not believe that Jesus was God, there was no difference in the gospel message he preached and the gospel message of the rest of orthodox Christianity – that is, both preached salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, who came, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and then rose from the grave.

Arius’ teaching nearly created a schism in the church, because many biblical scholars of that day agreed with his interpretation of scripture.  For many years, the church went back and forth with respect to his teaching.  When the leading bishops in the church agreed with him, the Trinitarian view was considered heresy.  When the leading bishops in the church disagreed with him, Arianism was considered heresy.  Arius was pronounced a heretic in 325, was later exonerated, and then pronounced a heretic again in 381. Eventually Arius and his followers were ex-communicated and exiled.  They ultimately made their way into the Celtic regions and evangelized the Celtics.  Modern manifestations of Arianism include the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.


Eutychianism (pronounced you-tick-ian-ism).  Eutyches lived and taught in Constantinople in the late 4th Century.  He taught that Jesus’ human nature combined with his divine nature such that he was neither fully human nor fully divine.  Like Arianism, the Eutychianism gospel was the same as our own orthodox view except for its understanding of the nature of Jesus.  When the church declared Eutychianism heresy at the Council of Chalcedon, it resulted in a schism in the church.   Coptic Orthodoxy (Egypt), Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Syriac Orthodoxy, and Armenian Orthodoxy all still hold to this view.


Nestorianism.  Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople in the early 5th Century. Nestorius believed and taught that Jesus consisted of two persons, a divine person and a human person.  At times, the divine person was in charge; at other times, the human person was in charge.  Mary was not the “God bearer” because she only gave birth to the human person.  As such, Jesus was born a man just like every other man, but he was later “adopted” as the Son of God.  The belief originates from combining the concepts that we are adopted with the concept that Jesus was the “firstfruit” of the redeemed – see 1 Cor 15:20,23. Other than this fact about the nature of Jesus, Nestorianism is otherwise similar to orthodox Christianity. After being declared heresy, those who still held the Nestorian view were exiled and evangelized Persia and Asia.


Our view that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man was ultimately settled in 451 AD at the Council of Chalcedon.  Its primary purpose was to settle the issue and put to bed all false teachings about Jesus Christ.


The Council of Chalcedon and the Chalcedonian Creed


The Chalcedonian Creed reads as follows:


“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;


truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;

consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;

in all things like unto us, without sin;


begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;


one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;


as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”


There are several incredibly important aspects about this creed that need to be pointed out because they are important to our understanding of salvation.


“Perfect in Godhead” and “Perfect in manhood.”  We believe that Jesus was not some combination of God and man – a result that is neither fully man nor fully God.  Rather, we believe that somehow, through divine mystery that we do not understand, Jesus was BOTH 100% God and 100% man.

“Begotten before all ages of the Father.”  We believe that while Jesus is the “only begotten son” of God, this does not mean that he was created by God.  He is God, part of the Holy Trinity. To whatever extent he was “begotten” of the Father, it was before anything was created and does not diminish his equality with God the Father or God the Holy Spirit.

“To be acknowledged in two natures.”  We believe that Jesus has both a human nature and a divine nature.   The fact that he has a human nature means that he could experience and feel everything that you and I can experience and feel.   This means Jesus could be tempted, it means he felt pain and suffering, and it means he felt joy and happiness.  The fact that he has a divine nature means that he remains the second person of the Trinity – equal to God in every respect and, in fact, was himself God.

“One Person and One Substance.”  We believe that his existence through these two natures does not mean he was actually somehow two persons or one person with two natures at two different times.  Rather the two natures are perfectly united into one person.  The phrase that is used to describe the joining together of the two natures of Jesus Christ into a single person is called the Hypostatic Union.


At the end of the day, all of these heresies may seem like their differences are too subtle to make a difference; and for most of them, they do not really change the message of the gospel – that is, Jesus died, was buried, was raised on the third day for the forgiveness of sins and those who place their faith in him can have eternal life.  So this begs the question as to why the Hypostatic Union is so important?


The Importance of the Hypostatic Union


First and foremost, Jesus MUST be 100% God.   We believe that the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus at the cross.   Man is not capable of satisfying the wrath of God; only God could satisfy the wrath of God. Romans 3:25-26 and 1 John 2:2 both speak of how Jesus is the propitiation of our sins.  That means he was an appeasement of the wrath of God on our behalf.  He did this by withstanding the full weight of God’s wrath towards sin.  What man could ever stand before the wrath of God?  None. Only God could endure his own wrath.  Only God could endure the punishment of Hell by bearing the sins of the world through his death.  The only way we could have Christ’s righteousness imparted to us would be if he paid the penalty for all of our sins.  No man could do this. Man cannot even bear the penalty of his own sins.  Only God could endure this suffering and punishment. Furthermore, only God, after bearing those sins, could conquer death and hell (see Hebrews 2:14).

On the other hand, Jesus MUST be 100% Man.  Only a man could undo Adam’s failure.  Romans 5:17 tells us that it was a man who was disobedient – bringing death – and therefore it must be a man who would bring life through his obedience. Jesus is often considered the Second Adam.  As children of Adam who inherited his sin nature, all of mankind is condemned – not because of Adam’s sin, but because of our own sinfulness.  We all received this nature from Adam and we have all sinned.   Only a man can undo the failure of the first man, Adam. Likewise, only a man could serve as a mediator between God and Man (see Hebrews 2:17).  Jesus is to be considered a high priest of the order of Melchizedek – which predated Moses and the priests of the law.  The high priest is responsible for conducting the sacrifice on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of sins.  The high priest was always to be a man.  Finally, only a man could face the temptations necessary to demonstrate obedience.  Simple forgiveness of sins would not have been sufficient for us to merit eternal life in heaven (you can forgive someone but they still must endure the consequences of their actions).  Jesus had to live an obedient life in order to grant us not only forgiveness, but also righteousness.  To be obedient, he must face temptation.  However, God cannot be tempted (see James 1:13).  Jesus must be a man in order to face and overcome temptation to live an obedient life.


Therefore, although the “message” of the gospel was the same in all of these heresies, the fact remains that Jesus MUST be 100% God and 100% man in order for our salvation to be fully effective.


This brings up an important question… could Jesus have sinned?  In his humanity… YES!  Because he was human and had a human nature like ours, he bore the full brunt of temptation just like we do, except we fail.  On the other hand… In his divinity… NO! We have the confidence to know that because he was divine and also had a divine nature, he would never sin.

This then brings up a further question… did Jesus resist temptation in his human nature or did he rely on his divine nature?  The answer lies in a better understanding of what the Hypostatic Union means.


The Meaning of the Hypostatic Union


The Hypostatic Union means that Jesus added humanity to his divinity.  As Paul so eloquently and beautifully put it in Philippians 2:6-7 – “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”   It was not the other way around.  Jesus did not add divinity to his humanity.  God came to us; we did not come to God.  Adding humanity to his divinity, however, did create certain limitations for Jesus.  Being God, he still had the attribute of being omni-present, but in his human form here on earth, he could only be in one place at a time.

The Hypostatic Union also means that the two natures function together in one person rather than independently as some of the early heresies suggested.  Jesus did not sometimes rely on his human nature and sometimes rely on his divine nature.  He was always acting through both his human nature and his divine nature at the same time.  As a result, we cannot consider Jesus in either human or divine terms, but must think of him in both terms simultaneously.  We know what it means to be human, and we think we know what it means to be divine.  Jesus is both.  In other words, when we consider how Jesus might respond, we cannot say he would act in a certain manner because he was human, or that he would act differently because he was divine. We must consider that he was a God-man – and in many respects that means we really cannot understand him at all.  

Ultimately, we have to recognize that the Hypostatic Union was the work of an infinite God who is able to accomplish things we cannot even comprehend.  This is one of those things.  We want to “fit” our view of Jesus into a box that we can understand, but who he really is cannot be comprehended by our finite wisdom.


The Virgin Birth


Given everything we have said about Jesus, how important is it really to say that Jesus was born of a virgin?

To begin with, we need to clarify that we are only talking about the virginal conception of Christ.  In Roman Catholic terms, the virgin birth of Jesus means more than just the fact that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth.  For Roman Catholics, it also means that Jesus literally passed through Mary’s uterine walls.  This is because Roman Catholics also believe in the eternal virginity of Mary. 

Most Protestant Christians do not believe that. “Virgin Birth” means something different to Catholics than it does to Protestants. We both use the term, but we mean different things.  In general, Protestants believe that Jesus was born naturally like any other human, except that he was not conceived through the normal union of a man and woman.  Rather, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t a union between Mary and God – it was literally a Virginal Conception. Both, however, do believe in the virginal conception and Christ and for the same reasons hold it as being of utmost importance.


The Importance of the Virgin Birth


First and foremost, the Virgin Birth verifies Christ’s divinity.   Isaiah 7:14 says “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, And shall call his name Immanuel’ – meaning God with us.  Jesus was born of a virgin and that virgin birth signified his divinity.

Secondly, the Virgin Birth certifies that Jesus is a New Adam (see Romans 5:7).  Jesus had a human nature, but it was not one corrupted by being a descendant of Adam. The Holy Spirit came over the Virgin Mary, and she conceived a son that did not inherit the sinful nature of Adam.  Furthermore, because he was born naturally, we can be assured that he was fully human.

Interestingly, there are some very interesting and critically important questions that arise because of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.  For example, was Jesus really of the lineage of King David if he was not really Joseph’s biological son?  According to both Jewish and Roman law, adoption granted full genealogical rights.  When a child was adopted, he became a part of the genealogical lineage of the adopting father.  This is how a number of the Roman emperors hand picked their successors – they simply adopted them.  Joseph adopted Jesus as his first-born son. Furthermore, most scholars believe that Mary was also a direct descendant of David and use this to explain some of the differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke.

Another question that arises was whether or not Mary really was Jesus’ mother or whether she was only a surrogate.  In other words, did Mary contribute to Jesus’ DNA or did God essentially place a created embryo in her womb?  There is much debate about this, because if he did have part of Mary’s DNA, then at least ½ of him would be corrupted by her sin nature.  The Roman Catholics answer this question through the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, where they believe that, although she was not the result of a Virgin Birth, her birth was miraculous in that she was born without original sin or corruption.  This Catholic belief goes back possibly as early as the 5th Century, but was dogmatized in 1854.

Protestants do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, but are still divided as to whether Jesus contained any of Mary’s DNA.  Those who believe she contributed to half his DNA suggest that when the Holy Spirit came upon her, that it somehow prevented her depraved nature from passing on to Jesus. Others believe that the only way Jesus could be the New Adam is if Jesus was 100% created in the same sense that Adam was 100% created. 


The Atoning Work of the Cross


All of this discussion ultimately points to how and why Jesus’ death on the cross serves to grant us salvation.  Every sinner has four basic needs.  First, every sinner deserves to die as the penalty for his own sin.  Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but for each and every one of us, this is a debt we cannot repay.  As such, the sinner needs someone to pay the wage for us.  Jesus pays this wage by being a sacrifice of our sins.  Hebrews 9:26 says, “but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

Second, every sinner deserves to bear God’s wrath against his sin.  Romans 1:18 says that the wrath of God is being pour out against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of mankind. As such, the sinner needs someone to appease God’s wrath.  Jesus is our propitiation – that is, he appeases the wrath of God by taking on his wrath.  1 John 4:10 says “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Third, the sinner is separated from God by his sins.  Isaiah 50:2 confirms that our separation from God is the direct result of our sin.  The sinner, therefore, needs someone to reconcile him to God.  Jesus is that reconciliation, bringing peace between God and man. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says, “ And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”

Finally, the sinner is in bondage to sin and to the kingdom of Satan.  In John 8:34, Jesus himself tells us that anyone who practices sin is in bondage to that sin.  The sinner needs freedom from that bondage.  It is Jesus who redeems us from the hold that Satan and sin have on our lives.   Hebrews 2:15 tells us that it is Jesus who “deliver[s] them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”  Likewise, Romans 6:22 says, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”


It is a beautiful thing to know that we have a savior who meets every need we have and accomplishes all that is necessary to redeem us.  Jesus is this savior.  Because of who he is – the God-man, born of a virgin, who suffered and died in our place, but who defeated sin and death - we have confidence in the fact that there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved than the name of Jesus Christ.