Skip to main content

New Testament portraits of Christ

Who is Jesus to you? Reflect on that for a minute. Your mind will probably first turn to some standard explanations that you learned in church. But do you really understand what that means very deeply? Is it an understanding that really challenges your spiritual life?

Jesus was a very complex character. He is a complex person, and far more complex as God and man in one. We can better know and appreciate him when we pull away from the two-dimensional Sunday school representations of Jesus, and see him as a real person who lived and acted in history with other people. And as a person he is more fascinating and mysterious because this man is also a member of the divine Trinity who walked among us. These concepts have real implications for how we live. This blog is the first in a series that will look at some insights from different parts of the New Testament, by touching on different perspectives of Jesus, especially viewed within the bigger context.

The New Testament writers show us different aspects of his personality and character, and the NT not only presents the human and divine Jesus, but sometimes contrasts and juxtaposes them. We see the Jesus who is divine and mysterious, and the humble Jesus who gives folksy parables, serves the common people, and dies for us. Scripture presents us with this duality of the incarnation, which is sometimes hard to reconcile. How can someone be both God and man? Scripture does not try to answer these in a systematic way, but such questions have always arisen in Church history. Could he really undergo temptation, and did he overcome it solely because of his divine nature? To what degree did he lay aside his divine powers in becoming a man? Why does he not invoke his own divine powers on a greater scale? Theologians have spilled much ink over these and other questions (especially in early Church history, even to the point of theological hair-splitting about details of how his divine and human nature go together).

This blog series, however, is not for theologizing over such questions. Rather, the Scriptures invite us to think more about who he is personally, and how we are to respond. We will learn from how he lived and taught, how he interacted with certain people, and why some NT writers used certain expressions to describe him.

These all have implications for how we understand him, and in turn, how we live. For example: Why was he born and raised in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth? Why does he do miracles while teaching in a poor, remote province, instead of more world-changing, attention-getting actions? Why does he tell those kinds of parables? What were his attitude toward money or power? What should we do with our money? What were his attitudes toward about success and living a good life? How should we view people of other social classes and other races? What do you think about those questions? (Take a few minutes and ponder these yourself.)

Do our values align with his? Our answers say something about what we think of Jesus, and our understanding of Jesus shapes the kind of daily life that we lead. How we answer such questions is a gauge of the kind of religion that we follow, whether it is a healthy, life-transforming faith, or something more banal.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Gossip, accusation and spiritual warfare

Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” [1 Cor. 12:20]. Gossip is diagnosed as a serious spiritual problem, not a harmless form of conversation and social entertainment, as many in the secular world would view it.God views it differently. Gossip is the opposite of the love and grace that God wants to display in our lives.
Gossip is often exaggerated (and thus, untrue), or outright fabricated. Even church people engage in gossip in a seemingly sanctimonious guise (“We really ought to pray for X – you wouldn’t believe what he told me yesterday!...”). Whether secular or “christianized,” gossip betrays trust. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” [Prov. 11:13]; “A perverse person stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates clo…

Book review: Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Green eggs and ham, as a recolorized staple breakfast food, captures the reader's attention by turning this diurnal sustenance into an unexpected and apparently unappetizing foodstuff. It thus symbolizes the existential angst of modern life, wherein we are unfulfilled by modern life, and are repelled by something that might impart nourishment. The "protagonist" to be convinced of its desirability remains anonymous, while the other actor refers to himself with an emphatic identifier "Sam I am", formed with a pronominal subject and copular verb of existence. This character thus seeks to emphasize his existence and existential wholeness, and even establish a sense of self-existence, with an apparent Old Testament allusion to Elohim speaking to Moses as the "I Am". This emphatic personal identifier thus introduces a prominent theme of religious existentialism to the narrative, probably more in line with original Kierkegaardian religious existentialism, ra…

Portraits of Christ: John’s Gospel, part 2

In John’s Gospel we have an emphasis on Jesus that is unique compared to the other gospels. John not only emphasizes his deity, but his mysteriousness. The reader is left with an impression of Jesus as a mystical teacher, in the sense that his words and actions are not only those of a profound religious teacher, but of one who is other-worldly. So often in this gospel we read of Jesus making statements that the crowds, the religious teachers, and even his own disciples sometimes could not fathom.

For starters, there are the “I am” statements (e.g., I am the bread of life; I am the living water; I am the good shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life), which were clearly claims to divinity, for these statements in the Jewish context referred to God’s title “I am,” given when Moses inquired of his name at the burning bush. Jesus makes much use of mystical metaphors like these and others, like all the ‘day’ and ‘night’ references in this book, which portrays him as mystical or mys…