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HISTORY of Christian Theology
The Son of God was born and lived in Judea where he quietly changed the world. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus established his divine role as the Savior of the World. He proclaimed his divinity and performed miracles; taught a gospel of faith, hope and love; organized a movement; was crucified and rose from the dead; and charged his disciples to teach all nations.

Jesus Proclaimed his Divinity and Performed Miracles

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

C.S. Lewis laid out the argument of Christ’s divinity well when he said: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pg 55-56).

Some people have criticized this trilemma because it leaves out the option that the Jesus of the Bible may simply be a legend. Even though this is technically possible, C.S. Lewis countered this premise by pointing out that the strict monotheistic Jewish culture made it the least likely place for such a legend to develop and it appears that Jesus’s closest followers initially had difficulty accepting his divinity. As a literary historian, C.S. Lewis also pointed out that the four gospels do not contain the typical characteristics of ancient legends, which lends credibility to the biblical narrations. (C.S. Lewis, What Are We to Make of Jesus?, 1950).

So, what did Jesus say about his divinity?

Two of the four gospels (Matthew and Luke) relate the story of his divine virgin birth, but we have no biblical record of Jesus confirming the veracity of this version of events. Even though it is likely that Jesus discussed the unique circumstance of his birth, the best biblical evidence we have regarding his birth points to his mother Mary and his brother James, who became an apostle after Christ’s resurrection, as the source of this information.

… a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”

baptism of jesus

The first recorded time when Jesus’s divinity was publicly expressed was when he was baptized by John the Baptist and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” which was heard by others. (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11). Jesus immediately went to the desert where Satan tempted him to prove his divinity and angels visited him. (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; Mark 1:12-13). The only way we would know about this private struggle is if Jesus shared this experience with one or more of his trusted followers.

Jesus then returned to his home town, Nazareth, and declared his divinity by reading a prophesy in the scroll of Isaiah regarding the Lord and proclaiming that it applied to him. The worshipers were incensed and attempted to kill him for blasphemy before he escaped. (Luke 4:16-30).

woman at the well with Jesus

Jesus traveled to Samaria where he met a woman at Jacob’s well. After telling her that he could create a well within her to produce living water,

“The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.”

(John 4: 25-26; see the whole chapter).

Jesus healing the sickJesus began his ministry among the people of Judea. In addition to teaching his new doctrine to the people, he performed many miracles. His fame spread, and John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the promised messiah. Jesus told them to report that they saw “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them,” as evidence of his divinity. (Matt 11:5).

Later, when he was challenged by the Pharisees for not honoring their rules regarding the Sabbath, he declared that he was the Lord of the Sabbath and was greater than their temple. Shocked, the Pharisees held a council to figure out the best way to destroy him. (Matt 12:6-8,14; see whole chapter).

Jesus divine gloryNear the end of his three-year ministry, Jesus asked his disciples who the people said he was. After various responses, he turned to Peter, his senior apostle, and asked, “But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 16:15-17). Soon afterwards, Jesus took his three leading apostles, Peter, James and John, to the top of a mountain where he was transfigured into a shining glorious being and “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:2-8)
Jesus told his disciples that he was the Good Shepard who would give his life for his sheep, but that his Father had given him power to live again. (John 10:11-18). Shortly before he entered Jerusalem for the last week of his mortal life, Jesus told his beloved friend, Mary, who was grieving the death of her brother, that he was the resurrection and the life, and that all those who believed in him would live forever. (John 11:25-26).

At Jesus’s trial, “the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am…”

At Jesus’s trial, “the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62; Matt 26:63-64).

Based on the first-hand record of eye-witnesses, Jesus declared that he was divine and the literal Son of God.

A New Testament

What do the titles “Old Testament” and “New Testament” mean?

Of course, they refer to the scriptures before Christ and after Christ, but why do we use the word testament and the distinction between an old and a new testament? Modern-day people often think that it refers to a witness of God in two time periods. Even thought there is some truth to this idea, that does not grasp the true meaning of these titles of holy writ.

The Old Testament refers to the covenant God made with the house of Israel through Moses, and the New Testament refers to the new covenant God made to humanity through Jesus Christ.

The word testament is a legal term of art that refers to a promise confirmed by a covenant. It does not typically refer to a witness’s testimony, even though that word is derived from the oath the witness takes to tell the truth. Instead, it usually refers to a covenant, such as one’s last will and testament. The Old Testament refers to the covenant God made with the house of Israel through Moses, and the New Testament refers to the new covenant God made to humanity through Jesus Christ.

Paul explained to the Hebrews that one’s last will and testament becomes effective when one dies, just as God’s covenant to redeem us was completed with Jesus’s crucifixion. He reminded the Jewish people that before their ancestors were carried away captive to Babylon, the Prophet Jeremiah prophesized:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

(Jer 31:31-34)

crucifixionPaul then explained that the sacrifices in their temple foreshadowed Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for humanity on the cross. He taught:
“And for this cause, he [Christ] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death…they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” (Heb 9:15-16) The good news that Jesus died to satisfy justice and save us from our sins is fundamental to Christian doctrine.

Another way to say New Testament is New Covenant. A covenant is a binding promise made between two parties. When God covenants with humans, He sets the terms and conditions of his promise. If a human participant of a covenant with God complies with those terms and conditions, he or she is sure to receive the promised blessing from God, who cannot lie.

What those terms and condition are have led to much debate and conflict among the various Christian denominations throughout the ages, but most agree that humans need to exercise faith, be baptized and allow God’s spirit to empower them to live good lives.

Jesus Taught a Gospel of Faith, Hope and Love

A hallmark of Jesus’s ministry was a message of faith, hope and love. His message resonated with many who struggled with the burdens of this temporal existence. He taught them: taught them,

“saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

(Matt 5:2-12).

“…I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you…”

He taught a higher law. He declared that beyond not killing someone, we should not become angry with others. Besides not committing adultery, we should not lust after someone. Instead of seeking revenge, and eye for an eye, we should turn the other cheek. He continued:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven”

(Matt 5:43-45).

He gave hope to the downtrodden, the marginalized and outcasts of society. He lifted the burden of grief and sin. He mourned with those who mourned. He encouraged people to let their light shine and help others.

Jesus said that we should be generous to those in need, to not seek recognition, to not judge others, but we should forgive those who offend us. He said the we should treat others as we would like to be treated. He proclaimed that the first commandment is to love God with all our heart, and the second commandment is to love others as we love ourselves, and that if we did that, then we would be obeying all of the other commandments.

Jesus Organized a Movement

Some people assert that Jesus was simply an itinerate preacher with no intent of organizing a new religious body. But the Biblical record is clear that he formally called, ordained and sent out his authorized representatives to represent him according to specific instructions. His intent that this structure would survive his death is affirmed by his actions after his resurrection.

Near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went “up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him…And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.” (Mark 3:13-15, emphasis added). Ordaining is a formal rite where one is set apart and given special authority to act on behalf of the religious organization.

“…he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.”

The disciple Luke made a diligent search to find and interview eye witnesses to Jesus’s ministry, including the original apostles. He wrote, “And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles.” (Luke 6:13, emphasis added). The term apostle means “one sent forth” as an official representative. This is distinct from the more general term disciple which refers to a follower.

keys to peter

Matthew, one of the twelve, records:

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease… And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven ais at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”

(Matt 10:1,7-8; see the whole chapter).

Mark records that Jesus: “called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits… And they went out, and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:7,12) It is noteworthy that the apostles’ ministry was organized into teams of two when Jesus sent them out to preach.

Due to the success of the apostles’ ministry, more ministers were necessary, but Jesus did not call more apostles, instead he called other official representatives with less authority than the twelve apostles that he previously called. Luke reports, “After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” (Luke 10:1)

Near the end of Jesus’s mortal ministry, he tried to prepare his selected leaders to take over the work of the ministry after his death. He stressed that their calling extended beyond the grave when he declared, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 18:18). A short time later, “And Jesus said unto them [the apostles], Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt 19:28).

These actions demonstrate that Jesus made a concerted effort to establish his new church with priesthood authority independent of the priesthood of Judaism, and that he expected that this organization would continue as a distinct body after his death.

Jesus Was Crucified and Rose from the Dead

Each of the four Gosples testify in detail of the betrayal, trial, crucifixion and bodily resurrection of Jesus.

burial of Christ

Christ appears to MaryThey record that the resurrected Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene and later that day he appeared to two disciples as they walked to Emmaus. Peter and John ran to the empty tomb when Mary told them that she had seen the resurrected Lord, and found it empty.

That evening the apostles were gathered together discussing the strange events of the day, when,

“as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

(Luke 24:36-53).

Over the next forty-day period, Jesus appeared to the apostles and other disciples―five hundred on one occasion―where he instructed them regarding his gospel message and sharing it with all the world. “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11).

Transfiguration of Christ

The story of Jesus’s crucifixion and literal resurrection was the central message of all of the apostles’ sermons recorded in the Bible. The Biblical importance of the physical resurrection can hardly be overstated, yet within the lifetime of some of the original apostles, the reality of the bodily resurrection came under attack by various gnostic Christian sects. They found it hard to reconcile the generally accepted dualistic non-materialism of Greek philosophy with this basic Christian doctrine.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of the importance of this doctrine in his first epistle. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he arose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (1 Cor 15:1-8).

John later tried to combat this heresy at the very beginning of his first general epistle. He testified:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”

(1 John 1:1-4).

Even though the physical resurrection of Christ and of the human race remain orthodox Christian doctrine, the importance of a believer’s personal resurrection has diminished over time. Most Christians accept the Platonist idea that when we die, the spirit of a good person goes up to heaven to enjoy eternal bliss while the spirit of a bad person goes down to hell to suffer eternal torment. The resurrection of a believer’s physical body usually is nothing more than an afterthought. Additionally, with the advent of Liberal Protestantism in the nineteenth century, the literal resurrection of Jesus and even his divinity has come under question in their quest to find the historical Jesus.

Jesus Charged his Disciples to Teach All Nations

After Jesus’s resurrection, “The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” (Matt 28:16). There Jesus charged them to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt 28:19-20).

That is exactly what they did, along with other apostles who were chosen and ordained to fill the vacancies that arose due to Judus’s apostasy and the death of other apostles. Most notably, was Paul, who preached to the gentile nations with such success that the gentile converts eventually outnumbered the number of Jewish believers.

His egalitarian spiritual message of peace was a beacon of light in this dark world.
 

go to previous:

A World in Conflict

go to next:

The Apostolic Period – Growth and Transformation (pending)

IMAGES:

St. Benedict Parish, interior, detail of apse mural, the Trinity and the Heavenly Court, Terre Haute, Indiana [CC 3.0].

The Baptism of Christ, oil on canvas by Guido Reni, c. 1622–1623, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Austria [PD].

Woman at the Well, painting by Carl Bloch, the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen [PD].

Jesus heilt die Kranken, by Gabriel von Max, bef. 1915 [PD].

Сошествие во ад, painting by Nikolay Kosheiev, 1900, Церковь Святого Александра Невского на Александровском подворье в Иерусалиме [PD].

Cristo sulla croce (Christ on the Cross), oil on canvas by Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, 1853, National Gallery, London, England [PD].

Jesus Returning the Keys to St. Peter, oil on canvas by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1820, Musée Ingres, Montauban, France [PD].

Burial of Christ, Nicodemus depicted on the left, Joseph of Arimathea depicted on the right, by Carl Bloch, c. 1800s [PD].

The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, oil on canvas by Alexander Ivanov, c. 1834–1836, Russian Museum, Sant Petersburg, Russia [PD].

Transfiguration of Jesus, fresco by Fra Angelico, c. 1437–1446, Museo San Marco, Florence, Italy [PD].

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