Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord
The second section of the Apostles’ Creed is the longest and focuses on the person and work of Jesus. The description of Jesus points to him being fully God and fully man, with the first part of this section highlighting his names and titles. We will look at these four terms to see their significance for what we believe and how we are to live.
“Jesus” is the name given to the Son of God when he comes into the world and, as the Heidelberg Catechism notes in Q & A 29, this name points to his work as the Savior, as the name Jesus means “rescue” or “deliver” and Jesus’s work was to save his people from their sins (see Matthew 1:21). This name and title also indicates that he is the only Savior (see Acts 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 2:5); we cannot look to other people (saints), whether those living or deceased (or even ourselves) to be saved, as noted in Heidelberg Q & A 30.
In addition to pointing to the nature of his work, the name Jesus also highlights the fact that the God we worship became a human in a real time and real place. This Jesus in whom we believe and discuss in the Creed, was known as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus son of Joseph and Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (see Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3). Therefore, the name of Jesus points to his full humanity, which was necessary for us to reverse the effects of what the first human (Adam) did.
“Christ” is not the last name of Jesus (it was not Joseph and Mary Christ!), but rather a title given to him -- he is Jesus the Christ. The title “Christ” refers to being the anointed one, and thus recalls three offices into which people were anointed in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. The Heidelberg Catechism points out that Jesus performed the works of all of these:offices a) he is a prophet in that he teaches us God’s will, b) a priest in that he sacrifices his body and prays for his people, and c) the king in that he governs by Word and Spirit and defends us from our enemies, ultimately defeating them so that we have freedom (Q & A 31). The Catechism also highlights how Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit to perform these tasks -- the Father sent the Son to minister in the power of the Spirit, showing the Trinitarian nature, not just of the Creed but of the activity of God.
This title “Christ” points to Jesus being the Messiah, thus grounding Jesus’s life and ministry in time and space. The Messiah was the figure awaited by the people of Israel to bring about restoration and to fulfill God’s promises (as referred to in the Old Testament). Jesus emerged from a particular group who were called to be a blessing to all peoples, to undo what had been made wrong because of the sin of Adam.
His Only Son
The phrase “His Only Son” is a reminder that Jesus is not just a human who does things in the power of the Spirit, but rather the pre-existent God who is equal in power and glory with the Father. In saying that Jesus is the Son of God, it is not saying that he is less than God, but rather that he has the very qualities of God (see Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3). We don’t consider children to be less than adult in terms of value; they are of the same quality. There are a couple of places in the Bible where Jesus seems to directly be called God (see Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13, as well as John 1:18), and there are places in which the qualities of God are applied to Jesus. He is referred to the creator of all things in John 1:3, 10, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Colossians 1:15-16, and Hebrews 1:2; other qualities of God given to Jesus appear in John 1:1 and 1:14. Two key texts that should not be overlooked are John 20:28 in which Jesus is worshipped as God, and John 5:18 in which Jesus calls God his own Father, making himself equal with God. It is important to know that Jesus of Nazareth was God -- if he was not, he would not be able to save us, as one creature cannot eternally save another (see Heidelberg Catechism Q & A’s 14-15, 17)..
The Bible teaches that God sent His Son (John 3:16-17; Romans 8:3: Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:10, 14), which shows that Jesus already existed. Therefore, contrary to ancient and modern (false) teachings, Jesus was not a human who became God or who was adopted by God at his baptism, or even elevated to a godlike status through the resurrection. Rather, Jesus is the Son of God who became human (see Philippians 2:6-7); he was fully God first and then became fully human in the course of time -- just the right time, as a matter of fact (see Galatians 4:4).
The imagery of Father/Son can cause some confusion. It can seem to point to inferiority, as there is a time in which a child is completely dependent upon the parents. It might also seem to indicate that the Father existed first and then the Son came about later. However, we need to remember that God is using metaphors and images we can understand to illustrate spiritual truths. God uses the imagery of begetting (see Psalm 2:7), not because it points to a beginning for Jesus but rather to the fact that there is a distinction without difference within God. Theologians have called this begetting an “eternal begetting” -- before the existence of time (the Nicene Creed which develops and clarifies this section, notes that this begetting is “before all time or before all the ages”). We are peering into the person of God and need to recognize that we will likely be confused and not able to fully understand an infinite being. However, we are to do our best to understand what has been revealed, which is that Jesus of Nazareth was not just a human but rather God in the flesh, the Son whom the Father sent.
The final title, “Our Lord,” also reflects Jesus’s divinity as well as the role he should play in our lives today. It reflects Jesus’s divinity as the people of Israel called God “the Lord”; this was the translation of the name Yahweh. Therefore, in saying that Jesus is Lord (see Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11), is not just saying that Jesus has authority and power, but places him on par with the God who spoke to Abraham and Moses, the God who brought His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
The title also had massive political implications in the early church, as it countered the claim that Caesar (the Roman ruler) is Lord. People in Rome would say “Caesar is Lord,” so in calling Christ Lord, Christians showed that there is one whose power is higher than all earthly powers and to whom we must have a greater allegiance. This Lord, however, reigns not out of tyranny but out of tremendous love, as Q & A 34 notes that we belong to Christ because he has bought us “not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood”, not to enslave us but to “set us free from sin and from the tyranny of the devil.” Therefore, we are to view our bodies and souls as belonging to Him, not to ourselves and not to the powers of this world. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh to save us from our sins, is one who deserves to be worshipped and obeyed. May all these ideas never obscure that wonderful and necessary truth!
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