Jesus Christ: The Fullness of God in Bodily Form

Jesus Christ: The Fullness of God in Bodily Form August 12, 2015

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

During a recent conversation, I was told that “Jesus reveals a part of God, but there are still aspects of God that remain hidden.” Based on the state of American Christianity, I should not be surprised by that statement. I suppose what takes me aback then is actually hearing it uttered from a Christian’s lips. It truly feels as if most believers conclude that God the Father is described in the Old Testament and Jesus the Son is described in the New and not that Jesus fully reveals God. I would like to provide evidence that the former view should be forever forgotten in favor of the latter.

If we are going to talk about the Christian God, we must, as Martin Luther argued, begin at the cross.[1] With Jesus, for the first time in human history, humanity has the opportunity to witness who God was in full human form. On multiple occasions, Jesus talks about this.

If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. John 14:7

The Father and I are one. John 10:30

. . . That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:21

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, states the same concept in perfect harmony. He writes: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (2:9—emphasis mine)

The importance of this is great. Human beings simply don’t believe in gods, we follow them. We imitate them—their behavior, their nature . . . everything! I harp on this all the time. So, with that in mind, who is Jesus, as fully human himself, imitating? If he only does what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19)—if he only imitates the Father perfectly—what is the Father doing exactly?

Well, based on the end of Matthew 5—perhaps only theoretically as the cross is yet to come—he is behaving perfectly (5:48)—loving his enemies (5:44), blessing even the unrighteous (5:45), and of utmost importance, refusing to retaliate against violence (5:39). This is new territory for people as they had “heard that it was said” that God hates his enemies (Psalm 139:22), curses the wicked (Proverbs 3:33), and instructs an “eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:20).

This sermon is Jesus’ magnum opus—his most quoted teachings. Christian ethics are derived from Matthew 5–7. Even Gandhi’s ethics were derived from this sermon, as he claimed to have read the Sermon on the Mount daily. So, according to this most famous of teachings, our ethical Model teaches of a love for all by remaining non-retributive and unfathomably forgiving. So the question is: did Jesus’ actions demonstrate this?

To answer that question, I would like to begin in the Garden of Gethsemane. Prior to his death, Jesus has a chance to obliterate his eventual captors. Matthew 26:53 reads: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The implied answer is “yes.” However, he does not do such a thing! If we fast-forward to the cross, in the midst of his own death, Jesus states over and over: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus only brings words of peace. John 20:19b – 21 states: “’Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Jesus does not speak on his own when he says these things! (John 12:49) He only says what the Father commands.

It seems, then, that Jesus backs up his claim that the Father is perfect by taking a non-violent stance to the cross, through the cross, and after the cross. In doing this, he reveals who the Father is—one who died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Is it any wonder Paul describes his judgments as “unsearchable” (Romans 11:33)?

Where the countless Western Christians get the notion that Jesus does not fully reveal the nature of the Father resides in the Old Testament. Let me rephrase—that idea comes from how the Old Testament is interpreted. Many Christians take a “literalist” approach to Scripture. Of literalism in literature, theologian Richard Rohr has little praise. He states: “Literalism is usually the lowest and least level of meaning.” (Rohr, Falling Upward) It is hardly compelling that the most meaningful collection of books in history should be interpreted at their lowest level of meaning. Plus, shouldn’t one simply ask, “How did Jesus read Scripture?” Seems like an obvious question doesn’t it? However, I find that it is rarely if ever asked.

Allow me to point to one instance where a specific hermeneutic is employed by Jesus.[2] In Luke 4:18 – 19, Jesus omits a certain phrase from the text in Isaiah he is quoting from (Isaiah 61: 1 – 2). Jesus states: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” What nearly gets him killed (4:29) is, in part, due to Jesus’ omission of the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” (Isaiah 61:2) These prophetic statements about the coming Messiah better include vengeance! How else was Israel going to be saved from her oppressors—from Rome!?

Whether in lesson, in action, or even in hermeneutics, Jesus is constantly redefining our understanding of God. Violence and retribution was always a projection onto the Divine. It can be a way of justifying “our” violence. My tribe’s violence is sacred—yours is wicked. When we finally witness who God really is, however—when we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)—we discover what has been true all along. Recognition of that could change everything. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10—KJV)” could become a reality. Of course it can! If the Church started following Jesus in all aspects of life, his kingdom most certainly would come.

[1] Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #21.

[2] In my forthcoming book, All Set Free: How God is Revealed in Jesus and Why that is Really Good News, I point to multiple instances throughout the New Testament in which Hebrew Scripture is interpreted “creatively” by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul. In multiple instances, any “vengeance” associated to God is omitted (see Luke 7:18 – 23, Matthew 22:42 – 45, Mark 12:35 – 40, Luke 20:41 – 47, Galatians 3:10 – 11, & Romans 15:8 – 9.)

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