In the beginning was the Word:The Lordship of Jesus
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through Him all things came into being,
not one thing came into being except through Him...
The Word became flesh,
He lived among us,
and we saw His glory,
the glory that He has from the Father as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth (John 1:1-3,14).
In Him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all Its fullness (Colossians 2:9).(1)
Christianity is a faith based on a person: Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago, He lived, taught, and went about doing good. He died on a cross to save humankind from their sin and to provide reconciliation to God. This same Jesus rose again from the dead, and ascended to heaven, where He is the mediator between God and man. This we believe.
Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, provided salvation to those who accept the free gift His grace. All people can have this relationship with God. The Apostle Paul wrote, "If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). What does this mean, this oath of confession? What does it mean to declare that Jesus is Lord? It is one thing to idly say "Jesus is Lord," or even "Jesus is my Lord," without knowing what it is to be Lord. What does an oath avail if the taker has no knowledge of the meaning of the oath?
Truly, Jesus is Lord, and this paper will examine what that means. It surely is necessary to know the meaning if one is to truly confess it, for if one confesses "Jesus is Lord", and believes God raised Him from the dead, the Scriptures say that one is saved. But if the person who confesses that Jesus is Lord, but at the same time confesses the opposite, even unknowingly from not having a proper understanding of what Lord means, is that one truly saved? For how can one confess what he denies, and still confess it unto salvation? Thus it is of chief importance that all have a proper understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and why He is to be called Lord.
The Meaning of "Lord": Kyrios
The word "Lord" then is one of special significance. In the Greek, it is Kyrios, and means "the owner, master, controller, one in authority."(2) Denotatively, Lord refers to anyone having authority, from a King or master to a teacher. Kyrios correlates to the English term, "sir". Thus, denotatively, confessing Jesus as Kyrios is nothing more than to call Him a teacher. In fact, many do nothing more than this, saying Jesus was just a great moral teacher. Calling Jesus Kyrios in this sense promises to follow His teachings. This perhaps seems a promising method of gaining salvation, to follow the teachings of the one who purchased our salvation. However, this idea quickly evaporates into legalism and Semi-Pelagianism. But as St. Paul says, "it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith...not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit" (Ephesians 2:8,9). It is not that there are no works involved in our salvation, for, St. Paul continues, "We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life" (v.10). Our works are energised by God's grace, and so are efficacious. But this efficacy is not possible if by "Lord" we mean simply a good teacher. Thus understanding "Lord" in a purely denotative fashion leaves one's redemption incomplete.
However, any student of language knows that words have two types of meaning. Since the basic denotative meaning has fallen short of providing salvation, because it comes down to works, let us look at the connotative meaning of the word Kyrios, and thereby know what the early Christians meant by confessing Christ as Lord.
Lord as Title of Divinity
While to the people of that day, "Lord" meant all of the above things, it had come to refer to the gods that were worshipped as well as to the Emperor, and in fact calling the Emperor "Lord" and offering sacrifices to him was a religious test of loyalty to the Emperor Cult. Leon Morris writes, "This term could be no more than a polite form of address, like our 'sir'. But it could also be used of the deity one worships."(4) He also says that calling Jesus Lord "points to the deity of Christ."(5) On a similar note, Jennings Reid writes, "When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, resulting in the Septuagint, when the translators came upon the word Yahweh, they translated it Kurios. Thus, in the Septuagint, which was widely used by Jews of the dispersion, the most frequently used name for God was Kurios, or Lord...Certainly it was a most noteworthy development that the early Christians felt that Jesus had so revealed God, had so been God's instrument of redemption for them, and was so one in nature with God that they deemed it fitting to appropriate this supreme title for Him."(5)
Thus one can see that the title of Kyrios was perceived by those to whom St. Paul wrote to be a title of deity. Jesus called Himself Lord (Mark 12:34-37; Luke 6:5, 46). St. Hilary of Poitiers has this to say about the passage in Mark: "He is not unmindful of the Law by any means, nor is He ignorant of the fact that we must not acknowledge another God, but, without doing any violence to the faith of the Law, He gives us to understand that He is the Lord who has come into being by the mystery of the natural birth from the womb of the incorporeal God, since the one from the one through the nature of the one would possess that nature in Himself which belongs to the Lord."(6) Since Christianity is monotheistic, Jesus Christ, if He is at all divine, must then be the One God who created all things. Thus we are left with a paradox and a mystery: How can the all-powerful God be at the same time flesh, a man; yes, and even to have died? Yet orthodox Christianity confesses Him so.
The Mystery of the Trinity
How can the man Jesus Christ be at the same time the God of the universe? Truly one does not know. The Christian can only confess that He is, and understand the rest by faith. Yet some do not like that which is unexplainable, and thus they outright deny the truth of the mystery, or re-interpret or misinterpret the evidence in order to explain it away. St. Augustine begins his Trinity by addressing just such persons: "The reader of this treatise should know beforehand that our pen is on the watch for the sophistries of those who consider it beneath their dignity to begin with faith, and who thus are led into error by their immature and perverted love of reason."(7) Merely because the human intellect cannot grasp all the intricacies of something does not make the truth of that thing void. But let us examine the Scriptures on the subject, that perhaps the Holy Spirit will break open the box of our narrow theology in order that we might believe what we do not understand, and perhaps by believing, begin to understand, however faintly, the great mystery which is central to Christianity.
The first chapter of John's Gospel very distinctly states that Jesus is God. Verse 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God." The opening of the Gospel introduces us to the Word, and says two very important things: that It is distinct from God and that It is the same as God. In the second verse, the Evangelist shows us that the Word of God is also a person: "He was with God in the beginning." Thus there was a person, both distinct from God and yet God, present at Creation. St. John goes on to reveal that this Word is not a created thing, either, but was actually the instrument of creation: "Through Him all things came into being" (v.3). Thus clearly St. John states about the Word that He is a person who is co-eternal with God.
Truly John's idea is nothing new, for Genesis chapter 1 also shows God as not solitary before Creation. At each step of Creation, God spoke commanding creation to come into existence. What was God commanding, though, if there was nothing? The Scripture clearly indicates that God's word brought them into being (Genesis 1:3, 6-7, 9, etc.). The Scriptures are in unity on this idea, as St. Hilary comments, "If you will dare to claim that the Son is not referred to when it is stated: 'And God made it,' what will be you attitude to where it is said: 'All things were made through Him,' and to those words: 'And our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things,' and that statement: 'He spoke and they were made'?"(8)
But so that there could be no ambiguity in the Genesis account, God saw fit to have Moses record this: "God said, 'Let Us make man in Our own image, in the likeness of Ourselves'" (Gen 1:26). St. Hilary again has this to say: "By declaring: 'Let Us make mankind in Our image and likeness,' He does away with any idea of isolation, since He reveals this mutual participation. But He Himself who is alone cannot have any kind of companionship for Himself. Again, the words, 'Let Us make' are not compatible with the loneliness of a solitary, nor does anyone address another as 'our' who is a stranger to himself."(9) Hilary goes on to point out that the One to whom God speaks, while showing that God does not live by Himself, is also shown to be not different from God, but as possessing the same nature, "because He says 'Our image' and not 'Our images'."(10)
Thus Scripture reveals that there was another of the same substance eternally present at Creation. In John's Gospel, he is very clear to point out who he means when he writes of the Word. Verse 14 of chapter one says, "The Word became flesh, He lived among us." And so John introduces Jesus Christ, the subject of his Gospel, who is the Word made flesh. As such John chapter one paves the way for Trinitarian doctrine, clearly stating that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity.
Scripture teaches that Jesus was pre-existent before He was made flesh, that He existed since before the world began. Even before Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, He was. He states unequivocally "Before Abraham ever was, I AM" (John 8:58). Several Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah allude to His divinity. Isaiah's Servant Song of chapter 53 begins, "And who has seen in it a revelation of Yahweh's arm?" While the terminology that calls Christ the "arm of the LORD" is clearly a metaphor, still it indicates that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father.
Still more clear a reference to the Messiah's Godhead is in Psalm 110:1: "Yahweh [the LORD] declared to my Lord, 'Take your seat at my right hand, till I have made your enemies your footstool.'" In the Gospels, Jesus Himself picks up this passage in order to make a claim that He is God. In Mark 12:28-37, Jesus addresses the issue of His divinity from the Psalm 110 passage. A Scribe had asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, to which Jesus replied, "This is the first: 'Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. The second is this: 'You must love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (vv. 29-31). The Scribe who questioned Him agreed wholeheartedly, stating even that these commandments are greater than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Verse 34 says, "Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.' And after that no one dared to question Him any more." It is out of this dialogue that Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1, by asking how the scribes can say that the Christ is the Son of David. He makes His point from the psalm by saying in verse 37, "David himself calls Him Lord; In what way then can He be his Son?"
The Scribe knew the basic message of the Gospel when he said that loving God and others was greater than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus promised the kingdom of God to such people as helped the downtrodden and clothed the poor. Yet, St. Hilary sees one thing in Jesus' reply to the Scribe, that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. He writes, "What is the meaning of so gracious a reply that this Scribe was not yet in the kingdom of God but is not far from the kingdom of God, if to believe in the one God and to love Him with your whole soul...and also to love your neighbour as yourself is the faith that makes us ready for the kingdom of Heaven? But, while the Lord praises the Scribe...He does not confer upon him the possession of the blessed hope itself."(11) The Scribe's faith was true, and it was almost enough. By quoting and teaching from Psalm 110:1, Jesus told the Scribe what he still lacked. St. Hilary writes this: "The Scribe, therefore, is not far from the kingdom of God when he acknowledges the one God who is to be loved above all things. But he is warned by his own confession why he does not know the mystery of the Law and does not realise that Christ the Lord, the Son of God by nature of the birth, is to be acknowledged in the faith of the one Lord."(12)
Now this, "by nature of the birth", does not refer to the birth from the Blessed Virgin. Rather, it refers to the Eternal Generation of the Son from the Father. The heretics, who deny the deity of the Son, call the Son "created", because He is a Son, and therefore must have been begotten. However, the heretics claim that to be begotten means that there was a time before the begetting. If this is the case, then the Son is not from eternity, but is a creature, a demi-god at best. But this blasphemous view stems from several incorrect ideas, and leads to several incorrect conclusions. Of these, two shall be examined.
First, if Christ has not always been the Son, then the Father has not always been the Father, for a father is not a father without a child. If then the Father has not always been the Father, then He is not unchanging, for there was a time when He became the Father. St. Athanasius illustrated the change in God necessary if the Son is not eternal by saying that if the Son did not exist with the Father from all eternity, then once God was without His Wisdom and Glory, that once the Father had no Word or Reason. He writes, "Is it not then irreligious to say, 'Once the Son was not'? For it is all one with saying, 'Once the fountain was dry, destitute of life and wisdom'. But it would then cease to be a fountain; for what begetteth not from itself is not a fountain."(13) St. Hilary states, "Where there is always a Father, so, too, there is always a Son...If it is always proper for the Father to always be the Father, it must always be proper for the Son to be always the Son."(14)
Similarly, "God is love" (1 John 4:16). But love requires someone to love. If before creation God was alone in eternity, He would have no one to love, and thus could not Himself be love. Thus we must conclude that if God truly is unchanging, as St. James tells us (James 1:17), then the Son is eternal, just as the Father is eternal. God the Father loves God the Son, and as such, the Trinity is Itself a social relation.
The second heretical notion and ultimate conclusion is this, that if Jesus Christ is not eternal, He must be a creature, and thus part of all of creation. The complication lies here, in Romans 8:19-22, which says, "For the whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed. It was not for its own purposes that creation had frustration imposed on it, but for the purposes of Him who imposed it--with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God. We are well aware that the whole creation, until this time, has been groaning in labour pains." As to this passage, Hilary writes:
Hence, if Christ is a creature, He must remain in uncertainty during the long period of hopeful expectation, and His long expectation rather than ours is waiting, and while He is waiting He must be subject to vanity, and He is not subject freely who is subject through necessity. But, since He is not subject of His own free will, He must also be a slave, but, since He is a slave, He must also be exposed to the corruption of nature. The Apostle Paul writes that all these things are proper to a creature, and when He has been freed from them through the long expectation He will be resplendent in human glory. Oh what a ridiculous and blasphemous description of God, to expose Him to these insults by falsely accusing Him of being a creature, so that He hopes, serves, is subject to necessity and corruption, and is to be delivered into our state and not His own, since we are advancing toward something by means of His gifts!(15)How can the Christ who has come to redeem humanity and restore creation be of necessity bound to the slavery of creation? He thus would have no means of redeeming humanity, for He Himself would first require freedom from creation's curse. Thus Christ Jesus must truly be something other than a creature. He must be God.
How can the Son be as eternal as the Father? If the Father is Unbegotten with eternity, and the Son is begotten of the Father, does that not mean that the Son by necessity came afterward? By no means! "Afterward" has no meaning in eternity. The birth of the only-begotten God from the Unbegotten God is eternal. John Deschner writes, "Christ is divine by virtue of an eternal generation of the Father, through which the Son has absolute, independent life in Himself. He is the Word, the eternal Wisdom, whom the Father begot or spoke from eternity...The eternal generation is...important for Christ's pre-eminence as the source of man's salvation (Col 1:8). It distinguishes Him categorically from all creatures, including angels, and underlines the absolute sense in which Christ is called 'God' (John 1:1)."(16) St. Hilary speaks on this mystery also, saying, "Everything that always is is eternal, but everything that is eternal is not also unborn. What is born from the eternal possesses the attribute that what has been born is eternal but what is unborn is unborn with eternity."(17) Therefore, Christ is God of God, Spirit from Spirit, Light from Light, the only-begotten offspring of the Unbegotten God. He is the second person of the Trinity, which is "the incorporeal and immutable unity...a nature consubstantial and co-eternal with Itself."(18)
All this is not to say that Jesus Christ was not also a man. He was the Word made flesh. The eternal Son of God took on a human nature, and was born as a man, to die for humanity and thus purchase redemption. Jesus, then, was fully God and fully man, coexistent in one person. The divine nature did not override the human nature, as though God merely put on human flesh like a disguise, for to believe that is a heresy equally as wrong as to believe that the eternal Son of God is only a creature. Jesus was both God and man, and thus St. Paul writes, "Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. And for this God raised Him high, and gave Him the name which is above all other names" (Philippians 2:6-9). Jesus didn't consider equality with God something He needed to reach for or cling to, because it was who He was. Thus He was able to let it go, to humble Himself, and take on the form of a slave. As God, He is equal to God, but He emptied Himself, and thus, as man, as a slave, is less than God in habit. But as St. Augustine writes, "The divinity was not changed into the creature so that it ceased to be the divinity, nor the creature into the divinity so that it ceased to be a creature."(19) Jesus Christ became real flesh, but because He was also Divine, He was not given humanity's fallen nature. He took on the form of a slave, but did not become a slave. Thus He was able to live a perfect life, and His sacrifice could cover the sins of all people. Jennings Reid writes, "In Jesus we have an exact representation and manifestation of the invisible God. Our thoughts travel naturally back to the Genesis creation story where it is said that God created man in His own image. That image became marred by sin. Through all the centuries since, the image of God has been marred in man. But...in Christ, the image of God was exhibited as a perfect likeness. The image, lost in Adam, was restored in Christ."(20) Thus Christ was both God and man during His incarnation.
Necessity for Salvation
Both natures in Christ are essential for His mediatorial work. If Christ were not man, He would not be humanity's high priest, making intercession on our behalf before God. He can identify with people because He gave Himself up to be tempted in all respects as we are, but without sin. Thus He knows what people go through, and is able to empathise with them in their need.
Conversely, if Christ were not God, if He were only human, His death on the cross would have been for nothing, for if human sacrifice was all that was required to pay for humanity's sins, then the pagans would have had no need of salvation, for they practiced human sacrifice since bygone times. Also, if it was human sacrifice that was needed, then God would be unjust in expressly forbidding that which would have given humanity salvation. For God hates human sacrifice. If Jesus were just a man, He would be a man just like all others. His life and death would not have meant anything. If Jesus were just a man, He could not have risen from the dead, for, as John Wesley maintains, "Christ's power to lay down His life and take it up again was originally His: He did not receive it as a part of His mediatorial commission."(21) Therefore, if Jesus were just a man, there could be no salvation.
Conclusion: Mystery and Truth
Let Him be praised! For He is not just a man, but the most high God! He is the sacrifice for our sins, the Lamb who was slain. His resurrection shows that He is the Son of God, and proves that He is Messiah! It is because of the mystery of Christ that we can be saved! Yes, it is a mystery. No one can fully comprehend all that Jesus' divinity and manhood is. That is not to say that it is untrue, however. Jennings says, "After many treatises on the subject, the mystery of the incarnation remains a mystery. This is one reason that it remains central to the Christian religion. True religion will always involve mystery. Faith in God does not mean that we have found all of the answers, nor does Christian assurance mean that we have theology tied up in a neat package. There will always be a place for mystery in religion, 'for now we see in a mirror dimly'."(22)
"If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved." Truly, the confession of faith in Romans 10:9 is what matters for salvation. It is the free gift of God, that we must accept by faith. But beyond saying the words and living them out, one must truly know what they mean. Paul writes, "Nobody is able to say, 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will "lead you to the complete truth" (John 16:13). Let His guiding bear witness to you that what is written here is truth. Amen.
1 All Scripture quotations are taken from The New Jerusalem Bible. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
2 Definition comes from Hayford, Jack W., Ed. The Spirit-Filled Life Bible - NKJV. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1991).
3 Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 47.
4 Ibid., p. 385.
5 Reid, Jennings B. Jesus: God's Emptiness, God's Fullness - A Christology of St. Paul. (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 65, 66.
6 St. Hilary of Poitiers. The Trinity. (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), p. 347.
7 St. Augustine. The Trinity. (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), p. 3.
8 St. Hilary, p. 106.
9 Ibid., p. 107.
10 Ibid., p. 108.
11 Ibid., pp. 345, 346.
12 Ibid., p. 347.
13 Athanasius. Orations against the Arians. I, vi.19. as quoted in Schaff, Philip, ed., Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters. (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892), p. 317.
14 St. Hilary, p. 516.
15 Ibid., p. 504.
16 Deschner, John. Wesley's Christology: An Interpretation. (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1985), 16.
17 St. Hilary, p. 515.
18 St. Augustine, p. 21.
19 Ibid., p. 20.
20 Reid, Jennings B., p. 34.
21 Deschner, John, p. 153.
22 Reid, Jennings B., p. 75.
(Category: Theology Proper: God the Son--Jesus Christ.