This is another one of those posts on Christology, in particular, it’s about the biblical and/or Jewish matrix within which the New Testament’s statements about Jesus make sense.
As often as not these posts will at some point generate the question, “What’s your agenda? What is the theological payoff for highlighting the humanness of Jesus as something we should be homed in on rather than the divinity?” So let me start with that.
I do not have a theological agenda that I am trying to shore up through exegetical arguments; I have an exegetical agenda that I am confident will ultimately be profitable for the church’s theology because it offers a better reading of the church’s sacred texts. I believe that the Bible we actually have is the Bible God wanted us to have–even when it surprises us, drawing us in unexpected theological and ethical directions.
Let me also say (again) that arguing for a viable “human” framework for making sense of Jesus is not to say either (a) that Jesus is not, in fact, fully God as well as fully human (which I do believe) or that (b) indications that the theological reflections of the church were heading in the direction of high Christology are not present already in the NT (I believe they are, for example, in the Christological developments between the Synoptics and John).
So there is a high Christology voice to be heard and honored, and there is this other that I think needs a bit more attention in order to continue filling out what we mean by saying Jesus was not only “fully human,” but “true to his humanness” (“truly human”) in a way that no other person has ever been.
Today’s thoughts, then, come from two directions.
My children are currently addicted to Handel’s Messiah. When we get in the car, little dude says, “I want ‘Why do the nations?’” He also likes the “other bad guys song,” what he calls the chorus that goes, “He trusted in God that He would deliver him, let Him deliver him, if He delight in him.”
As I’ve backed them up from those Good Friday/Easter movements to the annunciation and birth portions, we’ve found ourselves listening to “For unto us a child is born.” Christmas classics, here we come!
Christians rightly sing this song with a full theology of Jesus as divine in mind: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
But that prophetic celebration meant something before God’s people had any idea about an incarnate Son. The song is a glorious song of praise to a coming, quite human, Davidic king, who is so aligned with God in his representing God’s rule to the world, that the very titles of God are applied to him. God’s covenant faithfulness works itself out in fulfilling the promise to David.
All of this sits in my mind as I’ve been reading Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, beginning with his essay, “God Crucified.”
Bauckham argues that there is an absolute distinction (his phrase, used repeatedly) between God as creator and sovereign over the universe and other creatures who are neither seen as creator nor as exercising God’s own sovereignty.
Bauckham makes an interesting case for God’s exclusive sovereignty. But at the end he cites the Son of Man from the Parables of Enoch as someone other than God who exercises God’s sovereign rule over the earth. Bauckham calls this “the exception that proves the rule,” but it made me wonder when we get to call something that falls outside our preferred paradigm an exception that “proves” the rule rather than “shows us that the rule has important exceptions that might undermine the force of the argument.”
Bauckham is surely correct that, in general, heavenly beings are not depicted as sharing God’s rule in early Judaism. But what if the reason that heavenly beings don’t share in God’s identity by sharing in God’s rule is because this is not what God created heavenly beings to do–but the vocation with which God created humanity?
Why might the Son of Man in Enoch be allowed to sit on God’s throne and rule the world on his behalf? Maybe because he’s The Man. Why might the Davidic king in Isaiah be called “Mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace?” Because the Davidic king is the son of God, begotten at his enthronement, who represents God, specifically God’s rule to the world.
When God created humanity he said, “Let’s create humanity in our own image and let them rule the world on our behalf.”
To share in the sovereignty of YHWH is the unique provenance of humanity. It’s a calling circumscribed to Israel and within Israel to Israel’s king.
Yes, there is a divine identity Christology–because the Davidic king shares in the name, power, and reign of God. “Where is he who was born king of the Jews? For we have come to honor him!”
The kingdom of God has come near. The Man has been born.