March 06, 2007

Philippians 2:5-11: Who is Jesus?

Few questions are more important or fundamental to Christianity that who Jesus is. And there have been centuries upon centuries of reflection on this topic, leading to sometimes complex discussions of philosophical terms and etherial concepts. And I think that's great. For Jesus' identity is a deep and multi-faceted truth that deserves to be investigated to the full. Here I just want to reflect a bit on what this passage in Philippians says about it. This isn’t Paul’s major focus here (he is focusing on Christian love and unity with humility), but nonetheless, Paul makes a clear statement of Christology to make his point. This is one of the few places in Paul's letters where he could be said to be expressing "Christology," as opposed to his very common theme of "soteriology," for so often he focuses on who Christ is for us. This certainly isn't to take anything at all away from Paul, but to point to the importance and uniqueness of this passage. So, who is Jesus?
A. Jesus is God from all eternity, preexistent and fully one with God the Father.
-Jesus was “in very nature,” in the “form” of God.
-Jesus could have grasped equality with God, but chose not to (that is, it was
within his power and right to be honored as God)
-He emptied himself of something, namely the glory and prerogatives of divinity
B. Jesus became a human being.
-Jesus took on the “very nature” or “form” of a slave.
-Jesus was “found in appearance as a man;” that is, it was plain for all to see
that Jesus was human.
-He suffered and died. (This was no illusion, no appearance of humanity!)
C. Jesus was the God-man.
-Jesus was “in very nature” God and “in very nature” a slave.
-Jesus divinity at no time ceased, and his humanity was genuine, including even
D. Jesus the crucified is also God the Son, exalted above all, one with the Father. We get some extremely important and valuable Trinitarian insights from this passage. Jesus is God from all eternity, he is obedient to the Father, he is exalted as Lord and as YHWH, he is recognized as being the One God (note Paul's allusion to Is 4523-24, a clear ). Clearly there is a sense of plurality and differentiation within God, but at the same time God is One God, the only God. You can clearly see here how the church in the next few hundred years, especially as it worked out its understanding of who Jesus is, was led to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. Though “Trinity” as such isn’t enumerated in Scripture, this passage is a perfect example of how the trajectory toward just such a doctrine is clearly embedded in the Bible and especially the New Testament.

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