One of the more interesting conversations in the Church is the one about the deity of Christ. Very few of these conversations, though, frame the conversation in such a way that it emerges out of the Story of God in Israel. But this is just what Chris Wright does in chp. 4 of The Mission of God, and today I want to dip into the first half.
What are the ways you hear this conversation framed? Here’s one: We know what God is Jesus fits that definition; therefore Jesus is God. Here’s another: This NT text, say John 1:1, says Jesus is God so therefore Jesus is God. Both of those work, but nothing works like the method Chris Wright pursues here because it becomes, in my mind, ineluctable.
The big idea is this: the early Christians set the identity squarely in the middle of what they believed about YHWH.
1. Jesus shares the identity of YHWH in two early Christian liturgical expressions:
Mara-natha: 1 Cor 16:22, which means either “the Lord has come!” or “Our Lord, come!” (“Mar” is Aramaic for “Lord”).
Kyrios Iesous: “Jesus is Lord.” A major text here is Romans 10:9.
Phil 2:9-11 needs to be read alongside Isaiah 45:22-23, so I want to put them both down right here. Here’s Isaiah:
???Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow;by me every tongue will swear.”
Here’s Phil 2:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death??? even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
So, Wright observes: the Christians gave to Jesus a “God title,” applied to Jesus a “God text,” and anticipated for Jesus a “God worship.”
2. Jesus performs the functions of YHWH
Here’s a key for this section: instead of finding themes that would prove a case, Wright unfolds four central themes about YHWH in the Old Testament that become central to the identity of Jesus, leading not to “therefore Jesus is God” but to something like this: what the Israelites called God and how they understood God the early Christians called Jesus and understood Jesus. So, it’s the Story that unfolds in a christological direction. Smashing.
1. Creator: YHWH is creator; Jesus is creator: 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-20.
2. Ruler: YHWH rules; Jesus rules: Ps 33; Ps 110:1; Dan 7:13-14 –> Acts 2:32-36; 1 Cor 15:24-28; Rev 3:14.
3. Judge: YHWH is judge; Jesus is judge: Ps 96:13; Phil 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:9-12.
4. Savior: YHWH saves; Jesus saves: Ps 68:20; Rev 7:10; Titus 2:13.
3. Jesus fulfills the mission of YHWH
The mission of YHWH is to make his name known throughout the world. This is clearly connected to Jesus:
1. God wills to make himself known through Jesus, and this means also the reverse: knowing Jesus is knowing YHWH. A good text here is Hab 2:14. (Wright doesn’t mention the cross here, but a cross-shaped God becomes inevitable in this view.)
2. Gospel preaching carries knowledge of God among the nations, and here he has a nice sketch of Paul’s mission as making God known. So Col 1:25, 27. John’s Gospel is filled with this kind of connection of knowing Jesus/knowing God.