Who is Jesus?
When asked the question “Who is Jesus?” Catholics often will reply: “Jesus is the son of God”. While such a statement is certainly true as far as it goes, it does not go far enough to explain fully who Jesus really is. While Jesus is the son of God, He is also God the Son.
It is the second part of the statement “…God the Son…” which gives the real insight to comprehending the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, some contemporary thinkers have tended to underplay Jesus’ divinity. They rather stress His human qualities; His compassion, love, justice, social conscience and so on. Consequently, they deny the fact that Jesus was not just a good man but God Himself.
The name Jesus means “God saves” in Hebrew. The name Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means “Anointed”. The fourth Evangelist tells us that this is the divine name which alone brings salvation (John 3:5). Kings, priests and prophets were all anointed as a sign of their vocation and mission. Jesus was unique in that he was at one and the same time priest, prophet and king. He is the third person of the Holy Trinity, so truly God. St. Irenaeus of Lyons would go on to say: “…in the name of Christ is understood he who anoints, he who has been anointed, and the anointing itself by which he has been anointed: He who anoints in the Father, he who has been anointed is the Son, and he has been anointed in the Spirit, who is the anointing.” (Adv. Haer, III,18,3)
Jesus Christ is True God and True Man
The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is revealed as one person having two natures. This, itself, is contrary to our human experience. The nature of a thing usually indicates the kind of thing it is. Logically, every created thing has just one nature, its own particular nature. No created thing has two natures or it would be two things at one time, which is not humanly possible.
As Jesus possesses fully the nature of man, He has a human body and soul. Furthermore, His human soul, like ours, has both intellect and will. (He is like man in all things but sin). But Jesus has the infinite intellect and will of God as well as the intellect and will of a man. He is one divine person having two natures, the human and the divine. In the words of the fifth century Athanasian Creed:
“He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity but he is inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ. And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed into God. He is one, not at all because of a mingling of substances, but because He is one person.”
The gospels report Jesus showing that He possesses the divine knowledge and will of God when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). Yet He shows His human will when, in agony in the garden of Gethsemene, He cries, “Not my will but thine be done.” Luke 22:43)
In the year 553 AD, the Second General Council of Constantinople declared:
“We think that God the Word was united to the flesh, each of the two natures remaining what it is. This is why Christ is one, God and man; the same, consubstantial (homoousios) with the father as to the divinity and consubstantial with us as to the humanity.” (D.S. 430, N.D.620/8).
It is fascinating to consider that one letter in a word can make a great difference. Arianism, one of the most devastating heresies to befall the Church, focussed on the difference of one letter in one word. As can be seen from the above quotation the Greek word homoousios means that Jesus is “one in substance (i.e. nature)” with the Father; clearly being God as the Father is God. The Arian heretics, on the other hand, wanted the word homoiousios. By inserting the mere letter “i” into the word, its Greek meaning became “similar in substance” with the Father (homo = same, homoi = similar). This denied the certainty of Christ’s divinity.
Incidentally, the Arian heresy, that Jesus was not eternal God, but only a creature made out of nothing, swept through the whole Church in the fourth century, affecting in one way or another almost every Catholic, lay, priest and Bishop. The bishops of the Church gathered at the Council of Nicea (325) condemned this heresy and gave us what we now call the Nicene Creed.
Sometimes it is challenged today that Jesus knew that He was God. Some propose that Jesus grew in the knowledge of His divinity, but was not born knowing this. As can be seen from the argument above about Jesus being truly and fully God from His conception, since Jesus was truly God knowing all things, He must have been born knowing all things, including that He is God.Pope Pius XII taught, in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis (“The Mystical Body” – 1943): “By means of the Beatific Vision (the sight of God in Heaven), which He enjoyed from the time when he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, He has for ever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical Body, and embraced them with His saving love.” (N.D. 661).
This is to say that Jesus possessed, in His human soul, the same immediate vision of God which all the saints and angels in heaven have. Consequently, Jesus was, at the same time, both a pilgrim on earth like us and a possessor of the immediate vision of God. Even His human nature is endowed with an abundance of supernatural gifts. He knows all things!
Jesus, throughout the Gospels lived and claimed His divinity. When He spoke of His relation to God He said “My Father” (Matthew 25:34 and 26:29; Luke 2:49 and 24:49; John 20:17.) When He spoke of the disciples’ relation to God, He said “Your Father”. Even when teaching the “Our Father”, He told the disciples how they were to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9).
In Matthew 23:34 and Luke 11:49, He asserts of Himself what in the Old Testament is said of Yahweh, making Himself equal to God.
He describes Himself as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5)
There can be no doubt, from a reading of the gospels and study of the Church’s interpretation of these passages. Jesus clearly claims to be God.
Jesus claims to be God:
Mt16:13ff “Who do, people say I am?….Who do you say I am? Blessed are you…..”
Mt 26:63ff ” Caiaphas: “I adjure you by the Living God that you tell us if you are the
Christ the Son of God. Jesus said: Thou hast said it…. and you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God.”
Jn 19:7 The Jews said: “He ought to die because He made himself the Son of God.”
Lk 10:22 He claimed equality with God. “All things are given to me by my father; no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom He chooses to reveal Him.”
Mt 25:31 He claimed to sit in judgement on all mankind. “The son of Man will come in His majesty and all the angels with Him … and all the nations shall be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from another.”
Mt 5:22 “You have heard it said … but now I say to you.”
Jn. 10:30-33 “I and the Father are one” The Jews were about to stone Him because “being a Man He made Himself God.”
Jn 5:17-21 “He said God was His Father, making himself equal to God.”
Jn 5:18 to Nicodemus. “He who does not believe, believes not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
A Deeper Understanding
Once we understand the two natures of Jesus we can come to a deeper personal understanding of Him and commitment to Him in prayer and sacrifice. In this light we can see how God could truly die for us, the greatest act of self-giving anyone of us can make. Yet we know that God cannot die; that it was only after becoming man that Christ was able to die. In fact, it was in order to die for us that God became man.
On the other hand, it is as God that Jesus is also the Creator of the Universe. He is the unique personal union (Hypostatic Union) of God and man intimately bound supernaturally and mystically. The perfect man upon whom to base our lives. Yet He is a real person who experienced human life, suffering and death and is thus able to share our human pain and worries.
We who believe in the divinity of Christ have a unique mission. We know that although Christ is spiritually present as God everywhere around us, He is also physically present nearby in His Body and Blood, God and man. In every tabernacle in every Catholic Church in the world, this same infinite, eternal, omnipotent and all-loving God/man is really physically present just as He was after the Resurrection. He is available to us. We can enter His physical presence and be as close to him as the Apostles were during His life. Whereas they saw Him with their eyes, we can see Him with the eyes of faith. We need only enter a Catholic Church and we enter the physical presence of the mighty king, Lord of the Universe who lived as a humble village carpenter, suffered, died and rose again for us.
Perhaps we could visit Him more often?
Thanks to Gerry Gaskin upon whose work this text is based.