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The Person of Christ | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Timothy O'Day.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn that Jesus can do what he does because he is who he is.

The Relationship Between the Person and Work of Christ

The Doctrine of Salvation and the Work of Christ

February 11, 2024

In his book, Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer sums up why this issue of the identity of Jesus is so important and so hard for us today. He writes,

"I have come to the point where, when I hear the word "Jesus"--which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work--I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word "Jesus" than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner...there is no rational scriptural content by which to test it...Increasingly over the past few years the word "Jesus," separated from the content of scriptures, has been the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God." 

Debate about Jesus is not new. He was debated during his earthly ministry. We read in John 6:12, “And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’” Famously, Jesus asked his disciples about who people say that he is. And then he pressed in with the all-important question that we all must answer when he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15b). Peter’s reply is famous. He answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Jesus celebrates this answer, and then immediately goes on to tell his disciples his mission. We read in Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus begins to show his disciples from that point on, once they identify him as Messiah, that he will suffer, die, and be raised. Why did he wait to start telling them this until this time? 

He waited because his mission was essentially tied to his identity. Simply put, he can do what he does because he is who he is. 

when we speak of the person of Christ, we mean to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Here is the answer that I will define with the rest of our time: Jesus is God the Son incarnate. That is to say, he is the second person of the trinity who assumed a human nature in order to accomplish the salvation of man for the glory of God. 

So with the rest of our time this morning, let’s walk through 1) what the Bible says about Jesus and then 2) look at how the church has summarized and articulated what the Bible says about the person of Christ.

Jesus in Context

Jesus does not just pop on the scene. He comes at the fullness of time and upon the foundation laid out in the Old Testament. We learn of Jesus in the New Testament, but if we dismiss the context of the New Testament, which is the Old Testament, then we will not properly grasp what is being said of Jesus. Many make this mistake. Thinking back to what Schaeffer said, one reason someone can talk to you about Jesus but think so differently about Jesus than you is because they are interpreting Jesus from a context alien to him. 

So what is the context of Jesus? We find it in the Old Testament. What exactly do we need to grasp in order to understand what is said of Jesus in the New Testament? 

Uncompromising Monotheism

First, we need to understand that there is only one God. We see this with narrative and then also with direct statements. 

Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There was nothing but God and then God created. He is not created. He is completely independent, uncreated, and needs nothing for his existence. He is existence. 

Nothing causes him and nothing sustains him other than himself. This is why, when Moses asks God for his name, God replies, “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). 

But perhaps you think that I am making Genesis 1:1 say more than you think it is saying. What I am saying is implied from Genesis 1:1, however, is stated clearly elsewhere. Consider Isaiah 40:21-29, here God speaks through the prophet Isaiah,

“Do you not know? Did you not hear? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has the stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

In other words, there is none like God. He alone is God. He alone is eternal, meaning that he has always been God and always will be God. And, as we read on in Isaiah, we see clearly that there never has been another God nor will there be.

Isaiah 43:10, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” 

Isaiah 44:6-8, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me, there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” 

The God of the Bible alone is God and he makes himself known as the only God because he is the one who declares ahead of time what he has appointed so that you know he has control of all things. 

Here is the upshot: when the Bible speaks of God, it is not speaking of one who belongs to a class of beings called “gods.” It speaks of one who is in a class by himself in his nature and attributes. By definition, there is no other God—which is what it means to be God.

God’s Relationship with Humanity is Covenantal

Second, we need to understand that man is created in the image of God and is in covenant with him from the beginning. God, the creator of all things, makes man in his image and likeness. Man, then, is a special creation with a special role. Man is necessarily related to God. And it is because of this unique relationship that humanity has a unique role as well. As those who are made in the image and likeness of God, we are to reflect and represent God in this world.

Adam, as the first man, is the head of this covenant relationship. Isaiah 43:27 makes note of the fact that Adam, the father of all humanity, sinned. 

“Your first father sinned, and your mediators transgressed against me.”

Adam, and all other covenant mediators from that time, transgressed against God. This is why Paul, in Romans 5:12, notes that all of humanity was condemned because of Adam’s sin since he was the covenant head of all humanity. Look at Romans 5:17

“…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man…”

Then Romans 5:18 states,

“…One trespass led to condemnation for all men…”

Romans 5:19 says again,

“…By the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners…”

Adam, as the head of humanity, led humanity into sin and death. This leads us to the third issue we must understand.

Sin Separates from God

Third, we need to understand that sin offends and separates us from God. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden because of sin. All people are under the bondage of sin because Adam, the covenant head of all humanity, rebelled against God. Now all are under sin and death. This much is clear because all people have joined into this sin and death. Romans 5:12 states it this way,

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."

The Bible is also clear that sin demands judgment. When God passes by Moses and declares his name, he says of himself in Exodus 34:6-7, 

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 

Do you see the tension here? God has obligated himself to forgive through is covenants with men, but he also—as holy and just—is obligated to punish sin. This is one of the themes that drives the story of the Bible forward and leads to Jesus. We need a new covenant head, one who is human like us, but also one who is, unlike us, righteous and sinless. 

As Stephen Wellum writes, “For God to forgive us, he must remain true to himself, which is wondrously a good thing! That is why our forgiveness is possible only if the full satisfaction of his moral demand is met. But this raises a crucial question: who is able to satisfy God’s righteous demands other than God himself?”

God Will Redeem By a Man

Fourth, we need to understand that God promises to redeem. The various covenants in the Old Testament are initiated by God but always have a human partner. He promises to usher in salvation, but he also says that he will use a human agent.

Consider the following passages and how God promises to accomplish salvation himself but also says that he will use a man in order to complete his plan:

  • Isaiah 40:9-11 and Isaiah 42:1-8.

“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it; ‘I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”

Behold, your God comes to rescue you! But then compare this with the fact that his servant will accomplish his plan and receive glory. 

  • Ezekiel 34:11-16 and 34:23-24.

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on that mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” 

“And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.”

While those who should have watched out for the sheep of Israel have only abused them, God will come as the shepherd himself. Yet he will also set up David as the shepherd. Which is it? Will God be the shepherd or will David be the shepherd?

  • Daniel 7:13-14.

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

In this vision, Daniel sees that God brings deliverance to the suffering of his people, but how does he do it? He does it by giving dominion, glory, and a kingdom to one like a son of man—meaning a human. But this human comes to the ancient of days with the clouds of heaven. If you remember from Exodus and other places, clouds represent the presence of God himself. 

  • Isaiah 11:1-5 and Psalm 110.

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness, he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the self of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”

One will come from the line of David, the son of Jesse, who is God’s special servant and his agent of redemption. Yet, David himself writes in Psalm 110:1,

“The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

Did you catch what David is saying here? David is depicting a conversation where YHWH speaks to another whom David calls his Lord. Then Psalm 110 goes on to describe the Messiah. Thus, while the Messiah comes from the line of David, David calls the one who comes from him his “Lord.” He comes from David but is greater than David. God’s servant will be a son of David (Isaiah 11:1), but will also be David’s Lord (Psalm 110). Though David’s son, this man will perfectly obey and act like the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-5).

All of this is how God will accomplish his great promise of making a New Covenant in which the sins of his people will be completely removed (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God says that he will do it himself but he also says that he will use a man to do it. This is vital to understanding who Jesus is. Man’s sin is the problem; God’s solution is to bring the cure himself but to do so through a man, but this will be no mere man. 

Jesus in the New Testament: The God-Man Foretold in the Old Testament

The Old Testament sets forth the notion that man can only be redeemed by the Lord, but this redemption would take place through a new covenant head. Thus, it should not surprise us when we find the New Testament saying that Jesus is both God and man, fully human and fully God. Or, put simply, God the Son incarnate. 

Jesus Acts with Divine Identity

First, let’s consider the category of Jesus’ actions. Constantly, Jesus is doing things that only God can do. And he does not do them merely as one who has God’s permission. He is doing things that demand the authority of God.

  • Mark 2:1-12, Jesus forgives sin. In this story, Jesus pronounces the sins of a man forgiven. Upon hearing this, some scribes questioned in their hearts why Jesus would say this since God alone can forgive sins.” Jesus does not come out and say, “You’re right. Usually, only God can forgive sins, but in this case, he has given me permission.” No, he asks them (and remember, they did not question out loud!), “which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and then commands the man to get up and walk. What does this mean? Jesus was saying, “Sure, anyone could say your sins are forgiven. But do you know that when I say it, then sins are actually forgiven? How can you know for sure? I’ll also have this man walk.” 

  • Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus speaks with God’s authority. In these verses, Jesus does not do away with or intensify God’s law. Rather, he gives the authoritative interpretation of it. This means that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus cleaning to have the authority of God. It is like a book club discussing what a book means and then someone in the club says, I know what it means because I am its author.” But not only does he claim to be the authoritative speaker; he is claiming that he is the point of the whole thing as well.

  • Matthew 5-8, Jesus has all authority. In these chapters, we see Jesus heal when he desires to heal, cure sickness with a mere word, calm the sea with a word, cast out demons with a word, and forgive sins with his word. He has all authority.

  • John 5, Jesus has the authority of God. This chapter is just astounding in what it claims for Jesus. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and says that he can do so because, as he states, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). The Jews clearly understood that he was making himself equal with God (John 5:18). While you were not allowed to work on the Sabbath, you were allowed to perform the regular duties of your home. The Jews recognized that God kept creation going even on the Sabbath. He was not a Sabbath-breaker, though, because all of creation was God’s domain. Jesus, then, was claiming that he could heal on the Sabbath because, like his Father, all things are in his domain. But not only this. He also claims that he has the authority to judge (5:22), even though judgment is the purview of God alone (Deut 1:17; Jer 25:31). And the Son has been given authority to judge so that “all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father (5:23), even though God says that he will share his glory with no other. The only way the Father could so desire to honor the Son, then, is if the Father and the Son share the divine identity. Furthermore, Jesus claims that he will raise the dead even though resurrection is the work of God (Ezek 37:1-23; Dan 12:2). 

  • Matthew 14:33; 21:15; 28:9; John 20:28, Jesus receives worship. We are to only worship God alone, yet Jesus receives worship and does not say it is wrong. He knows that he deserves it. 

Jesus does things that only God can do, so by doing these things, it is implied that he shares the same authority as God his Father. 

Jesus Speaks in Accord to Divine Identity

Second, Jesus says things that demand that we see him as God. 

  • Jesus speaks of God as his Father, Matt 6:9; 11:25-26; Mark 14:36; Luke 10:21. This is a claim of a unique relationship—eternal sonship. Jesus mentions this in John 17:5 when he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. God is uniquely his Father because he is the unique Son. This is why, when we come to Jesus in faith, we can become children of God and call God our Father (cf. John 1:12; Romans 8:15). Before all creation, meaning before anything was made, the Father had the Son and the Son had the Father. 

  • Jesus claims the divine name for himself, John 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58, 18:5, 6, 8. These are known as the “I Am” statements in John’s gospels. These are statements in which Jesus refers to himself as “I am” without a predicate. This is linking himself with the personal identity of YHWH given in Exodus 3:14. This is an incredibly explicit statement. Let’s focus on 8:58. In a controversy with the Jews, Jesus tells them, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” Why does he do this? Because in their argument with Jesus, the Jews were clinging to the fact that they were God’s people because they were Abraham’s descendants. How does Jesus counter this argument? By telling them a true son of Abraham would do what Abraham did—listen to and believe God. They are not sons of Abraham because they do not listen to Jesus, who is the I AM that Abraham heard and believed. Jesus is the God of Abraham, so they should listen to him like Abraham listened to him. John 13:19 is another I am statement that connects to another exclusive claim. In Isaiah, God shows himself to be God alone by saying that he alone can tell what is to come. But Jesus, in John 13:19, also claims to be able to tell of what is to come. This is not the claim of a mere prophet. As it is connected with the I am statement, it is saying that he is the only true God. 

The Apostles Write of Jesus as Having Divine Identity

When the apostles write about Jesus, they have clearly understood who he is. Their understanding of Jesus flows from Jesus’ understanding of himself. When they write of Jesus, they fit him into the story of Scripture

  • Old Testament Passages Speaking of YHWH Applied to Jesus. In Mark 1:1-4, we see that John the Baptist is the messenger foretold in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. What is significant about this is that these passages speak of one who is a forerunner for YHWH himself and not a mere man. Yet, Mark identifies John as preparing the way of Jesus. 

  • Jesus Directly Spoken of As God. In John 1, Jesus is identified as God. He is the Word, who was in the beginning with God. Verse 18 makes this more clear: he is with the Father and is by nature all that the Father is, meaning that he is God. In the Old Testament, the “Word” is closely associated with God. God is the creator, revealer, and redeemer—but he creates, reveals, and redeems all by his Word (Gen 1:3-27; Ps 33:6,9; Isaiah 55:11). By the use of this title “Word,” John teaches us that the Word is God, yet simultaneously distinct from the Father who is God. Note the following in these verses

  1. In the beginning, was the Word: The Word is eternal, hence Jesus the Son is eternal. 

  2. The Word was with God: While the Word is eternal, he is distinct from God the Father. Hence, there is an eternal Father-Son relation.

  3. The Word was God: The Word shares the full deity with the Father because there is only one God. 

  4. As we saw in the OT, there is only one God. Hence, the Father and Son share the one divine nature.

  • Jesus Is Directly Addressed As God: John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 1:8. Why is he not addressed as such more? Simply put, it is more rare in order to preserve personal distinctions within God. God is predominately used of the Father while the Lord is predominantly used of the Son.

Jesus Acts and Speaks with Human Identity

But Jesus is not just God, he is also fully human, which is different than saying he is merely human. Jesus is the God-man, fully God and fully man, meaning that he possesses all that it means to be God, and he possesses all that it means to be human. This is the clear testimony of Scripture. Consider just a few examples

First, Christ is born of Mary. He was conceived, developed in her womb, and was birthed by her (Matt 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit but born of Mary, which helps us see that in Jesus you have the union of divinity and humanity in one person. 

Second, Jesus shows human weakness and limitations throughout his ministry. 

  • Jesus has a human body, and thus becomes physically weary (John 4:6), becomes thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matt 4:2), and experiences physical death (Luke 23:46). 

  • Jesus has a human mind. He increases in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and speaks truthfully when he says that he does not know the day or hour of his return (Mark 13:32).

  • Jesus has a human soul and human emotions. He speaks of his soul being troubled (John 12:27) and sorrowful (Matt 26:28). He marveled at great faith (Matt 8:10, wept at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35), and prayed with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7). He also learned obedience (Heb 5:8-9), taking on hard tasks and growing in deeper obedience to his father.  

Third, others saw Jesus’ humanity. People who knew him well, those around whom he grew up, rejected him because they did not see how this mere boy could be the Messiah (Matt 13:53-58). They saw him as nothing more than an ordinary man. Likewise, even his brothers did not think him anything special, refusing to see him as the Messiah (John 7:5). 

The Bible clearly testifies to Jesus’ humanity along with his divinity. And, based on the Old Testament context, this should not surprise us. We should expect the Messiah to be fully God and fully man. 

Why Understanding the Person of Christ is Essential to Understand Salvation

The teaching of the New Testament aligns with the context of the Old Testament. The testimony of Scripture is that Jesus is the God-man. He is fully God, meaning that he has the nature of God, yet he is distinct from the Father and the Spirit. He is also fully man by nature, possessing all that it means to be human, yet he is not merely human. 

In theology, this union of natures in the one person of Christ is called the Hypostatic Union. This phrase simply is a confession that Jesus is one person who possesses two natures, divine and human. This means that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, assumed a fully human nature in order to serve as a New Covenant head and effect the redemption of a people for God’s own possession. 

Because he is the God-Man, he can effect the redemption promised in the Old Testament, overcome the issue of sin, and usher in the new creation. 

Jesus is able to do what he does, atone for the sins of man, because he is the God-man. Lord willing, this will become all the more clear as we continue to study the work of Christ and salvation. But here are some key takeaways: 

Christ, as man, can represent humanity as a covenant head. He is the new Adam and he is making a new humanity (Rom 5; 2 Cor 5:17). He has come to save man (Hebrews 2), and to serve as the mediator between God and man as priest (Hebrews 7-8). He can do this because he is fully man. If he were not human like us, then he could not redeem us. 

But he is not a mere man, which is a good thing. As God, Christ can fully atone for our sins, bearing the eternal punishment we deserve. Because of his infinite worth, he can bear eternal punishment and actually say, “It is finished,” rise from the dead and usher in the new creation. If he were not God, then he could not redeem us from our sin. 

“Jesus is the divine Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, the Lord of glory, who in time assumed a human nature, so that now and forevermore he is the eternal ‘Word made flesh’ (John 1:1,14). And he did this because it’s only one individual—God the Son incarnate—who can bring about God’s eternal plan by securing our redemption, executing judgment on sin, and establishing a new creation by the ratification of a new covenant in his life, death, and resurrection.”

This is why we say that there is no one else who can save us. “There is salvation in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). To be confused on who Jesus is means you are confused on the ultimate problem humanity faces and the ultimate solution needed. In short, if you get Jesus wrong you will automatically get the good news wrong. 

Thus, pay attention to the things we will discuss over the next few weeks. These are not academic topics. They are vital for the church today. History is awash with examples of people getting Jesus wrong and thus missing out on the gracious gift of the gospel. We live among the Mormons, who agree that we believe different things about Jesus, but they do not believe that we differ in our understanding of Christ’s work. But if we differ in who we think Christ is, then we will also differ in what we think he does. Lord willing, this will become even clearer as we look at the atonement next week. 


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