Catechism

3 The triune God

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprise the one God. That God is triune from eternity is attested by the self-revelations of God within the history of salvation, which makes clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have existed, created, acted, and sustained from the beginning.

In the old covenant God predominantly revealed Himself as God, the Father, whereas the activity of the Son and the Holy Spirit was still largely concealed from mankind. From the perspective of the New Testament, Apostle Paul declares that the Son of God was already present when the people of Israel made their way through the desert (1 Corinthians 10: 4). Beyond that, both Mark 12: 36 and Hebrews 3: 7 state that the Holy Spirit already spoke in the old covenant.

The incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit, allow believers to recognise God as triune. In John 16: 13-15, Jesus Christ underlines the workings of the trinity of God: that which belongs to the Son also belongs to the Father, and that which the Holy Spirit declares, He takes from the Father and the Son.

The triune God is one God in the fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit. He seeks to make this fellowship of His accessible to mankind.

3.1 The nature of God Back to top

God, in His nature and activity, cannot be grasped by human understanding. Access to God in His omnipotence and greatness is only possible through faith. Jesus Christ revealed God to human beings as a loving, compassionate, and gracious Father, and enabled them to experience Him as such. Further revelations from God are given by the Holy Spirit who leads the faithful into the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2: 6-16).

Characteristics of God's nature are: He is the One (the Only One), the Holy One, the Almighty, the Eternal, the Loving One, the Gracious One, the Righteous One, the Perfect One. God is neither unknown nor concealed. He inclines Himself to human beings, speaks to them, and allows them to speak to Him.

The description of the divine characteristics is to bring to expression the perfection and absoluteness of God, but all terms taken from the human sphere of experience will fail to do justice to the reality of God.

3.1.1 One God in three persons Back to top

The trinity of God is a mystery. The Trinitarian formula, "In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," does not use the plural "names", but the singular: "the name". The one God is the triune God. In His words to the Apostles, Jesus allowed them to recognise the trinity of God by stating that they were to baptise "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28: 19). When we speak of God as "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit", we do not imply that these are three different Gods, but rather three persons (hypostases), who are the One God.

3.1.2 God, the One Back to top

Belief in God as the One God is one of the fundamental professions of both the Old and New Testaments. God Himself spoke to Moses of His oneness and faithfulness to Himself, which is expressed in His name: "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3: 14). The profession of God's uniqueness–"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6: 4)–remained with the people of the old covenant throughout their entire history.

Although already stated unequivocally in the First Commandment–"You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20: 3)–it was a long time before Israel professed the uniqueness of God to the exclusion of all other gods and their worship. Again and again, the prophets had to reproach the people for worshipping other gods. In Isaiah 45: 21-22, we find the words of God: "And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Saviour; there is none besides Me. Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." After their return from Babylonian captivity, profession of the one God (monotheism) entered into the consciousness of the Jews as the essential distinguishing feature between them and the Gentiles. To this day, the belief expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon has been a distinguishing feature of Judaism: "For neither is there any God but [Thee]" (Wisdom of Solomon 12: 13).

This profession is also firmly rooted in Christian faith, from the earliest apostolic congregations until the present. Apostle Paul advocated monotheism without restrictions of any kind. With a view to the polytheism of the Greek and Roman religions, he wrote: "Therefore ... we know that ... there is no other God but one" (1 Corinthians 8: 4).

3.1.3 God, the Holy One Back to top

In the Old Testament God is repeatedly described as "the Holy One" (Isaiah 43: 3; Jeremiah 50: 29; Habakkuk 1: 12). The holiness which is part of God's nature, being, and rule, refers to the fact that He is majestic, untouchable, and separate from the profane. This is also attested in Revelation 4: 8 with the words: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come" (Isaiah 6: 3). His word and His will are equally holy.

The nearness of God, the presence of the Holy One, which has been repeatedly experienced throughout the history of salvation, commands reverence for Him. That the presence of God is holy and that it demands reverence was experienced by Moses when he saw the burning bush and heard the voice of God: "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground" (Exodus 3: 5). The holiness of God sanctifies the place where He reveals Himself.

Participation in God's holiness is both a gift and a duty: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19: 2; cf. 1 Peter 1: 15-16). Thus every believer is called upon to strive for holiness, which derives from the holiness of God. Thereby the name of God is "hallowed", which is also expressed in the Lord's Prayer: "Hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6: 9).

3.1.4 God, the Almighty Back to top

The profession in the First Article of Faith–"I believe in God the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth"–attests that God can do anything, that nothing is impossible for Him, and that for Him there are no restrictions whatsoever in the implementation of His will. In Psalm 135: 6 this is expressed as follows: "Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places."

God's omnipotence is also clearly shown to mankind in His creation, for by His word alone everything came into being from nothing (Hebrews 11: 3). In His omnipotence, God constitutes the beginning and the end: "'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,' says the Lord, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Revelation 1: 8). The new creation will therefore also be an expression of God's omnipotence.

Jesus Christ also spoke of the omnipotence of God: "With God all things are possible" (Mark 10: 27). His omnipotence was also attested by the angels: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1: 37).

The omnipotence of God incorporates His omnipresence and omniscience. The omniscience of God is referred to in Psalm 139: 2-4: "You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether." The same psalm also refers to God's omnipresence: "If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me" (verses 8-10).

3.1.5 God, the Eternal Back to top

God, "the Eternal", has neither beginning nor end. Temporal limitations do not exist for Him. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God" (Psalm 90: 2). God is the Creator and Lord of time. Unlike the material world, which is subject to time, God defines time in a sovereign manner. He grants time and can also take it away.

The eternal nature of God transcends the horizon of human experience. It is infinite, however, it is not timeless. Rather, the past, present, and future are all equally current to God. That God is exalted over, and stands above, the dimension of time is implied in 2 Peter 3: 8: "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

3.1.6 God, the Loving One Back to top

In the old as well as in the new covenant, God reveals Himself as the Loving One. Out of love He elected the people of Israel and freed them from Egyptian captivity. However, God not only revealed Himself as the Loving One to the people of Israel in this historical act, but ultimately to all mankind in Jesus Christ: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3: 16). God not only turns to the world in love, but God is love (1 John 4: 16).

3.1.7 God, the Gracious and Righteous One Back to top

God is the Gracious One. His grace is part of His righteousness. He shows mankind grace, compassion, patience, and kindness (Psalm 103: 8). In His righteousness, God granted His people grace even when they went astray or did not keep the covenant: "'With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,' says the Lord, your Redeemer" (Isaiah 54: 8).

That God is the Gracious One is demonstrated in the new covenant by the fact that He turns to human beings, who are entangled in sin, and forgives their sins. Apostle Paul attests that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5: 19). Through grace, God pronounces the unrighteous righteous, sinners receive forgiveness, and those in need of salvation are granted salvation, that is redemption.

God is righteous: "His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice" (Deuteronomy 32: 4). Statements like "For the wages of sin is death ..." (Romans 6: 23) or "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgements" (Revelation 16: 7) are clear expressions of His righteousness. In the new covenant it is He who, through Jesus Christ, grants sinners justification which they did not earn (Romans 3: 24-26; 5: 18).

3.1.8 God, the Perfect One Back to top

God is perfect. He requires no improvement, change, or any further development. He is the Unchangeable One and is free from all conditions and constraints. His actions are not based on external necessity, but solely on His completely sovereign will.

God revealed Himself to Moses as the Perfect One who is completely identical with Himself: "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3: 14).

The perfection of God is closely linked to His goodness: everything that occurs in God, everything that emanates from Him or is created by Him, is perfect and good. God's perfection is also demonstrated by the fact that there is absolutely no difference of any kind between His will and His actions, between His intentions and their execution. Nor is there any failure with God, or any other thing that would be imperfect in itself. The creation shares in God's perfection and goodness, and it is for this reason that God finds His creation to be "very good" (Genesis 1: 31).

The perfection of God also incorporates the truth. With God there is no lie, deception, or uncertainty. "The entirety of Your word is truth" (Psalm 119: 160). The divine word is reliable. God binds Himself to His promises and is true.

The truth of God corresponds with wisdom. God rules and fills the entire creation with it: "Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things" (Wisdom of Solomon 8: 1).

God's perfection can be directly experienced in Jesus Christ, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12: 2) because He is perfect in His speech and conduct. Jesus Christ is the example and teacher of that perfection for which mankind is to strive (Philippians 2: 5).

The "goal for the prize of the upward call of God" (Philippians 3: 14)–in other words, perfection–is of an eschatological nature. Sinful human beings may well strive for perfection, but they will not attain it. Once they have been accepted at the return of Christ and permitted to partake in the new creation God will ultimately allow human beings to share completely in His perfection.

SUMMARY Back to top

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the one God, who has existed, created, acted, and sustained from the beginning. (3)

In His nature and activity, God cannot be grasped by human beings. Access to Him is only possible through faith. (3.1)

The one God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not a reference to three Gods, but rather three persons (hypostases). (3.1.1)

Belief in the one God (monotheism) is among the fundamental professions of the Old and New Testaments, and is anchored in the Christian faith from the earliest apostolic congregations right up to the present. (3.1.2)

Holiness–majesty, inviolability, separation from the profane–is part of God's nature, being, and rule. His word and will are equally holy. (3.1.3)

God can do anything. There are no limitations of any kind for Him. His omnipotence also includes omniscience and omnipresence. (3.1.4)

God has neither beginning nor end. God's eternity is infinite, but not timeless. He is the Creator of time and thus superior to all dimensions of time. The past, present, and future are all equally current before Him. (3.1.5)

"God is love" (1 John 4: 16). He also shows Himself in history as a loving God. Above all, this becomes clear in the fact that He gave His Son for all humanity. (3.1.6)

God is the Gracious and Righteous One. He also demonstrates His grace in that He forgives sins. He grants the sinner righteousness through Jesus Christ. (3.1.7)

God is perfect. His works and ways are without flaw. His actions are based solely upon His completely sovereign will. God binds Himself to His promises and is true. God's perfection is directly perceptible in Jesus Christ. (3.1.8)

3.2 God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Back to top

God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus God can be recognised as the triune God. This self-revelation of God constitutes the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. God's actions in history and creation are executed as the respective works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God reveals Himself as Creator, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Maker of the new creation. God reveals His triune nature in Jesus' life–at His baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven–as well as at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost: He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The mystery of the divine Trinity comes to expression in various ways in the Old and New Testaments. However, Holy Scripture does not mention the term or provide any doctrine on the Trinity. This doctrine was recognised and formulated in the early church on the basis of biblical evidence.

3.2.1 References to the triune God in the Old Testament Back to top

The first reference to the activity of the triune God is recorded in the first account of creation (Genesis 1: 1-31; 2: 1-4). There it states: "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1: 2) and also: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness'" (Genesis 1: 26). "Elohim", the designation for God used in the original Hebrew text, is plural. It means "the Divine" as well as "gods" and should be understood, in light of the gospel, as a reference to the triune God.

The various divine manifestations, for example "Angel of the Lord" (Genesis 16: 7-11, 13; Exodus 3: 2-5; Judges 6: 11-16), "Spirit of God" (Genesis 1: 2), or "Spirit of the Lord" (Judges 3: 10; 1 Samuel 16: 13) are also interpreted as references to the mystery of the trinity of God.

The events and references in which the number three appears also allude to the Trinity:

  • The three messengers of God who visited Abraham (Genesis 18) are understood in Christian tradition as a reference to the mystery of the divine Trinity.

  • The activity of the triune God in the priestly blessing from Numbers 6: 24-26 is interpreted in the same way: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace."

  • The angel's threefold praise in the inaugural vision of the prophet Isaiah is also considered an indication of God's trinity: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isaiah 6: 3).

3.2.2 References to the triune God in the New Testament Back to top

Although the New Testament does not contain a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, it nevertheless records events and formulations which clearly show the divine Trinity and its activity in the history of salvation. One example of the presence of the triune God can be found right at the beginning of Jesus' public activity, when, at His baptism, the Father and the Holy Spirit attest to the sending of the incarnate Son of God: "And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heaven parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'" (Mark 1: 10-11). The Son of God, as is revealed here, works in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are also mentioned in the commission to baptise, which Jesus Christ gave His Apostles before His ascension into heaven (Matthew 28: 18-19).

Indicators of the bond between the persons of the Trinity can be found in the gospel according to John, which speaks of the oneness between the Son and the Father, and where Jesus Christ says: "I and My Father are one" (John 10: 30; cf. John 1: 1, 18). The promise of the Holy Spirit also attests to the trinity of God (John 16: 13-15).

There are further references to God's trinity in the epistles of the New Testament. They can be found in the praises of God as well as in the wording of certain blessings. Accordingly, 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 states: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." This passage refers as much to the uniqueness of God as to the different self-revelations of the divine persons. That God's activity provides evidence of His Trinitarian nature is also attested in Ephesians 4: 4-6: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." The salvific activity of the triune God is referenced in 1 Peter 1: 2: "... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."

A clear reference to God's triune nature is found in the wording of the blessing at the end of the second epistle to the Corinthians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13: 13).

3.2.3 The development of the doctrine of the Trinity Back to top

The recognition of God's triune nature and its doctrinal presentation already began shortly after the New Testament Scriptures had been written. To express these interrelations linguistically, ancient philosophical terms like "person" or "hypostasis", as well as "substance", were used. Formulating the doctrine of the Trinity served, on one hand, to put into words the understanding gained through faith, and on the other, to protect the faith against heretics who sought to convey an image of God which did not correspond to the testimony of the New Testament. The doctrine of the Trinity was formulated during the first councils of the fourth and fifth centuries.

The term "Trinity" was coined by Theophile of Antioch, who lived in the second half of the second century, but it was the church leader Tertullian (ca. AD 160-220) who made it popular. Tertullian emphasised the oneness of God: "one [divine] substance in three persons" (Latin: una substantia tres personae). He was also the first to apply the term "person" to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) explicitly enshrined the divine oneness of substance of the Father and Son. The direct reason behind this was the doctrine of Arius (died AD 336), who argued that the pre-existent Son was created by the Father from nothing, which therefore constituted God's first act of creation. In opposition to this view, the council insisted that the Son was not created, but has been, from all eternity, part of the triune God.

This dispute, known as the "Arian controversy", did not come to an end with the Council of Nicaea, but went on until the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. This council brought to expression that the Holy Spirit is as much a divine person–and true God–as the Father and the Son.

In the following years, the doctrine of the Trinity was, with few exceptions, generally accepted by Christendom. The deliberations over the doctrine of the Trinity had, however, not been concluded. Particularly under the influence of the Church Father Augustine (AD 354-430), the Western Church later emphasised that the Holy Spirit emanates equally from both the Father and the Son. In contrast, the Eastern Church maintained an older version of the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople, which states that the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father through the Son.

The Reformers adopted the belief in the Trinity of God from the early church (second to sixth century). With the exception of the aforementioned divergent interpretation concerning the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Trinity is common to all Christian churches. It is among the most fundamental statements of the Christian faith and is an essential feature that distinguishes it from the two other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam.

At the eleventh church synod of Toledo (AD 675) it was proclaimed: "The Father is the same as the Son, the Son the same as the Father, the Father and the Son the same as the Holy Spirit, namely by nature one God."

3.2.4 The unity of the three divine persons Back to top

Christians profess the one triune God. Each of the divine persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is true God. The Christian faith states that God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–has always existed, namely from eternity.

Accordingly, "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" are not merely names that designate various modes of being and revelation of God. Rather the three names stand for divine persons who are different from one another in their being. The Father is actually not the same as the Son, and the Son not the same as the Father. The Holy Spirit is not the same as the Father or the Son. This is because the "Father" is the begetter, the "Son" the begotten one, and the "Holy Spirit" the one emanating from both.

The three divine persons are continually interrelated and are eternally one. The distinctiveness of the three divine persons does not dissolve God's oneness, for they are one nature, or substance. In them there is no contradiction of will. The Father is entirely in the Son, entirely in the Holy Spirit. The Son is entirely in the Father, entirely in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father, entirely in the Son.

Christians profess that all acts of God in creation, salvation, and the new creation are acts of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While all divine acts are, at the same time, acts of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are not always carried out in the same manner. Whereas creation was an act of God the Father and God the Son, it was neither God the Father nor God the Holy Spirit, but God the Son alone, who became incarnate. It was neither the Father nor the Son, but rather the Holy Spirit alone, who was poured out. In Christian tradition, the three divine persons are each assigned a point of emphasis (appropriation): God the Father is Creator, the Son is Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the Maker of the new creation.

SUMMARY Back to top

God's actions in the creation and in history are the works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (3.2)

References to the trinity of God can be found in the first account of the creation, in the three messengers of God who visited Abraham, in the threefold Aaronic blessing, and in the three-fold praise of the angel in the inaugural vision of the prophet Isaiah. (3.2.1)

An example for the presence of the triune God can be found at the baptism of Jesus, when the Father and the Holy Spirit attest to the sending of the Son. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are also mentioned in Jesus' great commission as well as in the benediction formula recorded in 2 Corinthians 13: 13. (3.2.2)

The doctrine of the trinity of God was formulated at the Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. At the Council of Nicaea the divine oneness of substance of the Father and the Son became binding doctrine. At the Council of Constantinople the oneness of substance of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son was enshrined as doctrine. (3.2.3)

"Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" are different divine persons in their being, however, they are continually interrelated and eternally one. (3.2.4)

In Christian tradition each of the three divine persons is assigned a particular point of emphasis: God, the Father, is the Creator, while God, the Son, is the Redeemer, and God, the Holy Spirit, is the Maker of the new creation. (3.2.4)

3.3 God, the Father Back to top

God reveals Himself as the Father in unsurpassed fashion through the incarnation of God, the Son: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. ... No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1: 14, 18). God the Father has begotten His only Son from eternity (see 3.4.1). This mystery is only revealed to those to whom the Son discloses it: "No one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11: 27).

When believers use the term "Father", in connection with God, it is linked to aspects of His creation, authority, and loving care. God is the source and sustainer of everything He has created. In this respect, all human beings are able to address God, who is their Creator, as Father.

In Old Testament times, God revealed Himself as a loving and caring Father to the people of Israel. He said to Moses: "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord: Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me'" (Exodus 4: 22-23). The people of Israel called God "Father" (Deuteronomy 32: 6; Jeremiah 31: 9). When Jesus spoke to the Jews in the Sermon on the Mount, He too referred to God as their Father (Matthew 5: 16). He called upon them to invoke God with the words: "Our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6: 9).

Jesus Christ opened the way for human beings to become children–and thereby heirs–of the Most High through the rebirth out of water and the Spirit (Ephesians 1: 5; Titus 3: 5-7; Romans 8: 14-17). Thereby the concepts "Father" and "child" have taken on a new dimension. In 1 John 3: 1, the Fatherly love of God is given as the reason for which the reborn can be certain of their status as children of God: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!"

3.3.1 God, the Creator Back to top

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1: 1). This statement from the first verse of Holy Scripture expresses a basic truth which we profess in the First Article of Faith. It is God who has created the heavenly worlds and the universe, and who, in so doing, has given the earth its place in the universe. It is here that God became Man.

Everything that exists has emanated from God's creative activity. On the one hand, He has wrought this creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) and without any template, that is to say, in a completely independent way: "God ... calls those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4: 17; cf. Hebrews 11: 3). On the other hand, He has also fashioned things and living beings from the matter He created (Genesis 2: 7-8, 19). All created things are subject to Him.

The creation and its order bear witness to God's wisdom, the magnitude of which no human being can fathom. With admiration the psalmist exclaims: "O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions" (Psalm 104: 24).

The New Testament reveals that God has created everything through His Son. This follows primarily from the beginning of the gospel according to John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1: 1-3; cf. Colossians 1: 16; Hebrews 1: 2; see 3.4.2). Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is also Creator. This is suggested by the words: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ..." (Genesis 1: 26).

Through His word, the triune God has created the material world. He sustains its existence and governs it. Thus the creation not only harbours the mystery of the origin and the beginning, but also of the continuation and the future. Everything demonstrates the Creator's constant care: "For Thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which Thou hast made: for never wouldest Thou have made any thing, if Thou hadst hated it. And how could any thing have endured, if it had not been Thy will? Or been preserved, if not called by Thee? But Thou sparest all: for they are Thine, O Lord, Thou lover of souls. For Thine incorruptible Spirit is in all things" (Wisdom of Solomon 11: 24-12: 1).

SUMMARY Back to top

God reveals Himself in unique and unsurpassed fashion in the incarnation of God, the Son. (3.3)

When the term "Father" is used in connection with God, it is linked to aspects of His creation, His authority, and His loving care. (3.3)

Through His word, God has created all that exists. On the one hand, God has created from nothing and without template. On the other hand, He has also fashioned things and living beings out of the material He has created. All creation is subject to Him. He sustains the creation and guides it. (3.3.1)

3.3.1.1 The invisible creation Back to top

Holy Scripture provides multiple references to a purely invisible world, that is to say realms, occurrences, conditions, and beings outside the material world. It was created by God and is called the "invisible creation". Sometimes the term "beyond" is also used to emphasise that the invisible creation is beyond human perception. Like God Himself, its mysteries elude human investigation. Nevertheless it is possible, through divine revelation, for human beings to gain insights into the invisible creation.

The invisible world cannot actually be described in human terms, since these are based on the human sphere of experience (that which is visible). Nevertheless, Holy Scripture uses such terms in order to make statements on the invisible world in figurative language.

From the biblical account we can conclude that the invisible creation incorporates the realm where God rules on His throne (Revelation 4 and 5), the angels (see 3.3.1.1.1), the immortal soul of man (see 3.3.4), as well as the realm of the dead (see 9). The Devil, the adversary of God and the enemy of mankind, as well as his followers also belong to the invisible world, although they were not created as evil (see 4.1 and 4.1.2).

3.3.1.1.1 The angels Back to top

The term "angel" is the translation of the Hebrew word malak or the Greek angelos. Here and there, both words are used in the respective Hebrew or Greek texts of Holy Scripture with the general meaning of "messenger, emissary" [1], but they are mainly used in reference to heavenly messengers of God.

The task of the angels is to worship God, fulfil His instructions, and thereby serve Him. In individual cases angels can, if God wills, become visible. Holy Scripture relates that angels brought messages to human beings at God's behest. There is also much biblical evidence that angels commissioned by God served human beings by offering them help or protection. They are "all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1: 14). Matthew 18: 10 points out that children are assigned angels who always see the face of God.

The services performed by angels for human beings are always based on the will of God. Thus it is not to the angels, but to God alone, that gratitude and worship are due: "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. ... For not of any favour of mine, but by the will of our God I came; wherefore praise Him for ever" (Tobit 12: 15, 18).

The formulation "multitude of the heavenly host" in Luke 2: 13 conveys the distinct impression of a great number of angels. The same idea comes across in Matthew 26: 53, where Jesus remarked that His Father could immediately provide Him with more than twelve legions of angels. The angels are described as those "who excel in strength" (Psalm 103: 20) and as holy and majestic beings. They can inspire shock and fear in human beings (Luke 1: 11-12, 29; 2: 9-10).

Likewise, Holy Scripture tells of the cherubim who guarded access to the tree of life after mankind's fall into sin (Genesis 3: 24), and of the seraphim whom the prophet Isaiah saw in a vision serving before the throne of God (Isaiah 6: 2-7).

The biblical account allows us to conclude that there are different ranks within the angelic realm: we read of Michael, the chief prince or archangel (Daniel 10: 13; 12: 1; Jude 9), and of Gabriel and Raphael who stand in the presence of God (Luke 1: 19; Tobit 12: 15) and thus seem to occupy an elevated position. Holy Scripture does not provide specific information on how the angelic realm is ordered.

God's love for human beings is also demonstrated by the fact that He allows the angels to serve them.

[1] One example in Holy Scripture where humans are also described as "angels" can be found in Revelation 2 and 3. The "angels of the churches" mentioned there are to be understood as the respective rectors of the congregations.

3.3.1.1.2 The significance of the invisible realm for the life of human beings Back to top

The belief that the soul and spirit continue to exist eternally in the beyond after physical death is of great importance to man (1 Peter 3: 19; 1 Corinthians 15). The attitude a person adopts toward God during earthly life has consequences for his existence in the beyond. This insight can help a person resist the temptations of the Devil and lead a life that is pleasing to God.

In this sense it is beneficial to occupy oneself with things pertaining to the beyond and the invisible. On the other hand, concerning oneself with the invisible by way of necromancy or conjuring the dead does not correspond to God's will (Deuteronomy 18: 10-11; 1 Samuel 28).

Apostle Paul clarifies the significance of the invisible: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18).

SUMMARY Back to top

An invisible world (invisible creation, the beyond) is attested many times in Holy Scripture. It includes the realm in which God rules, the angels, the immortal souls of human beings, as well as the realm of the dead. The Devil and his followers also belong to the invisible world. (3.3.1.1)

"Angels" are primarily to be understood as messengers of God whose task it is to worship God, fulfil the instructions He gives them, and thereby serve Him. According to biblical accounts, there are certain rankings in the angel world, which include "angel princes" or "archangels". Holy Scripture does not give specific explanations about the orders in the angel world. (3.3.1.1.1)

The human soul and spirit continue to exist eternally in the beyond after physical death. This insight can help human beings to resist temptations and to lead a God-pleasing life. (3.3.1.1.2)

3.3.1.2 The visible creation Back to top

Holy Scripture attests that God created the visible world in six "days of creation". These are not to be understood as specific measures of time. The Bible relates how all that which is perceptible to human beings was called into existence: God is the Creator of all discernable reality. It was at His word that heaven and earth, light, the shape of the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the plants and animals, and even human beings came into being–and it was all "very good" (Genesis 1: 31).

Although the creation also came under the consequences of the fall into sin, it retains its generally positive assessment from God. Among other things, this is demonstrated by the fact that He watches over the order which He has laid into the creation (Genesis 8: 22). Thus the visible creation–even in its fallen state–provides an eloquent testimony of God, the Creator (Romans 1: 20). God also entered into the material world through His incarnation.

God has assigned human beings their living environment and issued them the mandate to have dominion over the earth and to protect it (Genesis 1: 26-30; Psalm 8: 6). Human beings are thus accountable to God, the Creator, for their actions with regard to the creation. They have been instructed to treat all life and their habitat with esteem.

3.3.2 Man in the image of God Back to top

Of all creatures, God conferred on human beings a special position, and thereby brought them into a close relationship to Himself: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1: 26-27).

What distinguishes human beings here is that they are just as much a part of the visible as the invisible creation, because they possess both a material and a spiritual nature as a result of this divine act: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2: 7). God gave His most distinguished creation a life force and also permitted them to share in divine characteristics such as love, personality, freedom, reason, and immortality. God enables human beings to recognise the Creator, to love Him and to praise Him. Thus human beings are oriented to God even though they may not always recognise the true God and may put something else in His place.

Because it is God who gave man both a physical and a spiritual nature, both of these aspects should receive the dignity due them.

The fact that man has been created in the image of God means that he has been given an exceptional position within the visible creation: he is the one whom God loves and to whom God speaks.

Beyond that, mankind's likeness to God points to the fact that God became Man in Jesus Christ, the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1: 15). Jesus Christ is the second "Adam" (1 Corinthians 15: 45, 47), in whom the image of God becomes evident in perfect fashion.

That man has been created in the image of God does not imply, however, that one can draw any conclusions about God's nature from human nature. This is only the case with Jesus Christ.

God created man as a being endowed with speech. This too is related to mankind having been created in God's image. God has always spoken from eternity. Through the Word He created everything and called man by name. It is by hearing the divine call that a human being perceives himself as a person–it is through God's address of a human being as "you" that the person becomes "I". The person is now capable of praising God, communicating with God in prayer, and listening to God's word.

The ability to make free decisions also derives from the fact that man is created in God's image. At the same time, the freedom with which he has been endowed makes man responsible for his actions. He must bear the consequences of his deeds (Genesis 2: 16-17).

Man and woman are both created in the image of God and therefore of the same nature. They were not only created with one another but also for one another, and have the same commission to have "dominion" over the earth, in other words, to shape and protect it. This authority granted to mankind does not entitle them to deal with creation in a reckless way, however. Rather, because they have been created in the image of God, it is their duty to treat creation in a manner befitting divine nature: with wisdom, kindness, and love.

SUMMARY Back to top

God, the author of all perceptible reality, has assigned human beings a living environment and issued them the mandate to have dominion over the earth and to protect it. Human beings are thus directed to treat all life and their environment with respect. (3.3.1.2)

God has created human beings in His image. Human beings are just as much a part of the visible creation as of the invisible creation. God gives mankind a life force (the "breath of life") and also allows them to share in divine characteristics. (3.3.2)

Being created "in the image of God" means that man has been given a special status within the visible creation: mankind is loved and addressed by God. Man and woman are both equally created in the image of God. (3.3.2)

3.3.3 Man's fall into sin Back to top

Following their creation, God permitted human beings to have direct fellowship with Him. Through His commandment that they should not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, He identified Himself to mankind as their Lord and lawgiver, who expected obedience.

Through the influence of the evil one, mankind entered into temptation and succumbed to it by contravening the law given by God: sin thereby became part of mankind's existence. It is associated with separation from God, spiritual death. This became clear to the first human beings in the recognition of their nakedness before God, which caused them to be ashamed (Genesis 3: 7-10).

This shame is a sign that the trust which man had originally placed in the Creator was now destroyed. The disobedience of the first human beings led God to exclude them from the fellowship with Him which they had previously enjoyed.

The result of this separation was that man now had to lead a troubled existence on earth, which would end with the death of the body (Genesis 3: 16-19). The condition of separation from God cannot be bridged by man on his own.

Since the fall into sin, mankind has been sinful, that is to say enmeshed in sin and thus incapable of living without sin. He lives a life filled with pain and cares in a world burdened by the curse of God. Fear of death defines his life (see 4.2.1).

All of this brings to expression that mankind's original freedom has been decisively curtailed: although man can endeavour to lead a life in accordance with God's will, he will repeatedly fail because evil exercises power over him. He therefore remains a slave to sin throughout his life. In other words he is never free and is bound by sin.

However, even as a sinner, man does not remain without God's comfort and help. God does not leave him in death. In the presence of man, God addressed the following words to the serpent: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3: 15). This is the first reference to the sacrifice of Jesus, through which the Lord conquered evil.

3.3.4 Man as an entity consisting of body, soul, and spirit Back to top

God created man as both a physical and spiritual being (that is with a spirit and soul). The human body is mortal, whereas the spirit and soul are immortal (see 9.1).

The body comes into being through procreation and thus shares in the nature and form of the parents. The soul, on the other hand, is not the result of the human act of procreation, but is created directly by God. In it God's present-day creatorship becomes evident.

In the Bible, spirit and soul are not definitively distinguished from one another. [2] They enable man to partake of the spiritual world, to recognise God, and to communicate with Him.

Spirit, soul, and body should not be understood as being independent from one another. Rather, they are interconnected. They permeate and influence one another because man is a unified entity: for as long as he lives on earth, he is an entity comprised of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5: 23), which exist in close interaction with one another. After the death of the body, this entity consists of spirit and soul.

Death does not put an end to human personhood. This personhood is then expressed through spirit and soul.

At the resurrection of the dead, spirit and soul will be united with a resurrection body (see 10.1.2).

SUMMARY Back to top

The evil one tempts human beings. The latter are quick to succumb to temptation and thereby violate the God-given commandments: sin has entered into the existence of human beings. (3.3.3)

The consequence of sin is separation from God. Beyond that, the original liberty of mankind has been decidedly restricted. Human beings may well endeavour to live a life in accordance with God's will, but they will fail again and again. Even as sinners, human beings do not remain without God's comfort and help. (3.3.3)

God created mankind with both a physical and a spiritual nature: the body is mortal, but the spiritual being–spirit and soul–live on forever. Death does not cancel out a human being's personhood. It is from then on expressed in spirit and soul. (3.3.4)

[2] The immortal soul should not be confused with the human "psyche", which is also more colloquially designated as "soul". Likewise, the spirit, which is also part of man's eternal essence, should be distinguished from the intellect (colloquially called the "human spirit").

3.4 God, the Son Back to top

Professing Jesus Christ as the Son of God is one of the fundamentals of Christian faith.

The statement in the Second Article of Faith–"I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, our Lord"–expresses this belief in a few brief words. The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople (see 2.2.2) further develops the content of this belief: "We believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made."

When we talk about "God, the Son", we are referring to the second person of the trinity of God, who lives and reigns from eternity to eternity in fellowship with God, the Father and God, the Holy Spirit. The term "begotten" is not to be understood in biological terms, but rather as an attempt to capture in words the mysterious relationship between God, the Father and God, the Son.

There is absolutely no hierarchical difference between God, the Father and God, the Son–although the terms "Father" and "Son" might suggest an order of precedence. Father and Son are equally true God. They are of the same essence. This is expressed in Hebrews 1: 3: The Son is "... the express image of His [the Father's] person."

In Jesus Christ, God, the Son became human, and at the same time remained God: God entered into, and became active in, historical reality. Belief in God, the Son, is inseparably bound to faith in Jesus Christ as a person who was present and active in history. The creed makes this clear by pointing out essential events in the life of the incarnate Son of God, and shows them to be, at the same time, the basis of the events of the history of salvation: "I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, entered the realm of the dead, rose again from the dead on the third day, and ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from where He will return."

Jesus Christ is true Man and true God. He has two natures, a human one and a divine one, which are both present in Him in a pure, unchangeable, inseparable, and indivisible state.

In His human nature He is like other human beings. What distinguishes Him from them is that He came into the world without sin, never sinned, and remained obedient to God, the Father until his death on the cross (Philippians 2: 8).

In His divine nature, He remained the unchanged true God in omnipotence and perfection, even in His state of abasement on earth. In many ways, Jesus Himself revealed the mystery of His person. For example, in Matthew 11: 27, He said: "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." The knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is a divine revelation: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5: 20).

3.4.1 The only begotten Son of God Back to top

The statement that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 1: 14) is also expressed in the Second Article of Faith: "I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God." This signifies that Jesus Christ is God's Son in incomparable and unique fashion. In this context, the term "only begotten" means that He has been begotten, not created, by the Father. "He is ... the firstborn over all creation" (Colossians 1: 15).

In John 3: 16, Jesus is described as the "only begotten Son [of God]". He is the one who can authentically bear witness to the Father. In John 1: 18 this is expressed as follows: "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."

The Son of God is not created, like human beings, nor can He be likened to the angels, whose existence also began at a certain point in time. He is without beginning or end, identical in essence to the Father, and therefore "begotten" from eternity. In reference to Psalm 2: 7, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews employs the term "begotten" in order to express the unique relationship between Father and Son (Hebrews 1: 5).

3.4.2 The incarnate Word Back to top

John 1: 1-18 contains fundamental statements about the being of God and His revelation in the world. It speaks of the beginning and the source which defines all things and from which all things emanate. This beginning–which in itself is unconditional, and which transcends time–is closely associated with the term logos, as used in the original Greek text, which is usually translated as the "Word". This logos is the true power which marked the beginning of creation. Here, Word and God are directly correlated: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1: 1). God and the Word have both existed from eternity.

John 1: 14 attests to the presence of the logos on earth: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." The transcendent divine Word, which was in the beginning with God, now entered the earthly and human sphere. Moreover, it became flesh–the eternal Word itself became true Man.

The statement "and we beheld His glory" refers to the Son of God incarnate, to the historical reality of the "Word made flesh". Here the passage makes reference to the circle of witnesses to Jesus Christ's activity on earth. The Apostles and disciples had direct fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (1 John 1: 1-3).

The transcendent glory of the Father became historical reality in the earthly and directly perceptible glory of the Son. Accordingly, the Son of God was able to say of Himself: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14: 9).

Hebrews 2: 14 gives the reason for the Word having become flesh: "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus Christ] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil."

3.4.3 Jesus Christ, true Man and true God Back to top

The teaching that Jesus Christ is true Man and true God–the doctrine of Hypostatic Union–was enshrined at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. This doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus transcends the horizon of human imagination and experience. It is a mystery.

In Philippians 2: 6-8 the incarnation of the Son of God is described as self-abasement: "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."

Jesus shared in the full human spectrum of physical and spiritual feelings. In His human existence, the Son of God was, like other humans, bound to a body and its requirements. In Luke 2: 52 it says that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus rejoiced with the cheerful. He suffered with the sad and wept when Lazarus died. He was hungry during His stay in the wilderness. He was thirsty when He came to Jacob's well. He suffered pain when the soldiers beat Him. Confronted with His imminent death on the cross, He expressed: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death" (Matthew 26: 38).

The fact that Jesus Christ is true Man is stated in Hebrews 4: 15. At the same time, the difference between Him and all other human beings is made clear here: He is without sin.

Likewise, Jesus Christ is true God.

Both the divine Sonship and the Godhead of Jesus Christ are attested in Holy Scripture. At Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, a voice from heaven was heard saying: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3: 17). Likewise, at the transfiguration, the Father emphasised that Jesus was the Son of God by saying: "Hear Him!" (Matthew 17: 5).

The words of Jesus–"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6: 44) and "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14: 6)–attest to the equally divine authority of God, the Father, and God, the Son. The Father draws human beings to the Son, and the Son leads human beings to the Father.

It is only as true God that Jesus Christ can declare: "I and My Father are one" (John 10: 30) and thereby state, in simple language, that the Father and Son are identical in essence.

Further biblical evidence that Jesus Christ is true God include:

  • the actions of the Apostles after Christ's ascension: "And they worshipped Him [Jesus Christ]" (Luke 24: 52);

  • the statement in John 1: 18: "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him";

  • the attestation of Apostle Thomas after He had seen the Risen One: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20: 28);

  • the profession of the nature of Jesus in the Christ hymn: "For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2: 9);

  • the testimony contained in 1 John 5: 20: "And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life";

  • the statement: "God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3: 16).

3.4.4 References to Jesus Christ in the Old Testament Back to top

The Old Testament already provides references to the coming Messiah, Saviour, and Redeemer. For example, we find the first reference to a coming Redeemer in the curse of the serpent immediately following the fall into sin (Genesis 3: 15).

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews sees a reference to Jesus Christ in the acts of the royal priest Melchizedek, who brought Abraham bread and wine and blessed him (Genesis 14: 17-20; Hebrews 7).

The Son of God accompanied the chosen people of Israel throughout their history. Apostle Paul expressly attests to Christ's presence during their wandering through the desert: "Our fathers ... all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10: 1-4).

Old Testament prophets refer to concrete details associated with the appearance of the Redeemer:

  • Isaiah describes Him with names that underline His uniqueness: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9: 6).

  • Micah announced the place of the Lord's birth: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting" (Micah 5: 2).

  • Malachi prophesied of a way-preparer for the Son of God: "'Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3: 1). The one preparing the way here is John the Baptist (Matthew 11: 10).

  • Zechariah described the Lord's entry into Jerusalem: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9: 9).

Thus the incarnation of the Son of God, as well as His walk upon the earth, were already foretold in the Old Testament.

3.4.5 Jesus Christ–the Redeemer Back to top

The name "Jesus" means "The Lord saves". When the angel of the Lord heralded the birth of Jesus, he announced His name at the same time: "and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1: 21). Thereby it already becomes clear in the assignment of His name that Jesus is the promised Saviour and Redeemer.

In His works, Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the Redeemer sent by God: "The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11: 5). However, redemption through Jesus Christ reaches far beyond the visible and temporal dimension and into the sphere of the invisible and eternal. It deprives the Devil of his claim to mankind and leads out of sin and death.

The redemption of mankind is founded upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1: 7). In Him alone, salvation is made accessible to mankind (Acts 4: 12).

SUMMARY Back to top

God, the Son, is the second person of the trinity of God. In Jesus Christ, God became Man and yet remained God: He entered into historical reality. (3.4)

Jesus Christ is true Man and true God, and thus has two natures. According to His human nature, Jesus Christ is like all other human beings–albeit without sin. According to His divine nature, He remains true God unchanged, even during His abasement on earth. (3.4)

Jesus is described as "God's only begotten Son". The Son of God, the only begotten, is begotten of the Father–that is not created, but eternal, without beginning or end, and one in substance with the Father. (3.4.1)

The transcendent divine Word (logos), which was with God in the beginning, now entered the sphere of the earthly and human in Jesus. It "became flesh" (John 1: 14)–the eternal Word became true Man. The transcendent glory of the Father became directly perceptible historical reality in the earthly glory of the Son. (3.4.2)

The dual nature of Jesus Christ as true Man and true God is a mystery. As true Man, Jesus shared in the full spectrum of physical and emotional experiences. As true God He brought His oneness of substance with the Father to expression with the words: "I and My Father are one" (John 10: 30). (3.4.3)

The Old Testament makes reference to the coming Messiah. The prophets of the Old Testament point to concrete details in association with the appearing of the Redeemer. They foretell the incarnation of the Son of God, His path over the earth, as well as His eternal existence. (3.4.4)

In His works, Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the Redeemer sent by God. Redemption from death and sin is founded exclusively upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Salvation is only accessible to mankind in Him. (3.4.5)

3.4.6 Majestic titles of Jesus Back to top

"Majestic titles" refer to names and designations for the Son of God by which Holy Scripture alludes to various characteristics of His uniqueness.

3.4.6.1 Messiah–Christ–Anointed One Back to top

All three terms mean the same: "Messiah" is derived from the Hebrew maschiach, the Latin Christus stems from Greek Christos. In translation this means "the Anointed One".

In some of the Psalms, the kings of Israel are described as "the anointed" [of God] (Psalm 20: 6). Their anointing is closely linked to statements concerning a special covenant of God with David and his successors. The adoration of the king anointed by God sometimes even went so far as to designate him as God (Psalm 45: 6-10).

Based on the statements of the prophets (Isaiah 61; Jeremiah 31: 31 et seq.), there developed among the people of Israel an understanding of the Messiah which increasingly foreshadowed a figure who would transcend all things human, and who would possess divine character in the deepest sense.

It is the unanimous profession of the New Testament that Jesus of Nazareth is this Messiah this Christ. The majestic title "Christ" is so closely linked to Jesus that it has become a proper name: Jesus Christ. Whoever believes in Him professes the Messiah expected by Israel, the bringer of salvation sent by God.

Wherever the New Testament speaks of Jesus, it is referring to the Messiah, namely Christ. This marks a defining difference: while today many people of the Judaic faith still await the arrival of the Messiah, Christians profess that the Messiah has already come, and that He is present in Jesus Christ. This belief is formulated in the powerful statement at the beginning of the gospel of Mark: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1: 1).

3.4.6.2 Lord Back to top

In the Old Testament, the designation "Lord" is mostly used when speaking of the God of Israel. In the New Testament, this majestic title is also used in reference to Jesus Christ.

In the epistle to the Romans, we read "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10: 9). From this text is derived the statement Kyrios Iesous (from the Greek: "Jesus is Lord"), which is among the oldest professions of early Christianity. Here the term "Lord" is not to be understood as a respectful form of address, but as a designation of the divine authority of Jesus Christ.

That Jesus is "Lord" became an irrefutable certainty for His disciples after His resurrection. Apostle Thomas addressed the Risen One with the words: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20: 28).

Whenever Jesus is called "Lord", it is also intended to express that it is none other than God Himself who has become incarnate in Him.

Apostle Paul wrote that the rule of Jesus Christ eclipses all other sovereigns–including the Roman emperor who claimed divinity for himself: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2: 7-8).

Since Jesus is the Lord of glory, great significance is accorded to the invocation of His name and to His worship (Philippians 2: 9-11).

3.4.6.3 Son of Man Back to top

In Daniel 7: 13-14, the term "Son of Man" is used to denote a heavenly being who is not part of the human race.

At the time of Jesus, devout Jews awaited the coming of the "Son of Man", to whom God was to commit dominion over the world. According to John 3: 13, the Lord revealed Himself as the Son of Man: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man." As such, He has the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9: 6), is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12: 8), and has come "to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19: 10).

Finally, the Lord announced the suffering (Matthew 17: 12), sacrificial death (Matthew 12: 40; 20: 28), and resurrection of the Son of Man (Matthew 17: 9). Whenever Jesus spoke about the Son of Man, He was referring to Himself.

Stephen also attested to the divinity of the Son of Man: "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7: 56). Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is now back in the place from which He came (John 16: 28).

3.4.6.4 Immanuel–Servant of God–Son of David Back to top

Holy Scripture mentions additional majestic titles of Jesus: Immanuel, Servant of the Lord, Son of David.

The Hebrew name "Immanuel" means "God with us". In reference to Jesus, Matthew 1: 22-23 cites the prophecy found in Isaiah 7: 14: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." Jesus Christ is thus the One in whom God is directly present and through whom God can be directly experienced.

In the Old and New Testaments, the term "Servant of the Lord" refers to outstanding personages in the history of salvation: patriarchs, prophets, Apostles. Isaiah's references to the Servant of the Lord were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Isaiah 42: 1).

In the New Testament, "Son of David" is a familiar title for Jesus Christ. The beginning of the gospel according to Matthew already emphasises that it is "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matthew 1: 1). This signifies that the promises which had been made to David were fulfilled in the Son of God.

SUMMARY Back to top

"Majestic titles" are names and designations which refer to various characteristics of the uniqueness of the Son of God. (3.4.6)

That Jesus of Nazareth is the "Messiah" is unanimously professed in the New Testament. (3.4.6.1)

"Lord" is a designation of the divine authority of Jesus Christ. (3.4.6.2)

The term "Son of Man" denotes a heavenly being that is not part of the human race. The Lord personally identified Himself as this Son of Man. (3.4.6.3)

Holy Scripture lists "Immanuel" ("God with us"), "Servant of God", and "Son of David" as further majestic titles of Jesus. (3.4.6.4)

3.4.7 The ministries of Christ–King, Priest, and Prophet Back to top

The title "King" is associated with the notion of reigning and ruling. Priests performed sacrificial services in order to effect reconciliation between man and God. Prophets were expected to proclaim the divine will and foretell coming events.

Ruling and reigning, effecting reconciliation with God, proclaiming God's will and foretelling future events–all of these can be found in perfect fashion in Jesus Christ.

3.4.7.1 Jesus Christ–the King Back to top

When the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary, he said: "He [Jesus] will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest ... And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1: 32-33).

The wise men from the East asked for the newborn King of the Jews whom they had come to worship (Matthew 2: 2).

In Jesus Christ the promise that God had given through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will raise to David a branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth" (Jeremiah 23: 5).

Nathanael, one of the first disciples of Jesus, professed: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1: 49). However Jesus' kingship was not rooted in any earthly regency and was not manifest in outward power, but rather demonstrated in the authority of His actions and in the signs and miracles He performed.

Jesus definitively rejected all notions that He was striving for an earthly kingdom or that He would accept any political mandate.

All four gospels mention how Jesus entered into Jerusalem prior to His suffering and death. In so doing, He revealed Himself as the King of peace and justice whom the prophet Zechariah had already announced (Zechariah 9: 9). The people would gladly have made Jesus the earthly king of Israel, and cheered His coming (John 12: 13).

Even during His questioning by Pilate, Jesus made clear that His kingdom was not of this world and that He made no claim to the power of an earthly ruler. Pilate responded to the words of Jesus as follows: "Are you a king then?" He thereby gave the Son of God the opportunity to speak of His kingship: "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth." Here Jesus even professed before a representative of the worldly power of Rome and of the Gentiles that He is King and witness of the truth (John 18: 33-37).

His death on the cross constitutes the highpoint and conclusion of an abasement which was, in reality, the path to Jesus Christ's exaltation. "Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross; and the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS ... and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin" (John 19: 19-20). In a deeper sense, this caption in three languages served to make the kingship of Christ known to the entire world.

The royal dignity of Jesus Christ is also emphasised in the Revelation of Jesus Christ: He is "ruler over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1: 5). When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, he announces that "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11: 15). The rule of Jesus Christ will then be manifest everywhere.

3.4.7.2 Jesus Christ–the Priest Back to top

The foremost tasks of the priests in the old covenant included bringing sacrifices to God, instructing the people in the law, and ruling on difficult legal issues and all questions pertaining to ritual purity. The high priest's task was to bring his own sins, the sins of the priests, and the sins of the people before God. For this purpose he would enter the Most Holy Place once each year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Here he would act on behalf of the people, and serve as the link between God and the people of Israel.

With a view to the priesthood of the old covenant and the offerings sacrificed in the temple, the epistle to the Hebrews states: "[they] serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Hebrews 8: 5). In light of the gospel, it becomes evident that the Old Testament priesthood was only provisional, "for the law made nothing perfect" (Hebrews 7: 19).

In the incarnation of the Son of God, a priesthood that exceeds all other priesthoods becomes manifest. Jesus Christ is not simply another high priest in the long line of Israel's high priests. Rather, in Jesus Christ there appears a High Priest upon whom the redemption of the world is founded: God Himself overcomes the abyss of sin and reconciles the world to Himself in Jesus Christ. No other priesthood can achieve this. Thus Jesus Christ is the eternal High Priest: "But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7: 24-25).

Unlike the high priests of the old covenant, Jesus Christ is not in need of reconciliation with God. He Himself is the Reconciler. He not only gives testimony of His encounter with God–in Him man and God are inseparably united.

God's loving care of the world is clearly revealed in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. In Him mankind has access to God's salvation.

The epistle to the Hebrews gives an account of Christ's high priestly ministry as the propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2: 17). In Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life are assured.

In Hebrews 3: 1 we read: "Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus." On the one hand, Jesus Christ surpasses the service of the Old Testament high priests because He is the true High Priest, and on the other hand He is also the prerequisite for the Apostles' activity in the new covenant. The content of apostolic ministry becomes clear in 2 Corinthians 5: 20: "We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God."

3.4.7.3 Jesus Christ–the Prophet Back to top

The promise which God made to Moses was fulfilled in Jesus Christ: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him" (Deuteronomy 18: 18).

The prophets in the old covenant were called to proclaim God's will. Their messages were often introduced with a reference to their source in God: "Thus says the Lord." In Jesus Christ, God Himself speaks to mankind.

According to Mark 1: 15, the Son of God began His activity with the words: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." The Lord taught with the full power of divine authority, which comes to expression in the words: "But I say to you ..." (Matthew 5-7).

As a prophet, Jesus Christ also revealed future events, as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, for example.

In the Lord's farewell discourses (John 13-16), He promised the Holy Spirit, who was to lead into all truth.

In the book of Revelation the Son of God unveils the progress of salvation history up to and including the new creation.

So it is that Jesus Christ also worked as a prophet: He proclaimed the will of God, illuminated the past, revealed hidden things, showed the way to eternal life, and gave promises of things to come. His statements are eternally valid: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Mark 13: 31).

SUMMARY Back to top

The kingship of Jesus Christ is shown in the authority with which He acted, and through the signs which He performed. (3.4.7.1)

In a deeper sense, the caption on the cross–which was written in three languages–served to announce the kingship of Jesus Christ to the whole world. (3.4.7.1)

The royal dignity of Jesus Christ is also brought to expression in Revelation (Revelation 1: 5; 11: 15). (3.4.7.1)

The High Priest upon whom the redemption of the world is founded appears in Jesus Christ: through Jesus Christ, God reconciles the world to Himself. Unlike the high priest of the old covenant, Jesus Christ did not need reconciliation with God–as did the high priest of the old covenant–because He Himself is the Reconciler. (3.4.7.2)

God's loving care for the world becomes clear in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: in Him human beings have access to God's salvation. In Him there is also the assurance of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. (3.4.7.2)

The prophets in the old covenant were called upon to proclaim the will of God. Jesus Christ acted as a prophet by announcing the will of God, illuminating the past, uncovering concealed things, showing the way of life, and giving promises for the future. (3.4.7.3)

3.4.8 New Testament references to the person and activity of Jesus Christ Back to top

The gospels attest to the life and activity of Jesus Christ. However, the Evangelists did not provide this account as biographers. Rather they bore witness that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah expected by Israel: His story is that of the saving intervention of God in the course of the world, right from the start of the kingdom of God in His person. The essential elements of the profession to Christ are founded upon the testimony of Jesus in the New Testament.

3.4.8.1 The conception and birth of Jesus Back to top

The gospels of Matthew and Luke describe the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born at the time when Herod ruled as king over Judea, when Augustus was Caesar in Rome, and when Quirinius was his governor in Syria. These precise details point to the real historical existence of Jesus and refute all attempts to consign the story of Jesus of Nazareth to the domain of myth or legend.

The uniqueness of the Man Jesus is emphasised on account of the virgin birth, which is related in the gospel of Luke. The angel Gabriel brought the virgin Mary the message: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1: 31-33). He also explained to Mary how she would conceive: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1: 35).

The statement in the Second Article of Faith that Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary" describes the incarnation of Jesus as an exception to the normal course of natural events. Jesus of Nazareth is true Man, however, His physicality and humanity are inseparably linked with God's will to save: His conception and birth are acts of salvation and thus part of the history of salvation. This is underlined by symbolic phenomena that accompanied His birth:

  • Angels appeared and proclaimed the glad tidings to the shepherds in the fields: "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2: 11; cf. Micah 5: 2).

  • A star announced the birth of the newborn King. Wise men from the Orient followed the star and were led to Bethlehem, where they worshipped the Child (Matthew 2: 1-11).

3.4.8.2 Jesus' baptism in the Jordan Back to top

Jesus Christ is without sin. Nonetheless, He allowed Himself to be baptised by John the Baptist and to be counted among the sinners (2 Corinthians 5: 21). This act of baptism–which was an expression of repentance–makes it clear that Jesus Christ abased Himself and subjected Himself to the same act that must be performed on every sinner.

Already here it is clear that Jesus Christ, who is without sin, took the sins of others upon Himself and ultimately opened the way to righteousness before God.

After His baptism the Holy Spirit descended visibly upon Jesus. In a voice from heaven, the Father then testified: "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased" (Luke 3: 22). Through this act of divine revelation, the divine Sonship of Jesus is announced to the whole world by the Father, and His Messianic identity is proclaimed: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The fact that John the Baptist recognised in Jesus the suffering servant (Isaiah 53: 5), the Saviour, becomes clear in his words: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" It had been revealed to him beforehand that the one "upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptises with the Holy Spirit." John reaffirmed this: "And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God" (John 1: 29, 33-34).

3.4.8.3 Jesus' temptation in the wilderness Back to top

After His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness "to be tempted by the Devil" (Matthew 4: 1). He remained there for forty days and was tempted several times by the Devil. Jesus withstood the temptation and rejected the Devil.

This event is of significance for the history of salvation: Adam succumbed to temptation and fell into sin, while Christ–"who ... was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4: 15)–resisted temptation as the New Adam. Already before the start of His public activity, He proved Himself as the victor over Satan.

SUMMARY Back to top

The history of Jesus of Nazareth is the story of the saving intervention of God in the course of the world. The gospels are not biographies, but rather testimonies of faith. (3.4.8)

The uniqueness of the Man Jesus is emphasised by the virgin birth. His conception and birth are events of salvation and are thus part of salvation history. (3.4.8.1)

Although Jesus Christ is without sin, He allowed Himself to be baptised by John the Baptist and to be counted among the sinners. After the baptism, the divine Sonship of Jesus was proclaimed to the entire world by God, the Father. (3.4.8.2)

Just before the start of His public activity, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. He proved to be victor over Satan. (3.4.8.3)

The focal point of Jesus' teaching was the kingdom of God in its present and future form. In Jesus Christ it was personally present. (3.4.8.4)

3.4.8.4 Jesus' teaching activity Back to top

The focus of Jesus' preaching was on the kingdom of God–the rule of God which was to manifest itself in history–in both its present and future form: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1: 15). From that point on, the kingdom of God was personally present in Jesus Christ (Luke 17: 21).

The fundamental content of the gospel is the grace, love, and reconciliation manifested in Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God and He came to destroy the works of the Devil, to redeem mankind from the sin into which they had fallen and become entangled, and to liberate them from the claim of the Devil. Through His sacrifice, Jesus Christ opened the way to reconciliation with God, and the gate to eternal life, for mankind. Through His death and resurrection, He proved once and for all that He is Lord over death and the Devil. Mankind shares in this victory through faith (1 Corinthians 15: 57).

Jesus called disciples to follow Him. He preached with power and majestic authority, and forgave sins. He also performed miraculous deeds in order to make it clear that salvation had come to mankind through Him. Thereby He underscored His message of the dawning rule of God and of His activity as the Saviour.

3.4.8.5 Jesus' miracles Back to top

All four gospels handed down to us in writing give account of the miraculous deeds of Jesus as real events that attested to His Messianic identity. His miracles demonstrate God's merciful devotion to suffering people. They are events of revelation in that they serve to manifest Christ's glory (John 2: 11) and His divine authority (John 5: 21).

The miracles which the Son of God performed were diverse. They included healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, raising the dead, miracles of nature, miracles of feeding, and gift miracles.

Healing the sick

Jesus healed the sick, the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the lepers. This healing of the sick drew attention to the divine nature of Jesus Christ, who acted exactly as God had described Himself to Israel: "For I am the Lord who heals you" (Exodus 15: 26). One of these miracles is the healing of a paralytic in Capernaum (Mark 2: 1-12), to whom Jesus first of all said: "Son, your sins are forgiven you" (verse 5). The scribes considered this blasphemy, but the Lord made it clear that He had both the authority to forgive sins as well as the power to heal. These miracles of healing were closely linked to the faith of the people whom He healed.

Casting out evil spirits

The miracles worked by Jesus also included casting out evil spirits (Mark 1: 23-28). Jesus Christ was even recognised as Lord by the demons (Mark 3: 11). Here it becomes clear that evil is not an independent power in itself, but is subject to the power of God: the time of its destructive rule and influence on mankind has come to its end with the appearing of Jesus Christ (Luke 11: 20).

Raising the dead

The gospels give account of three cases in which the Lord brought people back to life after they had died: the daughter of Jairus (Matthew 9: 18-26), the young man of Nain (Luke 7: 13-15), and Lazarus (John 11: 1-44). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, the Lord revealed Himself with words of fundamental importance: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11: 25-26). Jesus Christ not only had the power to raise the dead to life–He Himself is the life, He Himself is the resurrection. The raising of the dead is a symbolic reference to the fact that faith in Jesus Christ signifies the overcoming of death and thus the attainment of eternal life.

Miracles of nature

When the Lord commanded the wind and the sea to be still, He demonstrated His power over the elements (Matthew 8: 23-27). This power over the forces of nature underlines the creatorship of the Son of God, who, as the eternal Word of the Father, existed before all creation (John 1: 1-3).

Miracles of feeding

All of the gospels give an account of the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6: 30-44). Beyond that, both Matthew and Mark also relate the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15: 32-39; Mark 8: 1-9). On the one hand, these events are reminders that God fed His people in the desert, and on the other hand, they constitute a reference to Holy Communion: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world" (John 6: 51).

Gift miracles

Those miracles in which people received an abundance of earthly gifts are also signs of Jesus Christ's divinity and the proximity of the kingdom of God. Examples of these are Peter's miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5: 1-11) and the events of the wedding in Cana, when Jesus transformed water into wine (John 2: 1-11).

SUMMARY Back to top

The grace, love, and reconciliation revealed in Jesus Christ constitute fundamental content of the gospel. (3.4.8.4)

All the gospels speak of miracles as real events. They attest to the Messiahship of Jesus and clearly show the merciful care of God toward suffering human beings. (3.4.8.5)

The miracles which the Son of God performed were many and diverse: He healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, raised the dead, and performed miracles of nature, miracles of feeding, and gift miracles. (3.4.8.5)

3.4.8.6 Jesus' parables and images Back to top

In His sermons, Jesus used many parables and in so doing employed a wide range of imagery from the daily lives of His listeners. In Matthew 13: 34-35 we read: "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: 'I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.'"

In His parables Jesus talked about the essential elements of His doctrine and opened up the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." (Matthew 13: 1 et seq.).

More than forty parables are recorded in the first three gospels. Through them, the Son of God illustrated the major aspects of His gospel: the nearness of the kingdom of God, the commandment to love one's neighbour, the attitude of man's heart, and the coming of the Son of Man.

The kingdom of God is present in Jesus Christ

In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus illustrated the humble beginnings–and the growth–of the kingdom of God. In the parable of the leaven, He made it clear that Christ would permeate all things in the end (Matthew 13: 31-33).

The parable of the treasure hidden in a field and the parable of the pearl of great price showcase individuals who recognise the wealth hidden in Christ and make use of the offer to partake in the kingdom of God (Matthew 13: 44-46).

In this kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven, which is at hand, God identifies Himself as the loving heavenly Father. Thus the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15: 4-32) illustrate God's love for, and will to reconcile with, the sinner. Without regard for the person, the Lord invites all, and offers them fellowship with Him.

Love for one's neighbour

The greatest commandments of the law are to love God and one's neighbour. In the account of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35), Jesus illustrated who this neighbour is, and that loving our neighbour means that we must not close our eyes to the distress of others, but rather provide help. The manner in which this is to be put into practice can also be derived from the parable of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25: 35-36).

The attitude of man's heart

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14) draws attention to the attitude of man's heart: it is not those who praise their own deeds, but those who approach God in humbleness and in search of grace, who will be justified. Among other things, the parable of the sower also deals with the attitude of man's heart: it demonstrates that a God-fearing heart is necessary in order to properly absorb the word of God (Luke 8: 15).

The parable of the unmerciful servant also has to do with attitude: it deals with forgiveness and calls upon those who have received God's grace to likewise show grace to others. Those who recognise the magnitude of God's love will feel the need to reconcile with their neighbour (Matthew 18: 21-35).

The coming of the Son of Man

In the parables about the return of the Son of Man, Jesus revealed future events. In Matthew 24: 37-39, a comparison is made between the time before His return and the time of Noah: the return of Christ will be sudden. In the same context, the parable of the thief in the night concludes with the exhortation: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24: 44). This is also the message in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13): it is important to be watchful and prepared for the sudden return of the Lord. The parable of the talents is an admonition to make use of the time before Christ's return (Matthew 25: 14-30).

All of these parables deepen our understanding of Jesus' statements concerning His return, deliverance and the judgement, His reign at the end of time, the powers of this world, and eternal life as the actual destiny of mankind.

Images Back to top

Some images that bring Jesus' nature to expression–and thus constitute a self-revelation of God–can be found in the gospel of John. In the "I am" statements He introduces Himself as the "bread of life" (John 6: 35) and the "light of the world" (John 8: 12). Likewise He is the "door" to salvation (John 10: 9), the "good shepherd", who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10: 11), and He is the "vine" (John 15: 5). Jesus Christ is the "resurrection", "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 11: 25; 14: 6). He alone opens access to God, the Father. These seven "I am" statements demonstrate Jesus' entitlement to majesty and divinity: He is not only the messenger of the Father, but God Himself.

3.4.8.7 Jesus and the law Back to top

The Mosaic Law was the highest authority for Israel. Its observance and fulfilment were considered the key to the relationship between mankind and God. Jesus did not repeal the law, however, He made it clear that He possesses a higher authority and that He is Lord over the law.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus took position on the law in the presence of His disciples and the people. In the so-called antitheses ("You have heard that it was said "but I say to you ...")–by way of which He clarified the law and led His listeners to the proper understanding of the will of God upon which it was based–He introduced Himself as the only one entitled to interpret the law with authority.

By exposing the core of the Mosaic Law, He made it clear that the law–like the entire old covenant–referred to Him, and that He had come to fulfil it. Through His obedience He countered the disobedience of the first human beings. With His perfect fulfilment of the law, He ended the unrestricted rule of sin over mankind.

3.4.8.8 Jesus and His Apostles Back to top

In order to spread the gospel, Jesus selected twelve Apostles from the ranks of His disciples (Luke 6: 12-16; Mark 3: 14). They were His closest followers, and He had a special relationship of trust with them. When the other disciples left Him because they did not understand Him, the Apostles remained with Him and professed that He is the Christ.

To them He gave an example of humble service when He washed their feet (John 13: 4 et seq.) Only the Twelve were with Him when He instituted Holy Communion (Luke 22: 14 et seq.). His farewell discourses were directed at them (John 13-16). It was to them that He promised the Holy Spirit. He let them know that He would be returning to the Father. He gave them the promise of His return. In His intercessory prayer He interceded for them and for those who would come to believe through their word (John 17). He sanctified Himself for them so that they too could "be sanctified by the truth" (verse 19).

It was also to them that He showed Himself repeatedly after His resurrection (Acts 1: 2-3), and it was to them that He gave the great commission before His ascension.

SUMMARY Back to top

In figurative speech, namely parables, Jesus talked about essential elements of His doctrine, and thereby opened up the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The parables of Jesus revolve around His return and describe how to prepare for it. (3.4.8.6)

In the images of the gospel of John, Jesus reveals Himself as true God. (3.4.8.6)

By exposing the core of the Mosaic Law, Jesus made it clear that the law–like the entire old covenant–refers to Him. He had come in order to fulfil it. (3.4.8.7)

In order to spread His gospel, Jesus elected twelve Apostles out of the circle of His disciples. He had a special relationship of trust with them. After His resurrection He showed Himself to them repeatedly, and it was to them that He gave the great commission before His ascension. (3.4.8.8)

3.4.9 Jesus' passion and sacrificial death Back to top

The last days before Jesus' sacrificial death are described in great detail in the gospels.

When the Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the prophecy of Zechariah 9: 9 was fulfilled. With the cleansing of the temple, Jesus made it clear that the house of the Lord is holy. The disputes with the Pharisees and Sadducees became more and more intense–they plotted to take His life (Luke 20).

According to His own words, when Jesus was anointed with costly oil of spikenard, it was to foreshadow His impending death (John 12: 7). Some of those present were indignant about this and considered it a waste: if the oil had been sold, the proceeds of 300 pieces of silver would have been a great help to the poor. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles, then went to the high priests. They offered him 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus, an amount that was customarily paid for a slave (Exodus 21: 32). Thereby the words of Zechariah 11: 12-13 were fulfilled: the Lord was placed on the same level as a slave, as it were.

3.4.9.1 Jesus institutes Holy Communion Back to top

The Lord had gathered together with the twelve Apostles for the feast of the Passover. As they were seated at the table, the Son of God instituted Holy Communion: "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'" (Matthew 26: 26-28). Thereby His earlier words, which had caused many of His disciples to turn their backs on Him, became understandable: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6: 53).

During the meal, the Lord identified His betrayer. The latter left the fellowship "and it was night" (John 13: 30).

3.4.9.2 Jesus in Gethsemane Back to top

After the Last Supper, Jesus and the Apostles went to the Garden of Gethsemane. The human nature of the Son of God became evident in His dread of the impending crucifixion. In humbleness and surrender to God He knelt down and wrestled in prayer: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22: 42). An angel then appeared and strengthened Him. Jesus subjected Himself completely to His Father's will–prepared to bring the sacrifice.

Thereafter Jesus was arrested. Judas Iscariot had betrayed Him to the soldiers with a kiss. The Lord did not make use of the powers of heaven in order to avoid arrest, but rather drank the cup of suffering which His Father had given Him (John 18: 11). The disciples abandoned Him and fled.

3.4.9.3 Jesus before the high council Back to top

The high council pronounced Jesus guilty of blasphemy and condemned Him to death. The fact that He claimed to be the Son of God was interpreted as blasphemy.

During Jesus' trial before the high council, Peter denied that he knew Jesus and that he was a disciple of Jesus (Luke 22: 54-62). Christ also suffered on account of this denial by Peter. Nevertheless the Lord did not reject Peter.

After Jesus had been condemned to death, Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal and wanted to give the 30 pieces of silver back to the high priests: "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood" (Matthew 27: 1-5). Since the high priests did not want to accept the money, he threw it into the temple, went away, and hanged himself. From his words it can be concluded that Judas did not want Christ to die. Although his betrayal fulfilled the Scriptures (Matthew 27: 9-10; Jeremiah 32: 9; Zechariah 11: 12-13), this does not absolve him from responsibility for his actions.

3.4.9.4 Jesus before Pilate and Herod Back to top

The Jews led Jesus to the residence of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, a place which devout Jews would not enter in order to avoid being defiled (John 18: 28). Jesus, however, had to enter the court house.

During His hearing before Pilate, Jesus made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world and that He did not pursue any worldly claims to power. Pontius Pilate found no fault in Jesus and sent Him to King Herod. It was on this day that Herod and Pontius Pilate, who had previously been enemies, became friends (Luke 23: 12). The worldly powers thus united against the Lord.

The Son of God was scourged by the Romans. The people demanded He be crucified and accused Him of having risen up against the emperor as the King of the Jews, a crime punishable by death (John 19: 12). Pilate saw a way of granting Jesus His freedom: the people were to decide whether Jesus or the criminal Barabbas should be set free. The people, incited by the high priests and elders, chose Barabbas, however. In order to demonstrate that he was not responsible for what was to follow, Pilate washed his hands before the people and said: "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." The people replied: "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27: 24-25). Then Pontius Pilate had Jesus scourged once more, and turned Him over to the soldiers to be crucified.

On account of the Roman governor's involvement, the conviction and execution of Jesus was no longer only a matter concerning the Jews. Gentiles had also become part of it. In short, all of mankind is guilty of the death of the Lord.

3.4.9.5 Jesus' crucifixion and sacrificial death Back to top

On the way to Golgotha, a great multitude followed Jesus. To the women who wept over Him the Lord said: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children" (Luke 23: 28). With these words He was referring to the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

Two criminals were executed together with the Lord. Jesus' cross stood between them. Here the words of Isaiah 53: 12–that the Lord would be numbered with the transgressors–were fulfilled. The unimaginably heavy suffering finally led to a cruel death struggle.

The words Jesus spoke on the cross attest to His divine greatness. Even while suffering and dying, He turned to others in mercy, forgiveness, intercession, and care, thereby revealing the love and grace of God.

Ecclesiastical tradition has arranged the final words of Jesus–which are recorded differently in each of the gospels–into a specific sequence, which is also followed here:

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23: 34).

The Son of God, compassionate even on the cross, interceded before God the Father on behalf of all those who had put Him to the cross and who were unaware of the scope of their actions. Here, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the commandment to love one's enemies (Matthew 5: 44-45, 48).

"Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23: 42-43).

The Lord turned in compassion to the criminal who had been crucified together with Him, who had asked Him for grace, and who, in the face of death, had recognised Jesus as the Saviour. The Paradise which the Lord opened to the repentant sinner was–according to the understanding of that time–the dwelling of the devout and righteous in the hereafter.

"Woman, behold your son!"–"Behold your mother!" (John 19: 26-27).

In the face of death, Jesus showed concern for Mary, His mother, and entrusted her to His disciple John. This demonstrates the love and care of Christ who, despite His own need, still stood up for the needs of others.

In Christian tradition, Mary is interpreted as a symbol of the church, which was then placed under the care of the Apostle ministry, as represented here by Apostle John.

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15: 34).

When death is near, devout Jews turn to God with these words from Psalm 22. On the one hand, they thereby lament the feeling that God is distant, but on the other hand, also profess their faith in His power and grace. Jesus here addressed these words to His Father.

However, Psalm 22 also refers to the suffering of the righteous and their trust in God. Beyond that, this psalm is considered a broad reference to the sacrificial death of Christ and thus an Old Testament testimony of the Messiah Jesus.

"I thirst" (John 19: 28).

Hereby the words of Psalm 69: 21 were fulfilled: "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." In the figurative sense, this last drink signified that Jesus had to drink the cup of suffering in its entirety and thereby perfectly fulfil His Father's will.

"It is finished!" (John 19: 30).

It was about the ninth hour, that is in the early afternoon, when these words were spoken. An important stage in the history of salvation had now come to an end: Jesus had brought the sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. His sacrificial death had closed the old covenant, which had only been made with the people of Israel. The new covenant, to which Gentiles also have access, had now taken effect (Hebrews 9: 16).

"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (Luke 23: 46).

This quotation from Psalm 31: 6 makes clear that, even in this moment, Jesus Christ fully trusted in His Father.

Dramatic events accompanied the Lord's death: the earth shook, rocks were split, and the veil of the temple, which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This signified that the Old Testament's sacrificial service had come to an end in Christ's death, and was no longer of significance. The old covenant had been fulfilled. On the other hand, this is an indication that through Jesus' sacrificial death and the tearing of "the veil"–"that is, His flesh" (Hebrews 10: 20)–the way to the Father is now open.

Under the impact of these events, the Roman captain and the soldiers who were guarding Jesus said: "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27: 54). Thus it was the Gentiles, who testified of Jesus as the Son of God at His death.

Joseph of Arimathea, who belonged to the high council, went to Pontius Pilate and requested that he be given the body of Jesus in order to bury Him. Together with Nicodemus, whom the Lord once taught about the rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3: 5), he laid Jesus in a tomb that had never been used before, which was hewn out of the rock. A stone was rolled in front of the grave. The high priests had soldiers guard the tomb (Matthew 27: 57-66).

Like His death, the suffering of Jesus has occurred on behalf of mankind, according to the testimony of the Scriptures, and is thus able to effect salvation: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2: 21-24).

Through His suffering and death, Christ the Mediator reconciles mankind with God and creates redemption from sin and death. Thereby the words of John the Baptist are fulfilled: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29). Through His sacrificial death the Lord has broken the power of Satan and overcome death (Hebrews 2: 14). Since Jesus resisted all the temptations of Satan and remained without sin, He was able to take the sins of all humanity upon Himself (Isaiah 53: 6), and through His blood was able to acquire the merit whereby all guilt of sin can be washed away. His life, which He gave for the sinner, is the ransom. His sacrificial death opens up the way for mankind to come to God.

3.4.9.6 Old Testament references to Jesus' suffering and sacrificial death Back to top

Isaiah 53 describes the suffering servant of God who is abased. This refers to Jesus Christ, who was "despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (verse 3). His abasement culminates in His bitter suffering and death: "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; ... the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (verses 4-5). This is a reference to Christ's path of suffering and His sacrificial death.

After the death of Jesus, one of the guards pierced His side with a spear, thereby fulfilling the words of Zechariah 12: 10: "... then they will look on Me whom they pierced." In contrast to what they did to the criminals crucified with Him, the soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus. This was foreshadowed in the first Passover in the commandment of God concerning the way in which the lamb should be eaten (Exodus 12: 46; John 19: 36).

These examples show that the Old Testament does not simply describe the history of the people of Israel. Viewed in retrospect from the cross, it becomes clear that the Old Testament is oriented to Jesus Christ and that it finds its fulfilment in Him (see also 1.2.5.2).

3.4.9.7 Jesus' references to His suffering and death Back to top

The gospels tell us how the Lord announced His suffering and death, as well as His resurrection, on various occasions. A few examples are mentioned here:

  • After Peter's confession to Jesus: "[You are] the Christ of God", the Lord revealed to His disciples: "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day" (Luke 9: 22).

  • Shortly after the events on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus taught His disciples: "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day" (Mark 9: 31).

  • Before entering Jerusalem, the Lord turned to the Twelve and said: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again" (Matthew 20: 18-19).

  • When the scribes and Pharisees wanted to see signs, Jesus pointed to the story of the prophet Jonah: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12: 40).

  • He made a similar reference at the cleansing of the temple: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2: 19). Only after His resurrection did it become clear to His disciples that Jesus Christ had thereby been referring to the temple of His body (John 2: 21-22).

3.4.9.8 References to Jesus' sacrificial death in the letters of the Apostles Back to top

The sacrificial death of Jesus, and the path of redemption that had thereby been opened up for mankind, are central themes in the letters of the Apostles. For example, we read in 1 John 3: 16: "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us" (1 Peter 2: 21-24).

The epistle to the Hebrews compares the new covenant to the old and places the sacrifice of Christ at the centre of the history of salvation. The high priests of the old covenant were sinners and mortal, and their priesthood came to an end. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is without sin and immortal. His priesthood is everlasting. Whereas the priests in the old covenant had to offer again and again, Christ's sacrifice was brought once and is eternally valid (Hebrews 9).

The letters of the Apostles also made statements about the sacrificial death of Jesus on account of the heresies that had arisen. One of the notions that developed was that of a messenger who had come into the world, only appeared to become human, and neither suffered nor died on the cross. Other heresies denied the resurrection of the Lord. Apostle Paul countered by stating "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4).

The significance of the sacrificial death of Jesus is described in 2 Corinthians 5: 19: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself ..."

3.4.9.9 The cross Back to top

The core of the gospel is Jesus Christ who, through His death on the cross and His resurrection, created eternal salvation. Thus the cross of Christ became the epitome of God's reconciliatory actions toward sinful mankind. The words of Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1: 18 demonstrate a conflicting understanding of Christ's death on the cross: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Death on the cross was generally considered a defeat, the ignominious end of a despised person who had been cast out of human society. But here, according to the wisdom of God, the apparent defeat is really a victory which laid the foundation for an immeasurably great work of redemption.

Through the resurrection, God acknowledged the Crucified One as the Christ (Acts 2: 36). In Him alone eternal salvation is given.

SUMMARY Back to top

The last days before Jesus' sacrificial death are described in detail in the gospels: in the circle of the Apostles, Jesus Christ institutes Holy Communion. At His capture Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Jesus is then accused of blasphemy before the high council. (3.4.9; 3.4.9.1; 3.4.9.2; 3.4.9.3)

On account of the complicity of the Roman governor Pilate, the sentencing and execution of Jesus are not solely Israel's doing–Gentiles likewise share in these events. As such, mankind as a whole is guilty of the death of the Lord. (3.4.9.4)

Like His death, His suffering occurred on behalf of mankind and thus had salvific effect. As the suffering and dying Lord, Jesus Christ, the Mediator, reconciled mankind with God and created redemption from sin and death. His sacrificial death on the cross opened the way for mankind to God. (3.4.9.5)

The sacrificial death of Jesus confirmed the references from the Old Testament. Jesus Himself had announced His death and His resurrection. The letters of the Apostles describe the significance of Jesus' sacrificial death. (3.4.9.6; 3.4.9.7; 3.4.9.8)

The cross of Christ becomes the epitome of God's reconciling actions upon sinful mankind. (3.4.9.9)

3.4.10 Jesus Christ's activity in the realm of the dead Back to top

In 1 Peter 3: 18-20 we read that, after His death on the cross, the Son of God preached to those who had been disobedient in Noah's time. He did this in order to offer them salvation: "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4: 6). Thus the saving activity of Christ also encompasses the dead. Just as the Son of God had turned to sinners while He walked on earth, so now He turned to those who had been disobedient to the will of God during their earthly lives.

Ever since Jesus brought His sacrifice it has also been possible for the dead to attain redemption (see 9.6). He Himself said: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live" (John 5: 25).

Through His sacrificial death, the Son of God took the power over death away from the Devil (Hebrews 2: 14-15). He, Jesus Christ, holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). Here "Hades" does not mean "the place of eternal damnation", but the "realm of the dead". To "have the keys" means to exercise rule.

In Romans 14: 9 it says: "For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living." As Lord, He has been exalted over all things by the Father: God has given Him the name "which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth" (Philippians 2: 9-10).

The Son of God's entry into the realm of the dead is the triumph of the Victor of Golgotha, who has broken the power of death and relieved it of its finality.

SUMMARY Back to top

The salvific actions of Christ also encompass the dead. (3.4.10)

Jesus Christ possesses the keys of death and Hades. The entry of the Son of God into the realm of the dead is the triumph of the Victor of Golgotha, who has broken the power of death and taken away its finality. (3.4.10)

3.4.11 The resurrection of Jesus Christ Back to top

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an act of the triune God, which occurred in a manner that had never happened before:

  • On the one hand, the power of God, the Father, is revealed in that He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 5: 30-32).

  • On the other hand, the words of God, the Son, were fulfilled: "I have power to lay it [My life] down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10: 18).

  • Finally, the activity of God, the Holy Spirit, is also attested: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8: 11).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred without any human witness to the event. Nevertheless, Holy Scripture attests to many witnesses of the resurrection of the Son of God. One of these is the empty tomb attested by the disciples. Further testimonies include the various appearances of the Lord in the forty days between His resurrection and ascension. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not wishful thinking on the part of His followers who sought to make future generations believe in a miracle. Nor is it an expression of mythological thinking. The resurrection of Christ is historical reality. It actually took place.

3.4.11.1 The significance of Jesus Christ's resurrection for salvation Back to top

The resurrection of Jesus testifies of the power of God over death. This power is intrinsic to the being of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled (Luke 24: 46; Hosea 6: 2) as were the predictions made by the Son of God Himself (Mark 9: 30-31; 10: 34).

Without belief in His resurrection, faith in Jesus Christ is meaningless: "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty" (1 Corinthians 15: 14). It is only through the resurrection of Christ that the believer has a justified hope for eternal life, because the resurrection has made it possible to undo death and the resulting separation between mankind and God which was caused by Adam's fall into sin (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22).

Profession of Jesus as the Christ and belief in His resurrection are of fundamental importance for the deliverance of mankind (1 Peter 1: 3-12). This belief in the resurrection of Christ, the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep", constitutes the foundation for the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the transformation of the living at His return: "... and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15: 52).

3.4.11.2 The appearances of the Risen One Back to top

When Mary Magdalene and other women came to the grave at the break of day, they saw that the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. They were therefore the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, which had just occurred. An angel announced that Jesus had risen (Matthew 28: 5-6). Later on, the Risen One identified Himself to Mary Magdalene. He also encountered Peter and the other Apostles.

The post-Easter appearances of the Lord document that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. There are specifically named persons to whom He showed Himself and who recognised Him. This refutes any speculation that the disciples had stolen the body in order to fake a resurrection (Matthew 28: 11-15).

When He appeared to the disciples the Risen Son of God gave them direction and instruction for that which lay ahead of them. He taught them and issued them authority and various assignments.

The Lord explained the Scriptures to the disciples of Emmaus and broke bread with them (Luke 24: 25-35).

On the evening of the day of His resurrection He appeared in the midst of His disciples. His greeting: "Peace be with you!" took away their fear and gave them confidence. The Lord then issued the commission to them: "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." As the Risen One and Lord over death and sin, He gave the Apostles authority and power, breathed on them, and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20: 19-23).

The Lord appeared to His disciples on another occasion at the Sea of Tiberias. Apostle Peter was given the commission to tend the lambs and sheep of Christ, in other words, the church (John 21: 15-17).

The Risen Lord showed Himself to His Apostles "by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1: 3; cf. John 21: 1-14).

The Apostles brought this testimony of the resurrection of Christ to the whole world. In 1 Corinthians 15: 6, Apostle Paul mentions that the Lord had been seen as the Risen One by more than five hundred brethren at the same time. Then he relates that the Lord had been seen last of all by Paul himself. The events which occurred in front of the gates of Damascus as referenced here (Acts 9: 3-6) are of a different quality, however: this was a revelation of the exalted Christ directly from heaven. However, only those who saw Christ on earth during the time between His resurrection and His ascension are witnesses of Christ's resurrection in the true sense.

3.4.11.3 The resurrection body of Jesus Christ Back to top

The resurrection body of Jesus Christ is a glorious body. His resurrection did not signify a return to His earthly existence. It is fundamentally distinct from the raising of Lazarus, for example (John 11: 17-44), who died again at a later point in time. The risen Christ has been permanently torn from the clutches of death: we know "that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Romans 6: 9). God has raised up Jesus from the dead, no more to return to corruption (Acts 13: 34-35).

Christ lives by the power of God (2 Corinthians 13: 4). After the resurrection, His glorious body was taken out of the finiteness and mortality of the flesh. He was no longer bound to space or time. It was in this body that the Lord appeared in the midst of His disciples (Luke 24: 36), walked through closed doors (John 20: 19, 26), broke bread with His disciples (Luke 24: 30), showed them His wounds, and ate with them (Luke 24: 40-43). He thereby made it clear that He was not a "spirit", but that He was with them in His physical presence as Jesus Christ.

Apostle Paul compares Christ's resurrection body to the body which the dead in Christ will occupy after their resurrection. This is a spiritual body which will resurrect in glory and in power (1 Corinthians 15: 42-44). In the transformation at the return of Christ, the living will receive a body that conforms to the glorious body of Christ (Philippians 3: 21).

3.4.12 The ascension of Jesus Christ Back to top

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended from among the circle of His Apostles into heaven, to God, His Father. His last command to them was "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father," as they were to be "baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1: 4-5).

Even as Jesus blessed the Apostles, He was taken up into heaven, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. As they stood there, still watching Him, two men in white apparel stood with them and said: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1: 11). In contrast to the resurrection, for which there were no eyewitnesses, the Apostles directly experienced the ascension of Christ. They recognised that the Risen One had been exalted and had returned to the Father. The human nature of the Lord was thereby dissolved permanently into divine glory. Thus the words were fulfilled: "I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father" (John 16: 28).

In Mark 16: 19 we read: "So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God." Thus He did not enter the holy places made with hands, like the high priest of the old covenant, "but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9: 24). At the right hand of God He makes intercession for His elect (Romans 8: 33-34).

The image that Christ is seated at the right hand of God demonstrates that He shares in the fullness of power and in the glory of God, the Father. He desires to share this glory with His own in the future: "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me" (John 17: 24). This will happen when Christ takes His own unto Himself from among the dead and the living. Then they will be with Him always (1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17).

SUMMARY Back to top

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an act of the triune God. It occurred without eyewitnesses, however, the Risen One was seen by many witnesses. His resurrection is not wishful thinking, nor is it the expression of mythological thought. It did indeed occur. (3.4.11)

Through the resurrection of Jesus, believers have a justified hope in eternal life: thereby the opportunity has been created to undo death and the resulting separation between God and mankind, which occurred as a consequence of Adam's fall into sin. (3.4.11.1)

Belief in the resurrection of Christ, the firstfruits, establishes the foundation for belief in the resurrection of the dead in Christ as well as the transformation of the living at His return. (3.4.11.1)

The Risen Lord showed Himself to the disciples. Encounters with the Risen One are repeatedly attested in the New Testament. This testimony of the resurrection of Christ was brought to the entire world by the Apostles. (3.4.11.2)

After the resurrection, Jesus' glorified body was lifted up out of the finiteness and mortality of the flesh. He is no longer bound to space or time. (3.4.11.3)

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended to God, His Father, in heaven, out of the circle of His Apostles. The human nature of the Lord thus permanently entered into divine glory. (3.4.12)

In contrast to the event of the resurrection, for which there were no eyewitnesses, the Apostles directly witnessed the ascension of Christ. On this occasion they were given the promise of Christ's return. (3.4.12)

3.4.13 Jesus Christ as the head of the church Back to top

Jesus Christ has returned to the Father, however, He also is present here on earth in the Holy Spirit even after His ascension. He, to whom all authority has been given in heaven and on earth, thereby fulfils His promise: "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28: 20). The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16: 14) and attests to His presence in the church.

Apostle Paul variously uses the image of the "body of Christ" to represent the church. For example, Christ is praised as the "head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1: 18) in a hymn of praise to the glory of God.

The church of the Lord has many members and is nonetheless one body, "for by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body" (1 Corinthians 12: 13). This symbolism makes it clear that the church of the Lord is not merely an institution or organisation. The church of the Lord is more than the sum of its parts–it is a living organism led by Christ, the head. It is a gift of God and has been called forth from the realm of human accessibility (see 6).

3.4.14 Jesus Christ as the head of the creation Back to top

According to Ephesians 1: 20-23, Christ has been set as the head above all "principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." As the logos (see 3.4.2) Christ is the firstborn of all creation: "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible ... All things were created through Him and for Him" (Colossians 1: 16). Through Him, God created the world (Hebrews 1: 2). As the head of the creation, Christ leads mankind, who has become mired in sin, "from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8: 19-22). This will also be to the benefit of the creation and become reality in the new creation: "There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21: 4).

SUMMARY Back to top

Even after the ascension, Jesus Christ is still present on earth in the Holy Spirit. (3.4.13)

The New Testament employs the image of the "body of Christ". It illustrates that the church of Jesus Christ is not merely an institution or organisation, but rather a living organism, led by Christ, the head. (3.4.13)

As the logos the Son of God is the firstborn over all creation. Through Him God created the world. (3.4.14)

3.4.15 The promise of Jesus Christ's return Back to top

The promise of Jesus Christ's return is a central element of New Testament proclamation. Terms such as the "day of the Lord", the "day of Christ", the "future of our Lord", the "revelation of Christ's glory", the "appearing", or the "return of the Lord" all represent the same event: Christ will come again and take His own unto Himself from among the dead and the living. This event is not the Last Judgement, but rather the rapture of the bride of Christ to the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19: 7).

There are many biblical references to the promise of Christ's return. They can be found throughout the entire New Testament.

  • To begin with, it is the Lord Himself who said to His Apostles: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14: 3). He admonished His disciples to be watchful and prepared: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12: 40). The parables of the coming of the Son of Man (see 3.4.8.6) emphasise that the day of Christ will come suddenly and usher in a separation: some will be accepted and others will remain behind.

  • The angels at Jesus' ascension also promised that He will return (Acts 1: 11).

  • Finally, the letters of the Apostles also reinforce the promise of Christ's return. For example, 1 John 3: 2 provides a concise description of the magnificent future of God's children, who will be like the Lord in their perfection. Apostle James appeals to the believers to be patient until the coming of the Lord, "for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5: 8). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews also admonishes patience: "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry" (Hebrews 10: 37). When Christ returns for the second time, He will not come on account of sin, but will rather appear "to those who eagerly wait for Him ... for [their] salvation" (Hebrews 9: 28).

  • The second epistle of Peter is directed against all those who deny the fulfilment of the promise of Christ's return. Even the possibility of a delay in the fulfilment of this promise is ruled out (2 Peter 3: 9).

  • Apostle Paul reinforces the promise of Christ's return and repeatedly refers to this event in his epistles. There he makes concrete statements on the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the transformation of the living on the day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18). This day will come like "a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5: 2). The Apostle concludes his first epistle to the Corinthians with the greeting "O Lord, come!" which originally appears as "Maranatha!" and can also be interpreted to mean "Our Lord is coming!" (1 Corinthians 16: 22).

  • In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, it is the Son of God who reveals what will shortly come to pass (Revelation 1: 1). The call: "Surely I am coming quickly" is the core message of the Revelation. In response to this call, the Spirit and the bride say: "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22: 12, 20).

The cited Bible passages speak of the return of Christ as an event that is imminent and certain to occur, which will bring salvation and fellowship with Christ and thus comfort in hardship and distress (Romans 8: 17-18). Thus the promise of Christ's return constitutes glad tidings for all mankind. Those who have accepted Christ, who carry His Spirit and life within themselves, and who, despite their sinfulness, hold fast to His words: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1: 27) will experience the fulfilment of this promise upon themselves.

SUMMARY Back to top

The promise of Christ's return is a central element of New Testament proclamation. The Last Judgement is not associated with this return of Christ. Rather, Christ will take unto Himself those–from among both the dead and the living–who carry His Spirit and His life within themselves. (3.4.15)

Witnesses for the promise of Christ's return can be found throughout the entire New Testament. It is spoken of as an event which is imminent and which will certainly come to pass. (3.4.15)

3.5 God, the Holy Spirit Back to top

Holy Scripture provides abundant testimony of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. It testifies that understanding God is only possible through the Spirit of God: "Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2: 11). Apostle Paul unconditionally links the knowledge that Jesus is Lord with the Holy Spirit: "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12: 3).

The Third Article of Faith attests: "I believe in the Holy Spirit." This corresponds to the wording of the Apostolicum (see 2.2.1). In the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople this content is formulated even more comprehensively: "And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets."

The Holy Spirit is true God. He emanates from the Father and the Son, and lives eternally in fellowship with Them. He is also active in the creation (see 3.3.1) and in the history of salvation. The Holy Spirit is a divine person (see 3.1.1) who, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified as Lord.

In Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit is also designated as the "Spirit of God" (Genesis 1: 2; Romans 15: 19), the "Spirit of the Lord" (1 Samuel 16: 13; 2 Corinthians 3: 17), the "Spirit of truth" (John 16: 13), the "Spirit of [Jesus] Christ" (Romans 8: 9; Philippians 1: 19), the "Spirit of His Son" (Galatians 4: 6), and the "Spirit of glory" (1 Peter 4: 14).

The New Testament also speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and Helper (John 14: 16), as well as a "power" and "gift of God" (Acts 1: 8; 2: 38). This power of God has been promised and sent by the Father and the Son. As a power and gift, the Holy Spirit is imparted at Holy Sealing, which, together with Holy Baptism with water, constitutes the rebirth out of water and the Spirit, whereby the believer becomes a child of God.

3.5.1 The Holy Spirit as a divine person Back to top

From the beginning, God has revealed Himself to mankind (see 1.1). Already during the creation, God speaks and acts as a person. Personhood is part of God's nature (see 3.2.4) and is revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit speaks and reigns, and is addressed and worshipped. He too is "Lord" (2 Corinthians 3: 17).

The Holy Spirit possesses divine majesty. Apostle Peter's remarks in Acts 5: 3-4 make it clear that anyone who lies to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. That the Holy Spirit is a person becomes clear from the fact that He sends human beings to proclaim the gospel (Acts 13: 4), that He can communicate with the human spirit (Romans 8: 16), and that He intercedes before God on behalf of those who pray (Romans 8: 26).

The activity of the Holy Spirit is clearly revealed

  • in the incarnation of Jesus Christ,

  • in the divine revelations of the past and present,

  • in the sending and activity of the Apostles,

  • in the sacraments,

  • in the word of preaching, particularly in keeping alive the promise of Jesus Christ's return.

3.5.1.1 The Holy Spirit in unity with the Father and the Son Back to top

The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople (see 2.2.2) states that the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and the Son. According to the words of Jesus, the Father and Son are senders of the Holy Spirit in equal measure: "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me" (John 15: 26). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 14: 26) and is sent by the Son, and therefore also proceeds from the Son (John 16: 7). Thus the Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. This is also expressed in Jesus' words: "He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take of what is mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine" (John 16: 14-15).

Thus, an understanding of the Holy Spirit's nature only becomes clear in view of His oneness of substance with the Father and the Son. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is "very God of very God". He is not created, but is rather of one substance with the Father and the Son and, like them, He is active eternally.

3.5.1.2 The Holy Spirit and the incarnation of the Son of God Back to top

A central event in the history of salvation is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The virgin Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1: 18; Luke 1: 35). This biblical statement is taken up in the New Apostolic Creed: "I believe in Jesus Christ, ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary ..."

It is also the Holy Spirit who testifies of the sending of the Son. The divine authority of the incarnate Son of God is revealed by the descending of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3: 16-17; John 1: 32-34). It is here that the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit occurs, with respect to His human nature, whereby God acknowledges Him as the Messiah, the "Anointed One". Apostle Peter taught in the house of Cornelius: "... that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10: 37-38). The gospels attest that the Holy Spirit is enduringly present in the incarnate Son of God (Luke 4: 1, 14, 18, 21).

SUMMARY Back to top

Holy Scripture attests that understanding God is only possible through the Spirit of God. (3.5)

The Holy Spirit is true God. He emanates from the Father and the Son and lives eternally in fellowship with them. The Holy Spirit is a divine person who is worshipped and glorified as Lord along with the Father and the Son. (3.5)

The New Testament also refers to Him as the "Comforter" and "Helper", as well as a "power" and as the "gift of God". Holy Spirit is imparted in Holy Sealing as a power and gift. (3.5)

Personhood is part of the nature of God, and is revealed in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. (3.5.1)

The Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and the Son. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is very God of very God. He is not created, is of one substance with the Father and the Son, and like them is active eternally. (3.5.1.1)

The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was effected by the Holy Spirit, because the virgin Mary became pregnant by Him. The Holy Spirit attested to the sending of the Son at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. In the process Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit according to His human nature. Thereby God acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, the "Anointed One". (3.5.1.2)

3.5.2 The Holy Spirit as a power–the gift of the Holy Spirit Back to top

Like the Hebrew ruach and the Latin spiritus, the Greek term pneuma which is usually translated as "spirit", can also mean "wind, breath, or life-spirit", among other things. In Genesis 2: 7 we read of the Spirit as the divine breath of life. The Holy Spirit brings about life itself and is shown to be the divine power of life.

In the course of salvation history, the Spirit of God manifests Himself as the power which takes hold of human beings and enables them to become instruments of God. This power can influence, fill, and even renew a human being (Titus 3: 5).

Jesus Christ acted in the power of the Spirit and "the power of the Lord was present" in Him (Luke 4: 14; 5: 17). Shortly before His ascension into heaven, the Risen One promised His Apostles: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1: 8).

After his sermon on Pentecost, Apostle Peter promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who allowed themselves to be baptised (Acts 2: 38).

God bestows this gift through the laying on of hands and prayer of an Apostle, as exemplified by the occurrence in Samaria (Acts 8: 14-17). The believer is filled with Holy Spirit and, at the same time, with the love of God (Romans 5: 5).

It is important to differentiate between the Holy Spirit as a gift of God and the Holy Spirit as a person of the Godhead. The gift of the Holy Spirit is imparted by God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

3.5.3 Evidence of the Holy Spirit's activity in the time of the Old Testament Back to top

Since the Holy Spirit has existed eternally in unity with the Father and the Son, He was active during the creation and is active in the history of salvation. So it is that Holy Scripture provides abundant evidence of the Spirit's activity in Old Testament times, despite the fact that there was no understanding of the Trinity at that time, nor any dispensation of Holy Spirit in the New Testament sense. In the time of the old covenant, the Holy Spirit brought forth many promises concerning the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the new covenant.

3.5.3.1 The Spirit of God Back to top

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1: 2). This reference shows that the triune God, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, exercise creative activity in equal measure (Genesis 2: 7).

When the Old Testament speaks of the "Spirit of God" it is referring to the Holy Spirit. He is not yet defined in His personality, but is rather described as a life-giving power.

Examples for the activity of the Spirit of God are recorded from the time of Moses (Exodus 31: 3; Numbers 11: 25-29) and the Judges in Israel (Judges 3: 10; 6: 34; 11: 29; 13: 25), who–inspired by the Holy Spirit–led the people of the Lord with courage and strength in battle against their enemies.

Kings of the people of Israel were also filled with the Spirit of God. Examples include Saul (1 Samuel 10: 6) and David (1 Samuel 16: 13). Later on, Jesus Christ referred to the activity of the Holy Spirit through King David with the words: "For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool"'" (Mark 12: 36). Here, as in other passages of the New Testament (e.g. Acts 1: 16; 4: 25), it becomes clear that David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was already alluding to Jesus Christ.

In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit filled human beings only temporarily, and not as a permanent sacramental gift like in the new covenant (1 Samuel 16: 14; Psalm 51: 11).

3.5.3.2 The activity of the Holy Spirit in the prophets of the Old Testament Back to top

Both the Old and New Testaments attest that the Holy Spirit was active in the prophets and that He spoke through them (e.g. Ezekiel 11: 5; Micah 3: 8; Zechariah 7: 12; Acts 28: 25). In the New Testament it is emphasised that the prophets were referring to Jesus Christ: "But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled" (Acts 3: 18).

SUMMARY Back to top

Jesus Christ acted in the power of the Spirit. Before His ascension He promised the Apostles this same power. (3.5.2)

God grants the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and prayer of an Apostle. It is important to distinguish between the Holy Spirit as a gift of God and the Holy Spirit as a person of the Godhead. (3.5.2)

In Old Testament times the Holy Spirit would only fill a person for a limited amount of time and not–as in the New Testament–in enduring fashion as a sacramental gift. (3.5.3)

Examples of the activity of the Holy Spirit are recorded from the time of Moses, the judges, and the kings in Israel. The Holy Spirit was also active in the prophets. (3.5.3.1; 3.5.3.2)

3.5.4 Jesus Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit Back to top

Before His return to the Father, Jesus Christ announced to His Apostles the coming of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and the "Spirit of truth". He also promised the Holy Spirit as a divine "Helper" and as the power from on high, which was to be imparted to His own.

Jesus stated that His departure from this world was a prerequisite for the coming of the Holy Spirit as a Helper (John 16: 7). Likewise, the dispensation of Holy Spirit as a gift only occurred after Christ had been glorified through His death, resurrection, and return to the Father (John 7: 39).

3.5.4.1 The Helper and Comforter Back to top

Jesus Christ is the Helper and Advocate of His own (Matthew 28: 20; 1 John 2: 1). In His farewell discourses before His capture and crucifixion, the Son of God promised yet another Comforter, namely the "Paraclete" (derived from the Greek term parakletos = assistant, intercessor, helper, or comforter): "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever ... But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14: 16, 26). The Holy Spirit is this "other" Comforter and Helper who will remain with the church. He testifies of Jesus Christ and glorifies Him (John 16: 14).

After the ascension of the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, this Spirit keeps the gospel alive among the followers of Christ and assists them (Matthew 10: 19-20).

3.5.4.2 The Spirit of truth Back to top

Jesus Christ also described the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of truth" (John 15: 26). This Spirit makes clear what is pleasing to God and what is contrary to His will: "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement" (John 16: 8). The Holy Spirit clearly distinguishes between truth and falsehood (Acts 13: 9-10).

During His activity on earth, the Lord did not provide exhaustive explanations concerning all truth and the course of the history of salvation, but referred to the future revelations of the Holy Spirit: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever he hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16: 12-13). It is also in this manner that the Holy Spirit works in the present (see 1.3).

Everything the Spirit of truth reveals is closely linked to Christ's nature and work. Thus He testifies of the sovereignty of the Son of God (1 Corinthians 12: 3). He professes that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4: 2), and imparts the knowledge that He has come as the Son of the Father, and will come again.

3.5.4.3 The power from on high Back to top

Before His ascension into heaven, the risen Lord promised His Apostles: "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but you tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24: 49). Thereby He announced the sending of the Holy Spirit, as God had already promised through the prophet Joel (Joel 3: 1-5). On Pentecost this promise was fulfilled, which marked the start of the public activity of the Apostles.

The phrase "power from on high" (Greek: dynamis: "power") is an allusion to the fulfilling, motivating, and strengthening activity of the Spirit, and points to the powerful intervention of God. Just as the Father and the Son revealed themselves within the historical world, this self-revelation of God in the Holy Spirit took place on Pentecost as an event of salvation history. The Holy Spirit strengthens the church of Christ in its endeavour to live in a manner pleasing to God and thereby prepare for the return of Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

Jesus Christ, the Helper and Advocate of His disciples, promised another Comforter and Helper. The latter bears witness of Him and glorifies Him. He keeps the gospel alive among the followers of Christ and provides support to the church. (3.5.4; 3.5.4.1)

Jesus Christ further described the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of truth". The Holy Spirit distinguishes between truth and falsehood. (3.5.4.2)

Jesus referred to future revelations of the Holy Spirit. They are all related to Christ's nature and work. (3.5.4.2)

The expression "power from on high" refers to the powerful intervention of God in the activity of the Holy Spirit. (3.5.4.3)

The self-revelation of God in the Holy Spirit occurred on Pentecost. Associated with this was the beginning of the public activity of the Apostles. (3.5.4.3)

3.5.5 The Holy Spirit and the church Back to top

The epistles of the New Testament express that the Holy Spirit was present in the early Christian congregations. Jesus Christ had promised and sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a Helper and Comforter. The church is described as the "house of God", "dwelling place of God", or "temple of the living God" (1 Timothy 3: 15; Ephesians 2: 22; 2 Corinthians 6: 16).

In the old covenant, the temple was the dwelling place of God among His people (1 Kings 8: 13). This image is adopted in the New Testament and employed in order to illustrate the enduring presence of God–and thus also the presence of the Holy Spirit–in the church. Like "living stones", believers are to be "built up [into] a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2: 5).

3.5.5.1 The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Back to top

Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost it is revealed that God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see 3.1.1). The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, filled the Apostles and all those who were with them.

Thereby the church of Christ (see 6.4.2) became historical reality. This event shows that the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite for church: church and the Holy Spirit belong together.

The Holy Spirit is continually present in the congregations led by Apostles. In them there is divine life, which is revealed in the activity and preaching of the Apostles, and which is also to emerge in the words and deeds of every believer (Romans 8: 14).

By receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, human beings have fellowship with the triune God as children of God. For those who will be caught up to the Lord, this fellowship will attain its perfection at the return of Christ.

3.5.5.2 The activity of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments Back to top

The salvific power inherent in the sacraments is based on the fact that all three divine persons are at work in these acts.

Thus the Holy Spirit is also an active power in Holy Baptism with water: God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–leads the baptised out of their state of remoteness from God (see 8.1).

The consecration of bread and wine for Holy Communion is only possible because the Holy Spirit is active in this act. Thus, by way of human words, the power of the Holy Spirit creates divine reality. Fully valid Holy Communion–the real presence of the body and blood of Christ–comes into being if it is supported by the power of the Holy Spirit and if the consecration of the elements of Holy Communion is performed on the basis of the authority issued by Apostles (see 8.2.12).

The imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit through Apostles occurs in the sacrament of Holy Sealing, the baptism of the Spirit. Here God's power, God's life, and God's love are bestowed upon a human being. In the rebirth out of water and Spirit, the Holy Spirit causes God to take up His dwelling in a human being (Romans 8: 9).

3.5.5.3 The activity of the Holy Spirit in the Apostle ministry Back to top

The Apostles exercise their ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. The activity of the Holy Spirit confers special authority upon their actions. This is demonstrated in the proper administration and dispensation of the sacraments, in the proper proclamation of the gospel on the basis of Holy Scripture, in keeping alive the promise of Christ's return, and thereby in the preparation of the bride of Christ for His return. Through the Apostles of today, the Holy Spirit works in the same fullness as at the time of the first Apostles.

SUMMARY Back to top

The Holy Spirit was present in the early Christian congregations. The church is described as the "house of God", the "dwelling place of God", or the "temple of the living God". This illustrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. (3.5.5)

The Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite for church: church and the Holy Spirit belong together. (3.5.5.1)

The imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit through Apostles occurs in the sacrament of Holy Sealing, the baptism of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also the power at work in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. (3.5.5.2)

The Apostles exercise their ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. (3.5.5.3)