Amazed and Afraid: The Revelation of God Become Man
Part 1: Questions for Understanding
1. In what ways does the Incarnation reveal a “divine humor” and “sacred jest” (CCC 461,463,654, 655)
The divine humor and sacred jest is rooted in the improbable and astounding belief that the God who created the cosmos and the world would willingly be born as a baby into that same cosmos and world. According to CK Chesterton in his book The Everlasting Man, “It is at least a jest in this that it is something which the scientific critic cannot see. He laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true…Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars.” In the Incarnation, humanity and divinity exist, in their fullness, in perfect relationship to one another. There is no competition between the two; they exist in what the Tradition calls the hypostatic (in Christian doctrine, the essential nature of Jesus Christ in which the divine and the human are believed to be combined.) union.
Jesus Christ is unique, fully human and fully divine; He is the privileged door by which man can be restored to right relationship with God. The uniqueness of Jesus is captured by the Evangelists in numerous passages in the Gospels. One in particular is found in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed and those who followed were afraid” (Mk 10:32)
Why the amazement and the fear? St Mark describes several other similar reactions of amazement and fear by the disciples, each the result of divine actions by Jesus, as when He calmed the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:40) when He cast out demons (Mk 5:1-15) when He was transfigured on the mount (Mk 9:1-6) when He spoke prophetically about His death and Resurrection (Mk 9:30-32) and when His Resurrection was announced by the angel at the tomb (Mk 16:1-8) The fear was that of humans in the presence of God, as when Moses and the people were afraid at Mount Sinai amidst the blazing, thundering glory of the Lord (cf Ex 3:6; 20:18) The amazement and fear were not due to Jesus being a mere teacher or human leader, but because He was God.
With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who “loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world,” and “he was revealed to take away sins”:701 Jn 4:10; 4:14; 3:5
Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?71St. Gregory of Nyssa, Orat. catech. 15: PG 45, 48B
The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”72 1 Jn 4:9 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”73 Jn 3:16.
The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”74 Mt 11:29; Jn 14:6On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: “Listen to him!”75 Mk 9:7; cf. Deut 6:4-5. Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: “Love one another as I have loved you.”76 Jn 15:12. This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.77Cf. Mk 8:34.
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:78 2 Pet 1:4″For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”79 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939″For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B”The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57: 1-4.
Taking up St. John’s expression, “The Word became flesh,”82 (Jn 1:14) the Church calls “Incarnation” the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. In a hymn cited by St. Paul, the Church sings the mystery of the Incarnation:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.83 (Phil 2:5-8; cf. LH, Saturday, Canticle at Evening Prayer.)
The Letter to the Hebrews refers to the same mystery:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.’”84Heb 10:5-7, citing Ps 40:6-8 ([7-9] LXX).
Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.”85 (1 Jn 4:2). Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings “the mystery of our religion”: “He was manifested in the flesh.”86 (1 Tim 3:16)
The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.
The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism). From apostolic times the Christian faith has insisted on the true incarnation of God’s Son “come in the flesh.”87Cf. 1 Jn 4:2-3; 2 Jn 7 But already in the third century, the Church in a Council at Antioch had to affirm against Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ is Son of God by nature and not by adoption. The first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 confessed in its Creed that the Son of God is “begotten, not made, of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father,” and condemned Arius, who had affirmed that the Son of God “came to be from things that were not” and that he was “from another substance” than that of the Father.88Council of Nicaea I (325): DS 130, 126
The Nestorian heresy regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son. Opposing this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431 confessed “that the Word, uniting to himself in his person the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man.”89 Council of Ephesus (431): DS 250 Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception. For this reason the Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb: “Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh.”90 Council of Ephesus: DS 251
The Monophysites affirmed that the human nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it. Faced with this heresy, the fourth ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon in 451, confessed:
Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; “like us in all things but sin.” He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.91Council of Chalcedon (451): DS 301; cf. Heb 4:15.
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.92Council of Chalcedon: DS 302.
After the Council of Chalcedon, some made of Christ’s human nature a kind of personal subject. Against them, the fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople in 553 confessed that “there is but one hypostasis [or person], which is our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the Trinity.”93 Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 424 Thus everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to his divine person as its proper subject, not only his miracles but also his sufferings and even his death: “He who was crucified in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, is true God, Lord of glory, and one of the Holy Trinity.”94 Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 432; cf. DS 424; Council of Ephesus, DS 255.
The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother:
“What he was, he remained and what he was not, he assumed,” sings the Roman Liturgy.95 LH, January 1, Antiphon for Morning Prayer; cf. St. Leo the Great, Sermo in nat. Dom. 1, 2; PL 54, 191-192. And the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims and sings: “O only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal being, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, you who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, you who by your death have crushed death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us!”96Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Troparion “O monogenes.”
Because “human nature was assumed, not absorbed,”97 GS 22 § 2. in the mysterious union of the Incarnation, the Church was led over the course of centuries to confess the full reality of Christ’s human soul, with its operations of intellect and will, and of his human body. In parallel fashion, she had to recall on each occasion that Christ’s human nature belongs, as his own, to the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it. Everything that Christ is and does in this nature derives from “one of the Trinity.” The Son of God therefore communicates to his humanity his own personal mode of existence in the Trinity. In his soul as in his body, Christ thus expresses humanly the divine ways of the Trinity:98Cf. Jn 14:9-10
The Son of God . . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.99GS 22 § 2.
Apollinarius of Laodicaea asserted that in Christ the divine Word had replaced the soul or spirit. Against this error the Church confessed that the eternal Son also assumed a rational, human soul.100Cf. Damasus I: DS 149.
This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man,”101Lk 2:52. and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience.102 Cf. Mk 6:38; 8:27; Jn 11:34; etc This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking “the form of a slave.”103Phil 2:7
But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person.104\Cf. St. Gregory the Great, “Sicut aqua” ad Eulogium, Epist. Lib. 10, 39: PL 77, 1097A ff.; DS 475. ”The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.”105 St. Maximus the Confessor, Qu. et dub. 66: PG 90, 840ASuch is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father.106 Cf. Mk 14:36; Mt 11:27; Jn 1:18; 8:55; etc. The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.107Cf. Mk 2:8; Jn 2:25; 6:61; etc.
By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal.108 Cf. Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; 14:18-20, 26-30.What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal.109Cf. Mk 13:32; Acts 1:7.
Similarly, at the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but cooperate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation.110 Cf. Council of Constantinople III (681): DS 556-559Christ’s human will “does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will.”111Council of Constantinople III: DS 556
Since the Word became flesh in assuming a true humanity, Christ’s body was finite.112 Cf. Council of the Lateran (649): DS 504Therefore the human face of Jesus can be portrayed; at the seventh ecumenical council (Nicaea II in 787) the Church recognized its representation in holy images to be legitimate.113Cf. Gal 3:1; cf. Council of Nicaea II (787): DS 600-603
At the same time the Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.”114 Roman Missal, Preface of Christmas I. The individual characteristics of Christ’s body express the divine person of God’s Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer “who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted.”115Council of Nicaea II: DS 601.
Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his Passion and gave himself up for each one of us: “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave Himself for me.”116 Gal 2:20. He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation,117 Cf. Jn 19:34. “is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that . . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings” without exception.118 Pius XII, encyclical, Haurietis aquas (1956): DS 3924; cf. DS 3812.
At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature.
Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men.
Jesus Christ possesses two natures, one divine and the other human, not confused, but united in the one person of God’s Son.
Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Incarnation is therefore the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word.
The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”526 (Rom 6:4; cf. 4:25.)Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.527 (Cf. Eph 2:4-5; 1 Pet 1:3.)It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: “Go and tell my brethren.”528 (Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17) .We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation(the condition of being the child of particular parents) gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection.
Finally, Christ’s Resurrection—and the risen Christ himself—is the principle and source of our future resurrection: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”529 (1 Cor 15:20-22). The risen Christ lives in the hearts of his faithful while they await that fulfillment. In Christ, Christians “have tasted . . . the powers of the age to come”530 (Heb 6:5.) and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may “live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”531 (2 Cor 5:15; cf. Col 3:1-3.)
2.What is the significance of St Paul and other New Testament writers describing Jesus as Lord? What are the Old Testament roots of that title? How would most first century Greeks or Romans respond to the statement, “Jesus is Lord”? (CCC 446,448,450)
The word “Kyrios” was used in ancient Greece and the larger Hellenistic world to refer to a superior or someone in authority. It was employed by the Romans for their emperors and was used by some pagans for their gods. First century Jews largely refused to pronounce the Hebrew name for God Yahweh instead substituting other names. The most common was “adonay” meaning “Lord” which was translated to “kyrios” in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Scripture used by Greek-speaking Jews living in Egypt, Rome and other parts of the Mediterranean world.
The term was a favorite of St Paul, who calls Jesus Kyrios some 180 times in his letter. First-century Greeks and Romans would have responded to the Christian description of Jesus as “Lord” with astonishment and even scorn. Referring as “Lord” to a crucified criminal—as they understood Jesus to be—would have been amusing at best, but mostly outrageous. But for Christians, the title of “Lord” was a recognition of the divinity, power, majesty and glory of Jesus Christ.
From his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, St Paul rejects any polytheistic understanding of Jesus and the Father—a commonplace belief in the ancient pagan world—instead writing that “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from who all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:5-6) Jesus is one with the Father in such an astounding way that He and the Father are separated persons, yet God is one in nature.
Jesus himself affirms that God is “the one Lord” whom you must love “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”6 Mk 12:29-30. At the same time Jesus gives us to understand that he himself is “the Lord.”7 Cf. Mk 12:35-37 To confess that Jesus is Lord is distinctive of Christian faith. This is not contrary to belief in the One God. Nor does believing in the Holy Spirit as “Lord and giver of life” introduce any division into the One God:
We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal, infinite (immensus) and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty, and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple.8Lateran Council IV: DS 800
In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (“I AM HE WHO IS,” “I AM WHO AM” or “I AM WHO I AM”), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it better expresses God as what he is—infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the “hidden God,” his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.11Cf. Isa 45:15; Judg 13:18
By revealing his name God at the same time reveals his faithfulness which is from everlasting to everlasting, valid for the past (“I am the God of your fathers”), as for the future (“I will be with you”).12 Ex 3:6, 12 God, who reveals his name as “I AM,” reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them.
Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Before the burning bush, Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness.13Cf. Ex 3:5-6 Before the glory of the thrice-holy God, Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.”14Isa 6:5 Before the divine signs wrought by Jesus, Peter exclaims: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”15 Lk 5:8.But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him: “I will not execute my fierce anger . . . for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.”16 Hos 11:9.The apostle John says likewise: “We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”171 Jn 3:19-20
Out of respect for the holiness of God, the people of Israel do not pronounce his name. In the reading of Sacred Scripture, the revealed name (YHWH) is replaced by the divine title “LORD” (in Hebrew Adonai, in Greek Kyrios). It is under this title that the divinity of Jesus will be acclaimed: “Jesus is LORD.”
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the ineffable (Unable to be expressed in words—indescribable) Hebrew name YHWH, by which God revealed himself to Moses,59( Cf. Ex 3:14. )is rendered as Kyrios, “Lord.” From then on, “Lord” becomes the more usual name by which to indicate the divinity of Israel’s God. The New Testament uses this full sense of the title “Lord” both for the Father and—what is new—for Jesus, who is thereby recognized as God Himself.60 (Cf. 1 Cor 2:8.)
Jesus ascribes this title to himself in a veiled way when he disputes with the Pharisees about the meaning of Psalm 110, but also in an explicit way when he addresses his apostles.61Cf. Mt 22:41-46; cf. Acts 2:34-36; Heb 1:13; Jn 13:13 Throughout his public life, he demonstrated his divine sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death, and sin.
Very often in the Gospels people address Jesus as “Lord.” This title testifies to the respect and trust of those who approach him for help and healing.62 (Cf. Mt 8:2; 14:30; 15:22; et al) .At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Lord” expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus.63 (Cf. Lk 1:43; 2:11) .In the encounter with the risen Jesus, this title becomes adoration: “My Lord and my God!” It thus takes on a connotation of love and affection that remains proper to the Christian tradition: “It is the Lord!”64 (Jn 20:28; Jn 21:7.)
By attributing to Jesus the divine title “Lord,” the first confessions of the Church’s faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor, and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus, because “he was in the form of God,”65 (Cf. Acts 2:34-36; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; Rev 5:13; Phil 2:6 ).and the Father manifested the sovereignty of Jesus by raising him from the dead and exalting him into his glory.66 ( Cf. Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:9-11. )
From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not “the Lord.”67 ” (Cf. Rev 11:15; Mk 12:17; Acts 5:29.) The Church . . . believes that the key, the center, and the purpose of the whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master.”68 (GS 10 § 3; cf. 45 § 2.)
Christian prayer is characterized by the title “Lord,” whether in the invitation to prayer (“The Lord be with you.”), its conclusion (“through Christ our Lord”), or the exclamation full of trust and hope: Maran atha (“Our Lord, come!”), or Marana tha (“Come, Lord!”)—”Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”691 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20.
3.What place does the Incarnation have in the beliefs of the Catholic Church? How does the Incarnation distinguish Jesus Christ from men such as Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius? What options are available when one has to decide who Jesus Christ is? (CCC 423,430-445)
The Incarnation is, along with the Trinity, a central dogma of the Church and a foundational claim of Christianity. It is and through the Incarnate Word, embodied in a particular man from Nazareth during the reign of Caesar Augustus and crucified under Pontius Pilate, that we see the face of God.
In identifying Jesus as God Incarnate, Christianity makes a unique and shocking claim. No other religion identifies its founder with God. Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and other religious founders and leaders did not claim to be God, the Son of God, or divine. That is quite different from the words and actions of Jesus, who never presented Himself as one of many viable options, but as The One. They did not say as Jesus Christ that they were the Truth, the Way and the Life (Jn 14:6). In comparison to other religions, Christianity is strange in its claim that the truth, beauty and good have become incarnate and enfleshed in Jesus Christ and we have touched Him with human hands. The shocking and singular nature of Jesus’ identity was summarized and articulated adeptly in Dominus Iesus, the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith’s August 6, 2000 document on the “unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church:
The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and He alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father. The Word, which “was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:2) is the same as He who “became flesh” (Jn 1:14) In Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16) “the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9) He is the “only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18) His “beloved Son, in whom we have redemption… In Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him, God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself, on earth and in the heavens, making peace by the Blood of His Cross” (Col 1:13-14; 19-20) (par. 10)
Jesus does not allow for any middle ground when it comes to His identity, which is intimately connected with His mission as Messiah: “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” (Mt 12: 30) Christ’s identity is the hinge upon which everything turns, for if He is who He says He is we have to devote our whole lives to Him. If He isn’t then He is either a liar or a lunatic according to CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.
It was not by accident or coincidence that Jesus asked His disciples about who they and others thought of Him and His identity in “the district of Caesarea Philippi” (Matt 16:13) A mostly pagan area almost twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee, the region originally named “Panion” or “Paneas” after the Greco-roman deity Pan, an ancient deity of the natural world. It was eventually renamed by Philip, the son of Herod the Great, in honor of Tiberius Caesar and himself. There at the base of Mount Hermon—which marked the northern border of Israel—water flowed underground and surfaced in a cave at the base of a high limestone cliff. At the time of Christ it was a place of devoted pagan worship (especially to Baal), with niches cut into the cliff holding statues of numerous deities. Pagans believed it marked the spot where the netherworld met the material world. At the top of this cliff stood a temple in honor of Caesar. It was a veritable and visually arresting display of “Who’s Who” among the pagan gods. “Who” asked Jesus of His disciples, “do men say that the Son of Man is?” After hearing the responses—John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets—Jesus asked the question He asks of every man: “But who do you say that I am?” He stands before the false gods of this world and asks for our decision: He compels a choice. He is either God or a bad man—a liar or a lunatic.
Buddha, (563-483?? BC the title given to the founder of Buddhism, one of the world’s great religions. Buddha’s name was Siddhartha Gautama. The title Buddha means Enlightened One. Almost no authentic information exists about the details of Buddha’s life but most scholars agree that such a man lived in northern India. All Buddhists have faith in 1) Buddha; 2) his teachings, called the dharma; and 3) the religious community he founded called the sangha. Buddha preached that existence was a continuing cycle of death and rebirth. Each person’s position and well-being in life was determined by his or her behavior in previous lives. And that as long as individuals remain within the cycle of death and rebirth, they can never be completely free from pain and suffering. He taught that people could break out of the cycle by eliminating any attachment to worldly things. By ridding themselves of such attachment people would gain a kind of perfect peace and happiness and he called this state of peace and happiness nirvana. In order to do this one must be willing to follow the Middle Way and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Middle Way is a way of life that avoids both the uncontrolled satisfaction of human desires and the extreme forms of self-denial and self-torture. The Noble Eightfold Path consist of 1) knowledge of the truth 2)the intention to resist evil 3) saying nothing to hurt others 4) respecting life, morality and property; 5) holding a job that does not injure others; 6) striving to free one’s mind of evil 7) controlling one’s feelings and thoughts; 8)practicing proper forms of concentration.)
Mohammed, (570-?-632 was the founder of the Islamic religion. He was born in Mecca, in southwestern Arabia. He lived with a desert tribe and learned to tend sheep and camels. At the age of 25 Muhammad entered the service of Khadija a wealthy widow who was 15 years older than he and he later married her. They had two sons and four daughters The sons died young and one of his daughters Fatima married Ali son of Abu Talib from which many Muslims trace their descent. When he was 35 he was meditating alone in a cave on Mount Hira and a vision appeared to him. Muslims believe that the vision was of the angel Gabriel who called Muhammad to be a prophet and proclaim God’s message to His people. His wife Khadija became his first disciple. Most who heard Muhammad ridiculed him but some believed him. . His followers are called Muslims. The name Muhammad means Praised One. Muslims believe Muhammad was the last messenger of God. They believe he completed the sacred teachings of such earlier prophets as Abraham, Moses and Jesus. When Muhammad began to preach in the 600s Arabia was a wild, lawless land He continued to preach in Mecca until several calamities took place. Among them the people of Mecca began to hate him for his claims and his attacks on their way of life. The fierce tribes of the deserts fought continual bloody wars. In Mecca, a city in southwestern Arabia, there was much suffering among the poor. Most of the people worshiped many gods, and prayed to idols and spirits. Muhammad brought a new message to his people from God. He taught that there is only one God and that this God requires people to make Islam which means submission to Him. Muhammad replaced the old loyalty to tribes with a new tie of equality and allegiance among all Muslims. He also preached against the injustice of the wealthy classes in Mecca and tried to help the poor. Within a hundred years after his death Muslims carried the teachings of Muhammad into other parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, Europe and Asia. Finally he fled north to the city of Medina and his emigration to Medina is called the Hegira. It is considered so important that the Muslim calendar begins with the year of the Hegira. Here he was the head of both a religion and a community and was able to make his religious message into law. He abolished the customs of worshiping idols and killing unwanted baby girls. He limited the practice of polygamy and restricted divorce. He reformed inheritance laws, regulated slavery and helped the poor. He banned war and violence except for self-defense and for the cause of Islam. He is called the Prophet of Islam Muhammad seems to have expected Jews and Christians to accept him as a prophet. At first he was friendly toward them. He chose Jerusalem as the direction to be faced in prayer, similar to the Jewish practice. He also set aside Friday as a Muslim day of congregational prayer, perhaps because the Jews began their Sabbath preparations then. But the Jews of Medina broke their alliance with Muhammad and conspired against him with his enemies in Mecca. Muhammad angrily drove them from the city and organized a purely Muslim society. To symbolize the independence of the new religion he ordered Muslims to face Mecca instead of Jerusalem when praying. The Meccans went to war against Muhammad and his followers. They attacked Medina several times but they were always driven back. In 630 Muhammad entered Mecca in triumph. He offered forgiveness to the people there, most of whom accepted him as the Prophet of God. He destroyed the pagan idols in the Kaaba, prayed there and proclaimed it a mosque (house of worship) He died two years later in Medina and his tomb is located in the Prophet’s Mosque in Median.
Confucius (a Chinese philosopher who lived about 551BC. 1900s Confucianism was the most important single force in Chinese life. It influenced Chinese education, government and attitudes toward correct personal behavior and the individual’s duty to society. It is not a religion. It has no clergy and does not teach the worship of a God or gods or the existence of a life after death. It can more accurately be considered a guide to morality and good government. When Confucius was born in 551 BC there was constant warfare among the many state that made up China. Many people no longer respected the established standards of behavior. Confucius feared that this threat to orderly social life would lead to the destruction of civilization. He believed his society could be saved if it emphasized sincerity in personal and public conduct. The key to orderly social life was the gentleman. He defined a gentleman not as a person of noble birth but as one of good moral character. He said a gentleman was truly reverent in worship and sincerely respected his father and his ruler. He was expected to think for himself, guided by definite rules of conduct. He included many of these rules in sayings: for example “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others” . A gentleman also studied constantly and practiced self-examination. He believed that when gentlemen were rulers their moral example would inspire those beneath them to lead good lives. Virtuous behavior by rulers, he declared had a greater effect in governing than did laws and codes of punishment. When Confucius died about 479 BC he was largely unknown. Confucianism continued to actively influence Chinese life until it came into conflict with Western ideas, especially Communism in the 1900s. For many years the Chinese Communist government opposed Confucianism because the philosophy encouraged people to look to the past rather than to the future. However government opposition ended in 1977) and other religious founders and leaders did not claim to be God, the Son of God, or divine. They did not say they were the Way, the Truth and the Life
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”1 Gal 4:4-5This is “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”:2Mk 1:1. God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants. He acted far beyond all expectation—he has sent his own “beloved Son.”3Mk 1:11; cf. Lk 1:55, 68
We believe and confess that Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew of a daughter of Israel at Bethlehem at the time of King Herod the Great and the emperor Caesar Augustus, a carpenter by trade, who died crucified in Jerusalem under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of the emperor Tiberius, is the eternal Son of God made man. He “came from God,”4 (Jn 13:3.) “descended from heaven,”5 (Jn 3:13; 6:33). and “came in the flesh.”6 (1 Jn 4:2. )For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. . . . And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”7 (Jn 1:14, 16.)
Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”8 Mt 16:16On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.9Cf. Mt 16:18; St. Leo the Great, Sermo 4, 3: PL 54, 150-152; 51, 1: PL 54, 308-309; 62, 2: PL 54, 350-351; 83, 3: PL 54, 431-432.
Jesus means in Hebrew: “God saves.” At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission.18 (Cf. Lk 1:31. )Since God alone can forgive sins, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal Son made man, “will save his people from their sins.”19 (Mt 1:21; cf. 2:7) In Jesus, God recapitulates all of his history of salvation on behalf of men.
In the history of salvation God was not content to deliver Israel “out of the house of bondage”20 (Deut 5:6.) by bringing them out of Egypt. He also saves them from their sin. Because sin is always an offense against God, only he can forgive it.21 (Cf. Ps 51:4, 12. )For this reason Israel, becoming more and more aware of the universality of sin, will no longer be able to seek salvation except by invoking the name of the Redeemer God.22 (Cf. Ps 79:9.)
The name “Jesus” signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins. It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his Incarnation,23 (Cf. Jn 3:18; Acts 2:21; 5:41; 3 Jn 7; Rom 10:6-13. )so that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”24 (Acts 4:12; cf. 9:14; Jas 2:7)
The name of the Savior God was invoked only once in the year by the high priest in atonement for the sins of Israel, after he had sprinkled the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood. The mercy seat was the place of God’s presence.25 (Cf. Ex 25:22; Lev 16:2,15-16; Num 7:89; Sir 50:20; Heb 9:5, 7. )When St. Paul speaks of Jesus whom “God put forward as an expiation by his blood,” he means that in Christ’s humanity “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”26 (Rom 3:25; 2 Cor 5:19.)
Jesus’ Resurrection glorifies the name of the Savior God, for from that time on it is the name of Jesus that fully manifests the supreme power of the “name which is above every name.”27 (Phil 2:9-10; cf. Jn 12:28. )The evil spirits fear his name; in his name his disciples perform miracles, for the Father grants all they ask in this name.28 (Cf. Acts 16:16-18; 19:13-16; Mk 16:17: Jn 15:16.)
The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word “Jesus” on their lips.
The word “Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means “anointed.” It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that “Christ” signifies. In effect, in Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets.29 (Cf. Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 16:1,12-13; 1 Kings 1:39; 19:16. )This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively.30 (Cf. Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26-27.) It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet.31( Cf. Isa 11:2; 61:1; Zech 4:14; 6:13: Lk 4:16-21. ) Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet, and king.
To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”32( Lk 2:11. )From the beginning he was “the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,” conceived as “holy” in Mary’s virginal womb.33 (Jn 10:36: cf. Lk 1:35.) God called Joseph to “take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” so that Jesus, “who is called Christ,” should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the messianic lineage of David.34 (Mt 1:20; cf. Mt 1:16; Rom 1:1; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16.)
Jesus’ messianic consecration reveals his divine mission, “for the name ‘Christ’ implies ‘he who anointed,’ ‘he who was anointed’ and ‘the very anointing with which he was anointed.’ The one who anointed is the Father, the one who was anointed is the Son, and he was anointed with the Spirit who is the anointing.”35 (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres., 3, 18, 3: PG 7/1, 934.) His eternal messianic consecration was revealed during the time of his earthly life at the moment of his baptism by John, when “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power,” “that he might be revealed to Israel”36 (Acts 10:38; Jn 1:31.) as its Messiah. His works and words will manifest him as “the Holy One of God.”37 (Mk 1:24; Jn 6:69; Acts 3:14)
Many Jews and even certain Gentiles who shared their hope recognized in Jesus the fundamental attributes of the messianic “Son of David,” promised by God to Israel.38 (Cf. Mt 2:2; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9, 15. )Jesus accepted his rightful title of Messiah, though with some reserve because it was understood by some of his contemporaries in too human a sense, as essentially political.39 (Cf. Jn 4:25-26; 6:15;11:27; Mt 22:41-46; Lk 24:21.)
Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.40 (Cf. Mt 16:16-23. He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven,” and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”41 (Jn 3:13: Mt 20:28; cf. Jn 6:62; Dan 7:13; Isa 53:10-12) Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross.42 (Cf. Jn 19:19-22; Lk 23:39-43) Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”43 (Acts 2:36.)
In the Old Testament, “son of God” is a title given to the angels, the Chosen People, the children of Israel, and their kings.44 (Cf. Deut 14:1; (LXX) 32:8; Job 1:6; Ex 4:22; Hos 2:1; 11:1; Jer 3:19; Sir 36:11; Wis 18:13; 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 82:6.) It signifies an adoptive sonship that establishes a relationship of particular intimacy between God and his creature. When the promised Messiah-King is called “son of God,” it does not necessarily imply that he was more than human, according to the literal meaning of these texts. Those who called Jesus “son of God,” as the Messiah of Israel, perhaps meant nothing more than this.45 (Cf. 1 Chr 17:13; Ps 2:7; Mt 27:54; Lk 23:47.)
Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”46 (Mt 16:16-17.) Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. . . .”47 “(Gal 1:15-16. )And in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”48 (Acts 9:20. )From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation.49 (Cf. 1 Thess 1:10; Jn 20:31; Mt 16:18)
Peter could recognize the transcendent character of the Messiah’s divine sonship because Jesus had clearly allowed it to be so understood. To his accusers’ question before the Sanhedrin, “Are you the Son of God, then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am.”50 (Lk 22:70; cf. Mt 26:64; Mk 14:61-62.) Well before this, Jesus referred to himself as “the Son” who knows the Father, as distinct from the “servants” God had earlier sent to his people; he is superior even to the angels.51 (Cf. Mt 11:27; 21:34-38; 24:36. )He distinguished his sonship from that of his disciples by never saying “our Father,” except to command them: “You, then, pray like this: ‘Our Father,’” and he emphasized this distinction, saying “my Father and your Father.”52 (Mt 5:48; 6:8-9; 7:21; Lk 11:13; Jn 20:17.)
The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of Christ, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his “beloved Son.”53 (Cf. Mt 3:17; cf. Mt 17:5. )Jesus calls himself the “only Son of God,” and by this title affirms his eternal preexistence.54 (Jn 3:16; cf. 10:36. )He asks for faith in “the name of the only Son of God.”55(Jn 3:18. )In the centurion’s exclamation before the crucified Christ, “Truly this man was the Son of God,”56 (Mk 15:39. )that Christian confession is already heard. Only in the Paschal mystery can the believer give the title “Son of God” its full meaning.
After his Resurrection, Jesus’ divine sonship becomes manifest in the power of his glorified humanity. He was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead.”57 (Rom 1:3; cf. Acts 13:33. )The apostles can confess: “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”58 (Jn 1:14.)
Questions for Application
- How can I demonstrate in both my public and private actions, my belief that Jesus is Lord? Are there some areas of my life that I need to relinquish more to His Lordship?
- Do I sometimes doubt the church’s teachings about the Incarnation? What questions do I have about the person, actions, or teachings of Jesus? How can I go about addressing those doubts and questions?
- How does sin undermine and harm my spiritual life? Do I need to go to confession more regularly, read Scripture more often or spend more time in prayer? What are some steps I might consider taking in growing in my relationship with the Lord?
Part II: Questions for Understanding
1.What were the four central tasks expected of the Messiah by most first century Jews? Where did those tasks originate and what are some examples of how they were expressed?
The four central tasks expected of the Messiah by most first century Jews were as described in the Torah (the Law), the Prophets, and the Psalms: Gathering the Tribes; Cleansing the Temple of God; Dealing with the Enemies of Israel; and Reigning as Lord of the Nations.
These four tasks are closely connected with the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. The Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms convey the longing of the people of Israel for the fulfillment of the promises of the covenants. Moses and the various mediators between the people and God after him—judges, prophets, kings—were not capable of bringing about this fulfillment. Israel needed a mediator who could; this mediator was believed to be the Messiah. Christians believe that Christ, the messiah, is the perfect mediator who fulfills His messianic mission in His life, death and resurrection.
An example of this can be seen in how Jesus’ identified Himself with the Temple, including His cleansing of the Temple. The first Temple has been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The prophet Ezekiel wrote of his vision of a new Temple (Ezek 40-48) drawing upon imagery found in Genesis 2: pure water, abundance, fruitful trees. This heavenly Temple would descend from heaven so that God could dwell among men.
The new Temple of God did come down from heaven, and it dwelt among man (Jn 1:14) –as a man, the Messiah, who is the true Temple. That Temple, Jesus Christ, would cleanse the Temple built of stone as a sign of God’s desire for holiness which He perfectly fulfilled and a sign of His own death: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:13-22) Thus, the destruction of the Temple one generation from the death and Resurrection of Christ was a sign the beginning of a new era in God’s work of salvation had begun.
Gathering the tribes of Israel
“Save us, O Lord our God and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to thy holy name and glory in thy praise” (Ps 106:47) “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord” and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.” (Jer 3:17) These are just a few of numerous instances where psalmists and prophets spoke with hope and longing of a future gathering by God of His people and a restoration of the holy city, Jerusalem.
Because of their failure to keep the Law and to observe the commandments, the Israelites had been scattered far and wide by war, persecution, and exile. When the Law was given and the Mosaic covenant established, the people of Israel were warned of the curses that would fall upon them if they strayed from the Torah’s precepts and commands. If the Israelites turned away from the covenant, made graven images to worship and did evil in the sight of God they would be destroyed, scattered “among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you” (Deut 4:23-27; 28:58-68) But if they repented and came back to God?
And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey His voice in all that I command you this day, with all your heart and with all your soul; then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes, and have compassion upon you, and He will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Deut 30:1-3)
This was, for first-century Jews, a central task of the Messiah; to bring about the gathering and reunification of the people of Israel. When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, listeners heard a promise of national restoration, Davidic in nature and scope. Jesus, however, went deeper, to the root of the problem: sin. Because of sin, men were alienated from God (removed from the Garden of Eden), divided amongst themselves (Cain killing his brother Abel) and scattered far and wide (the Tower of Babel). The term sin comes from a German word Sunde for sundering and division.
This work was oriented toward the formation of the new Israel, the Church. “So likewise the new Israel which while living in this present age goes in search of a future and abiding city is called the Church of Christ…God gathered together as one, all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity.” (Lumen Gentium, 9) In the Church, all the tribes, nations and peoples of the earth are unite dint he love of the Father, the life of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Cleansing the Temple of God
Adam was the first priest, and the Garden of Eden was the first temple. In the Garden, man and woman enjoyed perfect adoration of God. They were in full harmony and right communion with god, what the Council of Trent described as a “state of holiness and justice.” Original sin came about by man’s abuse of his freedom, his choosing to adore something (power and prestige) and someone (self) instead of God. (CCC1707) But the first priest sinned and was evicted from the idyllic temple God had prepared for him.
Israel was also a type of temple, created to praise God, to offer Him sacrifices and proclaim His name among the nations. King David desired a permanent temple, and his son Solomon eventually built the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the great glories of the ancient world. Sometimes in association with the city of Jerusalem it was called Zion (Psa 48) which in turn represented the chosen people of God.
The Temple was a barometer of the health of the covenantal relationship between God and the people. Many of the prophets warned that a failure to uphold the law and the covenant would result in the destruction of the Temple. The prophet Jeremiah declared that having the Temple could not protect the people from the consequences of their sins: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” (Jer 7:4)
In 587 BC the first Temple was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, marking the start of the Exile. During that time the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a new Temple (Ezek 40-48) His description hearkened back to the first chapters of Genesis, including references to pure water, creatures in abundance, and unfading trees producing continuous fresh fruit. (cf Gen 2:10-14) This heavenly Temple, it was commonly believed, would descend from heaven and God would then dwell in the midst of mankind. Following the exile the Temple was rebuilt then damaged, and rebuilt again. Finally not long before the birth of Christ, Herod built an expansive and stunning Temple—the “second Temple
It was there that Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph and blessed by Simeon (Lk 2:22-35) and where he in his youth, spent time talking to the teachers of the Law (Lk 2:43-50) It was also the setting for the cleansing of the Temple and Jesus’ shocking prophecy: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn 2:13-22)
Was Jesus, in cleansing the temple, attacking the temple itself? No. And did Jesus, in making His remark, saying He would destroy the temple? No. But, paradoxically , the love of the Son for His Father and His Father’s house did point toward the demise of the Temple in Jerusalem. “This is a prophecy of the Cross: He shows that the destruction of His earthly body will be at the same time the end of the Temple” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ,The Spirit of the Liturgy , 2000)
Why? Because a new and everlasting Temple was established by the death and Resurrection fo the Son of God, “With His Resurrection the new Temple will begin: the living body of Jesus Christ, which will now stand in the sight of God and be the place of all worship. Into this body He incorporates men.” (p. 43)
Dealing with the Enemies of Israel
The tiny nation of Israel was, with rare exceptions, constantly fighting for survival, oppressed by a seemingly endless number of enemies: Egyptians, Philistines, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Romans. Since the Messiah was to gather together the scattered people, He would also have to take on and destroy the ones doing the scattering. He would need to be a warrior, “who struggles against all the powers of dissolution, antagonism, and violence that have marred His creation. Jesus the warrior gives concrete expression to the righteous anger of God that is apparent on practically every page of the Old Testament (The Priority of Christ pp 90-91)
Oppression by enemies and the scattering of the people of Israel were part and parcel of the same failure to keep the commandments. The people had been warned that breaking the covenant would result in being “smitten before your enemies” and ruled by foreigners (Lev 26:14-17)
The Gospel of Luke makes a pointed contrast between divine power and worldly power, between the humility of God and the domineering control of rulers such as Herod, the king of Judea; Quirinius, the governor of Syria; and Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome. (Lk 1:5;2:1-2) Luke tells the story of the true Emperor and King, who didn’t arrive with the trappings of human glory, but is born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. He didn’t have a human army, military might, or political connections, but came with a host of angels and a band of shepherds (Lk 2:8-18) revealing His divine origins and reveling in His earthly existence.
Divine humanity and demonic power met face-to-face when Jesus went into the desert for forty days before beginning His public ministry (Matt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13) The three temptations presented by Satan to Jesus echo some of the essential tests faced and failed by the Israelites during forty years in the Wilderness, all of them rooted in rebellion against God and the pursuit of self-centered ends.
Satan tempted Jesus to show His power by turning stones into bread (Matt 4:3-4) This was a temptation of the most base level—to choose bodily needs and pleasure over spiritual nourishment and God’s life. Satan next tempted Jesus to reveal His heavenly glory by throwing Himself from the top of the Temple and having angels carry Him to safety (Matt 4:5-7) thus the setting moved higher: the target was the ego and the temptation was to seek personal glory over God’s will. In the final temptation, the Evil One offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He fell down and worshipped the fallen angel (Matt 4:8-10) This took place at the top of a lofty mountain; it was the temptation to choose personal power and dominance over God’s power and reign.
Jesus vehemently rejected all three temptations with quotes from the Torah. He knew His kingdom could only be established through suffering and death. He understood that true power comes through love and sacrifice, not fear and coercion. And He knew His glorified body would be revealed and the Kingdom established in rising from the grave, not by avoiding death. His rejection of Satan’s overtures showed the heart of the Messiah and Warrior intent on fulfilling the Father’s plan of salvation.
Reigning as Lord of the nations.
In taking on the sins of the world, Jesus took on all forms of human dysfunction, discord, depravity and despair. On the cross, Jesus embodied the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:3)
Christ’s Paschal Mystery brought to completion His first three Messianic tasks. Although the Resurrection is beyond human comprehension, it is not symbolic or metaphorical in nature. It “cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact” (CCC 643)
When Pontius Pilate placed the sign over Jesus on the cross “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19) he unwittingly became the first evangelist. (his wife, according to an ancient tradition, became a disciple of Christ) The irony of the mocking sign was that it spoke the truth. And when St Paul described Jesus Christ as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:13) he was putting forth fighting words. The first three centuries of Christianity witnessed the spilt blood of many martyrs as Rome often sought to destroy the fledgling Church. But in another example of divine humor, it would be through Rome that Christ and His Church would go forth to all of the world, proclaiming the good news and glad tidings, “Jesus is Lord.”
In the eyes of many in Israel, Jesus seems to be acting against essential institutions of the Chosen People:
- submission to the whole of the Law in its written commandments and, for the Pharisees, in the interpretation of oral tradition;
- the centrality of the Temple at Jerusalem as the holy place where God’s presence dwells in a special way;
faith in the one God whose glory no man can share.
Like the prophets before him Jesus expressed the deepest respect for the Temple in Jerusalem. It was in the Temple that Joseph and Mary presented him forty days after his birth.349 Lk 2:22-39At the age of twelve he decided to remain in the Temple to remind his parents that he must be about his Father’s business.350 Cf. Lk 2:46-49 He went there each year during his hidden life at least for Passover.351 Cf. Lk 2:41 His public ministry itself was patterned by his pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great Jewish feasts.352Cf. Jn 2:13-14; 5:1, 14; 7:1, 10, 14; 8:2; 10:22-23
Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God. For him, the Temple was the dwelling of his Father, a house of prayer, and he was angered that its outer court had become a place of commerce.353Cf. Mt 21:13 He drove merchants out of it because of jealous love for his Father: “You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade. His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”354 Jn 2:16-17; cf. Ps 69:10 After his Resurrection his apostles retained their reverence for the Temple.355Cf. Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20, 21; etc
On the threshold of his Passion Jesus announced the coming destruction of this splendid building, of which there would not remain “one stone upon another.”356 Cf. Mt 24:1-2 By doing so, he announced a sign of the last days, which were to begin with his own Passover.357Cf. Mt 24:3; Lk 13:35. But this prophecy would be distorted in its telling by false witnesses during his interrogation at the high priest’s house and would be thrown back at him as an insult when he was nailed to the cross.358 Cf. Mk 14:57-58: Mt 27:39-40
Far from having been hostile to the Temple, where he gave the essential part of his teaching, Jesus was willing to pay the temple-tax, associating with him Peter, whom he had just made the foundation of his future Church.359 Cf. Mt 8:4; 16:18; 17:24-27; Lk 17:14; Jn 4:22; 18:20 He even identified himself with the Temple by presenting himself as God’s definitive dwelling-place among men.360 Cf. Jn 2:21; Mt 12:6Therefore his being put to bodily death361Cf. Jn 2:18-22 presaged the destruction of the Temple, which would manifest the dawning of a new age in the history of salvation: “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.”362 Jn 4:21; cf. Jn 4:23-24; Mt 27:51; Heb 9:11; Rev 21:22
Only the divine identity of Jesus’ person can justify so absolute a claim as “He who is not with me is against me”; and his saying that there was in him “something greater than Jonah, . . . greater than Solomon,”something “greater than the Temple”; his reminder that David had called the Messiah his Lord,371 Cf. Mt 12:6, 30, 36, 37, 41-42.and his affirmations, “Before Abraham was, I AM”; and even “I and the Father are one.”372Jn 8:58; 10:30
The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ’s faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.”132Jn 15:8, 16
But there is more. Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: “I am the Resurrection and the life.”544Jn 11:25 It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him, who have eaten his body and drunk his blood.545Cf. Jn 5:24-25; 6:40, 54 Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life,546 Cf. Mk 5:21-42; Lk 7:11-17; Jn 11announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order. He speaks of this unique event as the “sign of Jonah,”547Mt 12:39 the sign of the temple: he announces that he will be put to death but rise thereafter on the third day.548Cf. Mk 10:34; Jn 2:19-22
2. Why did the tribes of Israel need to be gathered? How did Jesus go about doing this? (CCC 541; 542)
Because of their failure to keep the Law and to observe the commandments, the Israelites had been scattered far and wide by war, persecution, and exile. First-century Jews believed, based on the Pentateuch and the prophets, that a central task of the Messiah was to bring about the gathering and reunification of the people of Israel (Deut 30:1-3) When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God, listeners heard a promise of national restoration Davidic in nature and scope. But Jesus went even deeper, to the real root of the problem: sin.
This gathering was focused in the new covenant established by Jesus—through His salvific work and His person—so that a new Israel, the Church, could unite all the tribes, nations, and peoples of the earth in the love of the Father, the life of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. The very first paragraph of the Catechism expresses this essential truth: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son as Redeemer and Savior. In His Son and through Him He invites men to become in the Holy Spirit, His adopted children and thus heirs of His blessed life” (CCC, 1)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel.’”246 (Mk 1:14-15.) “To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth.”247 (LG 3.) Now the Father’s will is “to raise up men to share in his own divine life.”248 (LG 2.) He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, “on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.”249 (LG 5.)
Christ stands at the heart of this gathering of men into the “family of God.” By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. But above all in the great Paschal mystery—his death on the cross and his Resurrection—he would accomplish the coming of his kingdom. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Into this union with Christ all men are called.250 (Jn 12:32; cf. LG 3.)
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.
After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the “nations,” in other words, toward men grouped “in their lands, each with [its] own LANGUAGE, by their families, in their nations.”9Gen 10:5; cf. 9:9-10, 16; 10:20-31
O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!”93 LH, Hymn for Evening Prayer God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of his blessed life. Such is the “plan of his loving kindness,” conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in his beloved Son: “He destined us in love to be his sons” and “to be conformed to the image of his Son,” through “the spirit of sonship.”94 Eph 1:4-5, 9; Rom 8:15, 29This plan is a “grace [which] was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” stemming immediately from Trinitarian love.95 2 Tim 1:9-10 It unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church.96Cf. AG 2-9.
The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. For as the Trinity has only one and the same nature, so too does it have only one and the same operation: “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of creation but one principle.”97Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331; cf. Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 421 However each divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property. Thus the Church confesses, following the New Testament, “one God and Father from whom all things are, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are.”98 Council of Constantinople II: DS 421It is above all the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that show forth the properties of the divine persons.
Being a work at once common and personal, the whole divine economy makes known both what is proper to the divine persons and their one divine nature. Hence the whole Christian life is a communion with each of the divine persons, without in any way separating them. Everyone who glorifies the Father does so through the Son in the Holy Spirit; everyone who follows Christ does so because the Father draws him and the Spirit moves him.99Cf. Jn 6:44; Rom 8:14
The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity.100 Cf. Jn 17:21-23.But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: “If a man loves me,” says the Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him”:101Jn 14:23
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.102 Prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.
This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ.”163 LG 5. To welcome Jesus’ word is to welcome “the Kingdom itself.”164LG 5. The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the “little flock” of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is.165Lk 12:32; cf. Mt 10:16; 26:31; Jn 10:1-21 They form Jesus’ true family.166 Cf. Mt 12:49 To those whom he thus gathered around him, he taught a new “way of acting” and a prayer of their own.167 Cf. Mt 5-6
The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head.168 Cf. Mk 3:14-15Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem.169 Cf. Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30; Rev 21:12-14.The Twelve and the other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power, but also in his lot.170Cf. Mk 6:7; Lk 10:1-2; Mt 10:25; Jn 15:20 By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church.
The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. “The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.”171 LG 3; cf. Jn 19:34″For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’”172 SC 5.As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.173Cf. St. Ambrose, In Luc. 2, 85-89: PL 15, 1666-1668
3.What was the purpose of the Temple within ancient Judaism? How did Jesus identify Himself with the Temple? (CCC 2099, 2100, 1197)
The central place of the Temple in ancient Judaism cannot be emphasized enough. The Temple was a barometer of the health of the covenantal relationship between God and the people. It was where man, through praise and sacrifice, was ordered both toward and into communion with God. The interior of the Temple was meant to evoke the Garden of Eden, for in Eden, prior to the Fall, man enjoyed a perfect adoration of God. In Eden, man was fully alive—and restoring and obtaining this blessed state was the purpose of the Temple.
The worship of God in the Temple was offered in the form of sacrifice for it was sacrifice that established communion with God. It was a way of offering a gift back to the One who is Creator and Gift—giver in humility and thanksgiving. It was a key part of the “logic” of reestablishing communion with God, a cultivation of a spirit of gratitude. In offering Himself as a sacrifice, Jesus Christ gave to God the Father the gift of His Person, drawing humanity into the divine life of the Trinity, the perfect self-gift of divine Persons and the origin of all life, both natural and supernatural.
Through His death and Resurrection, the Incarnate Word—as mediator between God and man—restores communion so that mankind can be saved. Jesus, in other words, is the perfect and final Temple, as well as the sacrificial lamb and the high priest. “Christ is the true temple of God, ‘the place where His glory dwells’; by the grace of God, Christians also become temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones out of which the Church is built.” (CCC 1197)
The Son of God, who came down “from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent [him],”413 Jn 6:38. said on coming into the world, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.” “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”414Heb 10:5-10 From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”415 Jn 4:34. The sacrifice of Jesus “for the sins of the whole world”416 1 Jn 2:2expresses his loving communion with the Father. “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life,” said the Lord, “[for] I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”417Jn 10:17; 14:31
The desire to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life,418Cf. Lk 12:50; 22:15; Mt 16:21-23. for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation. And so he asked, “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”419 Jn 12:27. And again, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”420 Jn 18:11From the cross, just before “It is finished,” he said, “I thirst.”421Jn 19:30; 19:28
After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”422Jn 1:29; cf. Lk 3:21; Mt 3:14-15; Jn 1:36 By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover.423 Isa 53:7, 12; cf. Jer 11:19; Ex 12:3-14; Jn 19:36; 1 Cor 5:7. Christ’s whole life expresses his mission: “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”424Mk 10:45
By embracing in his human heart the Father’s love for men, Jesus “loved them to the end,” for “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”425 Jn 13:1;15:13. In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.426 Cf. Heb
2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 5:7-9. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”427 Jn 10:18 Hence the sovereign freedom of God’s Son as he went out to his death.428Cf. Jn 18:4-6; Mt 26:53
Jesus gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles “on the night he was betrayed.”429 Roman Missal, EP 111; cf. Mt 26:20; 1 Cor 11:23 On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: “This is my body which is given for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”430 Lk 22:19; Mt 26:28; cf. 1 Cor 5:7
The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice.431 1 Cor 11:25Jesus includes the apostles in his own offering and bids them perpetuate it.432Cf. Lk 22:19 By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”433Jn 17:19; cf. Council of Trent: DS 1752; 1764
The cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father’s hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani,434Cf. Mt 26:42; Lk 22:20. making himself “obedient unto death.” Jesus prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. . . .”435 Phil 2:8; Mt 26:39; cf. Heb 5:7-8.Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature. Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death.436 Cf. Rom 5:12; Heb 4:15Above all, his human nature has been assumed by the divine person of the “Author of life,” the “Living One.”437 Cf. Acts 3:15; Rev 1:17; Jn 1:4; 5:26 By accepting in his human will that the Father’s will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”4381 Pet 2:24; cf. Mt 26:42
Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,”439 Jn 1:29; cf. 8:34-36; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19. and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”440Mt 26:28; cf. Ex 24:8; Lev 16:15-16; 1 Cor 11:25
This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.441 Cf. Heb 10:10First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.442Cf. Jn 10:17-18; 15:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 4:10
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”443 Rom 5:19. By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin,” when “he bore the sin of many,” and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous,” for “he shall bear their iniquities.”444 Isa 53:10-12 Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.445Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1529
It is love “to the end”446Jn 13:1. that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life.447 Cf. Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25Now “the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.”4482 Cor 5:14 No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.
The Council of Trent emphasizes the unique character of Christ’s sacrifice as “the source of eternal salvation”449 Heb 5:9 and teaches that “his most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us.”450 Council of Trent: DS 1529 And the Church venerates his cross as it sings: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope.”451LH, Lent, Holy Week, Evening Prayer, Hymn Vexilla regis.
The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men.”452 1 Tim 2:5 But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the
paschal mystery” is offered to all men.453GS 22 § 5; cf. § 2. He calls his disciples to “take up [their] cross and follow [him],”454Mt 16:24. for “Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps.”4551 Pet 2:21. In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries.456 Cf. Mk 10:39; Jn 21:18-19; Col 1:24 This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.457Cf. Lk 2:35.
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.458St. Rose of Lima, cf. P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis (Louvain, 1668).
Christ is the true temple of God, “the place where his glory dwells”; by the grace of God, Christians also become temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones out of which the Church is built.
It is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion: “Every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness, is a true sacrifice.”16 (St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 10, 6: PL 41, 283.)
Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. . . .”17 (Ps 51:17. )The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor.18 (Cf. Am 5:21-25; Isa 1:10-20.) Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”19 (Mt 9:13; 12:7; cf. Hos 6:6. )The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father’s love and for our salvation.20 (Cf. Heb 9:13-14. )By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.
4.What enemies did Jesus conquer and how did He do battle? (550, 559, 635)
In fighting the demonic forces, Christ chose the way of humility. He didn’t use or rely upon military might and political power. Rather, He came with a host of angels and a band of shepherds whose power was in their song of praise to the Lord and in the revelation of His divine Person. As the Son of David, it was expected that the Messiah would be a Davidic warrior. But, unlike His forefathers, Jesus Christ did not fight physical enemies such as pharaohs, kings and emperors, but the very Enemy himself: Satan.
Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”1111 Cor 1:24-25 It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.”112Eph 1:19-22
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him.241 Cf. Mk 1:12-13 At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time.”242Lk 4:13.
The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he “binds the strong man” to take back his plunder.243 Cf. Ps 95:10; Mk 3:27Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father.
Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him.244Cf. Mt 16:21-23 This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.”245 Heb 4:15 By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”277 (Mt 12:26, 28. )Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over “the ruler of this world.”278(Jn 12:31; cf. Lk 8:26-39.) The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: “God reigned from the wood.”279 (LH, Lent, Holy Week, Evening Prayer, Hymn Vexilla Regis: “Regnavit a ligno Deus.”)
How will Jerusalem welcome her Messiah? Although Jesus had always refused popular attempts to make him king, he chooses the time and prepares the details for his messianic entry into the city of “his father David.”308 (Lk 1:32; cf. Mt 21:1-11; Jn 6:15.) Acclaimed as son of David, as the one who brings salvation (Hosanna means “Save!” or “Give salvation!”), the “King of glory” enters his City “riding on an ass.”309 (Ps 24:7-10; Zech 9:9) Jesus conquers the Daughter of Zion, a figure of his Church, neither by ruse nor by violence, but by the humility that bears witness to the truth.310 (Cf. Jn 18:37. )And so the subjects of his kingdom on that day are children and God’s poor, who acclaim him as had the angels when they announced him to the shepherds.311 (Cf. Mt 21:15-16; cf. Ps 8:3; Lk 19:38; 2:14. )Their acclamation, “Blessed be he who comes in the name of the LORD,”312 (Cf. Ps 118:26.) is taken up by the Church in the “Sanctus” of the Eucharistic liturgy that introduces the memorial of the Lord’s Passover.
The temptation in the desert shows Jesus, the humble Messiah, who triumphs over Satan by his total adherence to the plan of salvation willed by the Father.
Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”485 (Jn 5:25; cf. Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9. )Jesus, “the Author of life,” by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”486 (Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15. )Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades,” so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”487 (Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10.)
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”488 (Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: PG 43, 440A, 452C: LH, Holy Saturday, OR.)
We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.”489 Acts 13:32-33.The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross:
Christ is risen from the dead!
Dying, he conquered death;
To the dead, he has given life.490Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion of Easter
5.Why did Jesus die on the cross? What did He accomplish, fulfill, and embody in being crucified? (CCC 599, 613-14, 616, 618, 622-23)
In taking on the sins of the world by dying on the cross, Jesus took on all forms of human dysfunction, discord, depravity and despair. On the cross, Jesus lived out what He had proclaimed in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:3)
Jesus overcame evil through non-violence; He conquered death by His death. He took upon Himself the sin of the world in order to interrupt the terrible cycle of violence and blindness that engulfs mankind, thereby liberating all of us from our attachment to sin. The goal of Christ’s crucifixion is that man can be restored to communion with God, sharing by grace in the sonship that Jesus has by nature: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who “loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins”: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world,” and “he was revealed to take away sins”:701 Jn 4:10; 4:14; 3:5
Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?71St. Gregory of Nyssa, Orat. catech. 15: PG 45, 48B
The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”72 1 Jn 4:9. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”73Jn 3:16.
The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”74 Mt 11:29; Jn 14:6. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: “Listen to him!”75 Mk 9:7; cf. Deut 6:4-5 Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: “Love one another as I have loved you.”76Jn 15:12. This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.77Cf. Mk 8:34
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:78 2 Pet 1:4. “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”79 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939″For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B”The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57: 1-4
Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”393 (Acts 2:23. )This Biblical LANGUAGE does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394 (Cf. Acts 3:13.)
The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28), that is, he “loved [his own] to the end” (Jn 13:1), so that they might be “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers”(1 Pet 1:18).
By his loving obedience to the Father, “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission (cf. Isa 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will “make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19)
6.Why is the historical and physical nature of the Resurrection so important to Christians? What is an historical argument in favor of the Resurrection? (CCC 638-9, 643, 645)
Skeptics have argued the Resurrection was a clever fable or a form of mass delusion. But this simply cannot account for the rise of the early Christian movement and the willingness demonstrated by many of the first Christians to die rather than renounce their belief in the risen Messiah. How does one explain the sermon given by St Peter on Pentecost if he had not had a transformative encounter with the risen Lord? The man “Jesus delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” the head apostle told the marveling crowd. “But God raised Him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24) There were many messianic movements that come on the scene and shortly passed away during the 1st century. St Paul addressed the issue directly “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.” He wrote to the Christians in Corinth: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:13-14) Christ’s death would have been a tragedy, but hardly an event worth putting at the center of our lives. But the Resurrection gives joyful meaning to the totality of things.
It is the event that gives meaning to the whole; if there were no resurrection; Christ’s death would have been a tragedy, but hardly an event worth putting at the center of our lives. But the Resurrection gives joyful meaning to the totality of things.
St Cyril of Jerusalem, writing some 1700 years ago, wrote that when Peter and John first ran to the empty tomb they did not, at that very moment, “meet Christ risen from the dead, but they infer His Resurrection form the bundle of linen clothes.” And connected that physical fact to Jesus’ own words and the prophecies of Scripture. “When therefore, they looked at the issues of events in the light of the prophecies that turned out true, their faith was from that time forward rooted on a firm foundation” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 12). What the two men saw was unexpected and astounding, but they didn’t give themselves over to irrational judgments or emotional conjectures, but began to logically put together the pieces of the prophetic puzzle.
This is a powerful explanation for the birth and growth of Christianity in the first century. There were many messianic movements that came on the scene and shortly passed away during the first century. What distinguished the movement founded by a carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Peter provides a strong answer in his testimony to the centurion Cornelius: “And we are witnesses to all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree; but God raised Him on the third day and made Him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-42) The disciples really did believe that Jesus rose from the dead—not despite the evidence, but because of the evidence and their personal encounter with the risen Lord.
The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56, St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve . . .”491 (1 Cor 15:3-4.) Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.492 (Cf. Acts 9:3-18)
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”493 Lk 24:5-6The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ’s body from the tomb could be explained otherwise.494Cf. Jn 20:13; Mt 28:11-15 Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter.495 Cf. Lk 24:3, 12, 22-23The disciple “whom Jesus loved” affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered “the linen cloths lying there,” “he saw and believed.”496Jn 20:2, 6, 8. This suggests that he realized from the empty tomb’s condition that the absence of Jesus’ body could not have been of human doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus.497Cf. Jn 11:44; 20:5-7.
Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One.498 Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1; Jn 19:31, 42 Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ’s Resurrection for the apostles themselves.499 Cf. Lk 24:9-10; Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:11-18. They were the next to whom Jesus appears: first Peter, then the Twelve. Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his brothers,500 Cf. 1 Cor 15:5; Lk 22:31-32. and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that the community exclaims: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”501 Lk 24:34, 36
Everything that happened during those Paschal days involves each of the apostles—and Peter in particular—in the building of the new era begun on Easter morning. As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection,” but they are not the only ones—Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.502 1 Cor 15:4-8; cf. Acts 1:22.
Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact. It is clear from the facts that the disciples’ faith was drastically put to the test by their master’s Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold.503 (Cf. Lk 22:31-32. )The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (“looking sad”504)( Lk 24:17; cf. Jn 20:19.) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an “idle tale.”505 (Lk 24:11; cf. Mk 16:11, 13. )When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”506 (Mk 16:14.)
Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. “In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering.”507 Lk 24:38-41
Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord’s last appearance in Galilee “some doubted.”508. Cf. Jn 20:24-27; Mt 28:17.. Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.
By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion.509 (Cf. Lk 24:30, 39-40, 41-43; Jn 20:20, 27; 21:9, 13-15. )Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.510 (Cf. Mt 28:9, 16-17; Lk 24:15, 36; Jn 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4. )For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.511 (Cf. Mk 16:12; Jn 20:14-16; 21:4, 7.)
Christ’s Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus’ power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again. Christ’s Resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus’ Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is “the man of heaven.”512Cf. 1 Cor 15:35-50.
O truly blessed Night, sings the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil, which alone deserved to know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the realm of the dead!513 O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit!”But no one was an eyewitness to Christ’s Resurrection and no evangelist describes it. No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history. This is why the risen Christ does not reveal himself to the world, but to his disciples, “to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.”514Acts 13:31; cf. Jn 14:22.
Christ’s Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history. In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father’s power “raised up” Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead.”515 Rom 1:3-4; cf. Acts 2:24St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God’s power516 Cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 13:4; Phil 3:10; Eph 1:19-22; Heb 7:16. through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus’ dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship.
As for the Son, he effects his own Resurrection by virtue of his divine power. Jesus announces that the Son of man will have to suffer much, die, and then rise.517 Cf. Mk 8:31; 9:9-31; 10:34 Elsewhere he affirms explicitly: “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. . . . I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”518 Jn 10:17-18. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again.”5191 Thess 4:14.
The Fathers contemplate the Resurrection from the perspective of the divine person of Christ who remained united to his soul and body, even when these were separated from each other by death: “By the unity of the divine nature, which remains present in each of the two components of man, these are reunited. For as death is produced by the separation of the human components, so Resurrection is achieved by the union of the two.”520St. Gregory of Nyssa, In Christi res. orat. 1: PG 46:617B; cf. also DS 325; 359; 369.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”5211 Cor 15:14. The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ’s works and teachings. All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised.
Christ’s Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself during his earthly life.522 Cf. Mt 28:6; Mk 16:7; Lk 24:6-7, 26-27, 44-48The phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures”523 Cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4; cf. the Nicene Creed indicates that Christ’s Resurrection fulfilled these predictions.
The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his Resurrection. He had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he.”524 Jn 8:28.The Resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly “I Am,” the Son of God and God himself. So St. Paul could declare to the Jews: “What God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”525 Acts 13:32-34; cf. Ps 2:7Christ’s Resurrection is closely linked to the Incarnation of God’s Son and is its fulfillment in accordance with God’s eternal plan.
The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”526Rom 6:4; cf. 4:25 Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.527 Cf. Eph 2:4-5; 1 Pet 1:3It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: “Go and tell my brethren.”528 Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17. We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection.
Finally, Christ’s Resurrection—and the risen Christ himself—is the principle and source of our future resurrection: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”529 1 Cor 15:20-22The risen Christ lives in the hearts of his faithful while they await that fulfillment. In Christ, Christians “have tasted . . . the powers of the age to come”530 Heb 6:5. and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may “live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”5312 Cor 5:15; cf. Col 3:1-3
Faith in the Resurrection has as its object an event which is historically attested to by the disciples, who really encountered the Risen One. At the same time, this event is mysteriously transcendent insofar as it is the entry of Christ’s humanity into the glory of God.
The empty tomb and the linen cloths lying there signify in themselves that by God’s power Christ’s body had escaped the bonds of death and corruption. They prepared the disciples to encounter the Risen Lord.
Christ, “the first-born from the dead” (Col 1:18), is the principle of our own resurrection, even now by the justification of our souls (cf. Rom 6:4), and one day by the new life he will impart to our bodies (cf. Rom 8:11).
The Christian Creed—the profession of our faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in God’s creative, saving, and sanctifying action—culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting.
We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.534 Cf. Jn 6:39-40. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.535Rom 8:11; cf. 1 Thess 4:14; 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 4:14; Phil 3:10-11
The term “flesh” refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality.536 Cf. Gen 6:3; Ps 56:5; Isa 40:6 The “resurrection of the flesh” (the literal formulation of the Apostles’ Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our “mortal body” will come to life again.537Rom 8:11
Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. “The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.”538Tertullian, De res. 1, 1: PL 2, 841
How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.539 1 Cor 15:12-14
God revealed the resurrection of the dead to his people progressively. Hope in the bodily resurrection of the dead established itself as a consequence intrinsic to faith in God as creator of the whole man, soul and body. The creator of heaven and earth is also the one who faithfully maintains his covenant with Abraham and his posterity. It was in this double perspective that faith in the resurrection came to be expressed. In their trials, the Maccabean martyrs confessed:
The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.540 2 Macc 7:9One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him.5412 Macc 7:14; cf. 7:29; Dan 12:1-13
The Pharisees and many of the Lord’s contemporaries hoped for the resurrection. Jesus teaches it firmly. To the Sadducees who deny it he answers, “Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”542 Mk 12:24; cf. Jn 11:24; Acts 23:6. Faith in the resurrection rests on faith in God who “is not God of the dead, but of the living.”543Mk 12:27.
But there is more. Jesus links faith in the resurrection to his own person: “I am the Resurrection and the life.”544Jn 11:25 It is Jesus himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in him, who have eaten his body and drunk his blood.545 Cf. Jn 5:24-25; 6:40, 54.Already now in this present life he gives a sign and pledge of this by restoring some of the dead to life,546 Cf. Mk 5:21-42; Lk 7:11-17; Jn 11announcing thereby his own Resurrection, though it was to be of another order. He speaks of this unique event as the “sign of Jonah,”547Mt 12:39 the sign of the temple: he announces that he will be put to death but rise thereafter on the third day.548 Cf. Mk 10:34; Jn 2:19-22
To be a witness to Christ is to be a “witness to his Resurrection,” to “[have eaten and drunk] with him after he rose from the dead.”549 Acts 1:22; 10:41; cf. 4:33 Encounters with the risen Christ characterize the Christian hope of resurrection. We shall rise like Christ, with him, and through him.
From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition.550 Cf. Acts 17:32; 1 Cor 15:12-13 “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.”551St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 88, 5: PL 37, 1134 It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?
How do the dead rise?
What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Who will rise? All the dead will rise, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”552Jn 5:29; cf. Dan 12:2.
How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”;553 Lk 24:39 but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body”:554 Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15:44
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . .What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.555 1 Cor 15:35-37, 42, 52, 53
This “how” exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.556St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4, 18, 4-5: PG 7/1, 1028-1029
When? Definitively “at the last day,” “at the end of the world.”557 Jn 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; LG 48 § 3 Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Parousia:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.5581 Thess 4:16
Christ will raise us up “on the last day”; but it is also true that, in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ:
And you were buried with him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. . . . If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.559Col 2:12; 3:1.
United with Christ by Baptism, believers already truly participate in the heavenly life of the risen Christ, but this life remains “hidden with Christ in God.”560Col 3:3; cf. Phil 3:20 The Father has already “raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”561 Eph 2:6.Nourished with his body in the Eucharist, we already belong to the Body of Christ. When we rise on the last day we “also will appear with him in glory.”562Col 3:4
In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering:
The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . You are not your own; . . . So glorify God in your body.5631 Cor 6:13-15, 19-20
7. Who was the first evangelist for the crucified Messiah? What is the irony of that fact? (CCC 306, 307)
The roman governor, Pontius Pilate in placing the sign over Jesus on the cross “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19) unwittingly became the first evangelist for the crucified Messiah. “Before Pilate, Christ proclaims that he ‘has come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.’” (CCC 2471) Pilate, although he would not knowingly acknowledge the truth, still bore witness to the truth in having the sign posted over Jesus’ head. Thus, the man who sentenced Jesus to death on the cross also proclaimed to the world that Jesus was the King of the Jews.
All men are created by God and all men sill, in the end, carry out His purposes, even if we are not aware of our role in His providential plan. Jesus is the Lord in that He governs the cosmos; all creatures are mysteriously involved in accomplishing His purposes. And, in the end, all men will have to face the truth about Jesus, “for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:11-12; Phil 2:9-11) God, will respect the freely made choices of man, but man will have to admit, in the end, the One who is the Creator, Savior, and Lord of all men.
God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan.
To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it.168 (Cf. Gen 1:26-28 )God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers, and their sufferings.169 (Cf. Col 1:24. )They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.170 (1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thess 3:2; Col 4:11.)
As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body.552Cf. Eph 1:22. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”553LG 3; 5; cf. Eph 4:11-13
Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching.582 Cf. Dan 7:10; Joel 3-4; Mal 3:19; Mt 3:7-12.Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light.583 Cf. Mk 12:38-40; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 4:5Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned.584 Cf. Mt 11:20-24; 12:41-42Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.585Mt 5:22; 7:1-5. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”586Mt 25:40
Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.”587 Jn 5:22; cf. 5:27; Mt 25:31; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Tim 4:1. Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself.588Cf. Jn 3:17; 5:26. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.589Cf. Jn 3:18; 12:48; Mt 12:32; 1 Cor 3:12-15; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31.
Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ’s kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil.
On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history.
When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.
Questions for Application—Part 2
1.Do I need to contemplate more seriously the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross?
2.We are all called to be evangelists and to spread the Gospel. How can I be a better evangelist of the good news? What fears or concerns do I have about evangelizing? What can I do about those fears or concerns?