Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Actually, a strictly literal translation would be, “Jesus Christ, yesterday and today himself, and into the age.” (The word “himself” is often translated “the same.”)

So does this meant that Jesus Christ never changes in any way and that he has always been the same?

Let’s plug in a couple of verses from Luke’s Gospel:
And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40).
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52).

Luke makes it clear that Jesus grew physically, socially and intellectually. He implies that he also grew spiritually. The passage between these verses tells about Jesus' first visit to the Temple. It is often misunderstood by assuming that Jesus was teaching the teachers and embarrassing them with his tough questions.

But here’s what Luke writes:
They found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:46-47).

The picture Luke gives us is one of a precocious student who has an unusual grasp of the subject and who is voraciously taking in everything the teachers give him. It would not be hard to image him also challenging the standard interpretations, “What if this passage is talking about this?” But it is primarily a story about Jesus’ development. If there was any doubt, the two framing verses (40 & 52) should settle the issue.

Paul also talks about a rather significant change that took place:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:5-7).

So whatever the writer of Hebrews means, he cannot mean that there has never been any kind of change in the Son (the second person of the Trinity). He set aside his divine nature and took on “humanness.” As a child, he grew and developed, refining his understanding of his mission in the process.

Yet John starts his Gospel with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2).

The Word has always existed and was actively involved in creation. So that there is no doubt about who John is talking about, he writes in verse 14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So in some important way, Jesus Christ is unchanging, even though in other ways he does (or at least did) change.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the passage in Hebrews to see if we can tell what the writer is trying to say in the context of his letter.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


roomdog said...

He set aside his divine nature and took on “humanness.”

How does this statment coincide with Chalcedon? I thought Jesus was 100% God and 100% man? His development is his fully human life, nothing of his divinity is thereby diminished. Is your Christology Man + or is it God + ?

Pastor Rod said...

It fits very well. But remember, Chalcedon is not the primary authority. The primary authority is God speaking through Scripture. Philippians 2:7 suggests that he "set aside his divine nature." This does not mean that he stopped being God. But it means that his humanity was more than just play acting.

My Christology is neither of the options you mention. We have tended to diminish Jesus' humanity in an attempt to preserve his divinity.

While he was completely God, he did not "use" his rights and powers to sidestep the difficulties and uncertainties of the human experience.