Jesus Christ is the Logos, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, the only Mediator between God and man, and the Redeemer of God’s elect. Jesus is truly God and truly man, one divine person in two inseparable but unconfused natures. The incarnate Son is the center of God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. Jesus is also the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God. As such, He is the Son of Abraham and Son of David. Doctrinal formulations concerning the person of Christ—articulated in the church’s historic creeds and confessions—were first developed in the context of the early church ecumenical councils. In the nineteenth century, new Christological controversies arose over the quest for the historical Jesus. This movement was met with significant academic defenses of the historic Christian position on the person and self-identification of the Jesus of Scripture.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Logos—the eternal Word of God (John 1:1)—who became man (John 1:14). In this sense, Reformed theologians have emphasized that is more proper to speak of the Logos, who is God the Son, as becoming man, rather than saying that the deity became humanity. The person of the eternal Son added a human nature to His divine person so that He became and continues to be both truly God and truly man in two distinct yet inseparable natures (divine and human) forever. The fourth-century church father Hilary of Poitiers well summarized the mystery of the incarnation when he said: “He did not lose what He was, but began to be what He was not. He did not cease to possess His own nature but received what was ours.” It was the eternal Son who took to Himself a human nature, not the Father or the Holy Spirit. As Geerhardus Vos explained, “It is not the being of God as existing in the Father and the Holy Spirit that has assumed human nature but the being of God in the existence mode of the Son.” In short, the second person of the Godhead became man in the fullness of time in order to be the only Mediator between God and man, the representative last Adam, the true Israel of God, and Head of the new redeemed humanity. He fills the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King of His church, both in His humiliation and exaltation.
The mystery of the incarnation is bound up in His miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Isaiah had prophesied that the Redeemer would come into the world through a virgin (Isa. 7:14). This would fulfill what God had promised Eve in the garden immediately after the fall—namely, that her “offspring” would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The Holy Spirit caused the eternal Son to be united to a human nature in the womb of the virgin. By having a human mother, Jesus was able to receive a true humanity. By not having a biological human father, Jesus was kept free from inheriting a sin nature. He therefore became in every way like the rest of humanity—yet without sin—so that He could be the representative Redeemer of humanity. Jesus is the last Adam, the new representative of fallen human beings who trust in Him for salvation. The eternal Son was born as an Israelite so that He might also be the obedient representative, covenant-keeping Israel for all who are under the curse of the law (Rom. 9:5; Gal. 4:4). As the fulfillment of the covenantal “seed” promises of God, Jesus is the Son of Abraham and the Son of David.
Although the Son of God is eternally one with the Father and the Spirit, without any subordination, He is the second person who subsists within the Godhead. He is the eternally begotten Son, brought forth of the Father from all eternity, sharing the exact same nature as the Father. In the incarnation, however, He voluntarily subordinated Himself to the Father as the God-man to carry out the promises and stipulations of the covenant of redemption. Although He did not cease to be God, He willingly assumed a true human nature in all its limitations to live the perfect life that we cannot live. For instance, Jesus had to learn and grow according to His human nature. He experienced the full development of human nature but without sin. His human nature did not take on divine attributes, for then it would have ceased to be human. Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to work through His human nature in carrying out the work of redemption. But the Son did not cease to be God in any way. He continues to possess the divine nature with all its attributes, and His human nature does not impart any of its attributes to the divine nature. This is a great mystery, but the key thing to remember is that Jesus is at the same time truly God and truly human.
Historical formulations of orthodox Christology, the doctrine of the person and work of Christ, occurred in the context of Christological debates in the early centuries after the Apostles. Christological heresy and error was refuted at each of the first four major ecumenical councils: the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325), the First Council of Constantinople (AD 381), the Council of Ephesus (AD 431), and the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). With each council, the church attained more refinement in its articulation of biblical Christology occurred as it refuted errors that were circulating within it. Christian bishops assembled at Nicaea to deal the heretical views of Arius of Alexandria, who rejected the true deity of Christ. Bishops then gathered at Constantinople to refute Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, who taught Christ did not possess a true human mind or will. At the Council of Ephesus, bishops met to address concerns with the teaching of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, who denied that Christ is one person in two distinct natures. Finally, at Chalcedon, the Christological error of Eutyches, archimandrite at Constantinople, was rejected. Eutyches taught that Jesus is one person but insisted that the divine and human natures are merged together and mixed in that one person. At Chalcedon, the definition of the person of Christ was codified for the church. The Definition of Chalcedon asserts that Jesus exists as one person in two natures—divine and human—that remain “unconfused, unchangeable, indivisible, and inseparable.” This definition has continued to be the standard formulation of the biblical and orthodox teaching about Christ throughout church history and across all major theological traditions.
In the nineteenth century, theological liberals set out on the so-called quest to discover the historical Jesus. Influenced by the writings of men including Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Albrecht Ritschl, scholars employed “literary science” that approached the Bible as if it were merely the opinions of men about God. The theologians leading this movement sought to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. Beginning with those presuppositions, these theologians imported what they believed was true about Jesus apart from the teachings of divine revelation. This led to numerous erroneous conclusions regarding the person and work of Jesus. Herman Bavinck summarized well the problem of the methodology of the quest for the historical Jesus movement: “This process proved endless and led to boundless caprice. Everyone fashioned a Jesus on his own and in the end found the Jesus whose image he had concocted earlier in his own mind. . . . Given such a wide range of disagreement, one is not surprised at the conclusion—drawn by some—that on account of the faulty and tendentious character of the sources, we will probably never get to know anything with certainty concerning Jesus and that even his existence is subject to serious doubt.”
In 2016, Ligonier Ministries released the Ligonier Statement on Christology. The purpose of this statement is to “encapsulate the historic, orthodox, biblical Christology of the Christian church in a form that is simple to confess, useful in helping to teach the church’s enduring faith, and able to serve as a common confession around which believers from different churches can rally for mission together.”
Evidence for the full deity of the Lord Jesus is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus is explicitly called ‘our great God and Savior’ (Titus 2:13). The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him (Col. 1:19; 2:9). He bears titles and names given to Yahweh in the Old Testament (compare, for example, Isa. 44:6 and Rev. 1:17). He is set forth as the object of worship (Heb. 1:6) and is addressed in prayer (Acts 7:59–60; 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Cor. 12:8). He does things only God can do, such as creating the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), forgiving sins (Mark 2:5–10; Col. 3:13), and judging us on the final day (Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). He possesses divine attributes, such as omnipresence (Heb. 1:3; Eph. 4:10), omniscience (Rev. 2:23), omnipotence (Matt. 28:18), and immutability (Heb. 13:8). The full deity of Christ is integral to the gospel. Any other position distorts the New Testament.
‘Only Son’ describes Jesus’ filial relationship to the Father as the second person of the Trinity. What is the nature of this relationship? The only Son’s relationship to the Father is eternal: ‘In the beginning,’ before the incarnation, before creation, He ‘was with God’ (John 1:1). The only Son’s relationship to the Father is a relationship of equality: The Son who eternally existed with God ‘was God’ (John 1:1). The only Son’s relationship to the Father is unique: though God wills to draw many ‘children’ into His family through adoption (John 1:12), the only Son does not belong in a class with God’s creaturely sons and daughters. He, unlike us, is God’s Son by nature. He dwells eternally at the Father’s side (John 1:18; cf. John 13:23), set apart from all the rest, as the unique object of the Father’s love and affection, His most precious treasure (John 17:24).