[Text: Paul’s Sermons & Letters]
After joining some friends in 2015 to “ride a fast horse” through the NT books in chronological order, I’ve ended the year’s race with four small notebooks full of observations and many a likely topic to Journal about.* I’m a Notebook Person (because I can’t remember anything I read unless I write it down), and I approach any kind of study with research questions to keep me focused. This year I kept three queries in mind as we approached the Epistles:
What’s on [the writer’s] mind?
Who is Jesus?
What is faith?
The first kept me alert to the main ideas of the letter, the second to the letter’s presentation of the Savior, and the third to the multifaceted nature of biblical belief.
In this post I’d like to at least begin to organize the data I collected on Paul’s teachings about Jesus.* Whenever we read works of “systematic theology,” we’re looking at collections of information on different theological topics (Father, Son, Spirit, human beings, the church, etc.), really the results of research efforts that the theologian has made over time in his reading of the Scriptures (and of other theologians). Each scholar presents the data in a different way, having decided what’s most important to communicate and how to arrange the material. My own [very small-scale] theological overview will offer the ideas Paul communicates about Jesus, ordered from most often to least frequently mentioned.*
I’ve written elsewhere about Paul’s unusual and very personal use of Christ Jesus as a designation for his Lord, probably my favorite discovery out of the year’s study. Of course he also makes use of the Kingly title, Jesus Christ, and continually resorts to the shorthand name-title, Christ, when he really gets going in his theological explanations. He calls Jesus the Son of God (though, unlike the author of Hebrews, only once does he call him simply the Son) and also our Lord, usually in company with Jesus’ name.* So what does he have to say about this Jesus?
The first thing I noticed from my survey of Paul is that there is a LOT to tell about the Savior. I found it helpful to group the Jesus-details that I found in Paul’s writings into thirteen subcategories, which are listed at the end of this post. What I’ll highlight here is the fascinating way the Lord Jesus inhabits and owns all of Time—Past, Present, and Future. This is what I discovered (and if you just read these Bible verses through in order, you’ll get a big-picture sense of Christ’s involvement in history!):
- Paul teaches that the Son existed in Eternity Past and was active in Creation:
He was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God something to be grasped.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
For [by means of] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.
- He surveys Redemptive History, showing Christ’s relationship to it and fulfillment of it:
To [the Jews] belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.
…which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh…
All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
- He names what has been accomplished by Father and Son in the Near Past:
He was manifested in the flesh.
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
Christ Jesus . . . in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.
He was crucified in weakness.
Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.
God has highly exalted him!
- …and celebrates what our Lord is doing in the Present:
Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.
- Finally, Paul holds out the promise of Christ’s activity in the Future:
We await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . .
. . .on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of man by Christ Jesus.
For as in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.
Paul has much more to say, of course, about the theological meaning of these events, about the relationship between the Commander and his Soldiers, and about the blessings that are ours even during our earthly lifetimes because of our spiritual location “in Christ”; and I’ll bring out those themes in future posts. For now, just savor the above statements about the Savior as a summary of his movement through time and his intersection with human history—exciting things accomplished and anticipated, and thoroughly true.
*If my Bible Journal entries have seemed haphazard to you, this is why. It was a very fast horse.
*I’m also including material from Luke’s account of Paul’s sermons in Acts, because I’m curious to understand Paul’s whole picture of Jesus.
*Obviously, the discipline of systematic theology holds particular appeal for tidy minds like mine. But don’t think of the product as being just a dry recitation of propositions fitted neatly into pigeonholes! The best theology should lead to the praises of doxology. A good systematician will fill in the bigger picture for you, since you might see only individual details when you read the Bible in your occasional devotions and classes.
*On the other hand, when Paul refers to the Lord, it can be tricky to decide whether he’s speaking of the Father or his Son.
(Quoted verses are from the ESV: Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:17, 16; Rom. 9:5; 1:2,3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:16; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:13; 2 Cor. 13:4; Rom. 6:3; Phil. 2:9; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Eph. 5:29; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:22)
I decided that Paul’s details about Jesus fall into the following categories:
Ontological Essence (what sort of Being is he?)
Place in Redemptive History
Near-Past Historical Events
Substitutionary Death (he died “for you”)
Forensics (the legal meaning of his death)
Resurrection, Ascension & Exaltation
Commander in Chief & His Troops
Example to Imitate
Subject of Preaching
Benefits to Believers
Reality of Believers (what is life like because of the Savior?)
Subject of Misunderstandings & Unbelief