Today we’ll be introduced to Stephen Wellum, a theologian-professor still very much alive today. Herman Bavinck took us back a couple of centuries, and Nicholas of Myra took us back to the 4th century. But we can’t forget that every generation needs its own theologians to help it navigate the intersection of Scripture and contemporary culture.
In “God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ,” Dr. Wellum writes on a variety of issues concerning the person and work of Christ, or christology. He covers everything from early church councils to modern-day interpretive concerns to redemption.
In one chapter, “The Identity of Jesus From the Storyline of Scripture,” Dr. Wellum traces the awareness that Jesus had of himself throughout the gospel accounts. What did Jesus see has his mission? To whom did Jesus seek to be obedient? How did those delimitations affect what he did and why? To interpret the gospels rightly, we must understand who Jesus understood himself to be.
Wellum begins by writing, “As the Lord of Scripture—both its subject and its object—God has provided and preserved the written revelation of his redemption in a particular form that shapes every reading.” All he means is that to interpret Scripture rightly, we must interpret it on its own terms. This also means that we must let Jesus interpret himself for us; Jesus must be understood in light of what Scripture promises and how Jesus fulfilled those promises. Understanding who Jesus is and what he does is a non-negotiable for the reader of Scripture.
First, to understand the person and work of Christ, we must recognize that he appears at a particular point in the biblical storyline. Jesus is not a last-ditch effort save us or a guy who made the best with what he had. Jesus Christ appears as God in “the last epoch that sees the inauguration of God’s kingdom and the new covenant between God and man with terms for their own reconciliation.” Jesus operated as the Son of God and as the Son of Man with purpose.
“[Jesus] did not see himself and his role in redemptive history apart from all that the triune God had been doing in the world from its original creation.” There always has been and always will be one story of redemption. At times, dividing Scripture into Old and New works against its intended purpose. Scripture as early as Genesis 3:15 looks forward to a savior! While Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, he must be understood to be inseparable from it, as well.
All of Scripture is Christocentric, meaning that “the entire plan of God for humanity and all of creation centers in the person of Christ.”
Also, all of Scripture is Christotelic, meaning that “the entire plan of God moves to its conclusion in Christ" [emphasis mine]. God’s plan unfolds in stages through various covenants, consummating in the new covenant formed in the blood of Christ. The apostles believed they, and by extension we, were/are living in the last days, which Christ inaugurated in his death and resurrection.
Wellum goes on to write about the implicit and explicit claims Jesus made concerning himself. For the purposes of a blog, we will only focus on the implicit claims this week and the explicit claims next week.
The first implicit claim Jesus makes is through his baptism. “Jesus knew that to have the Spirit from the Father for the sake of righteousness signaled that he was the promised Messiah and that the messianic age had dawned—an age identified [...] with God’s sovereign, saving rule.” We’re told in Mark 1:10 that “he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him.” God then spoke to Jesus, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11). Jesus identifies with God the Father through his baptism.
Secondly, Jesus’ life/earthly ministry, namely his teaching and miracles, bear witness to Christ’s divinity. “Jesus’ teaching highlights the authority he shares with God himself. It is through his teaching (in part) that Jesus brings the kingdom of God into this world in ‘this present age.’” Even though the Old Testament presents others who perform great miracles, such as Moses and Elijah, none of them do so with any sense of inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus himself notes the authority with which he teaches when he often says, “I say to you...”
Alongside his extensive teaching ministry, Jesus also shows his authority over nature, which he shares with the Father, in performing many miracles. “The development of the drama of redemption reveals that the Lord alone triumphs over the stormy sea [...] and treads upon its water [...]” (emphasis mine). In his authoritative teaching and his authority over creation, Jesus proves his divinity “by doing what God alone can do.”
Thirdly, Jesus identifies as God by his ability and authority to judge. “Jesus knew that he came as the appointed judge of all humanity and that his verdict assigns every person to either eternal punishment or eternal life.” This authority was given to him by the Father as a necessary correlation of the Son’s kingship over creation.
Fourthly, Jesus’ resurrection is an implicit claim of his divinity. “As he approached his death, Jesus did not view it as martyrdom but as central to his divinely planned messianic mission.” In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus claims that he must die; it is not just a possibility or one way out of many. Jesus died “as a voluntary, obedient act according to the will of his Father that was planned before the foundation of the world.”
In line with the Christotelic thought, Jesus says in Luke 18:31 “that by his death, ‘everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’” Jesus’ death is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, it brings divine judgment on a fallen world, removes Satan as its prince, and inaugurates Christ’s kingship.
Fifthly, only God is worthy of worship, and Christ permits people to worship him. God says in Isaiah 42:8, “My glory I give to no other.” Worship of Christ, therefore, is either necessary or blasphemy. Wellum notes that Jesus demands worship. “Knowing that the Father had committed divine authority to him to judge as God himself, Jesus also understood the purpose of this power: ‘that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him’ (John 5:23).”
Lastly, by fulfilling all of the above requirements, Jesus implicitly identifies as God by inaugurating the kingdom of God. “It is God who must act in power and grace to save his people, yet he will do so through a human king—and thus the close identification of Yahweh and the king. It is quite revealing, then, for Jesus to appear, knowing these kingdom expectations, and to claim to meet them all.” By his baptism, teaching, performance of miracles, and resurrection, Jesus inaugurates the coming kingdom of God.
Next week, we will take a look at how Stephen Wellum explores the explicit claims made by Jesus about himself. We will also form a summary statement of why knowing exactly who Jesus claims to be matters deeply for our own discipleship.