October 20: Psalm 110
October 20, 2010
What does it mean to "confess that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 4:15a)? The apostles, being devout monotheists, would not have allowed for a Jesus who was some kind of semi-divine intermediary. God alone is to be worshiped (Deut. 6:4), yet Jesus was also worshiped (Matt. 14:33). How, then, could the apostles (and we along with them) confess Jesus as Lord, the Son of God?
To answer this question the apostles resolved the question of God's identity, that is, who God is. The Nicene fathers resolved to answer yet another question: What is the substance of divinity, or, what is the divine nature of the one, true and saving God?
Along with the Nicene Creed we confess that Jesus is of one substance with the Father precisely because the apostles themselves confessed that Jesus could be completely identified with the one God of Israel. In other words, Jesus kept and fulfilled the promises that God made to Israel in the old covenant. What was expected of Yahweh by the old-covenant Israelite, Jesus did in the new covenant.
In Exodus 34:6ff, God reveals his character and proclaims his name. This was of great importance to the Israelites, for it was this unique God and his unique relationship with his people that set them apart. He was the one who established covenant with them. He was the one who redeemed them from Egypt's dreadful grasp. Equally important was his sovereignty as Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler over all life. Whatever everything else in the universe is, it is not God. God is he who created everything else. Thus everything else is subject to him. But how could Jesus be identified with so magnanimous a being?
Probably the best example we have is the early Christian identification of Jesus' exaltation in terms of Psalm 110:
The LORD says to my lord:
"Sit at my right hand, until I make
your enemies your footstool." (v. 1)
Consider for a moment all the direct quotations and allusions in the New Testament that identify Jesus as the one who, seated on the cosmic throne of God, achieves supreme lordship over heaven and earth (Mark 12:35-36 [and its synoptic counterparts]; Acts 2:34-35; Eph. 1:20, 22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:13; 10:13; 1 Peter 3:22, etc.). Now, either the apostles were not monotheists or they understood Jesus to be included in the identity of the one God as sovereign ruler over all creation (and thus not a creature). Jesus is, therefore, just as Yahweh revealed himself in Exodus 34:6 and Deuteronomy 6:4, the second person of the one, triune God of Israel who alone is worthy of worship.
It is this confession, that Jesus is Lord and that he was raised from the dead, that exhibits the necessary inward change of hearts by the Spirit and the subsequent union with God spoke of in 1 John ("God abides in him, and he in us," 4:15b), which union serves as the catalyst for both our assurance and our love for one another.