THE THREE CHRISTS of the Bible
Jesus Christ is the central figure of the plan of God, and the entire Bible, He is central to prophesies of the Old Testament, and the New Testament records their fulfillment in Him. Without Christ there would be no Christianity, though only about one third of the world’s population acknowledge Him.
But are we correct in assuming that every time we read the name “Christ” or “Son of Man” in the Bible, the reference is to the man Jesus Christ?
If we look closely at the Scriptures, we will find that the name “Christ” is used with different, more specific meanings. To be able to identify these different meanings will help to a better understanding both of Jesus Christ and of the message God wants us to learn from His word.
1) The man Jesus Christ
In Isaiah the Prophet spoke several hundred years in advance of His birth: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Luke, the New Testament historian, records a similar promise made by the angel Gabriel to Mary: “Behold, you will…bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). Luke also confirms the fulfillment of that prophecy, adding a fragmentary record of the circumstances surrounding His birth, also His childhood and youth.
2) Christ as a term for the Church, the body of Christ
After His resurrection, the apostles centered their teaching around Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and the certainty of His return. This teaching was the foundation of the Christian Church, of which Christ is the head, and His followers are believers form the body. “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:27), wrote the Apostle Paul.
3) Christ the Word of God, the bread from heaven, the hope of glory
The New Testament authors, particularly the Apostle Paul, used “Christ” as a term for all that He taught and represented. For example, writing to the Colossian Church, Paul said that “God willed to make known” to them “what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Or as he wrote to the Corinthians, of “Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
#1 The Man Christ Jesus
Most people today will allow that Jesus Christ lived, but many discount His Divine mission or His authority altogether.
Nevertheless, the Bible presents a solid and unified account of the life and work of Jesus, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies and pointing to the yet unfulfilled prophecies of His future work and destiny as King of the entire earth.
Jesus, the Son of God
Always, Jesus spoke of God as His Father. Those who were closest to Him heard Him say repeatedly that He was the Son of God. Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Paul wrote to Timothy that “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Martha, sister of Lazarus, said to Him, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God”(John 11:27). The Apostle John explained the purpose of his Gospel as: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Jesus of Himself He said: “But as My Father taught Me, I speak these things…for I always do those things that please Him…for My Father is greater than I” (John 8:28-29; 7:14-28).
Jesus, a Human Being
Jesus Christ was a human being, a man, with the characteristics of other man: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Moses foretold that Jesus would be raised up from among His brethren, a prophet, “like me” (Deut. 18:15, 18).
On the day of His birth, the angels announced “To you is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11-12).
He had to learn.
He did not possess all knowledge from birth, but we are told that as a child He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
He had to grow.
Even though He was the Son of God, yet “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb.5:8).
He was tempted.
Jesus was tempted like others. He was not God, for “God cannot be tempted by evil,” but Jesus was “In all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Jas. 1:13; Heb. 4:15).
He died as any mortal.
Matthew’s account of the crucifixion says that Jesus “gave a loud cry, and breathed his last” (27:50 NEB). God is eternal, and cannot die. “From everlasting to everlasting, He is God,” wrote the Psalmist. (Ps. 90:2). God is also described as the “everlasting king,” and as the “high and lofty One that inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15). Such could not be said of Jesus, for He died and was laid in a tomb, and only came back to life when God resurrected Him.
He was raised from the dead.
Contrary to the belief of many, Jesus had no power to raise Himself from the dead. Peter testified to this on several occasions after Pentecost: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Again, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). Murderers took His life, and God restored it.
#2: The Spiritual Christ, the wisdom of God.
Many times when the name of Christ is used in the Scripture, the author is referring to Christ as a term for the Wisdom of God, or what He taught while on earth, the knowledge He had from His Father.
The Spiritual Christ defined
As Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6). He said this, personifying the knowledge of God. Personification is a tool used in the Bible to give human-like traits to otherwise inanimate terms. He used personification again when He explained to the Jews that He came down from heaven (John 3:13; 6:50-51). He was referring to the knowledge of God, which indeed came from heaven.
Wisdom is also personified in Scripture as in Proverbs 8. Here the wise man, speaking of this wisdom as a woman writes, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth…when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him as a master draftsman” (verses 22-23, 29-30).
This same Christ was the “spiritual rock” that followed the children of Israel out of Egypt (1 Cor. 10:4). The man Christ had no existence until He was born of the Virgin Mary.
(For more information on this subject, see the study, “Did Christ Preexist?”)
This Spiritual Christ, the system of divine Truth, is known by a variety of terms in the Scriptures. It is
“Christ in you.”
The Apostle Paul wrote that he was made a minister “to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery … now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25-27 NIV). The man Christ could not be “in” a person, but the spiritual Christ, the law or wisdom of God, can dwell in and take control of the hearts or minds of believers as they accept it.
The vine. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). No one thinks Christ was a literal vine, or that His disciples literal branches. Here again, He is representing Himself as the knowledge of God, and without which they could not grow or bear fruits of righteousness in their lives (Gal. 5:22-24).
The bread of life. When Jesus said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:41), the Jews could think of nothing but the natural bread and they murmured against Him. Jesus went on to explain that this bread must be eaten: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me, will live because of Me” (John 6:56-57). Just as Jesus lived by eating of the Father-an obviously symbolic statement-so Jesus said His disciples could live by eating of Him. Even so, the Jews thought only of the natural, but Jesus explained: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to _you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63, NIV).
God is not asking us to be cannibals, but just as “The life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). So His words are represented as spiritual, life-giving “flesh,” and “blood,” which we must eat and assimilate to have life, eternal life (John 6:56-63).
The foundation and the chief cornerstone. Writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul compared the Church to a building; of which the apostles and prophets are the foundation and Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). In 1 Corinthians 3:11, He said that, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Other titles. It has been said that there are more than 250 titles given to Christ in the Scriptures. Many of these apply to Christ the man in the various roles He fills, but others apply to the Spiritual Christ. He is the door, the Good Shepherd, the Sun of righteousness, the rod, the root and offspring of David, the morning star and a host of others, none of which could be intended literally. These terms give us a much broader description of the role of the knowledge of God as exemplified in the life of Christ.
#3: Christ, the Church, the body of Christ:
This third use of the name “Christ” in the Bible is of a composite nature, made up of many members, of which Christ is the Head. This Christ, or body is the “man” God purposed to make when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness: let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26). This work of creation commenced when God first called people into His spiritual vineyard, and the first phase of this work will be completed when Christ returns to earth.
Notice also in Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man [singular]…let them [plural] have dominion.” This man, made up of many, will one day be given dominion over all the whole earth. This is what we identify as the composite Christ, composed of Christ as the Head and the Church as His body
Who Composes This Body or Man?
This body called Christ is identified as having many members, just as the human body has different parts, but all function as one unit. Said Paul, “I plead with you brethren, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Different parts of the body cannot have different minds, but all must be governed by one head.
Christ, the Head. “And He is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Jesus, at His first coming was meek and humble, despised and rejected, just as was prophesied. But when He returns as King, He will be the supreme Ruler of earth (Zech. 14:9). By being resurrected, He became “the firstborn from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20, 23), and He is the only one o f our race to have immortality at this time (1 Tim. 6:16). In Revelation He is called “the beginning” of the creation of God, speaking of the new creation (Rev. 3:14). (For more detailed explanation, see our booklet, God’s Spiritual Creation.)
The Church, His Body. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all…are one body: so also is Christ….there are many members, yet one body.…Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:12, 20, 27). The body of Christ, the true Church, must be perfectly coordinated. A man’s right foot cannot go east while the left goes west; both must walk together in the same direction. God has provided apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). For this purpose: “For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that…speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (vs. 12-15).
How To Be Part of This Body
Would we not like to be part of this multitudinous body of Christ, His Church? The opportunity is for “whoever will” (Rev. 22:17). But everyone who will be a part of this body must be in union with the Head, must take on Christ’s mind, as the Apostle Paul instructed, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Again he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). “Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5 NIV).
If we obey the commands in these texts, we will become entirely new, and will be part of the body of Christ. The members of this body will be identified when Jesus returns, when the members of His true Church are chosen to be His associates (Rev. 3:21), and are given immortal bodies like He now has” (Phil. 3:21).