Jesus Christ: Controversy, Part 2 (Nicaea to Chalcedon)

Jesus Christ: Controversy, Part 2

The Definition of Chalcedon

We need to think deeply and critically about who Jesus Christ fully is, the center of our faith and the center of the story of God. Theologian Richard Lints said, “Christian character cannot be formed without a kind of thinking that strains the soul.” I believe that we need to go deeper in wrestling through what we believe about Jesus and why we believe it. It’s also just as important to understand what we don’t believe about Jesus and why. We live in a very “spiritual” culture, and Jesus gets thrown around as all kinds of things–a great prophet, a great teacher, a great example to live by, a revolutionary, a megalomaniac martyr. He’s always fully man but rarely fully God and fully man.

We’re pressing on in our understanding of Jesus Christ. During the study of the Christological controversy surrounding Nicaea-Constantinople, the theme was “Jesus Christ is fully God and it makes a world of difference!”  Now we add another facet…

Jesus Christ is fully God & fully man, and it makes a world of difference!

What happens if we change central beliefs about Jesus Christ? What happens if you begin to change the reality that He is fully God? What’s at stake? We talked about the history of the early church as they wrestled with Jesus being fully God. We looked at the creed from Nicaea & Constantinople that clarified and affirmed what the Bible teaches about Jesus being fully God. In this installment, we are going to focus on how the early church in a council at a place called Chalcedon wrestled with Jesus being fully man–how was He both fully God & fully man? What happens if you don’t believe that He’s fully human? what’s at stake? We’ll use the same format as Jesus Christ: Controversy, Part 1 (Early Church to Nicaea): (1) the History, (2) the Scriptures, and (3) the Implications.

The History

The History of the Early Church to Chalcedon.  There were several eras of the first 600 years of the early church:

(1) The Apostles. The guys who walked with Jesus and planted the first churches in the first century; (2) The Church Fathers. The disciples of the original disciples who took the baton from them; (3) The Apologists. Rome is getting hostile to the church, and these are the guys who are defending the faith; and (4) The Theologians. The Roman Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity, and now there is peace between Rome and Christians, so there is much more open theological debate. This is era when some strange theology about the person and work of Jesus begins to surface and spread. In AD 325 and 381, church-wide councils are called at Nicaea and then Constantinople to clarify that Jesus is fully the eternal God, not the first creation of God. The next theological question that begin to surface and prompt another church wide council at Chalcedon in AD 451 are all about this question: How is Jesus Christ both fully God and fully man? Here are some of the answers that surfaced that were ultimately declared as heretical and out-of-bounds by the council at Chalcedon. I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with some of my own descriptions of these positions. They’re a little comical, but if it helps you remember them, then it worked. Here’s what NOT to believe about Jesus being fully God and fully man:

Jesus as Coconut (Apollonarius). In this first out-of-bounds answer, a guy named Apollonarius said that Jesus is only “human” on the outside. He’s got flesh–bones, hair, fingernails, blood, but He doesn’t have a human spirit or soul. He’s fully divine on the inside though. In Apollonarius’ view, Jesus is like a coconut: human flesh on the outside, divine on the inside. What’s wrong in this model is that Jesus is not fully human. Humans have flesh, blood, bones, etc. (what we call the “material aspect” of being human), but we also have a soul, a spirit, our mind, and our emotions all of the immaterial aspect of what it means to be fully human. So the coconut Jesus is not fully human, and out-of-bounds.

Jesus as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Nestorius). Next a guy names Nestorius basically says that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature, but you never know which one you’re going to see. Both natures can’t operate together at the same time.  Jesus Christ is two persons and two natures. When Jesus stills the violent storm on the Sea of Galilee, He’s fully divine. But when He gets tired and needs to sit down and take a rest at the well in John 4, then He’s human… so sort of a schizophrenic Jesus… like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The divine nature and human nature are too far separated and not at all connected in Nestorius’ explanation, and therefore out-of-bounds.

Jesus as Smoothie (Eutyches). Now Eutyches was a guy who just mashed up the divine nature and human nature into one mish-mash of a nature. Picture a smoothie at Jamba Juice. If you get a Strawberry Surf-rider, you’ll see them put in the strawberries, the pineapples, and then pour in the pineapple juice. But then they hit the blend button, and it’s all one giant blob. You can’t see the distinct parts anymore. That’s what Eutyches did… one nature all confused… instead of one person with two natures… fully God and fully human.

Jesus as the Friendly Ghost (Docetism). Docetism as a teaching surfaced as some early church teachers (we don’t know who) taught that Jesus was fully divine, but He didn’t really have a human nature. He just “emanated” a human nature… like a Star Wars hologram… like Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Greek word δοκέω means, “to seem.” So Jesus just seemed like He had a human nature but He really didn’t. Therefore He’s not fully human… only fully divine. Out of bounds.

Jesus as the Guy Who Gets Promoted (Adoptionism). The last aberrant teaching is called “Adoptionism.” In this model, Jesus was a normal guy on earth who followed God, and the He got a promotion. God picked Him to be the Christ, the Chosen One, and then made Him Jesus the Lord. He was fully human and then got a promotion to being fully divine… now that’s a promotion… but that’s heresy.

The Definition of Chalcedon.  So the early church clarifies and affirms what the New Testament says about Jesus Christ being both fully God and fully man at Chalcedon. What results is called the Definition of Chalcedon:

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body.  He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted.  Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten — in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function.  The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union.  Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers (the Nicene Creed) has handed down to us.

The Scripture

What is key to understanding the Definition of Chalcedon is that it affirms and clarifies the teaching of the Bible in regard to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  And here is the bottom line about Jesus Christ… He is fully God and fully Man… one Person with two Natures.  I want to look at three specific New Testament passages to show what is affirmed and clarified about Jesus Christ being both fully God and fully man in one Person with two Natures.

Passage #1: The Word became flesh (John 1:14). This is the New Testament’s most concise statement of the Incarnation (“God the Son putting on the fullness of humanity”). He did not just appear to be a man. He became one, yet He maintained His full deity. God the Son, Jesus Christ, the Word became fully man without ceasing to be fully God. Here’s what John says in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Two key thoughts about this verse in John’s prologue.

Fully God. “The Word” goes back to v. 1 in describing the person and work of Jesus Christ – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We must establish first and foremost that this Word, Jesus Christ, is fully God and when the Jesus Christ the Word puts on flesh, He does not cease to be God.

Fully Man. What is meant by “flesh” here? Is it simply that He put on skin and bones? If that’s the case, then Apollonarius was right, and Jesus is like a coconut. Man on the outside, God on the inside. Flesh in Scripture has a literal meaning, namely, material human flesh, and a metaphorical meaning, immaterial human nature. I believe that John is using both nuances here–the fullness of what it means to be human (material human flesh and immaterial human nature). Jesus Christ, God the Son, the eternally pre-existent Word remained fully God and in His incarnation became fully human, yet without sin… which leads us to our next passage.

Passage #2: Made like His brethren (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

v. 14 – “He Himself likewise also partook of the same…” This refers back to the flesh and blood, the representation of what it means to be human (think back to John’s use of “flesh” in John 1:14 with he material and immaterial aspect of humanity). So Jesus “likewise,” which means “in the same way,” fully partook and fully participated in being fully human.

v. 17 – “He had to be made like His brethren in all things…” “To be made like” means to become the same… of the same “essence” and “substance” as humanity… fully human. For Jesus to fully defeat the power of death in His own death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, Jesus had to fully represent humanity by becoming fully human (more on that when we get to the implications).

Jesus is without sin. Now there is one thing that we must clarify about Jesus becoming fully human. He is fully human yet He was without sin.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

So Jesus was tempted in every way, just like us, but He did not sin… and therefore, He could be the perfect, sinless sacrifice, that unblemished Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.

Passage #3: Emptied Himself (Philippians 2:6-8). Philippians 2:5-11 was likely an early church hymn about the gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

A key question that surfaces is “what did Jesus empty Himself of as He took on flesh, when He became fully human? Did Jesus empty Himself of His divine attributes when He became fully human?”

v. 6 – “the form of God” – the word “form” means essence or nature. Paul is affirming that Jesus is in His very nature, His inner essence God… fully God… very God of very God. And the context of the passage is about Jesus’ humility in leaving heaven and putting on flesh in the incarnation. Even though He was God (i.e., equal with God), He put on the frailty of humanity and did not continually grasp onto (literally “seize or snatch”) the rights of His divinity.

v. 7 – two notable things about this verse: (1) “the form of a bond-servant.”  There’s that word again… form (μορφή) = “essence or nature.” And servants are always human. This is Paul’s way of saying that Jesus took on the fullness of humanity–the very nature of being human–material and immaterial. (2) “emptied Himself.” Jesus’ emptying had nothing to do with losing His deity when He put on the fullness of being human. It was an emptying of a focus and pre-occupation on the “self.”  The context of this passage is Paul telling us to be like Jesus, to live in community with each other, means we have to put others interests above our own. Jesus Christ displayed that in His attitude and actions. He could of held onto all of the rights and prerogatives of His divinity, but instead of asserting His divinity, He emptied Himself of all of those rights, and He became a servant to serve us by dying for us. Jesus remained fully God at all times… but He became fully human… One Person… Two Natures… fully God… fully Man.

The Implications

What is at stake in believing and living out the right things about Jesus Christ? What are the implications of knowing and believing that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man? Two implications for us to talk about…

1. The Hope of Salvation. As we have discussed during our focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, what is first and foremost at stake is the purpose and the power of the Cross and Resurrection. If Jesus is not fully God and fully human, then the Cross is ultimately meaningless. The wrath and justice of God is not satisfied, our sins are not forgiven, we are not cleansed of the penalty of our sin, and there is no hope of salvation. Jesus must be fully God and fully human because Jesus goes to the cross to pay the price and the penalty for our sin. He is our substitute. As fully divine, fully God, He is able to fully satisfy the divine and eternal penalty of our sin for which finite humanity could not adequately or fully pay. But since it was humanity that rebelled and transgressed against God, it should rightfully be a human that pays the price. So Jesus, being fully human as well, was able to be die in our place. If you jettison that Jesus is fully human, there is no hope of being forgiven, no hope of averting the wrath of God, and no hope of salvation.

2. The Heart of Humility. The next implication of Jesus becoming fully human is in the context of His perfect modeling of humility. This is Paul’s whole point in Philippians 2. He gives us some amazing theology about Jesus Christ and His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation. But He is giving us this perfect picture of Jesus Christ so that we would follow His example (“have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…”). Jesus’ incarnation, His humbling Himself to become fully human and His sacrificial, selfless death on the Cross is the model for how we should live. Jesus did not cling to His rights as being fully God. He could have, but He didn’t. Instead, He humbled Himself, He served, and His life was sacrificed to bring us life. That’s the attitude that we should live with. There are so many implications and applications of this in our lives.

Our Rights. Our American culture is all about our “inalienable rights.” We even put it in our Declaration of Independence. We cling to our rights. “I have the right to do this or that,” we say a lot. Just because we have the “right” to do something doesn’t mean that we have to exercise them. Jesus had all of the rights in the universe. All of the honor and dignity was due Him, yet in being fully human, at times He chose not to exercise them. He walked this earth as a servant. He got down on the ground and washed feet. He searched and sought for the least, the last, and the lost, those whom society forgot, those without a voice.  He was mocked, spit upon, beat, and ultimately murdered. He did all of this without claiming His rights. There’s something for us to think about in regards to always claiming our rights and our privileges.

Our Relationships.  What would happen in our relationships and in our marriages, families, and friendships if we lived out the heart of humility the way Jesus lived it out and if we walked the way of the Cross? What if we walked the way of a deep willingness to live and love sacrificially like Jesus? How often in friendships, marriage, and family do we want to get our way? We want to be understood more than we want to understand. We want to be heard before we want to hear. We want to get our needs met before we seek to meet the needs of someone else. Jesus’ becoming fully human tells us to seek others’ interest before our own. Jesus’ becoming fully human shows us what sacrificial, selfless love looks like. How are you doing in looking like Jesus as a servant? How’s you’re “serve-o-meter” looking these days? That’s a question for us as Jesus calls us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him… to love people the way He loves people… to serve people the way He serves people… it’s the heart of humility.

Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man and it makes a world of difference.

In the Story of God, we have talked in-depth about the person and work of Jesus Christ–the promise of redemption, the mystery of redemption, and the agent of redemption. We’ve talked about the Cross and the Resurrection. And we’ve talked about the controversy that surrounded Jesus being fully God and fully man during the first five hundred years of the church’s history.  And for the past two thousand years, ten thousands upon ten thousands of Christian saints have affirmed what is fully right to believe about Jesus. He is fully God and fully man. Jesus Christ, God the Son, the “eternally pre-existent” One, in overwhelming humility left the very throne of heaven, donned the fullness of humanity while remaining fully God, walked among a broken and lost humanity, died on the cross for our sin as our sinless substitution, was raised on the third day, and ascended back to the throne of heaven with the Father. Fully believing that and centering your heart and your life upon that central reality makes all the difference in the world. This is the centerpiece of the story of God–the story of the God who creates and re-creates through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, for His glory and for your good.

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