Untitled

 

 

 

 

Al-Liqa Center

 

Jesus Christ in Christian Faith

By Father Rafiq Khoury

Contents:

 

Introduction

1. The identity of Jesus Christ

From experience to writing

The identity of Christ in the four gospels

- Jesus:

- The promised Christ (Messiah):

- Son of God:

The Incarnation: True God, true man

From the gospels to Church tradition

From church tradition to theological thinking

2. The message of Christ: His teachings

The Kingdom of God

New revelation about God

New relation with the other: Each person is my brother

New relation with the self

Revolution in human values

3. The message of Jesus: Acts

Call for liberation

The miracles

His death and resurrection

- Salvation meaning in Jesus' death:

- Jesus’ resurrection and its meaning:

- Return of Jesus in glory:

4. Jesus Christ in Eastern Churches today

From Incarnate Christ to Incarnate Church

From incarnation dialogue to Church dialogue

Jesus Christ is our way to our societies and our societies are the way to Him

Following the example of Jesus in serving society

For the sake of the human being

Conclusion

References (A list of the primary Arabic sources used in the study)

 


 

Introduction

Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christian faith. The Christian is essentially any individual who believes in Jesus Christ [faith], lives in unity with Him and according to His teachings [life], celebrates Him in liturgy and holy sacraments [celebration], and witnesses to His words and actions [witness]. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the focal point of salvation history, being the core of God’s action in history for mankind’s salvation. The Old Testament paves the way for Him and the New Testament derives from Him. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13).

 

Who is Jesus Christ according to our faith as Christians? What are His teachings and acts? What do our Churches in the East say about Him today?[1]

 


1. The identity of Jesus Christ

 

From experience to writing

 

In the beginning, Christ was a life experience that a group of people had lived (disciples, apostles and others who followed Him), “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life…” (1 Jn 1:1). The teachings of Jesus that they heard and the acts that they saw were the essence of that experience. However, the core of the experience was Jesus’ death and resurrection which shed light on all that He had taught and done.

 

After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the experience turned into good news that the disciples spread everywhere through oral preaching in their capacity as eyewitnesses, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses" (Acts 2:32).

 

This oral preaching was later written down somewhere between 50 and 100 AD by these eyewitnesses or by their disciples whom we call evangelists, in order to transmit the good news to future generations. Luke the Evangelist says at the beginning of his gospel, “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who, from the beginning, were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully, from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1: 1-4).

 

The New Testament contains 27 books and is considered the primary and basic source for Christian faith. The books include the Gospel According to St. Matthew, the Gospel According to St. Mark, the Gospel According to St. Luke, the Gospel According to St. John, the Acts of the Apostles, 21 epistles of Paul and the other apostles, and the Book of Revelation.

 

The identity of Christ in the four gospels

 

Christians use the term ‘mystery’ when they refer to the Lord Jesus. The term suggests “the boundless riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). This may explain why the early apostles wrote four books about Jesus Christ, each looking at Jesus from a different perspective. But the four books are complementary in that they present to us a complete picture of Jesus’ identity. Nevertheless, the gospels are unanimous on the essential aspects of Jesus’ identity, which St. Mark summed up at the beginning of his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1). This verse provides three names for the identity of Jesus used throughout the four gospels: Jesus, Christ, Son of God.[2]

 

- Jesus:

 

The proper name ‘Jesus’ was widespread during the time of Christ, at least until the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Thus the adjective Nazarene was added to the name ‘Jesus’ in order to distinguish Him from other people with the same name, defining him by the place of His residence. The name ‘Jesus’ refers to the fact that Jesus Himself was one of the people, an ordinary man like them, resembling them in everything. But the name itself has its meaning, as is the custom in the East. He was given the name by a divine wish when the Angel Gabriel said, “Call Him Jesus” (Mt 1:21). The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘savior’ and is explained: “he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The name therefore reveals the identity and message of Jesus.

 

At any rate, soon those who knew Jesus discovered that He was more than just human. When He appeared before people teaching them and working among them, they were full of amazement to see what He did (i.e. his miracles) and said (i.e. his teachings). They wondered among themselves who this man was, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mk 1:27); “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk 4:41); “They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mk 2:12). All this drove the people to see in Jesus more than simply an ordinary person.

 

- The promised Christ (Messiah):

 

Christians also add to the proper name ‘Jesus’ the term ‘Christ’ to identify Him and His teachings. ‘Christ’ means ‘the anointed one’ whom God anointed with holy oil and dedicated to a special mission (such as kings, priests and also prophets). Gradually then the concept of the promised Christ (messiah), who would bring with Him salvation to mankind, developed in the Old Testament (see Daniel 9:25-26)[3].

 

At the time of Jesus, people were waiting eagerly for the coming of the Christ. However, the concept of the promised Christ (Messiah) had gained a mundane significance due to the political situation that prevailed at the time. People were waiting for an earthly Christ who would bring back glory and greatness to the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus Christ resisted strongly this understanding. After the miracle of the feeding of the five-thousand (the multiplication of bread) (see John chapter 6), the multitude believed Jesus was this promised Christ so they wanted to come and take Him by force to make him a king, but He “withdrew again to the mountain by himself “ (Jn 6:15). This is a clear indication that God sent His son Jesus to the earth for a mission of a different sort.

 

When Jesus began His public life on earth, people were amazed at His holiness, authority and power. They wondered, “He cannot be the Messiah can he?” (Jn 4:29). Some even said emphatically, “This is the Messiah” (7:41). After his first meeting with Jesus, Andrew ran to his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah, which is translated Christ” (Jn 1:41). Similarly, when Jesus met with the Samaritan woman, she said, “I know that Messiah is coming, who is called Christ” (…) Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” (Jn 4:25-26). Later, He asked His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah” (Mk 8:29). Finally, at His trial, Caiaphas, the high priest asked Him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus said to him: You have said so” (Mt 26:63-64).

 

- Son of God:

 

Christians use the phrase ‘Son of God’ as one of the names of Jesus Christ, and they consider this name one of the foundations of their faith. It is the faith declared by Peter the apostle, “You art the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16), and declared by Paul the apostle, “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying: He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). The Christian faith is founded on the four gospels and they all stress systematically the nature of Jesus as the Son of God.[4] Even Jesus Himself declared publicly at his trial that He was the Son of God. “All of them asked: Are you, then, the Son of God. He said to them: You say that I am" (Lk 22:70).

 

Jesus Christ is the Son of God not in the figurative sense of the Old Testament but in the true sense, otherwise the Jews would not have wanted to stone Him (Jn 10:33). Christians do not understand the term ‘Son of God’ in the carnal and human sense because God is spirit. The birth of Jesus is a spiritual birth in the same way as the idea is the child of the brain, the word is the child of the idea, and the light is the child of the sun. These are metaphors that Christians resort to in their interpretation of this aspect of Jesus Christ’s identity.[5] This birth is eternal and has no beginning. The Father is eternal and so is the Son.[6] “He is begotten of the Father before all worlds,”[7] the Nicene Creed says.

 

The Incarnation: True God, true man

 

Christians sum up their belief in Jesus Christ by saying that He is a true God and a true man, complete in his divinity and in his humanity. This is what Christians call the “mystery of incarnation”.[8]

 

Christians depend on the gospels for their faith, which they regard as the revealed word of God and thus a foundation for their belief. John the Evangelist sums up this doctrine at the beginning of his gospel where he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh, and lived among us” (Jn 1:1.14). Throughout the generations, Christians remained loyal to these two poles of Jesus’ identity. He is true God (“the Word was God”) and true man (“the Word became flesh”).

 

Jesus Christ is a true man. Like all people, He walks, drinks, eats, sleeps, feels joy, cries, shows pity, yearns, gets angry, prays, feels sad and fears…[9] We can actually specify the human identity of Jesus: He was born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph; he was a carpenter, and when he was thirty years of age He started preaching the good news all over Palestine and gathering around Him disciples; he was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine.[10]

 

He is also true God. His own words indicate this and He often declared that He was equal to God, “I and my Father are one” (Jn 14: 9). This is also true of His actions: He forgives sins though God alone can forgive sins. Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” And the people understood the meaning of His words and complained saying, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone” (Mk 2:7). Jesus could also perform miracles in His own name (see Mk 9: 45), especially the raising of the dead that shows that Jesus Himself is the Lord of life and death (see, for example, the resurrection of Lazarus, Jn 11). As a result, people started to wonder, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mk 11: 28). The divinity of Jesus is also clear in His manner of teaching, particularly in Matthew chapter 5 where Jesus speaks with authority, “It was said to those of ancient times…” (the speaker being the Old Testament), “while I say to you” (the speaker being Jesus Christ) (Matt 5:21.27).

 

From the gospels to Church tradition

 

The gospels do not present a scientific theological study; they are rather a proclamation of the good news as it was manifested in the figure of Jesus, in His teachings and acts. Even though the gospels contained the Christian faith in all its aspects, matters were not that simple. Teachings and writings that contradicted the gospels regarding the identity, teachings and acts of Jesus appeared. But the Church has always adhered to the two poles we referred to earlier: Jesus as completely man and Jesus as completely God. Any teachings that depreciated His divinity or His humanity were rejected by the Church, whose task it was to clarify all ambiguity regarding the true teaching in order to transmit it to the faithful.[11]

 

In this respect, eccentric teachings, called heresies, appeared between the 3rd and the 6th centuries. Some of the heresies denied the divinity of Jesus (Arius and Arianism, for instance), while others denied the humanity of Jesus (Docetism, which says that Jesus was not human but seemed to be).

 

In the face of the doctrinal challenge, the Church stood clear and determined because she believed those heresies denied, contradicted and even blew the Christian doctrine off its foundation. She therefore held ecumenical councils to delineate the true faith. The most important councils were the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), the Council of Constantinople (381), the Council of Ephesus (431), and the Council of Chalcedon (451).[12] In addition, great figures appeared, known for their sanctity and knowledge (called Fathers of the Church) who defended the true Christian faith, in the East: Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, Gregory, John Chrysostom, and others, and in the West: Leo the Great, Augustine, Jerome, and others.

 

The teachings that contradicted true Christian faith provided the Church with the opportunity to clarify Christian faith regarding Jesus Christ on the basis of the Holy Scriptures and in depth study deriving its concepts from Greek philosophy: one hypostasis or person with two natures, divine and human. The union between the divine and human natures is, according to the Council of Chalcedon, a union between “two natures without confusion and that are unchangeable, indivisible and inseparable. The difference in the natures is not annulled by their unity, each retains its characteristics, but both came together in one person and one hypostasis.”[13] The Church summed up her faith in the creed which encompasses all of Christian doctrine, called the Nicene-Constantine Creed because it was formulated in these councils. This creed is the reference of faith for all Christians and it is recited by believers all over the world during the liturgy on Sunday. Thus ‘church tradition’ developed during the first seven centuries and it is regarded by both Eastern and Western Churches as a main reference for true Christian faith. On the other hand, unfortunately, schism in the body of the Church resulted from doctrinal debates. Thus the Church divided and scattered, especially in the East.[14]

 

From church tradition to theological thinking

 

The development and spread of Christianity was accompanied by theological thought that aimed at studying Christian doctrines in depth in order to design a consummate and harmonious theological system that would address the human mind. Thus from the beginning theological schools were established, the most important of which were the schools of Antioch, Alexandria and Nisibis. These schools also had their eminent figures like Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Ephrem the Syriac and many others. Throughout the years, theology developed into an independent field of study.

 

The part of theology that deals with the personality of Jesus Christ is called Christology, which is also a basic component of any theological system. This part delves into questions concerning Jesus Christ: How can Jesus be the Son of God and the son of Man at the same time? Does He have one or two hypostases? Does He have one or two natures? How do these natures unite? This theological thinking derives from Greek thought (Aristotle, Plato and others) plus other old and modern philosophies. This wide range of thinking generated widespread theological thought called, as we said above, Christology.[15] In general this thought, especially the part that deals with Jesus Christ, has reached its peak in what is known as “scholastic theology” represented mainly by St. Augustine (354-430 AD) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

 

This theological thought was transmitted from one generation to another, proceeding from historical, intellectual and cultural developments. Theological thought went along with these developments and tried to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ identity, His teachings and acts. Until today, this trend of thought occupies a good portion of the Christian world.[16] Arab Christian thought, which developed between the 8th and 14th centuries, also contributed to this theological thought within the prevailing cultural and religious circumstances in the East, and produced original thought about all topics related to Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, however, this thought remains stored in libraries in spite of the efforts made during the past few years to publish it[17] and to found a contemporary Christology in our churches in the Arab East that stems from the basic traditional Christological elements and reach out to the concerns of the Arab individual that have to be taken into account when trying to formulate a Christology in our region.

 


2. The message of Christ: His teachings

 

When Jesus Christ started teaching, all those who were around him discovered it was a new kind of teaching, interesting, amazing and wonderful at the same time, “They were astounded at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). “They were all amazed and they kept on asking one another: What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mk 1:27). “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to Him?” (Mk 6: 2).

 

What is this teaching? And what is new and wonderful about it?

 

The Kingdom of God

 

Jesus was traveling throughout Palestine teaching the multitudes about the Kingdom of God. The multitudes gathered around Him in whom they saw a good teacher addressing Him thus, “Teacher” (Matt 12:16). Matthew collected many of Jesus’ important teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5, 6, 7), which starts with what came to be called the Beatitudes because each verse begins with the word “blessed” (Matt 5:1-12).

 

The teachings of Jesus can be summed up under one title, namely, the Kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mk 1:15; Matt 4:17).

 

What is God's Kingdom? What does it mean and what are its characteristics?[18]

 

Jesus did not give an abstract meaning to the Kingdom of God, but he interpreted it through parables, “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to …” (Matt 13:24), which occurs particularly in Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 13 and other chapters in the four gospels. God’s Kingdom is compared to a mustard seed that grows (Matt 13:31-32), the yeast that leavens the whole dough (Matt 13:33), the treasure for which the individual sacrifices all he has to have it (13:44-45), and the wheat and tares that grow together until the day of harvest, i.e. judgment day (Matt 13:24-30, 36-40). God’s Kingdom begins here on earth and is consummated in heaven (like the net, Matt 13:47-50). In fact, the Kingdom of God is this new world that God planted on earth in Jesus Christ, and which begins on earth and reaches its culmination in heaven.

 

What are the features of God’s Kingdom? What is new about it?

 

We can sum up the answers to these questions in these phrases: a new revelation about God, a new relation with the other (neighbor), a new relation with self, and a turn about in human values.

 

New revelation about God

 

The human being is always yearning to know God, "my soul thirsts for you" (Psalm 63:2). The individual knew God intuitively by meditating upon the creation around him, and knew God through revelation when God took the initiative and introduced Himself to people. God talked to people indirectly through the work of His hands, and directly through His prophets whom he sent to guide mankind. People called God by different names, e.g. holy, alive, wise, omnipotent, omniscient, etc., and each name reveals one of God's characteristics, but the divine nature of God remains beyond our understanding.

 

This is the context in which God’s revelation was made to the world through Jesus Christ. What distinguishes Jesus is that He is not simply the Word about God but the Word of God and the “Word was God” (Jn 1:1). John adds, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known” (Jn 1: 18). And Jesus Himself says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14: 9).

 

In this respect we can say that Jesus revealed the most beautiful name of God and portrayed the most sublime picture of Him, which John the evangelist summed up in his first epistle saying, “God is love and those that abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16). Love crowns and assimilates and sublimates all the names of God.

 

In order for Jesus to express this sublime portrait of God, He called Him Father, and the word suggests love, tenderness, mercy, concern and care[19] (see Matt 5:45; 6:9; 6:25-34; 7: 7-11). Praying to God, Jesus calls Him “Abba” (the word that a child uses to call on his father). In His parables, Jesus described the “heavenly Father” as a person full of compassion and love; He goes out in search of His lost son (the Prodigal Son, Lk 15:1-7), and is filled with joy when his son comes back home and He welcomes him and forgives all his sins (the Prodigal Son, Lk 15:11-32). Jesus also reflects the image of the Father who loves sinners in His attitude toward the sinful woman (Jn 8:1-11). And when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He counseled them to call God “Father”. “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven…” (Matt 6: 9).

 

This is the new image of God that will completely renew our relation with God.

 

New relation with the other: Each person is my brother

 

In the same way as Jesus revealed a sublime image of God, He, at the same time, brings people together and calls for a brotherly relation among them overcoming all obstacles that separate people from each other (see the parable of the Good Samaritan, Lk 10:25-37). The other is the “neighbor” (see for instance Mk 12:28-34) and the “brother” (see Matt 5:21-24). This new picture of the other is made clear in Jesus’ teachings and behavior.

 

Jesus was open and loving in his behavior especially with the disadvantaged and marginalized people of the society. He brought to them their human dignity overcoming all geographical, national, religious and social obstacles: children (see Mk 10:13-16), Samaritans (Jn 4), sinners (Zachaeus, Lk 19:1-10), the prostitute (Jn 8:1-11), the sick and the lepers who were excommunicated but whom Christ came close to, touched and healed (Matt 8:1-4), holders of humble professions (shepherds, tax collectors and others). Jesus came close to all people, talking to them, listening to and healing them from their physical and spiritual sicknesses. Thus Jesus laid the foundation stone for human relationships, free from prejudices, stereotypes and distortion.

 

In His teachings, Jesus brought down all obstacles that separate people from each other, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:46-47). Jesus called for forgiveness and giving in dealing with the other and He set a golden rule for human interaction, “In everything do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). This kind of love is not simply a fleeting feeling, but it means concrete and sincere support of each other especially those who suffer and are in need: feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty water to drink, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting those who are in prison (see Matt 25:31-46). Jesus saw that the human being was much more important than the law, for example, the individual is more important than the Sabbath (Mk 2:27-28). Jesus went as far as to declare what no one else in history has ever declared before, namely, loving one’s enemy (Matt 5:43-48).

 

New relation with the self

 

The teachings of Jesus are based on the triangle which constitutes human life: relation with God, relation with the other, and relation with self. In terms of one’s relation with self, Jesus did not emphasize only the external rituals that the individual practices in order to attain purity, but He went deeper, to the roots of good and evil, to the heart of man. When a debate ensued between Him and the  Pharisees and scribes about what was clean and unclean, Jesus said to them, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:20-21). Thus He sought to mold the human heart from inside for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6: 21).

 

In addition to the external application of God’s commandments, Jesus called for the purification of the human heart and intentions. Therefore, it is not enough to fulfill the duty of friendship toward others, but to do it generously and gratuitously (see Matt 6:1-4). And if we pray, we should pray not so that people see us (Matt 6:5-8); if we fast, not for appearances before people (see Matt 6:16-18). Avoiding fornication is not limited to external behavior but includes also the internal intentions of the heart, “Who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27). Purity is the cleanliness of the heart, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). In this way, the human loves God “with all his heart” (Matt 22:37), and forgives his brother “from the bottom of his heart” (Matt 18:35). Jesus presented Himself as “meek and lowly” (Matt 11:29). We can delve into the depth of God’s mysteries in a heart full of meekness and affability (see Lk 10:21).

 

Revolution in human values

 

Jesus revolted against all negative values in society practiced by individuals or groups, and proposed a new way of life that opposed what was acceptable and agreed upon in daily life and in human relations. Perhaps the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12) are a prime example of this. There where oppression of the poor prevailed, the glorification of might, the exercise of power, the temptation of the consumptive spirit, and all other unethical human behavior that lead to war, destruction and killing, Jesus called for the option of the poor, meekness, humility, purity of heart, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, love and justice.

 

Jesus developed a whole system of human values that sublimates the individual and reforms society. He fought against all forms of aggressive behavior in human life such as domination and control of the other, stressing that authority is meant to serve people not to oppress them (see Mk 10:33-37; Lk 14:7-11). Jesus also rejected wealth and riches in the life of man, “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24). Indeed He regarded riches as an impediment to entering God’s Kingdom (see Mk 10: 22-27).

 

Jesus put everything in its place for the service of man and not his enslavement. He did not address directly social, political, cultural and economic issues that govern human life, but He set up principles that have the greatest impact on the individual and collective human life.

 

This is God’s Kingdom that Jesus called for. It is a world of reconciliation with God, the neighbor, self and society. Thus Jesus has put down the foundation for human and social development toward the best and the creation of a world based on sublime values.

 


3. The message of Jesus: Acts

 

The teachings of Jesus are spiritually and humanely sublime. His words were compatible with His acts, and the purpose of what He did was the salvation of man and freeing him from evil.

 

What are these acts?

 

Call for liberation

 

We mentioned that the meaning of the name ‘Jesus’ is the ‘savior’, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Jesus came to free people from sin and evil that are innate in the individual and in society (see Lk 4:14-21). Jesus roamed all the cities and villages doing good: “He went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) because God sent Him to “save the world” (Jn 3:17). This is exactly what Christians declare in the creed saying, “For us and for our salvation.”

 

Jesus consummated this salvation in His teachings first, “I say these things so that you may be saved” (Jn 5:34). He called upon people to repent and to change their lives and do good. The call to repentance was the first word that came out of Jesus’ mouth at the beginning of His public life (see Mk 1:15). He explained to the people the conditions for repentance and the way to it (see Matt 5, 6, 7).

 

But Jesus also worked for the release of the sinful people he met: he released the sinful woman from the evil she had fallen into (Jn 8:1-11) and the Samaritan woman from her self isolation (Jn 4), and Zachaeus the tax collector from his injustice and oppression (Lk 19:1-10).

 

The gospels talk about the struggle between Jesus and the devil. Jesus overcame all temptations (Matt 4:1-11) and released those who were under the influence of the devil (see for example Lk 9:37-43). This has much significance since the devil is God’s enemy and tries to dominate man and turn him away from God. Jesus overcame the forces of evil represented in Satan and brought hope to all around Him, stressing that they also could, with the help of God, overcome the evil forces that are innate in them and in the world.

 

The miracles

 

The miracles[20] of Jesus occupy a good part of the gospels (see for example Matt 8, 9). They are plainly narrated and void of exaggerated and fabulous scenes that characterize early miracle narratives. In addition, the miracles of Jesus are full of variety; for example, healing of the sick (leprosy: Matt 8: 1-4; hemorrhage: Matt 9: 20-22), controlling natural forces (abating the storm: Matt 8: 23-27; walking on water: Matt 22-33), exorcising evil spirits (Matt 8: 28-27), healing the blind and dumb (Mk 7: 31-37; Mk 10: 46-52), and, most importantly, the resurrection of the dead (the son of the widow of Nain: Lk 7:11-17; the resurrection of Lazarus; Jn 11).

 

But this does not mean that Jesus was a doer of miracles like the sorcerers that lived during His time and who came from different cultures. At times we see Him reject performing miracles (for example, Matt 12:38; Mk 8:11) because He did not desire to impress people and be mistaken by them as a sorcerer who stupefies people with supernatural acts.

 

The miracles of Jesus are important because they carry with them the meaning of salvation. Their aim is to urge us to meditate and strengthen our faith. They also refer to Jesus’ divine identity (Lk 7:18-24; Mk 2:1-12), the actualization of God’s Kingdom in the human world (Lk 11:29; Matt 12:28), the transfiguration of “God's gentleness and His love to mankind” (Titus 3:4), His mercy to those who suffer and are full of pain (Matt 9:35-36; 14:15), and the triumph  of life over death (the resurrection of Lazarus, Jn 11). Thus in many cases people are amazed and glorify God (Lk 17:15). The miracles of Jesus are signs that He is the promised Messiah who will come to free people from their physical and spiritual evil.

 

His death and resurrection

 

The most important act of Jesus was His death and resurrection for the salvation of mankind. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the core of Christian faith, celebrated during Easter time. The word for Easter in Arabic “fish” (like the English Paschal) derives from the Hebrew word for “passing over,” (i.e. Jesus’ Passover from death to life). Easter is the most important Christian feast.

 

- Salvation meaning in Jesus' death:

 

The gospels relate in detail the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death (Matt 27, 28; Mk 14, 15; Lk 22, 23; Jn 18, 19).

 

God brought salvation to all mankind (1 Tm 2:4). This will for the salvation of mankind became clear in Jesus Christ, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17). What highlights the salvation quality of Jesus’ agony and death is the innate love found in the great sacrifice, “For God so loved the world …” (Jn 3: 16); “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). At the beginning of the passion narrative, John says in his gospel, “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1).

 

- Jesus’ resurrection and its meaning:

 

Christians have never separated Jesus’ death from His resurrection; both form a complementary and connected part of Jesus’ salvation mission (see Philippians 2:6-11). Resurrection is the crowning of the salvation act and Christians stress in the creed that “He rose from the dead on the third day according to Holy Scriptures.” The gospels relate the resurrection of Jesus immediately after His death (Matt 18:1-20; Mk 16:1-20; Lk 24:5-10; Jn 20, 21).

 

The death of Jesus would have been considered a grave failure without His resurrection. In brief, resurrection gives meaning to the death of Jesus; it is a triumph over death and a door of hope to believers in eternal life as well as a crowning of Jesus’ mission on earth and a consummation of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament (the Creed says “according to the Holy Scriptures”). Resurrection is the strongest proof for the divinity of Jesus and it is the principle and foundation of our coming resurrection.

 

- Return of Jesus in glory:

Without eternal life the message of Jesus would not have been completed. Christians believe that human life does not end in nothingness or emptiness; they regard life as a passage to eternal life. What concerns us in this respect is the belief that Jesus will come again in glory at the end of times. In the same way as Jesus is the Alpha (“In the beginning was the word,” Jn 1:1), He is also the Omega (the creed says, “And He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end”). The return of Christ at the end of times is a beginning of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) where God will be “everything and in everything” (2Cor 15:28), and eventually the spirit of God will be poured out over all mankind. Christian liturgies describe God's Kingdom as “a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of righteousness, love and peace.” Thus believers live on this earth whilst their eyes gaze upwards but without forgetting earthly matters of the world and of history. They live on this earth and take the road that leads to God's Kingdom and eternal life. The Creed says at the end, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”


4. Jesus Christ in Eastern Churches today

 

In the East and in Palestine in particular, mankind lived the unique experience that Jesus founded through His incarnation on the earth. Out of this experience emerged the Eastern Churches that developed throughout history. We have seen that the identity of Jesus Christ was the focal point of all theological debates in the East during the first few centuries. At all times these Churches found themselves before the face of Jesus, meditating upon it and witnessing for it in accordance with the historical conditions of each stage. Until today these Churches are contemplating the face of Jesus in the light of the changing circumstances, and are discovering in the mystery of Jesus Christ what helps them to go ahead with regard to their historical mission, with hope, security and true joy.

 

Here I would like to mention briefly some of the features of Christ's mystery that Eastern Churches tend to contemplate because of their importance at this specific time in the history of the Arab world. The pastoral letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs present a documented vision of the face of Jesus at this historical stage. In many of their aspects, the letters contain the seeds of a contemporary Christology in the context in which Eastern Churches exist. Here we will mention these seeds knowing that they demand further theological investigation in order to discover their real significance.

 

From Incarnate Christ to Incarnate Church

 

The letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs continuously refer to the mystery of the incarnation in which they find “the foundation and the model that the Christian community should follow in their life on earth.”[21] From this perspective, the letter lays the foundations of an incarnate Church “in the context of time and place and all related historical, geographical, social and cultural dimensions.” From this “tangible human reality,” we can take the Church's “special features and character which reflect on her call and mission now and here.”[22] Here we can pose several queries about the new meanings of the incarnation mystery, “The incarnation mystery is impenetrable and we cannot use up all its meanings. In every age in our history, God calls on us to discover new meanings and new extensions for a new-old mystery in light of our current history in the Middle East. What are the meanings of the incarnation mystery that God calls on us to think deeply about at this current period of our history and in response to the demands and challenges and calls of the present time? How can we be incarnate and in what spheres?”[23]

 

The First Pastoral Letter explains the incarnation of our churches in the East in the Arabic language and culture, in the past, present and future, from the perspective of authenticity and openness.[24]

 

From incarnation dialogue to Church dialogue

 

In the Second Pastoral Letter, the Churches in the East examine the meaning of dialogue. They derive the principles for dialogue from the incarnation mystery, “The East is the land of dialogue between man and God throughout the history of salvation. Such dialogue culminated in Jesus Christ whose nature combines the human and the divine at the same time… God talked with man in Jesus Christ so that people can open channels for dialogue with each other.”[25] From this theological incarnation, the letter addresses all sorts of dialogue, dialogue among Christians and dialogue with our Moslem brothers and sisters, and dialogue with all those of goodwill.[26]

 

Jesus Christ is our way to our societies and our societies are the way to Him

 

Jesus Christ does not constitute an isolating body between us and our societies and likewise our societies do not constitute a barrier between us and Christ. The society in question here is a concrete one, with its physiognomy and distinguishing features. This society is the Arab society in which and for which we live. It is our way to Christ and Christ is our way to it.[27] This conforms with what the Second Letter of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs says, stressing that Jesus is our way toward man and man in his turn is the road of the Church and he is the road that “always passes by the mysteries of incarnation and salvation.”[28] “This vision could deeply change our view of ourselves, our Christ and our existence as Christians and as a Christian community; we could change from a self-centered Christian community (and thus subject to spiritual sterility) to a community dedicated to the service of others.”[29]

 

Following the example of Jesus in serving society

 

Jesus presents Himself thus, “I came not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). His service radiated in his dealing with the marginalized and outcast.[30] Jesus gave a prime example of service when He washed the feet of His disciples and asked them to do as He did (see Jn 13:1-15). Like Jesus the servant, the Church is a serving Church that puts herself at the service of man in all spheres. “She is the good Samaritan that does not cease to heal the wounds of her people … God supported man in everything except sin … and the Church remains a live, visible and tangible sign that witnesses in history for this divine support by standing close to people, alleviating their pain and reinforcing their growth.”[31]

 

For the sake of the human being

 

Man is a priority for God, which is based in Christianity on the incarnate Christ who has shown solidarity with every human being.[32] Based on this principle, the Second Pastoral Letter identifies this human being for the Eastern Churches: It is the Arab human being whom the Churches describe as a suffering human being.[33] It is this human being the Eastern Churches support, “This is the individual whom we declare our solidarity with because he is part of our humanity, cultural depth, and the environment of our vocation and mission.”[34] Such solidarity shuns all personal interests; it is solidarity for the sake of “defending human rights and the liberation of nations and their right to a dignified and free life. It is solidarity to help nations in their development projects and work to preserve human dignity in face of all the internal and external forces that oppress them and prevent them from achieving their legitimate aspirations and ambitions.”[35] “The liberation of man and his development in a dignified manner that meets God's gift to him, as well as the resistance of oppression no matter where it originates from or who perpetrates it, are all part of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”[36]

 

Conclusion

 

Jesus Christ represents a sublime spiritual heritage in human history. He is part of the religious and spiritual heritages at all times and in all places. He is the religious reserve and spiritual store for today's humanity which finds itself at a crossroad or in the midst of a dark tunnel. The various spiritual heritages are not contradictory but complementary. We hope that these spiritual energies would combine to serve humanity today. It is time that religions and spiritual heritages play their role in guiding the rudder of human life and history. Religion has many times been a source of human struggle and wars. It is time that religions and spiritual heritages adopt a new perspective to help mankind overcome difficulties, serve people and glorify the name of God.

 


References (A list of the primary Arabic sources used in the study)

 

1. The Holy Bible, New Testament, Dar Al-Mashreq 1989.

2. Dictionary of Biblical Theology, translated by a group of professors, Dar Al-Mashreq, 1986, 907 pages.

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, translated from Latin by a group of professors, Al-Rusul Publications, Beirut, 1999, 1047 pages.

4. Father Salim Boustros, Christian Theology and the Contemporary Man, part 1, Al-Boulisiyah Press Publications, Beirut, 1999, 239 pages.

5. Walter Kasper, Jesus Christ, translated into Arabic by John Mansour, Al-Boulisiyah Press Publications, Beirut, 2000, 445 pages.

6. Bishop Youssuf Raya and Cyril Boustros, Incarnation: A Flood of Love, Al-Boulisiyah Press Publications, Beirut, 1993, 151 pages.

7. Fadel Sidarous, Jesus Christ in Church Tradition, Dar Al-Mashriq, Beirut, 1989, 3rd edition, 195 pages.

8. Father Mansour Al-Mokhalisi, Contemporary Christ: The Sacrament of Jesus Christ in the Writings of 20th Century Theologians, Baghdad, 2004, 264 pages.

9. Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christian Faith, translated by Dr. Nabil Khoury, Al-Boulisiyah Press Publications, Beirut, 1998, 279 pages.

10. Dgmas of Christianity, published by Bishops of the German Churches, translated into Arabic by Bishop Cyril Salim Boustros, Al-Boulisiyah Press Publications, Beirut, 1998, 492 pages.

11. Father Jean Corbon, “Christ the Lord in our Eastern Churches,” Al-Liqa’ Journal, number 3/1995, pp. 30-43. Father Christian Van Nispen, “Who Is Christ for Whom We Witness and How to Talk to Him?” Al-Liqa’ Journal, number 3/1995, pp. 44-61.

12. Father Piergiorgio Gianazza, “True Jesus Reveals Himself a True God and Son of God,” Al-Liqa’ Journal, number 4/1990, pp. 34-45.

13. Father Rafiq Khoury, “What is Christianity?”, in Arab Christian-Moslem Heritage Conference, Sept. 9-11, Al-Liqa’ Publications 1983, pp. 55-70.

14. Father Rafiq Khoury, “A Question that Challenges Us and an Answer that Awaits Us,” in Opening of Times to Come, Al-Liqa’ Publications, 1996, pp. 129-148.

15. Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, Second Pastoral Letter: Christian Presence in the East: A Witness and Mission, Easter 1992, 63 pages. Sixth Pastoral Letter: Together toward Future, Christmas 1999, 38 pages.


 

[1] All the literature referred to in this article is in Arabic.

[2] For more information about these names see Catechism of  the Catholic Church, the Arabic edition, Beirut 1999; Dictionary of Biblical Theology, translated into Arabic by a group of professors, Beirut 1985, the term 'Jesus', pp. 867-874; Father Salim Boustros, Christian Theology and Modern Man, Part I, Beirut 1984, pp. 131-154; Walter Kasper, Jesus Christ, translated by Bishop John Mansour, Beirut 2000, pp. 269-370; Father Piergiorgio Gianazza, "Jesus the True Man Reveals Himself a True God and Son of God," Al-Liqa' Journal, number 4/1995, pp. 24-45.

[3] Look up the term 'Messiah' in the Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pp. 741-745.

[4] See for example, Mk 1:1; Matt 16:16; Jn 20:31; Lk 1:35; Mk 15:39, and others.

[5] See Boulos Khoury, The Incarnate Word for Christians, Vol. 1, Junieh 2004, pp. 163-223. Al-Boushi says, "He is born like light from the sun" (p. 223). See also Father Rafiq Khoury, What is Christianity? In Arab Christian-Moslem Heritage Conference (9-11 September 1983), Al-Liqa' Center Publications 1983, p. 64.

[6] See Walter Kasper, Jesus Christ, pp. 286-291.

[7] In addition to these basic names (Jesus, Christ, Son of God) there are other names Christians use to call Jesus such as Lord, Son of Man, Prophet, King, the Word. These names are related in one way or another to those we have just mentioned. See Salim Boustros, Christian Theology and Modern Man. Pp. 140-145, 152.

[8] See Dogmas of Christianity, translated by Bishop Cyril Salim Boustros, Beirut 1986, pp. 183-186; Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 152-158; Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christian Faith, translated by Dr. Nabil Khoury, Beirut 1994, pp. 149-152; Piergiorgio Gianazza, Jesus the True Man, pp. 34-45.

[9] See for example Lk 10:21; Mk 9:36; Lk 7:13; Jn 11:33-35; Matt 16:23; Matt 26:38.

[10] See Father Piergiorgio Gianazza, Jesus the True Man, p. 35.

[11] Regarding the Christian tradition related to Jesus Christ, see Fadel Sidarous, Jesus Christ in Church Tradition, Beirut, 3rd edition 1999, especially pp. 45-127; see also Father Salim Boustros, Christian Theology and Modern Man, pp. 166-184.

[12] The term 'ecumenical' is derived from the Greek word oikoumene meaning populated areas as the ancients defined it, and it referred basically to the Mediterranean coast. Ecumenical synods are church assemblies from different parts of the world and in which bishops meet together to look into doctrinal, administrative or liturgical matters, among others.

[13] See Council of Chalcedon statement in Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 154-155.

[14] It has become known that the schism and division were caused, in many cases, by difference of opinion about the meaning of words. The words 'nature' or 'hypostasis' for example meant one thing in Greek and a completely different thing in Syriac, causing doctrinal controversy and confusion. Churches today avoid doctrinal differences and stress that faith in Jesus Christ one and the same despite terminological differences. See in this respect Contemporary Agreements about Christ, in Al-Liqa' Journal, numbers 3-4/2004, pp. 31-86.

[15] See Fadel Sidarous, Jesus Christ in Church Tradition, p. 9 and pp. 131-133.

[16] We find a summary of contemporary theological thought about Jesus Christ in Father Mansour Al-Mukhalisi's Contemporary Christ: TheMystery  of Jesus' Identity in the Writings of Twentieth-Century Theologians, Baghdad 2004, p. 264. See also Fadel Sidarous, Jesus Christ in Church Tradition, pp. 137-148.

[17] About the contribution of this Christian thought see Boulos Khoury, The Word Incarnate among Christians, 2 volumes, Jounieh 2004, pp. 420, 363.

[18] About the meaning and concept of God's Kingdom see Walter Kasper, Jesus Christ, pp. 127-151; Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 175-180; Bishop Youssef Raya and Cyril Boustros, Incarnation: A Flood of Love, Beirut 1993, pp. 143-151; the term 'Kingdom' in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pp. 769-774.

[19] See Father Piergiorgio Gianazza, "O Jesus: Show Us the Father," Al-Liqa' Journal, number 2/1999, pp. 20-60.

[20] About the miracles of Jesus, see the term 'miracle' in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pp. 747-753; Walter Kasper, Jesus Christ, pp. 153-169; Several Authors, Miracles in the Bible, translated by Father Sobhi Hamawi sj, Beirut 1986, p. 71.

[21] Second Pastoral Message, Christian Presence in the East: Witness and Message, Easter 1992, number 26.

[22] Ibid. number 27. See also The Sixth Pastoral Message, Together toward Future, Christmas 1999, numbers 6-7.

[23] Together toward Future, number 7.

[24] Christian Presence in the East, numbers 28-33. See also father Rafiq Khoury, The Incarnation of Eastern Churches in the Arab Tent: A Palestinian Perspective, Al-Liqa' Publications 1998, p. 393.

[25] See Christian Presence in the East, number 45.

[26] It is known that the Catholic Patriarchs of the East have dedicated a special letter to Christian-Moslem dialogue, the Third Pastoral Letter, Together before God for Man and Society: Coexistence between Christians and Moslems in the Arab World, Christmas 1994.

[27] See Father Rafiq Khoury, "A Question that Challenges US and an Answer that Awaits Us," in Openings of the Time to Come, Al-Liqa' publications 1996, pp. 134-135.

[28] Christian Presence in the Holy Land, number 52.

[29] Se Father Rafiq Khoury, "A Question that Challenges Us…," p. 134.

[30] See Christian Presence in the East, number 34.

[31] Ibid, number 36.

[32] Ibid, number 52.

[33] Ibid, number 53.

[34] Ibid, number 54.

[35] Ibid, number 55.

[36] Ibid, number 55.