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Credo

A study of the Apostles Creed


 

Links to sections on this page:
- Why do Christians take ... Jesus so seriously?
- Humanity
- Divinity
- His only Son
- Our Lord
- Born of the Virgin Mary
- Questions
- Pontius Pilate - the historical setting
- Crucified
- Questions
Links to other chapters:
1: Why creeds?
2: Why were the creeds written?
3: Studying the Apostles' Creed
4: The Place of Doubt
5: I Believe ...
6: ....in God the Father Almighty...
8: ...dead and buried ...
9: ...I believe in the Holy Spirit

Chapter 7

 And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate

Why do Christians take the words and actions of Jesus so seriously?

It is not just that we think he was a great thinker or moral teacher, the reason is that we believe Jesus to be none other than God himself. Christians would affirm that God can be perceived in creation, through magnificent works of music, literature and art. However God is known most reliably and fully in only one place, through Jesus Christ. This part of the Apostles Creed, the introduction of Jesus, is a most significant part of our Christian doctrine or belief. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, he is the truth which sets us free (John 14:6, 8:32)

Humanity

Having affirmed in opposition to the Gnostics, that God had created the world and it was good, there was no difficulty in accepting that God had taken human flesh. Jesus, for all practical purposes, was 'God with skin on.' 

We can learn a lot from the incarnation. The incarnation affirms creation. It means literally 'in flesh'. Christ took on an earthly body. This was sacramentalism taken to extreme. Jesus in taking human flesh gives new meaning to creation and earthly existence and bodies. God takes flesh just like any man. He shares the atoms, the molecules, cells and organs of humankind, the crown of His creation. He becomes a human being in anatomy, physiology, social relations and in every other way except moral culpability. 

So here was Jesus born into a human family and brought up as a child with human parents. C. H. Spurgeon said 'Infinite and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arm. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's son.' Jesus came from the presence of angels to a cave filled with animals, from the throne of heaven to a feeding trough. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a Word, chose instead to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl. 

Jesus was human, he had a human mind. From the Bible we see that he appeared to go through a learning process. 

And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him...And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men...They found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.' (Luke 2:40, 52, 46) 

It is difficult for us to comprehend that Jesus, who possessed divine attributes such as omniscience and omnipotence, still went through normal human development. Imagine Jesus learning to read and write! He had the limitations of humanity. 

Jesus also experienced human emotions. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus said, 'Now is my soul troubled. . .' (John 12:27) In the story of Lazarus, we see Jesus express a broad range of human emotion. 'When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' He asked 'Come and see, Lord' they replied. Jesus wept.' (John 11: 33-35) 

It is a mystery to us how, in Jesus Christ, humanity and deity are co-mingled. Jesus is clearly God and claimed to be on many occasions (Colossians 2:9, Philippians 2:6-8). Yet, he also allowed himself to be humbled, voluntarily experiencing human limitations-

He became tired (John 4:6)
He experienced physical thirst (John 19:28)
He knew physical hunger (Matthew 4:2)
He experienced physical weakness (Matthew 8:23-25)
He even allowed his body to cease functioning, as ours does when we die (Matthew 27:50)

He experienced temptation, as we do. Everything which we struggle with, Jesus too struggled with, he was completely human.

Divinity

Jesus was a common name and yet it was a name chosen to reflect the extraordinary purpose of his birth, for the name means 'God saves.' Jesus was born that God might deal with human sin and failure.

At the time when the Apostles Creed was formulated the Church had not fully worked through the place of the Holy Spirit, but it was convinced about the divinity of Jesus. This is where belief becomes difficult, because humanly speaking God cannot be both God and Jesus and Holy Spirit, what we now call a Trinity. Either God is three, or God is one, not both. This is where it is important to remember that to believe in something or somebody does not mean that we fully understand them. (Ask most husbands if they understand their wives!)

When we say the Apostles Creed we acknowledge that Christian belief surpasses the scope of the human mind. The Gnostics at the time, later the Arians and today people like Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims found it impossible to agree that God had taken human nature or a human body in the person of Jesus. Christians believe that in Jesus God entered human history and because of that we divide all human history into a time before and after Jesus Christ. The word Christ is used which is a Greek word for Messiah meaning that Jesus is the anointed one. Jesus is the one in whom all history and the promises of God find fulfilment.

His Only Son

It is important to remember that Jesus is called the only Son of God. Jesus has a relationship with God which is special and unique. Jesus refers to God as his father in a special way and the Jews were furious with Jesus for calling God his father, for they recognised that he was making himself equal with God himself (John 5:18).

The Gospel of John contains the most explicit teaching about the unity of the Son and the Father and it worth looking at some of the things which Jesus said about himself.

  • The Son knows the Father as the Father knows the Son 10:15
  • The Father shows the Son what he is doing 5:20
  • The Father taught the Son 8:28
  • What the Son says is what he has already heard the Father say 8:38 12:50
  • No one comes to the Father in any other way than by the Son 14:6
  • The Father has given judgement to the Son 5:22
  • What the Father has is the Son 16:15
  • The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son 10:38, 14:10,
  • To see the Son is to see the Father 14:9
  • I and the Father are one 10:30
  • Jesus prayed that his disciples should be one just as the Father and he were one also 17:22

Our Lord

As we have mentioned the simplest creed which appears in the New Testament is 'Jesus is Lord. It expresses so much in a few short words. Jesus the man is also God our Saviour who demands from us complete obedience, who died for our sins.

This word 'Lord' is used almost six hundred times of Jesus in the New Testament. In the Greek, the word is Kurios and it expresses ownership, the Christian has been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is also to accept our need for obedience. Jesus told his disciples that nobody could serve two masters Matthew 6:24

Born of the Virgin Mary

Up until now there have probably been few disagreements in our understanding of the Apostles Creed, but now Christians disagree! That the Holy Spirit was present at the birth of Jesus we would all agree, but how? Many Christians do not accept that belief in the Virgin Birth is an essential component of our faith and it must be recognised that many Christian denominations differ on their understanding of what this means.

In this next section I would like to spend some time illustrating how some Christians can honestly disagree -some thinking Mary to be utterly holy and pure and never having had sex at all, let alone being a virgin when she conceived. Meanwhile others who think the idea of Virgin Birth devalues humanity, makes sex sinful instead of a gift of God, and makes Jesus only half human.

Roman Catholic Teaching

I would like to begin by looking at what Roman Catholic doctrine asserts, because it takes a view at one end of the spectrum. It includes belief in both the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception. In addition, it has adopted the beliefs that Mary's hymen was preserved intact during the delivery of Jesus. Although there is no mention of this in the Bible, this belief was accepted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.

Essentially Roman Catholic teaching is that Mary remained a virgin for the whole of her life; i.e. her marriage to Joseph was never consummated, and thus the couple never had any more children. There are a number of ambiguous passages in the Christian Scriptures which some theologians believe contradict this belief: Matthew 1:25: 'But he [Joseph] had no [sexual] union with her until she gave birth to a son…' (NIV) This verse states that Mary and Joseph remained celibate until after Jesus was born.

The word 'until', in its modern meaning, implies that Joseph and Mary actually consummated their marriage after the birth. However, the word 'until, as used elsewhere in the Bible, does not necessarily have the latter implication. For example: 2 Samuel 6:23 states that Michal 'had no children till the day of her death.' That verse states that she had no children prior to her death; it also implies that she had no children after her death. 1 Corinthians 15:25 states that Jesus Christ '...must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.' This states that Jesus would reign until he conquered his enemies, it also implies that his reign would continue afterwards.

Matthew 6:3: 'Isn't this [Jesus] the carpenter?' Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?...". (NIV) There are also other references to siblings of Jesus in the Christian Scriptures. Many Christians accept that these are other sons by Mary and Joseph; others believe that they were really Jesus' half-brothers (sons of Joseph from a previous marriage) or the cousins of Jesus. Luke 2:48: '...Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.' In this passage, Jesus' mother Mary reproaches him, and refers to Joseph as his father. This verse is also ambiguous, because step-fathers were often called fathers in 1st century Palestine, as they are today.

Virgin Conception, not Virgin Birth.

It should be stated that the Apostles Creed is explicit in teaching only Virgin Conception, not Virgin Birth. Virgin Birth is a belief which says that about 20 BCE, when Mary herself was conceived, that she was without original sin.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed in his Bull Ineffabilis that: 'We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.'

To my knowledge no reformed denomination teaches this. Most faith groups within the Christian church have taught that Jesus was conceived by his mother Mary, before she engaged in sexual intercourse.

Some Christians of a more liberal persuasion have rejected the Virgin Birth, and classify it as a religious myth that was added to Christian belief to make the religion more competitive with contemporary Pagan religions in the Mediterranean region.

Many Christians believe that Jesus was the first child of many conceived by Mary and Joseph via sexual intercourse, as any for other human.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Jesus' "brothers" were in fact his cousins or close associates. "...the terms "brothers" and "sisters" are generic words that indicate a close relationship with Jesus, but not necessarily a kinship."

References used from the Bible concerning Virgin Birth are as follows Isaiah 7:14 'Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.' Matthew 1:23 'The virgin shall be with child, and will give birth to a son, and they shall call him Immanuel; which means, 'God with us.' Luke 1:26-35 'In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin's name was Mary...The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'

Complications

There are passages in the New Testament where Mary and Joseph are presented as the parents of Jesus. (Luke 2:27, 2:33, 2:41, 2:43). Jesus is the carpenters son (Matthew 13:55). He is also the son of Joseph (Luke 4:42, John 6:42), When thinking about Virgin Birth we should also remember that St. Paul seems unaware of it. He does not mention the Virgin Birth anywhere in his writings. It would seem reasonable to assume that if Paul had known of the special conditions of Jesus' birth that he would have mentioned them in one of his writings. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: he seems to have thought that the birth was natural and conventional: Between 49 and 55 AD, he recorded the first known reference to Jesus' birth. In Galatians 4:4, he writes: 'But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.' If he had been aware of the Virgin Birth, perhaps he would have replaced "woman" with "virgin", or made some other change to show that the birth was miraculous. This passage was written some 45 years before the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written, and 55 to 62 years after Jesus' birth.

In about 57 AD, he wrote his only other reference to Jesus' birth. In Romans 1:1-3 he writes: 'I Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and separated onto the gospel of God... concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.' The phrase 'of the seed of David' implies that Paul believed Jesus to be the son of Joseph, because Matthew traces Jesus' genealogy from David to Joseph. The phrase 'according to the flesh' implies a natural, normal conception and birth. It may be helpful to think more about the genealogy of Jesus.

Genealogies

It must be remembered that both Matthew 1:1- and Luke 3:23-38 give genealogies of Jesus which trace his descent through Joseph. Were these genealogies compiled by somebody who either did not know about the Virgin Birth, or who did not take it literally? Surely the genealogy is useless if Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Furthermore, the genealogy is to prove the Davidic line of Jesus to further his Messianic claim. If Jesus was of Mary but not also of Joseph, then obviously he was not the Son of David after all, he was adopted!

Virgin Birth myths

Those who dispute the Virgin birth draw attention to such writings as Livy, a famous Roman historian and say that the Virgin Birth may have been copied from a Roman fable: He wrote a popular book on the history of Rome that was widely circulated in the first decades of the 1st century. In it, he explained that Mars, the Roman God of war, fathered twins Romulus and Remus, the original founders of the city of Rome. Their mother was Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Hence it is suggested that Christian groups may have slightly modified this fable and adopted it as their own, in an attempt to show that Jesus was a person of very great importance -- an individual at least as important as the founders of Rome.

Others suggest that the virgin birth may have been copied from another religion History records that: Buddha was born of the virgin Maya after the Holy Ghost descended upon her. The Egyptian God Horus was born of the virgin Isis; as an infant, he was visited by three kings. A Roman savior Quirrnus was born of a virgin. In Tibet, Indra was born of a virgin. He ascended into heaven after death. The Greek deity Adonis was born of the virgin Myrrha, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. He was born "at Bethlehem, in the same sacred cave that Christians later claimed as the birthplace of Jesus." In Persia, the god Mithra was born of a virgin on DEC-25. An alternate myth is that he emerged from a rock. Also in Persia, Zoroaster was also born of a virgin. In India, the god Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki.

Virgin births were claimed for many Egyptian pharaohs, Greek emperors and for Alexander the Great of Greece. The mythological figures: Hercules, Osiris, Bacchus, Mithra, Hermes, Prometheus, Perseus and Horus share a number of factors. All were believed to have: been male, lived in pre-Christian times, had a god for a father, human virgin for a mother, had their birth announced by a heavenly display, had their birth announced by celestial music, been born about DEC-25, had an attempt on their life by a tyrant while they were still an infant met with a violent death, rose again from the dead. Almost all were believed to have: been visited by "wise men" during infancy and fasted for 40 days as an adult.

The Virgin Birth and the Hebrew Scriptures

Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of the very unusual births of Ishmael, Isaac, Samson and Samuel. Usually prior to the birth, an angel appears to an individual; the latter is afraid; the message of an upcoming birth is given; objections are raised; and a sign is given. It has been suggested that Matthew and Luke could have replicated the essence of these stories, and added a virgin birth as proof that Jesus' birth was not only unusual, but was a miracle. This would establish Jesus at a much higher status than the four famous figures from the Hebrew Scriptures. Without a miraculous birth, Jesus might have been considered to be lower in stature to those heroes from the Hebrew Scriptures.

The virgin birth story was an honest mistake

In the Gospel of Matthew there is a reference to Jesus' birth from Isaiah 7:14. This has since become a famous passage; it is often recited at Christmas time. Matthew used it as a method of showing that prophecies in the Hebrew Testament were fulfilled in Jesus' life. As it happens, the Greek translators had made a mistake. When they were translating the Hebrew writings into the Greek Septuagint and similar translations, they converted the Hebrew word "almah" as the Greek equivalent of our English word for virgin. "Almah" appears 9 other times in the Hebrew Scriptures; in each case it means "young woman". When the scriptures referred to a virgin (and they do over 50 times) they always used the Hebrew word "betulah". So, Isaiah appears to have referred to a young woman becoming pregnant (a rather ordinary event).

Some English translations of the text are accurate to the original Hebrew:

Revised English Bible: "...a young woman is with child..."
Revised Standard Version: "...a young woman shall conceive..."
James Moffatt Translation: "...a young woman with child..."
New Revised Standard Version: "...the young woman is with child..."
Revised Standard Version: "...a young woman shall conceive..."

Moreover the birth being discussed in Isaiah 7:14 appears to be unrelated to Jesus. It describes the Syro-Ephraimite invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem about 735 BC. The child that was born to the young woman at the time was a sign from God that the siege would be lifted and that Jerusalem would continue as before. The prophecy was presumably completely fulfilled more than 700 years before the birth of Jesus. For King Ahaz circa 735 BC, 'the birth of the Messiah some seven hundred years later would have been of little consolation!'

The other Gospels

The Gospel of Mark does not mention the Virgin Birth of Jesus and neither does John. John 1:45 refers to Jesus specifically as 'the son of Joseph.' John 6:42 has the townspeople: 'Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?' If the author believed in the miracle of the Virgin Birth, would he have not mentioned it somewhere in the gospel?


All of this has left us with speculation, and this has been around for some time.

'The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.' Thomas Jefferson, 1823

More recently J.S. Spong, the radical liberal Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ, wrote:

'In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings.'

Historical Support

In contrast we know that Virgin Birth had found acceptance into the Christian faith by the early second century.

Aristides wrote his defence of the Christian faith in AD 140 and tells 'God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin took and clad himself with flesh, and in a daughter of man there dwelt the Son of God.'

Justin Martyr wrote his defence of the Christian faith about AD 170. In 'The Dialogue with Trypho' he writes 'the first-born of every creature, who became man by the Virgin, who suffered and was crucified.'

It is found in the Apostles Creed but also the Nicene Creed (381) and the Creed of Chalcedon (451)

There some who find the Virgin Birth impossible to believe but we must ask-why? One would have to say that Virgin Birth would not be one of the biggest miracles which God ever tackled. Luke would be correct in saying 'with God nothing shall be impossible' 1:37. However there are sufficient difficulties to accept that some Christians will find the literal meaning difficult to accept. Was Mary an 'almah' as the Hebrew tells us ' a young woman of marriageable age' or a parthenos as recorded in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament?


Is the Virgin Birth necessary?

It must be recognised that for some Christians, the birth of Jesus in a natural way is impossible, because it shows him being born in the normal process of human birth. Of course for Jesus to fully escape the taint of sin which attaches to humanity, then the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is more helpful, that Mary too came in to the world in a special way. Meanwhile for other Christians the fact that Jesus was born just like the rest of us is proof that he shares our full humanity. To accept the mythological passages from the birth stories is to devalue Jesus and make him less than human like the rest of us.

What is important for us to recognise is that the statement 'Virgin Birth,' means different things for Christians. This discussion of Virgin Birth is surely helpful for it teaches us that as Christians we must learn to accept that others will hold positions which are different from ours. Ultimately it may be that we will never fully know the answers to some questions in this lifetime.

Questions for discussion

  • Do you think it important that Jesus was born of a virgin or that he was conceived without human intercourse?
  • Do you think that it is important that Mary remained a Virgin?
  • Does the Virgin Birth tell us that Mary was special?
  • Could you have been chosen as the mother of Jesus? (intended for female group members)

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified dead and was buried

Pontius Pilate - The historical setting

Pontius Pilate was Roman Procurator from AD 26 - 36. Placing Jesus in the historical setting of this man is interesting, for once again it reminds us of the historical roots of our faith. Jesus is not in our imagination but a real person who lived in our history and whose life is recorded not just in the Bible but in many other historical records of the Romans and the Jews.

What sources do we have which speak about Jesus, outside the bible?

Suetonius

The first non-Christian writer is Suetonius a historian who worked in Rome's archives and published a number of books on Roman literature, 'Rhetoric', the lives of Greek and Roman poets, and 'The Lives of the Caesars'. This work includes the life of Julius Caesar and eleven Emperors from Augustus to Domitian which covers the era of Jesus. He includes the lives of Nero and Claudius which covers the earliest growth of Christians in Rome and he tells us that there were Christians in Rome.

Tacitus

The earliest mention of Jesus is by the Roman historian, Tacitus (about AD 115), who remembered Nero's wrath upon Christians as scapegoats. He was a military governor who wrote a history of the German tribes, and a five volume history of the Emperors of his own lifetime. A later sixteen volume history has marked him as one of the greatest historians of all time.

As a consul of Rome, Tacitus was well placed to know the official account of the fire of Nero and of the onslaught against what he called 'this superstition', a phrase used of a sect with fanatical beliefs contrary to the Roman state. Tacitus describes the Christians as possessing a 'hatred of the human race' meaning his pagan Roman society. He states that Christians take their name from a certain 'Christ', who had been executed in Judea by the governor Pontius Pilate during Tiberius' reign. Temporarily checked, Christianity immediately 'broke out afresh', and spread even to Rome, where by the time of the great fire it had become multitudinous and a matter of government concern. Here is an official historic statement concerning Jesus of Nazareth and the followers of Jesus Christ.

Pliny

The third Roman historian to mention Jesus is Pliny, governor of the province of Bithynia, AD 120. Pliny wrote ten volumes of letters mainly to his friend Tacitus, who was governor of Asia. Pliny also published the replies. Both men despised the Christians. Pliny was a timid governor and asked Tacitus advice on how deal with the Christians. He also wrote about the Christians to the emperor Trajan. He emphasised the Christians' loyalty to Christ greater than to the emperor. Pliny says the Christians will die rather than curse Christ and in their gatherings they sing hymns to Christ as God.

Josephus

There is also the great Jewish historian, Josephus, writing in AD 95. Jesus is described as

'A wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a performer of astonishing deeds, a teacher of men who are happy to accept the truth. He won over many Jews, and indeed also many Greeks. He was the Messiah'.

He writes of the crucifixion of Jesus and says the 'tribe of Christians has still not disappeared.'

Josephus says Jesus was a rabbi and a miracle worker, who was claimed 'the Christ'. He was executed by Pilate upon information from the Jewish leaders but appeared to them again on the third day and his followers are growing in number.


Each of these great ancient authors refer to Jesus and his followers as "Christians" who had this profound commitment to Jesus as King above Caesar. This is first hand, primary evidence from the decades immediately after the life of Jesus, in the work of distinguished historians who were personally opposed to Christianity and who wrote outside the New Testament.

Pilate was not convinced that Jesus had committed any crime ( Luke 23:13-20) and tried to release Jesus at Passover, until Barabbas was selected instead (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:18-25). We are even told that the wife of Herod was warned in a dream that Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:19). Ultimately Pilate feared that his own position would be threatened if Jesus was allowed to live. Perhaps the most telling verse is John 19:12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, 'If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.'

In these short few words we are reminded of the historical reality of Jesus, we are also reminded of his humanity. Jesus suffered, he did not just put on a human cloak, but shared in the full depth of human emotion, including suffering. In the suffering of Jesus was are reminded that we have a Saviour who shares in the darkest moments of human life. It has been said that 'only the wounded physician can heal.' The God who offers to heal the wounds of our sin has himself been wounded by sinners.

Was Crucified

The exact form which crucifixion took has been disputed by Christians. There are as a result many different shaped crosses. At the time of course there would have been no need to describe such details because crucifixion was a relatively common occurrence and everybody would have known.

 After the siege of Tyre, Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 Tyrhians. During the Jewish wars Alexander Jannaeus crucified 800 men on a single occasion. Varus, in crushing the revolt in Galilee within the lifetime of Jesus, crucified 2,000 people. In Titus' final campaign in which the Jews lost their freedom for ever and in which the Temple was destroyed, it was said that he crucified so many men 'that there was no space left for crosses, and no crosses for the bodies.' (Josephus, wars of the Jews 6:18)

The reason why Jesus had to die has been discussed and will continue to be discussed in detail. This course does not provide us the opportunity to spend large amounts of time in so doing. However it must be recognised that the cross has come to be the central feature of our faith. In his death on the cross Christians believe that Jesus brought about such a situation that we could find peace with God. How this occurs, once again Christians have made many different suggestions, many derived from scripture. Here are two -

  • God punished Jesus instead of us and satisfied his need for justice
  • His death was a unique demonstration of the love of God that he was prepared to die for us

These are just two of the ideas which Christians have considered. What we do know is that Jesus was not taken by surprise. His ministry reached a crescendo on the cross, which he had prepared for in full knowledge of what would take place. He freely gave his life believing it was the greatest gift he could offer. The cross assures us that there is nothing which God wants to withhold from us, he did not spare his own life. It is the cross which Christians believe opens up new possibilities for us to draw close and know God, not just in a theoretical way, but with our hearts.

Jesus makes a new relationship with God possible and we know that we can fully trust God because there is no greater love than to lay down's one's life for one's friends. The cross teaches us and shows us that we are God's friends and that he loves us. The love of God is beyond human comprehension, as Jesus speaks from the cross words of forgiveness, even to those who nail him to the wood.

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33)

Questions for discussion

  • Why do you think Jesus had to die?
  • If Jesus just forgives everybody then why don't we all just do as we like?

 

6: I believe in God the Father Almighty

8: Dead and buried