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Jesus is a pretty big deal in the New Testament. (Hello, understatement of the millennium!) You can bet than any Christian writer worth his salt is gonna put in a whole bunch of good stuff about Jesus in his books. What does Paul have to say about Jesus of Nazareth? Let's take a look.
Go ahead. We'll wait.
Okay, now you know all about Jesus' life…because Paul doesn't worry too much about all that stuff. In Paul's humble opinion, the most important thing Jesus ever did was die on a cross. Why? Because his death saved the world:
Okay, so the fact that Jesus died is a huge deal. But what exactly does this mean? Well, Paul seems to be saying that Jesus' death wiped away humanity's sinful record with God. We had done a lot of bad things, but then Jesus died on that cross and all was forgiven.
But how exactly does this work? Well, that's a question that theologians and scholars have puzzled over since the day after the crucifixion. Did God send Jesus to Earth to die because he demands some kind of bloody sacrifice? That's sort of creepy. Does Jesus have to undergo pain and torture because our sinful ways are just that awful? That's a huge bummer.
Maybe, by willingly giving up his life, Jesus showed what true love and devotion was. Because of his willingness to pay the ultimate price and to sacrifice his own life, God decided to start over fresh with everyone. If everyone would go ahead and put their faith in Jesus, he would just forgive and forget. That means Jesus didn't die for our sins or because of our sins. He died…and God forgave.
In any case, Paul doesn't really specify exactly how this system works. It's just clear that he believes that Jesus was a starting over point for humanity. He died, and God decided to let bygones be bygones. Then, as a way to show the world that he was cool with them, he brought Jesus back from the dead. We've gotta hand it to him—the story has really stuck with people.
What else does Paul have to tell us about Jesus? Well, he's a pretty big deal. According to P-dawg, he's also been around since the beginning of time:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
That is a very different take than people had of him during his life. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish peasant who was eventually arrested, tried, and crucified as a criminal under Roman law. It wasn't a pretty existence. But things have gotten a lot better for Jesus since he's shuffled off this mortal coil:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things. (Ephesians 1:20-22)
Yeah, we'd say death really becomes him.
Jesus not only gets the best seat in Heaven (the right hand one), but he also gets a sweet gig as the head of the entire Christian church:
But Jesus isn't only the head honcho; he's also the physical head. Well, not literally. Metaphorically. If the church is like a body, Jesus is the huge cranium. That's right. He's totally the brains of this operation.
Paul also emphasizes how Jesus brings unity to the world. There's one God and one way to believe in him. And because of Jesus, all the people of the world are one, too. Kumbaya:
In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:14-22)
Wow. That was a lot of work. Jesus has taken groups of people that had previously been at war and brought them together. Now everyone is equal in God's eyes. Because of him, "there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3:11).
How does Paul's description of Jesus here fit in with the rest of the Bible? Well, Paul has what theological smart guys like to call a "high Christology." Basically, that just means that he sees Jesus as more divine than human.
Think of it this way. On one end of the scale you have Jesus of Nazareth. He's just a regular guy who grew up in Judea, said a lot of inspiring things, and ran afoul of the Roman government. On the other side of the scale you have Jesus Christ. This is God's only son, who's one in the same with the Creator of the Universe. His death and resurrection brought salvation to the entire world.
Not too shabby.
Paul's thoughts on Jesus lean way closer to the Christ and Savior side of the chart. But even though Paul thinks Jesus is majorly important and on par with God Almighty, he still sees Jesus as a separate being from God. The idea of the Trinity—God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one in the same—would still take a little longer to develop. Hey, it had only been about 20 or 30 years since Jesus died. You gotta give folks a minute or two to figure this stuff out.