A Basic Principle: It Really Happened
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” – Hebrews 1:1-4
If you are a reader of the Bible, no doubt there are passages of the Scripture that you wonder about. You may ask yourself: “What does this mean?” “How I am to understand this?” Here is a very helpful rule of thumb. If you simply assume that what you are reading really happened, then you will find that things fit into place. For instance, when you read the Epistles of the New Testament, it helps to remember that you can look up something of their context in Luke’s writing in Acts. This is particularly true because Luke’s first volume (The Gospel of Luke) and his second volume (Acts) are written as Paul’s gospel in the history respectively after the resurrection, of Jesus’ ministry from heaven establishing His church through the ministry of the apostle Paul to the Gentiles. Part of the argument of Acts is that the Gospel was to go to the Jew first and then also to the Greek. Therefore, Acts traces from Pentecost to the rejection of the Jewish authority in Rome of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result, Acts ends with Paul saying ‘since the Jews rejected Christ now the Gospel will go to the Gentiles until the Jews and Gentiles come into the church completing the number of the elect.’ Paul is writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to people who he really knew and who really lived. Once they were pagans, then they were miraculously converted and became followers of Jesus Christ. It really happened.
The same principle applies to the Gospels as well. The gospels were written in a time when witnesses of those things were still alive. It is nowhere suggested in history that the gospels are contradictory accounts. We may not be able to completely harmonize the accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it really happened. In the gospel accounts are a history of those events, even if you can’t completely reconcile them chronologically. What we have is the ancient testimony that Matthew wrote first from the notes he took from the ministry of Jesus. He was a tax collector used to keeping records (Levi). Mark was asked by the Roman church to collect the anecdotal sayings of Peter about the ministry of Jesus to which he bore testimony in his preaching. Peter didn’t follow a chronological sequence. Mark wrote down in the general outline of Matthew the very urgent picturesque and terse anecdotal testimony of Peter, (witness the frequent use of the word “immediately”). John wrote much later as an elderly remnant of the apostolic band. He wrote his gospel much like when we grout tile. He filled in the cracks. However, what he wrote really happened. Because it is true, we have to make room in the chronology of the ministry of Jesus for at least three years of ministry and a Judean ministry as well as a Galilean ministry, because it really happened. Of course, John is the most theological of the Gospels making wonderful summary statements of truth. His masterful prologue helps us to interpret the Scripture statement with which this blog opens, Hebrews 1:1-4.
This principle that it really happened applies even to Hebrews 1:1-4. In fact, whatever is written there is written to people to describe someone who they knew really lived and to whom the writer is testifying in the Holy Spirit. John’s gospel is very helpful here as well. John’s approach in his prologue is to speak of a very real person, Jesus. But he does not mention the name Jesus until he has come to a most startling conclusion. There is a something who is a someone, who was with God in the beginning and was God from all eternity and created all that is. He is described as the Word and He brings us expression of who God the Father is but he does this by becoming flesh and blood. And then John tells us that this is who Jesus is. The writer of Hebrews does exactly the same thing but at greater length. He describes in the sentences above, the final form of the revelation of God for the salvation of man to be the very son-ness of the Son. He is not only the radiance of the Father, but He is the exact imprint. Imprint in what? In human flesh.
As we interpret these verses, when it is speaking of the divine son and the human nature of Jesus, here our basic principle is very helpful: It really happened. Paul, having preached the sermon, and having it recorded by Luke (as early church history tells us), is doing the same thing that John was doing. He is writing to people struggling with faith and maintaining their faith in a real person who really lived to whom Paul is testifying of the real person Jesus. Those to whom he wrote were not asking the question ‘Is Paul writing about the divine or is Paul writing about the human nature?’ No, they were asking ‘How can he say what he is saying about the real flesh and blood Jesus?’ And he even claims that Jesus as Lord is the Yahweh God of the Old Testament. But Paul never uses the name Jesus to identify the son of whom he speaks. It isn’t until the second chapter, verse nine that we discover that the one who is a little lower than the angels and who will become the Lord and master of all things is none other than Jesus by name. His readers would be aware that the amazing thing he is saying about this son is none other than the real, living person of flesh and blood – Jesus. Because it really happened, what could not be said of any other person had to be said about the real person Jesus. Therefore, we are brought to a very important rule of thumb that we may use to govern how we speak of Jesus: What may be said of either nature may be said of the person Jesus. Anytime the Bible attributes something to the divine nature which does not properly belong to it, or when the Bible applies something to the human nature that does not apply to it we must understand it to be speaking of the person of Jesus. Divine attributes do not become human. Human attributes do not become divine. Rather, Jesus the person is God. Jesus the person is truly man. His natures are inseparable but they are not mixed or confused. And so we can say Jesus is God and we worship Him, and we can say that Jesus the man is at the right of God. So then what John and Paul write about Christ Jesus is about the real flesh and blood Jesus who was and is and always shall be, the eternal Son and the child of Mary begotten of the Holy Ghost. These otherwise outrageous things that Paul and John write, are about someone who everyone knew really lived. This was someone who really happened and we have to interpret the Bible this way.