Last week we began examining the Apostle’s Creed part by part. You can find my first post here. Let me post the creed again with our section of interest in bold font:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
In this section we move from the person of God the Father to his Son, Jesus Christ. That Jesus is mentioned in the same creed with God as an object of belief is important. While it is not explicit it does seem to imply that he stands with God the Father as one worthy or worship and loyalty.
Jesus is called “Christ” which means he was understood to be Israel’s long-waited Messiah. The Messiah would be a son of King David who would establish David’s throne forever. Jesus is that King, that child of David, the Messiah.
As Son this means he shares the nature of the Father and he comes from the Father. He is the one who inherits all that is the Father’s. Later exploration would conclude that we can speak of him as the second person of the Trinity who is one with his Father because he shares his Father’s divine nature.
As “Lord” Jesus is declared by the church to be the supreme authority in the world. He is greater than the Caesars of the Roman Empire and any other world ruler. Likewise, many have noted that in the Hebrew Bible the name of God was replaced with the word adonai which we translate “Lord”. It may be that there is some sense in which Lord connects Jesus with the God of Israel’s identity.
When he confess that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary we state (1) that his birth was not like just anyone in that it was not the union of a man and woman that brought him to use; (2) that it was the creative work of the Holy Spirit doing a miracle that no human could perform; (3) that like Adam so Jesus is a direct creation of God; (4) that he did share our genuine humanity which he received from Mary; and (5) that it happened in a real place in a real human.
Jesus’ suffering is another way of emphasizing that he was a real human. He suffered like other humans. He felt real pain. The mention of Pilate is another way of locating this story in history. It is not timeless mythology, but an act of God in time.
We confess that Jesus was truly crucified under the authority of Rome. He really died, lest anyone doubt he somehow survived. He was buried in a place where his disciples knew his body had been laid. Finally, Jesus descended into the abode of the dead, experiencing real death, and according to Christian confession he announced to the saints of the past that God has defeated death.
Next week we will look at how Jesus did this.