Over 500 times the New Testament refers to Jesus as the Christ. That’s twice a chapter! It must be important.
What are we saying when we call Jesus the Christ? Is it just an alternative name? Or is it making a statement about who he is and the authority he carries? How is the Christ the centre of the whole narrative, the one who reconciles earth to heaven’s authority?
You’d think that after 2000 years we’d have something this basic sorted out, but not everyone understands the Christ as a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah — the leader anointed by God so heaven’s reign is restored to earth.
Christology is the branch of theology devoted to studying the Christ. Understanding Christ as king is often just a minor point of Christology. That’s being challenged. For example, last year Joshua Jipp wrote The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2020) to show this:
Jesus’s messianic kingship is something of a root metaphor, a primary designation and driving image for making sense of NT Christology. (p.3)
The simple claims “Jesus is the Messiah” (e.g., John 20:31; Acts 17:3; 18:5, 28; 1 John 2:22; 3:23; 5:1) and “Jesus is Lord” (e.g., Acts 10:36; 1 Cor 12:3; Phil 2:10–11) are amply attested as the earliest Christian confessions, and both have explicit royal connotations in presenting Christ as messianic ruler. (p.4)
So how successful is Jipp? He has packed so much into the 400+ pages that it’s a challenging read if you don’t like long sentences. But that is also the strength of the book: densely demonstrating that this is the core Christology of the New Testament.
Part 1: The messianic testimony of the NT
In the Gospels:
- Matthew presents the son of David who saves the people from their sins.
- Mark presents the powerful, humiliated son of God implementing God’s kingdom.
- Luke-Acts presents the messianic king who fulfils the hope of Israel’s Scriptures.
- John presents the glorious heaven-sent Messiah with the truth of God’s kingdom.
John’s Gospel wrestles with the death of the Messiah and ironically turns Jesus’s death on the cross into the central moment of his glorification and exaltation, and hence the revelation of his sovereign kingship. (p.154)
Paul constantly presents Jesus as fulfilling the messianic expectations of the OT:
Through his application of the Jewish Scriptures, Paul illuminates Messiah Jesus’s inheritance as consisting of four main elements: rule over all the nations, a world wide kingdom, a team of apostles securing the nations for his rule, and a renewed cosmos. (p.158)
In fact, God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead and enthroning him to cosmic rule is the act that enables the Messiah, the seed of Abraham, to inherit the world as its rightful ruler. (p.163)
So, when Paul speaks of us being in Christ, Jipp hears a “participatory soteriology … sharing in the rule and reign of the Messiah” (p.180). In the cross, Jesus did not take leadership on himself; he was given leadership by being raised from the dead. For example:
In Philippians 2:6–11 the logic would seem to be that, while the preexistent Christ already shared in God’s status, his obedience to God and willing humiliation on the cross — the greatest of all benefactions to humanity — is the act that legitimates his rule, grants him universal authority, and qualifies him to receive divine worship. Paul redefines true royal rule as exemplified through Christ’s pattern of refusal to grasp or exploit power, obedience to God, and sacrificial service even to the point of death. (p.195).
This makes for a powerful reading of Romans:
Romans 5–8 is essentially a cosmic development and application of the soteriological significance of Christ’s messianic identity as set forth in 1:3–4. Thus, the messianic identity of Christ as seed of David who shares in human flesh, his installation as God’s powerful Son, his resurrection from the dead, his resurrected state as marked by God’s Spirit, and his enthronement to a position of lordship over the nations are taken up by Paul in Romans 5–8 and are reworked as the royal events in which humanity participates. (p.204)
Christ is a royal figure in the other letters attributed to Paul also. Noting how Ephesians connects back to phrases in the Psalms, Isaiah, and Daniel, Jipp says:
Paul’s deployment of these royal texts from Israel’s Scriptures to refer to “the Christ” in Ephesians suggests Paul uses Christos to mean “Messiah.” (218)
As the head over humanity, the Messiah reconciles heaven and earth, drawing the nations under his kingship, making peace instead of war, drawing us together in “the Messiah’s peaceful and harmonious corporate community.” (p.232)
The subjects of the Messiah [are] not simply benefiting from the Messiah’s rule but sharing in his rule by virtue of their union with the Messiah. (p.255)
Jipp goes on to show how the suffering and enthronement of the messianic Son of God are the message of the general epistles too, particularly the way Christ is presented in Hebrews, and the way 1 Peter calls the community of the Christ to participate in his sufferings.
The regal language of Christ as king permeates Revelation as well. In contrast to the imperial powers such as Rome:
John thereby creates an alternative vision which will help the churches — namely, Christ’s kingdom — disentangle themselves and their allegiances from the corrupting influence of the Roman imperial power, economics, and cult and strengthen their exclusive allegiance to God and the Lamb. (pp.285–286)
Davidic messianism is embraced and the Messiah does indeed conquer and establish his kingdom, but he does so by means of the cross and a rejection of violence and the typical trappings of power and domination. (p.308)
Part 2: The messianic theology of the NT
Having demonstrated that the Christ (in the messianic sense) is the core message of every part of the New Testament, Jipp launches the second part of his book — constructing a systematic Christology that reflects the messianic theology of the NT.
Jesus’s messianic identity is both the presupposition for and content of New Testament theology. … Jesus’s messianic kingship functions as a root metaphor or basic assumption for reading the New Testament in a way that other important images do not. (p.313)
While this section repeats many points from the first section, Jipp incorporates the Christology of the apostolic fathers to make the claim “that the confession ‘Jesus is the Messiah’ is the starting point for the early Christian interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel.” (p. 326).
He describes how Jesus’ messianic identity is proclaimed in every part of his life from incarnation to ascension, and that this is how he saves us:
The Messiah’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and session at the right hand of the Father function as the means whereby God saves his people and establishes his kingdom for his people … a participatory soteriology whereby humans are saved by virtue of being conjoined to the Messiah. (p.345)
Jeremy Treat: “The kingdom is the ultimate goal of the cross, and the cross is the means by which the kingdom comes.” (p.353)
So, this is what forms us in Christ, giving the church its mission:
The inauguration of the Messiah’s saving rule results in the creation of a people composed of Jews and gentiles who, through the empowering work of the Spirit and through their participatory fellowship with the Messiah, replicate the character of the Messiah and actively participate in his activity and mission. (p.367)
The church’s mission stems from God’s royal enthronement of the Messiah. (p.385)
Ultimately, this defines our role in God’s world — as subjects of the good and righteous king. We are “Christ’s people actively participating in the Messiah’s kingly rule.” (p.403)
Since we embody the Messiah’s reign, Christology defines the mission of the Christ-followers:
The Scriptural promise for God to rule the world through a righteous, just, and peace-loving messianic king is ultimately fulfilled in the surprising manner of the King’s death and resurrection. This results in an ethic whereby God’s people entrust themselves and their causes to God and not to the violent coercive methods of the human kings, kingdoms, and governments of this world. Forgiveness, the rejection of violence, non-oppressive economic practices, peace-making and reconciliation, and solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized may often have the appearance of weakness, but they are the appropriate practices for Christ’s people engaging matters of power in this world. (p.404)
Joshua Jipp made a convincing case that Christ is a messianic title, central to the Christology of the New Testament.
He’s not the only one saying this, but he is a clarion voice making a cogent case that the good news of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is the same good news of Jesus’ kingship that we proclaim.
Others proclaiming this good news include:
- Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Zondervan 2011)
- T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (HarperCollins, 2016)
- Matthew Bates, Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ (Baker, 2019)
- Nijay K. Gupta, Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now (Wipf and Stock, 2021)
The hope of the world is the restoration of the regal authority of God’s anointed leader. At the core of the gospel is the God-appointed leader (the Christ) to whom we owe our loyalty (our faith in his leadership). He is the Saviour, releasing us from the kingdom of darkness to be the kingdom of God.