Table of contents
The Doctrine of Jesus Christ
by Fr. Thomas Hopko
"…and In One Lord Jesus Christ…"
The fundamental confession of Christians about their Master is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. It begins in the gospel when Jesus himself asks his disciples who they think that He is:
"But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16).
Jesus is the Christ. This is the first act of faith which men must make about Him. At His birth, the child of Mary is given the name Jesus, which means literally Saviour (in Hebrew Joshua, the name also of Moses’ successor who crossed the Jordan River and led the chosen people into the promised land). “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31). It is this Jesus who is the Christ, which means the Anointed, the Messiah of Israel. Jesus is the Messiah, the one promised to the world through Abraham and his children.
But who is the Messiah? This is the second question, one also asked by Christ in the gospels-this time not to his disciples, but to those who were taunting him and trying to catch him in his words. “Who is the Messiah?” he asked them, not because they could answer or really wished to know, but in order to silence them and to begin the inauguration of “the hour” for which he had come: the hour of the world’s salvation.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question saying, “What do you think of the Christ (i.e., the Messiah)?
Whose Son is he? They said to him, “The Son of David.”
He said to them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I put thy enemies under thy feet” (Ps 110). If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?”And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Matt 22:41-46).
After Jesus’ resurrection, inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired David, the apostles and all members of the Church understood the meaning of his words. Jesus is the Christ. And the Christ is the Lord. This is the mystery of Jesus Christ the Messiah, namely that He is the One and Only Lord, identified with the God Yahweh of the Old Testament.
We saw already how Yahweh was always called Adonai, the Lord, by the people of Israel. In the Greek Bible the very word Yahweh was not even written. Instead, where the word Yahweh was written in Hebrew, and where the Jews said Adonai, the Lord, the Greek Bible simply wrote Kyrios—the Lord. Thus, the Son of David, which was another way of saying the Messiah, is called Kyrios, the Lord.
For the Jews, and indeed for the first Christians, the term Lord was proper to God alone: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us” (Ps 11:8). This Lord and God is Yahweh; and it is Jesus the Messiah as well. For although Jesus claims that “the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28), he claims as well: “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
Believing in “One Lord Jesus Christ” is the prime confession of faith for which the first Christians were willing to die. For it is the confession which claims the identity of Jesus with the Most High God.
Son of God
... the only-begotten Son of God…
Jesus is one with God as His only-begotten Son. This is the gospel proclamation formulated by the holy fathers of the Nicene Council in the following way:
... and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages: Light of Light. True God of True God. Begotten not made. Of one essence with the Father. Through whom all things were made…
These lines speak about the Son of God, also called the Word or Logos of God, before his birth in human flesh from the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
There is but one eternal Son of God. He is called the Only-begotten, which means the only one born of God the Father. Begotten as a word simply means born or generated.
The Son of God is born from the Father “before all ages”; that is, before creation, before the commencement of time. Time has its beginning in creation. God exists before time, in an eternally timeless existence without beginning or end.
Eternity as a word does not mean endless time. It means the condition of no time at all—no past or future, just a constant present. For God there is no past or future. For God, all is now.
In the eternal “now” of God, before the creation of the world, God the Father gave birth to his only-begotten Son in what can only be termed an eternal, timeless, always presently-existing generation. This means that although the Son is “begotten of the Father” and comes forth from the Father, his coming forth is eternal. Thus, there never was a “time” when there was no Son of God. This is specifically what the heretic Arius taught. It is the doctrine formally condemned by the first ecumenical council.
Although born of the Father and having his origin in Him, the only-begotten Son always existed, or rather more accurately always “exists” as uncreated, eternal and divine. Thus, the Gospel of St. John says:
In the beginning was the Word [the Logos-Son], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1)
As the eternally-born of God and always existing with the Father in the “timeless generation,” the Son is truly “Light of Light, True God of True God.” For God is Light and what is born of Him must be Light. And God is True God, and what is born of Him must be True God.
We know from the created order of things that what is born must be essentially the same as what gives birth. If one comes from the very being of another, one must be the very same thing. He cannot be essentially different. Thus, men give birth to men, and birds to birds, fish to fish, flowers to flowers.
If God, then, in the super-abundant fullness and perfection of His divine being gives birth to a Son, the Son must be the same as the Father in all things—except, of course, in the fact of his being the Son.
Thus, if the Father is divinely and eternally perfect, true, wise, good, loving, and all of the things that we know God is: “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, ever-existing and eternally the same” (to quote this text of the Liturgy once more), then the Son must be all of these things as well. To think that what is born of God must be less than God, says one saint of the Church, is to dishonor to God.
The Son is “begotten not made, of one essence with the Father.” “Begotten not made” may also be put “born and not created.” Everything which exists besides God is created by Him: all things visible and invisible. But the Son of God is not a creature. He was not created by God or made by Him. He was born, begotten, generated from the very being and nature of the Father. It belongs to the very nature of God-to God as God—according to divine revelation as understood by the Orthodox, that God is an eternal Father by nature, and that He should always have with Him his eternal, uncreated Son.
It belongs to the very nature of God that He should be such a being if He is truly and perfectly divine. It belongs to God’s very divine nature that He should not be eternally alone in his divinity, but that His very being as Love and Goodness should naturally “overflow itself” and “reproduce itself” in the generation of a divine Son: the “Son of His Love” as the Apostle Paul has called him (Col 1:13, inaccurately translated in English).
Thus, there is an abyss drawn between the created and the uncreated, between God and everything else which God has made out of nothing. The Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, is not created. He was not made out of nothing. He was eternally begotten from the divine being of the Father. He belongs “on the side of God.”
Having been born and not made, the Son of God is what God is. The expression of one essence simply means this: what God the Father is, so also—is the Son of God. Essence is from the Latin word esse which means to be. The essence of a thing answers the question What is it? What the Father is, the Son is. The Father is divine, the Son is divine. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated. The Father is God and the Son is God. This is what men confess when they say “the only-begotten Son of God… of one essence with the Father.”
Being always with the Father, the Son is also one life, one will, one power and one action with Him. Whatever the Father is, the Son is; and so whatever the Father does, the Son does as well. The original act of God outside of His divine existence is the act of creation. The Father is creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. And in the act of creation, as—we confess in the Symbol of Faith, the Son is the one by whom all things were made.
The Son acts in creation as the one who accomplishes the Father’s will. The divine act of creation-and, indeed, every action toward the world in revelation, salvation, and glorification—is willed by the Father and accomplished by the Son (we will speak of the Holy Spirit below) in one identical divine action. Thus, we have the Genesis account of God creating through His divine word (“God said…”), and in the Gospel of St. John the following specific revelation:
He [the Word-Son] was in the beginning with God [the Father]; all things were made through [or by] him and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:2-3).
This is the exact doctrine of the Apostle Paul as well:
... in him [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers-all things were created through him and for him. He is before an things and in him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).
Thus, the eternal Son of God is confessed as the one “by whom all things were made.” (Heb 1: 2; 2:10; Rom I 1 : 36 )
The Symbol of Faith continues:... Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man…
The divine Son of God was born in human flesh for the salvation of the world. This is the central doctrine of the Orthodox Christian Faith; the entire life of Christians is built upon this fact.
The Symbol of Faith stresses that it is “for us men and for our salvation” that the Son of God has come. This is the most critical biblical doctrine, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16, quoted at each Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at the center of the eucharistic prayer).
Because of his perfect love, God sent forth his Son into the world. God knew in the very act of creation that to have a world at all would require the incarnation of his Son in human flesh. Incarnation as a word means “enfleshment” in the sense of taking on the wholeness of human nature, body and soul.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only-begotten Son of the Father. And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace” (Jn 1:14-16).
... came down from heaven…
The affirmation that the Son has “come down from heaven and was incarnate” does not mean that the Son is located somewhere “up there” in the universe and then descended onto the planet earth. That He came “down from heaven” is the Biblical way of saying that the Son of God came from the totally “other” divine existence of God, outside the bounds and limits of all space and time located within the created, physical universe. In general we must remember again the symbolical character of all of our words and affirmations about God.
The affirmation that the Son came “down from heaven” also should not be interpreted in the sense that before the incarnation the Son of God was totally absent from the world. The Son was always “in the world” for the “world was made through Him” (Jn 1:10). He was always present in the world for He is personally the life and the light of man (1 Jn 4).
As “created in the image and likeness of God,” every man—just by being a man—is already a reflection of the divine Son, who is Himself the uncreated image of God (Col 1:15 ; Heb 1:3). Thus, the Son, or Word, or Image, or Radiance of God, as He is called in Scriptures, was always “in the world” by being always present in every of his “created images,” not only as their creator, but also as the one whose very being all creatures are made to share and to reflect. Thus, in his incarnation, the Son comes personally to the world and becomes Himself a man. But even before the incarnation He was always in the world by the presence and power of his creative actions in his creatures, particularly in man.
In addition to this, it is also Orthodox doctrine that the manifestation of God to the saints of the Old Testament, the so-called theophanies (which means divine manifestations), were manifestations of the Father, by, through and in his Son or Logos. Thus, for example, the manifestations to Moses, Elias or Isaiah are mediated by God’s divine and uncreated Son.
It is the Orthodox teaching as well that the Word of God which came to the Old Testament prophets and saints, and the very words of the Old Testament Law of Moses, which are called in Hebrew the “words” and not as we say in English, the “commandments”, are also revelations of God by his Son, the Divine Word. Thus, for example, we have Old Testamental witness to the revelation of God’s Word, such as that of the Prophet Isaiah, in almost the same personalistic form as is found in the Christian gospel:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I propose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isa 55:10-11).
Thus, before His personal birth of the Virgin Mary as the man Jesus, the divine Son and Word of God was in the world by His presence and action in creation, particularly in man. He was present and active; also in the theophanies to the Old Testament saints; and in the words of the law and the prophets, both oral and scriptural.
... and He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.
The divine Son of God was born as a man from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 1; Lk 1). The Church teaches that the virgin birth is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isa 7:14), and that it is as well the fulfillment of the longings of all men for salvation which are found in all religions and philosophies in human history. Only God can save the world. Man alone cannot do it because it is man himself who must be saved. Therefore, according to Orthodox doctrine, the virgin birth is necessary not at all because of a false idolization of virginity as such or because of a sinful repulsion to normal human sexuality. Nor is it necessary as some would contend to give “added weight” to the moral teachings of Jesus. The virgin birth is understood as a necessity because the one who is born must not be merely a man like all others needing salvation. The Saviour of the world cannot merely be one of the race of Adam born of the flesh like all of the others. He must be “not of this world” in order to save the world.
Jesus is born from the Virgin Mary because he is the divine Son of God, the Saviour of the world. It is the formal teaching of the Orthodox Church that Jesus is not a “mere man” like all other men. He is indeed a real man, a whole and perfectly complete man with a human mind, soul and body. But he is the man which the Son and Word of God has become. Thus, the Church formally confesses that Mary should properly be called Theotokos, which means literally “the one who gives birth to God.” For the one born of Mary is, as the Orthodox Church sings at Christmas: “... he who from all eternity is God.”
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The wise men journey with the star! Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child! (Kontakion of the Nativity)
Jesus of Nazareth is God, or, more accurately, the divine Son of God in human flesh. He is a true man in every way. He was born. He grew up in obedience to his parents. He increased in wisdom and stature (Lk 2:51-52). He had a family life with “brethren” (Mk 2:31-34), who according to Orthodox doctrine were not children born of Marry who is confessed as “ever-virgin”, but were either cousins or children of Joseph.
As a man Jesus experienced all normal and natural human experiences such as growth and development, ignorance and learning, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sorrow, pain, and disappointment. He also knew human temptation, suffering, and death. He took these things upon himself “for us men and for our salvation.”
Since, therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it was not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect… to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Heb 2:9-18).
Christ has entered the world becoming like all men in all things except sin.
He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him [God the Father] who judges justly (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15).
Jesus was tempted, but he did not sin. He was perfect in every way, absolutely obedient to God the Father; speaking His words, doing His works, and accomplishing His will. As a man, Jesus fulfilled his role perfectly as the Perfect Man, the new and final Adam. He did all things that man fails to do, being in everything the most perfect human response to the divine initiative of God toward creation. In this sense, the Son of God as man “recapitulated” the life of Adam, i.e., the entire human race, bringing man and his world back to God the Father and allowing for a new beginning of life free from the power of sin, the devil, and death.
As the Saviour-Messiah, Christ fulfilled as well all of the prophecies and expectations of the Old Testament, fulfilling and crowning in final and absolute perfection all that was begun in Israel for human and cosmic salvation. Thus, Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the completion of the Law of Moses, the fulfillment of the prophets and Himself the Final Prophet, the King and the Teacher, the one Great High Priest of Salvation and the Perfect Sacrificial Victim, the New Passover and the Bestower of the Holy Spirit upon all creation.
It is in this role as Messiah-King of Israel and Saviour of the world that Christ insisted upon His identity with God the Father and called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the Resurrection and the Life, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Door to the Sheepfold, the Good Shepherd, the Heavenly Son of Man, the Son of God, and God Himself, the I AM (Gospel of St. John).
Defense of the Doctrine of Incarnation
In the Orthodox Church the central fact of the Christian faith, that the Son of God has appeared on earth as a real man, born of the Virgin Mary in order to die and rise again to give life to the world, has been expressed and defended in many different ways. The first preaching and the first defense of the faith consisted in maintaining that Jesus of Nazareth is in truth the Messiah of Israel, and that the Messiah Himself—the Christ—is indeed truly Lord and God in human form. The first Christians, beginning with the apostles, had to insist on the fact that not only is Jesus truly the Christ and the Son of God, but that He has truly lived and died and risen from the dead in the flesh, as a true human being.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God (1 Jn 4:2).
For many deceivers have gone into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh… (2 Jn 7).
In the early years of the Christian faith, the defenders of the faith—the apologists and martyrs—had as their central witness and task the defense of the doctrine that Jesus, being the Son of God in human flesh, has lived on earth, has died, has been raised by the Father, and has been glorified as the only King and Lord and God of the world.
The Ecumenical Councils
In the third and fourth centuries attempts were made to teach that although Jesus is truly the incarnate Son and Word of God, that the Son and Word Himself is not fully and totally divine, but a creature—even the most exalted creature—but a creature made by God like everything else that was made. This was the teaching of the Arians. Against this teaching, the fathers, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus defended the definition of faith of the first and second ecumenical councils which held that the Son and Word of God—incarnate in human form as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah—Christ of Israel—is not a creature, but is truly divine with the same divinity as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This was the defense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which preserved for the Church of all ages the faith that Jesus is indeed the divine Son of God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one of the Holy Trinity.
At the same time, in the fourth century, it was also necessary for the Church to reject the teaching of a certain Appolinarius, who claimed that although Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son and Word of God, the incarnation consisted in the Word merely taking a human body and not the fullness of human nature. This was the doctrine that Jesus had no real human soul, no human mind, no human spirit, but that the divine Son of God, who exists eternally with the Father and the Spirit, merely dwelt in a human body, in human flesh, as in a temple. It is for this reason that every official doctrinal statement in the Orthodox Church, including all of the statements of the ecumenical councils, always insists that the Son of God became man of the Virgin Mary with a rational soul and body; in other words, that the Son of God really became human in the full meaning of the word and that Jesus Christ was and is a real human being, having and being everything that every human being has and is. This is nothing other than the teaching of the Gospels and the New Testament scriptures generally.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature… (being) made like His brethren in every respect… (Heb 2:14-17)
The Nestorian Controversy
In the fifth century a long and difficult controversy developed over the true understanding of the person and nature of Jesus Christ. The third ecumenical council in Ephesus in 431, following the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria, was most concerned to defend the fact that the One who was born of the Virgin Mary was no one other than the divine Son of God in human flesh. It was necessary to defend this fact most explicitly because some in the Church, following Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, were teaching that the Virgin Mary should not be called Theotokos—a term already used in the Church’s theology—because it was claimed that the Virgin gave birth to the man Jesus whom the Son of God had become in the incarnation, and not to the Son Himself. In this view it was held that there is a division between the Son of God born in eternity from God the Father and the Son of Man born from the Virgin in Bethlehem; and that although there is certainly a real “connection” between them, Mary merely gave birth to the man. As such, it was held, Mary could be called Theotokos only by some sort of symbolic and overly-pious stretching of the word, but that it is rather dogmatically accurate to call her Christotokos (the one who gave birth to the Messiah) or Anthropotokos (the one who gave birth to the Man that the Son of God has become in the incarnation).
St. Cyril of Alexandria and the fathers of the council in Ephesus rejected the Nestorian doctrine and claimed that the term Theotokos for the Virgin Mary is completely and totally accurate and must be retained if the Christian faith is to be properly confessed and the Christian life properly lived. The term must be defended because there can be no division of any sort between the eternal Son and Word of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, and Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary. Mary’s child is the eternal and divine Son of God. He—and no one else—was born of her as a child. He—and no one else—was incarnate in human flesh from her. He—and no one else—became man in the manger in Bethlehem. There can be no “connection” or “conjunction” between God’s Son and Mary’s Son because they are in fact one and the same person. God’s Son was born of Mary. God’s Son is divine; He is God. Therefore, Mary gave birth to God in the flesh, to God as a man. Therefore, Mary is truly Theotokos. The battle cry of St. Cyril and the Council in Ephesus was just this: The Son of God and the Son of Man—one Son!
The Council of Chalcedon
This teaching about Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was further elaborated and explained by the definition of the fourth ecumenical council in Chalcedon in 451. This was necessary because there was a tendency to stress the divine nature of Christ to such an extent that His true human nature was underplayed to the point almost of being rejected. At the fourth council the well-known formulation was made which says that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son and Word of God is one person (or hypostasis) having two full and complete natures: human and divine. Inspired particularly by the letter of Saint Leo, the Pope of Rome, the fourth council insisted that Jesus is exactly what God the Father is in relation to His divinity. This was a direct reference to the Nicene Creed which claims that the Son of God is “of one essence with the Father,” which simply means that what God the Father is, the Son is also: Light from Light, True God from True God. And the council insisted as well that in the incarnation the Son of God became exactly what all human beings are, confessing that Jesus Christ is also “of one essence” with all human beings in respect to His humanity. This doctrine was and is defended as teaching nothing other than the apostolic faith as recorded in the Gospels and the New Testament writings, for example, those of the Apostle Paul:
... though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8; See also Heb 1-2, Jn 1).
The critical words in the definition of faith of the Council of Chalcedon are the following:
“Following the holy fathers we teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], and He is perfect in Divinity and perfect in Humanity, true God and true Man, of a rational soul and [human] body consisting, of one essence with the Father as touching His Divinity and of one essence with us as touching His Humanity; made in all things like unto us, with the exception of sin only; begotten of His Father before all ages according to His Divinity: but in these last days, for us men and for our salvation, born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos, according to His Humanity. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, without mixture and without change, without separation and without division [i.e., without fusing together Divinity and Humanity so that the proper characteristics of each are changed or lost; and also without separating them in such a way that there might be considered to be two Sons and not One Son only] and that without the distinction of natures being removed by such union, but rather that the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and Hypostasis, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old have spoken concerning Him [e.g., the Immanuel of Isa 7:14], and as Jesus Christ has taught us, and as the Creed of the fathers has delivered to us.
A number of Christians did not accept the Council of Chalcedon and broke communion with those who did accept it. They did so because they thought that the council had in fact resurrected the wrong doctrine of Nestorius by insisting on the “two natures” after the incarnation, however strongly and firmly the “union” of the
And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried.
Although Jesus did not sin and did not have to suffer and die, he voluntarily took upon himself the sins of the world and voluntarily gave himself up to suffering and death for the sake of salvation. This was his task as the Messiah-Saviour:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good tidings to the afflicted… to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… to comfort all who mourn… to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isa 61:1-3).
And at the same time, Jesus had to do this as the suffering servant of Yahweh-God.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised. and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by his stripes [i.e., wounds] we are healed.
we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away… And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord (Yahweh) to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many [or the multitude] and made intercession for the transgressors (Isa 53).
These words of the prophet Isaiah written centuries before the birth of Jesus tell the story of his Messianic mission. It began officially before the eyes of all in his baptism by John in the Jordan. By allowing himself to be baptized with the sinners though he had no sin, Jesus shows that he accepts his calling to be identified with the sinners: “the Beloved” of the Father and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29; Mt 3:17).
Jesus begins to teach, and on the very day and at that very moment when his disciples first confess him to be the Messiah, “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus tells immediately of his mission to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:16-23; Mk 8:29-33). The apostles are greatly upset by this. Jesus then immediately shows them his divinity by being transfigured before them in divine glory on the mountain in the presence of Moses and Elijah. He then tells them once more: “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt 17:1-23; Mk 9:1-9).
The powers of evil multiplied against Christ at the end: “The kings of the earth counsel together against the Lord and His Christ” (Ps 2:2). They were looking for causes to kill him. The formal reason was blasphemy, “because you, being a man, make yourself God” (Jn 10:31-38). Yet the deep reasons were more personal: Jesus told men the truth and revealed their stubbornness, foolishness, hypocrisy, and sin. For this reason every sinner, hardened in his sins and refusing to repent, wishes and causes the crucifixion of Christ.
The death of Jesus came at the hands of the religious and political leaders of his time, with the approval of the masses: when Caiaphas was high priest, “under Pontius Pilate.” He was “crucified for us… and suffered and was buried” in order to be with us in our sufferings and death which we brought upon ourselves because of our sins: “for the wages of sin are death” (Rom 6:23). In this sense the Apostle Paul writes of Jesus that “having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13), “for our sake he (God the Father) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
The sufferings and death of Christ in obedience to the Father reveals the super-abundant divine love of God for his creation. For when all was sinful, cursed, and dead, Christ became sin, a curse, and dead for us—though he himself never ceased to be the righteousness and blessedness and life of God Himself. It is to this depth, of which lower and more base cannot be discovered or imagined, that Christ has humiliated himself “for us men and for our salvation.” For being God, he became man; and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. This is the pivotal doctrine of the Orthodox Christian faith, expressed over and again in many ways throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. It is the doctrine of the atonement—for we are made to be “at one” with God. It is the doctrine of redemption—for we are redeemed, i.e., “bought with a price,” the great price of the blood of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 6:20).
Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant [slave], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).
In contemplating the saving and redeeming action of Christ, it has become traditional to emphasize three aspects which in reality are not divided, and cannot be; but which in theory (i.e., in the vision of Christ’s being.and activity as the Saviour of the world) may be distinguished. The first of these three aspects of the redeeming work of Christ is the fact that Jesus saves mankind by providing the perfect image and example of human life as filled with the grace and power of God.
Jesus, the Perfect Image of Human Life
Christ is the incarnate Word of God. He is the Teacher and Master sent by God to the world. He is the embodiment of God Himself in human form. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In Him “the fullness of divinity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). The person who sees Jesus sees God the Father (Jn 14:9). He is the “reflection of the glory of God and the express image of His person” (Heb 1:3). He is the “light of the world” who “enlightens every man…coming into the world” (Jn 8:12, 1:9). To be saved by Jesus Christ is first of all to be enlightened by Him; to see Him as the Light, and to see all things in the light of Him. It is to know Him as “the Truth” (Jn 14:6); and to know the truth in Him.
And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (Jn 8:31).
When one is saved by God in Christ one comes to the knowledge of the truth, fulfilling God’s desire for His creatures, for “God our Saviour… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). In saving God’s world, Jesus Christ enlightens God’s creatures by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world through Christ.
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you (Jn 14:15-17).
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you… (Jn 15:26).
When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth… (Jn 16:13).
The first aspect of salvation in Christ, therefore, is to be enlightened by Him and to know the truth about God and man by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which God gives through Him to those who believe. This is witnessed to in the apostolic writings of Saints John and Paul:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [...] For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:13-16).
For [God] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. [...] To me… this grace was given… to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God… that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known… (Eph 1:8-10; 3:9).
For I want… that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery in Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:1-3).
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you know all things I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth. [...] but the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in Him. [...] And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given to us (1 Jn 2:20-27; 3:24).
The first aspect of man’s salvation by God in Christ is, therefore, the ability and power to see, to know, to believe and to love the truth of God in Christ, who is the Truth, by the Spirit of Truth. It is the gift of knowledge and wisdom, of illumination and enlightenment, it is the condition of being “taught by God” as foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by Christ (Isa 54:13; Jer 31:33-34; Jn 6:45). Thus, in the Orthodox Church, the entrance into the saving life of the Church through baptism and chrismation is called “holy illumination.”
For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6).
Jesus, the Reconciler of Man with God
The second aspect of Christ’s one, indivisible act of salvation of man and his world is the accomplishment of man’s reconciliation with God the Father through the forgiveness of sins. This is the redemption and atonement strictly speaking, the release from sins, and the punishment due to sins; the being made “at one” with God.
While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since therefore we are now made righteous by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11).
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-19).
The forgiveness of sins is one of the signs of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, as foretold in the Old Testament:
... they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34).
Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that is slain that through Him all sins might be forgiven. He is also the great high priest, who offers the perfect sacrifice by which man is purged from his sins and cleansed from his iniquities. Jesus offers, as high priest, the perfect sacrifice of His own very life, His own body, as the Lamb of God, upon the tree of the cross.
For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Pastor and Bishop of your souls (1 Pet 2:22-25).
The high-priestly offering and sacrifice of the Son of God to His eternal Father is described in great detail in the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament scriptures.
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated a high priest by God, according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:7-10).
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come… He entered once for all into the Holy Place [not made by hands, i.e., the Presence of God] taking… His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with th
And He rose again from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
Christ is risen from the dead! This is the main proclamation of the Christian faith. It forms the heart of the Church’s preaching, worship and spiritual life. “... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).
In the first sermon ever preached in the history of the Christian Church, the Apostle Peter began his proclamation:
Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man attended to you by God with mighty works and signs and wonders which God did to him in your midst, as you yourself know—this Jesus delivered up according to a definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:22-24).
Jesus had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this charge I have received from my father (Jn 10:17-18).
According to Orthodox doctrine there is no competition of “lives” between God and Jesus, and no competition of “powers.” The power of God and the power of Jesus, the life of God and the life of Jesus, are one and the same power and life. To say that God has raised Christ, and that Christ has been raised by his own power is to say essentially the same thing. “For as the Father has life in himself,” says Christ, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).
The Scriptural stress that God has raised up Jesus only emphasizes once more that Christ has given his life, that he has laid it down fully, that he has offered it whole and without reservation to God—who then gave it back in his resurrection from the dead.
The Orthodox Church believes in Christ’s real death and his actual resurrection. Resurrection, however, does not simply mean bodily resuscitation. Neither the Gospel nor the Church teaches that Jesus was lying dead and then was biologically revived and walked around in the same way that he did before he was killed. In a word, the Gospel does not say that the angel moved the stone from the tomb in order to let Jesus out. The angel moved the stone to reveal that Jesus was not there (Mk 16; Mt 28).
In his resurrection Jesus is in a new and glorious form. He appears in different places immediately. He is difficult to recognize (Lk 24:16; Jn 20:14). He eats and drinks to show that he is not a ghost (Lk 24:30, 39). He allows himself to be touched (Jn 20: 27, 21:9). And yet he appears in the midst of disciples, “the doors being shut” (Jn 20:19, 26). And he “vanishes out of their sight” (Lk 24:31). Christ indeed is risen, but his resurrected humanity is full of life and divinity. It is humanity in the new form of the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead: What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raked in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
Thus, it is written, the first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam [i.e. Christ] became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man from heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have home the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor 15:42-50).
The resurrection of Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection of all humanity. It is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, “according to the Scriptures” where it is written, “For Thou doest not give me up unto Sheol [that is, the realm of death], or let Thy Godly one see corruption” (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:25-36). In Christ all expectations and hopes are filled: O Death, where is your sting? O Sheol, where is your victory? (Hos 13:34).
He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces… It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isa 25:8-9).
Come, let us return to the Lord: For He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him (Hos 6:1-2).
Thus says the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people… And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live… (Ez 37:12-14).
|On Death and Resurrection in Christ Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him. Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us… ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper. Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom. He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us. We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him. A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation! St. Gregory the Theologian, Easter Orations|
... and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father
After his resurrection from the dead Jesus appeared to men for a period of forty days after which he “was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19; see also Lk 24:50 and Acts 1:9-11).
The ascension of Jesus Christ is the final act of his earthly mission of salvation. The Son of God comes “down from heaven” to do the work which the Father gives him to do; and having accomplished all things, he returns to the Father bearing for all eternity the wounded and glorified humanity which he has assumed (see e.g. Jn 17).
The doctrinal meaning of the ascension is the glorification of human nature, the reunion of man with God. It is indeed, the very penetration of man into the inexhaustible depths of divinity.
We have seen already that “the heavens” is the symbolical expression in the Bible for the uncreated, immaterial, divine “realm of God” as one saint of the Church has called it. To say that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God” as St. Peter preached in the first Christian sermon (Acts 2:33) means exactly this: that man has been restored to communion with God, to a union which is, according to Orthodox doctrine, far greater and more perfect than that given to man in his original creation (see Eph 1-2).
Man was created with the potential to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” to refer to the Apostle Peter once more (2 Pet 1:4). It is this participation in divinity, called theosis (which literally means deification or divinization) in Orthodox theology, that the ascension of Christ has fulfilled for humanity. The symbolical expression of the “sitting at the right hand” of God means nothing other than this. It does not mean that somewhere in the created universe the physical Jesus is sitting in a material throne.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ’s ascension in terms of the Jerusalem Temple. Just as the high priests of Israel entered the “holy of holies” to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of themselves and the people, so Christ the one, eternal and perfect High Priest offers himself on the cross to God as the one eternal, and perfect, Sacrifice, not for himself but for all sinful men. As a man, Christ enters (once and for all) into the one eternal and perfect Holy of Holies: the very “Presence of God in the heavens.”
...we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. ...(Heb 4:14)
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. ...He has no need like those high priests to offer sacrifice daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once and for all when he offered up himself.
Now, the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle which is set up not by man but by the Lord (Heb 7:26; 8:2).
For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:24).
... when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet (Heb 10:12-13; Ps 110:1).
Thus, the ascension of Christ is seen as man’s first entry into that divine glorification for which he was originally created. The entry is made possible by the exaltation of the divine Son who emptied himself in human flesh in perfect self-offering to God.
... and He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead…
This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come the same way as you saw him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).
These words of the angels are addressed to the apostles at the ascension of the Lord. Christ will come again in glory, “not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28).
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels’ call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16-17, the Epistle reading of the Orthodox funeral service).
The coming of the Lord at the end of the ages will be the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord foretold in the Old Testament and predicted by Jesus himself (e.g. Dan 7; Mt 24). The exact time of the end is not foretold, not even by Jesus, so that men would always be prepared by constant vigil and good works.
The very presence of Christ as the Truth and the Light is itself the judgment of the world. In this sense all men and the whole world are already judged or, more accurately, already live in the full presence of that reality—Christ and his works—by which they will be ultimately judged. With Christ now revealed, there is no longer any excuse for ignorance and sin (Jn 9:39).
At this point it is necessary to note that at the final judgment there will be those “on the left hand” who will go into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41; Rev 20). That this is the case is no fault of God’s. It is the fault only of men, for “as I hear, I judge and my judgment is just,” says the Lord (Jn 5:30).
God takes no “pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ez 18:22). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Tim 2:4). He does everything in His power so that salvation and eternal life would be available and possible for all. There is nothing more that God can do. Everything now depends on man. If some men refuse the gift of life in communion with God, the Lord can only honor this refusal and respect the freedom of His creatures which He Himself has given and will not take back. God allows men to live “with the devil and his angels” if they so desire. Even in this He is loving and just. For if God’s presence as the “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) and the “unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16) which delights those who love Him only produces hatred and anguish in those who do not “love His appearing” (2 Tim 4:8), there is nothing that God can do except either to destroy His sinful creatures completely, or to destroy Himself. But God will exist and will allow His creatures to exist. He also will not hide His Face forever.
The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that God takes delight in the punishment and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God “separates Himself” from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation (for indeed if people hate God, separation would be welcome, and not abhorred!). It means rather that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. All are raised from the dead into everlasting life: “those who have done good, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). In the end, God will be “all and in all” (1 Cor 15:28). For those who love God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell. This is the teaching of the fathers of the Church.
There is sprung up a light for the righteous, and its partner is joyful gladness. And the light of the righteous is everlasting…
One light alone let us shun—that which is the offspring of the sorrowful fire…
For I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, and He Himself is called a Fire. This Fire takes away whatsoever is material and of evil quality; and this He desires to kindle with all speed…
I know also a fire which is not cleansing, but avenging… which He pours down on all sinners… that which is prepared for the devil and his angels… that which proceeds from the Face of the Lord and shall burn up His enemies round about… the unquenchable fire which… is eternal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroying power, though some may prefer even in this place to take a more merciful view of this fire, worthily of Him who chastises (St. Gregory the Theologian).
... those who find themselves in Gehenna will be chastised with the scourge of love. How cruel and bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings than those produced of the most fearful tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God. ...But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed (St. Isaac of Syria).
Thus, man’s final judgment and eternal destiny depends solely on whether or not man loves God and his brethren. It depends on whether or not man loves the light more than the darkness—or the darkness more than the light. It depends, we might say, on whether or not man loves Love and Light Itself; whether or not man loves Life—which is God Himself; the God revealed in creation, in all things, in the “least of the brethren.”
The conditions of the final judgment are already known. Christ has given them Himself with absolute clarity.
When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Then He will say to those at His left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?”
Then He will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Mt 25:31-46, Gospel reading for Meatfare Sunday).
It is Christ who will judge, not God the Father. Christ has received the power of judgment “because He is the Son of Man” (Jn 5:27). Thus, man and the world are not judged by God “sitting on a cloud,” as it were, but by One who is truly a man, the One who has suffered every temptation of this world and has emerged victorious. The world is judged by Him who was Himself hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison, wounded, and yet the salvation of all. As the Crucified One, Christ has justly achieved the authority to make judgment for He alone has been the perfectly obedient servant of the Father who knows the depths of human tragedy by His own experience.
For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil… but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good… for God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Rom 2:6ff).
Kingdom of God
... And of his kingdom there will be no end…
Jesus is the royal Son of David, of whom it was prophesied by the angel at his birth:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end (Lk 1:32-33).
Through his sufferings as the Christ, Jesus achieved everlasting kingship and lordship over all creation. He has become “King of kings and Lord of lords,” sharing this title with God the Father Himself (Deut 10:17; Dan 2:47; Rev 19:16). As a man, Jesus Christ is King of the Kingdom of God.
Christ came for no other reason than to bring God’s kingdom to men. His very first public words are exactly those of his forerunner, John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2, 4:17).
All through his life Jesus spoke of the kingdom. In the sermons such as the Sermon on the Mount and the many parables, he told of the everlasting kingdom.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
He who does these commandments and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
But seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all things will be yours as well.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mt 5-7).
The mustard seed, the leaven, the pearl of great price, the lost coin, the treasure in the field, the fishing net, the wedding feast, the banquet, the house of the Father, the vineyard… all are signs of the kingdom which Jesus has come to bring. And on the night of His last supper with the disciples He tells the apostles openly:
You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Lk 22: 28-30; Reading of the Vigil of Holy Thursday).
Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (Jn 18:31). He says this to Pontius Pilate when being mocked as king, revealing in this humiliation His genuine divine kingship. The Kingdom of God, which Christ will rule, will come with power at the end of time when the Lord will fill all creation and will be truly “all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The Church, which in popular Orthodox doctrine is called the Kingdom of God on earth, has already mysteriously been given this experience. In the Church, Christ is already acknowledged, glorified, and served, as the only king and lord; and His Holy Spirit, whom the saints of the Church have identified with the Kingdom of God, is already given to the world in the Church with full graciousness and power.
The Kingdom of God, therefore, is a Divine Reality. It is the reality of God’s presence among men through Christ and the Holy Spirit. “For the Kingdom of God… means… peace and joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). The Kingdom of God as a spiritual, divine reality is given to men by Christ in the Church. It is celebrated and participated in the sacramental mysteries of the faith. It is witnessed to in the scriptures, the councils, the canons, and the saints. It will become the universal, final cosmic reality for the whole of creation at the end of the ages when Christ comes in glory to fill all things with Himself by the Holy Spirit, that God might be “all and in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
From:The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko