The Nativity and the Return

Thoughts for the Season

Leading Christian theologians have always been aware that Jesus of Nazareth's date of birth cannot exactly be identified, since neither the Gospels nor the written and oral traditions of the early Jewish-Christian church contain the day, month and year of his birth. The most important objective of evangelists has been to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God, of whom the prophets foretold would be the Messiah; whose birth, life on earth, along with his atoning and substitutive death on the cross, and his resurrection accurately fulfilled all the divine requirements revealed in earlier eras of covenants about the first coming and ministry of the Messiah.  

In their epistles the apostles did not identify Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) based on historical recollections, but on their experience which left them no room for doubt; that after his real death Jesus of Nazareth returned to them in a real, human, old but still new body, and in body he was taken up to heaven (the upper-most sphere) in order to appear before the Father with his atoning blood and start his high-priestly ministry of intercession for people, taking on his role as mediator between God and man.

The historical credibility of the person of Jesus of Nazareth was not questionable for either the Jews of Judea and the diaspora, or the Roman authorities. It was only problematic for certain representatives of Marxism - among others. Jesus is considered one of the most influential historic figures of world history by Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims as well. At the centre of debates concerning him stand the statements of the New Testament about him. Judaism denies that he is the Son of God. It denies his resurrection and his being the Messiah. The Muslim world also denies Jesus' divine descent and his atoning sacrifice, but they respect him as Messiah. The picture they have created of Jesus does not only have a theological, but also a relevant political and anti-Zionist content as well, since setting the Jews against Jesus the Messiah carries a significant prospect for propaganda against modern Israel; it is embraced especially by the traditional Christian circles still holding on to the charges of Messiah-murder and anti-Christianity against the Jews. Due to the peculiarities of the Hindu world view it is not a problematic issue for them to accept Jesus as the Son of God, and based on their ideology, Jesus' suffering can be interpreted as a holy attitude of a superior kind, however, his atoning sacrifice and his resurrection in physical body – which are the alpha and omega of biblical requirements concerning the Messiah – are outside the frames of the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of the world and as such, being alien to their system, are impossible to interpret. The civilised, agnostic world respects Jesus as founder of a religion, but does not consider the supernatural events connected to his birth and the achievements at the end of his life historic facts, but part of a religious world view, those not having a valid, universal relevance and consequence for everything and everyone but only influencing the consciousness and psychological state of the members of given denominations and their understanding of the world, the other world, and their lifestyle.  

The secular Jesus-concept is mainly based on the theory that in reality nothing exists besides the material, and everything that exists is a result of the changing of the material and its several millions of years of evolution – despite the fact that in both the universe and our human world there are phenomena, which cannot be traced back to material origins and cannot be interpreted on the bases of materialism at the present level of advance in science. However, modern materialism is incomparably more tolerant and understanding towards the statements of the Bible, than dogmatic, traditional materialism, which forced the concepts of reality and statements of the religious world view into the category of superstition and ideology, defining their effects on people as destructive, which form a hindrance in the advancement of society, in the correct perception and modernization of the world. In effect, materialism today still holds it views regarding the biblical and Christian world view, but appreciates Christianity as cultural and religious virtue, as being essentially important, and it has also taken a positive turn in evaluating its role in society. This is characteristic of its attitude to other religious systems as well.

The identity of Jesus

When telling the story of the nativity, the authors of the Gospels had to take into consideration the Saviour's unique personality, the essence (hypostasis) of which is the same as God's, and after being emptied and becoming incarnate as man it also became identical with human nature. At the same time he is distinct from God in that he has a real human nature.  Jesus is superior to man, however, due to his real divine hypostasis (essence). Had he been described only from an earthly prospective the Gospel would not have reached its goal, it would not have been able to convey faith in Jesus' true identity. The identity of Jesus was determined by his descent from the Father, the mission that He gave him, his intimate relationship with Him and his affection for Him – particularly from the age of twelve up to eternity. His unbroken affection to God was also proved by the fact that at his death he committed his soul and spirit into the hand of the Father.

At the heart of the story of his conception in Mary and birth we find Jesus and the Father. Mary, Joseph and other persons fulfilled their duties according to their mission and as instruments of the Almighty. Mary had a special role in the history of salvation in the incarnation of Christ. It was through her that the Almighty clothed his only begotten Son (monogenes), the Word (logos) in real human nature and a Jewish identity.

Even in the Old Testament the most difficult thing for Israel was to recognize the spiritual identity of the men of God. True prophets were often considered false ones, enemies of God and the people.  They were persecuted, and what is more, many of them that were killed were regarded as blasphemous and evil men. However, many false prophets were thought to be anointed and sent by God; they were honoured publicly. It is an even greater challenge to perceive Jesus' supernatural descent and divine identity for all men. We can also see it in the life of his contemporaries; Jesus' earthly ministry was accompanied by this phenomenon. The reaction to Jesus' ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth, especially, proves that if it is only an experience of the earthly human identity of Jesus that one gains it will create an almost impermeable obstacle in perceiving the truths regarding Jesus' full nature. It is on good grounds that Paul emphasizes: “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer...” (II Corinthians 5:16) The apostle knew that knowing the exact date of Jesus' birth, or his build, the colour of his hair and eyes or other information about his life is not efficient in itself to lead a layman to the perception of  Jesus' true identity. The efforts of all those who want to force him into merely earthly, human categories are bound to fail. The authors of the Gospels were very much aware of this: they only recorded as much natural information about Jesus as was necessary to prove his historical credibility, but left out all the general experience about him as a person, that which would distract people's attention from Jesus as the Son of God. In the course of history, inestimable damage has been caused to New Testament faith by religious deception and fakes, through which some tried to make it easier for crowds to get to know Jesus Christ of Nazareth and hold on to him by worshipping a cross, a crucifix, creating a cult of processions or wax-dolls intended to represent the baby Jesus and even  creating nativity processions. These religious lies have always missed the mark and will continue to do so in the future, because instead of leading their fans to biblical faith and to the teaching of the apostles they take them into the labyrinths of superstition and idolatry. These religious traditions are the opposites of Bible-based requirements of true worship, and God's revelation warned both the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church against them. 

The Messiah has always been a supernatural, spiritual being. He was born before the creation of time, not of Mary but of God from eternity. However, he was given a genuine human spirit, soul and body and entered this world as man through Mary, so that the name of the incarnate Messiah would become known before men. Mary's womb became the “soil” for the Word coming from God's eternal world, for the incorruptible seed promised to Abraham, the place where the divine and human seed united. And in this sense Mary became the Lord's mother, too, a gate between the invisible and visible worlds for the Messiah.

Jesus' world view

In order to gain a proper understanding of the story of the nativity it is a prerequisite to have a biblical world view. Different types of world views opposing it will categorize the story as one  belonging to the subject of mythology at best. The Holy Scriptures, however, do not claim that there is one world only and interpret reality according to that, but they disclose the divine plan of salvation in a context of the interrelation and conflicts of several worlds; and the history of salvation advances towards its set goals in line with this plan. Naturally, it does not cover all the events in the course of history, only those through which God made his covenants with individuals (e.g. Noah, Abraham, David and Jesus Christ) or a people (Israel) he chose in different eras. Besides these, the Bible gives account of the antecedents as well as the consequences of these covenants and evaluates them.

The story of Jesus Christ mainly became a Gospel, that is, good news for the whole universe because of his birth, atoning sacrifice, resurrection and ascension to heaven. The fullness of reality is made up of at least four worlds. The apostle Paul divides these into visible and invisible, using modern expressions we would say to a spiritual and a physical world, although they do not represent the opposites of visible and invisible correctly, since the visible world is deeply embedded in the spiritual. In addition to this, according to the biblical world view, it is by the spiritual that the material came to exist, and the subsistence and operability of the cosmos originates in the spiritual unity of the universe, the four spheres of which are as follows: heaven (the upper-most world), the visible (this world), the underworld (Sheol, Hades) and the sphere between the first and third skies, which is the home for fallen angels and their leader Satan, whom the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians defined as “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”, who live in the epuranos (high places). (The prophet Isaiah also mentions cities occupied by evil beings in high places.) The birth and saving work of Jesus Christ brought about an irreversible change in all the four spheres of the universe and in the system of their interrelatedness.

The Messiah came into this world from heaven (the upper-most world), and he existed with the Father before he was born as a human. He already had a main role in the creation of the world; the Scripture says everything was created through him and for him. He was also there at the making of the covenants, the divine person revealing God's Word.

It was the Messiah that appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre and confirmed the promises to the father of faith. It was him that Jacob wrestled with at the ford of Jabbok, until at last the Messenger, who kept his identity secret, changed his name to Israel. It was also him that appeared in the Sinai desert to call and anoint Moses with his supernatural power to send him to Pharaoh to bring about Israel's exodus. Without the help of the Messiah, Israel would not have been able to come out of Egypt or cross the Red Sea; she would have been unable to survive forty years of wandering in the unbearable wilderness. It was also with the direct support of the Lord that they were able to take possession of the promised land. It was the spirit of the Messiah that dwelt in the prophets. It was him who put the Word into the mouths of the men of the Ruach (the Spirit), in order to make the will of the Almighty known to the people.

The essence of the pre-existent Word (the Messiah) and the historic Jesus Christ stems from their divine nature. The difference between the two is that while the pre-incarnate Messiah did not have a real and perfect human nature as well, the historic Jesus Christ did.

The messenger of the upper-most world (heaven) came into this world as the Messiah.  His birth as a man, and his earthly life and work were followed by signs and wonders which proved that through him the kingdom of God had come into the world, the kingdom into which all are invited by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This citizenship in the kingdom of God can be obtained by the new birth.

After his death on the cross, the soul and spirit of Jesus descended into the underworld (Sheol, Hades) too, to proclaim to the spiritual beings, spirits and souls dwelling in these lower regions that  regarding the saving of the world he had met the rightful requirements set by God. Since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, death and hell do not have sovereign power over this world and humankind anymore, because now there are different rules being applied to those partaking in the blood and life of the Saviour: they have been set free from the law of sin and death, and were acquitted from under God's condemning sentence, because through their new birth they have come under the power of the spiritual law of Jesus' life.

After his resurrection, Jesus Christ left this world and ascended into heaven to appear before the Father with his atoning blood. The Lord brought about a change even in heaven (the upper-most world). He took his place as high priest and judge, and because of the humiliation he suffered on earth and the perfect completion of his mission the Father crowned him with power and glory and made him lord over the works of his hands, and submitted all the four worlds that make up the universe (i.e. heaven, this world, the underworld and Satan's realm) to him; therefore, he is sovereign Lord over all these.

By his exaltation Jesus became the exclusive source of salvation. By faith in him everybody can gain forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Besides the essence the historic and the glorified Jesus Christ share there is a difference as well, namely that the crucified body was raised, and because of God’s creative power to raise the dead it underwent a metamorphosis, which transformed it from mortal into immortal, from miserable into glorious, from weak into strong, from psychical into spiritual. Through this process human nature has also been glorified forever in this third form of Jesus' existence.

Jesus Christ brought a direct, irreversible change in the position of the satanic empire. He overcame Satan and his fallen angels; he made them his captive, submitting them to the coming, final judgement of God, and also deprived him of his absolute power over the world. Since then the influence and power of the powers of darkness in this world depends on the choices people make between God and Satan until the parousia takes place. If the world refuses God's calling through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of the wicked angelic world will grow in this world. If people listen to the truth about the Messiah, that is the Gospel, and follow what it says, then the presence of God's kingdom will strengthen, which will inevitably result in the weakening of Satan's rule in this  world.

The fight between good and evil

Since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus the age we live in is defined by a series of conflicts between good and evil, and it is the return of the Messiah that will put an end to it. The unique message of the Gospel is this: God's goodness and love to men appeared in this world in Jesus Christ, and this laid the basis for joining heaven and earth (this world). The story of Jesus of Nazareth is contrary to the general, universal experience of mankind, namely that man lives on earth for a certain period of time then dies. His body is put in the grave, and the fate of his soul and spirit after death remains obscure.

A tradition characteristic to all men's fate was broken by Jesus' return from the grave, hell and death. This return also proves that all men will be able to live in their risen bodies in Christ, not only in an earthly form, but in a heavenly form of existence as well, forever in the glory of God. Therefore Jesus Christ is the forerunner of our future, first born from the dead, the person who took the keys of hell and death, and gained the power over them. He was dead indeed, but he lives forever and ever, and until the end of this age he offers his atoning blood, life, spirit and a relationship with him for all, so that no one would perish in the darkness of the underworld but would be saved by their faith in the Messiah and his saving work. The faith and hope to return to eternal life has been the basis for the earthly course and activity of every follower of Jesus Christ both in the past and present. The birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Saviour made  love to be the source of life for everyone believing in him. That is why the apostle Paul calls upon all men: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Letter to the Ephesians 3:17-19)

Source: Hetek