Summary: What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity? What are some of the errors of understanding that have sometimes confused or deceived people?
In the midst of his earthly ministry, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked them, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” The gospels record that Peter had the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
Who is Jesus?
The Bible tells us that Jesus is the son of Mary, a young girl from Galilee, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, who was of the lineage of David. The Bible also tells us the Jesus is the Son of God—that his conception within Mary’s womb was the result of supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit.
That’s confusing enough right there, for those of us who know about the birds and the bees and genes and chromosomes.
The Bible goes on to identify Jesus as the Word, who was with God, who was God, and who was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
You thought the biological aspects of Jesus’ identity stretched our conventional understanding of things! What about the temporal and physical aspects of Jesus’ identity? He was born 2000 years ago, in Bethlehem, in a stable. And he was there at the dawn of creation, the one by whom and for whom all things were made; he was before creation and he is bigger than creation. Since eternity he has resided in heaven, waited on by angels. On a particular day in history, in a particular town on this earth, Mary gave birth, and the newborn baby was wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a manger.
Who is Jesus?
People have been trying to make sense of the answer to this question for two millennia. The Bible has a lot to say about who Jesus is…his mother, his Father, his birth in history, and his eternal existence. It took a few centuries, but the church pretty much settled on the key points of how all this fits together when it developed the Nicene Creed (which many of you have probably heard of) and the Definition of Chalcedon (which most of you probably haven’t heard of).
I believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.” (from the Nicene Creed)
Jesus “is of the same reality of God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality we are ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these ‘last days’, for us and on behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness. … The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union.” (from the Definition of Chalcedon)
In other words, Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, fully God and fully human. The phrase—Second Person of the Trinity—does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but it is the church’s best understanding of who Jesus is when all that the Bible teaches is brought together.
That’s an important point. The doctrine of the Trinity does not appear, fully developed, anywhere in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean that the church made it up. The Trinity is the church’s best understanding of the one God, who has revealed himself to us as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit, when all that the Bible teaches is brought together. The church didn’t make up the idea that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, fully God and fully human, either. That is the church’s best understanding of who Jesus is when all that the Bible teaches is brought together.
Over the centuries, there have been those who have been unsatisfied with this understanding of who Jesus is. Some have decided that it just doesn’t make sense, no matter what the Bible teaches, and they have preferred an explanation that makes more sense to them. Some haven’t been able to comprehend how God could possibly suffer, so they have concluded that Jesus wasn’t really human and didn’t really suffer. Some haven’t been able to comprehend how God could lower himself so far as to become one of his finite, weak creatures, so they have concluded that Jesus wasn’t really God but merely a spirit-filled human. Some have concluded that if they can’t quite get their minds around the three-in-one nature of God, then it must not be so, and they have concluded that Jesus was a divine creature—higher than the angels but lower than God. Some have decided that one being can’t have two natures, so Jesus must have been either human or divine but not both. Some have concluded that if his mother is Mary and his Father is God, then Jesus must be a man-God hybrid—half human, half divine. Some have appealed to a source of revelation other than the Bible, and based on some other, more recent, writing, they have concluded that Jesus is not the fully divine, fully human Second Person of the Trinity.