By Dave DeVoll
There are any number of places in Scripture one may cite to support the current theme of our Movement—Jesus is the subject! Here are a few:
In John 5:39, Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill him, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”
Paul explicitly emphasized the centrality of Jesus in his letters. 1 Corinthians 1:23, “…but we preach Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” Galatians 1:16, “I…preach Him [Jesus] among the Gentiles.” Philippians 1:18, “…Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”
Some folks mistakenly think that, by saying “Jesus is the subject,” we downplay the importance of doctrinal teaching and only preach on the stories of Jesus as found in the four gospels.
Charles E. Brown, one of our earliest scholars, refuted this idea in his last major work of theology, published in 1957, called We Preach Christ. In it he demonstrated that all truly Christian doctrine points to the person of Jesus. In a way, he was saying, “Jesus is the subject!” (This book is currently published under a new title, A Handbook of Christian Doctrine, Warner Press, 2006). Let me explain this concept.
Russell Byrum defines “theology proper” as that study of “the nature and works of God.”1 Since Christians believe that Jesus is God, “theology proper” is best approached by studying the nature and works of Jesus the Christ. If we discuss theology apart from Jesus, the discussion will probably be cold and clinical. If it is conducted, however, as study of the nature and works of Jesus as revealed in the Bible, it will lead us to a warm, vital worship of Jesus, our God and Savior. Jesus even said in John 14:9–10, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father…The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” If we want to know what God is like, look to Jesus—He is the subject of theology.
Our anthropology (the doctrine of the nature of humankind) also finds clarity when we view it through the “Christ Event.” This is a term theologians use to refer to the life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. He is called the Son of Man, as well as the Son of God; Paul referred to him as “the man, the Lord from heaven” (1 Cor 15:47); he also preached in Athens that Jesus is “the man” God has appointed to judge the world (Acts 17:31). Perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament is Philippians 2:1–13, in which Jesus’ voluntary humanity is used as an example of how we should live as human creatures.
Our soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), it almost goes without saying, is all about Jesus. In his own words, he came “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We are justified (that is, acquitted of our sins) by grace because of the sacrifice of Jesus (Rom 3:21–26). Jesus sanctifies his people with his own blood (Heb 13:12). Finally, Paul reminds us that, when Jesus returns from heaven, he himself “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil 3:20–21). From our justification to our glorification, the subject is Jesus!
As for pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), this is also centered in Jesus. Dr. Benjamin F. Reid observed, “The Holy Spirit will also focus the church’s worship and adoration upon Jesus, for ‘He shall glorify Me’ [John 16:14]. The church must remember, even in this Pentecostal and Charismatic age, that the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit is Christocentric!”2 When Jesus reminded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, He said that the purpose of that experience was to empower them “to be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:4–8). Peter even called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet 1:11). Any discussion, then, of the Holy Spirit and his graces and gifts, must focus on Jesus, for Jesus is the subject.
Our ecclesiology, as well, must be centered in Jesus. Does the New Testament not represent the church as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ? Are the individual members of the church not called “the members of Christ” (1 Cor 6:15)? Did Jesus not say that he is the vine and we individual believers are but branches in the vine (John 15:5)? A proper ecclesiology, then, focuses on Jesus. He is the glorious Bridegroom (Rom 7:4; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22–32; Rev 19:7–9). He is the head of the church (Eph 1:22; Eph 4:15–16; Col 1:17–18; Col 2:17–19). He is the door of the church (John 10:7–9; Acts 2:47). He is the recording secretary of the church, who enrolls the names of the members in “the Lamb’s book of life” when they are born again (Ps 87:5–6; Rev 21:27). Even when we preach about the church, it is Jesus who is the subject, not the church!
When we preach on the ordinances of the church, we cannot do so without preaching Jesus. When we are baptized in water, we are buried with him (Rom 6:1–4). When we eat the Communion bread and drink the Communion cup, we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus (Matt 26:26–28) and, in doing so, we preach the death of Jesus until he returns (1 Cor 11:23–26). When we wash each other’s feet, we imitate and identify with the servanthood of Jesus. Even in the ordinances, Jesus is the subject!
Our study of Bible prophecy must point to Jesus. Jesus told his disciples in a post-resurrection appearance, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). In Revelation 19:10, the angel says to John, “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows that the writers used the Old Testament to “preach Christ.” As one scholar writes, “…here is our basic hermeneutic. Jesus, and the apostles after him, reinterpreted the Old Testament prophecies in light of Jesus’ person and mission.”3 Yes, Jesus is the subject of the Old Testament.
Our preaching of the kingdom of God must point to Jesus. In fact, scholars tell us the word translated kingdom in the Bible actually means kingship.4 The Revised Standard Version several times actually translates the word used for kingdom as kingship or kingly power (Luke 19:12; Luke 23:42; John 18:36; Rev 17:12). These terms all point us to Jesus, the King of kings (Rev 19:11–16) to whom all power in heaven and earth already has been given (Matt 28:18–20)—Jesus is the subject of the kingdom!
Any true biblical typology also finds its fullest meaning in Jesus. He is the tabernacle of God, as a literal reading of John 1:14 indicates “dwelt among us” out to read “tabernacle among us”5 He is the second Adam (Rom 5:14–19). He is the new Moses (Acts 7:37–28) and the new Joshua (Heb 4:8–10). He is the new High Priest (Heb 7:22–28) and the new Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7). If we emphasize anything or anyone other than Jesus is in our teachings of types and shadows, we miss the whole point, for Jesus is the subject!
Our eschatology, as well, must find its focus in Jesus. It is so easy today to become sidetracked when we deal with eschatology (the doctrine of last things). So, we speculate about the order of events to come, the length of time between the events, or political situations in the Middle East, or any other number of things. But a Christ-centered eschatology will stress that Jesus is returning Lord, the final Judge of all, eternal King of kings and Lord of lords. Israel after the flesh, the church, rapture, tribulation, antichrist—these are not the proper subject of last things—Jesus is the subject.
In the most recent issue of Truth Matters, our writers past and present will show that when we say Jesus is the subject, we mean so much more than the simple stories of his mighty miracles, his homely parables, and his sermons. It means that all truly Christian teaching will inevitably lead us to Jesus, who is the subject of all truth.
Article originally published in the January issue of Truth Matters. Article republished by Dave DeVoll, editor-in-chief. Read the latest issue of Truth Matters, a publication of Pastors’ Fellowship, online at www.pastorsfellowshipchog.com. All Scripture references taken from the King James Version, unless otherwise indicated.
1Christian Theology (Anderson, IN: The Gospel Trumpet Co., 1925) 179
2Glory to the Spirit (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1990) 20
3Ladd, George Eldon. The Last Things (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978) 17
4Vine, W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, “Kingdom” (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) 129 Old Testament Section
5Vincent, Marvin R. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Mclean, VA: Macdonald Pub. Co., n.d.) 51