The Creed (Part 6)

By Peter Amsterdam

May 5, 2020

(Points for this article were taken from The Creed by Luke Timothy Johnson.1)

The previous part of this series about the Nicene-Constantinople Creed was focused on Jesus, who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven. The next lines of the creed focus on the main events of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

Became Incarnate

He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human.

This line makes the affirmation that Jesus, who has the same essence as the Father, became flesh. Luke Johnson explains:

A more literal rendering of the Greek [the original language of the creed] is: and being made flesh out of the Holy Spirit and Mary, and becoming human.2

This statement in the creed is taken from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In the book of Matthew, we’re told that the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”3

A few verses later, Matthew quotes from the book of Isaiah:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).4

In the Gospel of Luke, we read that the angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary and announced that she would have a child. Mary questioned the angel, asking,

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”5

The main point made in these verses about the birth of Christ is that the incarnation of God the Son came about through a combination of both divine and human action. The Spirit of God, who played a role in creation (the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters)6 and who caused the prophets to prophesy (Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man),7 is also active in the life of the Son, who “came down from heaven.”

Along with the Holy Spirit, a human woman, Mary, played a role in giving birth to the embodiment of God’s presence on earth. As such, Jesus was made human. The Gospel of Luke gives insight into Mary and her faith. When she heard the angel’s announcement, she put herself into God’s hands.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”8 

Later, Jesus made a statement similar to His mother’s when He prayed in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”9 It was through Mary that the Son of God became human. Jesus was both fully God and fully man.

Was Crucified for Us

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried.

Jesus was publicly executed as a criminal at the command of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, after accusations were made against Him by the Jewish religious authorities. That Jesus was crucified is stated in all four of the Gospels,10 the book of Acts,11 the epistles of Paul,12 and in the books of Hebrews13 and 1 Peter.14 Some examples are:

Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.15

Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.16 

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.17

In stating that Jesus was crucified for us, the creed expresses the richness of what Scripture teaches about Jesus’ sacrificial death in order to redeem us.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.18

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?19 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.20 

Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.21

God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.22

Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.23

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.24

Crucifixion was a cruel form of execution that was used in Roman times, usually for enemies, slaves, disgraced soldiers, or foreigners, and only rarely for Roman citizens. It was especially painful when nails were used, rather than ropes. It generally took from six hours to four days for the crucified person to die. Crucifixion was designed to both torture and shame the one being put to death. The Jewish view was that only a sinner could suffer such a death, and therefore the crucified Jesus could only be a failed and false messiah.

Within the New Testament writings about Jesus and His death on the cross, we find associations with Old Testament concepts about those who were put to death—words like slave, cursed, sin, and shame. The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus taking the form of a servant [slave in some translations], and being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.25

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”26

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.27

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.28

Under Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judaea from 26–36 AD. Being governor meant that he was the head of the judicial system and it was within his power to sentence criminals to death. All four of the Gospels mention that Pilate had the custom of releasing one prisoner each year in honor of the Jewish Passover festival. When Jesus was brought to Pilate for judgment, the Gospels show that Pilate felt that Jesus was not guilty of the charges brought against Him. However, because of pressure from the chief priests and the rulers of the people, Pilate condemned Jesus to death.29

He Suffered

Throughout the New Testament, references are made to Jesus suffering in His life and death. In the Gospels, Jesus makes reference to His suffering.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.30

Taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”31

In the books of Acts and Hebrews, as well as in the writings of Paul and Peter, the point is made that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer for our sakes so that we could be forgiven for our sins.

What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.32

Paul … reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.33

He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.34

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation.35

To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.36

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.37

Was Buried

We find mentions of Jesus’ burial throughout the New Testament. The apostle Paul wrote that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.38 Each of the four Gospels gives an account of Jesus being taken down from the cross and being placed in a tomb.39 They report that Jesus was buried and remained in the tomb for some days.

The Gospel of Mark says:

When evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.40

The Gospel of Matthew adds:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.41

The Gospel of John includes a few more details:

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.42

Another Christian creed—called the Apostles’ Creed, which is similar to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, though shorter—includes a line about Jesus’ descent into hell. It states:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.

Though it’s not part of the creed being covered here, some may be familiar with that line, and therefore I will comment on it.

Jesus’ burial symbolizes His descent into the realm which in ancient times was most removed from “heaven” or the place of God’s dwelling. The apostle Peter, when speaking to the crowd in Acts chapter 2 about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, quoted from Psalm 16:10 when he stated:

You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.43 

The apostle Peter wrote:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.44

Peter adds:

This is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.45

Luke Johnson states:

The descent of Jesus into hell is, in this view, an expression of God’s universal will for salvation and part of his cosmic victory, so that every tongue, even those “under the earth,” should proclaim that Jesus is Lord.46

Jesus, the only Son of God, who is of the same essence as the Father, was born as a human, conceived by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, for the purpose of our salvation. He suffered a cruel death at the hands of Roman oppressors, and was buried. But that isn’t the end of the story—there is more to come.

(To be continued in Part Seven.)


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1 The Creed—What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

2 Johnson, The Creed, 165.

3 Matthew 1:18–20.

4 Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14.

5 Luke 1:34–35.

6 Genesis 1:2.

7 1 Samuel 10:6. See also 1 Samuel 10:10.

8 Luke 1:38.

9 Luke 22:42.

10 Matthew 27:15–37; Mark 15:1–39; Luke 23:28–49; John 19:19–30.

11 Acts 3:13–16.

12 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:8; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 3:1; Philippians 2:8; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 6:13.

13 Hebrews 12:2.

14 1 Peter 2:24.

15 Mark 15:15.

16 Philippians 2:8.

17 Hebrews 12:2.

18 Romans 5:8.

19 Romans 8:32.

20 Galatians 3:13.

21 Ephesians 5:2.

22 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10.

23 Titus 2:13–14.

24 1 John 3:16.

25 Philippians 2:7–8.

26 Galatians 3:13.

27 2 Corinthians 5:21.

28 Hebrews 12:2.

29 See Matthew 27:22–26; Mark 15:12–15; Luke 23:20–25; John 19:15–16.

30 Mark 8:31.

31 Mark 10:32–34.

32 Acts 3:18.

33 Acts 17:2–3.

34 Hebrews 2:17–18.

35 Hebrews 5:8–9.

36 1 Peter 2:21.

37 1 Peter 3:18.

38 1 Corinthians 15:3–4.

39 Mark 15:42–46; Matthew 27:55–66; Luke 23:50–55; John 19:38–42.

40 Mark 15:42–46.

41 Matthew 27:62–66.

42 John 19:39–42.

43 Acts 2:27.

44 1 Peter 3:18–20.

45 1 Peter 4:6.

46 Johnson, The Creed, 175.

 

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