As we have seen in our previous installments in this series (part 1, part 2), the ancient Apostles’ Creed is a wonderful igniter of twenty-first century worship. Both the doctrinal content of the creed and the biblical narrative it reflects make this document rich with gospel.
As such, it makes perfect sense that roughly half of the creed centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose accomplishments became the gospel. In this portion of our walk through the creed, we will focus on the initial confession of belief in Jesus, the second Person of the triune Godhead.
After we confess belief in God the Father Almighty, we pair that confession with this statement:
“…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”
There is good reason for pairing confession of God the Father with God the Son in this instance. It helps the creedal confessor affirm that the Son, while proceeding from and submissive to the Father, is nonetheless equal to the Father. We pair the Father with the Son because we only know the Father through the Son (Matthew 11:27), because the Son does the Father’s will (John 4:34, 10:25), and because the Son is equal to the Father (John 5:18)
We know these things not primarily from the creed but from the Scriptures the creed summarizes. When the Apostle Peter proclaims, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus affirms his conviction and promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church that holds to this doctrine (Matthew 16:17-18). Here is the Apostle Paul’s confession:
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul has just told us three important things about Jesus that the creed affirms: he is Son, Christ, and Lord.
Jesus the Son
The Bible speaks of Jesus as “son” in two primary ways: Son of Man and Son of God. Both are important titles that are alike in some ways but also unique. The title “Son of Man” traditionally carries apocalyptic significance. It is a messianic title, and although it has been applied to multiple figures, as it pertains to the Christ, it typically conveys a sense of divine royalty and messianic fulfillment. When the Bible prophesies about the coming Son of Man, foretelling the arrival of the Christ, it refers to the climactic appearing of the divine king ordained by God to set his people free and set all to rights. It is not, strictly speaking, a designation of divinity—meaning “Son of Man” does not inherently mean that the bearer of the title is God. But the other main way the Bible speaks of Jesus’ sonship in fact does.
The title of “Son of God” speaks not just to Jesus special relationship to the Father but to his unique nature shared with the Father. Another ancient document of the orthodox faith, the Nicene Creed explains:
. . . 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.