The Glory of the God-Man: Introducing the Christology of the Larger Catechism

One of the joys of being confessional is the advantage of possessing a faith and piety that are formed around the mature theological reflections of the Church and distilled for us into doctrinal summaries that are readily accessible to the lay person.  The Westminster Larger Catechism is one such summary as it takes the marrow of theology and presents it to us in a digestible question and answer format. The subject of Christology (i.e. the study of the Christ himself) is presented in the Larger Catechism as easily accessible and deeply practical so that our faith might increase “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

The Larger Catechism introduces the subject of Christology to us in Q/A 36:

Q36: Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace?
A36: The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father, in the fulness of time became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, forever.

In introducing our Savior to us the Assembly gives us a two pronged answer, describing Him as “the only Mediator of the covenant of grace,” and as the “Lord Jesus Christ.”  The former describes the role that our Savior took upon Himself while the latter identifies who and what He is in fulfilling that role for us.  In other words, this first section of LC 36 is a compendium of Christ’s person and work which the following 22 questions will go on to flesh out for us.  By way of introduction to the Christology of the Larger Catechism, let’s first examine the role of our Savior, or what it is that Jesus came to do.

The Role of Jesus as Mediator

In popular evangelicalism it is not uncommon to hear Jesus’ role described primarily as that of a Savior.  In fact, it’s probably not much of a stretch to suggest that if one surveyed the landscape of American evangelicalism and asked them to describe Jesus – “Savior” would certainly be at the top of the list.  Decades ago there was even a doctrinal controversy in the evangelical world over whether or not one could accept Jesus as “Savior,” but not submit to Him as “Lord” (which is, of course, a ridiculous assertion to make).  It seems that with some, at least, the role of “Savior” can supersede all others in our faith and piety.

However, while it is certainly a precious truth that Jesus is the Savior of believers, often this title is left either undefined, or defined in an incomplete and incorrect fashion.  In my own experience, having come into the faith as an outsider, the concept of Christ as Savior was one that puzzled me. Having previously dabbled in Eastern philosophy and the occult, the concept of salvation simply wasn’t “common sense” to me and the sound bites given to me by many Christians – and especially from popular Christian music – didn’t help much either.  I sensed a need for this salvation that Christians spoke of, but I couldn’t make sense of it.

This is where the Larger Catechism’s introduction to Christ becomes eminently helpful to us in understanding and communicating the faith.  The Catechism first introduces Christ to us as “the only Mediator.” The Assembly reminds us that what mankind needs is not good advice, or spiritual insight, or some vague sense of the “fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.”  Instead, what we so desperately need is one who will stand in the gap between the Creator and the creature – between an offended God and offending man – and bring about reconciliation. In other words, we need someone who can satisfy God’s just offense against our sin and overcome our sinful rebellion against God’s just offense so that we might be enabled to return to the union and communion with God that we were created for.  This is a need that is as ancient and Biblical as the prophet Job who cried out in his distress, “Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both” (Job 9:33).  

And this is precisely what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for His people.  As Mediator of the covenant of grace, He has stood between God and man and drawn the two together.  As we will see later on in the Catechism, Jesus has propitiated the wrath of God for us on the cross and He has met the righteous requirements of the law through his obedience. He has procured God’s Spirit for us so that our “heart of stone” might be replaced with a “heart of flesh” (Ezk. 36:26).  Christ’s role as Mediator truly “fleshes out” the meaning of His role as Savior. The doctrine of the Creator/creature distinction, as well as our guilt and depravity, are all presupposed in our need for mediation. It keeps our spiritual need ever before us, while showing us the grace of God in meeting that need through His Son.  It humbles us and exalts Christ, motivating us towards worship and adoration.  

The Identity of the Mediator: the Lord Jesus Christ

The names and titles of Jesus are just as significant to our faith as a correct understanding of His role as Mediator.  The jealousy of the Patristic church to guard the identity of Christ was largely a jealousy to protect the integrity of the Gospel. Knowing who and what Jesus is under girds the perfection of His mediation, strengthening our confidence in Him.  

The first, and perhaps most significant title that is mentioned in identifying our Mediator, is “Lord.”  In the New Testament the title “kurios,” or “Lord,” is used over 700 times in the New Testament and is usually used in reference to Jesus Himself.  It is a term rooted in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) as an equivalent for the Hebrew words “Adonai” and “Jehovah.”  In other words, the title “Lord” is a confessional statement, in seminal form, referring to the true Deity of Christ. The God of the covenant, who had promised to save His people throughout the Old Testament, is now identified with the person and work of Christ.  This is a radical notion that far supersedes any talk of Jesus being a “good teacher” (Mk 10:17), or a mere object of emulation (think WWJD bracelets). The title “Lord” implies that the God with which we need Mediation is also the very one who became flesh in order to serve as our Mediator.  This makes the Christian’s relationship with God deeply personal.

The second title that the Catechism mentions is the personal name of our Savior, “Jesus.”  This is the name that the angel Gabriel gave to Mary in announcing His conception (Mt 1:21).  While this was the name given to our Lord’s human nature, it also revealed that the Mediator was more than a mere man.  The name Jesus means either ‘Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is salvation.” It was the oldest human name containing the divine name “Jehovah.”  In explaining the significance of this name, Cyril of Alexandria writes, “The very name of Jesus shows specifically how he is truly, and by nature, the Lord of the universe.”  In other words, the name “Jesus” reveals to us not only the deity of Christ, but that He is the deity come in the flesh, to finally procure salvation for us in the flesh. As question 41 of the Larger Catechism says:

Q41: Why was our Mediator called Jesus?
A41: Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.

The last title given in identifying the Mediator is the title “Christ,” which means “anointed.”  This is a title rooted in the Old Testament and was often used in reference to human prophets, priests, and kings as they were appointed and equipped by the Spirit for their respective offices.  The title Christ, therefore, is a reference not only to the true humanity of Christ, but also to the offices that He fulfills as Mediator. These offices are described for us in Q/A 42 of the Larger Catechism:

Q42: Why was our Mediator called Christ?
A42: Our Mediator was called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure; and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation.

The names and titles of our Mediator demonstrate that He is no mere man, nor is He the estranged God of gnosticism and Deism. Instead, He is God come in the flesh so that He might deliver us from our deadly enemies: sin, death, and the devil.  He is a perfect Mediator and complete Savior. All of this is contained in the statement, “the only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Mediator that Job cried out for, the one who is capable of laying hands on God and man and bringing the two together once again – because in His very own person He has brought the two together.  As Douglas Kelly states in the second volume of his Systematic Theology, “The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision”:

“That Mediator, who alone is able to bring God and man together in saving reconciliation and restoration of the lost human race, is competent to this highest of all tasks by being God and man, in two distinct, but unseparated natures […]”

Kelly, Douglas F. Systematic Theology Vol. 2: The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014. Pg. 183

And that’s precisely what we have in Jesus.  He is God come in the flesh to save us from our sins, and to restore us to that great end for which we were created: to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  As we behold the face of Jesus by faith through the Word and Sacraments, we see the very God of Numbers 6:24-26 who blesses us, keeps us, shines His face upon, and gives us peace through His mediation. Truly, the glory of the God-man shines forth through His mediation and the perfections of His two natures.