Category:Christology (subject)

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Christology is a field of study that deals with the history of the Christian theological debate about the nature and identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah. As such it is a branch of the broader field of Jewish messianism, with which it is closely connected.

Overview

Since a very early stage Christians attributed to Jesus some degree of "divinity" and venerated him as a divine agent. This does not mean however that Jesus was immediately given the same rank as God the Father; see Gods & Demigods. At the beginning, the role of Jesus was interpreted in light of the Danielic/Enochic theology of the Son of Man, the created heavenly messiah destined to manifest himself at the end of time as the FInal Judge. The Christians gave a unique twist to this Enochic concept, by claiming that the Messiah in his "first" coming had been sent to earth as the Forgiver to return then as the Judge in his "second" coming at the end of times. This seems to have been the predominant view among first-century Christians, in Paul as well as in the Synoptic Gospels. Only at the turn of the second century, with the Gospel of John, Jesus began to be understood as the "divine logos incarnated", and proclaimed to be "as divine as" the Father. Even when Jesus was given the status of "uncreated" God who "became flesh" and then return to Heaven, he was never identified with God the Father and the discussion of the relationship of the Son with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) would continue for centuries in the early Churches.

Earliest traditions on Jesus the Prophet and the Messiah

Many of Jesus’ sayings betray a clear prophetic self-consciousness by the teacher from Nazareth. Some of these sayings are recognized as perhaps the most authentic expression of the ipsissima verba of Jesus, such as when he expressed his disappointment to his hometown ("Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house,” Mc 6.4), or his prescient lament over Jerusalem ("Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you!,” Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34).

There is no doubt, however, that the tendency of the Christian tradition (perhaps as early as the time of Jesus) was to give the teacher and prophet of Nazareth a very special relationship with God the Father and from the very beginning, superhuman features and functions. There never was something like a "Low Christology" in the early Jesus movement. In the very moment Jesus was claimed to be the messiah he was given a high "divine" status.

The opinion of those who see in Jesus "one of the prophets," or the redivivus John Baptist or Elijah, is contrasted by the profession of faith of Peter: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:28-29). In essence, for the early Christians, Jesus was not simply a righteous prophet, but the Righteous One and as the eschatological Messiah, he was not just a son of God but the beloved Son of God. In the narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, a voice from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11 and 9:7).

The association between the Messiah and "the son of God" was not a new Christian concept. It is a traditional idea that comes from the rituals of enthronement of the ancient King-Messiahs of the House of David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Cr 17:13; Ps 2:7; 110:3 [LXX]), to which the narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are directly inspired. Paul also would use the same language of "adoption" in reference to Christ, who was "was descended from David according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3) and was "designated Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4).

The theology of the Messiah Son of Davide, however, does not seem to have been the central frame of reference for the understanding of Jesus the Messiah. The only case in which Jesus mentions the Messiah “son of David" is to deny the concept entirely. To the "[Pharisaic] scribes [who] say that the Messiah is the son of David", Jesus polemically replies that it cannot be because "David himself calls him 'Lord': How then can he be his son?" (Mark 12:35-37). The earliest Christian tradition assigned to Jesus only and exclusively sayings that related him to the “Son of Man,” the Danielic/Enochian pre-existing heavenly figure, whose name is “hidden” from the moment of creation to the time of the end, when he reveals himself as the Judge, and “comes in the glory of the Father with his angels" (Mark 8.38). With the coming of the Son of Man, the power of the 'strong man' of this world is put to end, for "someone stronger than he" has come (Luke 11:22), one that has the power to "tie him up" and "plunder his house" (Mark 3:27). It is to this figure of eschatological Judge that according to the Christian tradition John the Baptist also referred to in his preaching.

The earliest Christian tradition, therefore, read and interpreted the experience of Jesus the Messiah by borrowing its categories from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Parables. It added two new elements. First, God's mercy required that before revealing himself as the eschatological Judge, the Son of Man had to come as the Forgiver. Second, this Son of Man, manifested as the Forgiver and destined to to be the final judge has a name and an identity; he is Jesus of Nazareth who was given "authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mk 2:1-12, cf. Mt 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26) and will come back as the Judge with the angels of heaven (Mk 14:61-62).

Paul's christology

Paul opens his letters with a binitarian address to God the Father [theos]] and Jesus Christ the Son [kyrios].

Paul was very careful never to attribute to the “kyrios” Jesus the title of “theos” (God), which was unique to the Father. "Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many theoi and kyrioi—yet for us there is only one theos, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one kyrios, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist "(1 Cor 8:5-6). Only the Father is the Creator, while the Lord is the instrument of creation.

The absence of the term Son of Man in Paul does not have to be interpreted as a rejection of the concept of the Son of Man. On the contrary, the christology of Paul does not radically depart from the Enochic pattern. There are indeed "Two Powers in Heaven" with clearly distinctive roles. Like the Enochic “Son of Man,” the Pauline Son-kyrios belongs to the heavenly sphere, and is separated from and subordinate to the Father-theos.

On earth Jesus completed his mission of forgiveness through his self-sacrifice and death. He was the "paschal lamb" (1Cor 5:6), who died for our sins.

At the end of time Jesus will return as the Judge in the Last Judgment; "for the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven" (1 Thess 4:16).

Jesus however is "subjected" to the Father; he "belongs" to God. "As you belong to Christ, so Christ belongs to God" (1Cor 3:23). "Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ" (1Cor 11:3). At the end, after completing his final mission, "the Son, too, will be subjected to the One who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all" (1Cor 15:28).

If Paul does not use the term “Son of Man” (even in contexts such as 1 Thess 4:16-17, where the reference to Daniel 7 would have made it obvious), it is because the title would have interfered with the parallelism he establishes between Adam and the new Adam, by suggesting the subordination of Jesus ben Adam to the first Adam. As the obedient son, Christ is compared to the disobedient son, Adam, with whom he shares the nature and dignity as the other “son of God.” Both were created in the image and likeness of God, taking upon himself the "form" of God; Adam and Jesus, however, are separated by a different fate, that is, one of guilt and transgression in the case of Adam, and the other of obedience and glory in the case of the new Adam. The kenosis of Adam is punishment caused by his disobedience, while in Jesus the kenosis is a voluntary choice for accomplishing his mission of forgiveness and is followed by his elevation and glorification (Phil 2:5-11). The veneration of Jesus, often mistaken as evidence of Jesus’ divine status, is the veneration due to the Son of Man at the time once his name is manifested.

Appendix: Human, Angel, or God? Jewish Roots of Christian Messianism

< PLEASE NOTE: This is an original, copyrighted contribution by Gabriele Boccaccini, University of Michigan>

  • 1. Trajectories of Ancient Jewish Messianism: From Historical to Eschatological

The messianic idea is so much ingrained in the Jewish and Christian traditions to make it difficult even to imagine a time when it was not, at least in the forms familiar to us. For Jews and Christians today, the messianic idea is closely linked to the idea of the end of times and the new creation, but these concepts emerged only at a relatively late stage in the development of the Jewish religion. In its inception the messianic idea in Israel had only a historical, not eschatological, meaning and resulted in the hope for political and religious leaders and guides. The historical character of the ancient "royal" Jewish messianism was not denied even when the messianic hope took the shape of the expectation of a miraculous future of peace and comfort, and the messiah was given superhuman features and a special parent-child relationship with God as his “beloved son”. The ancient messiahs of Israel were in the first place the kings, and then the priests who during the Second Temple period took on the king’s role and functions. The anointing was the sign of the mission they had been entrusted by God. Messianic functions could also be metaphorically attributed to non-Jewish figures, as in the famous case of King Cyrus celebrated by Deutero-Isaiah as the messiah who freed Israel from the yoke of Babylon (Isaiah 45:1-7).

A necessary prerequisite to the development of modern notions of messianism was the emergence of the notion of the eschaton. This idea was first developed in some dissident circles of the Second Temple period—especially in the late Persian period in what scholars now call “Enochic Judaism”—who challenged the authority of the Zadokite priesthood by claiming that the world had lost its original creative order and was therefore in need of a restoration by God. The Enochians saw the world subjected to the corruption of angelic rebellious forces and foreshadowed a future eschatological restoration. In the earliest tradition of Enoch (Book of Watchers and the Book of Astronomy), however, these ideas were not immediately associated with messianic speculations.

Only in the wake of the Maccabean crisis, with all its drama and challenges, do we see the first signs of change. Both the "stone" and the "son of man" of Daniel (2:34-35.44-45; 7:13-14.27), and "the white ox with great horns" in the Book of Dreams (1 En 90:37), are collective symbols of the people of Israel, whose sovereignty was expected to be restored in the eschatological era. Yet in these symbols it is possible to see some emerging individual traits which allow us to associate the "son of man" (and perhaps "the stone cut from the mountain not by human hand") with the archangel Michael, and the "white ox " with un unnamed man called upon to perform royal duties. However, the contours of these figures remained vague and imprecise; their appearance was limited to eschatological times and thus their functions were more passive than active. The term "messiah" was never applied to these figures. The only occurrence of the term in Daniel referred—as expected—to the high priest Onias III (Dan 9:25–26). Despite these ambiguities, the Maccabean crisis nevertheless signaled a shift toward the affirmation of a distinctly eschatological messianism; the apocalyptic ideas of historical determinism now spread even in circles ideologically distant from Enochic Judaism and became an asset for broader layers of the Jewish population. The idea in Daniel that a series of "four kingdoms" (cf. Dan 2 and 7) must precede the redemption of Israel and the coming of the eschatological era garnered significant attention in subsequent apocalyptic traditions. In particular, determining the identity and characteristics of the fourth and last kingdom would have a profound influence on the messianic debate, well beyond the historical boundaries of the Second Temple period.

The collapse of the controversial experience of the Hasmonean monarchy and the beginning of Roman rule contributed even more to the idea that the restoration of Israel was not destined to happen in this world but in a world to come. It was not, however, the result of a linear process of development. At the turn of the common era, eschatological messianism had become a widespread and popular idea but it never became normative, at least while the priesthood and the temple functioned as the central institutions of Judaism. Jewish society during the Second Temple period remained divided into many groups (or Judaisms) characterized by many different theologies. This complexity was also reflected in the existence of diverse messianic expectations. Even among those who sustained the expectation of eschatological messianism, there were different opinions about the identity, nature and functions of the eschatological Messiah. These differences were competitive and exclusive and in no way can be traced back to a single framework.

  • 2. The Continuity of Historical Messianism

Of note is primarily the continuation of historical conceptions of the messiah, which among Sadducees and Hellenistic Jews were accompanied by the negation of any forms of eschatology and eschatological messianism. We are not dealing with marginal phenomena or isolated groups. On the contrary, historical messianism was and remained the normative position of Second Temple Judaism at large, while Jewish society remained united around the one temple and under the same priesthood. After all, why should God put an end to its creation, when God himself saw and knew that it was "very good" (Gen 1:31)? Of course this world needed good leaders and this was the task of those wise men, the anointed priests whom God had chosen as his messiahs.

However, the broad acceptance of this status quo and the cooperation with Roman power did not preclude, even within these conservative circles, a hope for divine intervention and deliverance, including the expectation of some future leaders and political saviors. From one perspective, of course, foreign domination could not be opposed without opposing the very will of God, since God is sovereign over the affairs of human history, including the rise of Roman hegemony. Yet the domain of the Gentiles, for some, would have an end in the perhaps not-too-distant future, when God would judge the people of Israel worthy to regain its independence. For example, according to Book III of the Sibylline Oracles:

"Then God will send a king from the sun [=the East], who will stop the entire earth from evil war, killing some (and) imposing oaths of loyalty on others; he will not do all these things by his private plans, but in obedience to the noble teachings of the great God" (Sib 3:652-656).

This widespread hope for a "king from the sun” voiced frustrations shared broadly by subjugated peoples in the Roman Near East. Such a hope, however, could be easily reinterpreted and transformed in the political debate of the time into the most surprising variants. The Jewish priest Josephus, following the example of Deutero-Isaiah, proclaimed Vespasian the new messiah. Of course, thanks to this “prophecy,” Josephus was able to account for his own failure as a general, save his own life, and earn for himself a respectable name (Flavius) and a respectable future as friend of the Emperor:

"I am here to announce to you a brighter future .... You, Vespasian, will be Emperor and Caesar, you and your son …. You, Caesar, you are not only my Master, but also the owner of the land, the sea and all humankind "(Bel 3.400 -402).

Josephus’ "prophecy" would leave a mark on the history of the Roman Empire itself. The Roman historian Suetonius reports:

"It was confirmed in all the Orient an old and constant belief: that by order of the Fates the one who at that time had come from Judea would obtain the universal lordship. The Jews referred to themselves the prediction that, as later events would show, concerned a Roman emperor in Judea .... When [Vespasian] consulted the oracle of God at Carmel, the fates were so reassuring to promise that he would have been anything (no matter how great) he thought and contemplated. One of the noble prisoners, Josephus, when he was put in chains, with great insistence asserted that he would soon be freed from [Vespasian] once he had become Emperor "(Vita Vespasiani 4).

The speech of Suetonius, and the imperial propaganda to which he gave voice, is subtle. Suetonius did not deny the existence and authenticity of a belief whose popularity clearly he could not fight, but appropriated it by saying that the real message was misunderstood when it was given an anti-Roman sense. The messianic prophecy had to be reinterpreted as already accomplished in Vespasian—the message now served a purpose that was the opposite of that for which that belief was originally born.

From the Jewish point of view, however, the homage paid to Vespasian was only a convenient and temporary truce; it did not preclude the hope that in the future other historical messiahs would arise to redeem Israel and free the people from the yoke of foreign domination. The "prophet" Josephus, who claimed to have received from God the mission of "anointing" Vespasian, left the door open to such a perspective. In reporting Daniel’s vision of a great image, consisting of a head of gold, shoulders and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs and feet of iron, Josephus places great emphasis, more so than in the original, on the reference to the "stone” broken off from a mountain, which “fell upon the image and overthrew it, breaking it into pieces and leaving not one part of it whole. So that the gold and silver and bronze and iron were made finer than flour, and when the wind blew strongly, they were caught up by its force and scattered abroad; but the stone grew so much larger that the whole earth seemed to be filled with it"(Ant X 207, cf. Dan from 2:17 to 37).

Josephus was aware that he had entered a minefield—the succession of empires was a very delicate subject to which both Jews and Romans were equally sensitive. He had to be very careful to avoid any explicit reference to apocalyptic expectations that might have echoes of the “fundamentalism” of the Zealots and the critique of the status quo and the authority of his Roman patrons. He thus couches his discussion in a thread of subtle allusions. As recognized by most modern commentators, Daniel’s four kingdoms originally were, in order, the Babylonians, the Medians, the Persians and finally, the Greeks. That Josephus had in mind a different order is immediately evident by the "explanatory notes" he added to the original text. The first empire, we are told, is "Babylon," which "will eventually be brought to the end by two kings" (Josephus aggregated Medians and Persians as the second empire). The second empire in turn “will be destroyed by another king from West” (here the allusion is clearly to Alexander the Great [cf. 1 Mac 1:1-9] and clearly precludes the interpretation that the third empire could be the Persian empire). Finally, to dominate for a long time will be a fourth empire, which has all the features of power and strength of the Roman Empire but whose identity is not revealed explicitly (Ant X 208-209).

Caught between patriotic pride and Realpolitik, Josephus spoke a coded language, which he knew could be understood only by his Jewish readers. He wanted to deliver hope, but without creating dangerous illusions, to foster national pride without alarming and offending the Romans. This explains in this context the total absence of any reference to the "weakness" inherent in the "mixed" nature of the fourth empire, which was an important element in Daniel's vision, which in Josephus is instead replaced by the reference (both praising and threatening) to the superiority of its "iron nature… harder than that of gold, or silver or bronze" (Ant X 209). As for the "stone"—which in Daniel was a symbol of "a kingdom that will not be destroyed for ever, and whose power will not be given to another people" (Dan 2:44)—Josephus remains silent, taking refuge behind a comfortable, and somewhat convenient, self-censorship:

"Daniel also revealed to the king the meaning of the stone, but I have not thought it proper to relate this, since I am expected to write of what is past and done and not of what is to be; if, however, there is anyone who has so keen a desire for exact information that he will not stop short of inquiring more closely but wishes to learn about the hidden things that are to come, let him take the trouble to read the book of Daniel, which he will find among the sacred writings "(Ant X 210).

This comment would seem to signal the end of the discourse, but it does not. Josephus later informs his reader that the prophecy of Daniel about the "stone" has not yet been accomplished but belongs to the future. Reiterating also that Daniel "not only foretold things to come as the other prophets, but also marked the time in which it would take place," Josephus adds that "while the other prophets foretold disaster ... Daniel was a prophet of happy events" (Ant X 267-268). We thus learn that the prophecy of the "stone" points not only to a future event, intended to be accomplished at an unspecified time, but to an event that will bring "joy" for Israel. A few pages later, at the conclusion of his presentation of the figure of Daniel, Josephus informs the reader—as if it were something well known by everybody—that the Prophet "also wrote about the Roman Empire, that Jerusalem would be taken by them and the temple destroyed (by them)"(Ant X 276), although we are not told how or when. Putting together all these elements is not difficult for the reader to fully understand all the political implications of Josephus’ interpretation of Daniel. The succession of the “four empires” includes the Romans; they will be the most powerful rulers of all and "will dominate for a long time" but not forever. The "stone"—which Josephus sees as the symbol par excellence of a messianic king of the everlasting kingdom—cannot therefore refer to Vespasian. Vespasian was indeed a "messiah" but in him the messianic expectations of "a king from the sun" evidently were not completely fulfilled.

  • 3. Eschatological Messianism in the Second Temple Period

Eschatological expectations in a final Messiah were promoted with great emphasis by two Jewish groups of opposition to the priestly power, the Pharisees and the Essenes. Both shared the hope for a world to come—a radical view that had the advantage of freeing the figure of the Messiah from the ambiguities of history and politics. The different theologies of the two movements led each of them to different forms of messianism. Existing sources allow us to reconstruct three major models:

(A) The Messiah Son of David. The proto-rabbinic tradition of the Pharisees saw evil as a consequence of human transgression and looked forward to an eschatological future in which God would restore his kingdom and Israel would cease to be "punished" by foreign domination and regain its sovereignty under the leadership of a righteous king. The King Messiah will be the "son of David," the heir of the dynasty to whom God promised eternal power.

These ideas found for the first time their fullest expression in the first century BCE in so-called Psalms of Solomon. The primary (and only) task of the Messiah Son of David will be the redemption of Israel. "See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers and purge Jerusalem from nations that trample her to destruction"(PsSal 17:21-22). The Son of David is a powerful ruler, invested by God with an extraordinary mission, yet he is a human messiah, "anointed" just as his ancestor, David, was anointed as a boy by Samuel (1 Sam 16.1-13). Psalm 17 opens, culminates and ends with the exaltation of the supreme and eternal worship of God; God is "our king" (PsSal 17,1.46) and "his [i.e. the Messiah’s] king" (17:34). The Messiah is the leader and deliverer of Israel, and wise ruler of the people (PsSal 17.26), but he is not a personal savior. If so, God would incomprehensibly duplicate what he has done on Sinai. The righteousness of the individuals (including the Messiah) rests in their obedience to "the law that God has commanded so that we might live" (PsSal 14.3) and that the messiah will enforce rigorously. "And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah" (PsSal 17:32).

The Messiah is thus confined to a marginal role in relation to the centrality of the Torah, which is the sole and exclusive means of salvation that God in His justice and mercy has given to free and responsible humankind so that they could learn how to turn their actions to good according to God's will. God alone is the Judge.

"Our works are the fruit of our choice and the ability of our souls, to do right and wrong in the works of our hands. In your righteousness you oversee human beings. The one who does what is right saves up life for himself with the Lord, and the one who does what is wrong causes his own life to be destroyed” (PsSal 9:4).

Royal messianism and centrality of the Law are the two pivots around which the entire messianic reflection of the proto-rabbinic traditions developed in the Second Temple. At the end of the first century c.e., the association between the doctrine of the four kingdoms of Daniel and the idea of the King Messiah is fulfilled. Like in the contemporary works by Josephus, 2 Baruch gives the fourth kingdom the features of Rome, without any weakness. "His dominion will be harder and worse than those that were before him and will rule for many times" (2 Bar 39.5). And the "rock" (or "son of man") of Daniel has lost its original symbolic or angelic features; it is now the king messiah, not a “future” messiah (as in Josephus), but the anointed one of the eschatological times.

"And it will happen when the time of the fulfillment [of the fourth kingdom] is approaching in which it will fall, that at that time the dominion of my Anointed One… will be revealed… The last ruler who is left alive at that time will be bound, whereas the entire host will be destroyed. And they will carry him on Mount Zion, and my Anointed One will convict him al all his wicked deeds… and will kill him and protect the rest of my people who will be found in the place I have chosen. And its dominion will last forever until the world of corruption has ended and until the times which have been mentioned before have been fulfilled"(2 Bar 39:7-40:3).

A century later, the same elements are found in the Targum Neophyti. The fourth kingdom, which will come after "Greece” is obviously Rome, "Edom, the evil (kingdom) that will fall and not rise again" (TgN Gen 15:12, cf. TgN Dt 32:24). The destruction of the fourth kingdom will be the work of the King Messiah, "From the house of Jacob shall arise a king. He will destroy those who are guilty from the sinful city, namely, Rome" (Tg [N] F Num 24:19). This king is the Davidic messiah from the House of Judah, an invincible warrior, ruthless in vengeance, but also a righteous king and ruler of a kingdom of peace and prosperity.

"From the house of Judas ... is the king, to whom sovereignty belongs and to whom all kingdoms will submit. How beautiful is the King Messiah who will rise from the children of Judah! He will gird the loins and fight against his enemies and kill kings and princes. He will redden the mountains with the blood of the slain, and whiten the hills with the fat of their warriors... How beautiful (are) the eyes of the King Messiah, more than pure wine! He does not use them to see the nakedness or the shedding of innocent blood. His teeth are whiter than milk, because he does not use them to eat the products of violence and robbery. The mountains will redden with the vineyards and the wine presses, and the hills will whiten with the abundance of wheat and herds of small cattle "(TgN Genesis 49:10-12).

It is equally interesting to notice what these texts on the "Son of David" say and do not say. They do say that the king messiah is the protagonist of the collective redemption of Israel; but the Messiah has no role in the salvation of the individual, which is only and exclusively governed by the Law, whose centrality indeed increases in proportion to the removal of any hopes for an immediate end of the Roman domination. The Torah is the only hope of salvation; it is the foundation on which the faith in the coming of the messiah springs forth, spes contra spem, even in the hardest times. The fall, one after another, of all alternative mediations (including the hope in the imminent coming of the Messiah) paradoxically served the purposes of a school of thought which since its inception aimed to make the Torah the main mediation and could now triumphally proclaim its uniqueness, as the only remaining hope in times of despair. This is what 2 Baruch said after the destruction of the Temple:

"The shepherds of Israel have perished, and the lamps which gave light are extinguished, and the fountains from which they used to drink have withheld their streams... But shepherd and lamps and fountains came from the Law and when they go away, the Law will abide… Now that Zion has been taken away from us, we have nothing apart from the Might One and his Law… There is one law by One, one world and an end for all those who exist"(2 Bar 77:13.15; 85:3.14).

This explains the caution with which the Mishnaic tradition welcomed Messianic expectations. It certainly agrees with them (see m. Berakot 1.5), yet its major concern was to submit any eschatological hopes to the centrality of the Torah. "Anyone who accepts the yoke of the law is free from the yoke of the state and from the yoke of the world. But who is subtracted from the yoke of law, is subject to the yoke of the state and the world "(m. Abot 3.5). It was only within the boundaries of such conceptual framework, and with clear limitations (in a condition of “probation” and subordination to the Torah), that the figure of the "King Messiah" emerged and became normative in Rabbinic Judaism.

(B) The Messiah "Son of Man." Within the vast constellation of Essene movements (and in particular within its Enochic stream), the problem of salvation was complicated because of the belief in the doctrine of the superhuman origin of evil. What is needed is liberation not only from the nations, to which Israel is subjected because of its sins, but also from the forces of evil that govern this world. The need for a heavenly messiah was born from this need to fight primarily not only against the rulers of this world but also against Satan and his heavenly hosts, who are the lords and the lords of the lords of this world. Since the bearers of evil on earth come from heaven, and no mortal could ever object to them, it follows that the Messiah also should come from heaven, to be stronger than his opponents. In the Book of Parables of Enoch (also composed in the late first century BCE) the "Son of Man" of Daniel's vision becomes a celestial figure, a judge who will reveal himself at the end of time. He will then "sit on the throne of glory and will judge Azaz'el and his followers and his army, in the name of the Lord of Spirits "(1 En 55:4). Created at the beginning of the first creation before the angelic hosts, the son of man is a superhuman being, destined to remain "hidden" until his glorious manifestation.

"At that hour, that son of man was given a name, in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits, the Before-Time; even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars [i.e. the angels], he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He will be the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts... He was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the Spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity"(1 En 48, 2-6).

There are therefore "two powers in heaven"; this is how the Book of Parables explains the mysterious reference to the "thrones" in the vision of Daniel (7:9). The Son of Man is not subject to divine justice; he is the author of judgment, the judge "seated on the throne of glory" (1 En 69:29) to the right of the Most High, and as such he is, like God, worthy of honor and glory and worship. Divine features and functions are attributed to the figure of the Messiah, so prominently that the authority of the Messiah mingles with the authority of the supreme God and the Messiah also becomes object of veneration, in heaven as well as on earth. "All who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him; they shall glorify, bless and sing the name of the Lord of spirits" (1 En 48:5).

(C) The two Messiahs of Qumran. A third model of eschatological messianism is apparent within the community of Qumran, which recent studies show to have been formed by a radical group of dissidents within the Essene movement. Inspired by the belief of being the only remnant of Israel in a world completely dominated by evil, they developed a predeterministic view which assured clear and insurmountable boundaries between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness" (1QS 3:20-21). The paradox of the Enochic theology, which depicted a helpless God, unable to spare the world the corruption of evil, was overcome by the concept of an even too powerful God, who enjoyed creating both the Prince of Darkness (i.e. Satan) and the Angel of Light (i.e. Michael), and with them, both the righteous and the wicked. The fate of each individual was preordained since the womb. It did not matter that the freedom of humankind was sacrificed and humans were left with the only power of verifying their pre-existing condition. For the members of the sect it was not a point of regret, but of pride: they were the elect and nothing could separate them from God's love.

Within this perspective there was no room for the Messiah "Son of Man". There was no rebellious Satan to tame, and the Messiah had no mission to save humankind from a destiny that God himself has established with immutable decree "from the womb." The Qumran sect longed for the preordained time in which God would end the existence of evil. The debate about the eschatological era involved the question of leadership and, in line with the interests of the priestly group, along with political leadership (i.e. "the messiah of Israel"), there would be a supreme priestly leadership (i.e. "the messiah of Aaron").

Praising the experience of Zerubbabel and Joshua who first led the exiles back to Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah had blessed a possible diarchy between the king and the priest, "the two anointed ones who assist the Ruler of the whole earth" (Zech 4:14). The Qumran community transferred such a notion from the historical to the eschatological level, and consistent with their own theology, placed stronger emphasis on the power and superiority of the priest.

  • 4. Jesus: “Son of God" and "Son of Man"

The study of the historical Jesus has wavered, at least in its earliest phases, between two extremes: uncritical acceptance and an equally uncritical skepticism—either Jesus is the divine Messiah proclaimed by the Christian faith over the centuries, or is only a prophet, who was defeated in his expectations and rehabilitated only by the mythical narrative created by his followers to justify the failure of their hopes. The issue is the translation into secular terms of the radical and irreconcilable conflict that has for centuries opposed Judaism and Christianity—either Jesus was a Jewish prophet (and therefore is not, and cannot be, a Christian, and the real founder of Christianity was Paul), or he is the Christ of Christian tradition (and therefore is not, and cannot be, a Jew).

The rediscovery of the diversity of Judaisms in the Second Temple period makes it now possible to relocate Jesus and his movement within the Jewish world, with full respect for his Jewish identity, without downplaying the originality and specificity of the Christian position. There was not in fact a single normative Jewish messianism from which, or against which, the Christian messianism arose. In its origins, Christian messianism was nothing but one of the possible messianisms in competition with others. It thus becomes possible to say that Jesus was both Jewish and Christian. He was totally Jewish by birth, culture and religion. He was and remained such even when he became the founder and leader of the Christian movement and the promoter of a distinctive messianic interpretation.

Born in an environment where several messianic perspectives already competed one against the other, Christian messianism grew no less diverse, showing a no less strong tendency to diversify and clash into a variety of competing "Christologies". The texts of early Christian literature testify to this rapid evolution, which reveals ingenuity and creativeness, but also resulted into confrontation and clash of opinions within the earliest Jesus movement.

(A) Christ the “Son of God.” If we read the texts of early Christian literature in their original chronological context and not in the homogenizing context of the New Testament canon, the term "Son of God"—today commonly used by Christians to express their faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ—sounds far less impressive. The ancient Jewish and Christian tradition attributed it also to others. In Lk 3:38 Adam is the "son of God," and about the patriarch Levi the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs says that "the Almighty has heard your prayer to separate yourself from injustice and to become son, servant and minister before Him "(TestLevi 4.2). In Jewish tradition, all men are called to be "sons of God" and they are such where they are obedient and filial to their Creator in the expression of brotherly love toward their neighbor. In the Book of Sirach, we read: "Be like a father to the fatherless and a husband to their mother and you will be like a son of the Most High, and God will love you as its mother" (Sir 4:10; the original Hebrew is even stronger, "God will call you son"). Jesus invited his disciples to pray "our Father in heaven" (Mt 6:9, cf. Luke 11:2; Mt 23.9). Paul strongly affirmed that "all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom 8:14) and with similar words John reaffirmed that to "all who received him [Jesus] gave the power to become children of God "(John 1:12).

Luke (23:47) modified the text of Mark (15:39)—the so-called confession of faith of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross ("Truly this man was son of God")—replacing the phrase "son of God" with the word "righteous." The fact is generally explained as an indication of Luke's insistence on the innocence of Jesus (cf. Luke 23.13-16). It must be admitted, however, that it is unlikely that Luke would have amended the text if in Mark it meant the profession of faith in the divinity of Jesus by a Gentile, and replaced it with a recognition of justice and innocence—an important statement yes, but certainly far less impressive. It is more likely that the phrase “son of God” resonated with the readers of the time very differently from what it means for us today, after two thousand years of Christianity. In the first century, the terms "son of God" and "righteous" were simply synonyms.

Many of Jesus’ sayings betray a clear prophetic self-consciousness by the teacher from Nazareth. Some of these sayings are recognized as perhaps the most authentic expression of the ipsissima verba of Jesus, such as when he expressed his disappointment to his hometown ("Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house,” Mc 6.4), or his prescient lament over Jerusalem ("Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you!,”Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34). There is no doubt, however, that the tendency of the Christian tradition (perhaps as early as the time of Jesus) was to give the teacher and prophet of Nazareth a very special relationship with God the Father and from the very beginning, superhuman features and functions. In the narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, a voice from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11 and 9:7). The opinion of those who see in Jesus "one of the prophets," or the redivivus John Baptist or Elijah, is contrasted by the profession of faith of Peter: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:28-29). In essence, for the early Christians, Jesus was not simply a righteous prophet, but the Righteous One and as the eschatological Messiah, he was not just a son of God but the beloved Son of God.

The association between the Messiah and "the son of God" is not a new Christian concept. It is a traditional idea that comes from the rituals of enthronement of the ancient King-Messiahs of Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Cr 17:13; Ps 2:7; 110:3 [LXX]), to which the narratives of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are directly inspired. That the title “Son of God” is a synonym for "messiah" and an indication of his purpose and justice, and not of the divine nature, is confirmed by the fact that the very same phrase "the Christ, the Son of God” is found both in the opening words of the Gospel of Mark (1:1) or in the profession of messianic faith by Peter according to Matthew (16:15), and in the mouth of the high priest: "Are you the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt 26:63, cf. Mk 14.61: "Son of the Blessed One"). If the title "Son of God" implied the divinity of the Messiah, it could never be placed in a plausible manner in the high priest’s lips without sounding like an implausible blasphemy.

Paul used the same language of "adoption" both in reference to Christ, who was "designated Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4), and in relation to the whole Christian community ("you received a spirit of adoption whereby we cry," Abba, Father! ", Rom 8:15). In his unique relationship with the Father, the Messiah stands out as the son among the other sons; the phrase does not imply in itself the sharing of the divine nature, unless we read the Synoptics and Paul in light of the Gospel of John.

(B) The Christ "Son of Man." The absence of any explicit references to the divinity of the Messiah in the earliest strata of Christian literature does not automatically link the first Christians to the Pharisaic tradition of the "son of David." Although Paul already knows a tradition that claimed that Jesus "was descended from David according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3), since its inception the Christian preaching shows a clear tendency to attribute to Jesus not only messianic features but also heavenly nature and salvific functions. The term "Son of Man," a term now mysterious and neglected, is the only one that Jesus constantly refers to himself, and the only one that is consistently present in all Gospel traditions (including the Gospel of Thomas). This fact does not put the nascent Christian movement outside the Jewish world as radical and irreconcilable "heresy", but simply places it in the context of those Jewish movements which shared the Essene-Enochian notion of the superhuman origin of evil and longed for "salvation" from the evil of this world by a superhuman Savior.

The issue of forgiveness of sins emerged as the central node to be solved within the Essene thought of the first century. To argue that this world, gradually approaching its end, was increasingly more and more under the dominion of Satan, opened a major theological problem—how could the merciful God be so cruel and let the majority of humankind fall prey to evil without offering them any real chance of redemption? The Torah was the way to salvation, but the corruption of this world undermined the very capability of people to obey the Torah. The sinner had no way out before the court of the infallible and irrevocable Judge, unless God in His mercy did not set aside His justice and through forgiveness, allowed people to escape the judgment.

This was the intuition of John the Baptist, whose mediation is essential to understand the rise of the Jesus movement as well as the development of Christian messianism. The function of eschatological judge immediately connects the Messiah announced by John to the "Son of Man" of the Parables of Enoch. The imminent coming of the eschatological Judge who will cleanse the earth with fire, makes urgent repentance and "forgiveness of sins" for those who in this world are victims of evil. Facing the Judge and the fire of judgment only means certain annihilation for the sinners. The solution indicated by John the Baptist was based on the purifying value that the Enochian tradition attributed to the water. The model was that offered by the Flood, when the earth had already been immersed in order to limit the spread of evil. “Be baptized with water; otherwise, you will to be baptized with the fire of judgment by the Son of Man”—this seems to be in essence the original message of John the Baptist, as it appears behind the complaints and cautions of Josephus (Ant XVIII 116-119) and the interests of the evangelists to reduce it to mere prophecy of Christian baptism. That expressed by John the Baptist was little more then a hope founded on the belief that God could not be so cruel as to assent impassively to the destruction of the sinner. If a sinner sincerely repents, should God’s Mercy not prevail on His Justice?

Similar ideas are expressed in the Life of Adam and Eve, a text of the first century CE, where the sinner Adam does penance for 40 days immersed in the waters of the Jordan (and is not by accident that John baptized in living water of the Jordan). The first man (and first sinner) is driven by one steadfast hope: "Maybe God will have mercy on me" (Vita 4.3). His plea to be allowed back in the Garden of Eden will not be accepted, but at the time of his death, his soul will not be handed over to the devil, as his crime deserved, but carry out to heaven, as God decided in His mercy, despite the complaints of Satan.

Scholars struggle to reconstruct the messianic message of the historical Jesus, and it is virtually impossible to penetrate his messianic self-consciousness. Jesus left no writings, nor is there any contemporaneous reports of his preaching; we must rely only on the post factum testimony of his followers. The fact remains that the earliest Christian tradition is unanimous in assimilating the preaching of the historical Jesus to the categories of Enochian-Essene Judaism, as he borrowed them from John the Baptist. The relative absence of explicit messianic statements by Jesus is also not surprising. "Messiah", as it should now be evident, was in the first century an extremely vague and ambiguous term. The primary need and challenge for any messianic pretender in the first century was rather to clarify the characteristics of his messianic claims. It then becomes even more relevant that Jesus was assigned only and exclusively sayings that related him to the “Son of Man.” The only case in which Jesus mentions the Messiah “son of David" is to deny the concept entirely. To the "[Pharisaic] scribes [who] say that the Messiah is the son of David", Jesus polemically replies that it cannot be because "David himself calls him 'Lord': How then can he be his son?" (Mark 12:35-37). The messianic idea that Jesus refers to is the Enochian belief in "Son of Man,” a pre-existing heavenly figure, whose name is “hidden” from the moment of creation to the time of the end, when he reveals himself as the Judge, and “comes in the glory of the Father with his angels" (Mark 8.38). With the coming of the Son of Man, the power of the 'strong man' of this world is put to end, for "someone stronger than he" has come (Luke 11:22), one that has the power to "tie him up" and "plunder his house" (Mark 3:27). The "blasphemy" of which Jesus was guilty before the high priest was neither the messianic self-proclamation by a prisoner without power (such proclamation would have been a matter of pity or laughter) nor a statement of divine identity (which is not implied in the question of the high priest nor in the answer of Jesus). Facing the question of his messiahship, which for all Jews involved a special father-son relationship with the Father ("Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?"), Jesus claimed a superhuman, heavenly identity, "Yes, I am! And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mk 14:61-62).

Jesus' answer reveals the significant and scandalous variations that the Christian tradition introduced into its Enochic model. The son of man who will come from heaven as the eschatological Judge, has already been manifested on earth in Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian uniqueness lies exactly in this: "The Son of man has power [and the mission] on earth to forgive sins (Mk 2:1-12, cf. Mt 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26). The statement sounds like "blasphemy" for those who maintain that the Messiah (the son of David) will be the leader of Israel in the world to come, but not the savior and redeemer of the individual, whose justice is measured by God the Judge according to the Torah.

The persuasive and liberating power of the Christian message stands out when compared with the proposal of John the Baptist. The baptism of John was presented as a way to avoid the judgment. But John could only express a hope, based on the faith that God is good and merciful and cannot remain insensitive to the cries of anguish of sinners who, like Adam in the Life of Adam and Eve, plea God in repentance and faith. According to his followers, Jesus offered a more concrete perspective as the promise of forgiveness comes from the Son of Man himself. Who can have more authority to forgive than the one whom God has delegated as the eschatological Judge?

The earliest Christian tradition, therefore, reads and interprets the experience of Jesus the Messiah by borrowing its categories from the Book of Parables. It adds two new elements, which do not separate Christianity from the world of Second Temple Judaism, but enhance its specificity in relation not only to the Sadducees and the Pharisees, but also in relation to its Enochic roots—Jesus is the Son of Man, who before revealing himself as the eschatological Judge, has come as one who has authority on earth to forgive sins.

  • 5. Conclusion: The Divine Christ and the decline of the Theology of the "Son of Man"

There never was in Christianity something like a “low Christology,” centered on the view of Jesus as a human Messiah. Since its earliest beginnings, the Jesus movement found cohesion in the belief of Jesus as the “Son of Man,” an exalted heavenly Messiah, the forgiver on earth and the would-be eschatological Judge.

Initially, the first Christians did not even take into consideration the hypothesis that their Messiah could be “divine.” The possibility that the Messiah could be divine was simply not part of the Jewish messianic debate of the time. Paul also was very careful never to attribute to the “kyrios” Jesus the title of “theos” (God), which was unique to the Father. "Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many theoi and kyrioi—yet for us there is only one theos, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one kyrios, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist "(1 Cor 8:5-6).

The absence of the term Son of Man in Paul does not have to be interpreted as a rejection of the concept of the Son of Man. On the contrary, the christology of Paul does not radically depart from the Enochic pattern. Like the Synoptic “Son of Man,” the Pauline Son-kyrios belongs to the heavenly sphere, and is separated from and subordinate to the Father-theos. After completing his mission of forgiveness through his self-sacrifice, "the Son, too, will be subjected to the One who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). If Paul does not use the term “Son of Man” (even in contexts such as 1 Thess 4:16-17, where the reference to Daniel 7 would have made it obvious), it is because the title would have interfered with the parallelism he establishes between Adam and the new Adam, by suggesting the subordination of Jesus ben Adam to the first Adam. As the obedient son, Christ is compared to the disobedient son, Adam, with whom he shares the nature and dignity as the other “son of God.” Both were created in the image and likeness of God, taking upon himself the "form" of God; Adam and Jesus, however, are separated by a different fate, that is, one of guilt and transgression in the case of Adam, and the other of obedience and glory in the case of the new Adam. The kenosis of Adam is punishment caused by his disobedience, while in Jesus the kenosis is a voluntary choice for accomplishing his mission of forgiveness and is followed by his elevation and glorification (Phil 2:5-11). The veneration of Jesus, often mistaken as evidence of Jesus’ divine status, is the veneration due to the Son of Man at the time once his name is manifested.

It took almost one century for the Christians to come to the conclusion (or within a Christian theological perspective, to the realization) that the Messiah could be “more than an angel” (cf. Letter to the Hebrews). And it took the genius of the Gospel of John to first introduce the possibility of a divine Christ and make this concept part of the theological debate of Second Temple Judaism. This goal, however, was achieved by relying on speculations about the divine logos/sophia, speculations that were completely extraneous to Jewish messianism, except in the sense that the Messiah will speak the word of God and will be the revealer of heavenly wisdom. The Christians who could not attribute the term theos to Jesus the Messiah, would not have then any hesitations to attribute it to Jesus the logos: “My kyrios and my theos!” (Jn 20:28)

At this point, the theology of the "Son of Man," which was already barely comprehensible outside its original Enochic setting (the term is conspicuous for its absence in the Gospel of Thomas), became in the eyes of most Christians insufficient, ambiguous and even potentially dangerous—an obstacle to be removed in the way to confess the divine nature of the Son. The Johannine tradition still maintained the title and numerous son-of-man sayings. Jesus was indeed the Son of Man as Jesus himself revealed in the dialogue with the man born blind: "[Jesus] found him and said: Do you believe in the Son of Man? He answered: Who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him. Jesus said to him: You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he. And he said: Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him. Jesus said: I came into this world for judgment…"(John 9.35-39). At a first glance, the passage appears as a restatement of the theology of the Enochian Son of Man. But in the previous chapters John had already taken care to turn the term, which originally defined the nature of the Messiah, into a neutral term that merely expressed one of its functions. Jesus is not the Son of Man by nature; he is the Son of Man because he serves as the eschatological judge. "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son ... [the Father] has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man" (John 5:22.27).

With all this, the Gospel of John is still interested in the debate about the son of man in the Enochian context and does not fail to make his voice heard in the controversy. Whether the last chapter of the Parables of Enoch was part of the original document or a later glossa, the Enochic tradition had come to identify Enoch with the Son of Man: "You are the son of the man born for justice and righteousness has dwelt in you and the Chief Justice of Days you do not abandon "(1 En 71.14), and had described the angelic transfiguration of the ancient patriarch, visionary and hero of Enochic Judaism into the eschatological Judge. John does not hold back from a sharp rebuttal: "No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13). Against those who claimed that Enoch was the Son of Man who ascended into heaven, John argued the superiority of Jesus, the Son of Man who descended from and ascended into heaven.

The reduction of the Son of Man from concept to function, however, marks the decline and rapid disappearance of the phrase from the early Christian theological debate. In presenting the Son of Man as the eschatological Judge, the Book of Revelation now attributes to him the same divine features of God the Father:

"I was in the Spirit... and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet... and on turning I saw... one like the son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining With full force"(Rev 1:10-16).

The characters of the judge and the judged, which were originally distinct in Daniel's vision, are now confused. Contrary to what was stated in the Book of Parables, God and the Lamb are now part of the divine sphere, and are both clearly separated from the angels. The final part of Revelation culminated in the apotheosis of the vision of the throne of God and the Lamb, surrounded by "his servants who worship him" (Rev 22:3). Twice the seer "prostrated” at the feet of the accompanying angel to worship him, and twice the angel rebuked him: "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers, who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"(Rev 19:10; cf. 22.8-9). The angel's words remind us of the readiness with which Peter asked the centurion Cornelius to stand up in front of him when he "fell down at his feet to worship him"—"Rise; I am only a mortal!" (Acts 10:25-26). Now that the messiah no longer belonged to the celestial sphere but to the divine, the ban to worship humans extended also to angels. As long as the "Son of Man" was an angel, the worship of angels could not be condemned, but now that the Christian "Son of Man" is divine, it became a practice to be punished with the utmost severity, especially against the rival Enochians who dared promote Enoch to the rank of an angel.

The transition from the Messiah "Son of Man" to the Messiah-logos, or from heavenly to divine messianism, did not take place across the spectrum of Christianity in a linear fashion, at the same time, or everywhere. Yet it is striking how quickly even the memory of the original meaning of the term "son of man" got lost in the span of one generation. The Christological discussion shifted rapidly on the issue of the relationship between the human and the divine nature of the Son; and the trend was to use the terms inherited from the earliest traditions in the light of the new debate. The Christian texts began to interpret the title "son of God" in reference to the divinity of Christ and the term "son of man" in relation to his humanity. In Irenaeus’ words, “Jesus is the Son of God who became the Son of Man” (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses III 16.7, 18.3), or as stated by the anonymous author of the contemporary letter to Regino on resurrection (in the second half of the 2nd century c.e.): "The Son of God was the son of man. He embraced both [natures], possessing humanity and divinity "(3). Origen brilliantly addressed the apparent contradiction that the Gospels attributed to the Son of Man superhuman features and functions that should have been more logically attributed to the "son of God." He claimed that the reality of the incarnation justifies the paradox, making the two terms virtually interchangeable: "in all Scripture the divine nature is designated with human titles, and the human nature is given the honor of divine appellations " (De principiis II 6.3).

A similar mutation affected the Pauline kyrios, who was given the same status as the divine logos in his relationship with the Father-theos. In the second century, Ignatius of Antioch took as his model the style and even the vocabulary of Paul, and yet he commonly spoke of Jesus as "our theos" (Ephesians 18.2). Something must have radically changed in the Christian understanding of the nature of Christ; John's theology had rapidly won the minds and hearts of faithful Christians.

Angelic messianism was increasingly confined to minority areas of resistance; no alternative was given to left-behind, old-fashioned Christians, if not to resign themselves to their marginalization and to the demise of their theology, from the dominant view to Judeo-Christian "heresy". Justin still felt the need to use the title of "angel" in reference to Jesus, but only to clarify that it was meant to signify that Jesus acted as a messenger "to serve the will of [the Father]" (127.4 ). For Epiphanius (fourth century) angelic messianism was just a bizarre belief:

"[The Ebionites] deny that [Christ] was begotten of God the Father, asserting that he was created as one of the archangels, but that he was greater than they, and that he rules over the angels and all things made by the Almighty "(Panarion XXX 16,4; cf. 3,4-5; Ippolito, Refutatio X 29, 2).

This quite accurate synthesis of the ancient Enochian-Christian theology provided by Epiphanis was now perceived in the Christian self-understanding not as the relic of a primitive stage of first Christian thought, but as the product of a late and secondary heretical deviation by Judaizing Christians. The trajectory of early Christian messianism had come to a new beginning by denying its own starting point; if the early Christian Messiah never belonged to the human sphere, it was now equally clear that the divine Logos never belonged to the angelic sphere.

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