Ontology is a branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as, “Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?”
Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Trinity since Orthodox Christians attempt to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence. As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words, “What difference does the Messiah make in the world?” One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 23: 5-8; Mic. 5:4-6), and unite humanity as one (Zech. 14:9).
The Messiah is also supposed usher in a period of worldwide peace, and put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is. 2:1-22; Mic. 4:1-4). Hence, since the world is not in a state of peace and the Jewish people are not dwelling securely in the land of Israel, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
Within the Hebrew Bible, there are Messianic texts such as Isaiah 52:13-53; 61:1-3, that focus upon the Messiah’s works rather than his essence or being. Perhaps this shows us that one of the starting points in Jewish-Christian dialogue is to understand the importance of the relationship between not only who the Messiah IS but also what the Messiah DOES. In his famous book, The Prophets, Abraham Heschel said, “Biblical ontology does not separate being from doing.” (1) Heshel goes on to say, “What is acts. The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds.” (2) In contrast to ontological Christology, functional Christology emphasizes the actions of the Messiah.
Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he continually appealed to his actions as evidence of his Messiahship. Some of the visible actions of Jesus included the healing of the sick (Mark 1: 32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38), teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31), forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and showing the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5).
From a Christian perspective, the work of the Messiah is accomplished in a series of stages: (1) The consecration at John’s baptism, (2) Messiah’s death, (3) Messiah’s resurrection, (4) Messiah’s present role as priest and advocate for His people which is presently happening (1 John 2:2; Romans 8:34), (5) Messiah’s current positional rule or Lordship over the Church and His enemies. And we see in the final work of the Messiah will be in the future. Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God. (Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic.4:1-4;Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).
In his book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity, Richard Bauckham has asserted that an Ontic/Functional Christology distinction is not the correct approach to New Testament Christology. While some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period did utilize some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.
While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God’s divine identity. The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Is. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Ps. 97:7; Is. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
Jesus’ divine identity is affirmed by the fact that He is given the same attributes as God. Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus comes to participate as God’s sovereign Ruler over all things (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44;26:64; Acts 2:33-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; 1 Cor.15:27-28; Phil. 2:6-11; Eph. 1:21-22; Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus is seen as the object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28: 9,17; Jn. 5:23; 20:28; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12). He is also the recipient of praise (Matt. 21:16-16; Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14) and prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17,21; 22:16,19;1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor.12:8). Jesus is also the Creator of all things (Heb. 1:2; Jn. 1: 1-3; Col. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 8:6). For Bauckham, the divine identity of God is seen in Jesus’ suffering, death, and glory.
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Sources: 1.Abraham J. Heshel, The Prophets (New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers 2003), 44. 2.Ibid.