For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 NRSV
To think of Jesus as “Mighty God” may not be difficult for us as Christians who affirm the Trinitarian nature of God. Because the “Son” is the second person of the Trinity, we can think and speak of Jesus as part of the Trinue God.One blog post can’t possibly cover the pertinent church history, however simply put the church wrestled with question of who Jesus is for a very long time. Our understanding of Jesus as truly human and truly divine, as well as our understanding of the Trinity is the result of much thought and prayer by the early church. But things were not as simple for the first believers. (I’m not saying that understanding the Trinity is simple, but it does give us a way to make sense of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.)
In ancient times, when Isaiah was writing, kings were often believed to be a god. And if not a god, the son of a god. And if not that, someone who ruled because god placed the ruler in power. Rulers; kings, pharaohs, emperors; ruled on behalf of the gods and were believed to embody at least some of the god’s attributes and powers. If the people were polytheists, as most of the ancient world was, thinking of the ruler as another god was not a theological problem.
But the Jewish tradition was different. They were always very clear that their ruler was not God. There is only one God. So how can Isaiah and Israel speak of the coming king as mighty God? There is more than one possibility.
The phrase that is translated as “Mighty God” can also be translated as “mighty hero” or “divine hero”. These four titles may also have been understood to be describing the God who placed the ruler- God’s representative- on the throne. The Bible is full of examples where someone’s name was a phrase about God. For example; Elijah- YHWH is my God. Isaiah-YHWH saves.
What about the early church? To speak of Jesus as God presented a problem. No one should be called God, but the one true God. When Jesus closely identifies himself with God (The Father and I are one, John 10:22-39) it is considered blasphemy.
Nevertheless, the New Testament does describe Jesus as one who does divine, God like things. In ancient literature, what one did was a statement about who one was. When the early Christians talked about Jesus as one who cast out demons, as one who nature obeyed, as one who forgave sin, as one who healed, and so on; they were ascribing and describing divine actions to Jesus. Jesus showed the mighty power of God and that revealed who Jesus was.
The question for us to reflect on is, what does Jesus’ actions tell us about mighty God? And then how do we as modern disciple continue to reflect and reveal the power of God?
My reflections this Advent and Christmas are based on Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Guide.