Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), “Christ Driving Out Money Changers From the Temple”
I remember singing that sweet old gospel song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and I’m not denying that Jesus is our friend and brother, but there is something a bit disconcerting about being too comfortable with Jesus. He might be the good shepherd and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, but he’s the shepherd is also the judge and while he’s mild, there is also something wild about him.
Aslan is not a tame lion and Christ the Tiger is not a cuddly kitten.
I’m not sure where in the New Testament it indicates that Jesus is our best buddy. When I read the gospels he certainly went to parties, was sociable and was very popular, but he is always treated either with extreme respect or with disdain and fear. Even with his apostles there is a distance. He loves people, but he doesn’t come across to me as full of bonhomie, high fives and hearty slaps on the back. There is always something of the desert about him.
Yet the predominant image of Jesus in our American Evangelical society is that of “friend and brother”. People are told they can have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus, and one gets the impression that this is of the same order as the sort of relationship you have with your best buddy from high school days. It’s almost Jesus the work colleague, or Jesus the team leader.
I’m sure that’s all well and good up to a point, but I doubt if it’s really a Scriptural image, nor is it an image that was popular throughout Church history. The closest we get to a chummy, up close and personal Jesus is the intimacy of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and certainly we Catholics love the tenderness of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.
The more dominant image in the New Testament is one of Jesus Christ glorified. The readings for the Ascension emphasize the ‘cosmic Christ’. He is the one under whose feet God has put all things. He is the one who has claimed dominion over all the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. He is the one through whom all things exist, who is in all and through all. In other words, he is Christ the King, Christ Pantocrator.
Furthermore, he is the judge of the living and the dead, before whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
Why is this image so neglected today, and why has it never (in my experience) been emphasized within Protestantism? Is it just that we are democratic? We’re egalitarian and want Jesus to be ‘an ordinary guy’? Is it because we are uncomfortable with all the supernatural language associated with him being over all the ‘thrones and principalities and powers and dominions’?
Or is it the fact that Jesus–the Dreadful Judge of the Last Day makes us a wee bit, well, nervous? To be nervous of that final judgment is not such a bad thing. In fact, the Book of Proverbs says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The proper fear of the Lord is the humble acknowledgement that we are in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus Christ is, after all, the second person of the Holy Trinity—the very Son of God, Light from Light, God from God, Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made.
He loves me, and is my friend and brother, but he is first and foremost—as the apostles proclaim, “My Lord and My God.”