This portion of the Creed points to something that is absolutely unique about the Christian faith. Our God is the God of all things, which means that He is the God of history. History matters, which means that historicity matters, which means the name of a Roman prefect, governing the small Roman province of Judea, is part of our foundational confession.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
“I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:13–16).
Paul is here giving an earnest charge to Timothy, and he does so in the sight of the God who give life to everything, and in the presence of the same Christ who testified and made a good confession before Pontius Pilate (v. 13). The charge is that Timothy keep Paul’s commandment blamelessly until the Lord comes (v. 14). The Lord will manifest that coming in His good time, He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords (v. 15). God alone is the immortal one, He dwells in light that cannot be approached, He whom no one has seen or can see. Honor and dominion are His, and amen to all of it (v. 16).
The juxtaposition is this. Just as Christ made a good confession before a measly Roman provincial governor, so also, a fortiori, Timothy should imitate Him so as to be able to make a good confession in the presence of the only Prince, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one who represents the only wise God, He who dwells in unapproachable light, the one who possesses eternal honor and dominion. Christ could make the good confession over against Pilate, which He did with His royal silence and His bloody death. But there is no way for us to make a good confession over against God—we must do this in Christ, or not at all. The only refuge from God is to be found in God.
No Brute Facts:
We need to return to something that was said at the beginning, something that falls out of the necessity of a historical foundation for our faith. “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). It is not enough for this to be a consistent or coherent part of the Christian story, one of the tales we tell in our faith community. It is absolutely necessary that there be consistency between our confession of it as the truth, and the way things actually transpired out in the world.
There have always been certain theologians, too clever by half, who want to spiritualize things like the resurrection, as though we could be saved by an atomized platitude. But this confession about Pontius Pilate brings us crashing into history the way it actually was. Pontius Pilate as a Roman prefect cannot readily be turned into “a spiritual truth.” Try it. No, it is more like what we might call a “pedestrian truth,” and without it, our faith is in tatters.
So all facts are interpreted facts—and God is the ultimate interpreter. All history is interpreted history—with God the ultimate reader of history. This means that Jesus is Lord of all things. Is there then no common ground between the believer and the unbeliever? Well, yes, there is, but only so long as we know that Jesus is the Lord of the common ground.
We are saved through the passion of Christ on the cross. The word passion refers to His suffering. We are condemned, together with our sins, in the suffering of Jesus Christ. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Christ suffered for us, and that suffering was completed, and was entirely fulfilled at a certain place in the world, on a certain day, at a certain time of day.
“For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). In other words, Christ’s sufferings were historical, not perpetual. A perpetual death is a non-efficacious death. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:12). Because Christ suffered for you, and because His suffering ended on a particular day, therefore His blood sanctifies you and sets you apart. That is why a gallon and a half of blood could do what an endless river of blood could not do. Christ’s death was infinite in its value, but punctiliar and finite in its application. It is over.
Our old life died when Jesus died (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:3). Our new life begins when Jesus emerges from the tomb. He was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). He died so that we might die. He lives so that we might live. He lives forever so that we might live forever.