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Jesus Is Lord

General Audience — April 19, 1989

There is a solemn eloquence about Peter's announcement in his first discourse on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem: "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promises of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). These words, addressed to the multitude comprising the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the pilgrims who had come there from various parts for the celebration of the feast, proclaim the lifting up of Christ—crucified and risen—"to the right hand of God." The "lifting up," that is, the ascension into heaven, signified the sharing of Christ as man in the power and authority of God himself. This sharing in the power and authority of the Triune God is manifested in the sending of the Counselor, the Spirit of truth who, "taking" (Jn 16:14) from the redemption effected by Christ, brings about the conversion of human hearts. So true is this, indeed, that on that very day at Jerusalem "when they heard this they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). It is well known that there were thousands of conversions within a few days.

The ensemble of the paschal events mentioned by the Apostle Peter in his Pentecost discourse definitively reveals Jesus as sent by the Father as Messiah and Lord.

The awareness that he was "the Lord" had already in some way entered the minds of the apostles during Christ's prepaschal activity. He himself referred to this fact at the Last Supper: "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am" (Jn 13:13). This explains why the evangelists speak of Christ as "Lord" as something generally accepted in the Christian communities. In particular, Luke has the angel announcing to the shepherds the birth of Christ in the words: "There is born to you...a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). In many other places Luke uses the same term (cf. Lk 7:13; 10:1; 10:41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:6; 22:61). It is certain, however, that the ensemble of the paschal events finally consolidated this awareness. It is in the light of these events that one must understand the word "Lord" also in reference to the previous life and activity of the Messiah. Nevertheless, one must examine in depth the import and meaning of the word particularly in the context of the taking up and glorification of the risen Christ in his ascension into heaven.

One of the most frequently repeated statements in the Pauline letters is that Christ is Lord. There is the well-known passage of the First Letter to the Corinthians: "For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor 8:6; cf. 16:22; Rom 10:9; Col 2:6). Again, in the Letter to the Philippians Paul presents as Lord, the Christ who humbled himself unto death and was exalted so "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11). However, Paul emphasizes that "no one can say that 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). Therefore, it is "through the power of the Holy Spirit" that the Apostle Thomas said to Christ who appeared to him after the resurrection: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28). The same is true for the deacon Stephen who, while being stoned, prayed: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:59-60).

Finally, the Book of Revelation concludes the cycle of sacred history and of revelation with the invocation of the Bride and of the Spirit: "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).

It is the mystery of the action of the "enlivening" Holy Spirit who continually infuses into our souls the light to recognize Christ, the grace to root his life more deeply within us and the power to proclaim that he—and he alone—is Lord.

Jesus Christ is Lord because he possesses the fullness of power "in heaven and on earth." It is kingly power "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.... He has put all things under his feet" (Eph 1:21-22). At the same time it is priestly power of which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks at length in reference to Psalm 110:4: "You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:6). Christ's eternal priesthood implies the power to sanctify so that Christ "becomes the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:9). "Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). Likewise in the Letter to the Romans we read that Christ "is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us" (Rom 8:34). Finally, St. John assures us: "If any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn 2:1).

As Lord, Christ is the Head of the Church, his Body. It is the central idea of St. Paul's great cosmic-historical-soteriological "fresco" describing the content of God's eternal plan in the first chapters of the letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: "He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22). "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19), in him in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9).

The Book of Acts tell us that Christ "acquired" the Church "with his own blood" (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Cor 6:20). Moreover, Jesus, when going to the Father, said to his disciples: "I am with you all days, to the close of the age"; in this he was really announcing the mystery of this Mystical Body which continually draws from him the life-giving powers of the redemption. The redemption continues its work as the effect of Christ's glorification.

It is true that Christ has always been "Lord" from the first moment of the Incarnation, for he is the Son of God, one in being with the Father, who became man for us. Undoubtedly, he became Lord in the fullest sense by the fact that "he humbled himself ('he emptied himself') and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). Lifted up, assumed into heaven and glorified, having thus completely fulfilled his mission, he remains in the Body of his Church on earth by means of the redemption effected in individuals and in the whole of society through the Holy Spirit. The redemption is the source of the authority which Christ, through the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church, as we read in the Letter to the Ephesians: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ...to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-13).

By an extension of the kingship conferred on him over the whole economy of salvation, Christ is Lord of the entire universe. We learn this from the other great "fresco" of the Letter to the Ephesians: "He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things" (Eph 4:10). In the First Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul adds that everything has been subjected to him: "For God has put all things in subjection under his feet" (referring to Psalm 8:5). "When it says 'All things are put in subjection under him,' it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him" (1 Cor 15:27). The Apostle further develops this thought when he writes: "When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one" (1 Cor 15:28). "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power" (1 Cor 15:24).

The Constitution Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council has taken up this fascinating theme by stating that: "The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings" (GS 45). We can summarize this by saying that Christ is the Lord of history. In him the history of man, and it may be said of all creation, finds its transcendent fulfillment. This is what was called in tradition the recapitulation, that is, the uniting or summing up (re-capitulatio). This concept is based on the Letter to the Ephesians which describes God's eternal design "to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth...as a plan for the fullness of time" (Eph 1:10).

Finally, we must add that Christ is Lord of eternal life. It is he who shall come to judge the living and the dead in the last judgment of which Matthew's Gospel speaks: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne...Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Mt 25:31, 34).

The full right to judge definitively human actions and consciences belongs to Christ as Redeemer of the world. He "acquired" this right through the cross. Therefore the Father "has given all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22). The Son, however, did not come precisely to judge, but to save; to bestow the divine life that is in him. "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man" (Jn 5:26-27).

It is therefore a power that coincides with the mercy that flows into his heart from the bosom of the Father, from whom the Son proceeds and becomes man "for us men and for our salvation." Christ crucified and risen, Christ who "ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father," Christ who is therefore the Lord of eternal life, towers above the world and above history as a sign of infinite love surrounded with glory, but desirous to receive from every man a reply of love in order to grant him eternal life.