In his attempt to articulate the deity of Jesus Pannenberg’s primary concern is to demonstrate that the deity of Christ is coherent with the events of the historical person of Jesus. This unity developed in light of the Easter event allows Pannenberg to develop classical concepts of Christology. The message of Jesus in his public ministry was essentially one of salvation through the imminent reign of the Father. The kingdom message of Jesus demanded radical response and that for those who open themselves to this summons, God already comes with his rule. The basis is that the oneness of God is the content of this future and that the rule of God becomes the outworking of God’s claim to be present with the life of the creature.
Jesus’ identity as the messenger of the in breaking Kingdom was then combined within early church community after his resurrection as the divine confirmation of the sending of the crucified. The theology of the cross is tied to the earthly sending and message of Jesus to the imminent rule of God, for if the cross were an external event without relation to his message it could not have such a rich meaning, but as it is it becomes the central piece in the self-differentiation of the Son from the Father.
For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the Christian faith but not isolated from the earthly sending of Jesus that culminates on the cross. When the divinity of Jesus is understood from the light of Easter it is not alien to the person of Jesus, but grounded in his relationship to the Father. So despite the other-worldliness inherent in the claim itself, the Easter message makes the resurrection of Jesus an event of transition from this earthly world to a new imperishable life with God. The institution of divine sonship was recognized from Easter, but the event itself has retroactive force and reveals that the future of God was and is present in and by him. Jesus finds relation to the eternal God through his experience of the one God as Father, but the resurrection expands the relationship of Father and Son beyond the scope of earthly existence into the being of God.
This is central to Pannenberg’s previously developed thesis on the self-revelation of God as the content for theological reflection, because here the message and history of Jesus is brought into the message and history of God and God is eternally the Father revealed in the relationship to Son and the eternally in relation with the Father. This relationship that founds the immanent Trinity, revealed in the history of Jesus, provides the material for understanding the pre-existence of the Son. Pannenberg argues that we can then “speak of a state of preexistence of the Son of God, who was manifested in the history of Jesus, even before his earthly birth, just as for the same reason we may speak of an abiding relation to the Crucified and risen Lord to the Father in consequence of his exaltation to fellowship with the Father and to participation in his lordship” (II, 368).
Through the election of God humanity is connected to the pre-existence of Christ on the way to salvation and fellowship with God, the destiny of humanity. Pannenberg recognizes that to sinners the incarnation may seem alien, but in our very nature humanity is ordained for the incarnation of the Son. As the Son related to the Father through self-distinction, so the creature receives fellowship with God through this distinction from God in humble, obedient acceptance of this distinction.