009 - Understanding the Trinity - Part 1 [b]
Understanding the Trinity–Part 1
Ephesians Lesson #009
November 25, 2018
“Father, it’s a great privilege to have Your Word: to own Your Word, to have it as our own possession. Many of us have many translations, and yet Father, in this world where the Bible is so readily available in so many places, there is such a lack of knowledge. There is lack of interest, there’s lack of concern, there’s focus on too many things and none upon You.
“Father, we pray that we might not take it lightly, that we have Your Word, but that we might recognize that this is Your very word to us. This is what You have written, what You have preserved through centuries. You have taken many different writers in order to craft what we have before us, and many others who are responsible for its copying and its transmission.
“That we might come to understand who You are, that You have drawn us to Yourself through Your Word, and that You have called us to Yourself through Your Word. It is through Your Word that we learn of salvation, and through Your Word that we are matured spiritually. We are set apart to Your service. We are sanctified by Your Word, which is truth.
“Father, we pray that as we take this time to study Your Word that we might come to a greater understanding of Who You are as we study Your Triune existence and its significance for our salvation and its significance for our life in this life.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Ephesians 1 begins with a eulogy, which is nothing more than a written praise to the three Members of the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as we have seen in the previous two lessons. This morning we’re continuing our understanding of what the Scripture teaches.
As Paul structures this opening section, there’s a praise:
- For the blessings provided by the Father in Ephesians 1:36.
- For His Son and His provision of redemption and forgiveness of sins, in Ephesians 1:7–12.
- For the blessing of the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13–14, as the One who seals us to God, securing our salvation forever and ever, because salvation that is not dependent on anything that we do, can never be lost by something that we do. That is critical for understanding eternal security. Ephesians 1:13–14.
We began by looking at Old Testament passages on the plurality of God and on the deity of the Messiah. Today we will look at the second part and perhaps get to the third part, depending on time. We will look at the New Testament passages on the plurality of God and the deity of Jesus. Then we will go to the third section: How this was understood in the fourth century.
Two great councils: AD 325 was the Council of Nicaea, out of which came the Nicene Creed, but it was not in quite the form it is now because it did not say anything about the deity of the Holy Spirit. That came together in AD 381 at the Council of Constantinople, and that what we usually recite. It is usually recited since that time as the Nicene Creed, which is really that which was brought into final form at the Council of Constantinople. That is good because it helps us think more precisely about the Trinity.
We looked at the fact that in the Old Testament there is clear evidence that the Old Testament writers viewed God as a plurality, not only as a oneness, but also as plurality as many, as indicated by the plural ending Elohim as it’s used throughout the Old Testament.
Specifically, we looked first at Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created …” I pointed out that there’s not a subject–verb agreement in that passage for Elohim is treated as a singular noun.
There are collective nouns: if I were to say that “the crowd applauds,” then the term “crowd” refers to a multiplicity of people, but it’s used as a collective noun, so it uses a singular verb. If that was all we had here, then maybe that would be the case, but there’s much more to it.
Secondly, there are plural pronouns throughout the Old Testament. When God speaks, He refers to Himself as a plurality, as in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, let us make man in our image, and according to our likeness …” Again, this indicates a plurality in the Godhead.
Another way to look at this is the number “One” that is applied to God. It is the word echad, which can include a multiplicity. For example, at the end of Genesis 2:24, Moses’ comments, “And for this reason a man shall leave father and mother and the two shall become one flesh.” It is a unity that involves multiplicity.
But the passage you will hear from Unitarian monotheists, such as Jews and Moslems, is Deuteronomy 6:4, where God says, “Hear, O, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
If you are talking to a Jewish friend, and they will say this is the verse that indicates God is a unity.
But even in the Jewish Publication Society translation in the Tanakh. Tanakh is an acronym:
Torah, the “T,”
Nevi’im, the “N,” and
“K” is the Ketuvim
That’s the three sections of the Old Testament: The law, the prophets, and the writings.
It’s just referred to by Jews as the Tanakh, and the English translation of 1985 by the Jewish Publication Society translated it as, “Hear, O, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” citing several historical rabbis, such as a Rashbam and Ibn Ezra as the sources for such a translation.
That’s important because that shows that they understand contextually the issue was a prohibition of idolatry surrounding this verse, and the statement is “the Lord our God is our God, the Lord alone,” —not other gods. He is distinct from other gods.
There’s also the personality in the Old Testament of the Angel of Yahweh who is spoken of as being God and also as being distinct from God. I just cited Genesis 16:7, Genesis 17:3, and there are also passages in Zechariah which have the Angel of the Lord talking to Yahweh.
You see that there’s a multiplicity of Persons in the Godhead. The idea that you don’t have the Trinity spelled out in the Old Testament is true, but it’s there. It’s not something that just comes along all of a sudden in the New Testament.
We looked at other passages, especially those that talk about the Messiah, indicating that the Messiah would be divine.
Micah 5:2 is one example, prophesying the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and He’s described as the “Ruler in Israel.” He’s obviously born, so that indicates His humanity, but He is One “… whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
He is eternal. Eternality is a critical attribute of God. This is going to come up in understanding the relationship with Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity to God. In what sense is He God? This was the question that they were asking in the early church.
If we believe in one God, we have God the Father, we have God the Son, we have God the Holy Spirit, why isn’t that this Tritheism? Why aren’t we worshiping three gods? And this has been a bit of a difficulty for people down through the ages to try to understand this.
I remember reading a comment made on an exam one time where the student had written that they didn’t believe in the Trinity because God has to be someone I can understand. And the comment was made, “Don’t you think somebody who is omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent and who created everything in the universe from the infinite subatomic particles all the way up to the galaxies and the universe just might be somebody you couldn’t comprehend?”
That’s the problem that we have with a lot of folks is they say, “Well, I can’t understand God. Therefore, He must not be.” There’s some sort of conclusion drawn there. But He is everlasting and for the Messiah to be everlasting eternal, He must be fully God because that is an attribute that only God has. It distinguishes Him from the creature.
Isaiah 48 is one of the clearest examples of multiplicity in the Godhead. In Isaiah 48:16 you have the Servant of God, who is the Messiah speaking, who is clearly divine. He is sent by the Lord God at the last phrase of Isaiah 48:16, “and His Spirit.” There you have the Three Persons speaking: The Me is the Servant of God, the Messiah, and the Lord, and His Spirit. All three are mentioned there.
As we look at our passage where Paul is using a very Jewish formula, “Blessed be the God …” he is using Old Testament language, and he’s giving this a new twist because now he is adding the phrase “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …”
The concept of God as Father is also seen in the Old Testament. The Old Testament identifies Yahweh as the Father. Turn with me to Isaiah 63, and I want to walk us through the context a little bit before we look at Isaiah 63:15.
This is a great chapter because it focuses on the future. It focuses, I believe, on that which occurs at the end of the Tribulation period; at the end of that future seven-year period when God is going to complete His salvation plan for Israel as a nation.
There are many, many Jews down through the centuries who are saved individually, but the nation has not accepted Jesus as Messiah. There will be numerous Jews that are saved through the Tribulation period from the ministry of the 144,000 Jews.
It said there will be 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. Those 144,000 that are saved and sealed at the beginning of the Tribulation period will be evangelizing the world—they and those who respond positively to their message.
At the end of the Tribulation period, the majority of the saved Jews in Israel have fled, and they are across the Jordan River in the area now known as Jordan, near the area of Petra.
If you remember in Matthew 24, as Jesus walks the disciples through the events chronologically of the Tribulation period, He talks about the midpoint event of the Abomination of Desolation when the Antichrist sets up an idol to himself in the temple for everyone to worship. Jesus told His disciples and those who would be alive at that time, “When you see these things take place, flee to the mountains.”
At that point, we see Jews that are believers in Jesus—because if they’re not believers in Jesus, they wouldn’t pay attention to what He said—following that command. They flee Jerusalem, and head to the wilderness, to the area that’s identified in Isaiah 63:1 as Edom and Bozrah—that’s across the Jordan, over by Petra.
Then the prophet begins focusing on this individual who has come. This is the Messiah who comes, because while the Jews are there, they cry out, finally, to Jesus as Messiah to come and deliver them. So Jesus comes—this is the first battle in the Campaign of Armageddon—and He will defeat the armies of the Antichrist sent to destroy this remnant in Bozrah.
Isaiah 63:1, “Who is this who comes from Edom?— He’s now leading them up from Edom back into Judah and to Jerusalem—“Who is this who comes from Edom with dyed garments from Bozrah—His garments are drenched in blood; they’re dyed—This One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? I who speak in righteousness, mightily to save.”
Notice that’s a quote from this One who is leading: He “… speaks in righteousness mighty to save”—that indicates that He is God.
The prophet then asked them in Isaiah 63:2, “Why is your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress”—that imagery is picked up in [the Book of] Revelation of God walking in the winepress crushing the grapes, as it is a picture of judgment, and the red juice of the grape is a picture of shed blood. All of that imagery is there.
That was picked up by Julia Ward Howe when she wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Of course, she has bad theology through there and thinks that this end time event is happening in the 1860s. That’s why we never sing it, it’s bad theology, but that’s the imagery here.
The One who comes, the Messiah, says, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come.”
“It’s time for Me to bring corporate redemption to Israel” is what is being spoken of here. As we go through these verses, it describes His judgment—that He comes.
The prophet speaks again in Isaiah 63:7 of “… the loving kindnesses of the Lord and the praises of Yahweh.”
You see a distinction between these two personages here, and He says, “According to all that the Lord has bestowed on us, and the great goodness towards the house of Israel …”
He continues speaking in Isaiah 63:8, that this One is the Savior. In Isaiah 63:9, He talks about all of their affliction in the past, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. In His love and in His mercy—not pity as the King James has it; that had a different sense back then—in His ‘mercy’ He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them in the days of old.”
That’s an allusion back to the Exodus event in Isaiah 63:11–15. Then we see His prayer—that’s our passage, Isaiah 63:15–16.
“Look down from heaven, and see from Your habitation—He’s praying now to the Father, to Yahweh—holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, the yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained?”
“Doubtless You are our Father.” Now He speaks of God as the Father of Israel. He is the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He refers here to God as Father of the nation.
In the New Testament when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, He said, “You are of your father, the devil …” There He is talking to them individually that they’re unsaved. But here He’s talking to God as the One who brought the nation Israel to life as the Father of the nation.
“Doubtless You are Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us—this is the remnant speaking. This is not all of Israel. That’s why He goes on to say—and Israel does not acknowledge us—Why? Because they’re apostate, so He, as a representative of the remnant, is praying to God, You, O Lord, are our Father, Our Redeemer from everlasting is Your name.”
In other words that last line is emphasizing the eternality as part of your character, and it is speaking to God the Father as the Author of the plan of salvation.
In Isaiah 64:8, we see another reference to Yahweh as the Father of Israel, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You are our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.”
Just a note here, Paul picks up this analogy over in Romans 9, “the clay and the potter.” This is not talking about individuals; this is talking about God shaping the clay, which is the nation Israel. This is not talking about individual salvation, which is what you often hear from Calvinists, that the potter imagery is applied to the individual. It is talking about corporate Israel, God shaping them to be who He wanted them to be.
This same allusion or reference of identification of God as Father is in Deuteronomy 32:6–9, “Do you thus deal with the Lord, O foolish and unwise people?—remember Moses is speaking here—Is He not your Father, who bought you? —Again, referring to God as the Father of the nation Israel. “Has He not made you and established you? Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generation. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.”
“When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the Sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”
That’s a good verse, has an application to today. God set the boundaries of the nations. National borders and boundaries are part of God’s divine institution for the nations. Paul picks up on that also in Acts.
The point here that we’re making is that God is referred to as a Father.
Malachi 2:10 as well, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?”
This is using the term “Father” in relation to God’s creation of the nation Israel. Now to have a father, you have to have a son. A father that has no children is childless, so he is not a father. Israel is referred to as His firstborn.
In Exodus 4:22 and 23, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’ ” God has a plan and a purpose for Israel as a whole.
This idea of Israel being the firstborn is again restated in Jeremiah 31:9, and this is a major theme that goes throughout Israel.
So that they are referred to as sons of the Lord in Deuteronomy 14:1–2, “You are the children—yeledim is the term for children—of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or shave the front of your head for the dead.”
In other words, you’re going to look differently from the way the pagans do. This is not talking about the Sons of God, which is bene Elohim, in Genesis 6. This is the children of Yahweh as a reference to Israel; He as their Father.
Then we have the Lord defined as the Father of the Messiah in a distinct relationship, different from that that we have seen already with Israel. In Psalm 2:7, a Messianic Psalm that is quite important, Yahweh says, “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me—so the speaker in verse seven is the Messiah. “The Lord” refers to Yahweh or God the Father—has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ ”
It’s saying, “Today I have declared that You are begotten.” There are different times we see God declaring the begotteness of the Son.
That’s a word that was used in Old English. It’s a word that is picked up, and it has a specific theological meaning, where “begotten” is something that is viewed as distinct from being born. Being born indicates a beginning, whereas the concept of begotten was developed to articulate the unique relationship of the Son to the Father—that it has no beginning; that is, it is an eternal relationship expressing this relationship between Father and Son.
Proverbs 30:4 also states this in the Old Testament that Yahweh has a Son, “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?—the writer of Proverbs asked. Who has gathered the wind in His fists?—these are rhetorical questions—Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”
Put these passages together and it indicates that you have a Father and a Son who are divine, fully divine.
As he asked the question, “What is His Son’s name,” we are reminded of Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel.”
Emmanuel in Hebrew means “God with us.” The “el” at the end is the “for God,” the “Em” at the beginning is the Hebrew preposition “with,” and the “anu” is the first-person plural pronoun ending “for us,”— “with us, God,” if you were to take it in its order in the name, but it means “God with us.”
Matthew 1:21, as Gabriel announces to Mary the birth of Jesus, he says to Joseph, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus—Yeshua, from the Hebrew verb meaning “to save”—for He will save His people from their sins.”
When we connect these dots, moving from the Old Testament, we see that there’s a plurality in the Godhead—there is a Father and a Son:
- That the Son is announced in Isaiah 7:14 to enter into human history through a unique birth.
- That His mother would be a virgin.
He would be conceived uniquely and born through a virgin and given this name, “God with us,” indicating that He is fully God. He is true God.
We see that the Old Testament clearly understands a plurality in the Godhead, and that there is One who is the Planner and Provider of redemption and that the Second Person is the One who carries out the plan of redemption. When we get to, as I mentioned in Isaiah 48, the reference to the Spirit, that there is third Person in the Trinity.
The question that comes up is going to be, “What is Their relationship?” How do They relate to one another?
What we have seen is all are attributed deity, so They all had the same essence as each other. Each is equally sovereign, equally omnipotent, equally omnipresent, and equally omniscient. No One knows more or less than the other One. No One has more or less power than the other One. They are all equal.
Yet even in the Old Testament we distinguish that there are roles that are different. There are different ways in which they work out the plan of the Father, and so that is called by theologians “The Economic Trinity,” from the concept of economy. OIKONOMIA is the Greek word related to stewardship, the carrying out of the responsibilities given to them.
This economic function indicates, not only are they one in essence, but that They have distinct personalities, and that the Son and the Spirit are not independent of the Father, but they submit to the Father. There is an authority relationship within the Godhead.
That’s important because there are a lot of folks who think that the idea of authority—having someone in a position of authority, telling others under them that they are to do what they say—is something that God put into place as a result of human sin, that before sin there would not have been authority.
There are some people who think that, but what we see is that authority becomes corrupted under sin, but authority is an eternal reality in the Godhead. The Father, we’re told, sent the Son, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes it very clear when He goes to the Cross that He is going to do the will of the Father; He is submitting to the authority of the Father.
Paul describes it very clearly in Philippians 2:5–11 that the Son submitted Himself. He humbled Himself by submitting to the Father, and He was obedient in going to the Cross. That becomes a pattern for what submission involves in the worst-case scenario, where you are being told to do something that you don’t want to do, that is unjust and unfair.
That becomes the pattern, as we’ve seen on Thursday nights in our study of Peter again and again, Peter is telling his listeners that you’re going to go through suffering; you’re going to go through some persecution. You’re going through some of it already. It’s unfair and it’s unjust, but the pattern is Jesus.
Jesus was treated unfairly and unrighteously by Pilate, by the Jewish leaders, and He was convicted wrongly and He was arrested in violation of the law. Everything that happened was in violation of the law.
Yet He did not assert His rights and say, “But I have a right. I am the Creator God. I have a right to do this the right way.” He instead submitted Himself by being obedient to the disgrace of the Cross, so that He could die on the Cross for our sins.
That becomes a pattern, that in the Trinity there is unity of essence and complete agreement and they are one, but yet in their function there are distinctions, and those distinctions involve different roles and submission to the Father.
The New Testament makes this plurality quite clear in a number of passages. The foremost one that speaks of the threefold Members of the Trinity is in the Great Commission, a passage we studied pretty thoroughly not too long ago, when we wrapped up the Gospel of Matthew.
In Matthew 28:18 Jesus came to the disciples and He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
He uses a verb there that’s in the passive voice. It’s BEEN given to Him. Well, Who gave it to Him? That indicates that there is someone who had this authority over Him, and now delegates this authority to Him. That indicates a plurality there, and it also demonstrates what I have said before that there’s an authority relationship within the Trinity.
He goes on now, on the basis of this authority, to give a mission to the disciples. He says, Matthew 28:19, “ ‘Go therefore’ ”—or probably has an imperatival sense, as I said earlier. It’s a participle.
Some people will translate it temporally as “when you go,” but since the command is “make disciples,” often an imperative command sort of influences how you take the participle preceding it. I don’t think it’s incorrect to translate this as a command. It is clearly commanded of the disciples, as we saw, in various other passages that they were to wait.
In Acts 1:8 they were to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then they were to take the gospel to Judea and Samaria and in the uttermost parts of the earth. Matthew 28:19. They are to go and “make disciples of all the nations,—all the Gentiles—baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
We know that this idiom of, “in the name of” has to do with the essence of God. The fact that it is one phrase, “in the name of,” “in the essence of,” it applies to all three Members: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This passage affirms the oneness, the unity of the essence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as all having the same authority, all having the same essence.
He goes on to tell them, Matthew 28:20, “… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Notice the emphasis on His authority now to the end of the age.
Another passage that mentions all three Members of the Trinity is in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God—that refers to the Father—the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Here again is a depiction that there are three. You don’t have more than three in the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If Jesus Christ has the attributes of deity and the Father has the attributes of deity and the Holy Spirit has the attributes of deity, then this shows that they all have the same deity, the same essence, therefore this is not polytheism. They are not distinct in terms of their essence. They are distinct only in their person.
As we look at the New Testament, one of the things that we should understand as part of the background of this is that when Jesus is talking about the Father as God, the Holy Spirit as God, and Himself as God, Jesus also makes it clear in other passages that He is a monotheist, as the Jews were that He was talking to. Jesus was a monotheist. He believed in one God. He does not believe in many gods. He is not a tritheist or a polytheist.
All of those who wrote in the New Testament—all of His disciples, were also monotheist. So we can’t come and say, well, all of a sudden they shift to being polytheist. They’re never really accused of that. They all are believers in the Old Testament.
For example, in Psalm 96:5, “For all the gods of the peoples—that’s talking about the nations—are idols …”
Notice the contrast here. Same thing like we have in Deuteronomy 6:4, there is contrast between the idols and the polytheism of the nations and the unique God of Israel, that He is God alone.
“But the Lord made the heavens.” That’s monotheism.
Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of hosts …”—Here’s another passage that talks about this distinction between two different Members of the Trinity.
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of hosts …” —Yahweh, Sabaoth:—‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.’ ”
You have two individuals speaking, and They say, “ ‘I am the First and the Last, and besides me there is no God.’ ”
So you clearly have a plurality there, but also the assertion of one God.
Isaiah 44:7, “And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.”
“Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God beside Me?—There is one God. The Old Testament is very clear: Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
Isaiah 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me.”
All of these passages affirm an Old Testament concept of a monotheism. All of Jesus’ disciples were believers in the Old Testament; they were not polytheists.
Jesus even makes a statement in Matthew 19:17, He says to the questioner who comes to Him and says, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” And Jesus responds, “Why do you call Me good? There’s only One who is good, that is God. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He says there is only One who is good. He’s affirming monotheism there as well.
John 5:18, “Therefore the Jews sought to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
The Jews held to monotheism. We see that Jesus was a monotheist, the Jews were monotheists, the apostles were monotheists. In fact, when Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, the crowds attempted to build altars to them, and they were just stunned and aghast at this, because they told them that they were not gods. They were not going to be worshipped as gods, because they were strict monotheists.
In fact, even the angels are monotheists, because when John and Peter wanted to build an altar, they were told not to. There’s no indication that any angel allowed worship, other than the Angel of the Lord.
Jesus claims this specifically in John 8:58 after a confrontation with the Pharisees, and He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” And uses this phrase “EGO EIMI,” emphasizing that He is God. We talked about this a few weeks back on Tuesday night, when we were talking about the name of God in Exodus in our worship series.
That is translated as EGO EIMI in the Septuagint, that’s what Jesus is quoting here. And this is a key phrase that He uses again and again in order to identify Himself with God.
He says, “I AM the bread of life,” in John 6:35, 6:41, 6:48, 6:51, again and again “I AM.” EGO EIMI. Every time He says that He’s making a statement about His own deity:
“I AM the light of the world,” John 8:12 and John 9:5.
“I AM the door of the sheep.” John 10:7–9.
“I AM the good shepherd” in John 10:11, identifying Himself with Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd …”
“I AM the Son of God,” in John 10:36, again a phrase indicating deity.
The phrase, “Son of God,” doesn’t mean He was created by God. But in a Hebrew idiom the term “son of” indicates that you’re manifesting the characteristics of whatever follows.
If you’re a murderer, you would be called the “son of a murderer.” It doesn’t mean your father was a murderer; it means you’re manifesting the characteristics of being a murderer. If you were a fool, you would be called a “son of a fool,” because you are manifesting the characteristics of a fool.
If you’re called the “Son of Man,” that’s emphasizing your humanity. It was applied to Ezekiel, but then it’s applied in a distinct way to the Messiah in Daniel 7 as the Son of Man.
When Jesus says, “I am the Son of God,” He is claiming for Himself full deity in John 10:36.
He said, “I AM—EGO EIMI—the resurrection and the life,” in John 11:25, and, “I AM the way the truth and the life …”, John 14:6.
In John 15:6 He said, “I AM the vine.”
John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.”
Each time He said this, it was understood by the Pharisees that He was making a claim to be God. That’s why they tried to stone Him on several occasions, as they did in John 10, which we read for our Scripture reading this morning, when He claimed that He was equal with God, and that He was in unity with the Father, and said, “I and the Father are one.” All of this indicates that He is fully God.
Furthermore, you have many places that I could go to where Jesus took verses from the Old Testament and apostles took verses from the Old Testament that apply to Yahweh, and then they applied them to Jesus.
One that I will use comes out of Ephesians, which we will see when we study it, is in Ephesians 4:8–10. There is the description of Jesus’ ascent to Heaven, so that at that point He then gave spiritual gifts to men. But it starts with the quote from Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8, “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ ”
Psalm 68 is an ascent Psalm that as Jews were walking up to the Temple Mount, they would sing. It is talking about David—that historically David would have conquered his enemies, and then distributed the trophies. This is used then to apply what is related to the Father in His assent—you’ve got about three levels going on there:
- David and his victories,
- a picture of Yahweh and His victories for Israel and His distributing gifts to men.
- That which is applied to Yahweh is applied to Jesus in Ephesians 4:8.
This would be blasphemy unless Jesus was indeed God and, in many places, Jesus is given the attributes of God.
As we close out today, I want to take you to one of three key passages on the deity of Christ in John 1. Turn with me to John 1, and I want to look at just these initial verses that John begins his Gospel with. He doesn’t start with the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke do. He starts with the LOGOS or Jesus in eternity past. Jesus is referred to as the LOGOS. It’s translated as “the Word” in English.
This is a term that was just filled with meaning. It had a rich heritage in Greek philosophy. If you heard me when I taught the Gospel of John some 20 years ago, relating this to the answers and the questions raised by Greek philosophy: talking about the word LOGOS, its significance for reason.
The word LOGOS is the root for the word “logic.” It’s also the root for LOGIZOMAI, the word for reckoning or imputation.
All of this would certainly have some significance. John was in Ephesus when he was writing the Gospel of John. But in the last 30 or 40 years, due to the increase of Messianic studies, there has been other material that wasn’t unknown, it just wasn’t well known, that has surfaced, and a lot of books have been written about this in just the last eight or nine years.
The first time I heard this was when Arnold Fruchtenbaum was teaching the Life of the Jewish Messiah here back around 2008. His new commentary—and the transcripts covers about five or six pages from his transcript—but in his new four-volume work on Yeshua, the Life of the Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective, he’s got 75 heavily documented pages on this, which is just phenomenal.
I picked up a couple of the scholarly books going through this. It is talking about the fact that in the Intertestamental Period—that is from the time that the Old Testament closes until the time the New Testament opens—there is a tremendous amount of Jewish theology that is developed in that Intertestamental period.
There was one thing that developed, that was referred to in an Aramaic word that is a translation of the Hebrew word Dabar, which means “the word” or “to speak a word or command.”
The Hebrew word is often translated by the word LOGOS, so the Aramaic was the word Memra. The rabbis developed a whole theology around Memra that was taught.
If you were a Jew living in Israel at the time of Jesus, you would’ve been very familiar with the teaching on Memra.
It would’ve been taught in the synagogues; it would’ve been taught all around. It had become part of Judaism by this particular time. When John begins writing “in the beginning was the LOGOS,” he is in fact saying “in the beginning was the Memra.” That’s how that would’ve been heard and understood by a Jewish audience.
Let’s look at just what John 1:1–5 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
LOGOS is treated as an independent Person who is both with God and is God. So you see two persons that are there.
John 1:2, “He was in the beginning with God.” That is the beginning of creation, so that means He is present at creation.
John 1:3, “All things were made through Him—He is the intermediate agent of creation—All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
John 1:4, “In Him was life …” We learn in the Gospel of John that He is the one who gives life, so Jesus is the Savior who gives eternal life.
John 1:4b, “the life was the light of men.”
It’s a revelation. He reveals God to men in John 1:5, “… shines forth in the darkness,” but the men “do not comprehend it.”
We see then that there are six things that relate to what the rabbis taught about Memra. When John writes this, he’s correlating this, not to Greek philosophy primarily, although I think that it could do double duty, but it relates to this rabbinical teaching on the Memra.
1. Memra was distinct from God, and the same as God.
This is what we see in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He is distinct from God, but identified with God.
2. Memra was the agent of creation.
We see this also in John 1:3, “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that had been made.”
3. Memra was the agent of salvation.
That when God delivered Israel in the Old Testament, it is through the Memra. This is picked up later in John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to be called the children of God, even to those who believe on His name.”
4. Memra is the visible manifestation of God.
In the Old Testament when there was a manifestation of God—a theophany—that was indeed the Memra who was the One who was appearing to them.
He is the visible manifestation of God, and this is what we see in John 1:18 that “no one has seen God at any time, but the only Begotten One has revealed Him. He is the one who reveals …” God.
5. Memra is the Agent who signs God’s covenants.
According to the rabbis, the Memra, also referred to as the Word of the Lord, was present in the signing of the covenants, especially. Look at Exodus 24:1–11, “sealed by the Shekinah glory”: they would see the Shekinah as the manifestation of the Memra.
6. Memra as the Agent of revelation.
John 1:18, the LOGOS has declared Him, the LOGOS has revealed Him.
All of this tells us the uniqueness and the distinctiveness of Jesus. It indicates there’s a plurality in the Godhead. We’ve seen this in the Old Testament, we see it in the New Testament. We even see it in intertestamental rabbinical thought. But the question then remains, what about the relationship of Jesus to the Father, which we will look at when we come back next time.
Then we will begin moving through Ephesians 1:3 to see the implications of that for understanding this opening praise of Paul’s to God.
“Father, we thank You for this time we’ve had to reflect upon Your Word and on Who You are, and to see the unity of Old Testament with New Testament with regard to Who You are: that there is a plurality of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are one in essence, yet three in distinct Persons and distinct roles.
“Father, as we seek to understand this, we know that our finite minds can only go so far, and beyond that we have to trust You, that truly comprehending, intrinsically comprehending the Trinity is beyond us. But we can understand what the Scripture teaches and that this is true, and that it is foundational for us.
“Father, we pray that if there’s anyone listening, anyone here, that has never trusted in Christ as Savior, that they would understand that this is the most important decision that we make in life because the issue has to do with our eternal destiny. Life on this earth is just waiting in the vestibule of eternity.
“Where we spend eternity will be determined by this one decision. It is not a matter of our self–reformation, or our own morality, or our own righteousness, which Scripture defines as filthy rags. But it is dependent upon He Who was eternally righteous, Who entered into human history, went to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that His righteousness might be given to us simply by faith alone in Christ alone.
“Father, we thank You for this glorious and remarkable salvation, and pray that You would make it clear to each one here, and if saved that they would understand it more fully, and if not saved, that they would awaken to an understanding of their need to trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
“Father, we pray for each of us that You would just challenge us with Your Word, as it presents You and all of Your glory and Your Majesty, that we would be driven to worship You more fully and extensively in our lives.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”