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12. Yahweh and His Relationship to Jesus

Chapter 12

Yahweh and His
Relationship to Jesus

The beauty of Yahweh: A meditation

The first part of this chapter is meditative. Let us begin with the beauty and splendor of Yahweh our God:

One thing I ask of Yahweh, one thing I seek:

to dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life,

to enjoy the sweetness of Yahweh, to seek out his temple.

(Psalm 27:4, NJB)

The Psalmist speaks of “the sweetness of Yahweh” (NJB) or “the beauty of the Lord” (ESV). And where is His beauty seen? Most wonderfully in His love and concern for His people, notably the afflicted and the destitute, as seen in His taking care of their physical and spiritual needs:

Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction He was afflicted. (ESV)

Exodus 3:7-8 Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them.” (KJV, “Yahweh” in the Hebrew restored)

Titus 3:4-6 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (ESV)

1 John 4:9-10 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (ESV)

The Old Testament portrays Yahweh as the perfect embodiment of goodness, lovingkindness, and compassion. This picture is carried over into the New Testament in which it is said of Him: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (Jn.3:16).

Yahweh’s lovingkindness is exemplified in Jesus in an encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn.4:7ff). Jesus was a total stranger to her, yet she wasn’t intimidated by his presence. He confronted her about her sins, yet without humiliating her or driving her away, but in a way that liberated her from her sins. That is the kind of spiritual help that she, a sinner, would welcome.

One of the verses just quoted, 1 John 4:9-10, brings out the vastness of God’s love for us in His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. But just a few verses later, John reverses the matter and talks about our love for God and His people:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

The one who is loved by God must love His children. But how do we apply this teaching? It is familiar enough to us, yet many are troubled by it, for the faults and failings of some brothers and sisters are all too obvious. They are hard to love, yet God has no problem loving them. He dwells in believers, the temple of God (1Cor.3:16), and that would include the brother or sister we find hard to love. We are happy to love God whom we don’t see, and Jesus Christ whom we also don’t see because he is at the right hand of God.

Yet many believers love God and Christ more than themselves and their loved ones even though they cannot see God. Although unbelievers generally pay no attention to God because they don’t see Him, yet all believers were at one time unbelievers. What had caused them to change their attitude towards God whom they cannot see? How can God who was not real to them suddenly become real? Is this a shift in intellectual belief or is it a spiritual transformation that had caused them to echo with Paul, “I know whom I have believed” (2Tim.1:12)?

True believers experience God’s transforming work in their hearts and minds, the radicalness of which is expressed in the words, “Formerly you were darkness but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph.5:8). His transforming power gives us life, and changes the world around us.

Salvation is from Yahweh, the Rock of my salvation

The foundation stone on which to build a comprehensive understanding of salvation is the truth that salvation is from Yahweh. It runs through the Bible and is seen in the following Old Testament statements (all from NJB):

Psalm 27:1 Yahweh is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?

Psalm 68:20 This God of ours is a God who saves; from Lord Yahweh comes escape from death.

Jonah 2:9 Salvation comes from Yahweh!

Salvation, like truth and light, is embodied in Yahweh. He saves us because He is salvation and He is love. He alone is our Savior: “There is no other god except me, no saving God, no Saviour except me!” (Isaiah 45:21, NJB) “You know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb.13:8). The word “yesterday” does not refer to eternal preexistence but is a temporal reference to a point in time past. This statement is meaningful in the context of Jesus’ perfection which mirrors the Father’s unchanging perfection. God’s perfection is constant because He is “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), as also seen in the Old Testament: “I Yahweh do not change” (Mal.3:6), and “you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Psalm 102:27, quoted in Heb.1:12).

The meaning of “Yahweh” has been the topic of much scholarly discussion (see Appendix 3) and is well expressed in the description, “He who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev.1:4,8; 11:17; 16:5), and “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psa.90:2), and “the living God” (Josh.3:10; Psa.42:2; Jer.10:10; Mt.16:16; Rom.9:26; 1Tim.4:10).

To the eternal God, there is neither past nor future. He always is. By contrast, we finite beings perceive time as past and future. In the blink of an eye, one second in the future is one second in the past. The present is the constant flux of the future moving to the past, and we are like fish swimming in a stream. We live in the flow of time and aim to make the most of it.

Because a rock symbolizes stability and unchangeableness, God is described as our Rock and our Savior:

2 Samuel 22:2-4 Yahweh is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (ESV, “Yahweh” in the Hebrew restored)

Verse 47 Yahweh lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation.

Yahweh is called the Rock some 30 times in the Psalms. To rest upon the Rock is to take shelter in it. Yahweh saves those who put their trust in Him, “the rock of my salvation” (Ps.89:26; 95:1). The Rock is not a static object but the living God: “Yahweh lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” (Ps.18:46; 2Sam.22:47). This is the basis of the oath “as Yahweh lives” which occurs some 28 times in the OT. Yahweh would often make an oath or declaration on the basis of His being alive: “As I live, declares Yahweh,” a declaration that occurs 14 times in Ezekiel alone.

Because of God’s rock-like, unchanging quality, He doesn’t change His mind about the promises He has made:

Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (ESV)

Psalm 110:4 Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind (cf. Heb.7:21)

 

The gospel of God

Yahweh is the center of the Old and New Testaments. Hence Paul speaks of the gospel as “the gospel of God” (Rom.1:1; 15:16; 2Cor.11:7; 1Th.2:2,8,9) or “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Jesus likewise preached the “gospel of God” (Mk.1:14), the good news of Yahweh.

But Yahweh’s gospel focuses on Jesus the Messiah (the Christ), for God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2Cor.5:19). Hence the New Testament also proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ the perfect man, for it is through this perfect man that God reconciles the world to Himself. It is as perfect man that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world.

Mark speaks of “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk.1:1). Paul speaks of “the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2Th.1:8); in the next chapter Paul says that God “called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:14). God’s intention is that through the gospel, the believer may participate in Jesus’ glory. God does not glorify Jesus only for Jesus’ sake but for ours as well.

The spiritual union of Yahweh and Jesus

It is crucial for us to understand the nature of the spiritual union of Yahweh and Jesus, the unique Son and perfect man. Jesus speaks of this union when he says, “Just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). The last clause, “that they also may be in us,” indicates that this union is meant to include believers. This is seen in Paul’s statement, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1Cor.6:17).

But in reality, because of our imperfection, our union with God is less intimate than the union of God and Jesus which is expressed as “you in me, I in you” rather than in terms of a common substance within the Trinity, a quasi-material concept that was fabricated by the Gentile church but is found nowhere in the Bible. The spiritual union of Yahweh and Jesus means that they cannot be separated in God’s plan of salvation. In the work of salvation, Jesus’ role as the Lamb of God is crucial, for by it he becomes the expiation that atones for man’s sins.[1]

Through atonement in Christ, God reconciles man to Himself and gives him the priceless gift of eternal life by which redeemed man becomes a new creation in Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus negates the death-dealing effects of sin, and gives life to all who believe. Christ is a life-giving spirit (1Cor. 15:45) to those who have faith and have become members of his body, the church, of which he is the head. They partake of God’s divine nature (2Pet.1:4) and become His people and special possession. Such are the rich blessings that Yahweh has bestowed on believers through Christ.

Yahweh as Father

In the New Testament, Yahweh is spoken of as “Father”. This was how Jesus addressed God in prayer, and he would sometimes use a more intimate term of address, “Abba,” which is the Aramaic equivalent of Papa or Daddy.

The Greek for “father” (patēr) occurs 413 times in the New Testament. About 60% of the occurrences refer to God as Father, with 136 of these found in John’s Gospel.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites addressed Yahweh as Father (“You, Yahweh, are our Father,” Isa.63:16) but more often in a formal manner, e.g., to say that Yahweh is our Father on account of His being our Creator: “Is He not your Father who created you, who made and established you?” (Dt.32:6); “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal.2:10). This formality is bridged over in the New Testament yet without diminishing our reverence for God. The essence of New Testament spirituality lies in a new way of relating to Yahweh as our Father, who loves and cares for His people.

The intimacy with God our Father is the dynamic force in the believer’s life in Christ, and is achieved through mutual indwelling: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn.14:20). Since we are in Christ and Christ is in the Father, we are in the Father (“that they also may be in us,” Jn.17:21). For this to be a reality, we must experience it and not merely analyze it intellectually. This intimacy is made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit who moves God’s people to cry out “Abba” (Rom.8:15; Gal.4:6). If anyone does not relate to God as Abba, he is not one of God’s people.

It is our relationship with Yahweh the living God that makes the gospel the good news it really is. Neither Judaism nor Islam speaks of a relationship with God in a way that is as intimate, yet the sad truth is that even among Christians, few experience this kind of intimacy. For most Christians, the religion called Christianity is as formal and external as any other, sometimes more so. Worse yet, the heresy of trinitarianism has removed Yahweh, whom Jesus calls the only true God, from our focus and line of sight.

But if we are united with God, what is amazing, even sublime, is the conjoining of the majestic name of Yahweh with the loving respect we show Him by calling Him “Abba” or “Papa”. It is a remarkable juxtaposition of opposites: the omnipotent God and a helpless child; the Almighty and the weak; the Most High and the most lowly; the infinite and the finite; the Everlasting God and one whose “days are like grass and the flower of the field” (Ps.103:15).

This gives new perspective to the words: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3). It is young children who call their fathers “Papa” or “Daddy” or, in Aramaic, “Abba”. Anyone who thinks he has been a Christian long enough to outgrow addressing Yahweh as “Papa” has not yet understood the intimacy of this living relationship. In the final days of Jesus, in the crisis in which he found himself, Jesus still addressed Yahweh as “Abba, Father” (Mk.14:36). We likewise call God “Abba” because of the deep work of the Spirit within us:

Romans 8:15 You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (ESV)

Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (NIV)

God wants us to call Him “Abba” and to have a close and living relationship with Him. This is established when Yahweh reaches out to us in love, and we respond to Him with all our heart, soul, and strength (Dt.6:5; Mt.22:37).

Jewish piety has moved towards a less intimate relationship with God by adopting a degree of formality in relating to Him even to the extent of not pronouncing the name Yahweh. This name has been replaced with Adonai, a formal and distant form of address equivalent to “Lord” or “Sir”. It is only natural to have hesitations about addressing one’s Lord and Master by his personal name. So over time it was taught that the name Yahweh must never be uttered even though the Bible encourages God’s people to proclaim the name and to make an oath by it (Dt.10:20; Jer.12:16). The prohibition of uttering the name Yahweh was a later, post-exilic development in Judaism. In early Jewish history, Yahweh’s name was “regularly pronounced with its proper vowels,” according to the Jewish work, Encyclopedia Judaica (see Appendix 1 of the present book). But irrespective of what we have done to God’s name, the fact remains that Jesus taught his disciples a new way of relating to God, namely, addressing Him as Abba, Daddy.

I am the way, the truth, and the life

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Trinitarians view John 14:6 as providing evidence for the deity of Jesus. But the meaning of these words is already explained by Jesus himself, and we don’t need to make them mean what they don’t mean. Nothing in this verse says that Jesus is God. What Jesus does instead is to declare that the threefold function of his work—as the way, the truth, and the life—is summed up in the concluding words, “No one comes to the Father except through me”. Our final destination and objective is not Jesus Christ but God the Father, and we come to Him through Jesus who is “the way”—thus ruling out any other way.

Truth and life are also mentioned because they are linked to the way: Jesus is the true and living way. The words “truth” and “life” cannot be plucked out of this context to make the claim that since Jesus is the truth and the life, he is God.

The fact that “truth” and “life” are vital concepts in John’s Gospel can be seen in the following statistics. John’s Gospel has 20 instances of the Greek word alētheia (“truth”), the highest in the New Testament, the next highest being Romans and First John (8 times each). The word zōē (“life”) in decreasing order of frequency: 32 times in John’s Gospel, 17 times in Revelation, 14 times in Romans, 10 times in 1 John. These are from John’s writings except those in Romans.

These statistics confirm what we have just said, that truth and life are fundamental concepts in John’s Gospel. Hence their appearance in John 14:6 is not something that can be torn out of the broader context and made to prove Jesus’ deity. A look at the other instances of “truth” and “life” in the Bible will negate the misuse of these two important and ubiquitous words. Yahweh’s truth and life—which are embodied in Jesus—will bring the one who believes in Jesus into a dynamic faith that includes truth and life. The believer participates in these spiritual realities that are ultimately found in Yahweh, the “living and true God” (1Thess.1:9).

John the Baptist draws from Isaiah 40:3 (“the way of Yahweh”) his proclamation of “the way of the Lord” in John 1:23. Jesus later speaks of “the way” to his disciples: “You know the way to where I am going” (Jn.14:4). Then Thomas says, “We do not know where you are going,” and this leads to John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” To know Jesus is to know him who is the way. The “way” is not a teaching derived from the various sects in the time of Jesus but something embodied in the person of Jesus, who is the way, and in whom the truth and the life will empower with new life those who believe in him.

The three principles—the way, the truth, and the life—are inseparably linked. It is the integration of the three that takes us to the Father, who is the source of all three. Truth and life are not independent of each other, but are integral elements of the way. Yet trinitarians pull this verse apart, out of context, and make it mean “I am the truth and the life” in some absolute divine sense. But Jesus cannot possibly be “the life” in the absolute sense because his own life depends on the Father’s: “I live because of the Father” (Jn.6:57); “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (5:26).

When we see that the theme of John 14:6 is our coming to the Father, we are left wondering why this verse is even taken as a proof text of Jesus’ deity. Jesus is not the final destination but the way to the destination.

But for us to go to the Father, it is not enough to know what is our destination. We must first deal with the sin that is impeding our progress. Sin is a fearful reality both in the world around us and within our hearts. All around us is a famine of spiritual truth, and within us is the lack of life, for man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph.2:1). But Jesus draws us into God’s truth and life, for Jesus the perfect man embodies these qualities in himself even if his own life is derived from the Father’s (“I live because of the Father,” Jn.6:57). Jesus is the way to the Father for his life is wholly focused on God and he is the only mediator between God and man (1Tim.2:5).

The three elements in “I am the way, the truth, and the life” are prominent in Psalms and Proverbs. In the LXX (the Greek Old Testament), “way” (hodos, ὁδός) occurs 94 times in Proverbs and 79 times in Psalms, more than in any other book; “truth” (alētheia, ἀλήθεια) occurs 59 times in Psalms, more than in any other book; “life” (zōē, ζωή) occurs 38 times in Proverbs and 25 times in Psalms, more than in any other OT book. Hence the way, the truth, and the life are three key concepts in the wisdom books of Psalms and Proverbs, as also in John’s Gospel. These three principles (the way, the truth, the life) link the three books—Psalms, Proverbs, John —together, giving us new insight into Jesus’ statement that the Scriptures testify about him (Jn.5:39). Vincent Taylor makes a helpful comment on John 14:6:

The full force of these names is perceived only when they are taken together, as the Evangelist (John) uses them … Jesus is “the Way,” through whom, as “the Truth,” we receive the knowledge of God, and in whom, as “the Life,” we have here and now eternal life. The words which follow the three names, “no one comes to the Father, but by me” (14:6b), refer, not only to the first, but to all. Christ is “the Way” to the Father because he is also “the Truth” and “the Life” … for of whom else can it be said that he is the way to the Father, the perfect revelation of God, and the giver of fullness of life? (Names of Jesus, p.145f.)

 

No one knows the Son except the Father, and the Father except the Son

No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27, parallel Luke 10:22)

When we look at the union of the Father and the Son, we cannot help but reflect on our own situation and confess that sin does indeed separate the sinner from God: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, NIV). But Jesus who is perfectly sinless and obedient to the Father is able to have unhindered fellowship with Him as no one else can. Jesus is the only person in humanity who through perfect sinlessness and doing the things pleasing to God (Jn.8:29) has this unique communion with Yahweh.

The wonderful message of the closeness between God the Father and the man Christ Jesus is lost to the trinitarian for whom such intimacy is thought to be possible only between two divine persons and not between God and man. In trinitarianism, the intimacy between God the Father and God the Son is taken for granted because it is internal to the triune Godhead. The wonderful truth that God and man can have a relationship as deep as that between God and Christ is rejected by trinitarians at an enormous spiritual loss. The sweetness of the communion between Yahweh and the man Christ Jesus ought to inspire every believer to a closer walk with God. Yet trinitarianism robs the believer of that inspiration by suppressing the wonderful truth that we can enter into the same communion with the Father if we follow in Jesus’ steps.

The closeness between God and Jesus, and that between Jesus and his disciples, are expressed in the Greek word kolpos:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom (kolpos) of the Father, he has made him known. (RSV)

John 13:23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast (kolpos) of Jesus. (RSV)

On kolpos BDAG says, “apart from the idea of dining together on the same couch [Jn.13:23], ‘being in someone’s bosom’ denotes the closest association” (italics mine).

Inner communication between the Father and the Son

To appreciate Jesus as the only perfect man, we need to understand his inner communication with Yahweh his Father. To our surprise, God intends that the same kind of intercommunication be established between God and us, made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. The failure to see this will rob us of the riches of the good news of Jesus Christ and what he came to accomplish for us. What is the purpose of the death of the Lamb of God if not to open a new and living way to Yahweh our Father?

But the problem for the Bible scholar is that the intercommunication between Yahweh and Jesus and the believer is not amenable to the type of analysis demanded by “scientific theology”. If anyone tries to learn more about this intercommunication by consulting the Bible commentaries, he or she will soon be disappointed. That is because the commentator who doesn’t communicate with God in daily life won’t be able to give much illumination on this vital subject. Inner communication with God has to do with life, spiritual life, eternal life. Life has to be lived, not talked about or analyzed. Those who don’t live this kind of life won’t know much about it except by hearsay or intellectual analysis. The highest academic qualifications do not qualify anyone to speak on the topic of intercommunication with “the Living God” (Heb. 9:14). In theological institutes today, there are academics who are teaching a subject—knowing God—which in terms of their life experience they are not qualified to teach. How can anyone lecture on the spiritual dynamics of Jesus’ life if his own life is not driven by the same dynamics? The only things that academics can discuss are the external issues of the gospels: date, author, theme, etc.

Theological colleges generally don’t ask their academic staff about their spiritual lives, much less whether they communicate with God. The most important requirements for employment are their academic credentials and doctrinal position. It seems that everyone has forgotten that neither Jesus nor the apostles had any academic credentials. What God looks for in a person is not his academic qualifications but whether he knows the living God.

The problem surfaces again when we come to the subject of the present book: Jesus the Only Perfect Man. Anyone who doesn’t have a living relationship with God won’t be able to understand this topic, for he won’t be able to identify with Jesus who maintains a continuous inner communication with the Father, as expressed in, “You, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21).

The mutual indwelling, whether between God and Jesus or between God and His people, is ultimately between God and man, not between God and God, that is, not between “God the Father” and “God the Son” as in trinitarianism. The Bible nowhere speaks of a mutual indwelling of God in God. Just as Jesus is God’s temple (John 2:19), so believers are a temple of God (1Cor.3:16).

The failure to see that intercommunication with the Father is possible not only for Jesus but also for us, is a failure to see that many statements about Jesus in the Bible have parallel statements about believers. “As he is, so are we in the world” (1Jn.4:17; NIV 2011 has, “in this world we are like Jesus”). Jesus repeatedly says that his Father lives in him, as seen in the following verses from John’s Gospel (both ESV).

John 14:20 “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (also John 10:38; 14:10-11)

John 17:21 “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

The latter verse, John 17:21, reveals an additional principle: we are in God and in Christ. Conversely, God is in us because the believer’s body is the temple of God:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (ESV)

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (ESV)

Jesus also speaks of his body as the temple of God:

John 2:19-22 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this … (ESV)

Here Jesus refers to his coming death (“destroy this temple,” v.19) and resurrection (“raised from the dead,” v.22). But here we see something anomalous in the words, “In three days I will raise it up,” for they seem to contradict the consistent NT teaching that it is God the Father who raises Jesus from the dead. In fact, apart from John 2:19, every reference to Jesus’ resurrection in the NT speaks of God the Father as the one who raises Jesus from the dead, without exception.[2] But here in John 2:19, Jesus says, “I will raise it up”; it is not the Father who raises Jesus from the dead but Jesus who raises himself.

How do we handle this sole exception to the consistent New Testament teaching that it is the Father who raises Jesus? Sweep it under the carpet by letting it go? The key to a resolution lies in Jesus’ repeated declaration in the very same gospel (of John) that he does everything, says everything, and teaches everything as commanded by the Father. When we realize that Jesus speaks only what the Father commands him to speak, we will see that it must have been the Father Himself who is speaking through Jesus in John 2:19 (“I will raise it up”). This conclusion is strengthened by the words that appear just three verses later: “when therefore he was raised from the dead”. The words “he was raised” are translated from the Greek ēgerthē, the aorist passive of egeirō, confirming that Jesus did not raise himself up.

God works and speaks through Jesus

Before we can identify with Jesus our Lord, we need to see that he is like us, the people of the world. Trinitarianism got us started on the wrong foot by describing Jesus as “God-man” or “God incarnate,” making him a person we cannot understand, let alone identify with. Trinitarianism has placed Jesus, right from his birth, on a different level from us such that he could only be regarded as an object of worship and not as a human like us, which puts the reality of his humanity in question. So we read about Jesus in the gospels with tinted glasses, and view his activities as being those of a God-man and not a human being like us. As a result we cannot relate to the gospel narratives about Jesus in the important sense of emulating his life, which is what we are called to do.

It is crucial to keep in mind that the works Jesus does are done by the Father through him, and that the words Jesus speaks are the words of the Father, the One who sent him and dwells in him. The following are from John’s Gospel (ESV unless otherwise noted):

John 14:10 “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”

John 3:34 “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God.”

John 7:16 “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”

John 8:28 “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”

John 5:19 “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (NIV)

John 12:49-50 “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life, so whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV 1984)

In the last of these verses, Jesus says that the Father “commanded me what to say and how to say it”. [3] So complete is Jesus’ submission to the Father that he says exactly what his Father wants him to say, even in the tone and manner intended by God.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly says that his Father works and speaks through him in everything he does and says. This is linked to the fact that the Father has given His works to Jesus to complete and to perfect:

For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish (teleioō, to complete, perfect), the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36, ESV)

Jesus’ perfect completion of the works that the Father had sent him to do is crucial for mankind’s salvation, for these works include the teaching of God’s life-giving word and the sacrificial giving of himself on the cross as a “ransom for many” (Mt.20:28; Mk.10:45).

Yet we are to do greater works than Jesus! “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (Jn.14:12, ESV). This creates a conundrum unique to trinitarianism: If we argue for Jesus’ deity on account of the works that he does, how shall we regard those who do even greater works by the same power of God that worked through Jesus and is available to all who believe in him? Trinitarianism attributes Jesus’ miracles such as healing the sick and raising the dead to his divinity. If that were so, why would Jesus tell his followers, none of whom is divine, that they will do greater works than he, or replicate what he has done but with greater power?

It is by God’s indwelling that Jesus functions moment by moment in all that he does, and this ought to be the life principle for his disciples. The logic underlying this connection is uncomplicated, yet has vital spiritual consequences, for if the Father does all these things through Jesus, would He not do the same through those who respond to Jesus’ call to follow him? This line of spiritual logic would be broken if Jesus is utterly different from his disciples as is in trinitarian dogma. Trinitarianism thus destroys a vital principle which Jesus taught in John’s Gospel, suppressing the truth that the believer will do greater works than Jesus (with the important exception of being an atonement for sin) by God’s power that is available to those who have faith in Jesus.

When we read the New Testament without the distorting trinitarian concepts of a later era, we will look to Jesus as one we can emulate and identify with, and from whom we can learn to let Yahweh dwell in us as He dwelled in Jesus. When Yahweh lives in us day by day, we will know the truth of what Jesus said about Yahweh’s power working in the believer, whether it is in our preaching or teaching, or in acts of healing and casting out demons.

Jesus and the Old Testament prophets

Jesus describes himself as “a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (Jn.8:40). Note the sharp distinction between “man” and “God,” and how Jesus puts himself squarely on the side of humanity. The fact that Jesus is a man who is given the truth by God collides with the trinitarian notion of the God-man. The words “I heard from God” mirror what every prophet in Israel experienced in their declaration, “Thus says the Lord” (literally, “Thus says Yahweh”).

The Old Testament prophets did not speak their own thoughts but would speak forth whatever Yahweh told them to say. Hence they would usually preface their pronouncements with, “Thus says Yahweh” (or in most Bibles, “thus says the Lord”). Similarly, the things that Jesus said were not his own words but those of his Father (John 12:49). Jesus did not use the prefatory words, “Thus says the Lord,” because Yahweh by His dwelling in Jesus would simply speak through Jesus either directly (e.g. “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jn.2:19) or indirectly (e.g. where Jesus speaks of the Father in the third person).

False prophets in the Old Testament also prefaced their pronouncements with “Thus says Yahweh”. So how are they to be identified? Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets … by their fruits you will know them” (Mt.7:15-16). We discern their falsehood if holiness, a vital element of perfection, is lacking in their lives.

In his time Jesus was recognized as a prophet of Israel, and some have compared him to Elijah (Mt.16:14). Prophets not only foretold the future but were also teachers of the nation. Jesus himself was called “teacher” (in Matthew alone: 8:19; 12:38; 19:16; 22:16,24,36), and his wisdom was admired even by his enemies (they marveled at his answer to the question of paying taxes to Caesar, Mt.22:17-22). But unlike the prophets of old, Jesus doesn’t just speak the truth, his life perfectly embodies it. He doesn’t just say “I live the truth” but says, “I am the truth.” That is the beauty and power of Jesus, the only perfect man.

Jesus, sent by the Father

Reflected in John’s vocabulary is the emphatic teaching—in terms of preponderance and in terms of strong statements by Jesus—that Jesus is sent by God. For example, pempō (πέμπω, send) occurs 79 times in the New Testament, with 32 of the occurrences in John’s Gospel and 5 in Revelation. No other NT book comes close to John in terms of frequency. The three synoptics—Matthew, Mark, Luke—have only 15 occurrences combined. Acts, with 11 occurrences, comes in at a distant second after John.

A study of how pempō is used in John’s Gospel will lead to the discovery that it is often used in the statement “the One who sent me” or equivalent statements such as “the Father who sent me” or “He who sent me”. Of the 32 instances of pempō in John, a surprisingly large majority, 26 to be exact, are found in such phrases. [4] This practically makes “the Father who sent me” a title of God in John’s Gospel!

Another word, apostellō (ἀποστέλλω, send), with 132 occurrences in the NT, is evenly distributed among the four gospels and Acts: Matthew 22 times, Mark 20 times, Luke 26 times, John 28 times, Acts 24 times, and the rest of the New Testament 12 times.

Of the 28 occurrences in John’s Gospel, 17 refer to God the Father as the one who sent Jesus into the world.[5] Combining these 17 instances of apostellō and the 26 instances of pempō which carry this meaning, we have a total of 43 statements about Jesus as the one sent by the Father—in John’s Gospel alone! This works out to an average of two such statements per chapter. There are in addition three instances of apostellō in First John (4:9,10,14) which speak of the Father sending the Son. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Hebrews 3:1 speaks of Jesus as the “apostle (apostolos) and high priest of our confession”.

The chief mission of the one who is sent is to do the will of the one who sent him. In the case of Jesus, this is stated in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” It would therefore be expected that thelēma (θέλημα, the will) is a significant word in John. A quick check confirms that thelēma, when referring to God’s will, occurs in Matthew 5 times, Mark once, and Luke once. It occurs 8 times in John’s Gospel which is 20% shorter than Matthew.

As the one sent by the Father, Jesus comes in his Father’s name (John 5:43; 10:25), acts as his Father’s representative, and does everything on God’s behalf as the one authorized to act in His name. Only the one who has been sent by another can act in that person’s name. We may legitimately baptize a person in accordance with Mt.28:19 only if we ourselves have been sent by God as His servants.

The trinitarian Jesus makes every God-appointed ministry redundant, including that of being the Messiah

In John’s Gospel, the way Jesus functioned is similar to the way the Old Testament prophets functioned. The Jews who spoke with Jesus immediately saw the striking similarities between him and the prophets of old, notably Elijah, who is mentioned many times in the gospels (Matthew 9 times, Mark 9 times, Luke 8 times, John twice).

There was nothing that Jesus did in his earthly ministry, with the crucial exception of being an atonement for sin, that was not paralleled by the prophets. The main difference between Jesus and the prophets lies in the unsurpassed level of Jesus’ communion with the Father (Yahweh), which was made possible by his being sinless all his life. Even Isaiah, the greatest of the OT prophets, confessed his sinfulness: “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa.6:5). There is hardly a person who has not sinned in this way (“if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man,” James 3:2). It doesn’t mean that God didn’t communicate with Isaiah, otherwise, with no one perfect in the world, there would be no one with whom God could communicate! In fact the vision granted to Isaiah, that of God in His glory, is perhaps the most magnificent in the Old Testament.

“The Son can do nothing of his own but only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn.5:19). The words “sees the Father” indicate that visions of God are a common experience for Jesus. Jesus “is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn.1:18), living in the closest possible communion with God. In a statement famously known as “a bolt from the Johannine blue,” Jesus says: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Mt.11:27, parallel Lk.10:22) The intimacy between Jesus and his Father is so deep that Jesus is handed all things by the Father, whom Jesus addresses as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Mt.11:25).

But trinitarianism makes all this superfluous, for if Jesus is God the Son, he would “automatically” have the closest possible relationship with God the Father by virtue of a common divine substance. The beauty of the intimate relationship between God and man, expressing the heights of what is possible for man by God’s love, is simply wiped out by the trinitarian teaching of Jesus as the God-man. Is there anything impressive about a communion between “God the Father” and “God the Son,” two consubstantial persons?

The problem goes beyond that, for trinitarian doctrine makes redundant every God-appointed ministry and office bestowed on man such as the office of priest or king, since it would be God (as Jesus) who takes up the work that God has assigned man to do.

In trinitarianism, it is the God-man rather than man who says, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Lk.4:18). This goes against the principle that the preaching of the gospel is a task assigned to human preachers and evangelists. What happens in trinitarianism is that God the Son is anointed with God the Spirit to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, whom God the Father sends into the world. Why does God the Father have to send a divine person as the Messiah? Is it because no human Messiah is allowed? Why does God as God the Son do the work that God has appointed man to do? The whole matter is becoming incomprehensible. In biblical teaching, God came into the world to dwell in the man Jesus, not a divine Jesus. Does God dispense with man in the ministry of salvation? Can God who is immortal die for man’s sins? If there is nothing else that man can do, at the very least he can die! And dying on the cross for man’s sin was indeed what Jesus did.

Jesus’ chief earthly ministry at the present time

After Jesus had been taken up into heaven, he was seated at the right hand of the Father. Since he is now in heaven, what is his present earthly ministry? One of the chief of his ministries is that of intercession for God’s people:

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Hebrews 7:25 He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (cf. Isa.53:12)

Hebrews 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who intercedes before the Father —Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Interceding for God’s people seems to be Christ’s chief ministry, or one of his chief ministries, at the present time. But if he has authority over the church as the head of the body of Christ, why would he need to plead with the Father on behalf of the church? It is because the church is not the church of Christ but the “church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2Cor.1:1; Gal.1:13; 1Tim.3:5,15). God by His Spirit indwells, empowers, and leads the church. We are reminded of Moses who repeatedly interceded for Israel. Although Moses was appointed the head of Israel by God, it was God who dwelled in the midst of Israel, in tent or temple, and who led Israel to the land of promise.

If Jesus must dedicate himself wholly to the work of interceding for the church, this would indicate how precarious and imperiled is the survival of the church in the world. The fact that the church, in spite of Jesus’ intercession for it, could have strayed by its own choice into serious error over the past 1,800 years, is cause for dismay. Yahweh has allowed this to happen for some purpose we don’t understand. Yet through these centuries of darkness, thanks to Jesus’ intercession, there has always been a faithful remnant, just as there is a faithful remnant among the Jews (Romans 9 to 11). While Jesus’ intercession for God’s people has not been in vain, few Christians are even dimly aware of the enormity and intensity of the spiritual battle that rages in and around the church of God.

That Jesus is now in heaven and not on earth raises the question of who is directing the church on earth, and whose presence is it that sustains the faithful remnant—who are called the “few” in Mt.7:14 (cf. Lk.13:23) and who by Yahweh’s grace gain entrance into life. It is undoubtedly the Spirit of Yahweh who upholds God’s people every day in the spiritual battle against the evil one, the ruler of the world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). But the majority of Christians in the world today are so engaged in their own lives and earthly affairs that they, sadly, are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2Tim.3:2-4). The importance of Jesus’ unceasing intercession for the members of his body, the church, again impresses itself upon our hearts and minds.

What was Jesus’ earthly ministry two millennia ago?

If intercession is one of Jesus’ chief ministries at the right hand of the Father in the present age, what was his earthly ministry two thousand years ago and what meaning does it have for us today? From the portrait of Jesus given in the gospels, his earthly ministry had two central elements.

One element was the teaching of God’s word, the word of Yahweh, with particular focus on the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven), a key concept that few Christians are familiar with. To most people, “kingdom” implies a territory ruled by a monarch (e.g. “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the official name of Saudi Arabia) or a country with a constitutional monarchy (e.g. “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” the official name of the United Kingdom).

But the Greek word for “kingdom” (basileia) has the primary meaning of the kingship and the royal rule of a king rather than the territory he rules over, though the latter sense is not excluded. BDAG gives two main definitions of this word: (1) the act of ruling; a. kingship, royal power, royal rule; b. the royal reign; (2) territory ruled by a king, kingdom. The sense of territory is listed as the second rather than the first definition, but more telling is that BDAG gives ten times as many biblical and extra-biblical citations for the first definition (kingship and royal rule) than for the second definition (a king’s territory). The kingdom of God is first and foremost God’s rule in the lives of His people.

The kingdom of God is also called “the kingdom of heaven,” a term that is used only in Matthew’s Gospel.[6] The equivalence of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven is seen in the fact that in Mt.19:23-24, Jesus uses both terms to refer to the same thing. To the Jews, heaven is a metonym of God in much the same way that to the Chinese, heaven (天) is a metonym of God (神 or 上帝).

 

Besides the kingdom, the other central element in Jesus’ earthly ministry is his atoning death which is mentioned many times in the synoptic gospels using language similar to that of plain-facts reporting. The most explicit statement about his death and its purpose is found in Mark 10:45 (and its parallel Mt.20:28) in which Jesus says that he came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” In the parables, Jesus gives broad hints of his death, but there is nothing as explicit as in the verse we just quoted.

It is in John’s Gospel that we see particularly deep emphasis on Jesus’ death, beginning with John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:29). No statement about the purpose of his death can be more explicit than that. The rest of John’s Gospel elaborates on that crucial declaration about the Lamb of God. The passion narrative, which covers the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, takes up about a third of John’s Gospel versus one quarter in the synoptics.

Thus the four gospels, as a unity, delineate the two focal points of Jesus’ earthly ministry: In the synoptic gospels, the focal point is his teaching ministry and its principal content, the kingdom of God, which is also an important theme in the Old Testament prophets. The other focal point, prominent in all four gospels but especially in John, is the redemptive or atoning work of Jesus’ life and death.

In the New Testament letters we find both these elements. The principle of the kingdom is now operating in the life of the church, hence the explicit term “the kingdom” appears less frequently in the NT letters. The Sermon on the Mount, which is central to life in the kingdom of God, is now implemented in the spiritual life of the church of God, the body of Christ.

Jesus’ earthly ministry has crucial meaning for us today. His redeeming death and his resurrection are depicted as having a powerful life-changing effect on believers:

Romans 9:26 And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God.”

Ephesians 5:8 For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

No greater or more startling transformation can be imagined than what is described in these statements.

The time-limited nature of Jesus’ work

Having been nurtured in trinitarianism with its divine Jesus, we read the Bible without realizing that his ministry in God’s plan of salvation is time limited. Jesus’ work is not eternally ongoing and interminable, but concludes with its successful and triumphant completion. Jesus says it is not the healthy but the sick who need a doctor. So what happens when the doctor has successfully healed a sick person? The patient is now one of the healthy ones who no longer need a doctor. In other words, a good doctor is one who puts himself out of business! It is the bad doctors who consume all the money of the sick without healing them, as in the case of a woman with an issue of blood for twelve years who “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (Mk.5:25-26).

At the cross, Jesus completed his work as the sacrificial Lamb of God when he declared, “It is finished” (Jn.19:30). He later ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God; his act of sitting down signified that he had completed the work of atonement entrusted to him by the Father. This point comes out strongly in the letter to the Hebrews (“once for all,” 7:27; 9:12,26; 10:10). The sacrifice of Jesus is “once for all” in contrast to the never-ending sacrifices offered in the Jerusalem temple which could never satisfactorily atone for sin and had to be repeated perpetually. But the sacrifice of Jesus is forever effective for the remission of the sins of those who put their trust in him, the Lamb of God slain for their salvation.

Jesus’ mission is to bring us to God, and once that has been achieved, his mission has fulfilled its purpose. What happens after Jesus has brought us to God? Does it not mean that we can now fellowship directly with God? Once Jesus has brought us into communion with Yahweh, his work is done, and like the good doctor, his intervention is no longer needed—unless, of course, we sin and need an advocate (1Jn.1:9; 2:1).

Is it not the same with mediation? What is a mediator’s role but to reconcile two parties? And what happens after reconciliation has been achieved? The services of the mediator are no longer needed. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2:5). The error of trinitarianism is to portray Christ Jesus as the one who, instead of reconciling God and man once and for all, is made the center of the whole affair by reconciling man to himself, even standing in the middle between God and man!

In the verse just quoted, 1Timothy 2:5, Paul upholds biblical monotheism in his affirmation that “there is one God” as a clear contrast to the humanity expressed in the words “the man Christ Jesus”. The only mediator between God and man is not God or God-man but “the man Christ Jesus” (a literal word-for-word translation of the Greek). Some Bibles (NET, HCSB, NAB, NRSV) severely weaken it to “Christ Jesus, himself human”. The Chinese Union Bible even manages to misrender “the man Christ Jesus” as “Christ Jesus, the one who came down into the world to become man” (降世为人的基督耶稣)! Just as puzzling, Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes replaces “man” with “God-man” in the statement, “the God-man is the only mediator of the New Covenant between God and man”!

As in the case of the competent doctor, when a mediator’s work has been completed once and for all, he has no further mediating function to fulfill. Is he then sad about losing his job (or the doctor his patient’s business) on account of his competent and successful work? Certainly not. Why would anyone think that Jesus has suffered some kind of loss for having reconciled us to God so successfully and triumphantly that he no longer needs to stand between God and us as a mediator? Much less is it conceivable, except in the trinitarian mindset, that Jesus would use the situation to make himself the center of attention and devotion.

The same can be said of Jesus’ commission of subduing God’s enemies. In the eschatological future, after his work has been done victoriously and triumphantly, Jesus will hand his kingship back to the Father and take a position that is subordinate to Him for all eternity (1Cor.15:24-28).



[1] As seen in: “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom. 3:25); “to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb.2:17); “he is the propitiation for our sins” (1Jn.2:2); “he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for your sins” (1Jn.4:10). The Greek for “propitiation” (more accurately “expiation”) is hilastērion in the first verse, hilaskomai in the second, and hilasmos in the last two.

[2] Acts 2:24,32; 3:15,26; 13:30; Rom.4:24; 6:4; 8:11; 1Cor.15:4,12 (divine passive, as in Jn.2:22); Gal.1:1; Eph.1:20; Col.2:12; 1Pet.1:21.

[3] NIV 1984 and CJB have “what to say and how to say it”. In the Greek, “what” and “how” are translated from the same interrogative pronoun “tis” (τίς, not to be confused with τὶς). A common meaning of “tis” is the interrogative “what” though the exclamatory “how” is also possible (BDAG). By rendering the two instances of “tis” differently as “what” and “how,” both of which are lexically valid, NIV 1984 and CJB avoid the repetitious and redundant “what to say and what to speak” found in other translations.

[4] The remaining six instances of pempō in John’s Gospel are used in the following ways: the sending of the Spirit (14:26; 15:26; 16:7); some priests and Levites were sent by the Jews (Jn.1:22); Jesus sent the disciples (13:20; 20:21).

[5] The 17 occurrences are John 3:17,34; 5:36,38; 6:29,57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3,8,18,21,23,25; 20:21.

[6] Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” 32 times and “kingdom of God” 4 times (or 5 times, cf. manuscript variation in 6:33). By contrast, the rest of the NT uses “kingdom of God” 62 times and never “kingdom of heaven”. The 62 occurrences are distributed as follows: Mark 14x, Luke 32x, John 2x, Acts 6x, Paul’s letters 8x. These numbers do not include the shorter term “the kingdom” found in phrases such as “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mt.4:23) or “the sons of the kingdom” (8:12).

 

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