WHO IS JESUS?
Rev. Douglas Taylor
"[Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?" (Matthew 16:15).
The Lord addressed this question to the disciples two thousand years ago; but it is an ageless question. It is still relevant, and always will be. The answer we give to the question, "Who is Jesus?" has a profound effect upon our life in this world and to eternity. It is recorded that Simon Peter answered the Lord’s question by saving. "Thou art the Christ [or the Messiah], the Son of the Living God" (v. 16). For this reply he was highly recommended by the Lord, who said that it was a Divinely inspired answer (v. 7). Whatever else we may think of this answer, one thing is very clear, namely, that it teaches that Jesus is in some sense Divine. Furthermore, we are warned in the Gospel of John that "he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18). But is it sufficient to say that "Jesus is in some sense Divine"? It is well recognized that there is no more important idea for us to grasp clearly than the idea of God. It is not just an academic question, just for the theologians, and for dry-as-dust theorizing. Our idea of God governs and controls all our wishing and thinking, even when we are not aware of it, and whether we realize it or not. Even the atheist’s idea of God as a nonentity enters into all his thoughts, and influences his feelings and his life much more than he realizes. The first and great commandment is that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But who is the Lord? In our daily living we are supposed to shun evils for the sole reason that they are sins against the Lord. But, again, who is the Lord? Is it Jehovah of the Old Testament? Or Jesus of the New Testament? Or are they the same Divine Person? In order to live the life of religion, we need a clear idea of God.
Now the idea of God that has prevailed in Christendom for centuries, ever since 325 A.D., is that there are three Persons in God, each of whom is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one. No one claims to understand this; it is admitted on all sides that this is incomprehensible - a mystery, a Divine mystery, and must remain so in this life. Of course, it is true that we will never understand everything about God, because He is Infinite and we are finite. We would indeed require an Infinite, Divine understanding to understand fully the Infinite. But this truth is too often used to throttle discussion before it has scarcely started. The point where we have to admit that we cannot go any further is much more remote than is usually supposed.
The doctrine of the Lord, and the answer to the question, Who is Jesus? can be drawn not only from the spiritual or inner meaning of the Word of God (which has now been fully revealed) but it can also be drawn from the literal statements of the Old and New Testaments - especially if we follow closely two basic, common-sense rules that have unfortunately been overlooked; they are (1) gather all the passages on a subject, or at the very least, a representative sampling of them, and (2) use only explicit statements that can have only one meaning, as your basis and starting point. The result of doing this is much more satisfying than many have dared to hope. The passages on the subject easily divide themselves into two groups that at first sight seem to conflict; the first group seems to teach that God the Father (or Jehovah of the Old Testament) is
onePerson. and Jesus, the Son of God, is another Person, quite distinct and separate. But there is also a second group of passages teaching that they are one and the same Person, that Jehovah of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New are the same Person. Now, these two groups of teachings have to be reconciled if the true doctrine is to come forth to view.
Here are some examples of the first group: Jesus said: "I am come from God" (John 8:42): "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" (.John 5: 19). As we have already seen, Simon Peter said: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" ( Matt. 16: 16). At the Lord’s baptism a voice from heaven was heard to say: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" ( Matt. 3: 17). He also said: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14: 28) and "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). On the cross Jesus said: "Father, forgive them..." (Luke 23:34), and "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27: 46). Also, after the resurrection, the Lord said to the disciples, "Teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28: 19). In the last passage. not only does it seem that the Father and the Son are distinct, but also that there is yet a third Divine Person or Being, the Holy Spirit.
If we were to consult only such passages as these, and ignore all the others that seem to conflict with hem, we might come to the conclusion that there are three Persons in God. This is extremely puzzling to any one of a reflective turn of mind, because his common sense tells him that there simply cannot be three Divine Persons, or three Divine Beings because this is the same as saving that there can be three Infinites or three Gods. The task of uniting three distinct Divinities into one God is a forlornly hopeless task.
But the way out of this frustration is to notice that it is never explicitly stated in so many words that the Father and Son are two distinct Persons. That is never said, but it was assumed - taken for granted by the Councils of the Early Christian Church from 325 A.D. onwards and has been unthinkingly accepted as the orthodox Christian faith itself. But search as you will, you will never find a passage that says explicitly that the Father and the Son are
TWO, or that he who has seen the Son has yet to see the Father. As a matter of fact, you will find the very opposite, as we shall see in a moment.
Moreover, the second thing to be noted is that while it has usually been taken for granted that in these passages the terms "Father" and "Son" always refer to people, this is not necessarily the case. Do we not say in common speech, "The wish is father to the thought"? And in the Word we find a similar usage: "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it" (John 8: 44). From these considerations we may see how risky it is to seize upon only one of the possible meanings of a term and build doctrine upon it. Even though the common usage at the present time is that "father" and "son" refer to different persons, if we assume that as a principle here, we shall encounter severe difficulties, especially from the second group of passages referred to already (those that teach that God the Father and God the Son are the same and the only Divine Person).
For example, what shall we say when we read in the Old Testament this well-known prophecy of the Advent of the Lord: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace"? (Isa. 9:6) Here no one can for a moment doubt that He who is called "the Child" and "the Son" is also at the same time called "God the Mighty" and "the Father" - "the Father of Eternity."
And there is only one Mighty God. Our reason and the Holy Scriptures unite in declaring: "Before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord [Jehovah]; and besides Me there is no Saviour" (Isa. 43:10, 11). "I am the First and I am the Last; and besides Me there is no God" (Isa. 44:6; compare Rev. 1:8). I am Jehovah; that is My name, and My glory will I not give to another" (Isa. 42:8. 48: 11). "Am not I Jehovah, and there is no other God besides Me; a just God and a Saviour, there is none besides Me. Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else" (Isa. 45:21,22).
The teaching that there is no other God besides Jehovah defines our understanding of another prophecy in Isaiah: "The Lord [Jehovah] Himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (7: 14). Since the name Immanuel can be translated in no other way than "God-with-us," it follows as an irresistible conclusion that it was the Lord God, Jehovah, the only God, who was to come into the world as the Saviour, and appear as the Son of a virgin. This, in fact, is the burden of all the Old Testament passages that treat of the Advent of the Messiah. Let the following be taken as representative: "And it shall be said in that day. This is our God; we have waited for Him that He may deliver us; this is Jehovah. . . we will rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isa. 25:9). "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make plain in the solitude a highway for our God.... Behold. the Lord God shall come in strength" (Isa. 40: 3, 10; compare Matt. 3, et al). Here again, the teaching is that the Lord the Creator would also come as the Redeemer.
Again, in the Old Testament the Lord Jehovah says that He is the First and the Last, but in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus says
He is the First and the Last. Now, it is impossible to have TWO people being the first and the last. Obviously, it must be the same Person who is described in both cases. We recall also that the Lord of the Old Testament says He is the only Saviour, and that His glory He would not give to another. Yet in the New Testament JESUS is frequently called the Saviour. Does it not follow as an irresistible conclusion, then, that Jesus must be Jehovah in the Human form, a thought that is reinforced by the knowledge that Jesus means "Jehovah saves"?
In full agreement with this, in the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus Christ saying to the multitude: "I and the Father are
ONE" not two, but one; and He did not say anything about one in purpose, or anything like that. He said simply ONE. In any case, His audience made no mistake about His meaning (the only possible meaning); they took up stones to stone Him, and when asked why they did so, their reply was: "Because that thou being a man, maketh thyself God" (John 10:33). It is interesting that the Jewish Church which rejected Him could see what He was saying - but the Christian Church which accepted Him has not fully known Him.
Furthermore, in the first chapter of John it is written: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.... He was in the world, and the world was made by Him; and the world knew Him not.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1,3, 10, 14). Here it is plainly stated that it was the Creator of the world who came on earth in the form of a man.
Again, the Lord when on earth said: "Before Abraham was. I
AM" (John 8:58). "I AM" can have but one meaning; it is Jehovah’s name (Exodus 3:14), and it means Being - the only Divine Being or Life Itself. On this occasion, also, the Jews understood the Lord to be saying, "I am Jehovah," and therefore wished to stone Him for blasphemy.
From all these passages the teaching is manifest; Jehovah (or the Father) and Jesus (the Son of God) are actually the same Divine Person. But it is the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, above all, that gives this teaching its clearest expression. Here, Jesus, having referred to His going to His Father, is misunderstood by both Thomas and Philip, who think that He is referring to some other Person. Philip therefore says: "Lord shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us" (John 14:8). The Lord’s answer is worthy of our closest attention, for in it the misunderstanding is removed: "Have I been so long time with you," [He asked] "and yet hast thou not known Me. Philip? He that hath seen Me hath SEEN the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (Verse 9). Could anything be more plain? What other Father can there be but the One whom Philip’s eyes were beholding?
Then the Lord went on to give an explanation which furnishes the clue to the understanding of the whole doctrine. He said: "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself; but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works" (verse 10). Now, how are we to understand that? What is it that dwelleth within, causes words to he spoken, and also "doeth the works?" What else answers this description but the soul? It dwelleth within, it causes words to be spoken, it "doeth the works." What else fits the description, in this case, but the Divine Soul? Is not the soul as a father to the body? Is not the body a kind of offspring from the soul?
When we see that the "Father" means the Divine in Itself or the Divine Soul, and that the "Son of God" means the Divine Body visible to man, then we are for the first time in a position to understand something about the Holy Spirit. In every person there is a trinity - a human trinity. It is not a trinity of persons; it is a trinity of essentials, a trinity of soul, body, and that intangible influence that flows forth from the union of soul and body. This spirit or proceeding influence is approximately what is called in popular language, a man’s personality. It is the sphere that emanates from the combination of his soul and body, and this is what has an effect on other people. Man has this trinity of soul, body and spirit because he is made in the image of God, and in God there is a Divine Trinity - the Divine Soul, called the Father; the Divine Body, called the Son; and the Divine Spirit, called the Holy Spirit.
This understanding of the relationship between God and the Son of God is a real understanding, for it throws light on the whole Word, both the Old Testament and the New. The real teaching of the Word becomes transparently clear when all the passages are considered, and when those which teach unequivocally that there is but one God are taken as the basis, all others being interpreted in that light. Now we can see where the obscurity or confusion (or mystery) came from. It came from taking the wrong set of passages as the basis - that is, the first group we looked at, those that seemed to teach that there were three separate Divine Beings. In the new view of the subject, these passages can be understood in quite a different way, like this:
"I am come from God" (John 8:42). The Body came forth from the Soul. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" (John 5: 19). The Body can do nothing of Itself, but what it is directed to do by the Soul. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). The Messiah, the Body of the Divine Itself, which alone is Life-in-itself. "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). The Divine Body in which it pleased the Lord to dwell while on earth. "My Father is greater than I" (.John 14:28). The Soul is greater than the Body, since it directs it, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Just as we cannot know a man’s soul except insofar as his body reveals it, so also the only way we can have any idea of the Divine Soul is by means of the Divine Body, which was visible to man. Or, as it is said in another place, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John l: 18). "My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). On the cross, the last of the Lord’s lifelong temptations, He was painfully aware of the Body to the exclusion of the Soul, as we are in a finite way during temptations. The Divine Soul seems to have forsaken it. "Father forgive them..." (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness comes from the influence of the Soul, not the Body. Man, also, has to be raised above the sphere of the body before he can forgive.
In this view of the Trinity, we are not obliged any longer to picture more Divine Persons than One, nor more Infinites than One. We can see that it can be rationally understood. We can see that in the Lord Jesus Christ is the Divine Trinity, just as in the body of every man there is the human trinity of soul, body, and spirit (proceeding influence). This idea seems to have been glimpsed somewhat among the Early Christians, who, though commanded by the Lord to baptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28: 19), actually used a different formula: they baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2: 38; 8:16; 10:48). And so do we in the Church of the New Jerusalem.
The idea of the Lord that the Apostles had is now restored, and filed with details. In its general form it is not new; it was there all the time, and it was summed up beautifully by Paul in one of his letters, in these words: "In Jesus Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). This is the vision of the Lord that is possible today. It is a concept that is capable of unceasing development, not one that is stunted and stultified by the dogma of "a Divine Mystery." It allows everyone to picture his Creator taking on a frail human nature in order to be present more closely with mankind, a human nature that could be tempted and that could at last be glorified or made Divine, as Divine as His Soul, by means of victories in those temptation battles. That is why at the end, Jesus could truly say to the disciples, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth" ( Matt. 28: 18). Whoever has all power is surely the Almighty. So even doubting Thomas finally worshiped the Lord, saying: "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28).
This is the picture of the Lord transfigured - bathed in light and glory, the Lord as the Divine Human - Divine from His Inmost Soul down to the very bones of His Body . And this vision of the Lord is given to all mankind at this day, because it is unveiled in great detail in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, in fulfillment of the Lord's promise: "I have yet many things to say unto you but ye cannot bear them now - but the time is coming when I shall no more speak unto you in parables, but I shall show you plainly of the Father" (John 16:12. 25). Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 45: 18-22; John 14: 1 - 10
God the Creator, together with creation, has been treated of; also the Lord the Redeemer, together with redemption; and lastly the Holy Spirit, together with the Divine operation. Having thus treated of the Triune God, it is necessary to treat also of the Divine trinity, which is known and yet unknown in the Christian world; for only through this can a right idea of God be acquired; and a right idea of God in the church is like the sanctuary and altar in a temple, or like the crown upon the head and the scepter in the hand of a king on his throne; for on a right idea of God the whole body of theology hangs, like a chain on its first link; and if you will believe it, everyone is allotted his place in the heavens in accordance with his idea of God. For that idea is like a touchstone by which the gold and silver are tested, that is, the quality of good and truth in man. For there can be no saving good in man except from God, nor any truth that does not derive its quality from the bosom of good. (
Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion 163)