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The Angel of the LORD continued…

One more post on the Angel, then we’ll look at some other multiple-LORD passages.

Check out Judges 6:11-24:

11 The Angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir (Lord, Adonai),” Gideon replied, “if the LORD (Yahweh) is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said,`Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord (Adonai),” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. 20 The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the Angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As we saw in our last post, the Angel proclaimed Himself to be the LORD who saved Israel out of Egypt in Judges 2:1-5. Here the Angel is called ‘Angel’, ‘Lord (Adonai)’ and ‘LORD (Yahweh)’ interchangeably. Verse 14 is clearly the same Character now ‘facing’ Gideon. His re-assurance to Gideon concerns Himself: “Am I not sending you?…I will be with you”. Gideon’s hope rests in this Person: “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (v17)

Here the Angel comes in a particularly priestly way. He pronounces to Gideon the blessing of Another called LORD (v12) and mediates Gideon’s sacrifice to this LORD, v21. Not only is He priest – mediating the Father’s peace to Gideon and Gideon’s sacrifice to the LORD – He also ascends in the sacrifice. He is Lord and Priest and in a funny sort of way, sacrifice. When Gideon sees this he really gets the identity of the Angel (which was the point of this sign, v17).

When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” (v22) It is his expectation that seeing such a Figure should result in death. This face to face encounter is clearly not something mortals expect to endure when it comes to the Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh). God Most High on the mountaintop had told Moses:

“you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live… my face must not be seen.” (Exod 33:20-23)

Yet in the same chapter Moses and Joshua are described as having regular face to face encounters with the LORD in the tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11). Within the OT there is a visible LORD who mediates the business of the unseen LORD. On this occasion Gideon calls out in alarm to the unseen LORD that He had seen the glory of the Angel. I think it’s most straightforward to see the LORD of v23 to be the Angel Himself, Christ. I won’t be very disappointed if proved wrong but my reasoning is:

1) In this incident it is the Angel who calls the unseen God, ‘LORD’ while it is the narrator who calls the Angel ‘LORD’ or ‘Lord’. When the narrator wants to tell us he’s referring to the unseen God he calls Him ‘Sovereign Lord.’

2) The whole incident is modeling how it is the Angel who provides peace for Gideon.

So, for me, v23 is Christ interposing on the basis of the sacrifice (in which He ascended) and proclaiming Himself to be peace. You can chew on that and let me know what you think.

Moving on to Judges 13 we see an extended passage about the Angel. In v3 He appears to Mrs Manoah who consistently describes Him as a man (v6, 10) as does the narrator (v11). He comes again when God hears the cry of His people and sends Him in response (v9). Just like with Jacob, He is coy about His name (v18, cf Gen 32:29). But just as in Judges 6, He ascends in the sacrifice to the LORD. At this Mr Manoah exclaims:

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judges 13:22)

His wife has more sense:

But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” (Judges 13:23)

The Angel is described as God. And the expectation is that to see God is to die. And yet they do see God the Angel and Mrs Manoah identifies the basis on which they can still be accepted: sacrifice.

I could go on about the Angel but perhaps you can follow up the other references that I’ve listed yourself. Let me just draw your attention to one more passage. Because here we see that the Angel was set forth not simply as the Mediator for Israel there and then, He was also trusted in as the One who was to come – the Messiah.

“See, I will send my messenger (malak), who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord (Adonai) you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger (malak, Angel) of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty (Yahweh of hosts). (Malachi 3:1)

The messenger (Elijah/John the Baptist, cf 4:5) will precede the coming of the Lord who is the Angel. Here we see that the Lord who the people are seeking is the Angel of the covenant. He is their desire according to Malachi 3.

Enough on the Angel. Next post will be a re-working of a previous post on the trinitarian OT. And for those who are wondering, I’ll also soon do a ‘so what’ piece listing reasons this stuff matters!

Next post…

The Angel of the LORD continued…

One more post on the Angel, then we’ll look at some other multiple-LORD passages.

Check out Judges 6:11-24:

11 The Angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir (Lord, Adonai),” Gideon replied, “if the LORD (Yahweh) is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about when they said,`Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord (Adonai),” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. 20 The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the Angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

As we saw in our last post, the Angel proclaimed Himself to be the LORD who saved Israel out of Egypt in Judges 2:1-5. Here the Angel is called ‘Angel’, ‘Lord (Adonai)’ and ‘LORD (Yahweh)’ interchangeably. Verse 14 is clearly the same Character now ‘facing’ Gideon. His re-assurance to Gideon concerns Himself: “Am I not sending you?…I will be with you”. Gideon’s hope rests in this Person: “If now I have found favour in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (v17)

Here the Angel comes in a particularly priestly way. He pronounces to Gideon the blessing of Another called LORD (v12) and mediates Gideon’s sacrifice to this LORD, v21. Not only is He priest – mediating the Father’s peace to Gideon and Gideon’s sacrifice to the LORD – He also ascends in the sacrifice. He is Lord and Priest and in a funny sort of way, sacrifice. When Gideon sees this he really gets the identity of the Angel (which was the point of this sign, v17).

When Gideon realised that it was the Angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh)! I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” (v22) It is his expectation that seeing such a Figure should result in death. This face to face encounter is clearly not something mortals expect to endure when it comes to the Sovereign LORD (Adonai Yahweh). God Most High on the mountaintop had told Moses:

“you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live… my face must not be seen.” (Exod 33:20-23)

Yet in the same chapter Moses and Joshua are described as having regular face to face encounters with the LORD in the tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11). Within the OT there is a visible LORD who mediates the business of the unseen LORD. On this occasion Gideon calls out in alarm to the unseen LORD that He had seen the glory of the Angel. I think it’s most straightforward to see the LORD of v23 to be the Angel Himself, Christ. I won’t be very disappointed if proved wrong but my reasoning is:

1) In this incident it is the Angel who calls the unseen God, ‘LORD’ while it is the narrator who calls the Angel ‘LORD’ or ‘Lord’. When the narrator wants to tell us he’s referring to the unseen God he calls Him ‘Sovereign Lord.’

2) The whole incident is modeling how it is the Angel who provides peace for Gideon.

So, for me, v23 is Christ interposing on the basis of the sacrifice (in which He ascended) and proclaiming Himself to be peace. You can chew on that and let me know what you think.

Moving on to Judges 13 we see an extended passage about the Angel. In v3 He appears to Mrs Manoah who consistently describes Him as a man (v6, 10) as does the narrator (v11). He comes again when God hears the cry of His people and sends Him in response (v9). Just like with Jacob, He is coy about His name (v18, cf Gen 32:29). But just as in Judges 6, He ascends in the sacrifice to the LORD. At this Mr Manoah exclaims:

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judges 13:22)

His wife has more sense:

But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” (Judges 13:23)

The Angel is described as God. And the expectation is that to see God is to die. And yet they do see God the Angel and Mrs Manoah identifies the basis on which they can still be accepted: sacrifice.

I could go on about the Angel but perhaps you can follow up the other references that I’ve listed yourself. Let me just draw your attention to one more passage. Because here we see that the Angel was set forth not simply as the Mediator for Israel there and then, He was also trusted in as the One who was to come – the Messiah.

“See, I will send my messenger (malak), who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord (Adonai) you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger (malak, Angel) of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty (Yahweh of hosts). (Malachi 3:1)

The messenger (Elijah/John the Baptist, cf 4:5) will precede the coming of the Lord who is the Angel. Here we see that the Lord who the people are seeking is the Angel of the covenant. He is their desire according to Malachi 3.

Enough on the Angel. Next post will be a re-working of a previous post on the trinitarian OT. And for those who are wondering, I’ll also soon do a ‘so what’ piece listing reasons this stuff matters!

Next post…

15

The Angel of the LORD continued...

Let's look at the Angel in action in Genesis and Exodus.

His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:

Then the Angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The Angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." The Angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery... She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." (Gen 16:9-14)

Here the Angel speaks of another Person called the LORD who has heard Hagar.  This is typical in the OT - God hears and sends His Angel to deliver.  See Gen 21:17; Ex 2:23ff; Num 20:16; Judges 13:9 - also similar is Dan 3:28; 6:22.

But even though the Angel is distinctly called of the LORD He can also own the name 'LORD' Himself.  In verse 13 even the narrator calls the Angel "LORD" and Hagar calls Him "the God who sees me."  He is from God but He also is God - in fact He is the visible God for Hagar is astonished that she has seen Him.

Read on to Genesis 22 and here we see that the Angel of the LORD is the One who intercepts the judgement of father Abraham on his son.

But the Angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." The Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

Difficult to read these verses if you're a unitarian!  'Now know that you fear God because you haven't witheld your son from Me.'  The Angel clearly thinks the offering is to Himself and later in v16 He clearly thinks that He is the LORD who will bless Abraham.  But He also clearly speaks of 'God' as another Person in the equation.  There's much more to be said about Genesis 22, but we must move on.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man ('ish) who is clearly a source of blessing (v26) and is in fact God (v28).  Jacob rightly identifies Him as 'God face to face' (perhaps best understood as a divine title?).  Why are we looking at this passage while considering the Angel?  Because of what Hosea 12:3-5 makes of this incident.

...[Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favour. He found Him at Bethel and talked with Him there-- the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is His name of renown!

Hosea knows how it is that Jacob could actually wrestle with God and see Him face to face.  He knows that Jacob wrestled with the Angel.  But Hosea also knows that such a name is not a diminutive title for this figure. The Angel is Himself the LORD God Almighty (Yahweh the God of Hosts).  What's interesting is not only Hosea's high christology but also how OT saints thought through the issues of how God is mediated.  It was clear to Hosea, even though Genesis does not mention the name, that Jacob wrestled 'the Angel.'  OT saints are able to make such distinctions and properly interpreted their own Scriptures christologically centuries after the events and centuries before the incarnation.

Moving on in Genesis we come to Jacob's blessing of his grandsons.  Just as he sought the Angel's blessing for himself (Gen 32:26,29) so now he wants the Angel's blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh:

"May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys.  (Gen 48:15-16)

Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  This is a massive question today.  Can we please have the courage to proclaim from Genesis that Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is the Deliverer God before Whom the patriarchs walked.  The Angel is God and Shepherd, Deliverer and the Source of all blessing.  The Angel is God from God and the One to Whom the patriarchs looked.

I can't see a) any way around this, b) any reason you'd want to get around this!

Let's move on briefly to Exodus.  And here again we see the pattern whereby people call out to God, God hears (Exod 2:23-24) and in response He sends His Deliverer.  And who is the Deliverer?

2 There the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-- why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

The Angel is Him who dwelt in the burning bush (Deut 33:16).  He is, v4,  LORD and God and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Furthermore He is the great I AM (v14) who saves His people.  When Jesus claims to be I AM He isn't (as many seem to say) audaciously applying to Himself a title belonging to ""God"".  He's saying - I'm 'Him who dwelt in the burning bush.'  He's not just saying 'I have the same name as Israel's Redeemer, He's saying - You know the whole burning bush, plagues, Red Sea thing?  That was me!'

Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:

"I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

The Angel will save a people and bring them to God.  That is the story of salvation.  And does the Angel deliver on His promise?  Yes! He is the LORD who goes at their head:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Ex 13:21)

How do we know that this is the Angel?

Then the Angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them (Ex 14:19)

So the Deliverer is the Angel who is of the LORD and who is the LORD.  Exodus 23:20-23 tells us how the Angel relates to the Most High God: 'My Name is in Him' says the LORD on top of the mountain.  The Angel is the One the people should follow knowing that He has been sent from the LORD on high with the very character of the unseen God.  To hear the Angel (v22) is to know the favour and salvation of God Most High.

The Exodus was wrought at the initiative of God the Father hearing His people’s cries for mercy.  Out of His compassion He sent His Angel to deliver His people and bring them back to the Mountain to worship Him.

And just to drive home the point even further, let's look at one last reference.  When all is done and dusted and Scripture looks back on the redemption out of Egypt, who is it who takes the credit?

The Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said,`I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you."  When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud. (Judges 2:1-4)

At this point I feel like pulling a CS Lewis - when the Angel makes such incredible claims, He's either mad, bad or the LORD.  So who is He??

I hope it's obvious.  But I hope we also see that these things are plain on their own terms and in their own context.  I haven't needed to do any NT 're-reading'.  I hope you see this isn't a conjuring act it's simply taking these verses seriously. And allowing them to say what they say without forcing them into a pre-fab unitarian mould.

I think it's clear (don't you?) the Angel is clearly divine, clearly Israel's Deliverer, clearly trusted in.  But also note - He is also clearly distinct from another called LORD or God (we'll see this more and more as we go on).  And He has His identity as the Sent One (malak - Messenger). To see Him is to be immediately drawn into knowledge of the Sender whose Name He bears.  His very being is defined by relationship to Another.  He is a divine Person who belongs to another divine Person.  Israel's LORD is God from God.

And if this is true then the OT doctrine of God is nothing like the modern Jew's god, nothing like the philosopher's god, nothing like allah.  The God of the OT is inescapably and irreducibly trinitarian in nature and christocentric in focus.

One more post on the Angel to come and then we'll look at some other fun stuff.

Next post...

15

Who is the Angel of the LORD?

In my last post I laid out my intention to show from the Old Testament that Christ has always been the one Mediator between God and man.

I find the easiest place to start in these discussions is with the Angel of the LORD.  If a person cannot see from Scripture that this is a title belonging to Christ then the conversation will not get very far.  So I wonder whether you have a view?

Perhaps the first thing to say is - don't be thrown by the title.  Angel (malak) just means 'Sent One' or 'Messenger' (as most translations render it in Malachi 3:1).  So literally the Angel of the LORD is the One Sent from the LORD.  And already we should be hearing resonances with Jesus' self-descriptions.  In John's Gospel for instance Jesus is described as the One Sent from God 40 times!  That might be significant!

The second thing to say is that not every angel is The Angel.  There are many created angelic beings in the bible.  But when Scripture speaks of the Angel we know who we're talking about.  In the same way there are many ones sent from God in a general sense.  But when you talk about 'the One sent from the Father' you are talking about Jesus.

But really the proof is in the eating.  So get a load of these verses.

Genesis 16:9-14; Genesis 21:17-20; Genesis 22:11-18; Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21 <=> Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; 33:2 <=> 34:9; Num 20:16; Num 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24Judges 13:3-23; 2 Sam 24:16-171 Kings 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 1 Chron 21:11-20; Psalm 34:7,9; Psalm 35:5-6; Isaiah 37:36; Isaiah 63:9Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:22Hosea 12:4-5 <=> Genesis 32:24-30Zechariah 1:9-19; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 12:8; Malachi 3:1

See also these verse where people are said to be like the Angel and so are said to be like Christ:

1 Sam 29:9; 2 Sam 14:17,20; 2 Sam 19:27; Gal 4:14

As you see the Angel is not an insignificant figure in the Old Testament.  I'm not expecting you to check out all the references but thought it might be useful to have them all together.  Over the next few posts I'll pick out some key passages to highlight some fundamental truths.  At bottom this is where these verses take us:

  • The Angel is divine - He is very often called the LORD and God, He speaks as the LORD, acts as the LORD and accepts divine worship.

  • The Angel is distinct from another Person called 'LORD' or 'God' or 'God Most High.'

  • The Angel acts on behalf of God Most High in revelation and salvation.

  • The Angel is correctly identified by the OT saints as a distinct, divine Person

  • He is feared, trusted and hoped for by the faithful.

The Angel is God from God.  Light from Light.  True God from True God.  That's clear from the biblical portrait.  To fail to see His identity is, I think, a real problem.

What always strikes me in discussions about the Angel's identity is that the Scriptures are so unambiguous in naming Him LORD.  I would go so far as to say that the Old Testament is even clearer on the divine identity of the Angel than the New Testament is on the identity of Jesus. But of course once we grasp who the Angel is in the OT the NT pictures of Christ's divinity become much more apparent.

When Jesus claims to be the One sent from the Father He is not merely defering to divinity - He is claiming it.  His divine identity in the New Testament is so much easier to see for those who have already grasped it in the Old.

In the next post I'll have a look at some of the key Angel passages.  Let me leave you with a Calvin quote who sums up the history of Christian interpretation on this issue:

The orthodox doctors of the Church have correctly and wisely expounded, that the Word of God was the supreme angel, who then began, as it were by anticipation, to perform the office of Mediator. For though he were not clothed with flesh, yet he descended as in an intermediate form, that he might have more familiar access to the faithful. This closer intercourse procured for him the name of the Angel; still, however, he retained the character which justly belonged to him - that of the God of ineffable glory. (Instit. I.xiii.10)

Next post...

11

When we confess that Jesus is our Substitute most people mean this:

Jesus stands in our place - living the life we should have lived, dying the death we should have died

I wonder though how many also have this understanding of Jesus' substitution:

He sits on the bench for the first half before the Coach brings Him on as match-winner in the closing stages.

I find that many Christians, though believing in the pre-existence of Christ, function with an understanding akin to this latter belief.

Though we shout from the roof-tops the centrality of Christ, we affirm His exclusivity, His supremacy, His full deity, in practice our gospel has Jesus coming late to the game to solve a problem He's had nothing to do with.  We insist that He is the crux, the ultimate, the final, the greatest, the fulfilment but somehow lose that He is the Beginning, the Author, the Logos, the Creator, the Head etc.

In such theology Jesus becomes the Kappa and the Omega, the Middle and the End.  The foundations are laid.  God is defined (monadically).  Humanity is defined (apart from the true Man).  The God-man relation is taken for granted (according to these Christ-less definitions).  Sin, law, wrath, sacrifice, blessings, hope etc are slotted into place.  And then Jesus comes to find His place within this pre-fab mould.

But we know this can't be right.  Jesus is not merely the cherry on the cake.  He is the flour, eggs, sugar, butter and everything else besides.  We know this because we have come to experience life in Christ.  And it is not the experience of Jesus-the-bridge-to-something-else.  He has not taken us by the hand to another reality (heaven, glory, forgiveness, God), He Himself is our all in all.  All those other things find their meaning in Him and only in Him.

Now it seems to me there are three ways that this christocentricity can be argued:

  1. Systematically
  2. From the New Testament back
  3. From the Old Testament forwards

Systematically we point to verses like Matthew 11:25-30 or John 1:18 or Colossians 1:15 and say Christ is, was and ever shall be the one and only Mediator of the Father in revelation and salvation.  This, when grasped, opens our eyes to see that all of history, all of theology and all of God to His very depths is truly trinitarian and christocentric.  Glory!

But of course, people will soon ask you to show it from the bible.  So often people appeal to the New Testament.  Jesus was constantly saying things like He was the One who spoke with Abraham (John 8:56), He was the One the prophets persecuted (Matt 5:11-12), He was David's Lord (Matt 22:42-45), He was the One who kept pursuing Jerusalem (Matt 23:37).  Or Paul would say Christ accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9), Hebrews insists Moses trusted Christ (Hebrews 11:26), Jude asserts that Jesus saved Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5).  And this gets people excited.  For a while.

And then someone says: "Ahhh, with what freedom the Apostles imposed christocentricity on the Hebrew Scriptures."  And all of a sudden you get odd things asserted like: "It's ok for Apostles to retrospectively award a Christ-focus to the OT even though the Jewish authors intended nothing of the sort."  And thus a rarely substantiated but practically unimpeachable maxim is born: "They spoke better than they knew."

Rather than rant polemically about the laughible paucity of Scriptural warrant for this view, or the ethical conundrum of Apostles modelling such dodgy hermeneutics or the logical absurdity of retrospectively awarding Abraham or Isaiah or Israel an encounter with Christ I will side-step a stomach ulcer and move to the third argument.  Because if I can show that the OT by itself proclaims Christ then all such nonsense will be shown to be completely unnecessary.

So here's my assertion that I will seek to unpack over a long series of posts: The OT on its own grounds, in its own context, according to its own intention is a plain and understood revelation of Christ.  I will seek to argue that,

  • Christ is active pre-incarnation
  • He is the Mediator in Old Testament times as well as New
  • He Mediates as a distinct Person, divine and yet differentiated from God Most High
  • He was trusted by (the faithful) OT saints as their LORD and as the One who was to come to save
  • In this way the object of saving faith has always been Christ
  • And in this way the experience of true faith has always been irreducibly trinitarian and christological.

If Jesus tarries I will, in my next few posts, have a look at the Angel of the LORD passages before moving onto some other key multiple-Person OT verses.  I'll look at the very natural way in which the NT picks up on this.  I'll give quotes from church history and I'll draw out some implications.

And having made such a commitment, I immediately wish I hadn't.  Ah well, it'll do me good to get it all off my chest!

NEXT POST

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2

I'm preaching on Revelation 5 on Sunday.  Really looking forward to it.  I've taken the opportunity to read Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon on Christ as the Lion and the Lamb: "The Excellency of Christ."  In it his thesis is that the Lion-ness and Lamb-ness of Jesus represent...

"...an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ."

I enjoyed much of the sermon.

I was also dis-heartened by much of it.

Why? 

Well Edwards does not crudely assign all Lamb-ness to Christ's human nature and all Lion-ness to His divine nature. But that's often the flavour of things.  And so he says things like this:

In the person of Christ do meet together infinite glory and lowest humility. Infinite glory, and the virtue of humility, meet in no other person but Christ. They meet in no created person, for no created person has infinite glory, and they meet in no other divine person but Christ. For though the divine nature be infinitely abhorrent to pride, yet humility is not properly predicable of God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, that exists only in the divine nature, because it is a proper excellency only of a created nature. For it consists radically in a sense of a comparative lowness and littleness before God, or the great distance between God and the subject of this virtue. But it would be a contradiction to suppose any such thing in God.

Do you see how straight away Edwards has a pre-formed conception of what humanity and divinity are like - a conception that sits ill with the Glorious-Humble God-Man!  The essence of glory and humility are decided in advance of considering the Lamb at the centre of the throne.  (Ironic given that this is a sermon on Revelation 5!).  If Edwards was determined to have Christ define glory and humility, the direction of the argument would be very different.

Now if Edwards' logic is followed (humility is only proper to creatures) then what we have is a divine nature for which humility is impossible.  How then can Edwards see Christ as humble?  Well it must be only according to his human nature.  To ask whether the Person of Christ is humble would receive the answer - according to His human nature yes, but according to His divine nature, no.  This opens up two problems.

  1. Christ's humanity and divinity are conceived in completely contradictory ways. (Nestorianism)
  2. Christ is not really humble.  2 Corinthians 8:9 ought to read: "You know the grace of our LORD Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, He opened up another bank account with no money in it at all... so that we through His (only apparent) poverty might become rich." 

Edwards' next point is this ...

In the person of Christ do meet together infinite majesty and transcendent meekness. These again are two qualifications that meet together in no other person but Christ. Meekness, properly so called, is a virtue proper only to the creature. We scarcely ever find meekness mentioned as a divine attribute in Scripture, at least not in the New Testament.

Now it's very telling Edwards should want the New Testament to speak of the divine attribute of meekness.  Surely the decisive argument against his position - the argument against which he must guard - is that, pre-incarnation, the LORD is spoken of as meek.  And the truth is, He is spoken of as meek - 2 Sam 22:36; Ps 18:35; Ps 45:4. What's strange is that Edwards goes on to quote Psalm 45 to prove Christ's majesty (v4), failing conspicuously to spot His meekness proclaimed in the very same verse! Now here is an OT description of the God Messiah - and He is majestic and meek. It is not His humanity per se that makes Christ meek. In His pre-incarnate Person He is already meek.  In this way we see that the incarnation is a revelation not a concealment.

Let's look at one last quote:

In Christ do meet together self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God, which is another conjunction peculiar to the person of Christ. As he is a divine person, he is self-sufficient, standing in need of nothing. All creatures are dependent on him, but he is dependent on none, but is absolutely independent. His proceeding from the Father, in his eternal generation or filiation, argues no proper dependence on the will of the Father. For that proceeding was natural and necessary, and not arbitrary. But yet Christ entirely trusted in God...

Now where does Edwards get the idea that the Son (at any point) relied on Himself? (From Calvin yes, but where in Scripture!) There is perhaps no statement about His own identity that Christ makes more frequently than that He depends on His Father. Are we to believe that this is a new state of affairs (again the incarnation concealing rather than revealing)? Do we imagine that the One eternally in the bosom of the Father was eternally self-sufficient?

Edwards echoes the distinction Athanasius made between begotten and made - that His begotten-ness was a matter of nature, it was not a matter of will (which would imply ‘making'). But saying the eternal generation was natural and necessary does not get Edwards off the hook regarding the Son's dependence. He is still, as the creeds say ‘God from God'? Is that not genuine and on-going dependence? Does He not receive His life and being from the Father? And does not the Father depend on the Son to be Father? Etc etc.

All this is a playing out of a non-trinitarian concept of aseity that's defining Edwards' concept of ‘divine nature.' Here are some problems:

  1. Jesus is not defining the divine nature. Rather a divine nature different to what is revealed in Jesus is pre-supposed.
  2. Jesus is not defining human nature. Rather a human nature that excludes the glory of the exalted Priest/King/Prophet is assumed.
  3. This divine nature is defined not in relational terms but in terms of aseity (i.e. self-sufficiency)
  4. Jesus therefore fits poorly into the pre-fab mould of divinity - the bits left over are ascribed to ‘His humanity'.
  5. What we see in the Man Jesus is not properly thought of as divine!
  6. There are extra ‘bits' to Jesus when considered from above and below. From below, we look at the Man Jesus, yet this is not all of Jesus. There's an extra bit of divinity that is not like the human Jesus we see. From above, God is one with Jesus except for an extra bit of humanity that is not like the God He's revealing.

Now it's ironic that all of this is based on thoughts from Revelation 5. Because here we read

"You are worthy... for you were slain." (Rev 5:9,12)

It's the death of Christ that causes His worship. It's His very Lambness that we will praise into all eternity. Revelation 5 tells us to accord all divine honours to Jesus not in spite of but because of His death as a human sacrifice. The deity of Christ does not exist apart from His Lambness but is most brightly manifested in it.

Therefore there are no extra bits to Jesus.  His divinity is precisely in His being as the Lamb (and the act this implies).  His humanity is not locked off from His being as God.  There is not 6 feet of insulation between Jesus of Nazareth and divine life.  Jesus is divine.  Even as He is Jesus in all His Lamb-ness.

And He is, in all His Lamb-ness the revelation of the Father.  Our notions of God should not lie behind glass in pristine majesty.  They are laid bare at the rugged cross. 

So, yes, Christ's excellency does indeed consist in an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.  But these excellencies are true to the very depths of His Person, true to the depths of eternity, true to the very depths of God.

Worthy is the Lamb

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Ok, so the last post put forward church life as an analogy of trinitarian life.  More specifically:

'Differently gifted members of one priesthood' is analagous to 'Differently gifted Persons in one Godhead.'

Once this is seen, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and just let Jesus be Jesus. 

What do I mean by that?  Well let me ask a few questions.  When you read the Gospels, do you ever wonder:

  • Why doesn't Jesus just say 'I am God'?  Why all this 'I am sent...' stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: 'I can do nothing by myself'? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn't know when He's returning?

Do we get worried when we see that Jesus is 'differently gifted' to the One He calls Father??

Well we needn't be.  It is a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says 'I am sent' it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father.  When He says 'I can do nothing' it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn't know when He's returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father's command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

He really can't do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep (He really does die even!)  He really doesn't know when He's returning.  But for all that He is no less divine.   For He belongs to the other Members and in union with their 'giftings' He is a full participant in the communion that is God.

We don't need to assign these differences in Jesus to some 'human nature' locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted deity.  Jesus' deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the human Jesus who says 'If you've seen me you've seen the Father.'  It is the human Jesus who says 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'  In His differences, even in His complete humanity, He is the living God.  So let's let Him be who He is in the Gospels.  Let's not fit Him into some pre-conceived notions of divinity.  Let's let Jesus be Jesus.

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