Last month we saw that our fear of God means that He has always worked through intermediaries in order to draw people to Himself. Through the ages it has been the same, and God has appointed prophets, priests, and judges to represent Him, to act as saviors to His people. In many cases those representatives have been quite effective, turning many from sin. But here’s the ever-present challenge God faces: the intermediary needs to reflect His character and attributes, or else God cannot place full trust and authority in the intermediary.
Look through history and you will see that sin distorts even the people whom God appoints. David would have been a wonderful Savior and Judge, except that the last part of his life was horribly damaged by the terrible effects associated “with the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). His sin, beginning with stealing another man’s wife, and ending with murder done in a vain attempt at cover-up, affected him profoundly. It completely diminished his capacity to display the judgment of God among the people. Sin distorted his message; it weakened his leadership.
And Samuel, a great man, a great judge, and yet… Pause for a moment and consider the fact that he didn’t really notice what his sons were doing. They went after dishonest gain, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice (1 Sam. 8:3), yet he did nothing about it, instead letting God’s name become defamed among the people. Even a mighty man like Samuel was diminished in his capacity to act as the voice of God on earth.
It is really important that whoever is the judge and savior of the world should be:
- just like one of us, because God is committed to giving us someone we can relate to in order to encourage and reassure us, and
- just like God, so that he’s able to give correct judgment, able to express the will of God in the judgment that he gives. The Savior Judge has to be sinless.
Just like God
This is what God accomplished with Christ. He fathered a son, nurtured him as he grew up, worked with him and revealed to him the plan, and sent him into the world to preach. Throughout his life Jesus was wrestling against sin, against the same temptations that you and I struggle with, temptations that could have led him astray, that could have damaged him as badly as our sin damages us. If he had succumbed, he would still have been a mighty, mighty man, but ultimately a man unfit for the awesome task toward which his Father was training, disciplining, and nurturing him: to be the voice of God amongst us!
But he didn’t succumb! Instead he overcame – completely, totally, and utterly. The love he shared with his Father was so powerful, so strong, that it continued to carry the two of them through this whole process, through the rigors of Christ’s development and nurturing, so that he could come out the other side of the experience as one in whom the word of God was fully embodied, in every aspect, in every dimension.
In John 14, when Philip says to him: “Show us the Father and that’ll be good enough for us!” Jesus answers,“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (v. 9).
To paraphrase his response, Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t you realize I’ve been showing you the Father? Everything I’ve been doing has been expressing to you what God is like. I have only been doing those things that demonstrate the Father to you!’ I don’t know if he was exasperated, but he certainly seems to be astonished that Philip hadn’t already figured that out.
Christ’s personal discipline
Jesus was a man, a human being! Think about that for a moment. He was truly one of us – with the same kinds of desires, the same kinds of temptations, the same tiredness, the same frustrations. He was one of us! There was no magic in him that made him sinless, no miracle cure that wiped out the daily struggle against sin. He was just like you. Just like me. Yet he became living proof that it is possible for a human being to be sinless.
This is where the (false) doctrine of the Trinity loses out so badly. The doctrine of the Trinity says that deity came down from heaven and inhabited this human flesh. The doctrine always leads to a bit of a struggle about how Jesus could be tempted. If Jesus is God, could he actually have sinned? I know some Trinitarians who say: “I know Jesus was tempted, but he couldn’t actually have sinned.”
In contrast to this mistaken view, the scripture presents us with the Son of God being nurtured and trained. He was conceived by the Spirit within Mary, born just like us, and nurtured by his Father, trained by his Father, and perfected by his Father throughout the whole of his life. He was a human child who devoted himself to pleasing his Father. He accomplished a sinless life because of his lifelong commitment to the training and discipline of the Father, to the intimacy of the relationship between them.
Listen to Hebrews: “Jesus.. offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (5:7-9).
This is about as un-Trinitarian a passage as you could possibly imagine. Jesus Christ, the man, the man who was afraid of death, like all of us! He pleads with his Father in heaven to rescue him from death. Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered. Obedience doesn’t come naturally to me, and this passage says that it didn’t come naturally to Jesus, either. It is difficult for any of us to submit our will to another. He had to be “perfected”, as it says above: “made perfect”. The Greek here doesn’t imply that Jesus was flawed, but rather that he was incomplete. That is, once the training of Jesus was completed, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
In the form of God
Let’s now look at another scripture. It is Philippians 2:6, a favorite of those who hold the doctrine of the Trinity, but I think they miss a critical point.
“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6,7).
Notice that Paul’s contrast is not between the nature of God and the nature of humans, but rather between God-like and servant-like. The contrast is stark: absolute ruler versus absolute slave. Jesus was born the heir to the universe. He was the heir who could have demanded to live in palaces, to luxuriate, and to make proclamations from on high. He could have taken, outwardly, the form of God – absolute ruler, awesomely mighty. Instead, he emptied himself. He made himself nothing, and took on himself absolute servanthood – slavery. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:8,9).
Now, notice that it was not that he became obedient to death – and that was all. No, there was much more. His life was a life of obedience and submission to his Father; he became obedient throughout his life, even to the point of death, and even to the point of death on a cross! He learned obedience – how to obey his Father, to the ultimate, the absolute ultimate. As a consequence of this, his training was able to go right through to completion, the work that the Father and Son were doing together.
This is why God exalted him to the highest place. This is why God gave him the name that is above every name. And this is why we should bow at the name of Jesus, why every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
Consider this. Moses was a mighty prophet and we ought to be humble before him. Abraham, too, was a mighty prophet and we ought to be humble before him. Yet Jesus makes those two mighty men pale into insignificance. So great and awesome, he stands far, far above the accomplishments of these and other mighty men and women.
Indeed, both Moses and Abraham will bow before him and worship him as the one who manifests God to us. This is what he accomplished: he and the Father, working together. This is mightiness! This is God ‘manifested in the flesh’!
The Savior Judge
Remember when Peter and John are hauled before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, being told not to preach in the name of Jesus? Listen to what Peter says about Jesus’ role: “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel” (Acts 5:31).
There we have Peter describing the two sides of the ‘salvation coin’ we talked about in the previous article. Jesus is both Prince (i.e., judge) and Savior. As Savior, he leads us to repentance, so that we turn from our sin. As Prince, his authority to forgive is matched by his authority not to forgive. That’s what ‘judgment’ is. So, let’s think about Christ himself, and how he comes to have that authority, and how he will use it.
First, let’s quickly review something we’ve explored earlier in this series: Why did God appoint an intermediary between Himself and us? Was it because God had limitations, or because we did?
Consider Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” At times I have heard people use this passage to suggest that God cannot sympathize properly, that because He is sinless and omnipotent He would not be able properly to appreciate how hard our struggle is.
I do not believe that view is true. Moreover, I think it is a very dangerous opinion. It has an effect of diminishing God, and placing the need for Christ on God, rather than on us.
In fact, I believe God can sympathize one hundred percent with our state. It’s simply that we find this difficult to believe. So God says, ‘You find it hard to believe I can truly sympathize with your struggle and temptation? Well, let me reassure you by appointing someone just like you to be the one who decides, who judges.’ God uses an intermediary because we sometimes fear that God cannot sympathize. It’s about our limitations, about our understanding and perceptions being limited.
Remember the salvation process we considered previously?…
- God declares our sin and proclaims His love;
- we agree and want to be different;
- He forgives us and liberates us from our guilt;
- we trust in His forgiveness and participate in His work of making us different; and
- He completes the work that He does in this life through resurrection and judgment.
Jesus is part of every one of these steps! He is part of the declaration of our sin, and he’s certainly part of the declaration of God’s love for us.
Through his example, he encourages us to want to be different. We see that man there, and we think, ‘That is the man I want to be like!’
He forgives; he liberates us from our guilt. He’s the one to whom the Father has entrusted this. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 18:28); and “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins -ñ I say to you: ‘Take up your mat, and walk!’ ” (cp. Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:9).
We trust in him! We trust in his ability and willingness to work in our lives, to guide us, to have the angels on hand when we need help, and when we need strength. The fact that he’s like us helps to give us the courage to go to the throne of grace to find grace and mercy, to help us in our time of need.
And, of course, he is the one who will be calling us out from the grave, on behalf of the Father. He’s been appointed by the Father, he’s manifesting the Father.
Anyone who honors the Son honors the Father. He is in every part of our salvation.
God’s appointed Savior-Judge
So, this is the fundamental principle that we need to take out of this study: Christ is able to save and to judge on God’s behalf.
He has been trained, he has been nurtured, he has been perfected. He is truly the manifestation of Deity in flesh.
He didn’t start that way; he started as just one of us. But the Father is now in him and he is in the Father – every element of the word of God is now expressed through him.
And we, too, according to Peter in his second letter, have the hope of sharing in the Deity: “sharing in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) is the way Peter describes it. At the resurrection we, too, will be manifestations of Deity. It’s a tremendous hope – we see Christ as the firstfruits, again blazing the trail. We see him already having been made now in the image of God.
When God said, “Let us make man in our image”, I don’t think He was just talking about a single day long ago. I think He’s especially talking about His creative work now.
Jesus is the first man truly to be made in the image of God. And at the resurrection there will be multitudes who join him. God will look and will say: “Behold! It is very good!” And God will rest. It’s a wonderful vision that we glimpse right there at the beginning of Genesis, a vision of the whole of the work that God plans to do with us.
John Launchbury, Portland, Oregon
(With many thanks to Paul Launchbury for his help in the development of this article.)