Christ on the throne
By Michael Bell
This is Part 5, of a multi-part series looking at the deity of Christ. Here are the links to the Introduction and Table of Contents.
In Parts 3 and 4 we looked at how Jesus was called both the Image of God and the Brightness of God’s Glory. We want to continue with the Hebrews 1:3 passage and look at the next phrase:
Hebrews 1:3 (NIV) – The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
We will get into the phrase “sustaining all things” in a future post. We want to first look at the word “word”, and see how else this is used in scripture. Our minds are immediately drawn to probably the most famous passage dealing with the deity of Christ, John Chapter One”
John 1:1, 14, 15, 29, 30 (NIV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the on and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of who I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”… The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look the Lamb of God, who takes saway the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”
I used a longer section of the passage here than is normally quoted, just so that it is perfectly clear that the one who is identified as the Word of God in verse 1, is positively identified as Jesus through the connections in verses 14, 15, 29, and 30.
This same Jesus then, in verse 1 is said to be both with God, and to be God himself.
Three questions naturally spring from these statements:
- What do we understand by this phrase “The Word”?
- What exactly do we mean when we say that the Word was God?
- How can you be with God, and be God at the same time?
We will look at the first of these three questions in this post, and will tackle the others in the next posting.
Many years ago, I was given a booklet by some Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to my door. It was called “The Trinity.” In it was a section on what the Church Fathers believed. Among other Church Fathers, they quoted Tertullian, one of the most prolific writers of the early church. According to the booklet, Tertullian had written:
For before all things God was alone—being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself.
What my visitors did not know is that I had recently read Tertullian’s works, and knew that they were only giving a partial picture. I asked them to come back on another day, and in the mean time, started to read through Tertullian and the other Fathers to find out where their quotations had come from. (They had supplied no source references.)
I found what they had written in Tertullian’s text “Against Praxeus”, Chapter Five (written circa 208 A.D. when Tertullian was about 63).
For before all things God was alone—being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call λόγος, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God;
I love this comment from Tertullian. In one fell swoop he does a number of things:
- Helps us counters the J.W. claim that the Deity of Christ was a concept introduced by Constantine during the Christian Council at Niceae in the forth century.
- Helps us show that the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were intentionally misleading their followers, by only giving a short section of a text which has a completely different meaning when a larger text is taken in concept. (When my visitors came back I had them read directly the various passages from the church fathers. I made it clear that they had been intentionally deceived. By the looks on their faces, I knew that they knew it too.)
- Perhaps most importantly he shows that the concept of “The Word”, goes far beyond, God’s spoken commands, but extends right into the very thought of God.
As God’s logos, Christ’s intertwining with God, extends down to his very thoughts. But Christ is more than God’s thoughts, he is God’s thoughts expressed and acted upon. In this sense he is “The Word” of God, acting as God’s spoken agent in the world. Future posts will discuss what this means for both our creation and salvation.
In our next post however we will discuss how “The Word” is both with God and is God.
As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.