Colossians 1:15-20—Preexistence or Preeminence?

Colossians 1:15-20—

Preexistence or Preeminence?

By

William Wachtel


"13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by Him all things were created,  both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.  19 For it was the  Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,  20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him,  I say , whether things on earth or things in heaven."

In standard evangelical commentary, two texts from Paul's writings are constantly used to teach the personal preexistence of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. These texts are considered to be bulwarks of Trinitarian theology, expressing in some sense Christ's status as deity. At the time of the Nicene Council, both Arians and Athanasians were fond of using them to prove that Christ existed as a personal being before his birth or "Incarnation." The difference, of course, was that the Arians thought he had a beginning and was the first creature whom God made; while the Athanasians thought he had no beginning and was himself "co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial" with the Father. The result of such terms was the claim, still insisted on by Trinitarians today, that Jesus must be seen to be God just as the Father is seen to be God.

This writer questions seriously, however, whether any such ideas were in Paul's mind or in God's inspiration through the Spirit upon Paul's writing of Scripture. In Philippians 2:5, for instance, Paul declares he is holding forth the historical example of the man Christ Jesus (as in 1 Tim. 2:5), not some prehistoric example into which can be read ideas of personal preexistence. Can the same be said to be true of Colossians 1:15-20? Let us take a careful look at the text and its implications.

Christ, the Image of God

Verse 15 tells us that God's "beloved Son" (v. 13, NASB) is the "image" of the unseen God. An image, of course, is a visual representation, the copy of an original. The very fact of using a word such as "image" suggests necessarily that there is a difference in identity between the copy and the original. When one looks in a mirror, he sees an "image" of himself. He does not consider himself to be the person who is "behind the glass" but the person who is "in front of the glass." The only reason to labor this point is that many foolish things have been said about the word "image" in this and other verses, seeking to prove that Christ, "the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4), is God Himself! The word "image" establishes, by its very meaning, that Christ is not God. The image is not the same as the original, and in this case the original God

When Jesus told his disciples, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), he was not claiming to be the Father (a claim that would prove to be too much, if Trinitarianism were correct), but rather that he is like the Father. The writer of Hebrews (1:3) says that he is the "express image" (KJV)—"exact representation" (NIV, NASB)—of God's being, or God's nature. Again, our two words "exact representation" and the single Greek word carakter , from which those two words are translated, imply that a copy is being set forth, based on an original. But to say this Son is "just like" God is to recognize that he is not, in fact, himself God, i.e., the One to whom he is now being "likened." The writer goes on to say that this person who is like God, after purging our sins by his death, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, a further differentiation between the Man who is "just like" God, and the Being who is God, himself.

Christ, the Firstborn

Verse 15 continues by calling Christ the Firstborn of "every creature" (KJV) or "all creation" (NIV, NASB). If "first" in the word Firstborn means only precedence in time, and if "creation" means the original creation of Genesis 1, then the case for Christ's personal preexistence must stand. The Arians and Athanasians would have to be right in their claim that Christ existed as a person before his birth and that this person in fact abandoned his previous mode of existence in order to become a human being. This, precisely, is what any views of personal preexistence must find in the texts in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. What we are questioning here is whether several crucial terms mean, in their context and in Scripture as a whole, what they are popularly interpreted to mean!

Let us begin by examining the word translated "firstborn"— prototokos. This word is used a number of times in Scripture, often to designate the child born first in the family. When Esau came to his father Isaac to receive the blessing that was due him, he pleaded the fact that he was Isaac's firstborn—his prototokos (Gen.27:32 LXX). Jacob, the second son, had already deceived his father and received the blessing intended for Esau. The custom of conferring special privileges or a major inheritance on the firstborn son is not only seen in the Bible, but also in the laws of "primogeniture" in England and other countries, awarding the family inheritance to the oldest son.

There is, however, I Scripture a further meaning to the term prototokos . Since the Greek word protos can mean either first in time or first in rank, the "firstborn" may be used to designate one who is honored with first or chief position, regardless of time of birth. This idea is seen in Exodus 4:22, where God commands Moses to tell Pharaoh, "This is what YHWH says: Israel is my firstborn son. . .Let my son go, so he may worship me." Clearly, here the word prototokos (LXX) has nothing to with precedence in time, but rather precedence in rank among the nations, as God views their relative importance. The same is true in Jeremiah 31:9 (38:9 LXX), where God calls Ephraim his protokos (even though Ephraim's brother, Manasseh, was the elder of the two). Again, it is precedence in rank, or importance that is in view. The classic example of this usage is found in Psalm 89:27 (88:27 LXX), where God describes in glowing words the promised Davidic king, the Messiah: "I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth ." This foremost position as king of kings is a matter of appointment , not time of birth. These facts and this usage as to the word "firstborn" may well have much significance in helping us to understand how and why Christ can be called "the firstborn of all creation" in Colossians 1:15. "If prototokos is selected in Col. 1:15 and then again in 1:18 to express this supremacy, this is because of the great importance which the term ‘firstborn' took on as a word for rank in the OT and ten retained in later Judaism.

Over All Creation.

The NIV calls Christ "the firstborn over all creation," while NASB has "firstborn of all creation," reflecting a literal translation of the genitive case. KJV also translates the genitive literally: "firstborn of every creature." The NASB and KJV renderings could be interpreted to imply that Christ was the first crated being, just as the Arians believed. They understood "first" to refer to precedence in time. That is why Arius declared that "there was a time when he was not," i.e., before his being created. It was this that the Athanasians rejected so vehemently, insisting that he was eternal, "begotten in eternity, before all time." To them this meant he was "co-eternal" with the Father and therefore himself God.

It is necessary at this point to consider whether Paul uses the word "creation" here in reference to the original creation of Genesis 1, or whether he may have in mind what may be called the "new creation." Paul goes on to define this creation as comprising all things "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." Certainly, it was Christ himself who described the original creation as being God's work (Mk. 13:19; cp. Heb. 4:4, where God not Jesus rested from the work of creation)—suggesting that Christ did not see himself as creator of the "all things" mentioned in Gen. 1:31. Paul, in fact, seems to give an exact description of what he means by the "all things" created—namely, "thrones, powers, rulers, authorities." If this is what he means, then we must ask in what sense Christ can be called the creator of such.

Just before his ascension, Christ said that "all authority in heaven and on earth" had now been given to him (Matt. 28:18). With that authority he commissioned his apostles to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations and to teach them all his commands. Moses had foretold that Messiah would be a prophet like Moses himself, whose word would have the force of law, demanding obedience (Deut. 18:15, 18, 19; Acts 3:22, 23). But what about his authority "in heaven"? Paul says that when Christ was raised from the dead and was set at God's right hand in the "heavenlies," his new position brought him to a status "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:21). Not only that, but "God placed all things under his feet" (v. 22)/ Colossians 1:17 echoes this, in saying that "in him all things hold together." Col. 2:10 describes him as "the head over every power and authority." God rewarded Jesus' "obedience unto death" by highly exalting him and giving him the name which is above every name. At the name of Jesus every knee is required to bow, "in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:8-11).

These ascriptions of supreme authority to Christ, under God, suggest that when Christ came to be seated at the right hand of God, he—in turn—set up, or created, a new system of rulership among the angelic beings as well as preparing a place of honor and service within his Father's household for all his faithful people, both in this age and in the age to come (John14:2, 3). All of this is then part of "the new creation." It is this new creation that the present writer understands to be the subject of Colossians 1:15-17. If this view is correct, the personal preexistence of Christ is not at all the subject of our text, contrary to popular interpretation!

Before all Things

Verse 17 declares that Christ is "before all things"— pro panton. This phrase has been seized upon as proof of his personal preexistence. But care must be taken to notice that the verb here is in the present tense—"is"—not "was"! Paul does not tell us that Christ "was" before all things, evidence for preexistence. But what does "before" mean? The Greek word used here— pro— has three common uses: before, in the sense of place = "in front of"; before, in the sense of time = "prior to; and before, in the sense of preeminence, rank, advantage. The latter usage is seen in 1 Peter 4:8— pro panton, "before all things" or "above all things" = "most important of all." Here pro has nothing to do with time of place, but rather stresses how Christian love is preeminent above all other virtues. James 5:12 provides another example of the same usage and of the phrase pro panton.

To say, therefore, that Christ is pro panton is to say that he is, under God, the Preeminent One, the Most Important One! This is underscored by the last statement of the next verse, describing him as having him as having, in everything, "the preeminence" (KJV), "the supremacy" (NIV), "the first place" (NASB). To emphasize this preeminence even more, Paul adds the personal pronoun autos to the verb proteuo , meaning that HE, Christ himself, is being given first place in all God's universe! This reminds the writer of Pharaoh's exalting Joseph to first place in Egypt. He told him, "You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you . . .I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt. . .I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt" (Gen. 41:40, 41, 44). This is the kind of preeminence and rulership that God granted to his Son—to be over all other things—typified only dimly by the history of Joseph's own exaltation!

Paul piles on superlatives to declare that in Christ "all things hold together." The Greek verb translated "hold together"— sunistemi —is given various definitions by the lexicographers. One suggestive definition is "cohere." All things cohere in Christ and provide a coherent meaning to the universe. He is the reason for it all, because he is God's only-begotten Son, the perfect image of the Father himself! Another definition is "to have one's proper place." All things in the universe have their own proper place, designed by the Creator, YHWH, to be in perfect relationship and harmony with "the Son whom God loves" (v. 13).

Christ's headship over the church is a frequent theme in Paul's writings. Verse 18 declares that headship, and goes on to call him arche , "beginning" (KJV, NIV, NASB). This word also means "ruler, authority." It gives further emphasis to Paul's theme of Christ's preeminence and supreme authority under God. In that now conferred authority, all things begin and end in Christ. As the beginning of the New Creation, he is the "firstborn from among the dead," the first human being to rise immortal from the grave and to become thereby a "partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). As prototokos he is also "chief-born" from among the dead, because he, in turn, is the Lifegiver, the Prince of Life whose voice will awaken and call forth the sleeping dead from their graves (John 5:21-29; Acts 3:15). And it is by resurrection from the dead that he achieves his supreme position (v. 18: "in order that"). This means that he did not already have that position.

The Fullness of God

"God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (v. 19). The past tense here, combined with the immediate mention of Christ's reconciling work in his death on the cross (v. 20), seems to indicate that Paul had in mind the period of Christ's mortal lifetime. It was then that Christ was already filled with God's fullness, just as believers are called upon to seek that fullness for their own lives today (Eph. 3:19). In Christ's case, however, there was no limit to the Spirit working in him—he was totally filled with God's Spirit and power throughout his earthly ministry. His initial preeminence is seen in his walking the earth as though he were God himself.

Later, in Colossians 2:9, Paul speaks of God's "fullness" again, but describes it in a special way and in the present tense. "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." Since his resurrection to bodily immortality and his being granted "all authority in heaven and earth" Christ is exalted by his Father to the highest place in the universe, nest to God himself, and is given the highest name (Phil. 2:9). He can be described, therefore, as possessing the fullness of the Deity. How could his preeminence be emphasized more powerfully than this? But all of this is short-circuited and spoiled by Trinitarian notions and the teaching of Christ's personal preexistence! If those ideas were true, he already possessed—in person—total preeminence long before he was born, before he had been obedient unto death. But, as Paul insists, it was this very obedience—and the humility from which it sprang—that was the reason for, and the cause of, that exaltation and that preeminence!


 

 

Babylon In The Last Days

Babylon In The Last Days

By Greg Deuble

Inside Rebuilt BabylonBefore the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ to set up the kaingdom of God on earth, there are certain signs we are instructed to look for. Jesus said, “When you see these things coming to pass , lift up your heads for your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). And a couple of verses later, “Even so you, too, when you see these things happening , recognize that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31). The Kingdom comes with observation! 

One of these signs that many of God's people know about is the coming of Satan's man; a masterpiece of Satanic deception and power, variously called the Antichrist, the Beast, the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition. However, one of “these things” that has not received much attention is the prediction that this brazen enemy of God is going to head up a confederation of ten kingdoms whose headquarters will be on the banks of the Euphrates River where the ancient city of Babylon stood. Whenever the Scriptures look into the future in the days just before the Lord Messiah sets up His earthly reign, they point to a time of “Big Trouble” for Israel in particular, and the world in general, from a Middle Eastern country called Assyria (Micah 5:6), the King(dom) of the North (Dan. 11) or the Land of Shinar (Zech. 5:11). World history will return to its roots in Babylon, and will revolve around a man, a super-government, and a city (Rev. 17:12-13). 

Yes, a real city of bricks and mortar, with unimaginable wealth: A city controlling a system that will gratify every humanistic lust and greed; a city that harnesses the best science can produce; a city to pamper the senses and feed the pride of men; a city whose king will demand the absolute allegiance and soul of every citizen. It is this remarkable prophecy that is the subject of this paper. 

Students of the Bible know that all of the great themes revealed in Scripture are found in seed-form in the Book of Genesis. The first time the subject of Babylon appears in Genesis chapters 10 and 11 is no exception and carries far-reaching prophetic and typical significance. 

After the Noahic Flood God gave a specific command to men. They were to go forth and resettle the whole earth. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth!” was the Lords clear command. But in open defiance we read: 

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.  2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  3 They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn  them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.  4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top  will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”  5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  6 The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  7 “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech.” (Gen. 11:1-7) 

Note the rebellious spirit that characterized these people. God had said, “Fill the earth” but they said, “No way! We will make bricks. . .we will build for ourselves a city and a tower reaching up to heaven. . .We will make for ourselves a name.” Here is a confederacy in open rebellion to challenge the God of Heaven. They will stop in one place. They will build a city, and a name for themselves. This apostasy first happened on “a plain in the land of Shinar ”, that is, at Babel. 

“The Bible says that it was further arranged for the people to make for themselves “a name, ”—a Sem , a token, sign, banner, ensign, or mark of confederation. . .as an undivided people, lest they should become dispersed over the earth. . .By this standard they would become known and would boast. That Sem , or Sema , was to be a mark of consolidated greatness. . . that is, in the language of the time, a Sema-Rama. Thus we have the name of the mythic Semiramis, the Dove-Goddess, which was the ensign of all the Assyrian princes. . .Semiramis is said to have been the wife of Nimrod; so that the Sem, or token of the Nimrodic confederation was probably the image of his wife, with dove upon her head, with wings spread like the horns of the new moon.”[1]

Another symbol of their hatred of God was that tower that would pierce the sky. Not that they hoped to physically reach heaven by it. Rather would they build a ziggurat to scan the skies. From this tower the Chaldean priests searched the constellations. By their horoscopes the mapped out the destinies communicated by demonic deities to control mankind. In fact, their pursuit of the occult was so intense, that the very name of their religion, Chaldean, came to be the identification of a person who was found in the company of conjurers, magicians, sorcerers, and soothsayers. The Chaldeans were famous for their astrologers, their signs of the zodiac, and the monthly prognosticators. They worshipped the planets and consulted demonic spirits, and opposed the truth of the One true God. How typical of Satan's hatred of God that here, where the Garden of Eden first was located, where the Paradise of God was, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed, that this conspiracy first gathered momentum.” 

And who was the earthly king and authority behind this confederacy? We read, 

“Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth.  9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.”  10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Genesis 10:8-10). 

The name “Nimrod” means “rebel.” Three times we are told this rebel was “mighty” and specifically that he was “mighty before the Lord.” This is an unfortunate translation, for the expression “before the lord” means rather against the Lord as his name suggests. We can confirm this by comparing the same phrase in Genesis 6:11 (“Now the earth was corrupt before the Lord”) which means “in the sight of God.” Nimrod was a rebel to God's face. 

The significance is that Nimrod brazenly set his own ambitions against the Lord. And the fact that he was a “hunter” probably means that he hunted down men who opposed his designs of self-aggrandizement. Note he “began” to be mighty in the earth, which implies that Nimrod forced and fought his way into this greatness as the king of Babylon. “It is said of him that he professed to have seen a golden crown in the sky, that he had one made like it, and that he put it on his own head, and thus claimed to rule in the name and as the earthly impersonation of the powers of the sky, either as Orion or the Sun.”[2]   “And every intimation concerning him shows that he was the Heaven-defying founder of a new system of rule and worship, instituting a government by brute force and earthly wisdom and policy, and a religion which quite abolished the true God, and set men to the adoration of the sun, moon, and stars, impersonated in himself, (and his wife). . .and represented in the idol standards of his kingdom.” [3]

Putting all this together so far, helps us see that united anti-God rule in the Bible is first connected with a rebel of a man whose seat of power was in the land of Shinar, in Babel. We see here the first outlines and forebodings of a yet future “Lawless One” who will head up a kingdom of apostasy against the Lord and His Christ. 

Nimrod is the proto-type of the last Antichrist “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish. . .” (2 Thess. 2:9). Just as Nimrod promoted his own ambitions against the God of heaven, so too will the final Rebellious One do as he pleases, and will exalt and magnify himself above every god, and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods. . .” (Dan. 11:36). 

“Babel” originally meant “the gate of God.” But in the judgment upon Nimrod, his city and tower of defiance, God inflicted confusion. In contrast to their “Let us make. . .Let us build. . .Let us make a name for ourselves. . .” the Lord announces to the heavenly high court, Let us go down and there confuse their language. . .” God knew that this first attempt to build a new world order, would succeed beyond all expectation, if allowed to progress unhindered.

Humanism joined with the occult must be checked if God's redemptive purpose for the world was to be accomplished. So God took away from them the key ingredient to success—harmony. And thereafter in the Bible Babylon stands for confusion and that which lies under the curse and judgment of God. 

It is instructive to read that God called Abram to come out of Ur of the Chaldees, out of Babylon. Here again the book of Genesis gives us a prophetic hint when in the last days, the Lord will say to His faithful people, “Come out of her (i.e., Babylon), my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). This connection between the Jews and Babylon is always linked with trials and tribulations for God's people. (Note for instance that the first sin that brought judgment on Israel as soon as they entered the Promised Land involved “a beautiful mantle from Shinar (Babylon). . .(Josh. 7:21). 

This connection between the Jews and Babylon is also hinted at in the book of Exodus. 

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). 

To understand who this new king was we need the light of other Scriptures. By turning to Isaiah 52:4 we discover that this new king who persecuted the Hebrews was of another nationality that the native Egyptians altogether: 

“For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘My people went down at the first into Egypt to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.'” 

This fact removes an apparent difficulty in Exodus 1:9-10. This new king who did not know Joseph says to his people, 

“He said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.  10 “Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land. . .'” 

It is unlikely that the Hebrews had become more numerous that the local Egyptians. But when we understand that this king was not an Egyptian, but an Assyrian who had conquered Egypt, the difficulty is cleared. Note that this new king said to “ his people” (not the people). His people were the Assyrians who had invaded Egypt and he evidently feared an alliance between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. 

The New Testament commentary agrees with this: 

“until  there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph ” (Acts 7:18). 

The Greek word here for “another” king means “another of a different kind.” But the salient point for our discussion is that once again Scripture throws out a little hint about the Assyrian who will play out the last great conflict in the Great Tribulation at the end. (Who can fail to see the parallels between the ten plagues of the Exodus and those described in the Revelation?). 

Now, historically Babylon plays no further significance in biblical history until king Nebuchadnezzar. God raised him up as an instrument of judgment on idolatrous Israel. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and razed the Temple. He ruled over Babylon for 40 years. And he boasted that he had built the city of Babylon the Great by his own strength. Like Nimrod, the proto-type Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful warrior-king who defied God. Dan 3:1 says, 

“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which  was sixty cubits  and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” 

How significant that again here on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon a king attempts to deify himself. He attempts to create a universal, humanistic-occultic religion. He raises up a giant image, an idol of himself and forces all subjects on pain of death to so worship. 

It is indeed strange that here for the first time, the number 6 is introduced in relation to Babylon. In the Bible the number 6 is the number for man. Man was created on the sixth day. I  Rev. 13 the Lord says, “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (v. 18). 

And here we have Nebuchadnezzar raising the image that deifies man sixty cubits high and six cubits wide! Man always falls short for 7 is the number for completion (cp. The seven Spirits of God , etc. in the Revelation). Nebuchadnezzar unconsciously  demonstrates his own lack of spiritual understanding and the true source of his ambition. 

And the final Beast who sets up his own image to coerce universal worship, like Nebuchadnezzar (Rev. 13:14-18) will do so again in Babylon. It is to these prophecies we turn now for such detail. 

The terrifying dream that Nebuchadnezzar had in Dan. 2 was of a colossus of a man whose head was of gold, whose chest and arms were of silver, whose belly and thighs were of brass, whose legs were of iron and whose feet were of iron mixed with clay. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that this image represented four great world-empires (cp. The four beast-empires of Daniel 7). 

In Dan. 2:4-5 there appears “a stone cut out of the mountain” that crushes “the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.” This stone speaks of the Lord Christ returning to earth to pummel the forces of evil and set up his own universal empire: 

“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:35). 

Other translations say that the stone strikes the metals so that they are “broken in pieces together.” If they are broken in pieces together, or all at the same time they must all be there in composite form at the time of Christ's return when he comes from heaven to set up his millennial kingdom! This means that each of these ancient empires will be raised up together, all at the same time under the Antichrist! There will be a super world-power, a composite of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome dominating the world, a diverse “beast” generically called Babylon. 

We can confirm this interpretation by comparing the four beast-kingdoms of Daniel 7 with Rev. 13:1-2. There we have a perfect parallel description of the final empire over which the Antichrist will yet reign. Daniel 7 shows four awesome beasts which are “four kings who will arise from the earth.” These four beasts or four kingdoms are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian and the Roman.  

Dan. 7:4 says, “the first was like a lion.” V. 5 says the second “resembled a bear.” V. 6 indicates the third was “like a leopard.” And v. 7 tells that the fourth beast was “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong.” 

Now Rev. 13:1-2 parallels Daniel's vision. Here John sees “a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads. . .” This vision of the final, composite empire that the Antichrist will head up at the end of this age.  This beast is likened to a leopard, a bear, and a lion. And his power comes from the Dragon who is Satan. 

Now the fourth beast in Daniel's vision had “ten horns.” Here in Rev. 13 the beast has “ten horns.” It would seem consistent and logical to conclude that Rev. 13:1-2 confirms that the four great world-kingdoms of the past are to be revived just prior to Christ's Second Coming. 

The fact that this beast-kingdom of Rev. 13 has “seven heads” indicates that it is symbolic of a composite kingdom. We remember that in Dan. 7 the third beast has “four heads” (v. 6). But the first, second and fourth beasts have only one head each. Thus, the beasts of Dan. 7 have seven heads in total which number corresponds perfectly with Rev. 13:1!  

Other Old Testament prophets predict this coming revival of Babylon at the end of this age and the intimate connection between the Antichrist and Babylon. The Old Testament often calls this man the Assyrian: 

“Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. 12 And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth” (Is. 11:5, 12). 

God says in verse 23 that He has decreed a “complete destruction” upon this arrogant king of Assyria. These words “ complete destruction ” are repeated in Daniel 9:27 where the Antichrist is termed as the “one who makes desolate” but will himself suffer “ complete destruction .” 

If there is any doubt that both prophecies speak of the same fate of the final Antichrist, the Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 11:4 in 2 Thess 2:8 (!) Read them together: 

“Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming . . .” (2 Thess. 2:8). 

The very words that Isaiah applies to the Assyrian, the king of Babylon are in the N.T. ascribed to the Antichrist . Here is another indication that the Antichrist is going to be connected to a revived Babylon. [4]  

Further on in Isaiah is more evidence of this great city destined for destruction in the “coming Day of the Lord.” I cannot improve on A.W. Pink's commentary on this remarkable prediction concerning Babylon: 

“Isaiah 13 and 14 contain a remarkable prophecy. . .it is termed in the opening verse, ‘The oracle concerning Babylon.' It tells of the terrible judgment which God shall send on this city. It speaks of the total and final destruction of it. It declares that ‘Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldean's pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah' (Vs. 10-20). Now the one point pertinent to our present inquiry is, Whether Isa. 13 describes the doom which befell the Babylon of Belshazzar's day, or the judgment which shall overtake the Babylon of the coming day. Upon this point there is, for those who desire to be subject to God's Word, no room for uncertainty.  The sixth verse expressly declares that this “oracle of Babylon” is to receive its fulfillment in “the Day of the Lord.” This, we need hardly add, is the name for that Day which follows the present Day of Salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). . . “the Day of the Lord” never refers to a period now past, but always has reference to one which is future! If any doubt remains as to whether or not Isa. 13 is speaking of a future Day, the contents of v. 10 should forever remove it. There we are told that “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light.” All students of prophecy will see at a glance that these cosmic phenomena are to be witnessed during the Tribulation period—cf. Matt. 24:29. There is not a hint anywhere either in Scripture or (so far as we are aware) in secular history, that such disturbances among the heavenly bodies occurred at the captivity of Babylon by Darius. And it is that time, in “the Day of the Lord” when the sun is darkened and the moon shines not, that Babylon is overthrown (v. 19). This one Scripture is quite sufficient to establish the futurity of Babylon and its coming overthrow.” [5] 

Notice that the time for this dreadful Day of the Lord not only coincides with the utter destruction of Babylon, but in the same context following also  concerns the national restoration of Israel: 

“When the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob.  2 The peoples will take them along and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them as an inheritance in the land of the LORD as male servants and female servants; and they will take their captors captive and will rule over their oppressors” (Isaiah 14:1-2). 

And at this exact same time these liberated peoples will raise a taunting song “against the king of Babylon” (v. 14). . .“How the oppressor has ceased, and how fury has ceased!” And they will taunt the king of Babylon, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, and who made the world like a wilderness. . .” (v. 16)? 

To conclude this prophecy Isaiah gives one of the most beautiful visions of a renewed earth under Messiah's government. . .when “the whole earth is at rest and is quiet. They break forth into shouts of joy” (Is. 14:7). Isaiah asserts that this is the plan of the LORD of Hosts and “who can frustrate it” (Is. 14:27)? 

In view of such clear predictions there can be no doubt that this prophecy is yet future because the liberated descendants of Jacob exult “no cutter comes up against us.” Long after the days of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon, the Romans came up against Israel and cut them off. And they are still to this day scattered. But none will ever do this again when the last king of Babylon is destroyed at Messiah's return to earth.  

Indeed, there are a number of prophecies in the Old and New Testaments that indicate a future destruction of Babylon that have no past fulfillment. Compare Is. 47:19 with Jer. 51:8 and Rev. 18:10: 

“Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; Sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no longer be called tender and delicate. But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day: Loss of children and widowhood. They will come on you in full measure In spite of your any sorceries, In spite of the great power of your spells” (Isaiah 47:1, 9).

“Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; Wail over her! Bring balm for her pain; Perhaps she may be healed” (Jeremiah 51:8). “standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come'” (Revelation 18:10). 

Add to the suddenness of God's judgment the fact that Babylon is to be burned with fire: 

“Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make he land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. 19  And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans' pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:9, 19).

“The mighty men of Babylon have ceased fighting, They stay in the strongholds; Their strength is exhausted, They are becoming  like women; Their dwelling places are set on fire, The bars of her  gates are broken. 58 Thus says the LORD of hosts, “The broad wall of Babylon will be completely razed And her high gates will be set on fire; So the peoples will toil for nothing, And the nations become exhausted  only for fire” (Jeremiah 51:30, 58).

“. . . and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What  city is like the great city'” (Revelation 18:18)? 

There has been nothing in past history which corresponds in any way with these prophetic announcements. We know this because for a number of centuries after Christ, Babylon was still a city of importance. In fact, even in the days of Peter the apostle Babylon was still a regional city of some significance (I Pet. 5:13). There was no sudden burning annihilation of Babylon that left it like Sodom and Gomorrah suddenly in the space of one day or one hour! Therefore, according to the prophets the city of Babylon must be rebuilt at the end of this age, for not one jot or tittle of the word of God can fail. As Joseph Seiss states, “The sentence upon Babylon is therefore not yet fulfilled, and cannot be unless that city comes up again.” [6] Or Pember who writes, “It would seem then that Babylon must be rebuilt, and become again the centre of the world and the glory of kingdoms, as we have it represented in the eighteenth chapter of the Apocalypse.” [7] 

Micah 5 contains a prophecy etched in our minds because it has already been so wonderfully fulfilled. It tells of our Lord Jesus' first coming: 

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2). 

This foretelling of the birth of Messiah, the heir of David's throne is however, only half of Micah's prophecy. From v. 4 onwards we have a prediction yet to be fulfilled: 

“And He will arise and shepherd  them (Israel) in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain (margin, live in safety), because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. And This One will be  our peace. When the Assyrian invades our land, when he tramples on our citadels . . . And He (Messiah) will deliver  us from the Assyrian When he attacks our land and when he tramples our territory.”

It can hardly be said that Israel has ever remained secure and safely in peace to this day. Nor has the Messiah ever delivered Israel from and invading Mesopotamian king. The Messiah has yet to arrive in the power of His God to rescue Israel in such a dramatic national way.

If our faith is to be consistent then, we must not only trust in the already fulfilled words of God concerning the birth of Messiah in Bethlehem, but also in the Messiah's future liberation of Israel from an Assyrian power.

Barton-Payne points out,

“Micah 5:6 states that the armies of the Messiah will waste the land of Assyria. . . the important fact to maintain in the still unfulfilled Micah passage is that whatever be the particular weapons, there will be a conflict at that time and place identified, and with the results that are indicated.”[8]

B.W. Newton concurs with these sentiments. He says that the testimony of Scripture constrains us to say that “the predictions against Babylon have not yet received their final accomplishment. The Scripture marks the period of Babylon's fall as contemporaneous with three great events—the destruction of the Antichrist—the forgiveness of Israel—and the coming of the Day of the Lord—events which are still future. The Scripture also declares that its fall shall be most sudden ; that the land of Babylon, as well as Babylon itself, shall be. . . desolate. . .(and) that no such desolation rests at present upon Babylon, much less upon THE LAND of Babylon, has been proved by the evidence of well authenticated facts.” [9] 

Revelation 17 & 18

All of these yet unfulfilled O.T. prophesies about a coming revival and subsequent destruction of the Babylonian empire under a wicked Assyrian king are gathered up and finally developed in the book of Revelation. The vision given to John in Rev. 17 & 18 shows Babylon to be the last great wicked city/empire of the future just before the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

George H. Lang helpfully points out that these two chapters deal with two different subjects. Rev. 17 speaks of Babylon the godless system under the symbolism of a Woman, whereas Rev. 18 treats of the city of Babylon. If we confuse these two themes, Lang suggests that we will experience confusion. Lang's four contrasts between Rev. 17 & 18 show that:

1.   The system of Babylon is destroyed by the Beast before his universal sovereignty, but the city of Babylon itself is not destroyed until after he himself has been overthrown (Rev. 14:8 is expanded in chap. 17 and Rev. 16:19 expanded in chap. 18).

2.   In chap. 17:16 the ten kings hate and destroy the Woman; in 18:9 the same kings of the earth bewail the destruction of the city.

3.   When the kings have killed the Woman they then “eat the flesh,” or enrich themselves from her: but when the city is suddenly and completely destroyed nothing is left for anyone to seize and so the merchants wail.

4.   The Woman is destroyed by process: she is hated, isolated, stripped, devoured, burned. But the City is to be annihilated suddenly. Therefore, I agree with Lang that the subjects of Rev. 17 & Rev. 18 are to be treated separately, even if they are related in fact. . .“Not till these four contrasts are obliterated can the two chapters have the same subject.”

With this distinction G. H. Pember agrees. “The Woman called Mystery Babylon represents. . . that great society founded in connection with Nimrod. . .But in the eighteenth chapter of the Apocalypse we find something quite different: there a literal city is depicted, the commercial centre of the world.”

Pember's rationale is not dissimilar to Lang's:

1.   The subject of the 17 th chap. Is “Mystery Babylon the Great.” That of the 18 th chap. Is simply “that great city Babylon.”

2.   Mystery Babylon is to be destroyed by Ten Kings (17:17). But the great city Babylon meets its doom under the seventh vial, which is poured out at the end of Antichrist's career.

3.   The Woman is hated by the Ten Kings who make her desolate and naked and eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

4.   The human agency of the Ten Kings works the ruin of the Woman and by a lengthened process, whereas in contrast the city perishes by a frightful and instantaneous judgment and is engulfed in a moment and disappears immediately.

Pember continues, “If, then, we find so many differences in the details given of them, it is clear that we cannot absolutely identify the Woman and the city. At the same time there is doubtless a close connection between them. . .”

A.W. Pink introduces these chapters in a slightly different approach but with the same general conclusion:

“An exposition of the Revelation or any part thereof should be the last place for dogmatism. . .(amongst the many difficulties of interpretation may be added). . . “the probability, that many of the prophecies of the Revelation are to receive a double, and in some cases, a treble fulfillment.”

“Since all Scripture is given by God's inspiration and is ‘profitable,' the saints who have read the prophecies of the Revelation throughout the running generations have found their faith strengthened through the relevance of its pages. In other words, ever since John received the Revelation there has always existed a system which, in its moral features , has corresponded to the Babylon of the 17 th chapter. There exists such a system today;. . .and there will also come into existence another and final system which will exhaust (finalize) the scope of this Prophecy.” [10] 

The Protestant Reformers spiritualized the Babylon of Rev. 17 & 18. They believed that Babylon was the Church of Rome headed by the Pope. . .i.e., Apostate Christendom. In their milieu this was understandable. But in the light of the O.T. prophecies and types already studied, a more literal interpretation is surely in keeping with the contexts already considered. 

The difficulty of John's vision then, is that some of his descriptions are literal, and dome figurative. When we come to chapter 17 the language is plainly symbolical. We are definitely told we are dealing here with a “mystery” and the various symbols are explained for us. . .” The seven heads are. . .” (v. 9) “And the ten horns which you saw are. . .” (v. 12) “The waters which you saw are. . .” (v. 15) “And the woman whom you saw is. . .” (v. 18). With these keys before us we can unlock the mystery. 

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,  2 with whom the kings of the earth committed  acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.'” 

That the woman is a city is certain. Verse 18 reads, “And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” The Protestant Fathers used v. 19 to justify their belief that the city is Rome because she sits “on seven mountains” (v. 9). But they forgot that the woman sits on two other objects as well. In v. 1 she sits “on many waters” and in v. 3 she sits on “a scarlet beast.” 

Each of these three objects is interpreted for us. The many waters are not literal waters; they “are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (v. 15). The scarlet beast is not a literal animal; rather is he the Antichrist. Just so, the seven mountains are not literal hills but are explained as representing “seven kings” (v. 10). 

It is thus inconsistent interpretation to understand the mountains literally, when the waters and the Beast and its heads are clearly symbolical. The seven mountains are therefore not necessarily a hidden reference to Rome at all. They are symbols of governmental power! 

In the Revelation Babylon is referred to six times (!) and nowhere is there a hint that the name is not meant to be understood literally. We are told that the harlot represents a city. That city is named in Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21. If Babylon is not meant to be understood as a literal city we would have the anomaly of a symbol representing a symbol! It is the harlot who is figurative, not the city she represents.  

Surely, then, here is a prediction that there is yet to arise a real, literal city that will be the capital of an idolatrous system that is an abomination before God. 

Furthermore, this great harlot who sits on many waters cannot be the Roman Catholic Church as the Protestant Fathers held, because v. 5 terms Babylon “the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth.” And there are in Scripture other religions called “abominations” such as the idolatrous systems practiced by the Ammorites, the Zidonians, the Moabites (e.g., I Kings 11:5-7). Since the Papacy had not yet appeared when John wrote, Rome cannot be called the Mother of Harlots and Abominations. 

We must go back earlier than Roman Catholicism to find the source and spring of such abominations as have covered the earth. We are clearly told where to look for this mystery. . . the name of the harlot's forehead is “Babylon the Great.”

And Babylon takes us back to Nimrod and the plain of Shinar and that godless city where the feral stream of idolatry began to pollute the earth after the Flood. Now if this much is clear in the Scriptures why are we told that we are dealing with a mystery here? A mystery is that which we can never know by our own natural reasoning. A mystery is that which God must tell us or we could never guess it. In order to answer this we must look at another O. T. Prophet. . . 

The prophet Zechariah sees a number of visions relating to Israel and Jerusalem. One such is the vision of the “ephah”: 

“Then the angel who was speaking with me went out and said to me, “Lift up now your eyes and see what this is going forth.”  6 I said, “What is it?” And he said, “This is the ephah going forth.” Again he said, “This is their appearance in all the land  7 (and behold, a lead cover was lifted up); and this is a woman sitting inside the ephah.”  8 Then he said, “This is Wickedness!” And he threw her down into the middle of the ephah and cast the lead weight on its opening.  9 Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and there two women were coming out with the wind in their wings; and they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heavens.  10 I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “Where are they taking the ephah?”  11 Then he said to me, “To build a temple for her in the land of Shinar; and when it is prepared, she will be set there on her own pedestal.” 

The Ephah was a standard measuring pot used by Jewish merchants. It was their largest measure for dry goods, and was sometimes called a bushel. The ephah then, is here a symbol for trade, commerce, business and marketing. On this all commentators agree. 

In this vision the prophet sees the angel slide a lead cover off the top of the ephah. Behold, inside is sitting a woman. But who does she represent? Pink suggests that in the light of Zechariah's earlier visions concerning Jerusalem and her people it reasonable to suggest that she is a symbol for the apostate Jews. Every other commentator that I have been able to read on it however, is clear that the Woman who is “Wickedness” represents “the Satanic world system in its godless commercial and economic aspects.”[11] So what happens to this woman inside the ephah? 

The lid is put back over the ephah and covers the woman. That is, she is Divinely restrained. We are told twice that the ephah ‘goes forth' and is carried off to ‘the land of Shinar' (v. 11). There, when the time is ready ‘she will be set on her own pedestal' inside her own ‘house'. . . no longer hidden in an ephah, but displayed for all the world to see. 

According to Pink the vision is saying that the centre of Jewish commerce is going to be transferred from where it was in the prophet's day (Jerusalem) to ‘the land of Shinar' which is Babylon. According to others, such as Unger, the wicked woman represents “the removal of godless commercialism first and foremost from ‘the land. . .” Unger rejects the view that this woman represents the apostate Jewish nation because Zechariah's vision is “ not intended to portray the judgment of Israel but her cleansing as a restored people with wickedness itself purged from her in preparation for kingdom blessing.” [12] 

Most commentators appear to adopt this second interpretation. Either way, all agree that this vision of the wicked woman transported in the ephah to Babylon for the purpose of destruction contains important background information to understanding what is developed in Rev. chapters 17 & 18. For here we are shown that the ‘house' which is prepared for the system of commerce is ‘Babylon the Great.' 

If Pink is correct, the Spirit of God is telling us that in the last days in a revived Babylon that Jewish financiers will be helping to control the wealth of this corrupt system/city. There is a prophecy in Isaiah 31 that may throw some weight behind this thought. Isaiah 31 contains the prophecy about the destruction of the Antichrist by Divine intervention, when “the Assyrian will fall by a sword not of man, and a sword not of man will devour him (v. 8). In the two verses preceding this obvious reference to the return of Christ in power when He slays the Antichrist by the breath of His mouth, the LORD makes a plea to apostate Israel: 

Return to Him from whom you have deeply defected, O sons of Israel.  7 For in that day every man will cast away his silver idols and his gold idols, which your sinful hands have made for you as a sin” (vss. 6-7). 

This is part of the material that Paul draws on for his famous passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 where the apostle predicts that two clear events precede the Return of Jesus: The apostasy and the revelation of the man of lawlessness. The traditional and popular view is that the apostasy (falling away) is the massive doctrinal departure of the Church from the apostolic faith. 

I suggest this interpretation fails to take Paul's source-material into due account. Surely Paul has in mind this Isaiah 31 prophecy where these precise two signs clearly preceded the Lord's Second Coming ! And there the LORD appeals to apostate Israel who have deeply defected ” to give up their gold and their silver idols! The great apostasy, the falling away seems to be Israel's end-time love-affair with materialism, gold and silver. 

Should more corroboration of this view be sought, we could turn to Daniel chapter two again. When the stone crashes into the feet of the giant colossus, at the end of the seventieth week, at the end of this age, we note that the feet are a mixture of iron and clay (Dan. 2:41ff). And the feet and toes forecast the fourth kingdom in its final form. We know that the iron symbolizes the Gentiles controlling the territory ruled over by the old Roman Empire. But who or what does the clay represent?

In the Hebrew Bible clay is used symbolically for Israel. For instance in Isaiah 64 the faithful in Israel cry to the LORD in the last days, “But now, O LORD, Thou art our Father, We are the clay, and Thou our potter. . .” Or in Jeremiah 18 the same figure is used. The prophet sees a potter shaping a clay vessel which becomes spoiled. The potter then remakes the clay into another vessel. 

The interpretation is given in verse 6, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?' declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.'” 

Pink adds this interesting bit of information: 

“That the Hebrew word for “clay” in these passages is a different one from that employed in Dan. 2 is exactly what a reflecting mind would naturally expect. Isa. 64 and Jer. 18 treat of Israel that shall be restored, whereas Dan. 2 speaks of the apostate portion of Israel, irrevocably given up to judgment. In striking accord with this, we may add, that the word used in Isa. 64 and Jer. 18 refers to clay in its native and mouldable stage; but the wore in Dan. 2 signifies “burnt clay”, which denotes its final condition: here, as always, “burning” tells of Divine judgment! [13]

Added to this fact, we also note that many times in the Hebrew Scriptures God calls faithless, idolatrous Israel a “Harlot” which is precisely the figure, the Mystery alluded to in the Revelation! (See Jer. 2:20; 3:6, 8; Ezekiel 16:15; 20:30; 43:8-9;Hosea 2:5, etc.). It seems if this is correct, that the prophets are indicating that the character of the final composite kingdom over which Antichrist reigns is partly Gentile and partly Jewish. 

That the Antichrist will preside over an uneasy alliance between the territory of the old Roman Empire and Israel is intimated in Dan. 2:43 for “they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.” And finally, the “covenant” that the Antichrist makes with Israel to cement this alliance will end by his treachery (Dan. 9:27).

Thus, if Pink is correct, apostate Jews will combine with a revived Gentile Roman Empire under the rule of the Antichrist. But it shall not long cling together (Dan. 2:43). This explains why in Rev. 17:16 “. . .the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.” This interpretation has the merit of being consistent with the general background of antipathy between Babylon and Israel already considered in the Hebrew Scriptures. It represents a logical culmination. 

If so, who could have guessed this mystery, this astounding prophecy that wealthy and apostate Israel would be in league with the Antichrist in a renewed centre in Babylon? In the light of present day developments Pink's interpretation has some merit. Who will be the great men of the earth in the days just prior to our Lord's return? Are the prophets telling us that powerful Jewish bankers will be housed in Babylon on a pedestal, as it were, for all the world to see? 

If on the other hand, the majority of other commentators are right, the Spirit of God is telling us that in the last days at the very least “that system of organized godlessness, which has dominated society from Nimrod's day on, will collapse. . .” and that “not until this evil system is removed from Palestine will it become ‘the holy land.' and not until it is rooted out of the whole earth in its entirety will God's kingdom come and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [14] 

Thus, the Bible predicts that at the close of this age, the world will be ruthlessly controlled by a Satanic economic system, with its administrative headquarters in a literal city, presided over by a ruthless individual, who is the final Nimrod, the final Nebuchadnezzar, “the king of Babylon” who will be energized by all the deceptive power and hatred of Satan himself. 

The system , symbolized by the woman in the Ephah established on her own base in the land of Shinar is the great harlot of the Revelation. The city is “Babylon the great”. The king is the “the Assyrian”. “the king of Babylon.” And all the abominations and wickedness that had their beginnings in Nimrod's Babylon, and that flowed out to every place where men settled, will finally regroup and culminate in this rebuilt Babylon. According to all the prophets of both Old and New Testaments “Babylon will be the very last of the powers of the earth compelled to drink of the cup of divine wrath in the great day of the Lord.” [15]

Pat Robertson in his best-selling book The New World Order has an insight into the Persian Gulf War of 1990. He says the significance of that war transcends Kuwait and President George Bush's (senior) announcement about a new world order: 

“The Gulf War is significant because the action of the United Nations to authorize military action against Iraq was the first time since Babel that all of the nations of the earth acted in concert with one another. I find it fascinating to consider that this union took place against the very place where the nations had been divided, the successor nation to ancient Babel. It is as if some power reached out from Babel, where the first world rebellion against God was quashed, and once again called the nations of the world to unity.”[16]

Robertson goes on to note that in the book of Revelation

“there is a cryptic reference to ‘four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.' Is it possible that at the Tower of Babel, Almighty God not only confused the language and scattered the people, but He bound the demonic powers that had energized the earliest form of anti-god world order?” [17]

“Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,  14 one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”  15 And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind” (Rev. 9:13-15). 

This coming world horror will be energized by demonic spirits. These demons evidently have been restrained and bound by God's decree from sometime in the early dawn of history, until the precise hour, day, month and year for them to be released and wreak havoc at the end of this age. 

Whilst any application of such prophecy to specific current world events is only speculative, the very least we can gauge is that the political events in the Middle East today are surely setting the stage for the fulfillment of all that the prophets have spoken. Until this generation, the nations have been separated by language, customs and geography so that there has been no opportunity for the people of the Babylonian humanistic-occultic tradition to unify against the people of the Abrahamic faith. The prophets testify that under the control of he humanistic-occultic branch of humanity a one-world order will emerge just prior to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. World history will return to Babylon. 

This word of prophecy is given that we might be protected from the “strong delusion” that is coming. Already there is great deception rampant on the earth. But all who read and understand will know “these signs” must happen before the Kingdom of the Messiah comes. We who believe His word know “these things”, knowing that our redemption in His Kingdom draws near.

Appendix 

In his book on The Antichrist , pp. 287-390 Arthur Pink lists some amazing correspondences between Rev. 17 & 18 and the O.T. prophets. Here are some of them: 

In Rev. 17:1 the great harlot “sits on many waters”. In Jer. 51:13 Babylon “dwells on many waters.” 

In Rev. 17:2 it says, “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” In Jer 51:7 “Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the Lord, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going mad.” 

In Rev. 17:4 the great harlot has “a gold cup in her hand.” In Jer. 51:7 Babylon is called “a golden cup in the hand of the Lord.” 

In Rev. 17:5 we read, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes, abundant in treasures . . . and nations and tongues.” In Jer. 51:13 we read, “O you who dwell on many waters . . .” speaking of Babylon. 

Rev. 17:16 says Babylon will be burned with fire (see also Rev. 18:8). So in Jer. 51:38, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘The broad wall of Babylon will be completely razed, and her high gates will be set on fire . . .” 

Rev. 17:18 says the woman who represents the great city “reigns over the kings of the earth.” In Is. 47:5 Babylon is termed “The queen (or lady) of the kingdoms.” 

Rev. 18:2 tells that after its destruction, Babylon becomes a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.” Is. 13:21 says, “But the desert creatures will lie down there, and their houses will be full of owls, ostriches also will live there, and shaggy goats will frolic there.” 

Rev 18:4 records God's call to His people, “Come out of her my people.” In Jer. 51:9 we have, “For her judgment reaches up to heaven.” 

In Rev. 18:5 it is said, “Her sins have reached up to heaven.” Likewise in Jer. 51:9 we have, “For her judgment reaches up to heaven.” 

Rev. 18:6 “Pay her back even as she has paid.” Jer. 50:15 “Take vengeance on her; as she has done to others, so do to her.” 

In Rev. 18:7 Babylon says, “I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.” In Is. 47:8 we read that Babylon also boasts, “I am, and there is no other beside me. I shall not sit as a widow not shall I know loss of children.” 

Rev. 18:8 “In one day her plagues will come.” Is. 47:9 declares, “But these two things shall come upon you suddenly in one day.” 

Rev. 18:21 “And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.” Jer. 51:63-64 “And it shall come about when you have finished reading this scroll, you will tie a stone to it and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again, because of the calamity I am going to bring upon her.” 

Rev. 18:23 “And the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer, and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer.” Is. 24:8, 10 “The gaiety of tambourines ceases, the noise of revelers stops, the gaiety of the harp ceases . . . the city of chaos is broken down; every house is shut up so that none may enter, all joy turns to gloom . . .” 

Rev 18:24 “And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” Jer. 51:49 As indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel, as also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen.” 

Surely these and many more parallels teach that the Babylon of the O.T. prophecy is to be a literal, rebuilt city in the “land of Nimrod” (Mic. 5:6).


End Notes

[1] Seiss, Joseph A., The Apocalypse, an Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1987) p. 388-389.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Anthony Buzzard, “The Assyrian in Messianic Prophecy,” www.restorationfellowship.org.

[5] Pink, Arthur, W., The Antichrist (Kregel Publications, 1998) pp. 240-241

[6] Seiss, The Apocalypse, an Exposition of the Book of Revelation, p.389.

[7] Pember, George, H., The Great Prophecies Concerning the Gentiles, The Jews, and the Church of God (Schoeltle Publishing Co., Inc., Hayesville, NC 1998) p. 172.

[8] Barton-Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (Baker, 1973).

[9] Newton, Benjamin W., Babylon & Egypt, Their Future History and Doom (Houlston & Sons, London 1890) p. 62.

[10] Lang, George H., The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Oliphants Ltd., London, 1945) p. 298-299.

[11] Pember, George H., The Great Prophecies Concerning the Gentiles, The Jews and the Church of God, pp. 169-170).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pink, Arthur W., The Antichrist, p. 255-256.

[14] Unger, Merrill F., Zechariah, p. 94.

[15] Ibid., p. 95.

[16] Pink, Arthur W., The Antichrist, p. 299.

[17] Ibid, p. 94-95. [18] Seiss, The apocalypse, and Exposition of the Book of Revelation, p. 399. [19] Robertson, Pat, The New World Order (Thomas Nelson Inc., 1991) p. 252. [20] Ibid., p. 253.

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What Is Messiah? Jewish Messiah or Christian God

What Is Messiah?

Jewish Messiah or Christian God

   By

Rick Richardson

 

Many Christians do not understand that the major difference between Christian and Jew is not a question of WHO Messiah is, rather it is a question of WHAT Messiah is. When we ask a Jew to "accept Jesus" we are not asking them to accept the Jewish Messiah, rather we are asking them to accept the Christian God. Why is it that Christian and Jew have such different views on WHAT Messiah is? If this is the fundamental difference between us, it would make sense to explore the Jewish concept of Messiah, and discover WHEN and WHY the view of the divinity of the Messiah became different in Christianity. We must ask the question: did the original believers have the same concept of the Messiah as do modern Christians?

  The Shema

The Shema is often called the "Jewish Profession of Faith," because it begins with the most basic of Jewish concepts: "Hear 0 Israel, The LORD our God the LORD is One.”

From at least the time of Ezra, Jews have been saying this prayer that consists of three passages in the Torah (Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21, and Num. 15:37-41). This prayer is said two to four times a day. Some speculate that this was the prayer being recited by Daniel, for which he was thrown into the lion's den. It is so important that the Mishna allows it to be uttered in any language (not just Hebrew). (M Sot 7: I) It is also the prayer that many Jews have said as they faced death at the hands of persecutors including many who went into the gas chambers of Nazi Germany in WW2. Rabbi Akiva, the second-century sage tortured to death by the Romans for his support of the Bar-Kokhba rebellion, was the most famous martyr to die with the Shema on his lips. 

The Talmud records:

"When Akiva was being tortured, the hour for saying the [morning] Shema arrived. He said it and smiled. The Roman officer called out, 'Old man, are you a sorcerer [because Akiva seemed oblivious to the torture] that you smile in the middle of your pains?' 'No,' replied Akiva, 'but all my life, when I said the words, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your means," I was saddened, for I thought, when shall I be able to fulfill this command?

I have loved God with all my heart, and with all my means [possessions], but to love him with all my soul [life itself] I did not know if I could carry it out. Now that I am giving my life, and the hour for reciting the Shema has come and my resolution remains firm, should I not smile?' As he spoke, his soul departed."

These scriptures were an embedded part of Jewish life in the first century, as they still are today. They basically describe the Torah observant Jew and what is expected of him.

To make reference to this group of scriptures, you need only say the first word, imw (shema), and it is understood what you are referencing. When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, however, he went much further than to give the first word. He left no doubt as to what he was saying.

Mark 12:28

"28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together. and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Yeshua answered him, The first of all the commandments is, dxa yy vnyhia yy larsy imw (Shema Yisrael ADONAI elohenu ADONAI echad.)

Hear, 0 Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is One: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Yeshua expresses the major profession of Jewish faith and emphasizes monotheism as the first priority of belief Messiah is never confused with God, and is NEVER believed to be God. In the New Testament accounts of the first believers, you will find much disagreement over the question of the association and conversion of Gentiles. You will find discussion of and disagreements over many other issues. However, there is no debate over the deity of Yeshua. Why?

The reason for this obvious absence of discussion on the topic is this was not yet the view held by early believers. Had the belief of the early followers included the deity of Yeshua, the pages of the New Testament would be filled with the stories of conflict over such beliefs. The early followers historically did not take the position that the Messiah was God. If that is the case, WHO and WHAT is Messiah?

The Meaning of "Messiah"

Before we continue further with a discussion on the Jewish view of Messiah we need to ask the question: what does the word Messiah mean? The Hebrew word "Mashiach" means "anointed one" (or chosen one).

· Hebrew: Mashiach (Messiah)

· Greek: Christos (Christ)

· English: Anointed

This title applies to the High Priest, to the Kings of Israel, and even to Israel itself.

In his book "Early Judaism," Martin Jaffee writes:

"The English word 'Messiah' renders the Hebrew 'mashiakh,' In its simplest meaning, it denotes 'one who is anointed with oil'" More expansively, it identifies a person consecrated to a divinely appointed task. In the Torah of Moses, particularly in the book of Leviticus, this term is used frequently to describe Aaron, the officiating priest charged with conducting the sacrificial service in the Tent of Meeting.

"In the priestly sense, the Messiah is the priest whose sacrificial service in accordance with Torah sustains the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. Messiah also refers to one anointed to serve as king over the Israelite people in its Land. The original anointee was Saul, the first man appointed as king over Israel. "

  1 Samuel 24:5

"5 And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. 6 And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master. THE LORD'S ANOINTED, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the ANOINTED OF THE LORD. "

Here we read of David referring to Saul as hvhy xywml (or "the Messiah of Yahweh").

So, there can be a number of different individuals identified throughout history as a messiah (anointed). However, when you talk of THE Messiah you would be referring to Messiah ben David, the ruler at the end of the age at the time of the Third Temple, and Messiah ben Joseph who dies to bring the kingdoms of Israel and Judah back together. 

The Divine Connection

When answering the question WHO or WHAT is the Messiah. it is helpful to read what God tells Moses about the divine connection to Messiah.

In Deuteronomy 18:18 God tells Moses: "18 I will raise up a prophet FROM AMONG THEIR COUNTRYMEN LIKE YOU, and I WILL PUT MY WORDS IN HIS MOUTH, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall come about that whosoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. "

As we can see, the Messiah was to be "from among their country­men" like Moses. The connection to the divine is that God's WORDS are put in Messiah's mouth. It is important to realize that at no time in history did Judaism ever assign deity to the Messiah himself. Why then did Christianity view Messiah as God?

  The Gentile Factor

After 7OCE (AD) the leadership within the "Christian" movement became dominated by Gentiles who had formerly worshiped other gods. How could such a thing happen?

The Death of the Jewish leaders

The following is a list of those Jewish leaders of the sect who were killed before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, most of them at the hands of the Romans or other pagans:

Philip—bound with his head to a pillar, and stoned in Phrygia, AD. 54

James (Yeshua's brother)—stoned, and beaten to death with a club, AD. 63

Barnabus—dragged out of the city and burned, at Salamina, Cyprus, AD. 64

Mark—dragged to the stake at Alexandria, died on the way, AD. 64

Peter—crucified upside-down, AD. 69

Paul—beheaded at Rome, AD. 69

Andrew—crucified at Patras AD. 70

Bartholomew—tortured, flayed alive, then beheaded in Armenia, AD.70

Thomas—cast into a furnace, his side pierced with spears in Calamina, AD. 70

Matthew—nailed to the ground and beheaded at Nad-Davar, AD. 70

Simon Zelotes and his brother Judas Thadeus, both slain, one crucified, and the other beaten to death with sticks, AD. 70

Mathias—tied on a cross upon a rock, stoned, and then beheaded, AD. 70

70 disciples of Yeshua, and fellow travelers of the Apostles—slain, AD. 70

The Jewish leadership was gone as a Gentile leadership rose to fill the void (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, volume 6, Christianity).

The Beginnings of the Church

An important source of the alienation of Christianity from its Jewish roots was the change in the membership of the church that took place by the end of the 2nd century (just when, and how, is uncertain). At some point, Christians with Gentile backgrounds began to outnumber Jewish Christians.

The Gentile or Greek culture was centered around philosophy and mythology. Their entire perspective was that of having multiple gods. To them the most natural assumption was that Yeshua (Jesus) was a god. But what about all of the passages like John 1 that also say Jesus is God? Remember, that much of our interpretation of scripture is from the perspective of those early "church fathers" who by the 2nd century were comprised of mostly Gentiles well educated in Greek philosophy.

In 'A History of God," Karen Armstrong writes: "Like the divine Wisdom, the 'Word' symbolized God's original plan for creation. When Paul and John spoke about Jesus as though he had some kind of preexistent life, they were not suggesting that he was a second divine 'person' in the later Trinitarian sense. They were indicating that Jesus had transcended temporal and individual modes of existence. Because the 'power' and 'wisdom' that he represented were activities that derived from God, he had in some way expressed 'what was there from the beginning.'

"These ideas were comprehensible in a strictly Jewish context, though later Christians with Greek background would interpret them differently. In the Acts of the Apostles, written as late as 100 CE, we can see that the first Christians still had an entirely Jewish conception of God."

Again, Martin Jaffee writes: "The canonical book of Proverbs portrays wisdom as being God's companion from the beginning of time.

The image was refracted throughout the worlds of ancient Judaism. It informed many of Philo's descriptions of Torah as a divine logos (word, principle) through which Being conceived the world into existence. All that exists is as it should be because the world's structure is undergird­ed by divine thought, Torah."

By the second century the leadership of Christianity had shifted from a Jewish majority (well educated in the Torah), to a Greek majority (well educated in Greek culture, philosophy and mythology).

As the Jewish sect began to be more dominated by a Greek membership, however, the Greek polytheistic perspective of God also became a more accepted view.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says: "The Trinitarians and the Unitarians continued to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority."

In time, what had been the majority view became the minority view. Eventually, through creeds, various church councils, and the formation of Christianity as a state religion, the divinity of Messiah became the official church doctrine.

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6,  Christianity) Councils and Creeds.

"Early creeds began the process of specifying the divine in Christ, both in relation to the divine in the Father and in relation to the human in Christ. The definitive formulations of these relations came in a series of official church councils during the 4th and 5th centuries—notably the one at Nicaea in 325 and the one at Chalcedon in 451—which stated the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures of Christ in the form still accepted by most Christians.

"To arrive at these formulations, Christianity had to refine its thought and language, creating in the process a philosophical theolo gy, both in Greek and in Latin, that was to be the dominant intellectual system of Europe for more than a thousand years."

Belief in a triune Godhead became the only accepted view of the nature of God. Anyone who believed otherwise would be put to death, although there have been those throughout history that have not viewed the orthodox Trinitarian position as correct. In his article Cosmic Codebreaker, Pious Heretic, about Sir Isaac Newton (for Christian History Magazine),

Karl Giberson writes:

"Newton began a sustained reflection on the Christian doctrines and decided that the Anglican status quo was a thorough corruption of the true, original Christianity. These considerations led him to write over a million words on theology and biblical studies—more than he wrote on any other subject.

"Newton's theological investigations convinced him that the doctrine of the Trinity was bogus, a successful deception by St. Athanasius in the fourth century. Newton argued that the Scriptures had been altered and early Christian writers had been misquoted to make it appear that Trinitarianism had been the original faith. "

How could Newton have believed that the scriptures had been altered? Was this just a statement of desperation, or is there substance to his claims? We will explore that question later in this chapter.

Giberson continues:

"He [Newton] became repelled by what he perceived as the false religion that surrounded him-an idolatrous faith that worshiped Christ as God, when he was but a mediator between God and man.”

Newton was forced to keep his views at least partially veiled. The Unitarian position (belief in the One God), however, began to make certain advances in the American colonies. Such notable people as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Unitarian.

Jefferson, himself, refers to Trinity as:

". . .an unintelligible proposition of Platonic mysticism that three are one, and one is three; and yet one is not three and three are not one. . .I never had sense enough to comprehend the Trinity, and it appeared to me that comprehension must precede assent."

Jefferson further believed that the "One God" movement would sweep the nation if it was given the religious freedom the founding fathers envisioned. In a letter written to James Smith, December 8, 1822 he says:

"The pure and simple unity of the Creator of the universe, is now all but ascendant in the Eastern States; it is dawning in the West and advancing toward the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United States.”

The doctrine of the trinity, however, was much too entrenched to be easily dismissed, and those who did not accept the belief were labeled as non-Christian. Although the "One God" perspective is not common among Christians today, the first followers of Yeshua (Jesus) would not have felt uncomfortable with it.

The Early Concepts

In Exploring Church History, Howard Vos writes:

"One of the earliest errors was Ebionism. Appearing in fully developed form in the second century, it was in reality only a continuation of the Judaistic opposition to the apostle Paul. Some groups seem to have been quite clear on the essentials of salvation but insisted on law keeping as a way of life. Most appear to have denied the deity of Christ. These views they held in an effort to retain a true monotheism. They put much stress on the law in general and on circumcision and Sabbath keeping in particular. Ebionism practically disappeared by the fifth century. It had little if any lasting effect on the church. "

Who Were these Ebonites?

The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) states:

"E-piph-an-ius with his customary confusion makes two separate sects, Ebionites and Nazarenes. Both names, however, refer to the same people; the later going back to the designation of apostolic times (Acts 24:5)

"[5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.]

"And the former being the term usually applied to them in the ecclesiastical literature of the 2nd and 3rd 'centuries. The origin of the Nazarenes or Ebionites as a distinct sect is very obscure, but may be dated with much likelihood from the edict of Hadrian which in 135 finally scattered the old church of Jerusalem. "

Remember, there was a distinct disagreement between Paul and these believers from Jerusalem who are often referred to in the New Testament as "of the circumcision" or "Judaizers." It is important, however, to note that the dispute was over the application of the law. It was NEVER over the deity of Yeshua (Jesus).

Why? Because Paul's perspective on the subject did not differ from theirs. Most of the dispute over the deity of Jesus came long after Paul's death. If these early followers did not believe that Jesus was God, what did they believe?

The Adoptionists

In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman writes:

"Christians of the second and third centuries generally—regardless of theological persuasion—claimed to espouse the views of Jesus' earliest followers.

"With regard at least to the A doptionists, modern scholarship has by and large conceded the claim. These Christians did not originate their views of Christ; adoptionistic Christologies can be traced to sources that predate the books of the New Testament. "

Ehrman goes on to say:

"Form-critical analyses of the New Testament creedal, hymnic, and sermonic materials have consistently demonstrated earlier strata of tradition that were theologically modified when incorporated into their present literary contexts. Many of these pre-literary traditions evidence adoptionistic views."

Specifically about the Ebionites, Ehrman writes:

"According to orthodox sources, the Ebionites self-consciously traced their lineage back to the apostolic times, and like the earliest followers of Jesus worked to preserve their Jewish identity and customs, including the practices of circumcision and kashrut. They are most commonly portrayed as Adoptionists who reject both the notion of Jesus 'pre-existence and the doctrine of his virgin birth, maintaining instead that Jesus was a 'normal' human being, born of natural generation.

"God chose him to be his Son at his baptism and gave him his messianic mission. This he fulfilled by dying on the cross, after which God raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven. Sources agree that the Ebionites accepted the binding authority of the Old Testament (and therefore the continuing validity of the Law) but rejected the authority of the apostate apostle, Paul.

"The sources do not agree about the character and contours of the gospel used by the Ebionites. Most of the fathers from the early second century (Papias) to the late fourth (Jerome) claim that it comprised a truncated form of Matthew (outwardly the most Jewish of the four) writ­ten in Hebrew, one that lacked its opening chapters, that is, the narra­tive of Jesus' miraculous birth. "

The natural assumption is that the Ebionites simply deleted the text that they disagreed with. However, there is no historic evidence that this group was in the practice of altering or deleting text to conform to their particular beliefs. The evidence, however, is overwhelming that those who espoused the doctrine concerning the deity of Jesus not only altered and added to the text, they did so frequently and as a matter of course.

This was not done to mislead of deceive, but in a sincere effort to "clarify” the text. The result, however, is thousands of verifiable corrupted documents that were used in the compiling of various texts we now call the New Testament.

  The Development of "Christology"

Additional "clarification" efforts brought about the formation of various "Christologies" which were a natural progression of attempts to justify the Hebraic scriptures through a Greek philosophy perspective. Over time, four basic Christologies developed.

Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (volume 6/ Christology)

In the New Testament

"The earliest Christians expressed their explicit Christology with titles and mythological patterns borrowed from the religious environment of 1st century Palestine, where both Hebraic and Hellenistic Greek conceptions of God, history, and destiny were at work. Especially important in a consideration of New Testament Christology is the pervasive eschatological consciousness of the period; many modern scholars think that Jesus himself shared in this consciousness of living at the end of time.

"Four early patterns of Christological thinking can be discerned within the New Testament. The EARLIEST of these has two focuses—look­ing backward to Jesus' earthly life as that of an eschatological prophet and servant of God and forward to Christ's coming again as the Messiah, the Son of man. In A SECOND two-stage Christological formulation the earthly Jesus was also seen as the prophet-servant of the last days, but at the same time he was declared to have become Lord, Christ, and Son of God at his RESURRECTION and exaltation.

"In THE THIRD pattern, these post resurrection titles were applied retrospectively to Jesus in his earthy period in order to articulate the intrinsic connection between Jesus' earthy ministry and his role as savior. A 'SENDING FORMULA' developed, with God as subject, his Son as object, and a statement of saving purpose, as in John 3:16 : 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not parish but have eternal life' (also Gal. 4:4). At first the moment of sending was identified with Jesus' BAPTISM BY JOHN: '... and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11).'

"In the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, however, the moment of sending is pushed back to Jesus' CONCEPTION OR BIRTH. This is not yet a Christology of preexistence and incarnation, nor of metaphysical divinity; it expresses only the role the man Jesus was to play in salvation history and God's initiative in that role. In THE FOURTH pattern, expressed in the Christological hymns of the Hellenistic-Jewish church, Jesus was identified with the DIVINE WISDOM, OR LOGOS. Philosophical Hellenistic Judaism had conceived of the Logos as the personified agent of the divine being, the agent of creation, revelation, and redemptive action. The earthy Jesus was now seen as the incarnation of this preex­istent wisdom or Logos. Early Christians appropriated this Jewish speculation in order to emphasize that the God they encountered in Jesus was not an unknown God, but was the same God they had previ­ously encountered in creation, in human religious experience, and in Israel s salvation history.

"In the Johannine writings Jesus' Father-Son relationship with God is projected back into eternity. and this equation of the Son with the incarnate Logos results in the use of the predicate 'God' for the preexistent Word, the incarnate Son, and the risen Christ. But 'God' in this context is carefully nuanced: THE SON IS NOT GOD-IN-HIMSELF. Rather, through the Son, God 'goes out of himself, ' communicating himself in the action of creation, revelation, and salvation. Consequently, 'Son of God' and 'Son,' which were originally terms expressive of Jesus' role in salvation history, acquire a metaphysical import and come to denote his divine being. "

The Son of God

Many of the Hebraic phrases and abstract concepts were foreign to the new Gentile leaders. Much of the confusion over the divinity of Yeshua began with the first century messianic title, "Son of God." The Gentiles understood this phrase to mean, "God the Son." Again, this was not an effort to deceive anyone. It was simply the most natural interpretation for someone in the Greek culture to have.

In The Doctrine of the Trinity Sir Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting write:

"Responsible historians, both secular and religious, agree that the Jews of Jesus' time held firmly to a faith in a unipersonal God. Church history shows that the concept of even two equal persons in the Godhead—the Father and Son—did not receive formal approval in the Christian community until three hundred years after the ministry of Jesus, at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. This is not to ignore the controversy that came about as a result of Jesus' claim to be the 'Son of ‘God.' But that claim should not be confused with the much later assertion by the Church that he was 'God, the Son'" [pp 29,6,37].

John 1:32

"32 And John bore record, saying, I saw the spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him.

"33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon whom you shall see the spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

"34 And I saw and bore record that he is THE SON OF GOD.

"35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples,

"36 And looking upon Yeshua as he walked, he said. BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!

"37 And the two disciples heard him speak. and they followed Yeshua.

"38 Then Yeshua turned, and saw them following, and said to them, Who are you looking for? They said to him, Rabbi, where do you live?

"39 He said to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day: for it was about 4pm.

"40 One of 1he two, which heard John, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.

"41 He, first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the MESSIAH.

"42 And he brought him to Yeshua. And when Yeshua saw him, he said, You are Simon, the son of Jona: you shall be called Cephas, which means: a stone.

"43 The following day, Yeshua went to Galilee, and found Philip, and said to him, Follow me.

"44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

"45 Philip finds Nathaniel and says to him, WE HAVE FOUND HIM of whom Moses in the law. and the prophets wrote. Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

"46 And Nathaniel said to him, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.

"47 Yeshua saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said, LOOK AN ISRAELITE INDEED, in whom is no guile! "

48 Nathaniel said to him, How do you know me? Yeshua answered and said to him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.

"49 Nathaniel answered, and said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel"

Were John and Nathaniel proclaiming that Yeshua was God? No, the title, "Son of God," is a Messianic title. They WERE claiming that Yeshua was the Messiah, they were NOT saying that he was God. Let's explore other places where we see references to the son(s) of God. In the book of Exodus we see 1he children of Israel called God's son.

Exodus 4:22

"22 And you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, my firstborn.

"23 And I say to you, LET MY SON GO, that he may serve me: and if you refuse to let him go, I will slay your son, your  firstborn. ..

The phrase, "son of God, .. is found 46 times in Bible (only once in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The phrase "sons of God " (Plural) is found 11 times in 1he Bible (five times in 1he Tanakh (Old Testament).

The one place in the Old Testament where the phrase, "son of God," is used is in Daniel 3:25 . This is often used as a "proof' of Yeshua's pre­existence. Since Yeshua is called the "Son of God" in the New Testament, this Old Testament reference must refer to him also. Is that what is being talked about here?

Daniel 3:2

"25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the SON OF GOD."

In Jewish tradition this fourth man walking in the fire is an angel of God. The places in the Old Testament where the phrase "sons of God " is found, especially those in the book of Job (1: 16, 2: 1, and 38:7), are also thought to be a reference to angelic beings. The phrase, however, can also mean followers or chosen of God. Certainly most all of the places you see in the New Testament would be read this way.

John 1:12

"12 But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the SONS OF GOD, to them that believe on his name. "

Romans 8:14

"14 For as many as are lead by the spirit of God, they are the SONS OF GOD. "

Philippians 2:15

"15 That you may be blameless and harmless, the SONS OF GOD. without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. "

1 John 3:1,2

"1 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the SONS OF GOD: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.

"2 Beloved, now are we the SONS OF GOD, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. "

Paul tells us (Romans 8:14) that anyone who is led by the spirit is a "son of God"; and John tells us (1 John 3:1-2 ) that "we" are "now" the "sons of God." Paul and John were certainly not suggesting that WE are God.

Who Am I?

Sometimes it is helpful to look at more than one testimony of the same event to fully see what is being said. When Yeshua asked his talmidim (disciples) who they believed he was, we see that Mark, Luke, and Matthew each have a slightly different version of the event.

Matt. 8:29

"29 And he said to them, But whom do you say I am? And Peter answered and said to him, You are the MESSIAH. "

Luke 9:20

"20 And he said to them. But whom do you say I am? Peter answer­ing said, The MESSIAH (or the anointed) OF GOD. "

Matthew 16:15

"15 He said to them, But Whom do you say I am?

"16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the MESSIAH. The SON OF THE LIVING GOD. "

Here Peter is proclaiming Yeshua to be the Messiah; he is not saying that he is God.

The Return of the Exiles

Where else in scripture do we find the phrase, "sons of the living God"? It is found in the first chapter of the book of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet to Israel (the northern kingdom) during the time of the divided kingdom.

Hosea 1 :10

"10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it shall come to pass, in the place where it was said to them, You are not my people, there it shall be said to them, you are the SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.

"11 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel. "

In this passage we see the northern kingdom (the house of Israel), who lost their identity because they would not follow God's instructions, brought back from exile at the end of the age. At that time they will repent (return to God), and will be reunited with the southern kingdom (Judah), and will have "one head," "Messiah, son of David," who will rule the world from Jerusalem. Before Messiah, son of David can rule, however, the Northern kingdom, Israel must return from exile. Paul refers to this Romans 8 .

Romans 8:19

"19 For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the mani­festation of the SONS OF GOD. "

So we see the phrase "son of God" does not mean "God-the-Son," rather it is a messianic title associated with the return of the exiles. But if all that happened was a misunderstanding of the Hebraic term "son of God," why has the belief of Jesus being God persisted through the last 2000 years? One reason for this is that when you view life from a certain perspective, all interpretations, clarifications, or "corrections" are done so as to portray that perspective. We simply see what we choose to see.

The Corruption of Scripture

Early in the second century is when the majority of church 0rthodoxy began to develop; and through the second and third centuries the documents which would make up the New Testament were revised in order to establish the orthodox view. Again, Ehrman documents many of these revisions. It was the Christological debates of the second and third centuries that finally led to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Ehrman writes:

"Orthodox scribes not infrequently altered texts that might be taken to suggest that Jesus became the Son of God only at his baptism (Luke 3:22; Acts 10:37, 38 ; John 1:34 ), or at his resurrection (Rom 1:4), or at some unspecified moment (e.g., Luke 9:35; 1 John 5:18 ). Correspondingly they changed other passages so as to highlight their view that Jesus was already the Son of God before his baptism (Mark 1: 1) or even before his coming into the world (Matt 1: 18). By far the most common anti-adoptionist corruptions simply designate Christ as "God." Sometimes these variants are widely attested (I Tim 3:16; John 1: 18 ); more frequently they occur in a restricted portion of the tradition (e.g., Mark 1:3 ; l John 3:23 ; John 10:33; 19:40 ), or exclusively among the early versions (e.g., Luke 1:17, 76; 2:26 ). On occasion, such changes occur in manuscripts that can actually be dated to the period of concern (e.g. 2 Pet 1:2 ; Jude 5 ). Even when the supporting witnesses are uniformly late, however, they appear to represent vestiges of an ear­lier age (e.g., Mark 3:11 ; Luke 7:9; 8:28 ). Moreover, Christ's divinity is sometimes affirmed through an exchange of predicates, in which his characteristics and activities are attributed to God (e.g., references to God's blood or passion, cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5: 1), conversely, God's are attributed to him (e.g., Christ as 'judge of the earth,' 1 Cor 10:5,9 ).

"Finally, the orthodox emphasis on Jesus' divinity occasionally led to a de-emphasis on his humanity. So far as we can judge, scribes never eliminated the notion that Jesus was fully human. This would have embroiled them in a different set of problems, for then the text could be taken to support Docetic Christologies that the proto-orthodox opposed on another front. But scribes did modify texts that could implicate Christ in human weaknesses and frailties that were not appropriate to one understood to be divine, occasionally changing passages that suggest that Christ was not all-knowing (Matt 24:36) or spiritually perfect (Luke 2:40), and passages that suggest that he was purely mortal (John 19:5) or susceptible to human temptations and sin (Heb 2:18; 10:29)." A few examples of changes that were made to the text:

MATTHEW 1:18 —Corrupt Text: Matthew 1:18 :

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way." Original Text: "Now the beginning of Jesus Christ happened this way."

LUKE 2:33 —

Corrupt Text:"And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him."

Original Text: "And his father and mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him"

LUKE 3:22 —

Corrupt Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased."

Original Text: "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my son. Today I have begotten you."

LUKE 9:35 —

Corrupt Text: "And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him"

Original Text: "And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my Son, the one who is chosen: hear him."

JOHN 1 :34 —

Corrupt Text; "And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. "

Original Text: "And I saw, and bare record that this is the chosen of God. "

1 TIMOTHY 3:16 —

Corrupt Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."

Original Text: "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: Who was manifest in the flesh. "

There was a tremendous effort by the early Gentile "church fathers" to establish Jesus as God. The concept of Messiah being God is one that the Jews, even those of the first century, have NEVER held. Messiah was to be the anointed king and the son of God; but he was NOT thought to be God.

Psalms 2:2

  "2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his ANOINTED,

"6 Yet have set MY KING upon my holy hill of Zion.

"7 I will declare the decree: the LORD has said to me. You ARE MY SON, this day have I BEGOTTEN YOU. "

If Messiah is not God (who became a man to pay for the sins of the entire world) what is Messiah?

The Two Messiahs

Messiah is God's agent through whom Israel realizes its redemption. A belief in Orthodox Judaism is that two Messiahs will usher in the end of the age; Messiah son of Joseph (the suffering servant), and Messiah son of David (the conquering king). According to tradition, Messiah ben-Joseph will enable events to bring the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) back together. However, through this effort Messiah ben-Joseph will die. After this happens, Messiah ben-David will rule both houses of Israel with the Third Temple built in Jerusalem as the center of worship for the entire world.

From the Talmud (Sukkot 528) we read:

"What is the cause of mourning [referring to Zechariah 12: 10 ]? R Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, “The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.

"It is well, according to him who explains, that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with Scriptural verse, 'And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son.' "

Again, from Sukkot 52a we read [as an interpretation of Psalm 2:7]:

"Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, son of David (may he reveal himself speedily in our days!), 'Ask of me anything, and I will give it to you,' as it is said, 'I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten you, ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance.' But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, 'Lord of the Universe, I ask of You only the gift of life.' 'As to life,' He would answer him, 'Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you,' as it is said, He asked life of you, you gave it to him, [even length of days for ever and ever]."

Messiah ben Joseph

Let us revisit the Jewish view of Messiah. Remember, there are two Messiahs in Jewish theology; Messiah ben Joseph, then Messiah ben David. It is the death of Messiah ben Joseph that brings the two kingdoms of Israel together. The early followers of Yeshua believed that Isaiah prophesied about Yeshua in passages like Isaiah 53:5 .

Today, these passages are often interpreted as referring to Israel as a nation, however, Martin Jaffee points out in his book Early Judaism:

"The identity of this divine servant is given as Israel. but the servant is also to 'raise up the tribes of Jacob.' Is Israel, then, its OWN redeemer? "

Since Messiah ben Joseph comes first, what should we look for and how do we know when he will come? We know that Messiah ben David will be a descendent of King David, but what about Messiah ben Joseph? Will he be a descendent of Joseph? No, that is not the reason he is known as Messiah ben Joseph. One reason given for him to have this title is because he at first is not known. Just as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, so too will the identity of Messiah ben Joseph remain hidden, until he is revealed.

The 9th chapter of the book of Daniel is often called the "Seventy Weeks Prophecy" (490 years). The people of the first century believed this prophecy predicted when the Messiah would come. Daniel lived in Judea 100 years after the northern kingdom (Israel) had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. When Daniel was a young man, Jerusalem and the first Temple were destroyed and the nation of Judah was also taken captive.

Daniel grew up in Babylon where he wrote this prophecy.

Daniel 9:26

"26 But after 62 weeks (434 years) the Messiah will be killed but not for himself; then the people of the prince shall come and destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (Temple); and the end thereof shall be with a flood and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. "

Remember, Daniel wrote this prophecy after the first Temple had ALREADY been destroyed. So this prophecy is about the destruction of the SECOND Temple. Daniel received this prophecy BEFORE the second Temple had EVEN been built. ALSO, this is NOT a prophecy about Messiah ben David, because THIS Messiah is killed. It is a prophecy about Messiah ben Joseph. It is his death that brings the exiles back, allowing the northern and southern kingdom to once again be brought together. NOTICE that Messiah comes and THEN the second Temple is destroyed. The second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE (AD). How can this be, since the exiles of the northern kingdom (an event saved until the end of the age) have not yet returned?

What exactly does the prophecy say? It says that Messiah ben Joseph dies before the second Temple is destroyed. It does not say anything about the return of the exiles. However, we know from other sources that it is BECAUSE of his death the exiles return, but the return does not happen UNTIL the end of the age. Could Yeshua, then, be Messiah ben Joseph? There have been those that have speculated this, including Caiaphas, the high priest in the first century.

John 11:47-53

"47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, 'What can we do? for this man does many miracles.

"'48 If we let him alone, all [men] will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. '

"49 And one of them, [named] Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all,

"'50 nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. '

"51 And he spoke not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Yeshua should die for THAT NATION;

"52 And NOT FOR THAT NATION ONLY, BUT THAT HE ALSO SHOULD GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE THE CHILDREN OF GOD THAT WERE SCATTERED    ABROAD,

"53 Then from that day on they plotted to put him to death. "

Why would they plot to kill someone whom they believed was Messiah? Because they believed he was Messiah Ben Joseph who MUST DIE in order for the northern kingdom to return, and ALL of Israel be united as one under the rulership of Messiah Ben David.

Yeshua refers to this death plot (quoting from Psalm 35:19) a few chapters later in John 15:25

"25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in the law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.' "

If indeed Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph, his death would have had a tremendous impact on those around him.

A Time of Anguishing Events

The first century is known for some very historic events. In Christianity we look to the life and death of Yeshua. In Judaism one of the most anguishing events was the destruction of the second Temple.

In Tractate Yoma of the Talmud it says:

"Why was the first Holy Temple destroyed? Because of three wicked things: idol worship, adultery, and murder. But in THE SECOND TEMPLE in which time the Jewish people were occupied studying the Torah and doing good deeds and acts of charity why was it then DESTROYED?

"The answer is: It was BECAUSE OF HATRED WITHOUT A CAUSE to teach you, that hate without a cause is equal to these sins and that it is as serious a crime as the three great transgressions of idol worship, adultery, and murder." [Yoma 9]

Remember, that years earlier Yeshua had given this as the very reason he would be killed (hatred without a cause). Also throughout the New Testament he compares his death to the destruction of the Temple.

John 2:19

"19 Yeshua answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

"20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you rear it up in three days?

"21 But he spoke of the temple of his body."

What an unusual set of circumstances leading up to the death of Yeshua. Although he was actually put to death by the Gentiles (Romans), it was his own people (the Sanhedrin) who sentenced him. This in itself was extremely unusual.

The Talmud says in Tractate Makkot:

"A Sanhedrin that effects an execution ONCE IN SEVEN YEARS is branded a DESTRUCTIVE TRIBUNAL. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: Once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: Were we members of a Sanhedrin, no person would ever be put to death. [Thereupon] Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel remarked, [yea] and they would also multiply shedders of blood in Israel! [Makkot 7a)"

And yet, something happened in 30CE that affected the Sanhedrin (the supreme court of first century Judaism) so much they physically removed themselves from the Temple so they could never again impose the death sentence. And indeed the death sentence was never again imposed.

Again, from the Talmud in Tractate Avodah Zara it .'_ay.'_:

"Forty years before the Temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon [the Temple] and hold its sittings in Hanuth. Has this any legal bearing?. . .CAPITAL CASES CEASED. Why?—Because when the Sanhedrin saw that murderers were so prevalent that they could not be properly dealt with judicially, they said: Rather let us be exiled from place to place than pronounce them guilty [of capital offences] for it is written: And you shall do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall tell you, which implies that it is the place that matters. [Avodah Zara 8b)"

That, however, was not the only change in the Temple at that time. Again from Tractate Yoma in the Talmud it says:

"FORTY YEARS BEFORE THE HOLY TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED the follow­ing things happened: THE LOT FOR THE YOM KIPPUR GOAT ceased to be supernatural; the red cord of wool that used to change to white (as a symbol of God's forgiveness) now remained red and did not change and THE WESTERN CANDLE in the candlestick in the sanctuary refused to burn continually while THE DOORS OF THE HOLY TEMPLE would open of themselves." [Tractate Yoma 39:b]

The Temple was destroyed in 70CE. What a tremendous coincidence in that these things began to happen forty years before the Temple was destroyed; in 30CE, The only significant event that seems to be connected to this year, the death sentence being administered and would have created such concern was the death of Yeshua who died on Nisan 14, 30 CE on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

The Babylonian Talmud says:

"Since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of Passover." (Sanhedrin 43a)

To believe that Yeshua was Messiah ben Joseph; that he was resurrected from the dead, and will return as Messiah ben David, fits well within the possibilities of various Hebraic prophecies. However to believe that Messiah is God is a gross misunderstanding of first century concepts and terminology.

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The Abrahamic Faith

The Abrahamic Faith:

Taking Courage from the Words of Modern Scholars

13th Theological Conference

Anthony Buzzard, April 24, 2004

"Salvation is not for the well meaning but for the desperate." (James Denny)

My purpose this evening is to bring encouragement to this particular group of (sometimes beleaguered)' "Anabaptists" by pointing to the powerful support offered us by distinguished writers on the Bible and Christian history. It is enormously strengthening to dig into the history of ideas to give greater substance to one's teaching and convictions.

Since our arrival at Oregon, now Atlanta Bible College, I have been trying to understaffed why the excellent sense which it seems to me the Abrahamic faith makes of the Bible, does not seem to be easily available "out there" in the variegated, denominational church world. Biblical understanding seemed to be in very short supply in Britain where I grew up in the C of E, and currently only about 5% of the citizens go to church other than to be "hatched, matched and dispatched."

We seemed in the UK always to become persona non grata if we mentioned our belief in Conditional Immortality ("sleep of the dead" and annihilation as opposed to eternal torment) or that it is misleading to say that "Jesus is God." What I have found is that some of the most recognized writers, of the past 200 years especially, and distinguished experts in our time, strongly confirm our premillennial understanding of the Kingdom to be established on this planet at the Parousia (notably Henry Alford with his classic plea for a premill. reading of Rev. 20), and our insistence on the Gospel of the Kingdom of God being the essential foundation of the saving Gospel, as Jesus and Paul preached it. Gary Burge in NIV Application Commentary (Revisioning Evangelical Theology) writes: Stanley Grenz has reviewed the failed attempts of evangelical theology to fire the imagination of the modem world. He argues for the Kingdom of God as the new organizing center of what we say and do."

This denomination, the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith), was founded in the 1830s on that conviction (cp. Luke 4:43; Acts 8:12, etc.) - that the fundamental element in the Christian Gospel is the Gospel about the Kingdom as Jesus preached it. Some 30 chapters in the synoptics define the saving Gospel as centered in the Kingdom of God, without so much as a word (at that stage) of Jesus' death and resurrection. How can it be truthfully said - as we hear so often - that the Christian Gospel is only about the death and resurrection of Jesus? Why not a return to the parable of the sower as the key to Jesus' theology of evangelism, rather than isolated verses from Romans 10, and the "four spiritual laws"?

Help from Well-Known Scholars

We should not forget that the Church of England officially abolished "eternal hellfire" in their doctrinal commission statement of 1906.[1] (Tom Wright was part of that committee. More about him later.) What they put in its place was less impressive. It has led, as Tom Wright now says, to a vague universalism with everyone "going to heaven."

One of the most exciting events for me in these past 22 years with the Abrahamic community and the Bible College was the discovery of Dr. Brown's article on Christology in the journal Ex Auditu (Vol. 7, 1991). Greg Demmitt had known of Dr. Brown when Greg was at Fuller. What I read in that precious article, as well as in Dr. Brown's contribution to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (the article on "Jesus Christ") unleashed a new sense of excitement in me. Here was a leading systematician of our day telling us, and confirming for us, what our tradition has proposed since the Reformation (and of course this view is well represented too in the first 2 centuries) namely that to be called Son of God in the Bible does not mean that you are God!

Before giving you excerpts from that article let me set the scene of the controversy over Christology which continues to be the one great fundamental issue in theology. I will do this by referring to a recognized master of church history, Adolph Harnack (1851-1930).

The Loss of the Messianic Jesus in the Early Struggles over Christology

From the early second century, or even earlier in the days of John, and calling forth John's impassioned plea to stay with Jesus Christ the "human, historical begotten Son," who came en sarki (I John 4:1-6; II John 7; I John 5:18, not KJV), "in the flesh," not "into the flesh" - as though John were a good proponent of the Incarnation of the eternal Son - the battle raged over the relationship of the Son to the Father. It was the famous Logos teaching of John 1:1 which provided a storm center for the various views. The great question was, how are we to understand the Logos which/who[2] was with God and "was God"?

In his History of Dogma, Adolf Harnack discusses early opposition to the emerging idea that John's Logos must denote the preexistence of a pre-Genesis created Son of God and later "eternally begotten" Son of God - a member of the eternal Trinity. This opposition to developing Trinitarianism, Harnack says, "was called forth by interest in the evangelical, the Synoptic idea of Christ [the Christ described by Matthew, Mark and Luke]. With this was combined an attack on the use of Platonic philosophy in Christian doctrine"[3] [Had not Paul alerted us to the subtle danger of philosophy?] "The first public and literary opponents of Christian Logos speculations did not escape criticism that they depreciated the dignity of the Savior." In other words those who did not think that speculating about a preexisting, prehistoric Son was valid were accused, as today, of saying that Jesus was 'just a man" and somehow therefore inadequate to the task of being the Savior. What do we know, of these early unitarians?

You will recognize here many of the themes of our own conference this year, nearly 2000 years later.

Harnack: "With the Monarchians [the unitarians] the first subject of interest was the man Jesus."

They were doing their Christology in other words "from below," or "from behind," beginning with the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, and not "from above," as though the Savior arrived from a premundane existence in heaven - what later became the full-blown doctrine of the Incarnation.

Harnack really captures my attention when he muses as follows: "Did not the [developing] doctrine of the heavenly aeon who became incarnate in the Redeemer contain another remnant of the old Gnostic leaven?" [Paul warned us also against the insidious effects of "gnosis" falsely so-called, I Tim. 6:20.] "Did not the sending forth of the Logos (probole of the Logos) to create the world recall the [Gnostic ideas] of the emanation of the aeons? Was not ditheism [belief in two Gods] set up if two divine beings were to be worshiped? Not only were the uncultured Christian laity driven to such criticisms...but also all those theologians who refused to give any place to Platonic philosophy in Christian dogmatics? [4]

Harnack maintained that not all theologians were happy with projecting the human Son of God back into pre-history. The whole process smacked too much of the Gnostic idea that the one unapproachable God must be mediated to us via a lesser intermediary, an Aeon.

And what was at stake in the struggle over the identity of Christ as Son of God in relation to the One God of Israel? What eventually happened when one of the competing parties established itself as the only "orthodox" faith? Harnack again: "For the great mass of the laity in the East the mystery of the person of Christ took the place of the Christ who was to have set up his visible Kingdom of glory upon earth."[5]

So then, along with the struggle over who Jesus was went the companion struggle over the Gospel of the Kingdom. Christology and eschatology went hand in hand as subjects of the ongoing battle between what Bart Ehrman calls "proto-orthodoxy" and its rival - which was really an original view of Jesus which was finally denounced as heresy.

Bart Ehrman as a sort of contemporary Harnack on a smaller scale maintains that original Truth was eventually banished as heresy. The new "orthodox" then consolidated their victory over original truth by destroying the literature of their defeated opponents and centering authority in a single bishop over each church (later headquartering him with supreme power in Rome). Thus Ehrman in his fascinating recent book Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew writes of the second century: "In some regions of ancient Christendom, what later came to be labeled 'heresy' was in fact the earliest and principal form of Christianity. In other regions views later deemed heretical coexisted with the view that came to be embraced by the church as a whole... To this extent 'orthodoxy,' in the sense of a unified group advocating an apostolic doctrine accepted by the majority of Christians everywhere, simply did not exist in the second and third centuries."[6]

Harnack describes what appears to be an alarming loss of the actual Jesus of history. At the heart of the disputes which fractured Christian unity was the matter of the origin of Jesus as Son of God. Was that origin in history or in prehistoric times? "The struggle was a strenuous effort of Stoic Platonism to obtain supremacy in the theology of the Church; the victory of Plato over Zeno and Aristotle in Christian science. The history of the displacement of the historical Christ by the preexistent Christ, of the Christ of reality by the fictitious Christ,[7] in dogmatics; finally, as the victorious attempt to substitute the mystery of the person of Christ for the person himself, and by means of a theological formula unintelligible to the laity, to put the laity with their Christian faith under guardians...When the Logos Christology obtained a complete victory, the traditional view of the Supreme deity as one Person [i.e. an original unitarianism] and, along with this, every thought of the real and complete humanity of the Redeemer was in fact condemned as being intolerable in the Church. Its place was taken by the [impersonal, human] nature of Christ which without the person is simply a cipher. The defeated party had right on its side."[8]

Harnack goes on to describe the history of that defeated party which "would not give up the personal, numerical unity of God" - i.e., second- and third-century unitarians like Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch deposed for "heresy" in 268 AD, the Theodotians and Artemon. These were all labeled as heretics, beyond the pale of the true faith. And so it has remained until today. And thus the struggle seems to persist unresolved.

Professor William Sanday, once Professor of Divinity at Oxford, in his article on the Son of God in the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible tells us that there is no support at all in the Synoptic Gospels for a preexisting Son of God. Are there verses in John which would lead us to think that the Son predated his birth? Sanday says: "Perhaps there are not any." Unintentionally he supported our "Socinian[9] view of Jesus as the uniquely begotten Son (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1: 18, 20). James Dunn is surely more widely read than anyone on our subject. In his classic Christology in the Making he makes Luke the proponent of a view which we find convincing: "In his birth narrative Luke is more specific than Matthew in his assertion of Jesus' divine Sonship from birth (1:32, 35, cp. 2:49, "my Father's house"). Here again it is sufficiently clear that a virginal conception by divine power without the participation of any man is in view (1:34). But here too it is sufficiently clear that it is a begetting, a becoming which is in view, the coming into existence of one who will be called, and will in fact be the Son of God, not the transition of a preexistent being to become the soul of a human baby or the metamorphosis of a divine being into a human fetus. Luke does state a little more fully and with powerful imagery, the means by which this divine begetting would take place - by the Holy Spirit coming on Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowing her (1:35). The latter verb (episkiasei) may well contain an allusion to the divine presence which overshadowed the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex. 40:35), but the thought is not that of a divine presence (or being) becoming or being embodied in Jesus; in this phrase Luke's intention is clearly to describe the creative process of begetting...Similarly in Acts there is no sign of any Christology of preexistence.[10] Dunn quotes John Knox and agrees with him. "For the author of Hebrews Jesus is the Son not in virtue of some precosmic divine existence, but as the pioneer of man's salvation...The author of Hebrews has no place in his thinking for preexistence as an ontological concept. His essentially human Jesus attains to perfection, to preeminence and even to eternity."[11]

The whole idea of preexistence is challenging, though few seem to be aware of any contradiction between the coming into existence of the Son by begetting and the preexistence of the Son in eternity. James Mackey has given much attention to Christology. His chapter on "The Problem of the Preexistence of the Son" begins like this: "It is best with this particular problem, not only because there are linguistic difficulties here - as soon as we recoil from the suggestion that something can preexist itself - we must wonder what exactly, according to this term, preexists what else, and in what sense it does so - but because it leads directly into the main difficulties encountered in all Incarnational and Trinitarian theologies. In addition, though biblical scholars are often not slow to suggest that the constructions of the systematic theologian show themselves to have exegetical feet of clay, it does not take a systematician of any extraordinary degree of skill to notice how exegetes themselves are the unconscious victims in the course of their most professional work of quite dogmatic, that is uncritical systematic assumptions."[12]

Yes, indeed. What is this curious notion of "preexistence" all about? How is it that no New Testament writer used the perfectly good verb prouparchein (to preexist) of the Son of God? How is that Justin Martyr, a hundred years after Jesus, uses it often? How is that the NT speaks of Jesus "coming into existence" in and from the womb of his mother while Justin thinks of the Son engineering his own Incarnation and coming through the womb of his mother? How in fact can the Son be both six months younger than his cousin John and yet billions of years older? Was he really only 30 years old at the inception of his ministry or much, much older? It is the same James Mackey who notes most insightfully that "spirit is one of the most ancient symbols in Near Eastern cultures for God and particularly for God's active presence in our world. Son is one of the most powerful natural symbols known, by which to express the extension of one's favor to a person who is the very continuation of one's effective presence in the world...[It is to say that] God acts in Christ.[13] By the spirit, by creative miracle, God produced the Son, the second Adam, and as Son he expresses the Plan, the immortality, Kingdom Plan which invites us to indestructible life, to be gained not by survival of a disembodied soul, but by resurrection/rapture when the Messiah returns to rule on the throne of David.

Imagine our delight at finding the Ex Auditu article of Dr. Brown. Critical of what he calls the "social Trinity," he speaks of "a systematic misunderstanding of Son - of - God language in Scripture." Here he puts his finger, surely, on the age-old conflict. Dr. Brown says: "Indeed one may ask whether the term 'Son of God' is in and of itself a divine title at all. Certainly there are many instances in biblical language where it is definitely not a designation of deity." He goes on to illustrate his point from the Bible. Then he says: "In the light of these passages in their context, the title 'Son of God' is not in itself a designation of personal deity or an expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed to be 'Son of God' one has to be a being who is not God! It is a designation for a creature indicating a special relationship with God. In particular, it denotes God's representative, God's vice-regent. It is a designation of kingship, identifying the king as God's son."

A marvelous statement! Should not this be made compulsory reading for every student in every land entering the halls of theological seminaries? Our joy of course was made even fuller when we read in the same article that it is a systematic mistake to read "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and statements about the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the Father (John 10:38; 14:10, 11,20; 17:21, 23) as statements about "inner relations of the 'persons' of the Trinity." "The Fourth Gospel itself does not require such a reading. When read in context the statements are evidently statements about  Jesus' relationship with the Father on earth."

Dr. Brown continues: "It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John's Gospel to read it as if it said: 'In the beginning was the Son and the Son was with God and the Son was God' (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of the Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning. But if we follow carefully the thought of John's prologue, it is the Word that preexisted eternally with God and is God." 

Rediscovering the King Messiah Means Recovering the Messianic Kingdom and the Gospel

Then more recently - in fact within the last few weeks - more encouragement from the astonishing findings of the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, whose public presentations are laced with good British humor. (He also seems to feature in every contemporary documentary about the historical Jesus.) He tells of two men disputing the rapture question. The one says, "You don't really think that believers are going to be literally caught up in the air to meet Jesus as he comes back?" The other replies, "Yes, I certainly do. And what are you going to say when you see Christians ascending into the sky?" To which his opponent answers, with a note of resignation: "Well, I'll be damned."

You need a little humor in otherwise tense theological situations. I have found as a Brit who cannot bring himself, with the Women's Temperance Movement, to condemn an occasional glass of wine with an evening meal, that this may cause grave consternation in some circles. But I can at least get a smile going when I point out (what is apparently obvious to everyone in the UK though practically no one reads the Bible or goes to church) that Jesus turned 150 gallons of water into wine at a wedding. The Baptists however, not to be outdone, achieved a comparable miracle by turning that wine into Welch's grape juice.

I don't think these issues, including the permissibility or otherwise of having shrimp or a pork chop, are ones we need waste five minutes on. But when it comes to the great issues of Incarnation and who the Son of God is, and the relationship of that second Adam to the One God, there is a mass of work to be done. Indeed the religious unity of the world depends on it. At present a billion Muslims believe that Jesus is at least a prophet, in fact virginally begotten, but who did not die on the cross, while Jews do not accept that Jesus was the Messiah at all, and others who think Jesus was the Messiah maintain against Matthew and Luke that Joseph was his father. A virginal conception, they say, will not square with the Tanakh, and who are Matthew and Luke to contradict the Tanakh?

But did these writers really say something not derivable from the Hebrew Bible? Had not II Samuel declared that the Messiah would be fathered by God: "I will be his father"? Did not Psalm 2:7 speak of God begetting His Son, a text which I think Paul applied to the production, that is the origin of the Son in Acts 13:33 (not KJV). Verse 35 refers by contrast to the resurrection of the Son from the dead. And did not Isaiah foresee a miraculous sign in the generation of a son from a virgin? Almah, young lady, is naturally understood as a "virgin." Matthew apparently had no difficulty with finding the virginal conception in the Hebrew Bible. And if any ambiguity existed, all doubts about the historical event as a miracle are dispelled by the visiting angel who instructs Matthew and Luke on how those Hebrew predictions of the fathering of the Messiah by God are actually fulfilled.

But back to Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham: He has done brilliantly well to set Jesus in his historical, Jewish setting and remind us that Jesus came to herald the emancipation of Jews and mankind from captivity spiritual and political. Jesus' mission, says Wright, "looks much more like that of a politician on the campaign trail than a schoolmaster, more like a composer/conductor than a violin teacher...He was a herald, the bringer of an urgent message that could not wait, could not become the stuff of academic debate. He was issuing a public announcement, like someone driving through a town with a loud hailer. He was issuing a public warning, like a man with a red flag heading off an imminent railway disaster. He was issuing a public invitation, like someone setting up a new political party and summoning all and sundry to sign up and help create a new world."[14]

What contribution to that endeavor would the current advocacy of same sex marriage have made? And are not current attempts to "get individuals saved" very different from Jesus' intense Kingdom evangelism?

Wright describes the Kingdom of God language of early Christians as "a kind of shorthand summary of the preaching and apologetic message of the church, or indeed for the whole of what Christianity was about...A way of identifying the raison d'etre of the whole Christian movement."[15] This is a powerful confirmation of the Abrahamic Faith. Only a few weeks back Sean Finnegan, in typical Abrahamic style, was urging us to be "Kingdom ready."

Just as J.A.T. Robinson of Cambridge was reminding us that "heaven" in the Bible is nowhere the destination of the dying[16], Bishop Wright calls the church away from the all-pervasive language of "heaven" as the destiny of Christians to the exciting language of Kingdom of God. "What shall I do to go to heaven?" sounds strangely unlike Jesus, and should not Christians who claim to share the mind of Christ echo his language - particularly in the matter of the destiny of man and of salvation? Do not many evangelicals in fact deny the Second Coming of Christ when they appear to have him make a U-turn, disappearing once more into the sky? Is that really a Second Coming at all?

Bishop Wright has this to say: "I have become increasingly aware of a mismatch between what the earliest Christians believed about life after death... and what many ordinary Christians seem to believe on the subject today ...and I have come to the conclusion that what we do and say on this subject is increasingly at odds with anything that can be justified from the Bible or the earliest Christian tradition...My fear is that we have been simply drifting into a muddle and a mess putting together bits and pieces of traditions, ideas and practices in the hope that they will make sense. They don't. There may be times when a typical Anglican fudge is a pleasant, chewy sort of a thing, but this isn't one of them. It is time to think and speak clearly and to act decisively." He complains that "sometimes 'resurrection' has even come to be used as a synonym for 'going to heaven,' which is about as misleading as it can be." Wright wants, as we do, to "question this tradition [of 'going to heaven when you die'] which has supplied the mental furniture of millions of Christians...The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century achieved a remarkable coup in abolishing the doctrine of purgatory, but they left much of the traditional picture of heaven and hell unchallenged, and never really explained how either of them fitted into the NT language about resurrection.[17] The Bishop continues: "We should remember especially that the use of the word, 'heaven' to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though hugely emphasized by medieval piety, mystery plays, and the like, and, still almost universal at the popular level, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope. I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up. 'Going to heaven when you die' is not held out in the NT as the main goal...and nothing is said in the NT about the death, or the state thereafter, of the mother of Jesus.[18]

Listen to how Tom Wright underlines the theme which really got this whole denomination going. The call for a return to the Gospel as the Gospel of the Kingdom is clear. Luther's amazing dictum that the synoptic Gospels are relatively unimportant as a source of the Gospel and C.S. Lewis' astonishing claim that "the Gospel is not in the Gospels" come directly, and I think rightly, under the Bishop's fire: "The church's use of the Gospels has given scant attention to what the Gospels themselves are saying about the actual events of Jesus' life and his Kingdom proclamation [Gospel of salvation]... Therefore the church is in effect sitting on but paying no attention to a central part of its own tradition that might, perhaps, revitalize or reform the church significantly were it to be investigated...This must involve understanding what the Gospels are saying about Jesus within the world of first-century Judaism, not within the imagination of subsequent piety (or impiety) ...To content oneself with a non-historical Christ of faith seems to me...demonstrably false to NT Christianity.[19]

Let me finish with a word or two about "spirit" and "word." If you do not own the excellent New International Dictionary ed. by Dr. Brown, I thoroughly recommend it.) You will find it a splendid guide to the words of Scripture. There is a tendency in current popular theology to divorce the terms "spirit" and "word." But are not words and word merely the verbal expression of the spirit and the mind? Job 28:6 seems to make this point beautifully. Job said to his "counselors": "With whose help have you uttered words and whose spirit has come forth from you?" The one sentence defines the other. Proverbs 1:23 reports Lady Wisdom as promising, if we repent, to "pour out my spirit on you and make my words known to you." The RSV actually renders the Hebrew ruach (spirit) as "thoughts." And the NIV says: "I would have poured out my heart to you." Thought, mind, spirit and heart are virtually interchangeable, as when Paul in I Corinthians 2: 16 says, "Who has known the mind (nous) of the Lord?" quoting Isaiah 40: 13 which reads, "Who has directed the spirit (ruach) of the Lord?" David described his own experience by saying that "the spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue" (II Sam 23:2).

Since "word (of God)" in the NT is so often just a synonym for the saving Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 13: 19) could there be any greater loss than a vague comprehension of "word"? It seems to me to be most helpful when Dr. Brown speaks of Jesus mediating the spirit before Pentecost. In other words, Jesus mediated "spirit" by communicating his own Gospel-words. He himself taught that his words "are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Thus a "spirit" Christology and a "word" Christology are very much the same thing. Jesus is the expression of the mind and spirit of God and Jesus conveys that mind/heart/spirit of God through his words. The greatest disaster for theology and preaching would be any loss of the word/Gospel as Jesus preached it. This would immediately lead to a loss of spirit and thus a loss of the presence and power of God. No wonder then Paul described the word/Gospel of the Kingdom which he preached in Thessalonica as "the word of God" which is "energizing you" (I Thess. 2:13). Satan, knowing this, is dedicated to "snatching away the Gospel/word of Jesus from their hearts, so that they will not believe [it] and be saved" (Luke 8:12).

With such an army of informed Kingdom-Gospel preachers as I see gathered here, who knows what may happen if we rattle the cages of "orthodoxy" with our conviction that Jesus is the Messianic Son of God and that the Gospel in the Bible is always about the Kingdom of God and how to enter it when Jesus returns. And who knows what interest we may be able to stir up amongst Jews and Muslims when we announce our belief that God is not two and not three but the One Lord God of the Shema and Jesus' own confession (Mark 12:28ff).

Appendix 1 

More Encouragement from Scholars

From Dr. Willibald Beyschlag's (1823-1900) New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, Eng. trans by Neil Buchanan, T & T Clark, 1899. Professor Beyschlag was an evangelical theologian at Halle in Germany. This is what he wrote in his section on "the Only-Begotten," p. 414.

"The Christological thought of the NT unquestionably reaches its highest point in John; but it is not essentially different from the other doctrinal systems. Although some, blinded by the prologue of John's Gospel, which seems to favor the [later] dogmatic tradition, have sought in John a lofty speculative picture of Christ. This is an error. John's picture of Christ did not originate in theological speculation but in the living impression of the historical personality as that very prologue (v. 14) attests: 'We beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.' And it is still more emphatically established in the introduction to his Epistle: 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; that we declared to you' (I John 1: 1). But this also excludes the notion that the Johannine Christology is akin to that of the great Councils, which start from the Divinity of Christ and from that pass to his humanity. For John the converse is true. The Jesus who made on the evangelist the impression of being the eternal Word made flesh, was at first for him a man (John 8:40), the Master from Nazareth, whose father, mother, brothers and sisters were known to the people and to every disciple (John 1 :45; 6:42; 7:27). 

"And it would be a complete perversion to suppose that this humanity of Jesus was for John something indifferent or even only apparent. Not only does he prefer both in the doctrinal and narrative part, of his book, to call him by his human name Jesus, but we may say that he has made the recognition or denial of the perfect humanity of Jesus the distinguishing point of Christianity and anti-Christianity. The false teachers of the first Epistle like those modern teachers who find in Jesus only the historical embodiment of an idea of the Son of God, which was not truly or perfectly realized in him, represented Jesus only as a temporary embodiment of the heavenly Christ, and thus they taught that the latter had not truly come en sarki, in a true human nature. The original text is not 'come into the flesh,' as Luther inaccurately translated it, but 'come in the flesh.' To John those who deny the perfect humanity of Jesus are antichrists (I John 2:8) and he places in opposition to them, as the fundamental Christian confession, 'the Christ who has come in the flesh' (I John 4:2)...The Johannine Christ acknowledges all human dependence upon God, and this dependence extends to his state of exaltation. As the Risen One he still calls the Father his God (John 20: 17). And it is simply not true, what is so often asserted, that John conceived his Christ as omniscient and omnipotent. Wonderful in its extent as his knowledge and his power in John's picture were, yet he had to ask at the grave of Lazarus, 'Where have you laid him?' and he could declare, ‘I can do nothing of myself.' We cannot say that John represents him as omniscient or omnipotent (John 5:19).

"As in the whole NT, so in John, the loftiness and uniqueness of Christ rest on the basis of his human nature; but to him it is not a relative but an absolute uniqueness. Christ is among the children of men the uniquely begotten, monogenes. First of all this uniqueness is to him a moral one lying in his perfect sinlessness: 'there was no sin in him' (I John 3:5). As Peter does, both in his Epistles and his speeches, John in his Epistle repeatedly accentuates the example of the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. 2: 1: 'Jesus Christ the righteous.' 3:7: 'Everyone who has this hope in him sanctifies himself, just as he is holy - the one practicing righteousness is righteous, just as that one [Jesus] is righteous.'

"That by this not metaphysical and divine, but human attributes are meant, is shown (I John 2:6) by the comparison of Jesus' walk with ours. And in itself it cannot be doubtful from what Jesus says of himself in the Gospel (5:30; 8:29; 15:10). Now this absolute faultlessness rested, in John's view, on this moral uniqueness, as we have shown from the words of Jesus which he reports, that absolute communion with God, which he describes as being 'in the Father', and as a being and dwelling of the Father in him, from which spring the miraculous works of Jesus as well as his words of life and all that makes him the Savior of the world. 'The Father does not leave me alone because I always do the things which are pleasing to Him.' 'The Father who dwells in me, He does the works.' 'The Father loves the Son and shows him all things.' 'I am in the Father and the Father is in me; the words I speak, I do not speak from myself.' 'The Father who sent me has given me a commandment what to say and what to speak.' 'As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted to the Son to have life in himself.' That is the fundamental thought of John's Christology, and on it rest those great utterances about Christ which we have to consider more closely: Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the logos...Jesus is the Father's bosom friend, who, resting on the heart of the eternal Father, can reveal to us His innermost thoughts and feelings" (see p. 419). "In John we have the peculiarly Johannine addition to 'Son of God,' the word 'uniquely begotten,' monogenes. This concept has nothing to do with the Trinitarian 'eternal generation' of the later Church doctrine. It simply transfers the relation of the only child of human parents (Luke 7: 12) to that of the man Jesus to his heavenly Father ...From all this it should not surprise us if the Apostle designates the Only-begotten as theos (God) and he does so by the mouth of Thomas. But it must not be forgotten that the usage of the Old Testament did not refuse this name even to the king (Ps. 45). On the other hand the reading monogenes theos (only-begotten God) in John 1: 18, though well attested, is on internal grounds very improbable immediately after 'No one has ever seen God at any time; And I consider it to be quite impossible to refer the 'this is the true God and eternal life' in I John 5:20 to him who is immediately before named Son, instead of to the Father, who has twice before been designated 'true.' The same Apostle who makes Jesus describe the Father (John 17:3) as the only one who is truly God, could not so directly contradict himself as to assert alongside of 'only one who is truly God' a second 'true God'" (p. 420).

Appendix 2

The Eternal Generation of the Son

The really vulnerable element in the doctrine of the preexisting Son is the concept that he was eternally begotten. It is doubtful if this expression contains any more meaning than hot ice cubes - as many have pointed out.

Nathaniel Emmons of Yale (1745-1850) declared that "'eternal generation' is eternal nonsense." Emmons was a keen logician with a terse and lucid theological style.

In our time Donald McCloed, The Person of Christ (Intervarsity Press 1998), tackles the issue of the "eternal generation" of the Son: "The idea of eternal generation is an inevitable corollary of the eternal sonship and figures prominently in the statements of the Nicene fathers and their successors. But it is far from clear what content, if any, we can impart to the concept. It is revealed, but it is revealed as mystery and the writings of the fathers abound in protestations of inevitable ignorance of the matter. Athanasius says of it:

'Nor again is it right to seek how God begets [Luke I and Matt. I do supply this information] and what is the manner of his begetting. For a man must be beside himself to venture on such points; since a thing ineffable [unspeakable] and proper to God's nature and known to Him alone and the Son, this he demands to be explained in words. It is better in perplexity to be silent and believe than to disbelieve on account of perplexity.'

Gregory of Nazianzen: 'But the manner of the Son's generation we will not admit that even angels can conceive, much less you [Gabriel announced it very clearly in Luke 1:32-35]. Shall I tell you how it was? It was in a manner known to the Father who begat, and to the Son who was begotten. Anything more than this is hidden by a cloud and escapes your dim sight.'

McCleod then comments: "The church insisted that divine generation cannot be understood in terms of human generation. Here again Athanasius sets the tone for subsequent theology: 'As then men create not as God creates, as their being is not such as God's being, so man's generation is in one way, and the Son is from the Father in another...Whereas in human generation a father always exists prior to a son, in divine generation this is not so.' Athanasius writes, 'Nor, as man from man has the Son been begotten, so as to be later than his Father's existence, but is God's offspring, and, as being proper Son of God, who is ever, he exists eternally. For whereas it is proper to men to beget in time, from the imperfection of their nature, God's offspring is eternal, for His nature is ever perfect...'God, Whose nature and existence are above time, may not engender in time'" (John of Damascus).

Thus God is forbidden to act, in time, within His own creation.

McCleod: "To beget does not mean to originate. In human generation, of course, it does, but in divine generation it does not...The Son was not unbegotten, but he was Unoriginate. The Father was both Unoriginate and Unbegotten. This implies, a clear distinction, between being begotten and being originated." Gregory of Nazianzen: 'The Son was unoriginatedly begotten.'

But all this is simply to rewrite the laws of language and meaning and then claim that the Bible authorizes this massive departure from the historical and grammatical method. It was bound to lead to confusion, and, it has. The falsehood of the whole idea was spotted by Adam Clark, the famous Methodist expositor, and many others. Clark felt it necessary to say:

The doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is in my opinion not scriptural and highly dangerous. I have not been able to find any express declaration of it in the Scriptures. [20]

And yet without the "eternal generation" of the Son there is no doctrine of the Trinity.

J.O. Buswell, former Dean of the Graduate School, Covenant College, St, Louis, MO., examined the issue of the begetting of the Son in the Bible and concluded with these words ...He wrote as a Trinitarian.

"The notion that the Son was begotten by the Father in eternity past, not as an event, but as an inexplicable relationship, has been accepted and carried along in the Christian theology since the fourth century...We have examined all the instances in which 'begotten' or 'born' or related words are applied to Christ, and we can say with confidence that the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about 'begetting' as an eternal relationship, between the Father and the Son.[21]

Why does a leading Roman Catholic scholar admit that Luke 1:35 is an embarrassment to orthodox scholars?

"Luke 1:35 has embarrassed many orthodox theologians, since in preexistence [Trinitarian] theology a conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb does not bring about the existence of God's Son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him.[22]

Dr Wardlaw, Discourses on the Socinian Controversy (1815), pp. 352, 353: "I entertain strong doubts about the correctness of the notion, commonly received, of what is called the eternal generation of the Son from the Father... My own conviction is that the title, Son of God, has no reference to the eternal generation in the essence of Deity, but to the supernatural constitution of the mediatorial person of Christ."

Volkelius (Johannes Volkel), Socinian leader (d. 1618), De Vera Religione, lib. v, c. xi, p.470: "As to the fact that it is affirmed that the Son of God was generated from all eternity from the essence of the Father, it will be strongly resolved that such a proposition is both absurd and clearly among those propositions of which no sense can be made. Moreover it cannot be affirmed from the testimony of the sacred writings. For the proposition is self-contradictory. For if the Son is generated - he did not exist from all eternity, but there was a time when he did not yet exist. For every generation, especially a substantial generation, as they call it, and properly so, is a change from non-being to being."

Roell(1653-1718), Of the Generation of the Son, pp. 21, 22, 27: "It is necessary in order to discuss among ourselves ideas about a divine Person and about generation properly speaking that we understand whether it is possible to reconcile that idea of the generation of Deity properly speaking. For it is impossible to conceive, properly speaking, of the generation of a truly Divine Person if we thus overthrow the idea of Deity. If an active begetting is attributed to him who is served, in order that it be voluntary to a purely reasonable' being or at least gifted with reason, an act of begetting is required. From this it is clear that in a generation, properly spoken, the generator is prior to the one generated [so Father precedes the Son!]. And since properly speaking 'to be generated' means to have one's origin from someone else and to have received that essence from another by generation, it is not possible that a Divine Person be generated properly speaking, since the idea of a Divine Person implies necessary existence independent from all other causes. Moreover, since it will never be true of a Divine Person that he was not, it is incompatible with that idea that he is produced, no matter in what sense that word is used. For to be eternal means never not to have existed, to be incapable of nonexistence, and to be truly from oneself and one's own nature. And since, besides, whatever generates produces what he generates from himself, and since he is the cause of that existence, it is necessary for him to preexist the one generated. For how can one who does not exist generate, or how can one who exists be generated?"

"Orthodoxy," beginning with Origen, and followed by the Roman Catholic Church and later by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, denied that "today" in Psalm 2:7 means today:

Primasius (Bishop, 6th century, Commentary on Revelation, based on Tyconius and Augustine) on Hebrews 1:5 (in Westcott): "He does not say 'Before all ages I have begotten you,' nor in past time; but 'today,' he says, 'I have begotten you.' The adverb refers to present time. For in God neither do past things go by nor do future things follow. But to God the whole of time is joined together. And so the meaning is: 'Just as I am eternal and have no beginning and no end, thus I have you [the Son] coeternally with me. "

But if God said "today," can He not mean it?


[1.]The Mystery of Salvation.

[2.] F.F. Bruce was kind enough to respond to a question I asked him about whether the Logos of John was really the Son preexisting. He replied with some uncertainty by speaking of "the Logos who (or which?)..."Bruce went on to say that he doubted if Paul believed in a second preexisting Person, but that John on balance probably did.

[3.] History of Dogma, Vol. 3, English translation by Neil Buchanan, p. 8.

[4.] p. 9.

[5.] p. 9.

[6.] Oxford University Press, 2003, 173.

[7.] Translation of Hengel for this phrase.

[8.] Harnack, p.10

[9.] It is interesting that the Abrahamic community do not support the Socinian understanding of the Atonement. We have always held to the evangelical understanding of substitution, that Jesus died in our place.

[10.] Christology in the Making, 1980, 2nd ed. 1996, pp. 50, 51.

[11.] Ibid., p. 52.

[12.] The Christian Experience of God as Trinity, SCM Press, 1983, p. 51.

[13.] James Mackey, Jesus the Man and the Myth, Paulist Press, 1979, p. 275. Mackey notes what is hardly surprising, that the anti-Trinitarian birth narratives "have not drawn to themselves nearly as much scholarly attention as they deserve" (p. 273).

[14.] Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press, 1996, p. ~172 .

[15.] Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 215.

[16.] In the End God, p. 104.

[17.] For All the Saints, SPCK, 2003, pp. xii, 2, 18.

[18.] Ibid, pp. 20, 23.

[19.] Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, p. 251.

[20.] Commentary on Luke 1:35.

[21.] A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan, 1962, p. 110.

[22.] Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 291

Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors, One God

Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors, One God

By Kenneth Westby

Much of the confusion concerning claims for Christ's preexistence arises: from misunderstanding his exaltation and glorification following his resurrection. Since Christ was in God's plan: from the beginning, some have reread his glorified existence into the eternal past. They fail to see that the greatest work of God in all eter­nity was to bring a man, his begotten son, into this world, and after his sacrificial death to resurrect him to heavenly power and glory over all creation. The birth of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven took place in real-time human history before the eyes of thousands. His ascension to his God and Fa1her is what energized the beginning of the Church of God and made plain The Way to the Kingdom of God. This seminal event in God's Grand Plan is described by David, Daniel, Paul and Jesus and is illustrated by examining the claims of the title above.

Introduction

Scholars can agree that not a scrap of the New Testament was written prior to the resurrection of Jesus. Notes may have been taken and some speculate that a book of "The Sayings of Jesus" may have begun to be assembled from which the Gospel writers later would reference. But no Gospels, no epistles, and no Apocalypse were penned until decades after Jesus was taken up into the clouds. This fact is not debated.

This point can be important when confronting the very few scriptures in the NT that seem to reference the preexistence of a glorified Christ. These scriptures are misunderstood, leading some to erroneously conclude that in order for Christ to have lived in the eternal past, he must have been a God.

Then the conclusion follows that he was the God of the Old Testament. Yet, this speculation gives us two Gods (or three if one regards the Holy Spirit as another God in the "Godhead"), and seems to:

1) Fly in the face of the hundreds of clear biblical expressions of one supreme God, admitting no others beside him. The application to Christ of the title (theos) is exceedingly rare, fewer than seven out of 1,315 NT uses of theos, and most of those are hotly disputed among scholars or are simply a question of interpretation within context;

2) Render the historical biblical accounts of the genesis of Christ-being born of a young virgin, etc.—impossible to take at face value. The birth account must be reinterpreted, with difficulty, to be the morphing of a preexistent God, now called Jesus, into a man for 33 years before going back to his previous role and duties in heaven. We are to believe that the eternal, self-existing God of the OT died. We are asked to believe that Jesus was a man like us who struggled and was tempted, yet was also God. We are asked to mirror the life and follow the footsteps of, not the Son of Man/Son of God, but of a God in man's skin.

When our NT authors wrote of Jesus they always had in view the risen, glorified Christ. How could they avoid that reality? Jesus was alive and had been exalted to Lord of the Universe under his Father. The Gospel writers did their best to be historians as they recounted the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. But even they on occasion (especially John) let the present reality of Christ's exalted position enter the telling of their history.

Paul, however, was not writing history. He said he no longer viewed Christ after the flesh (2 Cor 5: 16) as most everyone did prior to the resurrection. He was continually mindful of who Jesus was at that moment and who he is for all eternity. He and the other apostles gradually wrapped their minds around the fact of Christ's greatness. He was more than the Anointed One and David's seed, he was now the Lord of Glory, the King of the Kingdom of God, and seated at Yahweh's right hand in heaven.

What an emotional and intellectual upheaval the men and women who actually knew Christ must have experienced! They talked to, laughed with, walked with, and ate with the One who is now the Judge of the earth. It must have been both difficult and exhilarating to realize they had witnessed the zenith of all of God's great works, the magnalia dei—right before their eyes. They had seen the fullest expression of God's love for the human family (In 3:16).

As time went by, the apostles rethought the OT prophecies that spoke of Christ and saw that he was at the center of the Father's plan before the world was created. They now perceived that God had planned to have a son and make him ruler of all. The plan of God was coming clearly into focus, and the resurrection and ascension of Christ were the key to unlocking their new understanding. They understood that when God plans something it is already reality and that it must and will happen. This is why God can speak of those things that are not yet as though they have already happened (Rom 4: 17). The many God-given prophetic dreams and visions of future events are examples of this reality.

Paul, more than the other NT apostles, wrote of Jesus' position at the center of the Father's heart and purposes from the very beginning. Paul's projecting backward of the glorified Son's presence in the Father's plan should not be seen as some mystical preexistence doctrine he was obliquely introducing. As we shall see from a few examples, Paul is dedicated to explaining just how great the Christ event was and how superlatively great Christ now is.

This is the reason the resurrection of Christ dominated the preaching of the early church. It and Christ's ascension to heaven launched the Church and began what scholars call "The Jesus Movement."

Those who lived when Jesus walked the earth never considered him to be God. Only gradually did his disciples grasp that he was the promised Messiah. Even that realization did not require they see him as a God. In Jewish theology the Messiah was never considered God, but a special one anointed and sent by God. But after God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him, these witnesses of the historical Jesus now saw him in a brilliant new light.

They now saw him as Lord and that they must obey him as they would God himself They realized that he personifies God's Word, speaks for God, and rules all creation from his throne next to God's in heaven. It was the work of God that made Christ so powerful and glorified. It was his place next to the Father that demands every knee shall bow.

Is it any wonder why we see NT writers, on occasion, project Christ's present heavenly position back to original creation, to his place in God's design before there was a creation? They make no attempt to overthrow biblical monotheism by such references. They carefully and continually make distinctions between God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. They never contradict Christ's claim that the Father is God and is greater than he is. This they knew. And the NT writers never contradict the OT by calling Jesus God.

It is a mistake to read his exalted position—given by God at a specific time (though predicted and planned from the beginning)—back into the ages before he was born to Mary. Had the church fathers stuck to Paul, the apostles, and the understanding of the early Jewish believers, instead of trying to understand the glorified Christ by Greek philosophy and religious notions, we wouldn't have a Trinity doctrine today.

Had the theologians of the 2nd to the 4th century not strayed from monotheism, they could have taken the story of Jesus at face value as written without having to find a mystical, extra-biblical, explanation for Christ's glory and power.

The answer to Christ's greatness is not to be found in a preexistence story. The simple truth is, and the biblical record states that, God glorified His Son, God put him on a throne next to his own, God made him Lord, and God accepted his sacrifice as mankind's savior.

We shall now focus on the truth of  Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors. . .and One God.  

Two Thrones

There exists a strong connection between three Messianic passages from Scripture—a connection that can shed light on who Jesus was and is, and how he become Lord. This connection will also clarify Paul's comments in Philippians 2:5-11 concerning Christ's attitude of humility, which is commonly understood to be His giving up of His preexistent God-ness to become a mere man. More on this later.

Text #1: Daniel 7:9-14

"As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; then thousand times ten thousand stood before him . . .

". . .In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like the son of man, coming in the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" ( NIV -used throughout).

In the NT's most frequently quoted passage from Daniel, a God-given vision describes that greatest event in all history, which we referred to in our introduction. Scholars recognize this passage as one of the most powerful and specific Messianic predictions in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus himself regarded Daniel 7: 13 as predictive of himself and that the two elements "like a son of man" and "with the clouds of heaven" combined to constitute a Messianic title.

Daniel wrote down this vision hundreds of years before Jesus was born, and it is presented here in the context of the climax of man's earthly rule. It is the story of the Fifth Kingdom that follows the four failed empires with their iterations—with special focus on the fourth kingdom with its boastful beast. The vision describes who the ruler of that final and forever kingdom will be and how he received that honor. It graphically pictures the great coronation event that we refer to as Christ's ascension and glorification.

First notice the setting, "Thrones (Plural) were set in place. . ." The rest of the scene tells us there are two thrones—the second one being reserved for the Son of Man soon to enter God's presence. As is common with apocalyptic literature, events over time are conflated and various scenes appear and disappear. The first scene is God on His throne. Then (vs. 11) we are moved back to the scene of the disturbing and terrifying fourth beast introduced in vs. 7. God deals with this boastful little horn (Antichrist?). Then the scene quickly returns to the Ancient of Days being approached by one called the Son of Man.

We are now given insight into just who is going to be the new king to replace this parade of failed leaders and kingdoms. When this Son of Man comes through the clouds into the presence of God he is "given" authority, glory, power, dominion, a kingdom and made worthy of worship. This Son of Man title is the one Christ commonly applied to himself.

Following His resurrection, Christ was spotted by Mary (not His mother), who thought he was a gardener. When she recognized him as her "Rabbi" she wanted to embrace him, but Jesus said don't hold on to me for I have not ascended to my Father (In 20:17). Later, after His ascension he makes the remarkable pronouncement to His disciples that "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" (Mt 28: 16). The Ancient of Days has given Jesus His throne in heaven as pictured in the vision to Daniel. There are now two thrones in heaven—with Christ seated at His Father's right hand.

Two Lords

Near the close of his ministry, Christ challenged the Pharisees to identify the Messiah. "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They answered, "The son of David"

Jesus then asked them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" (Mt 22:4-46)

Text #2: Psalm 110:1

Jesus' quote of Psalm 110, in the context of his questions, left His adversaries speechless. Jesus wasn't playing games to flummox Pharisees, he was making a point central to His identity. This Psalm of David that Jesus quoted is the most quoted Psalm in the NT for the simple reason that it clearly describes the Messiah in terms of "Lord." Jesus declared that David spoke these profound, prescient words "by the Spirit."

Clearly, there are two different Lords in view. One is Yahweh, the first LORD (Heb adonai) who says to David's Lord (Heb adoni), the Messiah, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." David's "Lord" must be a greater authority than David, King of Israel, else David would not honor him as his Lord. This "Lord" of David would be asked to sit at Yahweh's right hand. Here again is the scene of Daniel's vision, this time given hundreds of years in advance of Daniel's birth.

This event, Christ's installation at the Father's right hand, is the seminal event of history. It represents Christ's coronation as King of Kings. This is what occurred at Christ's ascension, and because of it all mankind has a Savior, "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus' exaltation to His own throne and being given the title "Lord" is the fulfillment of his Father's plan conceived from the foundation of the world.

Jesus' title of Lord is not a title meaning he is God. It is a title given him by God, one that confers to him Lordship over all creation. He of course derives this Lordship from His Lord God. Both the glorified Christ and the Father can be correctly referred to as "Lord": Lord God, the Father, and Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the title Lord (Gk. Kyrios) interchangeably in his letters, sometimes referring to the One God, other times referring to Christ. David acknowledged two Lords, so did Paul. One is God, the other is the Christ. (See Rom 4:8; 9:28-29; 10: 16; 11 :3, 34; 1 Cor 3:20; 10:26 for samples of Paul using Kyrios in reference to Yahweh.) Paul is always careful to make distinctions between the two Lords and never asserts that Jesus is God.

Paul writes that there "is but one God, the Father. . .and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ. . . " (1 Cor 8:6). He also confesses his prayer to the Ephesians in these words, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph 1 :7).

Paul immediately recounts that seminal event David described, Daniel saw in vision, and Christ himself predicted:

"His incomparable great power for us who believe. . .his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph 1: 19-23).

Two Lords, One God, Two Saviors

We have seen that the title Lord that can be applied to either God or Christ, since each is a Lord to us. Likewise, the title Savior is one that Father and Son share. Paul expresses the saving action of both God and Christ in 1 Tim 2:2 ,

"This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time."

Clearly, the Father is the Savior of all mankind and is called Savior throughout the OT and NT-five times in Paul's Pastorals. But, as Paul testifies, it is Jesus' self-sacrifice and the Father's acceptance of His sacrifice that entitles Jesus to also be called Savior. In the same paragraph Paul can speak of:

"God who has saved us. . ." and of the grace "revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim 1 :9-10). Peter segregates "God" from "Jesus," in his Second General Epistle's opening greetings: "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (vs. 2). In verse 1 he mentions both "God" and the "Savior Jesus Christ." In Jude's concluding doxology he writes:

"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" (Jude 24-25).

This apostle, believed to be a brother of Jesus, acknowledges that God saves through the life and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Jesus was made a Savior by his Father, just as he was made Lord over all. It was his life that became a sweet savor to God. It is his blood that the Father honors. The birth, life, death and resurrection to glory of God's Son is the greatest display of the Father's love and of the Son's love for us.

The Christ event is so central to God's eternal plan that John's heavenly vision speaks of Jesus as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8). He wasn't actually slain then, as he wasn't actually invited to God's throne in the days of David or Daniel, but it was promised to happen—and God's promises never fail. Speaking of David, Paul states:

"From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus as he promised."

God the Savior made good his promise by providing salvation through his Son, the Savior Jesus. Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors....

One God

Text #3: Philippians 2:1-11

We now make full circle and come to the "difficu1f passage in Philippians the second chapter. The context is Paul's homily for humility: "look not on your own interests, but also to the interests of others"

(vs. 4). To add authority and clarity to his exhortation, he references the attitude of Christ.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

"Who 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. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even the death on a cross!

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (vs. 5-11).

This rich passage incorporates both the man Jesus and the resurrected and glorified Christ. It honors the Father when we honor his son as Lord and Savior. While some translations are clearer than others, what is obvious is Paul's presentation of both Christ's pre-exaltation life and his post-exa1tation glory. Paul does not call Jesus God. In fact, Paul tells us it is God who exalted Jesus. And if Jesus refused to "grasp as being equal with God, plainly he is someone different from God.

Being in nature like God, or in God's image as some translations render morphe theou. is a clear reference to the words of God in Gen 1 where man (Adam) was made in God's image (likeness). Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that Christ comes in the role of the Second Adam (1 Cor 15:45)—not bringing sin into the world, but ridding the world of sin and its curse. As Second Adam, Christ is the true and spiritual image or form of Almighty God.

In typical Jewish teaching style, Paul continues the comparison to the Adam allusion by stating the contrast in their attitudes. Adam (and Eve), at the serpent's urging, took action to "be like God" (equal to God) by getting the knowledge of good and evil. Adam wanted to grasp at that forbidden fruit. There was another fruit God wanted him to seek and grasp at located at the center of Eden—The Tree of Life. Adam couldn't wait for God's plan to unfold He wasn't content to wait for his fatherly Maker to exalt him. He committed the first sin and set the wrong pattern for mankind to follow. He was impatient and selfish—just what Paul was advising the Philippians not to be.

Christ, however, did not rebel at his limitations and human flesh. He accepted God's gift of life and grew up to perfectly mirror the very nature and spiritual character of his Father. Sometime early in his life, he came to comprehend his calling and discover himself in the Hebrew Scriptures. At age 12 he could tell his parents, "Don't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" meaning the Temple. He pored over the prophecies, considered the miracles surrounding his birth, and as Luke writes, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk2:52).

We are not told when he came to fully understood that he was the only begotten son of Yahweh. Probably at an early age, long before he began his ministry at age 30. At that time he would have known that David's Lord of Psalm 110 was he. He would have known that Daniel's vision pictures him being given a throne of power and authority over all creation. He knew that the angels were subject to him. He knew that he could ask anything of the Father and it would be his. Yet there was no selfishness in him.

Jesus suppressed his fleshly pulls to yield to God's greater will. Even when facing the horrors of a torturous death and not wanting to go through with it, he humbled himself and said "not my will but yours be done." When confronted by the arrogant military powers of Rome, he acknowledged he could call down armies of heavenly angelic warriors and prevent a hand being laid on him. But he didn't call. He didn't grasp to be exalted. He waited faithfully and patiently for his Father's time. He did not claim his rights and honors before the time. He humbled himself as a servant, as a Iamb to the slaughter.

Jesus lived the principle he taught his disciples (and teaches us): "For everyone who exalts himself (like Adam did) will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 14:11; 18:14).

This is the meaning of Philippians 2:1-11. Humility to God's will, "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God" is "what the Lord requires of you" (Micah 6:8). This is the example Christ set for us. Did God exalt him? Did he rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and receive a throne of glory? Yes, all that and more.

Scholars believe verses 6-11 form an early Christian hymn that Paul used to illustrate Christ's example of humility and exaltation by God. Many creedal statements were put into hymns and sung by believers in the early church.

Jesus served, worshipped, imitated and prayed to the "One True God." He was faithful to his calling and he calls us to be true to ours. He who is now enthroned beside God in heaven, as Lord and Savior, invites us to follow him into his Father's Kingdom.

Conclusion

Christ's life, death, resurrection and exaltation to heaven brought the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world with unparalleled power. God had revealed through his mighty works that there are now Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors—but only One God and Father of all. NT writers realized Jesus fulfilled Daniel's vision in their lifetime. It was almost beyond belief that the man they knew, loved and followed had become the Lord of Glory. And to realize this was the Father's plan from the beginning served to roll back the darkness and give them the full and magnificent picture of God's Grand Plan. Is it any wonder that they from time to time discuss Jesus as being eternal in God's plan?

Just imagine the disciples' reaction to that scene of the Jesus they knew being brought into the fiery presence of the Ancient of Days. It was forever itself burned into their minds.

As righteous Steven was being executed by a spiritually blinded Saul (Paul), God graciously gave him a vision into heaven—to behold the sight above all sights—the scene Daniel saw. Steven exclaimed:

"Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56)

©2003 Association for Christian Development P.O. Box 4748, Federal Way, WA 98063

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