Revelation 1:8, Alpha and Omega

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (NKJV)

“Red-letter editions” of the Bible have these words in red, indicating that they were spoken by the Lord Jesus.  While I do agree that the Lord spoke these words, John didn’t have two colors of pen when he was writing.  The idea of highlighting our Lord’s words in red was originally a marketing tool, developed by one company to distinguish its editions of the Bible from its competitors’ editions.

This verse is a very bold statement by our Lord, especially if He is nothing more than the religious figure many seem to believe Him to be.  He is no longer that One who walked along the dusty roads of Israel, for the most part ignored except for what He could provide in the way of food or healing for His audience, cf. John 6:26.

These are the words of deity, echoing what the LORD said in Isaiah 41:4, “I, the LORD, am the first; and with the last I am He.”  Or Isaiah 44:6, “I am the First and the Last….”  Many times, the New Testament takes OT verses which refer to the Father and refers them to the Son.  Our Lord Himself did this in Revelation 1:4.

Another example is found in Hebrews 1:10, where the writer quotes Psalm 102:25-27, “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,” and, taking this reference to Jehovah, applies it to the Son, v. 8.  Some have taken verses like this and used them to teach that Jesus is the only God there is.  Others have seen the difficulty in this and try to teach that Jesus is only “a” god.  The problem with that is, well, then, how many “gods” are there?  Either view denies any idea of a “Trinity.”

Without wanting to get too deeply into the discussion, the only illustration I’ve ever found that does justice to the idea of a “Trinity” in the Godhead is found in a cube.  A cube consists of height, length and width, all the same measurement.  But the height isn’t the length or width, the length isn’t the height or width, and the width isn’t the height or length.  But the cube at one and the same time consists of height, length and width.  If you take away any one of these things, you no longer have a cube.

Likewise, the Godhead consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit, the Son isn’t the Father of the Spirit, and the Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.  If you take away any one of these, you no longer have “God.”

Our Lord also calls Himself, “the Almighty.”  There are those who will knock on your door and tell you that Jesus is only ever called “Mighty God.”  He’s never referred to as “Almighty.”  Leaving aside the problem of “how many gods are there?”, Jesus refers to Himself as “Almighty.”   

We live in troubling times.  But can’t we trust Him who is “First” and “Last” and “the Beginning and the End” to be everything in between?

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March Memories: The Third Genealogy.

[As we continue in our March Memories post reprints, I’ve become impressed with the necessity of emphasizing the unique person of the Lord Jesus.  Islam is resurging, and it views Jesus as just another prophet, important though He may be in their view of things, but nevertheless much inferior to their own prophet.  Certainly not God, nor did He die on the Cross.  And much of professing Christendom denies His deity and His redemption.]

Most people know of the genealogies of Matthew and Luke.  Matthew’s genealogy is condensed and intended to connect Jesus with the great covenants of the Old Testament:  the Abrahamic and the Davidic.  Matthew’s is the genealogy of Joseph.  His is the genealogy of Christ’s royalty, though both genealogies trace Jesus back to King David.  Luke’s genealogy is longer, some 75 generations, and goes through a different son of David all the way back to Adam.  This is Mary’s genealogy.

That’s two.  Where’s the third one?  I really hadn’t thought about it quite like this until recently, like this morning.  Perhaps in the strictest sense, it isn’t a genealogy, and yet it is.  It’s contained in two verses, though a few other verses add some explanation.  Here it is – you’ll recognize it immediately”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, John 1:1, 14.

This is the genealogy, if you will, of Christ’s deity.  In a few words, simple words in the Greek original, words so simple that beginning Greek students translate them in their first attempts at translation, – in a few words, John expresses truths that 2000 years of Church history haven’t begun to understand.

“Now, wait a minute!”  Someone who might knock at your door will say, “That’s not what John meant at all.  There’s no “the” in front of God in the Greek, so John was saying that Jesus was ‘a’ God.”  They also teach that the “beginning” John wrote about was when God created the Word, or Jesus.  He was the beginning, and then He created all the rest.  They might take you over to Proverbs, where the writer personifies wisdom and describes its role in creation.  “That,” they will say, “is Jesus.”  They might even tell you that He is really Michael, the archangel, brother of Lucifer.

Is that all John meant in these verses?  That Jesus was the first thing created by God, and He created everything else?  That He isn’t “God” at all, just “a god”?

It’s true that John didn’t write, “the Word was the God.”   There’s no article – no “the” – in front of God.  In the Greek language, there is no indefinite article – “a”, “an” – either.  As Martin Luther pointed out centuries ago, and someone probably pointed it out centuries before he did, John couldn’t have written, “The Word was the God,” because then he would have been saying that the Word and the Father were the same, and the Oneness folks, who deny the Trinity, would be right.  If John says one thing, it’s that the Word and the Father are distinct from each other.  They aren’t just different “manifestations” of the One God.

There’s another difficulty with the idea that Jesus is only “a” god.  What kind of “god” is He?  How many “gods” are there, or is He the only one?

They answer that by saying that Jesus was an angel, and in the OT, angels are called sons of God, Job 1:6.  He is, therefore, rightly called son of God.  It’s true that angels are called “sons of God.”  Does this, then, put them and Jesus in the same class?

The writer to the Hebrews anticipated this idea.  In 1:5 (NKJV), he wrote, …to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You?’  The expected answer is, “There are no angels to whom that was said.”  Not as a Jehovah’s Witness once told me, “Jesus is that angel,” and then quoted this verse to me.  He completely missed the point of the verse.  That is not what the writer was saying.  The Father was not speaking to ANY angel in that verse!

In fact, after discussing what the Father did not say to the Son, Hebrews goes on in v. 8 with what He did say, But to the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  The New World Translation (NWT), the JW Bible, has it, “God is your throne forever and ever.”

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t even make sense.  Not to be irreverent or anything, but do they believe that Jesus is sitting on God’s lap?  The Greek text reads, “The throne of You, the God, into the ages of the ages.”  Note the presence of the article with God in this verse:  “the God”.  The contrast between Jesus and angels couldn’t be clearer.  In fact, in v. 6, Hebrews says, Let all the angels of God worship Him.  Even older versions of the NWT say that – I have a copy.  Granted, in newer editions, it’s changed to “Let all the angels of God do obeisance to Him,” but even then, it translates the Gk. word as “worship” when it doesn’t refer to Jesus.

How can two beings both be “God,” in view of all the Scriptures which tell us there is only “one God”?  There are a lot of illustrations of the Trinity, which is what this is really all about.  A cube is the best one I know.

A cube has length, width and height, all at the same time, but it’s not three cubes.  It’s just one cube.  The length isn’t the width or the height, the width isn’t the length or the height, and the height isn’t the length or the width.  And the cube doesn’t “manifest” itself as height one day, width another day, and length yet another day, as some try to teach that the One God manifests Himself differently at different times.

The cube has three measurements, but they all coexist in the one cube at the same time.  Like His creation, God is, if you will, three-dimensional:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit.  The Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.  The Son isn’t the Father or the Spirit.  Three different Persons, for lack of a better word, all different, but all coexisting together as the One God.

The Word was God.

One final thought on this.  Some folks say that Jesus never claimed to be God.  Funny, but the people who heard Him say in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” understood that was exactly what He was claiming.  That’s why they tried to kill Him.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…, John 1:14.

This is the reason for the other two genealogies.  The story of Jesus doesn’t start, “Once upon a time….”  It’s rooted in and grounded firmly on the history of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament.  I know there are those who deny that He ever existed, but after all the attempts over 2000 years to get rid of Him, and He’s still here – must be something “real” about Him.

Notice John’s comparison.  The Word was God – the Word became flesh.  Nowhere does John or the Bible say that the Word “became,” that is, that it came into existence, or that it became God.  In other words, there has never been a time, if we can refer to eternity like that, when the Word did not exist, or that it was not God. There was a time, however, when the Word became flesh.  Matthew and Luke gives us a glimpse of that time.

The Word became flesh.

Four words.

The Word became flesh.  Four words.  Describing an event which has no parallel in human history.  Psalm 113:5, 6, says, Who is like the LORD our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?

The Lord God “humbles” Himself even to look at this speck of dirt off to one side of His creation.  What must it have been like for the Lord Jesus to live on it?  We think we know so much, with our “Doctors of Theology,” our books, our “mega-churches,” etc. [and I’m not opposed to education or books or church], but I don’t think we understand even as much about our Lord’s “humiliation,” to use the theological term, as a newborn understands about its mother’s agony in bringing it to birth.  How can we?

It’s not for nothing that Paul refers to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 8:9, where he continues, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor….  The Lord didn’t come to this world to be feted in Rome, or to live in a place like the White House or Buckingham Palace, although those places would be mere shacks compared to what He was used to.  He came to live a relatively minor, troublesome, province of Rome.  Except for one incident, He was unknown for nearly thirty years, and in the last three, “fame” was fleeing, and hostility and opposition were lasting and increasing.  Even though He rose from the dead, as far as the world is concerned, He might as well still be dead.  Indeed, much of the world thinks that He still is.  Even if people class Him with the religious leaders of this world, they are more likely to live by their teachings than His.

So, you see, the third genealogy gives us a more complete idea of Who Jesus of Nazareth really was.

And is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,…  And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us….
_______________

(Originally published March 12, 2013.)  edited.

“The Kindness of God.” Part 9: “…they shall never perish.”

V.  The Certainty of Grace.

In this post, we’ve arrived at a another hotly-contested doctrine;  eternal security.  it’s known by various other names:  “once saved, always saved” (OSAS), “the preservation of the saints,” “the perseverance of the saints.”  Some who hold this last view believe that the saints will persevere.  Others who hold this view do not believe in eternal security, but  believe that the saints must persevere, and that a saint can be lost and saved…again, …and again, …and again….  There is a lot of confusion about this doctrine, and both sides look to the Scriptures to verify their beliefs.

So, are the saints “preserved,” or do they have to “persevere”?  What does the Scripture say?

In this post, we’ll look at some verses which teach saints can never be lost.

1.  John 10:22-31, Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.  Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do you keep us in doubt?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I told you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

This records our Lord’s own words.  Every facet of the doctrine is touched on in this excerpt from His teaching.  Note carefully what Jesus said about His audience, His sheep, His Father and Himself, and His Father.

a.  His audience, vs. 25, 26.

He goes straight to the root of the problem:  the Jews in His audience refused to listen to Him because they were not His sheep.  He had already said this to others who were questioning Him: “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God,” John 8:47.  Cf. 8:39, 43.  Scripture plainly teaches that there are some who are “sheep,” and there are some who are not.

b.  His sheep, vs. 27-29.

1).  they hear, in contrast to those to whom the Lord was talking.
2).  He knows them, not just “about” them.  Remember the duet mentioned earlier, how Jesus died for us without knowing our names.  To the contrary, Jesus said He knows His sheep, all of them, each one of them.  They are His and He knows them individually and personally.
c).  they follow Him, “for they know His voice, yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers,” John 10:3, 4.  I was out with a group of young people one evening.  We had built a bonfire.  Some distance away, there was a group of young men, pretty much under the influence and acting like it.  In the darkness, one of them looked remarkably like one of the young men in our group.  Someone remarked on this, but his fiancee immediately replied that she didn’t have any trouble telling them apart!
She had spent a lot of time with him.  She knew him!  Ah, what a lesson there is for us.  There are many voices in the darkness of this world talking about Jesus.  How well do we distinguish between the false and the true?  Do we know Him?   His sheep follow HIM, not just some preacher or “personality”.

c.  Himself, v. 28.

1).  “I give them eternal life.”  There is some discussion about the significance of the word, “eternal.”  Some believe that, well, yes, the life is eternal, but its possession can be lost.  Our Lord refutes this in His next statement.
2).  “They shall never perish.”  How could He have said it any more clearly?  Yet He continues:
3).  “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Some have said to me, “Yes, but they can jump” (!)  This would merely show that the one “jumping” wasn’t a sheep, after all.  The verbs in vs. 27, 28 are present tense:  hearing, knowing, following, giving.  Salvation isn’t something that happened to us 30 years ago, and then nothing since.  Salvation, though indeed coming to us at a point in time, is a present reality.  It wasn’t just something which happened to us then; it is happening to us now.  But the Lord continues.

d.  The Father, v. 29.

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  We are pointed back to eternity, where the Father chose us and gave us to Christ to redeem.  I can’t think of a stronger way for the Lord to have put it than the statement that His sheep will never perish, either by their own hand, by the hand of others, or by the hand of the Father.  But He’s not done!

e.  The Father and Himself, v. 30.

“I and the Father are one,” that is, they are one in purpose and will.  It has nothing to do with the Son supposedly saying that He is really the Father, as some take it.  No. No.  He’s saying that He and the Father are united in their determination to save the sheep!  Indeed, Jesus pictured this unity when He prayed that “they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…,” John 17:21.
There are depths here into which no mere mortal can venture, but what the Lord is saying in effect is that only if the Trinity can be separated may one of the sheep be separated from Christ’s flock and be lost.  And His sheep don’t switch back and forth between being sheep and being goats!

2.  Romans 8:28-30, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified.

We’ve already looked at length at the idea that God merely chose those whom He foresaw would choose Him.  In these verses in Romans, Paul wrote of the completeness of the divine will.  It began with our election in eternity past, Ephesians 1:4.  It will end with our glorification, which is yet future.  John put it like this, Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.
This “golden chain of redemption” stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  No link is weak.  No link will be missing.  No link can be broken.  Those foreknown by means of the purpose and predestination of God will be called, justified and glorified.
According to our text above, we are yet to be, and will be, conformed to the image of His Son.  “Not yet…but shall be.”

3.  Ephesians 1:13, 14, In Him [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

In these posts, we’ve seen the divine unity and participation in the work of salvation.  It began in eternity past with the Father’s choosing sinners to be saved (again, who would otherwise be lost). It continued with the Son at Calvary, redeeming those chosen by the Father and given to the Son before the events of Genesis 1.  It continues with the Holy Spirit regenerating and calling these elect and redeemed sinners to repentance and faith, and “sealing” them until the entire process is complete.  The Holy Spirit “guarantees” our ultimate possession of our “inheritance.”  The KJV has it that the Spirit is the earnest, the “down payment” of our inheritance.  We don’t have it all now, by any means.  And we won’t get it all in this life, either.  The work has begun, to be sure, but it will take the ages to come, Ephesians 2:7, to show us the riches of that inheritance.

4.  Ephesians 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Philippians 1:6, Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:13, For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24, Now may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He Who calls you is faithful, Who will also do it.

These five verses all talk about the workmanship and faithfulness of God.  Most Christians believe that they are only partly God’s workmanship – they must still do “their” part.  Perhaps you’re tired of the emphasis on this, but there are multitudes who, week after week, and month after month, and year after year, sit under ministries where that very thing is taught –

“God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

“God has no hands but our hands.”

“God had plan A for Adam, but when Adam fell, He had to go to plan B.”

“Oops!”

If yours is a “plan B” God, read the verses above again.  “Oops” isn’t in His vocabulary.  His pencils have no erasers.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond “B”.  Although I suppose in this computer age, where things are “updated” every few minutes, it would be “Plan A.712” or something.  Same thing.  God trying to scratch and scramble to stay ahead of His wayward creation.  I can hardly write such blasphemy.  Certainly don’t believe it!

Even though the verses above are in the order of their NT appearance, they could almost be read as two sentences, with the first three together as one.  Try it.  Believers are God’s creation and workmanship.  Paul was certain that what God had begun, He would finish.

To those who are always saying, “Yes, but what about MY will?” there is Philippians 2:13:  God works, “is operative” in us, BOTH TO WILL and TO DO of His good pleasure (emphasis added).  I know that many find that impossible to believe, that God would, or even could, work like that, but that was why Paul was confident:  God is at work, He gets the job done, and He is faithful.

5.  John 3:14-17,  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

To this point, we’ve emphasized what might be called the divine side of salvation, that is, the purpose and work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  But we can’t stop there.  God doesn’t need to be “saved,” we do.  So, what does all this mean to us, in the practical, everyday world in which we live?

John 3 is the classic teaching on this subject, although the rest of the NT says much more about the practical results and evidence of salvation.  The verses we quoted above show the certainty and result of “faith:” eternal life to whoever believes in Him.  This astounded Nicodemus, but it’s wonderful news to us.  There are no barriers, no hindrances, to our being saved that we don’t put up ourselves.  There’s nothing in Scripture to prevent the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  Paul said that of himself.

Don’t be led astray by the words, “should,” and “might.”  They don’t express uncertainty, that is, that the believer should be saved, but might not be, after all.  Or that he should not perish, but that he might, anyway.  No, no, these words express purpose, God’s purpose, that those who believe will not perish, but will have eternal life.  (Once again, I wish WordPress supported underlining words.)

Because of our fallen condition, as well as our finite understanding, it’s sometimes difficult for us to have a complete view of Scriptural teaching.  On the one hand, some concentrate on those verses which speak of our believing, and so they emphasize “free will,” sometimes to the extent of denying or at least minimizing verses like Philippians 2:13.  Some even go so far as to assert that God can’t work in us at all without our permission and cooperation.

On the other hand, some so emphasize sovereignty that they minimize or in effect deny those verses requiring us to believe.  We’ve referred elsewhere to the brother who would only say, “I was caused to believe.”  A more Biblical statement would have been, “I was enabled to believe.”  Even that, though, is capable of being viewed as saying more than it really does.

God does not believe for us.  We must believe, as surely as we must live, though that life must come from and be sustained by God.  God doesn’t live for us.  In the same way, although faith comes from God, it isn’t exercised for us by God.  It isn’t enough simply to have the Savior “revealed” to us, though that is absolutely necessary.  Having thus “seen” Him, we must also “receive” Him, John 1:11, 12.  We believe, and we are saved, as John 3 tells us.

6.  John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him.”

There are several things in this verse.  The believer has everlasting life.  John doesn’t say that he receives life, though that is the common teaching.  He has life.  Faith is an evidence of spiritual life, not it’s entrance.  There are only two spiritual conditions:  life or under the wrath of God.  There is no third, “neutral,” condition.  If there is no faith, there is no life.  There is only the judgment and wrath of God.  We are by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3.  Only in and through the Lord Jesus is there deliverance from sin, which is the cause of God’s wrath on us.  However, in Christ, that life is eternal, not temporary or sporadic.  Not “here today and gone tomorrow.”  It is life…eternal.

Questions

1.  What are the two viewpoints on this doctrine?

2.  What are the five things Jesus says in John 10:22-31?

3.  What assurance do we have that the “foreknown” will be glorified?

4.  What “part” does each member of the Trinity play in our salvation?

5.  Whose work is our salvation?

6.  Is “the work of God” all that is necessary to our salvation?

7.  What part does faith play in our salvation?

8.  Where does faith come from?

9.  Do we actually believe, or is it somehow just “the work of God” in us?

10. Is saving faith passive?

11. What is true of those without faith?

“The Kindness of God.” Part 8: “…those who are called.”

IV. Called by Grace.

So far, we’ve looked at the role of the Father in planning salvation; we’ve looked at the Son and His securing of it.  In this post, we want to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in one aspect of our salvation, namely, our entering into it.

There are whole movements which focus entirely on the Spirit, but our Lord said that the Spirit’s work isn’t to emphasize the Spirit or to give believers something to be proud of because they have a particular gift.  It’s to emphasize and glorify the Lord Jesus, John 16:4, and it’s emphatic, “Me [the Lord Jesus], He shall glorify….”  

There are some who focus almost entirely on the work of the Father.  Every message must be about or at least include a reference to the sovereignty of God.  Even in the midst of appeals for people to believe on Christ, they will have to insert, “if you’re one of the elect, you will be saved.”  I’ve had this happen.  That may be doctrinally true, but no lost person in Scripture was ever told that.  Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus that he had to be one of the elect.

Without doubt, the Father and the Spirit are important to our salvation.  Indeed, they are essential to it!  Without them, there would be no salvation!  However, the focus of our faith is to be on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus:  Who He was and what He did.  The Philippian jailer was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

We’re told the same thing.

At the same time, we’ll never do that without the work of the Spirit.  There are more than 75 references to “calling” in Scripture.  Not all of these, of course, refer to the Spirit, but verses like John 6:44; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10; Titus 3:5, etc., are clear that “calling” is a work of the Spirit which infallibly brings an elect and redeemed sinner [the work of the Father and Son] to faith in Christ.

Another word used to describe the Spirit’s work is “efficacious.”  It is “effective,” that is, it gets the job done.

The word most commonly used is “irresistible,” because it fits the particular acronym which inadequately summarizes these doctrines,  This word is usually rejected as being something coercive:  God saving people against their will.  However, even in daily life, there are many instances of people being saved against their will.  People who are drowning sometimes struggle against their rescuers and have to be subdued before they can be rescued.  People trying to commit suicide are sometimes prevented from doing this, and some of them might never “forgive” their rescuers.  Still, such people are looked on as heroes.  It is only God, Who rescues from a far greater danger than anything this world knows about, Who is told that He can’t do that.  We must be “willing,” or He is helpless.

There is, however, another way of defining the word, “irresistible.”  It is food to someone who is starving.  It is water to someone who is dying of thirst,  Our Lord used both of these figures in His own teaching:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Matthew 5:6.  See also John 4:10-14; 6:35, 48.  That’s the Spirit’s work – to make us hungry and thirsty.

In this post, we want to look at two men who experienced God’s call:  Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus.  Two words broadly summarize our topic:  regeneration and reconciliation.  Nicodemus gives us great insight into the first and Saul into the second.

A.  Nicodemus:  You must be born again, John 3:7.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why Nicodemus?”  Why not the woman at the well, or any of the other people Jesus dealt with?  Why is Nicodemus the only one given that message?  It’s never mentioned in the Book of Acts, either.  If Jesus and the Apostles had been like some modern preachers, it would have been in every message.

1.  The man, Nicodemus.

Who was Nicodemus?  In the first place, he was a Jew, and as such already identified with the people of God.  This brought him and them great advantage:  Romans 3:1, 3; 9:4, 5.  Second, he himself was a leader of those people:  the teacher of Israel, John 3:10, perhaps signifying a unique place among his people.  This would have brought him great prestige, honor and wealth.  Third, he was a Pharisee, a bad thing in our day because of those who abused their position, but something highly respected in his own day.  Fourth, simply as a Jew, he would have believed that righteousness before God was something which he could accomplish himself.

Scripture seems to support that idea.  In Deuteronomy 6:25, Moses told Israel, “Then it shall be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  However, even Moses himself, and God, as well, recognized that Israel would never do that.  There isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament to indicate that they would actually be obedient, even though they twice agreed to do all that the Lord commanded.  Moses wasn’t even down from Sinai before the people had violated the first and seventh commandments in a wild orgy in front of the golden calf.

So, Nicodemus thought it was up to him.  As far as he knew, he was already “in”.  Our Lord’s message, as it were, blindsided him.

What was the message?

2.  The message to Nicodemus.

a.  He needed something he didn’t have.

For all that he had, he didn’t have the one thing necessary:  life.  That’s what “birth” is all about:  life.  Without getting into the abortion debate, birth is the evidence of life, not its beginning.  A “dead birth” is a contradiction in terms.  (If you, or someone you know, have suffered a “stillbirth,” I’m so sorry.  I don’t mean to add to or make light of that loss and grief.)

b.  He needed something he couldn’t do.

John 3 is the story of one very likely who thought that his heritage, his position, his keeping of the Law – who he was and what he did – were more than enough for him to “enter the kingdom”.  After all, he was a member of the family of Israel, God’s chosen nation.  However, our Lord said to him, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You must be born into God’s family.”

In addition, Nicodemus was and had done this and this and this.  Yet the Lord in effect said, “Nicodemus, that’s not enough.  You need something you can’t do.  Even if you could return to your mother’s womb, it would do no good.  All that the flesh can produce is ‘flesh’.  You need something the flesh can’t do; you need a spiritual birth, a birth produced only and solely by the Spirit of God,”

Boiled down to one sentence, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, Nicodemus, needed God to do something for him that he himself couldn’t do.  He needed a second birth, a spiritual birth, something that was not, and could never be, the result of anything he could do.  He needed something that could not be done or started by “the flesh”.

Modern error has turned that exactly around.  Now we’re told that God needs us to do something for Him that He Himself cannot do:  “God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to you.”

That is not what the Lord told Nicodemus.

So many folks today are just like him, trusting in what they are or have done. They are quite content with their religion or church, or lack thereof, thank you. They have walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, had a few drops of water on their foreheads when they were infants.  Their father or mother or grandmother was a Christian.  They have been baptized.  Confirmed.  Seen a vision.  Do their best,  Pay their bills.  Take care of their family.  And on and on.

They are secure in their belief that God will welcome them into “a better place,” but have no understanding that they are under His condemnation because their sins have never been dealt with, and they have no righteousness He will accept.  They are dead in trespasses and sin, Ephesians 2:1, and need a life they can neither generate nor initiate.

The Lord rebuked Nicodemus because, as “the teacher in Israel,” he should have known the OT references to “a clean heart,” “circumcision of the heart,” etc., found in verses like Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 18:31; 36:36.  The promises made to Israel in the New Covenant go far beyond anything human nature or effort can produce.  Yet Nicodemus, like the rest of us apart from the grace of God, missed the message.  We “must be born again.”

Without regeneration, or the new birth, you and I are “in the flesh,” that is, we’re just ordinary human beings with a sinful nature and the corrupted faculties – mind, emotions, will – that go along with it.  Those who are the flesh cannot please God, Romans 8:8.  Repentance and faith in Christ are surely pleasing to God; yet things which are pleasing to God are impossible for the flesh to produce.  “Flesh” cannot produce “spirit,” nor can fleshly efforts have spiritual results.  One can “make his decision,” or do any of a multitude of other things men say will save them, every day for the rest of one’s life and not be saved, because that which is born of – that which comes from – the flesh is flesh.

The new birth is as impossible to mankind as the Virgin birth; both must be of God.

B.  Saul, called…out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.

In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul wrote, …for this cause I obtained mercy, that in my first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (KJV).

Paul wrote that he was a “pattern,” a “schematic” for believers.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to travel our world starting churches, though some are called to do that.  Nor does it mean that we receive and write down new revelations from God.  Some have claimed that, some still claim that, and they are all wrong.  God calls no one to deliver further revelation – of any kind – from Him.

What Paul meant was that in himself we can see how God works in every believer, not exactly, of course, because we’re all different, but generally.  There are many ways we could develop this.

1.  The surprise of his conversion.

The last thing on Saul’s mind on the morning of that fateful trip to Damascus would have been that before he got there, he would be a disciple of the very One he was determined to destroy!

In John 6:44, 45, the Lord Jesus gave a capsule summary of the problem we all have. It is that not one of us, on our own, has the ability to come to God.  He must “draw” us before we will or even can come to Him.  Some make a great deal out of the fact that the word the Lord used in John 6 for “draw” is the same word used to describe Paul being “dragged” out of the city and left for dead in Acts 14:19.  They just simply cannot conceive of the idea that God would or could, for that matter, “drag” people into the kingdom.

However, in reading the Book of Acts, it seems to me that Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  This leads us to  our second thought for this post.

2.  The “stages” of his conversion.

It seems to me that Paul passed through four stages, the first two not necessarily consecutive, in his journey from darkness to light.

a.  resistance, Acts 6:10 (KJV).  Though not specifically mentioned, we believe that Paul could well have been one of those from Cilicia, cf. Acts 22:3; 23:34, unable to resist the witness of Stephen, yet unwilling to receive it.  Cf. Acts 9:5; 26:14.

b. rebellion, cf. acts 26:9.  Paul was certainly present at the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58.  From that time, Paul did all he could do to stamp out what he considered blasphemous heresy, and at the same time drown out the conviction coming from the testimony of those whom he was persecuting, Acts 9:5 (KJV); 26:14.  Cf. Romans 1:18, of those who suppress the truth. 

He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he had it.  He was convinced that he was serving God.  Cf. John 16:2.  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved. The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him or in some way “cooperate” with Saul’s will, as is so often taught today that He must do with our wills.  Saul’s will was to kill Christians! That was his “decision.”

In his testimony before Agrippa, Acts 26:11, 12, he says that it was while he was thus occupied in persecuting and killing Christians, being exceedingly enraged against them(!), that the Lord appeared to Him.  Paul didn’t even know who this One was Whose brightness he saw.  This leads to our third point.

c.  realization.  Paul must have been shocked beyond belief to hear a voice from the brightness saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  He thought he had been persecuting blasphemers and heretics, thus being obedient to the OT teaching about such things – and thus to God.  Now, this “voice” from what must have been the Shekinah glory accuses him of persecuting its owner!  in effect, of persecuting God! The fourth point follows closely.

d.  reception.  We mentioned earlier that we believe Paul was indeed “dragged” kicking and screaming to the very edge of salvation.  However, when he found out what was involved, and who “Jesus of Nazareth” really is, he willingly walked over the border, as it were.  He asked, “What do you want me to do?” and then he went out and did it.
___________

We’ll deal more with this in our final post, Lord willing, but for now, there are multitudes of people just like Paul – and Nicodemus, firmly convinced of their standing before God. They’re members of the church, perhaps even active in it or leaders in it.  They’ve gone through the proper ceremonies or rituals, sprinkled as unknowing infants or walking an aisle or praying a prayer.  Why, they’re not heathen, they believe in God! They have their “docs” (doctrines) all in a row and can recite the Catechism from start to finish.  They’re thoroughly orthodox, and thoroughly lost, because they’ve never come to the point where they ask the Lord what He wants them to do.

For far too many others, “faith” is about God doing what they want Him to do.

Where are you in this progression?  Resistant to the truths of the Word, though perhaps you’ve heard them all your life?  Rebellious against them, wanting nothing to do with Christ, even though perhaps you come to church?  Realizing that you do need something only Christ can provide?  You’re a sinner justly under the condemnation of God and you know that only Christ can do something about it, having died for sinners.  Don’t stop there.  You must go through the last step:  receiving.  Coming to Him as your Lord and Savior, trusting Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Believing on Him, resting in Him, relying of Him in every area of life.  Following His leadership.

There is another possibility.  Paul grew up with his beliefs.  So did Nicodemus. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever heard, or read, these things.  What will you do with them?  Now that you’ve heard them, where will you start on this progression?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…, Acts 16:31.

Questions

1.  What does “efficacious grace” mean?

2.  What is another way of looking at the term “irresistible” beside “coercive”?

3.  Why is Nicodemus the only recorded person told about the new birth?

4.  What four things did Nicodemus have “going” for him?  Can you think of any others?

5.  What was the meaning of the message he was given?

6.  What was God’s purpose in saving Saul of Tarsus?

7.  Would Saul have “accepted” Jesus?  Why or why not?

8.  What is the significance of the first two “stages” of his conversion?

9.  What is the significance of the final two stages of his conversion?

10. At which stage are you?  You don’t have to write, just something to think about.

“The Kindness of God.” Part 7: “…the sin of the world.”

In the last two posts, we’ve looked at the death of Christ from the standpoint that it was a definite action, in agreement with the Father’s choice of some to be saved, a choice, just to emphasize what we wrote earlier, without which no one would be saved.  Christ died to pay for their sins, and theirs alone.  He died for “His sheep,” not for “goats.”

However, in spite of all we have said about the death of Christ and its particular, definite and successful purpose, there are those who will exclaim, “Well, I believe John 3:16!!”

We do, too.  In this post, therefore, we want to look at verses which refer to “the world,” “all,” and “every,” verses which are often used against what we’ve taught so far.  These verses are the reason many people who agree with what we’ve written otherwise simply cannot or will not agree with us on the death of Christ.  Do these verses contradict our view?  What does the Scripture say? 

C.  The Death of Christ with Reference to the World.

 1.  John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Those who use this verse often put a heavy emphasis on “the world,” and define it as “every single person who ever lived, is living, or will live.”  Christ died for all of them, without exception.

In order to understand this verse Biblically, we need to look at to whom Jesus was talking.  Nicodemus was a Jew, a Pharisee, a member of a group which believed that it was responsible to keep Israel  from being corrupted by outside influences, and to keep Israel faithful in following the Mosaic Law.  To this end, they believed that when Messiah came, He would destroy all Gentiles, no matter how “good,” and He would save all Jews, no matter how “bad.”  All that was necessary was to be a descendant of Abraham, cf. John 8:39-41.

Our Lord was correcting this too-narrow view:  “Nicodemus, you’ve got it all wrong.  God’s love and grace extend far beyond Israel.  Whoever believes in Me will not perish.”  He had already told Nicodemus that physical birth and lineage didn’t count for anything.   One needed to be “born again,” that is, from above.  Men and women need something Mom and Dad can’t give them; something they can’t do for themselves; something only God can give them and do for them.

On the other side, there are those who claim that “the world” in John 3:16 is really only “the world of the elect.”  I think they make the same mistake Nicodemus did, only in a different sense.  Nicodemus limited God’s love nationally, that is, He loves only Jews.  Those who believe God only loves the elect limit His love spiritually.

I once held the second view, but, with further thought, it seems to me from Scripture that God does have a redemptive love for mankind, considered as a whole, as a race, that is, humanity in general.   The Scripture clearly says that God desires all men to be saved, 1 Timothy 2:4.  While this verse doesn’t teach what those who believe Christ died for everyone say it teaches, (that is, that God is doing all He can to save everyone, but they won’t let Him,) it is in agreement with Ezekiel 33:11, which says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way, and live.  Had He not loved the race, He would never have chosen any of its members to be saved.  Had He not intervened in this way, we would all have certainly perished because we would never come to Him on our own.  As a result, the race would have perished.

However, let us be clear.  Even though we believe there is in God a great redemptive love for mankind, a love which moved Him to do incredible things to save it, individually we only experience that love through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy 1:14; Romans 8:38, 39.  Otherwise, there is only “wrath,” John 3:17, 18.  This is why the apostolic church never preached “the love of God,” as we saw in an earlier post.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, it will not and cannot be experienced.

2.  1 John 2:2, And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

As with John 3:16, emphasis is placed on the whole world.  And again, “world” is defined as every single person.

However, even John twice used the phrase elsewhere in his writings in such a way that it can’t mean “every single person.”  In 1 John 5:19b, he wrote, the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.  That is, it’s under his control and subject to him. cf. Ephesians 2:2.  In the first part of v. 19, John wrote, we know we are of God.  There is a comparison between believers, who are of God, and unbelievers, who lie under the sway of the wicked one.  I believe the word “and” which separates the two clauses could be translated, “but,” to show the distinction even more clearly.

Then, in Revelation 12:9, John refers to that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.  Though a different word is used of “world,” the thought is the same.  The Devil is the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and the whole world lies under his sway.

Since believers have been delivered out of the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Colossians 1:13, the term “the whole world,” doesn’t and can’t automatically mean “every single person,” and we don’t believe that it does in 1 John 2:2.

In order to Biblically understand what John is saying, I think the word “propitiation” is key.  He didn’t use a word meaning, “redemption,” or “salvation.”  The word means, “appeasement.”  A poor example might be the bouquet of flowers a husband brings home to soothe an offended wife.  The death of Christ was an appeasement to the offended justice and wrath of God.

We believe that it’s the death of Christ that is the basis for the Great Commission.  His death appeased that wrath of God which had withdrawn grace in general from mankind, Romans 1:18-32, and had channeled it through one man, Abraham.  Even though Israel was to be a witness to the nations, Isaiah 43:10-12 (which has nothing to do with that group calling themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses”), still there was no “Great Commission” in the OT.  Only in the NT after the death of Christ do we find such a thing.

3.  2 Peter 2:1, …there will be false teachers among you, …even denying the Lord that bought them.

This verse is often used  to teach that there are some whom the Lord “bought,” who will “deny” Him.

In the last verse of ch. 1, Peter wrote that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and continues in 2:1, BUT there were also false prophets among the people, EVEN AS there will be false teachers AMONG YOU….(emphasis added).  Peter is simply comparing the situation in OT Israel with the situation among the believers he’s writing.  There will be those who truly speak for God, but there will ALSO be false teachers present.  This is why John wrote in 1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into this world.

John wrote that the test of false prophets would be what they taught about the Person of Christ, who He was.  Peter’s emphasis is on the work of Christ, what He did.  Both are important.  If He isn’t God manifest in the flesh, then what He did on the Cross is of no benefit.

These “false teachers” are known as Christians.  Nevertheless, in teaching false doctrine, they deny Him, all the while professing to believe in Him.

4.  2 Corinthians 5:14, 19, …One died for all….  God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their sins to them.

Actually, the whole section from v. 9-21 should be carefully read.  It seems to me that these verses present more “problems” to those who believe that Christ died for everyone than they do for those who don’t.

For example. some place heavy emphasis on the word, “all.”  However, consider what Paul says in the verse, …if One died for all, then all died.  In other words, the “all” for whom Christ died, also died.  Whatever effect His death had on those for whom He died, that effect happened when He died, not at some later time, like when they “accept” Him.

As to v. 19, pay close attention to what Paul wrote:  God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.  Can it really be said of every single person that their sins aren’t imputed to them?  Leaving aside the question of whether hell actually exists or what it is, will an unbeliever who dies suffer in Hell for his sins?  If they’re not imputed to him, having been imputed to the Lord Jesus, how can he be condemned for them?  Why is he in Hell?

It won’t do to say that he’s in Hell for his sins because he didn’t “accept the Lord.”  Are his sins paid for, or not?  Were they “purged” on the Cross, Hebrews 1:3, or not?   We occasionally hear a story about a certain man who was pardoned for some crime or other, but refused to accept it.  The court ruled that he couldn’t be forced to accept it.  So, it is said, we can refuse the death of Christ, and there’s nothing God can do about it.  However, we’re not talking about American jurisprudence or what some human court has decreed.

We’re talking about the justice of God having been satisfied in full.  If God punished Jesus for a person’s sins, on what basis can He also punish the sinner for those sins?  Unless we’re willing to say that Jesus didn’t actually pay for salvation on the Cross, thus denying the Scriptures which say that He did, then the only alternative is to say that God demands payment twice for the same sin, once from the Lord Jesus and once from the sinner, something even true human justice wouldn’t do.  God’s justice under that view is really injustice.

5.  Romans 5:19, For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience shall many be made righteous. 

The whole section of vs. 12-21 should be carefully studied to see Paul’s judicious and inspired use of “all” and “many.”  This section is about “the federal headship of Adam,” that is, that when he fell, he represented his descendants, that is, the whole human race, as well.  Paul teaches that the Lord Jesus was also a representative, as we’ve studied, but of a redeemed race – believers, or the elect.

Many people lean heavily on the word “all,” but don’t pay any attention to “many,” believing that it, too, refers to “all.”  However, this section isn’t about mere numbers, it’s about effect.  The “effect” of being in Christ, “being made righteous,” is as certain as the “effect” of being in Adam, “being made sinners.”  If, as many insist, they both do refer to “all,” as in every single person, then, according to Paul, those who believe in universal salvation are right.

6.  Hebrews 2:9,  that He by the grace of God should taste death for everyone.

The KJV translates this as “every man,” however, there is no word for “man” in the original.  So, for every “who” or “what” did Christ taste death?  V. 10 refers to many sons.  V.11 mentions brethren.  V. 13 says, “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”  So we are justified in saying that Christ tasted death for every “son,” for every “brother,” for every “child,” not haphazardly, but in accord with the will and purpose of the Father.

7.  John 12:47, “…for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”

We’ve already noted the Jews’ belief about the Messiah:  that He would destroy all Gentiles, or “the world.”  Jesus is refuting that belief.  Make no mistake, He said, there is coming a time of judgment, but now is the acceptable year of the Lord, Luke 4:19, or, as Paul put it, now is the day of salvation, 2 Corinthians 6:2.  Here, as well as in other places, Jesus emphasized that His mission extends to “the world,” that is, to men and women out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9.  This is the “world” for whom the Lord died.  See also John 4:42 and 6:63.

8.  John 1:29,  “…Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This was John’s exclamation at the approach of Jesus after His baptism and testing in the wilderness.  Even he recognized the wider scope of the Lord’s ministry, something the Jews and the early church had difficulty accepting.

The question is, who is “the world”?  Is it every single person, as many believe?  Well, what is said of this world?  It is said that the Lord bears away their sin.   Can that be said of every single person?  That their sin has been taken away?  No, that can’t be said Scripturally, though many do say it.

Thus, a brief view of some of the verses used in contradiction to our view.  However, Scripture is never given merely to be academic or to defend one “school of thought” or another, so this brings us to our last section.

D.  Christ and the Individual.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6:37.

Actually, John 6:37-40 is a precious mingling of the truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  The Lord never sought to “reconcile” these two truths, which to so many are irreconcilable, or to “explain” how they work together.  He just said they were both true.

Examples in multiplied instances of the divine will affecting and effecting the human will, the sovereignty of God in everything including salvation, and the activity of man in making and following his own thoughts and decisions, may be found in almost every book of the Bible without thought of contradiction, embarrassment or explanation.

As we said above, it’s never the intent of Scripture merely to be academic or to promote one school of thought over another.

Nor is Scripture preaching about the extent of the atonement, it’s always about the intent.  We’ve already seen that NT preachers never told people to believe on Jesus because He had died for them.  Our Lord Himself put it like this, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32.  NT preachers preached repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 20:21.  Never a word did they breath about God’s love.

On the other hand, there’s not a word about election in their preaching, either.  Some men can’t hardly preach without getting their doctrine in there, whether their text warrants it or not.

No, no.  NT preaching is about sin and a Savior of sinners.  After all, that’s how the elect become known – not because they believe the right doctrine, but because, by the grace of God they understand that, apart from the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned before God, and Jesus is the only One who can do anything about it.  They understand that they need to be saved from their sin and themselves.  They come to Christ, trust Christ, believe on Christ, to do this.  And to believe ON Christ is not the same thing as believing ABOUT Him.

When it comes right down to it, salvation is all about works.  Yours won’t get the job done and His can’t fail.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

QUESTIONS

1.  Does the Scripture contradict itself?

2.  What was Jesus’ message to Nicodemus?

3.  What was Jesus’ message to the Jewish nation?

4.  Does “world” automatically or necessarily mean every single person?

5.  What is “propitiation”?

6.  Just because people belong to “church,” does that mean that Christ died for them?

7.  Did the death of Christ affect those for whom He died – at the time of His death?

8.  Can or will God punish the same sin twice, once in Christ and once in the sinner?

9.  What is the “effect” of being “in Adam”?  “…in Christ”?

10. What does the Lord Jesus mean to you?

The Third Genealogy

Most people are familiar with the genealogies found in Matthew and Luke. Or, at least, they know they are there.  Matthew’s genealogy is condensed and intended to connect Jesus with the great covenants of the Old Testament:  Abrahamic and Davidic.  His is the genealogy of Christ’s royalty.  Matthew’s is the genealogy of Joseph.  Luke’s genealogy is longer and goes through a different son of David, goes all the way back to Adam, some 75 or so generations. His is the genealogy of Christ’s humanity.  It’s the genealogy of Mary.  I’ll do a post one of these days on Matthew’s genealogy.  There’s a lot of good stuff in there.

Well, that’s two of them.  Where’s the third one?  I hadn’t really thought about it quite like this until recently, like earlier today.  I suppose in the strictest sense it isn’t a genealogy at all, and yet in a real sense it is.  It’s contained in two verses, though a few other verses add some explanation.  Here it is – you’ll recognize it immediately:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,  ….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…,” John 1:1, 14.

This is the genealogy, if you will, of Christ’s deity.  In a few words, simple words in the Greek original, John expresses truths that 2000 years haven’t completely plumbed.

“Now, wait a minute!”  I can hear someone say.  “That’s not what John meant at all.  There’s no article before ‘God,’ so Jesus was only ‘a god’.”  People will knock on your door and tell you that.  They also say that the “beginning” John wrote about was the beginning when God created Jesus, that He was “the beginning,” and then Jesus created all the rest. They might take you over to Proverbs, where the writer personifies wisdom and describes its role in creation.  “That,” they say, “is Jesus.”  They might even tell you that He is really Michael, the archangel, brother of Lucifer.

Is that all John meant in these verses?  That Jesus was simply the first thing created by God, and then He created everything else?  That He isn’t “God” at all, just “a god?”

It’s true that John didn’t write, “the Word was the God.”  There is no article, no “the”, in front of God.  There’s no indefinite article – “a”, “an” – in the Greek language, either.  However, Martin Luther pointed out centuries ago, and someone probably pointed it out centuries before he did, that John couldn’t have written “the God,” because then he would have been saying that the Word and the Father are the same, and the Oneness folks would be right.  If John says one thing, it’s that the Father and the Word are distinct from each other.  The One is not just manifesting Himself differently.

There’s another difficulty with the idea that Jesus is only “a god.”  What kind of god is He?  How many of these “gods” are there, or is He the only one?  “Well, in the Old Testament, angels are called ‘sons of God,’ cf. Job 1:6.  As an angel, Jesus is rightly called ‘son of God’.”  So we might be told.  And it’s true that angels are called “sons of God.”  Does this then put them and Jesus in the same class?

The writer to the Hebrews anticipated this idea.  In 1:5 (NKJV), he asks the question, “…to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are my Son, Today I have begotten you’?”  The expected answer to that question is, “There are no angels to whom that has ever been said.”  Not as a Jehovah’s Witness kindly emailed me once and said, “Jesus is that angel” and then quoted this verse to me.  Sorry, that’s not what the writer meant.  In fact, after discussing what the Father did not say to the Son, Hebrews goes on in v. 8 with what He did say: “But to the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  Some translate that verse: “God is your throne forever and ever,”(New World Translation).  This doesn’t make sense.  Not to be irreverent or anything, but is Jesus sitting on God?  The Greek text reads, “The throne of you, the God, into the ages of the ages.”  Notice the presence here of the article before “God”: “the God.”  The contrast between Jesus and angels could not be clearer.  In fact, in v. 6, the writer to the Hebrews says of angels, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”  Even older editions of the NWT say that – I have a copy.  Granted, the newer editions say that angels are to do “obeisance” to Him, but even the NWT translates the Gk. word as “worship” when it doesn’t refer to Jesus.

How can two beings both be “God,” in view of all the Scriptures which tell us there is only one God?  There are a lot of illustrations of the Trinity, which is what this is really all about. The best one I know is a cube.  A cube has length, height and width, all at the same time, but it’s not three cubes, just one.  The length isn’t the height or width, the height isn’t the length or width, and the width isn’t the height or length.  And the measurements of the cube don’t manifest themselves as length one day, then width another day, then height yet another day, as some try to teach that it’s one God manifesting Himself in different ways at different times.  The cube has three measurements, but they all coexist at one time in one cube.  Like His creation, God is three-dimensional: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit, the Son isn’t the Father or the Spirit and the Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.  Three different Persons, for lack of a better word, all different, but all coexisting at the time as one God.  “…the Word was God.”

One final thought on this.  Some say that Jesus never claimed to be God.  Funny, the people who heard Him tried to kill Him because they understood that was exactly what He was claiming in John 8:58, when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” 

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…, John 1:14.  Here is the reason for the other two genealogies.  The story of Jesus doesn’t start, “Once upon a time”; it’s rooted firmly in and grounded on the history of Israel as revealed in the Old Testament.  I know there are those who deny that such a man as Jesus ever even existed, but after all the attempts over 2000 years to get rid of Him and He’s still here – must be something “real” about Him.

Notice John’s comparison: “the Word was God”the Word became flesh.”  Nowhere does John or the Bible say that the Word “became,” that is, that it came into existence, or that it became God.  In other words, there has never been a time, if we can speak of eternity like that, when the Word did not exist, or that it did not exist as God.  There was a time, however, when “the Word became flesh.”  Matthew and Luke give us some details of that “becoming.”

“The Word became flesh.”  Four words.

“The Word became flesh.”  Four words, describing an event which has no parallel in history.  Psalm 113:5, 6 says, Who is like the LORD our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth?”  The Lord God “humbles” Himself to look at this speck of dirt off to one side of His creation.  What must it have been like for the Lord Jesus, not just to “look” at this planet, but to live on it?  We think we know so much, with our “Doctors of Theology,” our “books,” our “mega-churches,” etc. [and I’m not opposed to education or “books,” or church] it’s just that I don’t think we know even as much about our Lord’s “humiliation” [to use the theological term] as a babe knows about it’s mother’s agony in birthing it.  How can we?  The Word became flesh…. 

It’s not for nothing that Paul refers to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 8:9, where he continues, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor…. The Lord didn’t come down to this world to be feted in Rome, or to live in a place like the White House or Buckingham Palace or to be listed among the elite of this world.  He came to live in a relatively minor province of Rome, a troublesome province, in a village as the son of a carpenter.  He was totally unknown for 18 years of His life, and in the last three three, “fame” was fleeting, and hostility and opposition were lasting and increasing.  Even though He rose from the dead, as far as the world is concerned, He may as well still be dead.  Even if people class Him with the religious figures of this world, they’re more likely to live by their teachings than His.

So, you see, the third genealogy gives us a more complete idea of Who Jesus of Nazareth really was, and is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,…and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us….