Archive for April, 2008

(I’ll get back to the series soon, just thought I’d break things up).

I was reading some very familiar words again:

 Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Mark 8:31-33)

Here are four shocks:

  1. The ‘things of men’ are satanic.  To simply buy into the things of men (as opposed to the things of God) is to be a conduit of Satan.
  2. Minding the ‘things of men’ is a simple matter of moving towards comfort and away from the way of the cross.  Satanism is simply the preference of comfort to cruciformity.
  3. Peter’s sin is not even that he desires his own comfort but that he attempts to shepherd another away from the cross and towards comfort.  Peter thinks he is helping Jesus, in fact his encouragement to self-protection is demonic.
  4. The ‘things of God’ is Christ crucified.  Think of the highest heights of deity – mind the things of God – and what do you picture?  Jesus says picture Him bleeding for demons like Peter.  That’s what ‘the things of God’ consist in.  To shy from this is to embrace the things of men and become a servant of Satan.


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Here is the fifth instalment in my series Christ in the OT

This is basically a repost of ‘The Trinitarian Old Testament’ from November last year. I think it’s worth laying out the same material in the context of this series. We are investigating the claim that the Hebrew Scriptures themselves reveal on their own terms and in their own context the eternal Son, our God from God, Jesus Christ. We are accustomed to thinking of trinitarian formulations growing out of the necessity to confess the deity of Jesus Christ. This is of course true. But we will see that this is not simply a New Testament necessity. Once we confess the deity of the Angel for instance we will also have to ensure that our confession of the OT doctrine of God is similarly trinitarian. It is not the New Testament that forces us to be trinitarian, it is Jesus. And Jesus, as this series is demonstrating, is not confined to the New Testament. This is why we now need to consider the trinity in the OT. In this post I will simply (and very briefly) draw attention to 24 passages in which we see plainly a multi-Personal revelation.

My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure

My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT

My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT

My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment

My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God. The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation. These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood – on their own terms or any others! What I am setting out to do is to simply open up the OT and show what is actually there. I have already acknowledged that I have a dogmatic commitment to christocentric revelation, but I hope to show that the OT texts themselves bear this out.

Just before we dive into the texts I would simply ask the reader to question their own dogmatic commitments. I may be expecting to see a multi-Personal God in the OT, but I assure you – you are expecting to see a certain kind of God also. What is it? Are you expecting to see a revelation of the one God? A uni-Personal God? Are you accustomed to thinking of the OT God as equivalent to the God of the modern Jew? Unitarian? Perhaps not, perhaps you recoil at the idea (I hope so). But it’s worth all of us asking ourselves ‘What are our pre-suppositions?’ as we read ‘In the Beginning.’ The “God” of Genesis 1:1 is a certain kind of God. What do we assume about His being? What will we allow Him to be, do and say as we read chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3…? Do we think it’s “obvious” that the God of Genesis 1 is the uncreated Creator? Do we assume that the God being revealed by Moses is basically the God of the modern Jew? The philosophical theist? Something like the Muslim ‘God’? Perhaps we think (as so many Christians do) that “the One God” is a foundational doctrine to which trinitarian concepts are added? Perhaps then we see the OT as portraying this basic ‘God’ before trinitarian nuances are added?

I have often had the experience of being criticised for bringing trinitarian assumptions to the OT text when, at the same time, my Christian friend was bringing equally strong and equally controlling assumptions to bear themselves – assumptions that God (or His revelation) must progress from primitive unitarianism to developed trinitarianism. Pre-suppositions are inevitable. The issue is not ‘Who has purged themselves of all dogmatic bias and is a pure biblical scholar!’ The issue is ‘Which pre-suppositions can actually handle what’s on the page and which do damage to the text?’ My contention is that the trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that makes sense of the OT data.

Ok. Here we go – 24 Scriptures to consider:

  • Genesis 1. Verse 1: “In the beginning Elohiym… ” Here is the God to Whom we’re introduced. A plural noun! One that takes a singular verb. The grammatical oddity is meant to make us sit up and take notice. Our plural God acts as one. And His plural counsel (v26) “Let us…” gives rise to a united creation of a plural humanity – male and female to image His own life.
  • Genesis 3. The Voice of the LORD God (v8) who comes to walk with Adam and Eve is also the LORD God (v9)
  • Genesis 16. The Angel of the LORD (v9) is also LORD and God (v13)
  • Genesis 18&19. The LORD who appears to Abraham (18:1) is Judge of all the earth (18:25), yet He excercises His divine prerogative in union with “the LORD out of the heavens.” (19:24)
  • Genesis 32. Jacob wrestles with the Man (v24) who is the Angel (Hosea 12:4) who is God (Gen 32:28,30)
  • Genesis 48. The God who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is Shepherd and the source of blessing (v15) is the Angel of God (v16).
  • Exodus 3. The God of the burning bush is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v6) and the great I AM (v14). He is also the Angel of the LORD (v2) and will bring the people to worship God on the mountain (v12).
  • Exodus 19. The LORD on the mountain (v10) warns Moses that in three days the LORD will come to the mountain (v11) and things will be very different then. Sure enough, three days later, the LORD descends on the mountain (v18) and then the LORD descends on the mountain (v20)!
  • Exodus 33. Moses meets face to face with the LORD in the tent of meeting (v11) but the LORD on the top of the mountain he must never see (v20-22).
  • Joshua 5&6. The Commander of the LORD’s army (5:14) who fights for Israel to deliver her is also the LORD who is worthy of worship (5:15; 6:2)
  • Judges 2. The Angel of the LORD brought them out of Egypt and established His covenant with them. (v1-4)
  • Judges 6. The Angel of the LORD (v11-12) brings the LORD’s blessing (one who is Sovereign LORD, v22). Yet the Angel, as another Person is Himself the LORD (v14) with the same divine majesty (v22-24).
  • Judges 13. God sends the Angel of the LORD (e.g. v9) who is Himself God (e.g. v22). And the Spirit fills Samson (v25)
  • Psalm 2. The Son Whom we are to kiss and find refuge in (v12) is the Anointed Son of the Father through Whom is exercised all divine rule and authority.
  • Psalm 45. The most excellent of men who rules the nations as Champion and King is called ‘Lord’ by His bride and ‘God‘ by His God. (v6,7)
  • Psalm 110. David knows two Lords who converse in their rule of the nations. There is the LORD and there is the Kingly Priest who is David’s Lord.
  • Proverbs. The Wisdom of God who creates (8:30) and gives new life (8:35) through granting the Spirit (1:23) is also possessed by the LORD (8:22)
  • Isaiah 9. The government of God’s righteous kingdom will be on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v6). Yet He is One who is born and through Whom the zeal of the LORD will accomplish His work (v7)
  • Isaiah 48. The great I AM, the first and the last who created the heavens and the earth and who called Israel (v12,13) is One who is sent from the Lord GOD along with His Spirit (v16)
  • Isaiah 63. The Saviour sends the Angel to save, yet they grieve His Holy Spirit (v9-10)
  • Ezekiel 34. The Shepherd of Ezekiel’s prophesy will be the LORD Himself (v12-22), yet this loving, kingly rule is exercised through the Prince, His Servant David (v23-24) who does all that the LORD is said to do as Shepherd and who rules for the LORD.
  • Daniel 7. The Possessor and rightful Ruler of the Kingdom that shall never pass away is the Son of Man (v13,14) who inherits the kingdom from the Ancient of Days (v9-12).
  • Micah 2. The Shepherd who will gather the remnant of Israel is the LORD (v12) who will set at their head a King who is also called ‘LORD’ (v13)
  • Zechariah 2. The One Sent from the LORD Almighty (v7,9,11) is the LORD Himself to live among the Israelites as the gentle, righteous, saving King of 9:9 (compare with 2:10)!

In all this my argument is not that these are hints of trinity but that they are texts that can only ever be understood from the perspective of a multi-Personal God. When two Persons called LORD are interacting in the text (when we see plainly “true God from true God”) then an understanding of God as uni-Personal is just dead wrong. It must always have been dead wrong for it could never account for the Hebrew Scriptures as written.

The only God there is is trinitarian and His revelation has always been such.

Next post…

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The Angel of the LORD continued…

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

Check out Judges 6:11-24:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His wife has more sense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next post…

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The Angel of the LORD continued…

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

His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:

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

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

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

How do we know that this is the Angel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next post…

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Who is the Angel of the LORD?

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 16:9-14Genesis 21:17-20Genesis 22:11-18Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13Genesis 48:15-16Exodus 3:1-6Exodus 13:21 <=> Exodus 14:19Exodus 23:20-23Exodus 32:34; 33:2 <=> 34:9Num 20:16Num 22:22-35Judges 2:1-5Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24Judges 13:3-232 Sam 24:16-171 Kings 19:5,72 Kings 1:3,151 Chron 21:11-20Psalm 34:7,9Psalm 35:5-6Isaiah 37:36Isaiah 63:9Daniel 3:28Daniel 6:22Hosea 12:4-5 <=> Genesis 32:24-30Zechariah 1:9-19Zechariah 3:1-10Zechariah 4:1-6Zechariah 12:8Malachi 3:1

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

1 Sam 29:92 Sam 14:17,202 Sam 19:27Gal 4:14

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

  • The Angel is divine – He is very often called the LORD and God, He speaks as the LORD, acts as the LORD and accepts divine worship.
  • The Angel is distinct from another Person called ‘LORD’ or ‘God’ or ‘God Most High.’
  • The Angel acts on behalf of God Most High in revelation and salvation.
  • The Angel is correctly identified by the OT saints as a distinct, divine Person
  • He is feared, trusted and hoped for by the faithful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Praying the Lord’s prayer recently I was thinking about what the prayer assumes about the character of God: Father, in heaven, holy, etc.  Then I thought, what does it assume about the character of the one praying it?


Here are some thoughts:

  • Childlike
  • Reverent 
  • Expectant 
  • Guileless
  • Obedient
  • No agenda of our own
  • Desperate
  • Dependent for all things
  • Confident of mercy
  • Acknowledging sin
  • Repentant
  • Merciful
  • Having a deep appreciation of grace
  • A follower
  • Hating sin and temptation
  • At war with the evil one
  • Sheltering in the Lord’s deliverance

Three thoughts:

1) I want to be this person.

2) Jesus has made me this person (John 16:23-27)  The Father regards me as this very person, clothed in my Advocate. I not only pray in and through Jesus but with Him. 

3) Prayer, resting in the intercession of Jesus, is what will make me more and more live up to what I’ve already attained in Him.



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God forms us

Just wrote an essay for my post-ordination training. It was on ‘ministerial formation.’ Anyway this is a little biblical theology on the concept of formation that didn’t make it into the essay…




The Living God is One who forms.  He is the Potter, the yozer,[1] who forms humanity,[2] our hearts,[3] our eyes,[4] our spirit,[5] our days,[6] Israel,[7] light,[8] life,[9] indeed the whole world.[10]  He does so by degrees.  And He does so along a trajectory of death then resurrection.


In the beginning God created (bara) the heavens and the earth.  But, as the very next verse describes, this creation began ‘formless and empty’ (tohu wabohu).  The Spirit, in brooding power, hovers over a scene associated, throughout the Scriptures, with judgement.[11]  Only then, by the power of the Almighty Word is light, life and order brought to the creation.  By the Word the formless and empty world is formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6).  And this occurs in the context of a judging Word – judging in two senses.  First the Word separates – light from darkness, dry land from waters etc.  Second the Word evaluates – ‘It was good.’  In this process the world is brought gradually to shalom and ‘it was very good.’ 


The first creation narrative ends with this purpose clause in the Hebrew:


tAf)[]l; ~yhiÞl{a/ ar”îB’. 


Literally this means ‘God created (bara) in order to make (asah).’  The word bara is used almost exclusively of God’s creative activity.[12]  In the intensive (piel) stem bara conveys the sense of cutting down, clearing a space.[13]  On the other hand asah in the intensive (piel) stem can mean squeeze or caress.[14]  This tells us something of the meaning of these verbs (which are here in the normal qal stem).  Taken together with the purpose clause contruct we see that God’s bara activity prepares the ground for His asah activity.  The LORD begins creation by clearing a space for the purpose of continuing His work upon that creation.  He makes and then moulds.  Again we see that the LORD forms in stages.  First the outline then the filled out reality.


Humanity follows this pattern – first Adam is ‘formed’ from the dust of the earth and the breath of the LORD. (Gen 2:7).  Next Eve is formed from the death-like sleep of the man.  (Gen 2:21-24).  Out of this deep-sleep (tardemah) in which violence is done – his side is pierced – he is raised up to consummation with bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.  The formation of humanity was a process and one which journeyed through darkness and pain before something better resulted.  It is not too much to say that even in the first two chapters of the bible the process of formation is set before us as one of death and resurrection.


This is the way of the LORD.  His formation begins with raw materials but is perfected in stages and through suffering.  All things in God’s economy are to be formed through death and resurrection.  The people of Israel as the seed of Abraham are filled by Christ, the Seed of Abraham.  The law is the form of the covenant and is filled by the gospel events.  The land (eretz) from (Dead) Sea to (Mediterranean) Sea is filled by the whole earth (eretz!) from Sea to Sea.  Our bodies are seeds to be transformed in death and resurrection to immortal glory (1 Cor 15:44).  Ultimately all this happens through the true Adam – the Last, Heavenly Adam.  He fills full Adam’s Headship over creation, He fills full the land, the people, the law and through death and resurrection brings it all to glory.  Even the Son Himself is made perfect through suffering.  (Heb 5:8-9). 


In all this we see that Eden is not the point.  Adam is not the point.  Adamic humanity is not the point.  Israel and its worship is not the point.  All these things are passed through death and resurrection – from Eden and beyond to the New Jerusalem; from Adam and beyond to the Heavenly Man; through Israel (and its worship) and beyond to the Church of Jesus Christ.  And so the Christian knows two incontrovertible facts: First, all things are forward-looking. The best is yet to come – in the process of formation we are optimists.  Secondly, the path to better things is through suffering.  The road to resurrection blessing always goes through the cross.  In the process of formation we will also be realists.

[1] Isaiah 45:7,9; 64:8; Jer 18:6; Zech 12:1; cf. Rom 9:21

[2] Gen 2:7; Isaiah 43:1

[3] Psalm 33:15

[4] Psalm 94:9

[5] Zech 12:1

[6] Psalm 139:16

[7] Isaiah 43:21

[8] Isaiah 45:7

[9] Gen 2:19

[10] Psalm 95:5

[11] ‘Darkness’, ‘waters’, ‘the deep’ are all symbols of judgement.  So too ‘formless and empty’, cf Jeremiah 4.

[12] Even the exception of Ezekiel 21:19 may be in order to maintain a parallelism with God’s activity in v30

[13] Josh 17:15,18; Ezek 23:47

[14] Ezek 23:3,8

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I’ve been watching ‘Am I normal?’ – a TV programme about addiction. It asks whether there is such a thing as addiction. What about gambling addiction? Shopping? Sex? Food? Computer gaming? Are these addictions? Are they illnesses? Are you born with them? Do you ‘catch’ them? ‘Suffer’ them? Are you helpless before them?

One doctor, author of the book ‘Addiction is a choice’ was, predictably enough, against such an idea. He said things like ‘It’s simply a weak or bad person making a bad choice…. There’s no such thing as an involuntary behaviour. All behaviour is goal seeking behaviours… Our therapeutic culture, instead of making moral judgments is making pseudo-medical judgements.’

He reminded me of reading Jay Adams – the pioneer of nouthetic (admonition) counseling. Adams taught pastoral counselling at Westminster Theological Seminary for many years. He says things like this in ‘Competent to Counsel’

‘The idea of sickness as the cause of personal problems vitiates all notions of human responsibility.’ (p5)

He doesn’t like this. He sees it as a straight choice between sickness and sin:

‘Is the fundamental problem of persons who come for personal counselling sickness or sin?’ (p17)

Adams therefore goes for ‘sin’.

There are advantages to this. If we are merely victims – sufferers of an illness called ‘addiction’ then the problem and also the solution is out of our hands. If the problem is ours – if we are sinners – then the solution is also within our grasp. Sin is the problem. Repentance is the solution.

What I find strange about Adams, and those who tend to follow him, is that he, and they, are staunch Calvinists. They believe in the bondage of the will (as do I). They believe, I’m sure, people like John Owen when he says:

“To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.”

This is such a touchstone of Calvinist thought it’s even the strapline of the website ‘Monergism.’ It’s a wonderful quote. And it should be heeded in all sorts of theological debates.

But it’s not heeded when conservative Christians try to put our ability to be moral at the heart of things. Something dangerous occurs when Christians try to make ‘moral responsibility’ the centre of gravity in these kind of discussions. To do so is to push the Saviour to the periphery. Owen saw this. The doctrine of the bondage of the will, at its best, guards against this. But conservative Christians tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to the notion that sinful behaviours ever be classified as addictions or illnesses. They are bad behaviours, bad choices.

Let’s think very briefly about three Scriptures.

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul brilliantly portrays our freedom and our bondage:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”

What’s fascinating about these verses is that here we see our freedom to do what we want is described as the very way in which we followed the devil. Our so called freedom to gratify our lusts was precisely the bondage in which we found ourselves.

The second passage is John 8.

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Far from saying ‘talk of addiction vitiates talk of sin’ isn’t Jesus here saying that sin is addiction? Aren’t we enslaved to sin? Isn’t it a power over us? Do we not find ourselves under its domination? And isn’t the solution not for ourselves to gain mastery but for Christ make us His slaves?

Sin is a power over us. The gospel of grace depends on this fact. Sin is a power over us that is disarmed and replaced by Christ. We are beasts ridden by the devil or Christ – this is where Ephesians 2 and John 8 have brought us. Why would we want to put – why especially would Calvinists want to put – human responsibility at the centre of the discussion??

Finally, think of Luke 5:27-32 where Jesus meets and changes Levi. Jesus says:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus says our problem is BOTH. It’s not either sin or sickness – it’s BOTH. Jesus calls sinners sinner. He calls Levi to repent and follow Him. But in that diagnosis Jesus also reveals that He is the true Doctor of the sick. Our therapeutic culture is not wrong to see us as victims of sin (John 8:34). We mustn’t react against these trends and bellow out ‘we are responsible moral agents, we can choose etc etc’ If we do that, so quickly man comes right to the centre and the Gospel exits stage-left. We become our own saviours from sin. But no, only Christ saves us from sin. And He saves helpless, sick sinners.

We are victims of a sickness called sin. That is absolutely biblical and true. We are also culpable choosing agents – Ephesians 2 told us that the gratification of our lusts was the essence of our bondage! They are both true together. Jesus and Paul could handle bringing both sides of this truth to bear. Liberals and conservatives fall off one side or other. Christians must maintain: “I am a sick, wretched, poor, helpless sinner. And I must repent. That is, I must confess my complete inability to gain mastery over alcohol/drugs/food/pornography/gambling/whatever. I mourn that I ever gave myself to such wicked masters in the first place and I turn to Christ in faith as the only Master greater than these powers.”

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Hi all,

I’m on holiday at the moment which is why no radio contact.  Just thought I’d let you know that at the local church I visited here in Wales there was this enigmatic entry in the notice sheet:


There will be no Intercessor this week.

So if things have been going a bit pear-shaped this week you’ll know why.  Jesus is taking a much earned post-Easter break.  No intercession till next week I suppose. 

I’m being mischievous you know…


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