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If we set aside, for the moment, what later church leaders said about Jesus, let us focus on what Jesus said about Himself in relation to His heavenly Father.
The Only True God
In Mark 12:29 Jesus affirmed the great Shema,
29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord’.”
He gave no indication of a trinity or even of two Gods that included Himself. In John 5:43, 44 He said,
43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me… 44 … and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God.
Here Jesus affirms “the one and only God,” while claiming only that “I have come in My Father’s name.” While many Jews may have disagreed with His claim to have come in the Father’s name, they would not have disagreed that there is only one God.
In John 17:1 Jesus began to pray for His disciples, beginning thus:
1 … Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee.
Here Jesus recognizes His Father and declares His own position as the Son. As usual, it assumes two separate Persons. In John 17:3 Jesus continued,
3 And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
His prayer was that they would know both “the true God” AND “Jesus Christ” whom He had sent. In other words, “eternal life” is preconditioned upon a person knowing God and accepting Jesus as the Messiah who was “sent” by the “the only true God.” We from 1 John 2:23 that…
23 Whoever denies the Son [as the Christ] does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
Paul affirms that “God … is one” in Romans 3:30 and says again in Ephesians 4:5, 6,
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Jesus is set forth as “one Lord,” while “one God and Father” is said to be “over all and through all and in all.” The title “Lord” presents some problems, because it has more than one meaning. The Jews used the word in place of Yahweh, in order to avoid disrespect, much like we today refer to our earthly fathers by titles rather than their actual names. The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament continues this tradition, rendering Yahweh as kurios, “Lord.” Most modern translations follow suit, normally writing it in all capital letters, “LORD.”
But Adonai and Adoni were also translated as “Lord,” the first being reserved as a title for the one God and the latter referring to men as “my lord.” So we read in 1 Peter 3:6 that “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (kurios). That reference is from Genesis 18:12.
When Paul spoke of Jesus as “Lord” (kurios) in Ephesians 4:5, it is a translation of Adoni, not Yahweh, because in the same verse Yahweh obviously was “one God and Father of all.”
The LORD Said to My Lord
Perhaps the most striking example of this is when Jesus challenged the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45,
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “the son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to My Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet”’? 45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
Jesus’ question was taken from Psalm 110:1, which says,
1 The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [Adoni]: “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.”
It prophesied of the Messiah’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father during the process of subduing the earth. Adoni was to remain at the right hand of Yahweh until His enemies had been subdued, that is, put under His feet. In Genesis 1:28 Adam was called to “subdue” the earth. His sin, however, created “enemies,” which then had to be subdued at the end of time. Unfortunately, Adam himself became part of the problem, and he could only reproduce corruptible mortals who were born in the enemy camp.
The calling itself remained intact, awaiting the Messiah who would fulfill it. Psalm 8:4-6 says,
4 What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? 5 Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God [Elohim], and dost crown him with glory and majesty! 6 Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou has put all things under his feet.
This was first a description of Adam, but secondly, it was a prophecy of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Hence, this passage is Paul’s favorite, and he quotes or refers to it more than any other in the Old Testament. David, too, refers to it in Psalm 110:1 (quoted earlier), when speaking of Yahweh putting all things under the feet of the exalted Adoni.
Paul referred to Psalm 8:6 saying in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28,
26 For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
Obviously, Paul interprets Psalm 8:6 in light of Psalm 110:1, maintaining the distinction between Yahweh and Adoni. God said to put all things in subjection to the Son. The Son must reign, seated at the right hand of the Father, until this is fully accomplished. When the last enemy (death) is subdued, then the Son Himself will present the fully-restored creation to the Father, “that God may be all in all.”
Nowhere in this passage are we given the impression that Christ is the same as the One who has put all things under His feet. In other words, Yahweh and Adoni remain distinct, and Adoni remains subordinate to Yahweh. Or, as Psalm 8:5 puts it, “Thou hast made Him a little lower than Elohim.” We know that Adam was made lower than God, but Paul makes no change here in regard to Christ’s position. God puts all things except Himself under the feet of the Son. and in the end, “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him.”
Paul confirms his view of Christ many times. For example, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 says,
4 … there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from [eis] whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by [dia, “through”] whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
This is perhaps the clearest statement from Paul on the relationship between “one God the Father” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ.” It would be difficult here to insist that they are the same individuals. Certainly, they are in agreement and in full unity of purpose.
The Law of Unity
We read in John 10:29, 30,
29 My Father, who has given them [the sheep] to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Because Christ came in the name of the Father, the principles of Identification and Unity are seen clearly here. To try to snatch sheep out of the hands of Christ is to try to take them from the Father as well. Why? Because, legally speaking, they were one, even as Adam and Eve were to be one (Genesis 2:24), and we ourselves are to be one with Christ (John 17:23).
This principle is clearly seen in the teaching that we are to be one with Christ, even as Christ is one with the Father. But this does not mean any of us is actually Christ or that Christ is actually the Father. It is a principle of the biblical law of unity. By not understanding this law, many have thought that Christ is same as the Father, and some have even taught that we are Christ.
Jesus, however, never usurped the position of the Father. Instead, He said in John 14:28, “the Father is greater than I.” Even after His resurrection, when He had received a glorified body, He said to Mary in John 20:17,
17 “… go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”
Having finished His first work, He was ready to ascend to the throne, for He was being summoned to take his seat at the right hand of His Father, as prophesied in Psalm 110:1,
1 Yahweh says to my [i.e., David’s] Adoni: “Sit at My right hand until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.”
There are, of course, many other disputed passages, which we have yet to discuss. These ought to be interpreted in a way that does not contradict Jesus’ own plain statements.
In any quest to interpret the Scriptures, we must start with the plain statements and then interpret more obscure passages to fit with the plain statements. If we start with the obscure statements and then force the plain statements to conform to our interpretation of that which is obscure, we will inevitably run into difficulty.