Sunday, August 30, 2009

Christ As the Middle Person in the Trinity

Here we continue to look at the Triune nature of God. (Photos by Neil Cullan McKinlay)

Again, yes, we love the simplicity of the Gospel - that Christ died for sinners (of whom Paul the Apostle said he was chief). However, we also love its profundity. (The following is an excerpt from my unpublished book The Nexus): Because the Son is the Middle Person of the Godhead – Father and Son and Holy Spirit – when Jesus says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6b) He is declaring in time truth from eternity – a truth embedded in the very being of the Triune God. For, ontologically[1] the Father speaks through, and is spoken to, through the Son, and the Spirit is the power or the means by which the Father speaks through or is spoken to through the Son.

To be sure, because of the transcendence of God, i.e., because God is distinct and so set apart from His creation, the human mind boggles when contemplating the very being of God in Himself. Our knowledge of God is by way of analogy.
We know God by the things He has made and by what He has deigned to reveal about Himself in His written Word. In other words, we know what God is like and, conversely, what He is not like, but to know God exhaustively, and to know God as God knows Himself, one would actually need to be God. For only God has infinite knowledge of Himself.

In order to help us understand what God is revealing about Himself in Jesus Christ one must first seek to understand and then acknowledge a few things about the triune nature of God’s being.

The Son, as the middle Person in the Godhead, is analogous to and is therefore reflected in the relationship between God and His creation. Christ the Son is Mediator or go-between between God and His creation. Creation reflecting God is like the Son reflecting the Father. This is seen best in the way Christ’s human nature perfectly reflects His divine nature. The Son always does His Father’s will. This is echoed in the prophetic words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Earth is to reflect heaven and will progressively do so, being already united to heaven by the Nexus Jesus Christ. For the resurrected and ascended Jesus has taken the dust of this earth – including our humanity – with Him into heaven (and thus it is sanctified and glorified in Him) and He will bring heaven with Him when He returns to earth on the last day.
The Triune God united creation to Himself forever when the Word became flesh. And, it is in Jesus Christ that every last vestige of the effects of sin and the curse will be removed. For, in Jesus (who is the new Adam) redeemed mankind will be in the immutable position of being unable to sin against God (unlike Adam who, in the beginning, was merely on probation). This permanent condition of mankind the triune God had in mind in eternity past, for Scripture refers to Jesus Christ as ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’ Revelation 13:8b.

And, even though He was crucified by men who are held morally responsible by God for their own actions, Scripture says that, ‘He, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, having crucified and put death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.’ Acts 2:23-24. Thus God, who is not the author of sin, even works evil to His own glorious end! And the wherewithal for working all things together for good is grounded in the very triune being of God. Says Herman Bavinck,

"The incarnation has its presupposition and foundation in the Trinitarian being of God. In Deism and pantheism there is no room for an incarnation of God. In the former, God is abstracted and separated from the world and humanity; in the latter, God loses himself in His creatures and has no being and life of His own."[2]

Both the Muslim and today’s Jew deny the Trinitarian being of God. Thereby both deny the Scriptures, which say that God is love. For only in the Triune God has love existed from eternity. The sum of God’s Moral Law (i.e., the Ten Commandments) is to love God and one’s neighbour as oneself. This love for God and for neighbour is revelation of the very character of God. For the Father loves the Son and the Spirit as Himself. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit as Himself. And the Spirit loves the Father and the Son as Himself. Thus each of the three Persons in the Godhead loves God and His neighbour as Himself, and has being doing so from all eternity and does so now, and will continue doing so to all eternity. Christ and His works are the expression to God’s creation of God’s love. Says Jay Adams,

"The cross was not merely an act of compassion and mercy directed toward mankind; it was a cosmic event in which God demonstrated who and what He is before all the universe."[3]

The most exhaustive of the great Confessions that resulted from the Reformation is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Found in the Confession, the following is an accurate and concise statement about the Trinitarian being of God as revealed in Scripture,

"In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."[4]

The Father has eternally been the Father of the Son just as the eternal Spirit has eternally proceeded from the eternal Father and the eternal Son. Thus the Triune God is without beginning or end and is from and to all eternity. If a straight line representing eternity were drawn on a piece of paper, the Father would be at one end of the line and the Son (who is His express image) would be at the other end, and the Spirit would constantly be proceeding back and forth along the line between the Father and the Son in both directions at once!

To use another analogy, perhaps the strand on the left of the DNA ‘double-helix’ could represent the Father and the strand on the right the Holy Spirit, and the bars or ladder rungs of coded-letters binding the two together could represent the Word or Son. However, if one looks long enough at any one person in the Godhead the other two begin to appear. Therefore the strands on the left and right of the ‘double-helix’ could just as easily represent the Father and the Son respectively, while the spars between could represent the Holy Spirit proceeding from both the Father and from the Son. But we favour the former because the order follows the order of God’s name as revealed in the baptismal formula, i.e., Father and Son and Holy Spirit – one name! (Matthew 28:19).

Francis Nigel Lee reminds us that everything God has in mind for creation will come to pass because of God’s everlasting covenantal relationship with Himself and with His creation of whom Christ in both relationships is the central or middle Person:

"The Lord God Jehovah Elohim has indeed been man’s dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or before God ever formed the earth and the world – even from everlasting, and to everlasting, He is – He is God (and triunely so). Psalm 90:1f,10f; Job 14:5f ; First Timothy 1:17 & 6:15f.
Our great Triune God, then, is. He is, triunely. He is, covenantally – from, and in, and unto all eternity. So too is His Eternal Triune Counsel or His Plan and Covenant with the entire Universe. Jeremiah 31:31-35 & 33:20-25.
In terms of that Plan or Counsel, the three Persons of the Triune God have always been in an Eternal Covenant with One Another – an everlasting promissory agreement also concerning everything They would ever bring to pass. Psalm 33:11-15; Isaiah 42:15f; Zechariah 6:13; John 17:4f & 17:24. And this eternal triune Counsel involves Each of the Three Persons of the Trinity in His Own characteristic way – whether paternally, filially, or spiritually."[5]

When the Word became also flesh He said, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’ John 14:9. It is the Spirit who reveals the Son who reveals the Father to us. And it is as the central or middle Person in the Godhead that the Mediator between God and men says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ John 14:6. Christ as the Word, the Second or Middle or Central Person in the Trinity, was there at the beginning, and He will be there as the God-man Mediator at the end. For God holds all creation together, and holds creation to Himself, by, in, and through the Nexus who is Jesus Christ. Herman Bavinck summarizes for us,

"[Christ] is the mediator of both creation and re-creation… He is not a third party who, coming from without, intervenes between God and us, but is Himself the Son of God, the reflection of His glory and the exact imprint of His very being, a partaker of God’s essence, in the attributes of His nature, and at the same time the Son of Man, head of all humanity, Lord of the church. He does not stand between two parties: He is those two parties in His own Person."[6]

[1] Ontology = the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being. Oxford English Reference Dictionary.
[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Vol. 3, 2006, Baker Academic, p. 274.
[3] Jay E Adams, The Biblical View of Self-esteem, Self-love, Self-image, Harvest House, 1986, p. 89.
[4] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2:3.
[5] Francis Nigel Lee, God Triune in the Holy Bible, p. 16
[6] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin & Salvation in Christ, Vol. 3, Baker Academic, 2006, p. 362-3 (underlining mine).

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