No clearer expression of the fact of the Trinity could be desired than that given by the risen Christ in the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19, with its inescapable implication of the co-equality and hence co-eternity of the three persons of the Godhead. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that our Lord said “name,” not “names.” There subsist three co-eternal persons, but the divine essence or substance is one. The model for this formula is probably to be found in the benediction given by the Lord to Moses in Numbers 6:24, “Jehovah bless thee and keep thee, Jehovah cause his face to shine upon thee and be gracious to thee, Jehovah lift up his face upon thee and give thee peace.” And God adds: “That they may put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless you.” Although there are three blessings there is only one Blesser; thus it is “name,” not “names.”
At the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he pronounces a benediction in which the three persons of the Trinity are named as partners with co-equal power to bless: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.” The use of all of Christ’s titles is significant: he is not merely Jesus Christ, he is the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 13:14).
Paul again in First Corinthians 12 gives us a passage in which the “trinitarian” pattern is obvious: “Now there are diversities of gifts of grace, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of services, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities but the same God, who is effecting all things in all” (verses 4–6). The mention of the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God, demands the use of the word “trinity,” or another word meaning the same thing.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, within a brief compass he refers to the Trinity no fewer than four times. The first mention describes the trinitarian nature of our approach to God: “For through him [Christ] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father.” The word for “access” is that used of bringing a subject into the presence of his king, or as we would say, “to have audience of” (Eph. 2:18).
The second reference describes the collaboration of the “Trinity” in our edification (Eph. 2:22): “In whom [Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, verse 20] you are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” Again the same pattern: In whom—Christ; to whom—God; through whom—the Spirit.
The third passage is Ephesians 3:14–17, “For this cause I bow my knees to the Father, of whom the whole ‘repatriation’ in heaven and on earth is named. That he would grant unto you according to the riches of his grace, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may come and take up his abode in your hearts by faith.” Thus for enjoyment of abiding fellowship we have the cooperation of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Christ.
Again Paul refers to the work of the Trinity in maintaining unification in his Church (Eph. 4:4–6). “One body, and one Spirit, even as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Here we have unity in tri-unity.
In the first chapter of Colossians we have a number of significant statements concerning the person of Christ. In verse 15 we read: “who [the Son] is the image of the invisible God.” “Image” by the common process of extension came to denote not only representation but manifestation. Thus in Second Corinthians 4:4 we find it used in this latter sense: “that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.” But Christ is also: “the first-born of every creature.” The word first-born had long since ceased to be used exclusively in its literal sense, just as prime (from Latin primus—first) with us. The Prime Minister is not the first minister we have had; he is the most pre-eminent. A man in the “prime” of life has long since left the first part of his life behind. Similarly, first-born came to denote not priority in time but pre-eminence in rank. For instance in Psalm 89:27, “I have put him [given him] as first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.” In a given situation even a whole company may rank as first-borns, as in Hebrews 12:23, “and church of the first-born ones, who are enrolled in heaven.” But Paul leaves us in no doubt as to what he means by the word; for he proceeds: “for [because, for this reason] by him were all things created”; and the word Paul uses for “all” means without any exception whatever. Had Christ himself been a created being, Paul would have had to use the Greek word meaning “other things” or the word meaning “remainder, rest.” But then Paul would not have called him first-born but “first-created,” a term never applied to Christ. And verse 17 clinches the whole matter: “And he is before all things,” not “he was.” The force of this statement is equal to that of the “I am” of John 8:58.
Paul on occasions exploits language to its maximal limit to find terms in which to describe the absolute exaltation of Christ. To the believers in Rome he writes: “From whom [the Jewish nation] as concerning the flesh is Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). When speaking to the Corinthian converts about the Cross as the focal point of their salvation, he goes on to say: “To us there is one God: the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him” (1 Cor. 8:6). To the Ephesians, he asserts: “[He is set] far above all hierarchy, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21). To the Colossian Christians he says: “In him dwells all the fulness of the deity bodily” (Col. 2:9). Even in his short letter to Titus he must mention it: “Expecting the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and the Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
In the most unlikely places in the New Testament we find the deity of Christ taken for granted. James, his brother, begins his letter with the words: “James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James must have heard our Lord often say, “No servant can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13). But the very title, too, that he gives to Christ, shows that he is placing him equal with God. And if emphasis was needed he provides it in chapter 2:1, “My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons.” For a Jew, glory was an attribute of God alone.
In First John 5:6–9 (as everyone knows, verse 7 is absent from all good manuscripts) there appears again the trinitarian pattern: the witness of the Spirit with the witness of God witnessing concerning his Son. Before John finishes his letter he leaves us in no doubt concerning the person of the Son (verse 20): “And we know that the Son of God is come and has given us understanding that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ, this is the true God and eternal life.”
It was evident for the writers in the New Testament, as it should be for us, that Christ could not save if he were not fully divine. The all-sufficiency of his sacrifice depends on his absolute authority. Had he been a created being, he would have been in some sense under compulsion, a victim. It is his possession of absolute free will that removes the stigma of injustice from the Cross. And only of one who had himself absolute immortality could it be said that “he became obedient unto death.”
Among the disciples was one who refused to believe in the resurrection of Christ without tangible proof. For him the witness of others was not sufficient in a matter of such momentous consequence. He demanded nothing less than positive proof within the domain of his own senses. When our Lord appeared to him, He did not rebuke him for his skepticism; rather He readily provided the kind of proof asked for. His confession, in words expressing the ultimate in Christian faith, could not have been a consequence of seeing someone risen from the dead, for he must surely have seen the risen Lazarus. There is no mistaking their intent: “Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and My God.’ ” And our Lord did not restrain him nor rebuke him; he received this as his rightful designation (John 20:24–29).
The claims of Christ to deity, embedded in the highest ethical teaching known to man, are expressed in irreducible matter-of-fact language. Either he was a fraud, or he was God. There is no middle position.
Paul provides a simple test for the sincerity of our faith. To be able to confess Jesus as Lord, Paul says, we need the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Ask the one who places Christ any lower than the highest, if he will submit to this test. What is your own response, for this is a condition of salvation?
“Because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
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