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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The First and the Last - The Living One

I must confess a theological struggle that has plagued me recently. As followers of Jesus, we make the claim that Jesus was and is 100% God. In the incarnation (Jesus coming, born of Mary, and living as a 1st century Jew), he is also 100% human. Without a blink, we determinedly make both claims. Recently, I blinked.

With a scrutinizing eye, I combed through John's Gospel to find where it is definitively stated that Jesus is God. I didn't have to go far. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1, 14a, NRSV). Case closed: Jesus is God! But for me, the case wasn't (and isn't) closed.

I continued reading and what I found is Jesus being referred to as the "Son of God." Jesus is the one "sent by God." Jesus doesn't say, "I am God." Jesus continuously subordinates himself and speaks of God as a Superior Other. Jesus is subservient to the Sovereign God. For me this became more than just a difficult notion to understand. It's a given that it is hard for a human to grasp that Jesus is a man and at the same time is God. Here's what became hard for me. The Bible over and over failed to say Jesus is God. Why?

I share all of this to be open with you about my own theological pickle. I hesitate to call this a moment of doubt or a crisis of faith. The more I read of John's Gospel, the more I became convinced that whatever else is true, one thing I am sure of is our call to worship Jesus. I don't think I have ever been more confident that life is all about serving Jesus and salvation is only found in Him. I am just not so sure about what we (Christians) have said about him.

So, what to do? How does a pastor preach every week with these questions swimming through his mind? This inner theological debate has waged in my brain for months, and you haven't head a thing about it. Why am I am coming clean now?

The key for my own understanding (and return from the edge of theological abyss back to evangelical orthodoxy) has been a text in Revelation. The resurrected Christ is speaking to John: "he placed his right hand on me, saying, 'Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one'" (Revelation 1:17-18a). The phrase "living one" would have been understood by a first century Jew as referring to God and no one else. It was used repeatedly in Isaiah in that way, and the same idea is conveyed about God in Revelation 1:8. So, for Jesus to tell John he is "the living one" is to self-identify as God. I really needed Him to do that.

That self-identification, coupled with the verses from John I cited, helped me sit down and exhale. I can, on faith, believe in two key Christian doctrines - the trinity and the dual nature of Christ. Of course I am an unfinished product and I continue to have theological questions. But I am relieved to have this one calmed to the point that I can speak openly of it to my church. Starting today, I am going to spend the next several months sharing other insights from Revelation. I recommend you read it through, several times. I also recommend Craig Keener's commentary on Revelation in the NIV Applicaton Commentary series.

I conclude with this. Don't be afraid of your questions or doubts, and don't bury them or pretend they aren't there. Our growth in Christ comes when we are 100% honest with Him. So if theological uncertainty is nibbling at your soul, face it. Take the questions head on. If you need to, come to me and let me help you. I have questions too. Jesus is the answer.


  1. Rob
    It's refreshing to see a pastor and someone I respect be so candid with their questions about the truth.
    I'm glad it has drawn you closer. I'm afraid sometimes the nagging questions have the opposite effect on many others.

  2. Jesus is the exact imprint of God's nature (Heb 1:3). That is not exactly the same as saying he is the same thing as God the Father. The Apostle seems to imply that they are two separate persons. The trinitarian formula "God in three persons" would not be in conflict with this. But what does 'person' mean when referring to God? I think we all agree that Jesus is God, the second person of the trinity. We just need to know what is meant by 'person'. That Jesus is God follows from the fact that he spoke all things into existence as the Word in the beginning (John 1).