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Talking about Jesus and the Trinity from the OT

Friday, October 19th, 2012

So “Where does Jesus say, ‘I am God, worship me!’...?” Of course, the answer to this common Muslim question is that Jesus doesn’t, or at very least he does not use those actual words anywhere in the Gospels. And so any verse you come up with from the Gospels is likely just to get dismissed by the Muslim person you are speaking with. The issue of course is whether we would expect Jesus to say, “I am God, worship me!” in the first place. It assumes a lot about God and what he is like and what he would say. It may well be what we would expect Allah of the Qur’an, but we need to start with the God of the OT and think about what he is like.

Give up Jacob – do you realise who that is?!

So let’s rewind and start again. “Where does Jesus say, ‘I am God, worship me!’...?” The way to have a great conversation is to reply, “Which God are you talking about? Are you talking about Allah? Or, are you talking about the God of Adam, Abraham and Moses?” Now that probably wasn’t the answer your Muslim friend was expecting, but it is exactly the right kinds of questions to be asking.

The next step is to open up the OT scriptures. A simple verse to open up is Genesis 3:8 where we read of the God of Adam walking in the garden of Eden. Already we are encountering a God who is very different to Allah. This is the kind of God you really could imagine entering the human race.

Where else might you go? You could check out verses that talk about a person called the Angel of the LORD. For example, it is the Angel of the LORD who speaks from inside the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:1-6). Note verse 6 – the Angel speaks as though he is God and Moses says that he was afraid to look at God. This is no created angel representing God (check out Genesis 48:15-16 to see this Angel really is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). What’s more because he is the Angel of the LORD, then he has been sent by someone else called the LORD. He is the one sent by God in heaven. And this is exactly how Jesus keeps talking about himself. Check out John 5:36-40:

I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

What we are beginning to see in Exodus 3 is that there are two persons called the LORD, two persons who are God. This all becomes clearer when we get to Exodus chapter 19. There the unapproachable, hidden LORD of heaven descends on Mount Sinai in a thick cloud. Exodus 19:24 reads, "The LORD replied, "Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them." There are two persons called the LORD and what we learn at Sinai is one could be seen and one could not; one who travelled in the pillar of cloud/fire and one who spoke from heaven at Sinai. So in Exodus 33:10-11 Moses would speak face to face with the LORD in the tent, yet later in the same chapter having asked to see the LORD’s glory Moses is not permitted to see his face (Exodus 33:18-23). There is no contradiction if we have been reading Exodus carefully! These verses are but the tip of the iceberg, but already the Jesus of the Gospels is beginning to become much clearer. Check out how John introduces Jesus to us. John 1:14-18 is an exposition of Exodus 33-34 (dwelling/tabernacled, glory, Moses, law, grace & truth are all allusions), but it is verse 18 which caps it all off: “No-one have ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John wants us to think back to the unseen LORD and the visible LORD of Exodus 33-34. Jesus is the LORD Moses spoke to face to face in the tent.

Well, there’s far more that could be said on this topic and far more OT texts we could look up. But that’s enough to get you started…!

HT: Jonathan Carter, former Theology Network ASW at Cambridge, and current PhD student at New College, Edinburgh.

 1 Comment

Simon   (Fri 19 Oct)
Perhaps we could look to John 18:6: "When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground." "I am he" isn't strictly accurate, and it turns out that Jesus uses the same phrase 'I AM' as was used with Moses at the burning bush. \r\n\r\nThis is just one example of many that we find in the gospels where Jesus is seen by the Pharisees as claiming to be God - i.e. Lord of the Sabbath...
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