Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 18 March 2012

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Revelation 04 – From Three

 

Who is God and how can you relate to him? Who is God? The very first chapter of the book of Revelation gives a surprising answer. I read the verses to you and you tell me what is strange about them:

 

Revelation 1:4-8: . To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; ... So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 

Let me highlight the crucial sections:

 

Revelation 1:4-8:

 

... Grace and peace to you

 

1.      from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and

2.      from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne, and

3.      from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth ...

 

What is going on here? Who is God? Throughout the Bible, there is an insistence that God is one – Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Mark 12:29-34: “ ... Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one ... God is one and there is no other but him.” James 2:19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! ... ”

According to the Bible – there is only one God but, in these opening verses of Revelation, grace and peace are bestowed on the churches not by one person but three. Instead of sayinggrace and peace to you from our one God”, the Bible verses identify here a three-fold source of blessing. Grace and peace flow into the churches from three persons: 1) the one who is, and who was, and who is to come [God the Father], 2) the sevenfold Spirit before his throne and 3) Jesus Christ.

How does this work? The book of Revelation is not the only Bible book which is suggesting such strangeness. The three-fold God also makes an appearance in the following verses – Matthew 28:19: “ ... make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

This last verse compounds the strangeness because three persons are mentioned but only one is identified as God. There is 1) Jesus Christ, 2) God and the 3) Holy Spirit. We have the same conundrum in Ephesians 4:4-6 where there is talk aboutone God and Father of allbut – at the same time – there are three persons operating on a (seemingly) divine level:

 

Ephesians 4:4-7: (1) There is one [church] body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; (2) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (3) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (2) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

 

Even in the first chapter of Revelation itself, Jesus is a core member of the three-fold union of persons that confer grace and peace on the churches but – almost in the same breath of the first few verses – he is also set apart from God when – in his company – only God the Father is clearly identified as God – Revelation 1:1: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him ... ” Revelation 1:6: “ ... and [Jesus Christ] has made us ... to serve his God and Father.”

Are you confused? Be comforted – so is everyone else. How are we to understand the three persons: Father, Jesus and the Spirit? You could presume that only the Father is God but then built a team around him – birthing a son (Jesus Christ) and emanating his own Spirit on occasion. Yet, the team is not of a created order but has been around from the beginning – forever. The partners in the team – the persons in this union of Father, Son and Spirit – (throughout the Bible) – appear to be in the same league of divine beings. Revelation 1 introduces us to God that is genuinely three-fold.

This is what the Bible says about Jesus – John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Philippians 2:5-8: “ ... Christ Jesus . being in very nature God ... ” Colossians 1:16-17: “ ... all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” These verses – and many others – illustrate that – despite the pre-eminence of the Father – (remember how Revelation 1 speaks of the Father as the God of Jesus) – Jesus himself is hardly inferior to him.

 

[Titus 2:13: “ ... the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:1: “ ... our God and Saviour Jesus Christ ... ” Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word ... ” 1 John 5:20: “ ... Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” When the disciple Thomas saw Jesus for the first time after his resurrection, he called him – John 20:28-29: “ ... My Lord and my God! ... ”]

 

Many a time – what is said about the Father can be in the same way ascribed to the Son. One good example is also found in Revelation 1. God the Father declares that he isthe Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8) but – only a few verses later – Jesus is making the same claim, saying: “I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17; cf. 22:13). Then – most significantly – in Revelation 22:1-3, God and theLambJesus Christ share the same throne: “ ... the river of the water of life ... flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb ... The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city ... ”

Therefore, what is said about Jesus cannot apply to one of God’s creations – neither human nor angelic. In many respects, he is like the Father and seems to possess the same divine nature. We come back to Revelation 1:4-8. Grace and peace come upon the churches from the Father and Jesus, his Son from the beginning. They are in this together as equal partners(equal in being a divine person and equal in importance but not function)and – then – (the third person in the union) – there is also the Holy Spirit. What about him?

The Bible infers that the Holy Spirit also possesses the divine nature of the Father and the Son – Acts 5:3-4: “ ... you have lied to the Holy Spirit ... You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” 1 Corinthians 3:16: “ ... you yourselves are God’s temple ... God’s Spirit dwells in your midst.” Hebrews 9:14: “ ... the eternal Spirit ... ” Thus – despite the tendency to identify the Father more with God than the others (see also Hebrews 9:14; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6) – all three – Father, Son and Spirit – are indeed together the one eternal source of grace and peace for God’s people – the churches. This remains the reality of our Bible text – Revelation 1:4-8. Have another look:

 

Revelation 1:4-8: ... Grace and peace to you (1) from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and (2) from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne, and (3) from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; ... So shall it be! Amen.

(1) “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 

Even though God is one – there is this three-fold union of Father, Spirit and Jesus. Why is this important? Why should you invest into understanding God – the more complex issue of the three in one? The answer is simple and practical. Unless you understand how God operates – (the three-fold union) – unless you understand the place and function of Father, Son and Spirit – you will struggle in your relationship with him. You will not know how salvation works and you will not know how to live with God – now.

The Bible is very practical. I guess that it would be interesting – especially for scientists and scholars – to have more Bible verses on the precise nature of Father, Son and Spirit – how they are the same in divine essence – equal in being. [Athanasian Creed: “And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.”] However, the Bible is not much interested in expounding thesubstanceof each person in the three-fold God. There is zero speculation on the divine DNA of the three Spirit beings. The Bible is almost exclusively interested in how these three persons act on our behalf for salvation. What are they doing – for us – rather than what does God look like under the microscope?

This is where it gets easier. There is a monkey off our backs! We don’t have to solve the strangeness of a three-fold God – the Trinity – but – accepting the Bible witness – we can spend time on what really matters to us – this question: What are the three persons of our one God doing and how do they work together in their relationship with us? Who is God for me? How can I be saved and how do I worship a three-fold God?

As you read again Revelation 1:4-8 – what do they say about Father, Spirit and Jesus? What can you pick up? Where is the main focus? [Accept answers from the congregation.] Without a doubt, Jesus occupies the centre stage. In these verses – there is not much information given about the Father – (except that he is and was and is to come) – or the Spirit – (except that he is seven-fold before the Father’s throne) – but Jesus is said to be thefaithful witness” (he communicates the truth about God), thefirstborn from the dead” (he is the one that pioneered victory over death) and theruler of the kings of the earth” (he is in charge and no one else). These are three significant statements. Then, his importance for us is further emphasized in words of exclusive praise which – at this stage – single him out from the others. He is the one – (in concert with the Father and the Spirit but carrying the lion’s share) – that has saved us: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests ... to him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Everything revolves around Jesus. He holds all authority and all power over everything in our world. He is the one – (in union with the Father and the Spirit) – that has saved us. He loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood which he shed for us on a cross outside of Jerusalem two thousand years ago. He came from heaven and – the only person of the three-fold God to do so – became a human being – God and man in one – so that he could live among us – on our behalf – as a human person and as a human person without sin suffer the punishment which humans have earned from God for their disobedience. His supreme sacrifice of love – (shared by the Father who grieved over his Son and us lost people) – was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God over sin. By his blood we are redeemed from our bondage to sin, death and the devil. This is Jesus for us. He is everything for us. No wonder the Bible verses in Revelation 1 – out of the blue – end up praising him. You cannot talk about Jesus without breaking out in praise – to him – our Saviour.

I give you a further summary of Jesus’ person and role in our salvation:

 

Edwin Reynolds: The Trinity In The Book Of Revelation, in: Journal Of The Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 55-72: The Role of the Son: ... He is the Lamb that was slain (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8)—crucified (11:8)—according to a plan established before the foundation of the world (13:8). He redeemed people to God from every nation by His blood (5:9; 12:11), and He has washed us from our sins in His own blood (1:5; 7:14). He died and came back to life (1:18; 2:8), the Firstborn from the dead (1:5), and He is alive forevermore and holds the keys of death and of Hades (1:18; 2:8; 11:8) ...

Jesus, the Son of God, is the Lamb that takes the scroll of the covenant from the One who sits on the throne and breaks its seven seals so that He can open it and read it, that is, put it into effect (5:5, 7; 6:1). He is declared worthy to do this because He was slain and has redeemed people to God by His blood from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and has made them kings and priests to His God, and they will reign on the earth (5:9–10, 12). The Lamb has followers who follow Him wherever He goes (14:4; 19:14), like a flock following their divine Shepherd (7:17). Nonetheless, the salvation of the race is declared to be a joint venture between God, who sits on the throne, and the Lamb, who has come down and sacrificed Himself for humankind (7:10; 12:10–11) ...

In the eternal kingdom that is established at the time of Christ’s return in glory to retrieve His followers, Jesus Christ and His Father co-rule the universe (11:15; 21:22–23; 22:1, 3–4), separate but equal. Despite their equality as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, they have separate functions in the divine economy. Christ accepted the role of the Mediator between God and His creatures, the One who agreed from before the foundation of the world to come down and become incarnate in human flesh, to live and die for the salvation of humankind, and to be the active agent in interceding for those who would choose to follow Him. He communicates by the Spirit with His people and appeals to them to be faithful to the end, when He will reward the overcomers with all the privileges and blessings He can offer to them, including sitting with Him on His throne and, as kings and priests to God, assisting in judging those who have rejected His atoning work on their behalf. Finally, He will return in power and glory to establish the eternal kingdom in which He co-rules with His Father and receives the honour and worship of His loyal servants.

 

The following Bible passage is also a good summary of Jesus’ role in the history of salvation – Philippians 2:5-11: Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

What do the verses of Revelation 1:4-8 say about God the Father? Not in his being but in his function and role in caring for us and this world – he seems to be above Jesus and the Spirit. He is the onewho is, and who was, and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4) which is a description that accentuates his eternal and active presence. Nothing escapes his dominance as the Spirit and Jesus then act on his behalf. Thus, the seven-fold Spirit resides beforehis throne” (Revelation 1:4) and Jesushas made us to be a kingdom and priest to serve [him –] his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6). The book of Revelation is his revelation which Jesus then passes on to John (John 1:1).

I give you a further summary of the Father’s person and role in the rule of his creation:

 

Edwin Reynolds: The Trinity In The Book Of Revelation, in: Journal Of The Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 55-72: The Role of the Father. God the Father is portrayed throughout the book of Revelation as the figurehead, the One who sits on the throne (4:2–3, 9–10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 20:11–12; 21:5), the Almighty or Sovereign Ruler (pantokrator: 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22), the Creator who rightfully receives the worship of all created things (3:14; 4:9–11; 7:11–12; 10:6; 11:16–17; 14:7; 15:3–4; 19:4, 10; 22:9), the One who lives forever and ever, who is and was and is coming (1:4, 8; 4:8–10; 10:6; 11:17; 15:7; 16:5). He is the Father of Jesus Christ, the Lamb (2:27; 3:5, 21; 14:1), who is the Son of God (2:18). Although God shares His throne with the Son (3:21; 22:1, 3), it is usually depicted as His throne (1:4; 4:2–3; 7:15; 12:5), which He shares at His will (3:21), and the Son is never portrayed as sitting on it by Himself. The Father is the God of heaven (11:13; 15:11) and Lord of the earth (11:4). He is also the Lord God of the holy prophets (22:6). If there is any seniority in rank among the three divine Persons, in terms of roles, it would be the Father who is depicted as holding that position ...

 

In the book of Revelation – John was taken up to heaven and given a revelation of God in heaven – as also happened to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). This still happens today – maybe even to you. People – in a visionary encounter (or dream) – experience the spiritual world of heaven and – in heaven – they also receive confirmation about the three-fold nature of God. Here is one such example.

 

Jesse Duplantis: Heaven. Close Encounters Of The God Kind, Tulsa: Harrison House 1996): In this book I share some of the events that have happened to me personally in my relationship with God. I call them close encounters of the God kind. One of the events I share about in this book is my trip to heaven in 1988 …

I was still lying on my face and getting weaker. In that mass of energy and power I could see God, Jehovah—His feet—sitting. There is a huge platform in front of the Throne like a stage. It seemed level to me, but actually it was raised. Everything in heaven is raised. The topography of the land goes up toward the Throne. Then out of that massive energy of Light and love and power I saw Jesus come in human form. There He was, like I had seen Him in Paradise. What seemed to be millions of people at the Throne of God fell down before Him.

For the first time in my life, I could understand the Trinity in physical terms. Jesus came out of the cloud and the power of the Father. Jesus literally came out of the very existence of Jehovah God, and when He did, the people shouted. Jesus and the Father were One, yet They were Two. He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. He was at the right hand of God. When He came out of that power, He was in human form—something we could touch.

All my life as a minister, I thought of Jesus as a teacher, a mild-mannered, calm person. When He came out onto the platform of that Throne, I could hear a sound from the Father, Whoosh! Whoosh! It was the sound of power! The Jesus I heard that day was not a teacher, even though obviously He can teach; He was a dynamic preacher.

I had always thought of Jesus as being a quiet teacher, but He was full of power and preached with authority. All the people there were listening. Jesus preached with great emotion. I could see that He was torn with compassion for those who were still on earth.

Jesus preached of His coming to earth. He said, “I am going to get My Body, and My Body shall reside in this place that My Father has created for us all.” There was a stirring among the people, and they began shouting and praising God.

He began to shout: “I’m going to get your brothers! I’m going to get your sisters! I’m going to get your family! I’m bringing them back to this place to live with Me forever and ever!” He was a preacher full of victory, shouting and hollering! He was excited, and the people were screaming and hollering, too.

As He preached, people—even though they were in new celestial bodies—fell under the power of God. Even in heavenly bodies they fell under God’s power!

Then I heard Jehovah’s Voice, saying, “I am well-pleased.”

I was lying on the floor, trying to take in all that was happening. It was the most amazing, powerful experience I have ever gone through.

I couldn’t look at Jehovah’s face, but I could look at Jesus. You see, the heart of God is the Father; the face of the Father is unveiled by the Son, Jesus; the Voice of God is heard through the Holy Ghost; the Hand of God is laid open through the Church.

As Jesus was preaching, I saw Him turn around several times and look into that massive light. But I realized that I couldn’t do that. I had to keep looking down, but I could look up long enough to see glimpses of what was around me, and I could see Jesus’ face. I could hardly bear the Father’s power. Jesus would look back at the Father, sometimes just looking over His shoulder, as if they didn’t want to be separated even by sight very long. I could sense the love of God in Jesus, and I could see the affection and love flowing back and forth between the Father and the Son. I had never before seen love like that. It seemed magnetic.

Jesus would walk in and out of the power, the fire, that massive amount of energy. When Jesus walked back into the energy, as He got closer, I would have to put my head down again, because I couldn’t handle the Light. But that form of a Man as He walked toward that energy would transform back into Spirit.

I understood how the Trinity are Three, yet They are One. Still lying on the floor, I turned my head toward that angel and asked, “Where’s the Holy Spirit?” “He is on the earth,” he said. Of course! Later when I thought back to the incident, I felt so stupid to have asked such a dumb question at the Throne of God. I’m still embarrassed about it ...

 

According to Jesse Duplantis – the throne in heaven was the Father’s but Jesus also shared in being on it. Jesus came out of the cloud and power of the Father. When he appeared from the Father, he appeared in human form but would transform back into Spirit when hewalked intothe Father again. There was a union of affection and love between Father and Son. Jesse could not look into the massive light of the Father but he could look at Jesus when he was preaching on behalf of the Father and to his delight. (The Father declared that he was well-pleased with Jesus’ preaching.) All of this seems to confirm the essential union between Father and Son but also the Father’s seniority.

In heaven – Jesse Duplantis asked about the Holy Spirit and suffered embarrassment when he was told that the Spirit was on earth – not in heaven. As a preacher, he should have known that. In Revelation 1:4-8 – we learn that the seven-fold Spirit is before the throne of God and – according to Revelation 4:5 – the Spirit is represented there by seven lamps: “ ... In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven-fold Spirit of God.” I am speculating now but maybe he is represented in heaven as lamps because his real presence in person is found here on earth. [Maybe this is also the reason why the book of Revelation does not elaborate much on the Holy Spirit.] [There is also the consideration that the Holy Spirit never draws attention to himself as a person but glorifies Jesus. Therefore, lamps represent his function rather than his person.]

This is what we learn about the Spirit in Revelation 5:6: “Then I saw a Lamb [representing Jesus Christ], looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne ... The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.” Jesus was slain on the cross but – at his resurrection and ascension back to heaven – he was enthroned again in heaven. From there – the Spirit of God is sent to earth as an extension of Jesus: his power (represented by the seven horns) and his all-seeing knowledge and wisdom (represented by seven eyes).

In a most beautiful way – we learn to understand the Spirit’s role in the later verses of Revelation 1. There it says: “I, John, ... was on the island of Patmos ... On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice ... I turned around to see the voice ... and when I turned I saw [Jesus] ... ” (Revelation 1:9-16). When we arein the Spirit” – when the Spirit takes control of us – when we allow ourselves to be moved and guided by the Spirit – we receive the power and revelation of Jesus and – on rare occasions – at least rare in our current experience – we even see Jesus himself in a visionary experience. This is the role of the Spirit. He communicates Jesus and his power to us.

There is still another twist. When John wasin the Spirit”, he saw Jesus and heard him speak clear words of instruction. Jesus told him what to write down for the seven churches – Jesus spelled out the content of seven letters – but at the conclusion of each letter Jesus himself clarifies that it is the Spirit that is taking up his words and speaking them to the churches: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2-3). Again, this is the role of the Spirit. He communicates Jesus and his instructions to us – together with his power. When we arein the Spirit”, we have a revelation of Jesus – may even see Jesus – and whatever Jesus is speaking to us then – under the control and influence of the Spirit – the Spirit is taking up further and depositing in our heart.

I may add that the Spirit makes another appearance in Revelation 1:

 

Revelation 1:12-20: I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man ... In his right hand he held seven stars ... His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance ... he placed his right hand on me and said: “ ... The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

 

The seven lampstands represent the seven churches but are also another expression of the Spirit’s seven lamps. Churches are defined by the presence of the Spirit. You cannot be a Christian apart from his presence (Romans 8:9); therefore his presence identifies us. We are the lampstands for his lamps and Jesus himself is walking among us.

I give you a further summary of the Spirit’s person and role in the book of Revelation:

 

Edwin Reynolds: The Trinity In The Book Of Revelation, in: Journal Of The Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 55-72: The Role of the Spirit: ... Given the apparent symbolic value of the number seven in Revelation, signifying completion or perfection, one can understand the attempt to portray the perfection of the Spirit by its seven-fold representation ... In 3:18, 23 we have seen already how the eyes of the Son of God are significant for their ability to search the mind and the heart. This is the work of the Spirit, as indicated in 5:6 and its allusions to 2 Chron 16:9 and Zech 4:10. This work is closely associated in Zechariah with the seven lamps of fire which are burning before the throne in Rev 4:5 and with the function of the Two Witnesses in 11:3–4, which are also represented as the two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth (cf. Zech 4:2–14). When Zechariah asks what the lamps and olive trees represent, he is told first, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (4:6). Subsequently, the interpreter adds, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (v. 14). Revelation brings all of this together to depict the function of the seven-fold Spirit of God in the presence of the Lord of all the earth.

According to the function of the Spirit in Revelation, it is His work to represent God and Christ to the people of earth, to make God’s work effective on earth, to bring the light of truth to the world, to engender prophecy and faithful witness, to search the hearts and minds of people, and to bring conviction of truth forcefully to the mind. Thus, the appeal is given at the end of each of the letters to the seven churches, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The Spirit becomes the voice of conscience, the voice of Christ spoken internally to the heart and mind. He is depicted as searching the heart and mind in the sense that He is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart and to respond with the voice of conscience to direct the human agent in making wise choices, which will lead to life ...

The Holy Spirit is never portrayed in Revelation as sitting on a throne, ruling, judging, receiving worship and adoration, or even sacrificing Himself to save fallen humanity. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has a very important role to play in the plan of salvation. This role is equivalent in Revelation to the role which Jesus described for Him in John 14–16, a work of comforting and counselling, of reminding and convicting, of guiding and teaching, of doing the work of Christ in His absence to help to prepare His followers for the judgment and for Christ’s return to reward those who have been faithful to Him. The Spirit is an integral part of the triune Deity from whom grace and peace are communicated to the readers and hearers of the book of Revelation (Rev 1:4–5). The fact that He is never portrayed as sitting on a throne, ruling, or receiving worship and adoration should not be construed to imply that He is not ontologically equal with God. It reflects rather the unique function that the Spirit maintains in Revelation, a function that emphasizes a ministry on earth rather than an exalted state in heaven. As the Communicator of God’s will and His grace to humanity, He does not exalt Himself, but He exalts the Father and the Son. Yet, implicitly, the Spirit is portrayed as a full member of the heavenly Trinity ...

 

I may add another interesting excerpt from a book which describes the experiences of Chinese orphans in the care of Western missionaries (H.A. Baker & his wife Josephine in Kotchius, the furthest southwest province in China):

 

H.A. Baker, Visions Beyond The Veil, Minneapolis: Osterhus Publishing House p16: Many times have older and younger children seen The Holy Spirit As Seven Lamps.At times of special outpouring of the Holy Spirit these seven lamps of fire were seen let down from heaven into the room in our very midst. At other times in the visions of the throne of Christ in heaven, children saw the “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (Rev. 4:5). We all knew that the seven lamps meant the Holy Spirit in our midst.

In the first days of the outpouring of the Spirit one small boy spoke in pure prophecy when in the Spirit he seemed to be in heaven at the feet of Jesus. The Lord spoke through him in the first person clearing up many things the children did not understand and telling them how to tarry and how to seek the Spirit. At that time the Lord said, “When the Spirit is in your midst do not open your eyes, for that will hinder; the Holy Spirit will descend to give you power to preach the gospel, to cast out demons, and to heal the sick; the Holy Spirit is in seven colours, red, blue, and other colours.” One of the older boys then said that when the Spirit had been upon him he had seen a great, red light and other colours. The word from the Lord explained this to him and others who had seen different colours. Of course I know light is made up of seven colours but I had never thought of the seven lamps before the throne of God, the Holy Spirit, as seven colours. All light comes from God, and God is light.

 

As Jesus is subject to the Father, so the Spirit is subject to Jesus and then also to the Father. Jesus himself said – John 16:13-15: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Acts 2 provides a good Bible summary of how the Father, Son and Spirit are set up in partnership:

 

Acts 2:32-38: God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear ... Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah ... Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

[In the book of Revelation, one may also notice how angels and even Christians in heaven aid the ministry of the Spirit. We are not only dealing with God – Father, Son and Spirit – but also other Spirit beings.]

 

[The very first Bible seems to set forth the operation of the three-fold God – Genesis 1:1-3: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” When the Father exercises his will, the Word (Jesus) goes forth (see Revelation 1:16; 19:13,15; Ephesians 6:17) and – by the Spirit – creates what the Father desires.

William Landen: Martin Luther’s Religious Thought, Mountain View: Pacific Press 1971, p70: “In his lectures on Genesis, begun in 1535, Luther comes upon ... the second verse of the Bible ... and immediately says: ‘ ... Indeed it is the great consensus of the church that the mystery of the Trinity is set forth here. The Father creates heaven and earth out of nothing through the Son, whom Moses calls the Word. Over these the Spirit broods ... For it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive.’”]

 

I am coming to the end of the message. What does this all mean then? This is about understanding God and learning how to relate to him.

 

[We avoid the following mistakes: Jesus does not live inside of us but the Spirit. Song lyrics like this one: “You alone are Father / and You alone are good. / You alone are Saviour / and You alone are God.” We do not pray to the Spirit but to Jesus and the Father through Jesus.]

 

According to Revelation 1:4-8 – grace and peace come to you from the Father and from the Son and from the Holy Spirit. The source of grace and peace is our one God but he is also a three-fold God. We may not understand the complex theory of such an arrangement but – I hope that – the practical side has become clearer. It is all about Jesus. Ephesians 2:18 provides a one-verse-summary of his importance: “Through him we have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

Jesus loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood – (he has provided access to the Father in this way) – so that we would serve his God and Father who sits on the throne. The Spirit is his means of operation now – the “light” on our “lampstand”. As the Spirit takes control of us – more and more – as we learn to be “in the Spirit” – we hear from Jesus and see Jesus and experience Jesus’ power.

Therefore, what do you do? (1) Praise Jesus – the only fitting response to the work of God that is concentrated on him – join in now with Revelation 1:5b-6: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” We worship Jesus.

(2) Then, we serve the Father who sits on the throne. Through Jesus – we have now access to him and can pray to him and also praise him. Under Jesus’ leadership – we pay attention to the Father’s will and rule – in obedience. Jesus is our Saviour and he isthe ruler of the kings of the earthbut the Father has senior status. I remind you how Jesus taught us to pray – Matthew 6:9-10: “ ... Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

(3) Last but not least, we surrender to the Spirit who is the means by which Jesus exercises his power and authority in our lives. We learn to bein the Spirit” – we learn to be in the Spirit’s control – without fighting him – neither spiritual gifts (in Revelation, John received a prophetic vision) nor physical manifestations (in Revelation, John fell to the ground). We embrace the Spirit because he communicates Jesus to us and our new relationship with the Father through him – Galatians 4:6: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’.”

 

[In his life here on earth, Jesus himself demonstrated how to live in relationship to the Father in dependence on the Holy Spirit. In this way, he is a model for us. Bill Johnson: When Heaven Invades Earth, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2003, p29-30: Jesus Christ said of Himself, “The Son can do nothing.” In the Greek language that word nothing has a unique meaning—it means NOTHING, just like it does in English! He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! While He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He was redeemed. He made that point over and over again. Jesus became the model for all who would embrace the invitation to invade the impossible in His name. He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God ... not as God. [He only began to perform acts of power after his own baptism in the Spirit.] If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle. Recapturing this simple truth changes everything... and makes possible a full restoration of the ministry of Jesus in His Church.

What were the distinctions of His humanity?

 

1. He had no sin to separate Him from the Father.

2. He was completely dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him.

 

What are the distinctions of our humanity?

 

3. We are sinners cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Through His sacrifice He has successfully dealt with the power and effect of sin for all who believe. Nothing now separates us from the Father. There remains only one unsettled issue—

4. How dependent on the Holy Spirit are we willing to live?]

 

However – maybe the most foundational response is to accept the revelation of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and – maybe for the first time – this morning – invest trust in him. Do you want to be saved? Then, turn away from everything else and turn to God. Put your faith in him. First and foremost, look at Jesus. “Through him you [original: we] have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). Trust that the blood which Jesus shed on the cross is also washing you clean of sin. There is power in his blood – access to the Father. You may sense that – right now – something is prompting you to surrender to God. That something is the Holy Spirit. He is convicting you and calling you. Let him work on you and do not resist. He will make you see Jesus.

Who is God? He is one but also three-fold. Jesus makes the Spirit prompt you to trust him so that – through him and the blood which he shed on the cross – you can come to the Father. Come. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Further Resources

 

Separate But Equal

 

Edwin Reynolds: The Trinity In The Book Of Revelation, in: Journal Of The Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 55-72: Although John introduces both God (the Father) and Jesus Christ as separate persons already in the very first verse of the book, he introduces the divine Trinity in 1:4, expressing his wish to his readers for grace and peace from (apo) the One who is and who was and who is to come, and from (kai apo) the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from (kai apo) Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. The three-fold repetition of apo connected by kai is clear indication that the three are separate entities or persons but are placed on an equal ground ontologically. Each one of these three is equally and fully able to communicate grace and peace to the readers and hearers of the book.

Throughout the book the Father and the Son are juxtaposed in such a way as to make clear that they are separate persons while equally sharing the essential attributes of Deity. It would be tedious to render an exhaustive accounting of all of the evidence for this, but let us consider a variety of examples. The revelation to John comes from both God and Jesus Christ, each of whom plays a leading role in the origin and transmission of the revelation to John (1:1). Beginning in 1:2 and repeated frequently throughout the book, the two-fold witness of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ plays a significant role. The name of God and the name of Jesus Christ are both written on the foreheads of the one who overcomes in Philadelphia (3:12). To the overcomer in Laodicea, Jesus promises that He will grant the right to sit with Him on His throne just as He overcame and sat down with His Father on His throne (3:21).

Every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea sings, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (5:13). Under the sixth seal the wicked flee from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). The numberless multitude of the redeemed stands in white robes before the throne and before the Lamb, and they cry out, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (7:10). When the seventh trumpet sounds, loud voices in heaven announce, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15).

In 19:11–16 the Rider on the white horse, whose name is Faithful and True (v. 11; cf. 3:14), the Word of God (v. 13), and King of kings and Lord of lords (v. 16), out of whose mouth goes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations (v. 15; cf. 1:16; 2:12), will rule the nations with a rod of iron (19:15; cf. 2:27; 12:5) and will Himself tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (19:15; cf. 14:19–20). Thus Christ is depicted as having the attributes of and doing the work of judgment that belongs to Almighty God.

In 20:6, those who are raised in the first resurrection will function as priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Christ for a thousand years (cf. v. 4). In 21:22, John sees no temple in the holy city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Further, the city has no need of the sun or moon to provide light, for the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb (21:23; cf. 22:5).

Most significant, perhaps, is 22:1, 3, where God and the Lamb share the same throne. Not only does the river of the water of life flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb (v. 1), but “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads” (vv. 3–4). The use of the third person singular personal pronoun throughout this text to refer to God and the Lamb seems to lend extra force to the sense of unity that is demonstrated by their sharing the throne.

In addition, the claim of Jesus to the titles of God in 22:13, in the midst of a series of first person statements about Himself in verses 12–16, substantiates still further His ontological equality with God the Father while at the same time being a separate person.

 

Different Roles

 

Edwin Reynolds: The Trinity In The Book Of Revelation, in: Journal Of The Adventist Theological Society, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 55-72: Although there is a fundamental ontological equality among the three members of the Deity, there are clearly separate individual roles that They play in the book. As soon as one begins to gather and sort the data from this study, it becomes immediately apparent that the different persons of the Godhead have different functions, and these functions seldom overlap. Although there are a few names that overlap between the Father and the Son, particularly “the Alpha and the Omega,” “the Beginning and the End,” “Lord,” and “the Holy One,” these names have more to do with the essential attributes of God than with roles or functions. Some of the other names or designations, however, do signify separate functions. Even more, the description of various activities and the association with different elements or functions creates distinctions in roles.

 

The Role of the Father. God the Father is portrayed throughout the book of Revelation as the figurehead, the One who sits on the throne (4:2–3, 9–10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 20:11–12; 21:5), the Almighty or Sovereign Ruler (pantokrator: 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22), the Creator who rightfully receives the worship of all created things (3:14; 4:9–11; 7:11–12; 10:6; 11:16–17; 14:7; 15:3–4; 19:4, 10; 22:9), the One who lives forever and ever, who is and was and is coming19 (1:4, 8; 4:8–10; 10:6; 11:17; 15:7; 16:5). He is the Father of Jesus Christ, the Lamb (2:27; 3:5, 21; 14:1), who is the Son of God (2:18). Although God shares His throne with the Son (3:21; 22:1, 3), it is usually depicted as His throne (1:4; 4:2–3; 7:15; 12:5), which He shares at His will (3:21), and the Son is never portrayed as sitting on it by Himself. The Father is the God of heaven (11:13; 15:11) and Lord of the earth (11:4). He is also the Lord God of the holy prophets (22:6). If there is any seniority in rank among the three divine Persons, in terms of roles, it would be the Father who is depicted as holding that position. This is shown in a variety of ways.

In 1:1 He is the One who gives to Jesus Christ the revelation to pass along to His servants. He is the One who speaks in the first person in 1:8 at the end of the Prologue as the divine Author of the content of the revelation. Jesus states in 2:27 that He received from His Father authority to rule all nations with a rod of iron. In 3:5 Jesus says that He will confess the name of the overcomer before His Father and before His Father’s angels. In 2:7 Paradise belongs to God, while in 3:12 Jesus calls the New Jerusalem “the city of My God” “which comes down out of heaven from My God.” God the Father is seated on the throne at the center of the heavenly throne room, surrounded by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, with their thrones, receiving constant praise, adulation, and worship (4:2–11). He is the One who has the covenant document, the seven-sealed scroll, which needs to be opened and read so that its provisions can be put into effect (5:1–4). It is to God that people are redeemed and made kings and priests (5:9–10). In 7:2–3, the seal of God is placed on the foreheads of the servants of God (cf. 9:4; 14:2; 22:4). The heavenly temple belongs to God (7:15; 11:19; 13:6; 15:5, 8), and the smoke of the incense ascends from the hand of the ministering Angel with the prayers of the saints before God and His throne (8:3–4).

The kingdom is God’s (12:10), the commandments are God’s (12:17; 14:12), the word is God’s (1:2, 9; 6:9; 17:17; 19:13; 20:4). God directs the affairs of men and nations to accomplish His purposes (17:17), but in the end, as Sovereign, He will judge them in righteousness (6:10; 11:18;14:7; 16:1, 5–7, 19; 18:8; 19:2, 17–18; 20:12; 22:18–19). Although there is some participation by others in some aspects of judgment (19:11, 15; 20:4), in the final analysis, God is depicted on the “great white throne” as presiding over the executive judgment of the wicked (20:11–12). His presence is so awesome that heaven and earth attempt to flee and hide from Him, but there is no place to hide (20:11). In the new creation, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven (21:2, 10), having the glory of God (v. 11), and the everlasting covenant is pronounced fulfilled22 when “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (v. 3). It is the One who sits on the throne who declares that He will make all things new (21:5), and to the one who conquers He says, “I will be their God and they will be my children” (21:7 NRSV).

 

The Role of the Son. In many respects, the role of the Son is different in Revelation, although He shares the attributes of Deity and certain basic functions of Deity. Some of the functions of Deity that He shares include sitting with God on His throne (3:21; 22:1, 3), exercising wrath and judgment against sin and sinners (2:5, 16, 22–23; 6:16–17; 19:11, 15), rewarding the overcomers (1:7, 10, 17, 26–28; 3:5, 12, 21), and providing the light for the city of God (21:23).

At the same time, the Son of God has a variety of different functions in Revelation that are not shared by the Father. These are significant. Besides being the Son of God (2:18, 27; 3:5, 21; 14:1), in 1:13 and 14:14 He is “one like a son of man,” that is, like a human being. At the same time, He is clearly depicted as the Son of man from Dan 7:13, coming on the clouds of heaven (14:14; 1:7), just as He prophesied to Caiaphas at His trial (Matt 26:64). He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root and the Offspring of David (5:5; 22:16). He is Jesus the Messiah (1:1–2, 5; 11:15; 12:10; 20:4, 6), the Offspring of the Woman, the Male Child, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron (12:4–5, 13; 2:27). He is the Lamb that was slain (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8)—crucified (11:8)—according to a plan established before the foundation of the world (13:8). He redeemed people to God from every nation by His blood (5:9; 12:11), and He has washed us from our sins in His own blood (1:5; 7:14). He died and came back to life (1:18; 2:8), the Firstborn from the dead (1:5), and He is alive forevermore and holds the keys of death and of Hades (1:18; 2:8; 11:8). He also holds the key of David, with the authority to open and to close (3:7–8; cf. Isa 22:22).

In addition to all of this, He is the Faithful and True Witness (1:5; 3:14) and the living Word of God (19:13). As such He is the role model for the Two Witnesses who follow in His footsteps by giving their faithful and true witness until they are martyred for their prophesying, lie dead for three and a half days while their enemies rejoice, then are raised to life again and ascend to heaven in a cloud in the sight of their enemies (11:3–12). He is the author of the letters to the seven churches (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), and He appears to John walking in the midst of the seven churches and holding the angels, or leaders, of the churches in His right hand (1:12–13, 20; 2:1; 3:1). He knows each of the churches intimately (2:2–4, 6, 9–10, 13–15, 19–20, 24–25; 3:1–2, 4, 8, 15, 17–18), their strengths, their weaknesses, their needs, and their problems. He is depicted as having seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth (5:6). His eyes are also described as like a flame of fire (1:14; 2:18), with which He says He searches minds and hearts (2:23). The relation between Jesus and the Spirit is so close that the things Jesus says to the churches are described as being spoken by the Spirit (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

Jesus is the One who gives personal counsel and appeal to the churches (2:5, 10, 16, 25; 3:2–3, 11, 18), who rebukes them and even disciplines them (3:19). He describes Himself as being the One who will personally hand out the rewards to the overcomer (2:7, 10, 17, 26–28; 3:5, 12, 21; 22:12) and judgment to those who refuse to repent or heed His counsel (2:5, 16, 21–23; 3:3, 16). He is the One who will either confess their name before His Father or blot their name out of His Book of Life (3:5; 13:8; 21:27).

Jesus, the Son of God, is the Lamb that takes the scroll of the covenant from the One who sits on the throne and breaks its seven seals so that He can open it and read it, that is, put it into effect (5:5, 7; 6:1). He is declared worthy to do this because He was slain and has redeemed people to God by His blood from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and has made them kings and priests to His God, and they will reign on the earth (5:9–10, 12). The Lamb has followers who follow Him wherever He goes (14:4; 19:14), like a flock following their divine Shepherd (7:17). Nonetheless, the salvation of the race is declared to be a joint venture between God, who sits on the throne, and the Lamb, who has come down and sacrificed Himself for humankind (7:10; 12:10–11) ...

He is depicted ... as a mighty Angel with the glory of God coming down from heaven with a little scroll in His hand and planting His right foot on the sea and His left foot on the land (10:1–2), showing His authority over all of creation.  He announces the time of the end and the urgent need to prophesy again to the peoples of the earth (10:6–7, 11). Though it cannot be stated conclusively from the text, it seems reasonable also to see Him as the Angel of Rev 8:3–5, who is ministering before the golden altar before the throne of God, mingling incense with the prayers of the saints until the time comes when He throws the censer to the ground and concludes His intercessory ministry before God, a time apparently indicated by the opening of the temple in heaven in conjunction with the close of probation and the pouring out of the seven last plagues upon the earth (11:18–19; 15:5–8).

Associated with the final events of this earth’s history is a final struggle between the powers of evil and the powers of righteousness. This final struggle has often been referred to as the battle of Armageddon, though the text refers to it as the battle of the great day of God Almighty (16:14). However, the actual combatants in the battle are named as the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet, along with the kings of the earth, and the Lamb, referred to as the King of kings and Lord of lords, along with His followers (16:13–14; 17:12–14; 19:11–16, 19–21). There is no description of an actual battle, only of the victory of the Lamb and the defeat of the evil powers (17:14; 19:20–21; cf. 16:18–19; 18:8–21). This is followed by great rejoicing in heaven, with praise to God for judging the oppressor and avenging the blood of His servants on her (19:1–4), followed in turn by the announcement in heaven of the marriage of the Lamb to His bride and an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7–9). The coming of Christ in glory in the clouds of heaven is represented as occurring within the same general time frame, apparently at the end of the seventh bowl plague (16:15, 20; 6:14–17; 14:14–16; 19:11–16; cf. 1:7; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). The resurrection of the righteous also takes place at this time (20:4–6), before the thousand years during which they reign with Christ as kings and priests, participating in another judgment, apparently a review judgment of the wicked (v. 4), who have all been killed with the sword that comes out of the mouth of Christ, the Rider on the white horse (19:15, 21).

In the eternal kingdom that is established at the time of Christ’s return in glory to retrieve His followers, Jesus Christ and His Father co-rule the universe (11:15; 21:22–23; 22:1, 3–4), separate but equal. Despite their equality as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, they have separate functions in the divine economy. Christ accepted the role of the Mediator between God and His creatures, the One who agreed from before the foundation of the world to come down and become incarnate in human flesh, to live and die for the salvation of humankind, and to be the active agent in interceding for those who would choose to follow Him. He communicates by the Spirit with His people and appeals to them to be faithful to the end, when He will reward the overcomers with all the privileges and blessings He can offer to them, including sitting with Him on His throne and, as kings and priests to God, assisting in judging those who have rejected His atoning work on their behalf. Finally, He will return in power and glory to establish the eternal kingdom in which He co-rules with His Father and receives the honour and worship of His loyal servants.

 

The Role of the Spirit. The role of the Spirit of God is much less fully described in the book of Revelation. One must be able first to understand the symbolic language in which some of the descriptions of the role of the Spirit are expressed.

Given the apparent symbolic value of the number seven in Revelation, signifying completion or perfection, one can understand the attempt to portray the perfection of the Spirit by its seven-fold representation. The setting is clearly symbolic in 3:1, where the seven Spirits of God are paralleled with the seven stars in Jesus’ right hand, as well as in 4:5, where the seven Spirits of God are represented as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, and in 5:6, where the seven-fold Spirit of God is represented as seven eyes on the Lamb which are sent out into all the earth. The latter is a probable allusion to 2 Chron 16:9 and, especially, to Zech 4:10, which states, “These seven [lamps] are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth,” thus equating the seven lamps of fire in Rev 4:5 with the seven eyes on the Lamb in 5:6. What we see then is that the function of the Spirit of God in His relation to the other divine Persons is being described rather than statements being made about His person, as if He were seven-fold.

In 3:18, 23 we have seen already how the eyes of the Son of God are significant for their ability to search the mind and the heart. This is the work of the Spirit, as indicated in 5:6 and its allusions to 2 Chron 16:9 and Zech 4:10. This work is closely associated in Zechariah with the seven lamps of fire which are burning before the throne in Rev 4:5 and with the function of the Two Witnesses in 11:3–4, which are also represented as the two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth (cf. Zech 4:2–14). When Zechariah asks what the lamps and olive trees represent, he is told first, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (4:6). Subsequently, the interpreter adds, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (v. 14). Revelation brings all of this together to depict the function of the seven-fold Spirit of God in the presence of the Lord of all the earth.

According to the function of the Spirit in Revelation, it is His work to represent God and Christ to the people of earth, to make God’s work effective on earth, to bring the light of truth to the world, to engender prophecy and faithful witness, to search the hearts and minds of people, and to bring conviction of truth forcefully to the mind. Thus, the appeal is given at the end of each of the letters to the seven churches, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The Spirit becomes the voice of conscience, the voice of Christ spoken internally to the heart and mind. He is depicted as searching the heart and mind in the sense that He is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart and to respond with the voice of conscience to direct the human agent in making wise choices, which will lead to life.

In the message of Christ to the church of Sardis, He introduces Himself as the One who has the seven Spirits of God (3:1) because the church of Sardis is nearly dead, and it is the Spirit who gives life to the dead. This is a clear teaching of Scripture (Ezek 37:14; John 6:63; Rom 8:2; 2 Cor 3:6), even implied by the word pneuma itself, which signifies not only spirit but also breath, air, or wind (cf. John 3:8). So it is not surprising that Jesus would use this concept in His message to Sardis to stress the life-giving power of the Spirit, which they badly need.

In Rev 22:17, the Spirit and the Bride invite everyone who is thirsty to come and take of the water of life freely. The water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1) and brings life wherever it goes (v. 2; cf. Ezek 47:1, 9, 12). In this invitation we see the work of the Holy Spirit in appealing to the hearts of people to come to life, which God offers freely from His throne of grace and mercy. We also see a reminder of the call of Jesus in John 7:37–38: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John interpreted that call to refer to the promise of the Holy Spirit (v. 39), which was sometimes represented in the Old Testament as water or rain for the thirsty ground (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:23, 28–29). Again, the Spirit is depicted in its function of bringing the life of God to those who need it, a very personal ministry.

The Spirit is represented several times in Revelation in its function of communicating a prophetic message through visions and auditions to the mind of the prophet. John records several events reminiscent of the experience of Old Testament prophets in which he was transported “in the Spirit” to view a scene which was a vision of realities that could not be seen with the literal eye (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10; cf. Num 24:2; Ezek 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3–4; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5). The Spirit also speaks in Rev 14:13 to confirm the voice that comes from heaven regarding those who die in the Lord, adding, “. . . so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” This testimony about the role of the Spirit is in harmony with the rest of Scripture about His role in communicating God’s messages to the hearts and minds of people on earth (Joel 2:28–29; 2 Pet 1:20–21).

In Rev 19:10 the interpreting angel tells John that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Even if this is not a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, it may be seen as an indirect reference, since the parallel text in 22:9 reveals that John’s brethren who have the testimony of Jesus are in fact the prophets, whose minds are inspired by the Holy Spirit with messages from God (cf. 2 Pet 1:21).

The Holy Spirit is never portrayed in Revelation as sitting on a throne, ruling, judging, receiving worship and adoration, or even sacrificing Himself to save fallen humanity. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has a very important role to play in the plan of salvation. This role is equivalent in Revelation to the role which Jesus described for Him in John 14–16, a work of comforting and counselling, of reminding and convicting, of guiding and teaching, of doing the work of Christ in His absence to help to prepare His followers for the judgment and for Christ’s return to reward those who have been faithful to Him. The Spirit is an integral part of the triune Deity from whom grace and peace are communicated to the readers and hearers of the book of Revelation (Rev 1:4–5). The fact that He is never portrayed as sitting on a throne, ruling, or receiving worship and adoration should not be construed to imply that He is not ontologically equal with God. It reflects rather the unique function that the Spirit maintains in Revelation, a function that emphasizes a ministry on earth rather than an exalted state in heaven. As the Communicator of God’s will and His grace to humanity, He does not exalt Himself, but He exalts the Father and the Son. Yet, implicitly, the Spirit is portrayed as a full member of the heavenly Trinity.

 

... There should be no doubt from a close study of the book of Revelation that God is comprised of a trinity of Persons working as a team for the administration of the universe and the salvation of this fallen race. Although we do not have all the detailed answers we would like to have, the evidence is abundant for three divine Persons working together in a distribution of functions to accomplish their collective will for the eradication of sin from the universe and for the salvation of as many fallen human beings as absolutely possible in the process.

 

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Satan is No Myth, J. O. Sanders, Moody, 1975, pp. 5-36: Satan has his own trinity—the devil, the beast, and the false prophet (Revelation 16:13). He has his own church, “a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). He has his own ministers, “ministers of Satan” (2 Corinthians 11:4-5). He has formulated his own system of theology “doctrines of demons” (1  Timothy 4:1). He has established his own sacrificial system; “The Gentiles...sacrifice to demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20). He has his own communion service, “the cup of demons...and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21). His ministers proclaim his own gospel, “a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you” (Galatians 1:7-8). He has his own throne (Revelation 13:2) and his own worshipers (Revelation 13:4). So he has developed a thorough imitation of Christianity, viewed as a system of religion. In his role as the imitator of God, he inspires false christs, self-constituted messiahs (Matthew 24:4-5). He employs false teachers who are specialists in his “theology,” to bring in “destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). They are adept at mixing truth and error in such proportions as to make error palatable. They carry on their teaching surreptitiously and often anonymously. He sends out false prophets. “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many” (Matthew 24:11). He introduces false brethren into the church, who “had sneaked in to spy out our liberty...in order to bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). He sponsors false apostles who imitate the true (2 Corinthians 11:13).

 

Vern S. Poythress: Counterfeiting In The Book Of Revelation As A Perspective On Non-Christian Culture, JETS 40/3 (September 1997) 411–418: ... As others have recognized, the satanic forces in Revelation counterfeit the Trinity. Satan is pre-eminently a counterfeit of God the Father. The beast, a kind of pseudo-incarnation of Satan, is a counterfeit unholy warrior opposed to Christ the holy warrior (compare Rev 13:1–10 to 19:11–21). The false prophet is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. By his deceiving signs the false prophet promotes worship of the beast. His actions are analogous to the manner in which the Holy Spirit works miracles in Acts to promote allegiance to Christ. Babylon the harlot is a counterfeit of the Church, the bride of Christ.

The beast counterfeits Christ in a striking number of ways. He has a counterfeit resurrection in the form of a mortal wound that was healed (Rev 13:3). The miraculous character of his healing creates astonishment and followers for him, just as the miracle of the resurrection creates followers of Christ. The beast has ten crowns (13:1), parallel to Christ’s many crowns (19:12). The dragon gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority” (13:2), just as the Father gives the Son his authority (John 5:22–27). Worship of the dragon and the beast go together (Rev 13:4), just as worship of the Father and the Son go together (John 5:23). The beast claims universal allegiance from all nations (Rev 13:7), just as Christ is Lord over all nations (7:9–10).

Moreover, the beginning of Revelation 13, which introduces the beast, sets forth a parody of creation. Satan stands “on the shore of the sea” and calls up from the sea a beast in his own image, with seven heads and ten horns corresponding to the seven heads and ten horns of the dragon (12:3).

 

Vern Sheridan Poythress: The Returning King. A Guide To The Book Of Revelation: Now Satan is a counterfeiter. He counterfeits God the Father by producing a counterfeit “son,” the Beast. The Beast is clearly the counterfeit of Christ the Son. Satan aspires to be God and to control everything for himself. He has a plan, analogous to the Father’s plan. He will work out this plan through his executor, the Beast.

Is there then a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit as well? There is, in Rev. 13:11-18. Another beast comes out of the earth (13:11). This beast is later identified as the “false prophet” (Rev. 16:13). This False Prophet works “miraculous signs” (13:13), reminiscent of the miraculous signs worked through the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. Through miraculous signs the Holy Spirit draws people to worship Christ. Analogously, the False Prophet promotes worship of the Beast (13:12). As “another Counsellor” the Holy Spirit has the authority of Christ (John 14:16, 18). The False Prophet “exercises all the authority of the first beast on his behalf” (Rev. 13:12). The Holy Spirit guides us into the truth (John 16:13). The False Prophet deceives (Rev. 13:14).

 

http://bibleforums.org/showthread.php/207362-False-Prophet-of-Rev-13-we-have-a-suspect-!: Isaiah 14:12-14 says that Satan wants to be like the Most High, identical to God. Anything different from God is not perfect. We see Satan imitating God even in His triune structure in Rev 16:13 and Rev 13. In Rev 16:13 we see there the Satanic trinity, the dragon (satan, the anti-God), the beast (anti-Christ) and the other beast, the false prophet (the anti-Spirit). In Rev 13:3 we see the dragon giving all his authority to the antichrist [the beast coming out of the sea] just like God the Father gave His authority to Christ (Mat 28:18 and Joh 5:22). In Rev 13:13 we see the false prophet doing the miracles instead of the antichrist just like Jesus did nothing of Himself but used the Holy Spirit to work the wonders (see Mat 12:28; Luk 4:18; Joh 5:30; and Joh 8:28).

We see the false prophet appearing and doing his miracles IN THE PRESENCE of the antichrist (AFTER antichrist was revealed, exalted) just like the Holy Spirit was given in Acts 2 AFTER Christ was glorified as it is stated in John 7:37-39. We see the false prophet moving people to worship the antichrist (Rev 13:12) just like the Holy Spirit moves people to worship Christ (John 16:14). The false prophet has power to give life (in a lying kind of way, 2 Th 2:9; Rev 13:14-17) imitating the Holy Spirit who has real power to give life.

The antichrist is a demon that has been at work since the times of the Apostles (1 John 2:18-19 and 1 John 4:1-3). The anti-spirit is also a demon. Notice in Rev 16:13 that demons come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast (antichrist) and the false prophet, spirits like frogs. This is imitating the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity sent the Holy Spirit. We see God the Father sending the Holy Spirit in John 14:26, and Gal 4:6. The Holy Spirit was sent by God the Son (Jesus) in Luke 24:49, John 20:22 and Mark 1:8. The Holy Spirit is also sent by Himself in 1 Cor 12:8-11. That is why the satanic trinity is pictured sending spirits out of their mouths (like Jesus did it in John 20:22). That puts them (dragon, beast and false prophet) at the same level within themselves just like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the same level. The only difference is that the Holy Trinity is one being, one God, just like your spirit, soul and body are one (1Thes 5:23). The satanic trinity is made out of three demons (Satan and two others) and they try to act like the Holy Trinity but fail to be one, because they cannot be one like God is one.

 

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http://www.retrochristianity.org/category/theology/trinitarianism-father-son-and-holy-spirit/: Evangelical Modalism

 

If I polled members of most evangelical churches in America today, I’m afraid I would discover that most are basically modalists in their understanding of the Trinity.

Modalism is the heresy that confuses the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit—equal in divine essence and power but distinct in person. However, heretics throughout church history have veered off this way into one of two ditches. The first is tri-theism, which separates the three persons and basically confesses three gods, three essences, and three separate persons (and usually one of the gods is greater than the others). The second is modalism, which confuses the three persons and confesses one god and one person with three different names, depending on what role he happens to be filling.

It has become more and more evident to me that evangelicals—while avoiding tri-theism—have inadvertently run headlong into the ditch of modalism. They have done so primarily by three means: modalistic pictures, modalistic prayers, and modalistic praise.

 

Modalistic Pictures

 

If you were asked to explain the Trinity to a five-year-old, how would you go about doing it? Most evangelicals would probably resort to some sort of illustration they learned in Sunday school, read in a book, or heard from the pulpit. Two pictures prevail: “The Trinity is like water: solid, liquid, and gas” (that’s modalism). “The Trinity is like a person with different names: I’m a son to my father, a father to my son, and a husband to my wife” (that’s modalism, too). Both of these well-intentioned illustrations communicate a modalistic—not Trinitarian—doctrine of God.

Two facts emerge from two thousand years of attempting to illustrate the Trinity: 1) no picture can adequately illustrate the unillustratable God; and 2) every picture results in communicating a non-Trinitarian heresy. (For a longer discussion about the dangers of illustrating the Trinity, see my essay, “The Unillustratable God.”)

I believe the evangelical knack for illustrating spiritual truths has unwittingly misled many evangelicals into a false understanding of the Trinity. This has to stop, even if it means resorting to bare creedal Trinitarian language to define (not illustrate) the Trinity.

 

Modalistic Prayers

 

Besides modalistic pictures, evangelicals spread a confused view of God by means of modalistic prayers.

Some time back I visited a somewhat progressive evangelical church led by a pastor who I know is not a modalist and could probably state the doctrine of the Trinity as clearly and concisely as anyone could hope. However, several times during the Sunday morning service he engaged in what amounted to a modalistic prayer, confusing the Father and Son.

His various prayers went something like this: “Our great heavenly Father, we love you, we praise you, we thank you for dying on the cross for our sins, etc. . . . Lord Jesus, we give you all the glory and honor, Father, etc. . . . In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

Over and over again this pastor kept mixing up the persons of the Trinity, attributing works of the Son to the Father and vice versa. It irritated me so much that I actually felt like walking out. All the while I couldn’t help but wonder how the people in the congregation were understanding the doctrine of God based on those prayers. Contrary to the gist of that pastor’s prayer, the Father did not die on the cross for our sins (an ancient modalistic heresy called “patripassianism,” or “the suffering of the Father”). Jesus is not the Father. Although the Father is God and the Son is God, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Father, Son, and Spirit—though united in deity—are distinct in their persons.

Now, I know all of us slip up once in a while when we pray and end up accidentally mixing up the Father and Son and Spirit. That doesn’t make us modalists. But it does cause us to confuse those who are listening—especially if they already have a shaky understanding of what we mean by “Trinity.” One easy way to solve this problem is to actually follow Christ’s teaching on prayer—direct all prayer to God the Father in Jesus’s name and by the power of the Spirit. Address the Father, thank Him for sending His Son, praise Him for giving you the Spirit. By keeping your prayers addressed to God the Father, not only will you be following the overwhelming majority of biblical examples, but you will also avoid communicating a modalistic misunderstanding of the Trinity to those listening.

I believe the evangelical penchant for spontaneous prayer sometimes leads to a confusion of Father, Son, and Spirit, which in turn communicates a modalistic concept of the Trinity. This has to stop, even if it means writing out and reading our prayers to avoid errors.

 

Modalistic Praise

 

Along with modalistic pictures and modalistic prayers, evangelicals unwittingly engage in modalistic praise. This comes in the form of popular worship songs and hymns that convey an inaccurate concept of Father, Son, and Spirit.

One worship song that particularly troubles me is “You Alone.” The problematic chorus states: “You alone are Father / and You alone are good. / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.” But that’s just not true. A Trinitarian Christian cannot confess that God the Father (the first person of the Trinity) is alone good, Savior, and God. These are appellations that Father, Son, and Spirit share. These lyrics could be fixed in one of two ways: 1) change “Father” to a different word, such as “holy,” which would render the address to the Triune God in unity. Or 2) somehow remove the word “alone,” because this suggests that a single person—the Father—is alone God, and for those who also believe in the deity of Christ, this would suggest that the Son and the Father are the same person with different names.

Postmodern praise songs aren’t the only ones producing modalistic melodies, however. The ancient Irish hymn, “By Thou My Vision”—which is one of my favorites—precariously approaches the borders of modalism. The second verse says, “Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; / I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; / Thou my great Father, I Thy true son, / Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.” In the ancient church, the names “Wisdom” and “Word” often referred to the Spirit and the Son, and in any case the “Word” (logos) is a name exclusively used in the Bible to refer to the Son in distinction to the Father (John 1:1–3, 14). Yet in the third line “Wisdom” and “Word” are both called “Father.” Then, in the last line, the normal function of the Holy Spirit—who indwells believers—is assigned to the Father. This is confusing.

I believe the evangelical approach to worship music—which sometimes emphasizes the emotional experience over doctrinal discernment—occasionally leads to a confused and confusing doctrine of God. This has to stop, even if it means changing worship songs and rewriting ancient hymns.

Conclusion: A modalistic concept of God that confuses the Father, Son, and Spirit is far too common among evangelicals today. Through sloppy pictures, prayers, and praise, the misunderstanding continues to be confessed over and over again in churches large and small. Because most believers learn their theology from preaching, prayers, and worship—that is, learning by observing and participating—we must all reevaluate our presentations and conform them to the biblical and orthodox doctrine of God.

 

The Unillustratable God

 

What do the following things have in common? An egg . . . a pretzel . . . water . . . a man . . . and Aquafresh toothpaste.

The answer? Each of these has been used as an illustration of the Trinity. An egg has three parts—a shell, a yolk, and a white—but it’s all one egg. A pretzel is one long finger of dough twisted into three loops. Under the right conditions, water can simultaneously exist in three different modes: solid, liquid, and gas. A man can be somebody’s father, another person’s son, and another person’s husband—three different names and roles, but one person. And triple-protection Aquafresh strengthens teeth, fights cavities, and freshens breath—thee distinct functions all in one unique toothpaste!

These illustrations of the Trinity have something else in common: they all illustrate heretical views of the Trinity. Not a single illustration of the Trinity communicates what the Bible and orthodox Christianity teach about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every single illustration falls short, often leading to misunderstanding, confusion, and a false doctrine of God.

The true doctrine of the Trinity states that there is but one God, but in the unity of that one Godhead, there are three distinct (not separate), co-eternal, and equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is fully God; the Son is fully God; the Spirit is fully God. However, the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit; and the Spirit is not the Father. While there is equality of divine essence, each Person of the Trinity functions in a unique role in His relationship to creation and to each other.

Common pitfalls with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity include: 1) separating the three Persons into independent gods; 2) collapsing the three names into a single Person; 3) divvying up divinity in a way that makes each Person one-third God; or 4) distinguishing the Persons so that the Father is God in the proper sense, while the Son and Spirit are lesser generated beings.

Both the egg and pretzel illustrations divvy up divinity, so each part represents only one third of the whole. The water and man illustrations best fit the heretical view that Father, Son, and Spirit are different modes or names for a single Person. And the Aquafresh illustration? Let’s not even go there.

 

A Historical Warning

 

Anybody who has been exposed to church history will recall the heretic Arius of Alexandria. He was the presbyter who taught that the Son was a lesser being than the Father, and that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Arius also insisted that the Son was of a different essence than the Father, but was still the highest of the created beings and co-creator of the universe. Only in a relative sense could the Son be called “a god” by humans. In most respects, the view of the Arians is similar to that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses today. The false teachings of Arius were condemned as heresy at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in AD 325. From that council we have the Nicene Creed, which confesses Jesus as having “the same essence” as the Father, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.”

Arius fell into his heresy partly because he built his doctrine of God around faulty illustrations of the Trinity set forth by several teachers before him. For example, Dionysius of Alexandria, who died in AD 263, taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit were all co-eternal and fully God, but he used illustrations and analogies of these relationships that communicated inequality. He said the relationship of Father and Son was like that of a shipbuilder and a ship, or a farmer and a vine. Arius later appealed to the illustrations of Dionysius and other teachers of the third century for his heretical view on the relationship of the Son and the Father.(1) In short, the misleading illustrations of Dionysius and others helped confirm Arius in his heresy.

The same thing can happen today when we attempt to illustrate the Trinity with pretzels, pizzas, or apple pies. It just doesn’t work because every illustration grossly distorts the truth.

 

The Unillustratable God

 

I’m a fan of making theology simple, but if it means distorting and twisting the doctrine of God, forget it. I like the view of Irenaeus of Lyons at the end of the second century. After exploring all the various possible explanations for the Son’s “generation” from the Father, Irenaeus urges us to leave the mysterious matter unresolved. He writes:

If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers possess this knowledge, but the Father only who begat, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.(2)

I don’t know about you, but I like the fact that Christians believe in a God who is utterly indescribable, incomprehensible, and unillustratable. Think about it: would you really want to worship and serve a God whose very essence can be accurately described by an egg, a pretzel, or a tube of toothpaste?

Let’s teach the doctrine of the Trinity accurately. That means dropping all illustrations of the Trinity from your teaching, because every illustration only distorts the unillustratable God.

NOTES:

(1) See Aloys Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451),
trans. John Bowden, 2d rev. ed. (Atlanta: John Knox, 1975), 157–158.

(2) Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.28.6.

 

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http://www.abelard.org/heresies/heresies.htm: Monarchianism developed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It opposed the doctrine of an independent, personal subsistence of the Logos, affirmed the sole deity of God the Father, and thus represented the monotheistic view. Though it regarded Christ as Redeemer, it clung to the numerical unity of the Deity. Monarchianism strove to remove the contradictions by two different methods.

Two types of Monarchianism developed: Dynamic, either, Subordinationism or Adoptionism and Modalistic, also Sabellianism

The first tendency recognised distinctness among the three ‘persons’, but at the cost of equality and hence of their unity (Subordinationism or Adoptionism); the second came to terms with their unity, but at the cost of their distinctness as ‘persons’ (Modalism).

In Rome, there was an active struggle between the Modalists, and those who affirmed permanent distinctions (‘Persons’) within a unitary Godhead. The politicians, in the interest of peace and quiet and good government, sought middle-way fudge between dynamic and modalistic difficulties. As often in human affairs, lunacy triumphed: this resulted in believing both at once.

1) Dynamic Monarchianism either of two types :

a) Subordinationism held that ‘Christ’ was a ‘mere’ man, miraculously conceived, but constituted the Son of God simply by the incredible degree in which he had been filled up with divine wisdom and power. Theodotus, who was excommunicated by Pope Victor, taught this view at Rome about the end of the 2nd century, and it was taught somewhat later by Artemon, who was duly excommunicated by Pope Zephyrinus. About 260 AD, Paul of Samosata again taught it. It is the belief of many modern Unitarians.

b) Adoptionism: this began in the 8th century in Spain and was concerned with the teaching of Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo and Felix, bishop of Urgel (Spain). Wishing to distinguish in ‘Christ’ the operations of each of his natures, human and divine (see also that confused as Nestorianism), Elipandus referred to Christ in his humanity as ‘adopted son’ in contradistinction to Christ in his divinity, who is the Son of God by nature. Thus the son of Mary, appropriated by ‘the Word’, was not the Son of God by nature but only by adoption.

In 798, Pope Leo 3rd held a council in Rome that condemned Adoptionism. Felix was forced to recant in 799 and placed under surveillance. Both Felix and Elipandus remained unrepentant and continued in office, but the Adoptionist view was almost universally abandoned after their deaths.

2) Modalistic Monarchianism, also called Sabellianism. Some of the Church Fathers maintained that the names, Father and Son, were only different designations or aspects of the one God. This ‘god’, ‘with reference to the relations in which He had previously stood to the world is called the Father, but in reference to His appearance in humanity is called the Son.’ The Monarchians, in their concern for the divine monarchy (the absolute unity and indivisibility of God), denied that such distinctions were ultimate or permanent.

This was taught by Praxeas, a priest from Asia Minor, in Rome c. 206 AD and was opposed by Tertullian in the tract Adversus Praxean (c. 213 AD), an important contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Sabellianism was proposed by Sabellius (c. 217 – c. 220), who was possibly a presbyter in Rome. Sabellius evidently taught that the Godhead is a monad, expressing itself in three operations: as Father, in creation; as Son, in redemption; and as Holy Spirit, in sanctification. Pope Calixtus was at first inclined to be sympathetic to Sabellius' teaching but later condemned it and excommunicated Sabellius.

The notion reappeared again 30 years later in Libya and was opposed by Dionysius of Alexandria. In the 4th century, Arius accused his bishop of Sabellianism. Throughout the Arian controversy this charge was levelled at the supporters of the Nicene formula who accepted the doctrine of the Trinity as set forth in the Nicene Creed.

Their emphasis was on the unity of substance of Father and Son was interpreted by Arians to mean that the orthodox denied any personal distinctions within the Godhead. In about 375 AD, the ‘heresy’ was renewed at Neocaesarea and was attacked by Basil the Great. In Spain, Priscillian seems to have enunciated a doctrine of the divine unity in Sabellian terms. This was also one of the accusations against Abelard at Sens in 1140 [19]. At the time of the Reformation, Sabellianism was reformulated by Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian and physician, to the effect that Christ and the Holy Spirit are merely representative forms of the one godhead, the Father. In the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystical philosopher and scientist, also taught this doctrine, as did his disciples, who founded the New Church.

Macedonianism, also called the Pneumatomachians (spirit fighters!), a 4th-century Christian notion that denied the full personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. According to this idea, the Holy Spirit was created by the Son and was thus subordinate to the Father and the Son. Records have, as so often, been lost leaving only the descriptions of their opponents.

 

Other ‘heresies’

 

Donatists and Catholics both agreed that the power of the ‘Holy Spirit’ is conveyed to the believer through the sacraments, which are of course administered through the clergy. The Donatists decided that the sacraments require, for their validity, a minister undefiled by serious ‘sin’; holding that the Spirit departs from the sinner, who cannot therefore confer what he does not possess. They appear to have rather fancied a life of penance, crowned by martyrdom. They were extremely strong in North Africa and it has been speculated that the roots of Islam may have a similar nascence.

Augustine replied that the sacraments convey the Spirit in virtue of ‘Christ's’ ordinance alone, and that this validity is unaffected by the worthiness or unworthiness of the human minister. Eventually the authorities established orders whose members took vows of poverty. This meant living in grand houses, on massive estates held in common. Of these orders, the Dominicans controlled the Inquisition as a sort of religious Gestapo or KGB, the Franciscans and the Jesuits controlled education, and so on; a trick which still often works quite well.

The Novatians broke fellowship with those Christians who, under pressure, offered sacrifices to pagan gods during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Decius in AD 250. They set up their own pope at one point. In the early 4th century the Donatists, Christians in North Africa who prided themselves as the church of the martyrs, refused to share communion with those who had lapsed (i.e., who had denied the faith under threat of death). The church in Rome received the lapsed back into fellowship after services of repentance. This schism, like many since, reflected regional, national, cultural and economic differences between the poor, rural North African Christians and the sophisticated, urban Romans.

The Montanists were a similar trend. Tertullian became an adherent, but even they were not strict enough for him so he formed his own group. Nevertheless, Tertullian is regarded as a general good sort and early founder by Rome, therefore much of his writing has survived. These groups have been lumped under the heading of ‘rigorist’, quite an achievement in the context of other christianist sects. A similar rigorist group in Egypt was the Meletians.

Gnosticism: A doctrine of various sects combining Christian and pagan elements, that came into prominence around the 2nd century. Central importance attaches to gnosis, revealed but secret knowledge of God and of his nature, enabling those who possess it to achieve salvation. Gnosticism takes from Pagan thought the concept of a subordinate god, who directly rules the world. The material world is associated, as in Manichaeanism, with evil. They then claim that in some men, there is a spiritual element that through knowledge and associated ritual may be rescued from ‘evil’ and attain a higher spiritual state. Christ was never truly embodied, nor died, but was associated in a distant way with that which appeared to the disciples. Gnostic elements are present in Middle Platonism, and helped to fuel the view that there was a secret or golden chain of hidden Platonic doctrine stretching from the positive cosmology of Plato to initiates of the time. Gnostic texts of the first four centuries have been discovered in Egypt and, in various forms, the belief persisted into the Middle Ages and beyond.

Manichaeanism tends to teach that matter is evil or unclean. The doctrine elevates the ‘devil’, as the personification of evil, into a position of power comparable to that of ‘God’. It derives from Zoroastrianism and was held by the Manichees, followers of the Persian teacher Manes or Manichaeus. It flourished between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD.

For largely political reasons, Kulin (Bosnian ruler 1180 – 1204) abandoned Roman Catholicism in favour of the Bogomil, or Patarene, faith and led many of his people into that Balkan variety of neo-Manichaean dualism. Although Kulin himself was forced to abjure Bogomilism in 1203 under pressure from Pope Innocent 3rd, the faith survived in Bosnia. When the country was subjugated by the Ottoman Turks (1463 – 1464), a large number of Bogomil Bosnians, including most of the nobility, converted to Islam.

From this root, forms of Manichaeanism extended eventually as far as romantic Languedoc, there appearing as Catharism. It was on Catharism, and its several, sometimes shadowy, Manichaean relatives,[21] that Rome developed and practised its policies and methods of purge and inquisition; one of the darkest episodes in the ever rising power of the dictatorship of Rome.

Other preposterous forms developed in Russia under names like Khlysty and Skoptsy; the latter delighting in self-castration or full removal for those of special merit, with breast removal for female high-minded adherents. A soupçon of cannibalism and veneration of ‘the mother of god’ was included in the mix. These fun lovers were also were duly chased and harried, in this case by Catherine 2nd.

Such sexual preoccupation has long been at the heart of Roman concerns, imported via Augustine who started as a Manichaean until he saw some of the light. Sexual preoccupation was then steadily refined into guilt and state control. Fortunately full-blown Manichaean beliefs have never developed in main-stream christianism; its more dedicated disciples have tended to be castigated, and even murdered, by the establishment. However, the shadows still hover over western ‘civilisation’ with its ambivalent fear and fascination with all matters sexual.

Paganism may almost be regarded as another ‘heresy’ in as much as the term is applied as a boo word in the Roman lexicon. It tends to be applied rather liberally to rationality, as represented in the Greek philosophic tradition, to ‘superstition’ (see “Logic has made me hated by men”), in the case of ‘reading’ runes or stars, and to ‘worshipping’ icons or ‘saints’. Thus, in the Roman lexicon, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are lumped together with Mrs. Sawkins reading her astrology column in the Daily Sleaze, with lucky black cats, and with the animism of a primitive tribe. All these, of course, are to be contrasted with the enlightened, civilised christianist. The problems become all too obvious as one examines Roman practices, such as the attachment to relics and to exorcism.

Origen 185 – 254 AD Some accusations against the teaching of Origen are as follows: making the Son inferior to the Father and thus being a precursor of Arianism; spiritualising away the resurrection of the body; denying hell; speculating about pre-existent souls and world cycles; dissolving redemptive history into timeless myth by using allegorical interpretation. However, Origen tends to be regarded as one of the fathers of Christianism, so much of his work survives but he is viewed with some ambivalence. See 5th Ecumenical Council.

 

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http://theresurgence.com/authors/esv-study-bible: As the nature of God is progressively revealed in Scripture, the one God is seen to exist eternally in three persons. These three persons share the same divine nature yet are different in role and relationship. The basic principle at the heart of God’s triune being is unity and distinction, both coexisting without either being compromised. Anything that is necessarily true of God is true of Father, Son, and Spirit. They are equal in essence yet distinct in function.

The doctrine of the Trinity is most fully realized in the NT where the divine Father, Son, and Spirit are seen accomplishing redemption. But while the NT gives the clearest picture of the Trinity, there are hints within the OT of what is yet to come. In the beginning of the Bible, the Spirit of God is “hovering over the face of the waters” at creation (Gen. 1:2) and is elsewhere described as a personal being, possessing the attributes of God and yet distinct from Yahweh (Isa. 48:16; 61:1; 63:10). Some interpreters think that the plurality within God is seen in the Hebrew word for God, ‘Elohim, which is plural in form (though others disagree that this is significant; the word is used with singular verbs and all agree that it has a singular meaning in the OT). In addition, the use of plural pronouns when God refers to himself hints at a plurality of persons: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’“ (Gen. 1:27; cf. Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8). The plurality of God also seems to be indicated when the Angel of the Lord appears in the OT as one who represents Yahweh, while yet at times this angel seems to be no different in attributes or actions from God himself (cf. Gen. 16:7, 10-11, 13; 18:1-33; Ex. 3:1-4:31; 32:20-22; Num. 22:35, 38; Judg. 2:1-2; 6:11-18). There are also passages in the OT that call two persons God or Lord: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Ps. 45:6-7). David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Ps. 110:1). The God who is set above his companions (Ps. 45:7) and the Lord of Psalm 110:1 are recognized as Christ in the NT (Heb. 1:8, 13). Christ himself applies Psalm 110:1 to himself (Matt. 22:41-46). Other passages give divine status to a messianic figure distinct from Yahweh (Prov. 8:22-31; 30:4; Dan. 7:13-14).

... The NT authors employ a Trinitarian cadence as they write about the work of God. Prayers of blessing and descriptions of gifts within the body of Christ are Trinitarian in nature: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14); “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4–6). The persons of the Trinity are also linked in the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19–20, “baptizing them in [or into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There are many other passages that reveal the Trinitarian, or at least the plural, nature of God (e.g., John 14:16, 26; 16:13–15; 20:21–22; Rom. 8:9; 15:16, 30; 2 Cor. 1:21–22; Gal. 4:4–6; Eph. 2:18; 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; 1 John 4:2, 13–14; Jude 20–21).

Differences in roles also appear consistently in biblical testimonies concerning the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The uniform pattern of Scripture is that the Father plans, directs, and sends; the Son is sent by the Father and is subject to the Father’s authority and obedient to the Father’s will; and both Father and Son direct and send the Spirit, who carries out the will of both. Yet this is somehow consistent with equality in being and in attributes. The Father created through the Son (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and the Father planned redemption and sent the Son into the world (John 3:16; Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:3–5). The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption for us (John 4:34; 5:19; 6:38; Heb. 10:5–7; cf. Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 15:28; Heb. 1:3). The Father did not come to die for our sins, nor did the Holy Spirit, but that was the role of the Son. The Father and Son both send the Holy Spirit in a new way after Pentecost (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). These relationships existed eternally (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), and they provide the basis for simultaneous equality and differences in various human relationships.

 

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Bruce Ware: Tampering With the Trinity: Does the Son Submit to His Father? (www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-6-No-1/Tampering-With-the-Trinity):

Embrace Rightful Authority Structures. Because the structure of authority and obedience is not only established by God, but it is, even more, possessed in God's own inner trinitarian life, as the Father establishes his will and the Son joyfully obeys, therefore we should not despise, but should embrace proper lines of authority and obedience. In the home, believing community, and society, rightful lines of authority are good, wise, and beautiful reflections of the reality that is God himself. This applies to those in positions of God-ordained submission and obedience who need, then, to accept joyfully these proper roles of submission. It applies equally to those in God-ordained positions of authority who need to embrace the proper roles of their responsible authority and exercise it as unto the Lord.

 

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Meijering, E. Orthodoxy and Platonism in Athanasius: Synthesis orAntithesis? (Leiden: Brill, 1974, p124) [ISBN 9004038558]: Against them (the Arians), Athanasius fervently maintains that Christ’s sonship must refer to his ousia [being]. The reason for this, it seems to us, lies in the fact that Athanasius believes that if God is not by essence what He does or what He is to us, then He might cease doing what He does and cease being what He is to us. So Athanasius says that if God were not eternally the Father, but being the Father were added to His essence, then God would be changeable (i.e., He could cease being the Father.)…Elsewhere he says that, if God started being good and were not good in essence, then He could cease being good…Similarly he says of Christ that if He were not God’s Wisdom in essence, but learned God’s wisdom, He could unlearn it as well. So to Athanasius, the reliability of God’s revelation requires that God is in essence not different from what He does. If God reveals Himself in the Son, then God must be in essence the eternal Father of the eternal Son, otherwise man cannot trust God’s revelation, since God could cease doing what He does.