Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jesus’ Anthropomorphism in Relation to Omniscience & Omnipotence

Most of my blog entries are from my Sunday School lessons & nursing home sermons, so they are pretty basic evangelical fare, as I believe is right; for neither S.S. nor a nursing home is the place putting forth concepts debatable within the reformed community.

But as a membership class has taken the S.S. time slot for the next couple months (a very needed thing), I will take this opportunity to blog a few of the ruminations I’ve been chewing on for the past year or so…

Luke 3:21-22 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, (22) and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

It is common for Christians to consider Christ in His earthly estate as being the same as He was (and is) in His heavenly estate- God in every respect. We think of Jesus as God, in all His fullness, walking amongst mankind, performing all manner of supernatural miracles of His own innately inborn power. This is how the Gnostics pictured Jesus, with their contrived stories of a pubescent Jesus supposedly using His power in a malevolent manner. They had Jesus, in His earthly form, completely backwards, picturing Him in youth as being fully imbued with the power of God, but lacking in character. Something akin to an young, immature Superman…

The Biblical picture is quite the opposite.

Luke 4:1-13 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (2) for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. (3) The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (4) And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" (5) And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, (6) and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. (7) If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." (8) And Jesus answered him, "It is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'" (9) And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, (10) for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' (11) and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" (12) And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (13) And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke opens this passage by mentioning the fact that Jesus “was led by the Spirit”, which naturally begs the question- Why would an omniscient Jesus need the Spirit to lead Him? What void, what lack was there within an innately almighty Christ for the Spirit to fill up? Implicit here is the notion that the Spirit had knowledge that Jesus was not privy to in His wilderness wanderings.

But the questions for the believer in the corporeal, but still omnipotent 1st century Jesus should not stop there. In His prior (& subsequent) Heavenly estate, Christ commands the host of Heaven, & most certainly Satan as well. The image of that Person, with all His cache of utter authority over Heaven & Earth, actually being (potentially) tempted by such trivial things as dominion over the earthly kingdoms seems an outright silly concept. It would be like walking into a fine chocolatier’s confectionary to try to tempt the owner to trade it all for a Snicker’s bar; surely a laughable concept, because he presently owns, & is currently presiding over something far greater. But catch that owner far from his establishment, in a weak & lowly condition, & if paired with feeble character, the temptation becomes so much more plausible. Christ’s testing was in line with Esau’s testing, except it was a hundredfold times worse (Gen. 25:33). Quite literally in fact; Esau’s character failed in missing a single meal, while Jesus stood the test after missing approximately a hundred meals (40 days x 2-3 meals a day). Understand, what was being tested here was the measure of Christ’s character, & the only way His testing could be sincerely real would be for His intrinsic authority to have been divorced from His Person for a time. Only then could a temptation towards a lesser unordained authority be conceptually real. Only then would His testing be in line with Esau’s testing.

Only then would the chief chocolatier be truly tested.

And, only then could Hebrews 4:15 be candidly true- “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

If He had, perchance, gave that command for the stone to become bread, it surely would have taken place, but only by the abiding authority of the explicitly fore mentioned Holy Spirit. This brings to mind the primary contention in favor of “Superman” Jesus- that power most certainly seemed to emanate from His Person upon several occasions…

Luke 8:43-46 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. (44) She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. (45) And Jesus said, "Who was it that touched me?" When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!" (46) But Jesus said, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me."

Firstly, what seems odd here is the fact that her healing happened “immediately” upon the woman’s contact with the garment. If it had been innate "power" going out from Jesus (meaning of His own Person), then one would think that His cognition of the woman & her condition would surely be pre-requisite. Indeed, we don’t picture Jesus as a magical object, indiscriminately blessing anyone who touched His Person, as a pagan would be apt to think; in fact, the context bears this point out as it mentions the abundance of people “pressing in on” Him. No “power” went out to any of them, only this woman. Being a given that Christ’s healings were not universally nor haphazardly given (Matt. 13:58), the authority to dispense this “power” must have come of God’s Spirit, in His singular providence & ability. Jesus clearly felt the Spirit act, but just as clearly omniscience was not with our Lord at this juncture, & in light of other passages, it can be forthrightly taken that omnipotence was not either. It was the Spirit of God healing the woman through Christ, so as to “draw all men unto” Jesus as Master & Savior even while He was in such a lowly estate. It should be accepted that is precisely the primary purpose of the miracles (John 9:3-5). But it should also be accepted that the “power” does not need to emanate directly from the Savior, it (or more astutely- He- meaning the Spirit) only needs to operate through the Savior, in order to accomplish the goal of drawing God’s elect towards their Lord.

Continue reading in Luke to perceive that “power” within Christ to perform miracles was entirely the Holy Spirit…

Luke 4:14-18 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (15) And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. (16) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. (17) And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, (18) "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Luke 5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

This last sentence, & particularly the word “with”, strongly suggests the idea that such power was not always with Him, or at the very least, it was not naturally of Him.

Yes, an argument can be made that the power was of Jesus because of the instances wherein He anointed others with power (Matt. 10:1). But couldn’t the argument be given in support of the apostles also having innate authority, as in Acts 8:17? Indeed, such ability seemed outwardly to the uninitiated, like Simon the magician, as distinctly particular to the apostles themselves, something to be bartered for & used for personal gain. Paul reminds Timothy, in both extant letters sent to him, that he should “not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” In 2nd Timothy, the Pauline language is even more direct along these lines as he speaks of Timothy’s gifting only being there by Paul’s own initiative:

2 Timothy 1:6-7 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, (7) for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

What do we believe? That Paul was a "little god", giving spiritual gifts entirely of his own volition? The Mormon & Word-faith disciple may go there, but the true student of Scripture would never think in that way. In fact, verse 7 indicates the true source of Timothy’s anointing- “the (God-given) Spirit…of power and love and self-control.” Paul endeavors to remind his student of the laying on of his hands only so Timothy would likewise treasure the apostle’s words in these letters just as much. See, both have the same source- God’s Spirit- so in trumpeting the import of his God-given laying on of hands, Paul is likewise trumpeting the import of his God-given instruction.

So, despite the strong inference in language indicating inherent spiritual abilities- within either Paul or Jesus- we must contrast & interpret such notions with the rest of Scripture before arriving at any conclusions.

Acts 2:22-24 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know- (23) this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (24) But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

Again, the word “through” lends tremendous evidence to the idea that the miracles were not of Him, but came from another Person of the triune God working “through” Him.

Acts 10:36-40 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), (37) you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: (38) how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

In stating God’s (the Father’s) simultaneous anointing of Jesus with both "the Holy Spirit & with power", Peter was confirming that power entered Christ only as the Holy Spirit entered Christ. Even if one declares these two occurrences to be purely coincidental (a difficult argument, to be sure) what one cannot deny is that the power was not something that descended along with His Person naturally; another Person of God had to specially “anoint” Jesus with power.

Hebrews 2:5-10 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. (6) It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? (7) You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, (8) putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (9) But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (10) For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

In verse 7, man’s authority is described as a little lower than the angels, & verse 9 likewise relates Jesus’ 33 year existence by using the very same words. Note that verse 7 describes that status of man as beneath angels being so only “for a little while”. What essentially makes man temporarily “lower” than the angel sent by God to tend to that man? Spiritual insight & power. Insight of the sort that Elisha & his servant were given by the Spirit (2 Kings 6:17), & power to work in accord with that greater vision (& of course, God’s will). What has direct power in the spiritual, has like direct power over the physical, but those with direct power only in the physical (such as kings & judges) have nothing but mere pleadings to effect events in the spiritual. So they rank beneath, however temporarily (in the case of the elect), those angels with authority in the broader spiritual realm.

But what is especially noteworthy in Hebrews is verse 9, where Jesus’ visitation is spoken of in the same terms: “(He) was made lower than the angels”. Here, Christ’s corporeal existence is described in the same terms as any other man, reduced to having to depend upon the ministry of those temporarily greater than Him, though of course, only in the sense of innate spiritual vision & power. Where His Godliness was never reduced was in His Godly character or nature. He had our flesh with all of its diverse trappings, but what He never lacked was the most prevalent thing that makes God righteous in all He does- His utter goodness of character; this never has, nor ever will be divorced from Him. He was like us for a time, a jar of clay, weak & fragile; but unlike the natural man, that weak vessel was filled to the uttermost with the complete goodness of a Godly nature.

He was, for a time, as we are- stripped of innate power & insight into the spiritual realm, for the twin purposes of that Godly nature being fully tested by the flesh, & now, consequently, being able to rightly minister to us as One who has felt every sort of temptation & distress the flesh has to offer, & so can offer priestly “help in time of need”:

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

An earthly priest could often commiserate with the petitioner’s needs, because he had often experienced the same lowly fleshly temptations, & Christ is no different in His ministry as our one & only priestly intercessor with the Father. This starts to get to the crux of the reason why this matters: if Christ was Superman in those 33 years, meaning naturally enabled with special x-ray vision & tremendous strength, more naturally insightful & powerful than us, then it really can’t be said that He was tempted like us “in every respect”. Our greatest distress & temptation to sin comes in that time when we cannot perceive the spiritual realm (or when we fool ourselves to think that they do not see us). Understand, most of the Elisha’s servant, denying Peter, & doubting Thomas moments of trial in our lives would never occur if we were always enabled with spiritual insight & power into the realities of the Spirit world beyond our normal reach. None of those 3 persons would have been perfected by their trials if they were always enabled to see & work as freely in the spiritual world as they could in the natural world. Likewise, for Christ’s many diverse temptations to have been truly poignant & truly perfecting, He would have to have just as spiritually blind & weak as we are in those same circumstances. Only then could He fully “sympathize with our weaknesses”, for innate spiritual blindness & powerlessness are part & parcel of those weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

This verse is a great encouragement to those “weak vessels” who become overwhelmed by the task of following Christ. “Jesus was God, but I am not, so I could never become like Him” is the rationale given to by those babes not pursuing sanctification, despite the biblical injunction that we should follow Him, not only in word, but in deed as well. In a individual sense that thought above is right, because we do not have the righteousness of God inherently, as Jesus did; but where it falls short is in the failing to accept Christ’s call to represent Him in this world in the interim before His appearing. We are, corporately, the “body” of Christ in this place until that day, so that means that, corporately, we are to be exactly like Him. Individually, we are “weak in Him”, but corporately, through the Spirit, we are the tangible Jesus in the world this day.

God’s Spirit makes the Person of Jesus Christ personal to us.

The fictional person of Sheriff Andy Taylor often revealed high character by facing distressing events without the comfort & confidence of a weapon. He felt better suited towards his role to be devoid of that power which his fellow Mayberryians did not possess, therein making himself more like them, despite his greater office. He desired to walk among them as they were, without imbued power, himself possessing nothing greater than the power of a higher calling, to serve their otherwise forlorn needs.

He made himself fully like them- so as to better serve them.

Hebrews 5:7-10 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (8) Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (9) And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, (10) being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Kings do not learn obedience sitting on their throne, dispatching commands & ensconced in their place of authority (e.g. Daniel 4). No, learning some new measure of obedience would require them to forsake such authority & enter into a lowly condition. While all will agree Jesus wasn’t on His throne for those “days of His flesh”, if He walked this earth with royal scepter in hand, then, in a sense He was still on His throne, & not really “made lower than the angels”.

Only then, in such a destitute condition, could He have truly “learned obedience”.

Also, because of vs. 7b above, many read this passage with only the cross in view, only thinking of Jesus as weak as He was crucified. But verse 7a’s opening phrase “in the days of His flesh” indicates that the subsequent discussion of Christ’s weakness was applicable to His entire 33 year corporeal existence.

Thirdly, we can also glean from this text the point that Christ “was heard because of His reverence”; “was heard” denotes His reliance on the other Persons of the trinity, but “His reverence” highlights the aspect of His human existence that made Him most radically stand out as God amongst the sea of depraved humanity- His superior character. See, being stripped of His innate Godly power to exercise the supernatural allowed “His piety” (NASB) to stand out for all its brilliance. Like a table covered with intensely radiant jewels, it is hard to examine & test any single component of God’s glory when it is all on display together. But veil all the jewels save one, & the individual magnificence of that one can be thoroughly examined, tested, & appreciated for all its integrity. This, once again, is the purpose for Christ’s lowly weakness prior to the cross; the Father certainly knew of the Son’s radiant integrity heretofore, but He desired that such pure piety would be lucidly seen & embraced by all, for eternity; putting such a precious stone in temporary “setting”, completely to itself, accomplishes that goal.

This begs the philosophical discussion of what most makes God “better” than us. There are many reasons to be sure, even apart from the fundamental concept that Creator will always be greater than His creation. But if we consider God is better than us simply because He is more powerful or more knowledgeable, it would be in line with fallen Satan’s original temptation towards Eve that caused her & Adam to fall as well- that simply attaining the omniscience of God was to be “like God” (Gen. 3:5). This stems from a lesser recognition of God’s glory. They, & we, prove ignorance of what attribute of God primarily makes Him “better” than us- when reducing it to something less noble than simply His goodness & righteousness.

Consequently, pure righteousness, brilliantly exhibited by God in the Person of Jesus Christ, shines ever more brilliant as it is exhibited in the austerity of an otherwise fully anthropomorphic corporeal Christ.

In closing, I can understand the reticence to picture Christ in this fashion. For 2000 years, some have failed to embrace either His humanity or His Godliness, & the current trend is definitely skewed towards denying His divinity. I hope no one misjudges me, to put me into this later category, for few things could further from the truth. Having been raised in a religion that does fall into this later category, I have since sought to pound the pulpit on no point of doctrine more so than the Glory of Jesus Christ. But I also cannot ignore the seemingly clear adjuring of Scripture to accept this view of our Savior’s earthly visitation.

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