Who is the Living God?
Getting to know God through the pages of the Bible is sometimes challenging, but at the same time, it’s thrilling. This short guide will introduce you to these important topics.
- Find the significance behind God revealing himself to Moses by an angel in a burning bush.
- Understand the role of angels and what that tells us about how God operates.
- Learn about a key Bible topic, God manifestation, and its importance for you.
- Explore how Jesus Christ manifested God and get to know God’s Son better in the process.
- Discover some interesting implications this clear Bible teaching has for the concept of “the Trinity.”
This is an opportunity to get to know the One who created you for His purpose.
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight, says the LORD.” ~ Jeremiah 9:23-24
Have you ever wondered about God?
I don’t just mean wondered about whether He exists or not. I assume because you are reading this you probably believe in His existence. Rather, have you ever wondered about who He is?
Really, it almost feels as though this is the next step in coming to know our Creator. First, we ask ourselves if He truly exists. When we affirm that belief, we then come next to ask, “Well, if He exists, then who is He?”
For centuries and millennia, mankind has sought to answer this question. Religion after religion has developed their own form of God—from the human-like gods of the Greeks and Hindus, to the triune God of Christianity. One group after the other has tried to know and understand the truth about God. This article is another attempt, but done a bit differently and with a particular focus.
The focus is on getting to know God better. As we spend the next few moments together, we will sift through the pages of the Bible, poring over what the Word of God says. We will weave together the ideas and pictures that come from the verses we read and after bringing them together, we will attempt to see what the God of the Bible has revealed about Himself.
In our endeavor, we will first look at how God reveals Himself. This is sometimes referred to as “God manifestation.” We will see how this term is defined by the actions of both angels and the Lord Jesus. From there, we will put together our framework to understand the characteristics and purpose of God more completely.
Getting to know God is a study that is sometimes challenging, but at the same time, it’s thrilling.
When you go deeper into a verse than perhaps you have ever gone before, or when you open up “mysteries” that were once so foreign, the results are exciting. This is an opportunity to learn about the One who created us and gave us life!
Really, what could be better than that?
The Role of Rational Faith
In working on this study together, we will be using the Bible as our foundation on the assumption we all agree the Bible is truly God’s inspired word.1If you wish to strengthen your conviction the Bible truly is God’s inspired word, another article in this series may be helpful: Is There A Living God? Along with that initial principle, we also have two other key principles of Bible study we will follow:
|#1||Consider the context (or background information)
Context can be huge for understanding a passage. If we were to just take an isolated verse and try to deduce its meaning, we could probably come up with a whole handful of ideas. However, when we look at a verse in its context, looking at the verses before and after, we can piece together the whole scene of what was taking place. From there, we can build a meaning based off the events that surround our verse.
Throughout Scripture there are various details (even sometimes the lack thereof!) that almost seem random. Why are we told that King David was an Ephrathite (1 Samuel 17:12), and what does that even mean? Why did the Lord Jesus speak in parables (Matthew 13:10)? Why did the apostle John see a vision of a dragon with seven heads (Revelation 12:3)?
When we read Scripture, and particularly when we see these types of details, we have to ask “Why?”Why did God choose to use those specific words? Why did He act in that way? Why did He perform one type of miracle and not another?
Our goal in this study is to begin to understand God and come to know Him and to ask “Why?” This provides a foundation for everything. When we begin to ask why God acted in a certain way, then we begin to probe into His thinking and attempt to understand His purpose.
With those two principles in mind for our study, let’s go back in time a few millennia.
The Burning Bush
It’s hard to imagine exactly what it would have been like, but we know a few of the details. Moses had gone to Mount Sinai (also known as Mount Horeb) where he was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 3:1).
It was probably scorching hot and all the surrounding vegetation would have been only little shrubs and dry trees. Alone in the desert something suddenly caught his eye: a bush.
Yet it wasn’t merely a bush, it was a bush engulfed in flames. Little did Moses know that it was actually an angel:
And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
This was impossible! Moses was staring at a dried out bush that should have turned to ashes in a matter of seconds, and yet it was still there! For one minute, two minutes, three minutes, it kept burning. Finally, Moses decided to get closer and figure out what he was seeing. Then something unbelievable happened. Moses heard his name. At first, he might have thought he was hallucinating (think about how hot and dry it was!). Then, he heard even more. From the midst of the bush, Moses heard the angel of God speaking to him, and in the middle of their conversation, the angel said something curious:
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, “The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, ‘I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt.’ ” (Exodus 3:16).
Did you notice something strange about the angel’s command to Moses? Just consider who said it and what exactly it meant. An angel spoke these words (v.2). However, the angel told Moses to tell the elders of Israel that “The LORD”, the God of his fathers, had appeared to him. In fact, almost as if to connect verse 16 back to verse 2, the Bible says, “the Angel of the LORD appeared to him.” It is almost as though the text just called the angel, “the LORD”!
What does all of this mean? Is it literally saying this angel was God? Could one even say that about an angel?
It wasn’t that the angel actually was God Himself. Instead, God worked through the angel…
Before this sounds too troublesome, it’s important that we stop and consider our principles of study. When we see details like this in the record—things that don’t seem to fit—we have to probe further. We have to ask “Why?”
First, we can be certain that Moses really saw an angel and that the angel spoke to him and sent him back to Egypt. We know this because the New Testament confirms it.
Speaking before a hostile council, Stephen, one of the early believers, gave this testimony while guided by the Holy Spirit:
This Moses whom they rejected, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. (Acts 7:35)
Stephen’s words confirm what we read in Exodus. Moses saw an angel in the bush. Then, speaking as though he were God, the angel sent Moses back to Egypt. Stephen adds a significant detail though. It wasn’t that the angel actually was God Himself. Instead, God worked through the angel; Stephen says that God sent Moses by the hand of the angel. It was as though God gave the command and the angel carried it out. Since the angel was working on behalf of God, the record therefore calls him simply “the LORD.”
The Law of Moses
Next, consider a similar type of situation.
Throughout the New Testament, the believers understood that the people had received the Jewish law (the law of Moses) by angels. Looking again at Stephen’s speech, he actually said this twice in the course of his testimony:
This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us. (Acts 7:38)
When Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the “living oracles,” or the law, Stephen stated that he was speaking to an angel.
As Stephen reached the climax of his speech, the place where he condemned the Jewish rulers for not adhering to the law and truly learning its principles, he reminded them again that angels had given them the law.
Who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it. (Acts 7:53)
Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul said the same thing (Galatians 3:19), as well as the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:1-3).
When you look at the Old Testament, oddly enough, every chapter that discusses the creation of the law of Moses always, without reservation, ascribes the law to God. It doesn’t say God gave the law in some type of mysterious way, rather, it says God literally spoke the words of the law to Moses. The chapter that first mentions the Ten Commandments states this very clearly:
And God spoke all of these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” (Exodus 20:1-4)
God spoke the words of the law. While speaking them, God said to Moses “I am the LORD your God.” According to the Old Testament record, God Himself gave these words to Moses (cf. Exodus 34:1-2). Nevertheless, throughout the New Testament, it would appear as though it was standard Christian practice to acknowledge that angels gave the law to the people.
Why the discrepancy?
Again, this would seem to be an example of angels bearing God’s name because they are working on His behalf. The angels, though they have their own individual names, were given the privilege of bearing God’s title and name because everything they did in that situation was God’s will and plan. They were carrying out His actions on His behalf.
Essentially, they were representing Him, and, as His representatives, they took on His name:
Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you… (Exodus 23:20-23)
Throughout Scripture, God has used representatives to show His character and reveal His thinking. When representing Him, they carried His name, or His title with them. They were speaking His words. They were performing His will. This was not only done with the angels, but also with the prophets, and, as we will see shortly, even with the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than expressly appearing to people and interacting with them, God revealed himself through various individuals2God also revealed Himself to a limited extent through His people as a nation. See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Exodus 19:5-6.. He called these individuals to represent Him and then gave them His name. This is a process I like to call “God manifestation,” the revealing of God. God reveals Himself through individuals, who display, or manifest, His character.
Again, we have to ask the question: “Why?” Out of all of the ways that God could teach people about Himself, why would He choose to give His name to others, appoint them as His representatives, and have them teach others about Him? What if those individuals didn’t actually display His character? What if they misrepresented God just like a bad employee misrepresenting a company?
Unfortunately, this happened sometimes (e.g. Ezekiel 36:22). Yet, while there have been individuals and nations that have not actually lived up to the name given them, there are a number of reasons why God chooses to reveal Himself in this way.
#1 – It works beautifully with Scripture. God explains His character in His word. He then calls individuals and nations to live that character, so people could see a real living example.
#2 – God’s glory is so great that mortal men cannot physically see Him. God said to Moses on Mount Sinai: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). No one can see God’s face and live. He is simply too awesome, too glorious for us to be able to handle. When writing to Timothy the apostle Paul described this same aspect of God:
He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16)
God’s radiance is so great that it is “unapproachable.” Thus, no mortal man has ever seen him, and no mortal man ever can. It is simply impossible. For this reason, God has chosen to reveal His character through individuals, like the angels, who mankind can see.
#3 – God’s desire to have His character and ways manifest in others relates to God’s plan for the future. Our Creator wants people to strive to be like Him today, but one day, by God’s grace, He will complete this process. In other words, God intends His character and ways to be seen in the people who will bear His Name permanently!
We now need to spend some time considering the Lord Jesus, our ultimate example (1 Peter 2:21). Out of everyone who has ever lived, we seek to follow him. His life then and his life now should beautifully intertwine with ours. In order to understand our future, we must better understand him. How does he fit into all of this, and how does God manifestation (i.e. manifesting Himself in others) help us better understand the Lord Jesus Christ?
The Perfect Representative
As the perfect representative of God, we find his decisions to be the same decisions God would have made in the same situation. His actions were the same actions God would have done in that same event. To verify this conclusion even further, notice that the Lord Jesus had explained this concept to his disciples and the Jews repeatedly throughout his ministry:
I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. (John 5:43)
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.” (John 10:25)
No wonder he chided Philip for his request to show him the Father! For three years, the Lord Jesus had explained to the people that everything he did was what the Father would have done. He wasn’t the Father. Instead, he was God’s representative. Consider these passages:
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)
Thus, the Lord did the same actions as the Father, because he learned those actions from God Himself. Christ couldn’t do anything on his own; he could only do what the Father had taught him. Just a few chapters later, we see the same thing:
Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)
It’s the same message. The Lord did what his Father taught him. Later in John, the Lord made this even clearer:
For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. (John 12:49)
Christ always spoke God’s words (cf. John 14:24, Hebrews 1:1-2). He always performed God’s actions. He emphatically declared that he did so because God had commanded him to do it. God had specifically told him what he was to say and what he was not to say. It was an extraordinary relationship between Father and Son. It was a relationship that powerfully declared the Lord Jesus to be God’s representative and one who beautifully demonstrated the concept of God manifestation.
Yet at the same time, it also indicates a different relationship between the Lord Jesus and his Father than typically taught in many churches, and perhaps gives us a bit of a challenge in our attempt to understand and know God.
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 4:6
The Trinity Defined
Throughout Christendom, there is a general agreement about the relationship between Jesus and his Father: they are both part of the Godhead, typically known as the Trinity. Jesus is the “Son” portion of the Trinity, the Father is the “Father” portion of the Trinity, and the third person is the Holy Spirit. Generally, it is advanced that these three persons in the Trinity are all “co-equal” and all “co-eternal”—meaning that all three have the same status and have all existed from the very beginning of time. Together, they make up what we know as “God,” and yet separately they are all “God” as well. Thus, Jesus is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
A Different Relationship
Yet, that teaching simply doesn’t agree with what the Lord Jesus taught about himself.
As we just read, the Lord stressed to the people that he did nothing of himself. He could only do what the Father had taught him. He could only speak the Father’s words. Even more, the Father commanded him to say certain things.
The relationship between the Father and the Son as described by Jesus in the gospel of John is very different from the relationship taught in most churches. Those who are “co-equal” don’t give commands to each other. In fact, the Lord Jesus actually went further than just saying the Father had commanded him. Shortly after he reaffirmed his representative role to Philip, the Lord Jesus made a very plain statement about his relationship to his Father:
You have heard Me say to you, “I am going away and coming back to you.” If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, “I am going to the Father,” for My Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)
Consider the way in which Jesus explained his relationship with God. He stated that he was going to go away and leave the disciples and, instead of being with them, he would be with the Father. If his disciples truly loved him, he said, they would rejoice for him, because he was going to the One who was so much greater than he was. He was going to the Father. This is not the language of co-equality.
Again, one could argue this was simply the type of relationship that Jesus had with God while he was on earth. However, even after the exaltation of Jesus to the Father’s side, we still see a relationship that is not equal. The apostle Paul wrote about the time when the Lord Jesus will set up a righteous kingdom on this earth and teach truth and peace to all people:
For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:27-28)
While all the pronouns in these verses can be tricky, notice the sense: all things will be put under Jesus, except the One who gave him “all things.” Thus, all will be under the control of the Lord Jesus and all will be his subjects, except for the Father. He is the One who gave all things to Jesus, and He is the One who continues to be the Master of the Universe, never subject to anyone.
It would seem Scripture actually teaches a bit of a different relationship between Jesus and the Father than is taught by the Trinity. Instead of Jesus and the Father being “co-equal,” Jesus is shown to be the most exalted man to have ever lived who is now at the Father’s right hand (e.g. Hebrews 1:3). This is why Scripture repeatedly refers to the Father as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, because the Lord Jesus, while having an extremely lofty position, is still subject to the Father.3For example, John 20:17, 2 Corinthians 11:31, Ephesians 1:15-17, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 3:12 That is why Scripture says God “exalted” Jesus, because the Father was the One alone who held the power, and He gave that power to Jesus.4For example, Matthew 28:18, John 13:3, Acts 3:13, Acts 5:30-31.
This idea of equality is only one piece of the puzzle. When we start to scrutinize the idea of the Trinity further, looking more deeply at the idea that Jesus was actually God Himself, rather than God’s representative, many contradictions begin to surface.
The table below summarizes these contradictions. Please consider them carefully. They are not meant to disrespect beliefs you might hold dear. Instead, they are here to encourage us to know God. They are there to challenge us to ponder what the Bible says. The more we think about that Book and the more we try to know the God who created us, the better off we will be.
If Jesus were literally and wholly God, consider the implications:
Unfortunately, looking at these contradictions, it seems as if the Trinity often obscures our understanding of who the Father really is, creating problems and inconsistencies with other passages of Scripture.
Everything that God would have done if He had been there was what Jesus did. He did nothing of himself. He spoke those things that God had commanded him. He was the perfect representative
If we believe the doctrine of the Trinity, these inconsistencies need to be reconciled, especially some major parts of our faith like Christ’s death on the cross!
I believe God’s written word, having no true contradictions on its own, reconciles all of these inconsistencies fairly simply: it doesn’t teach the doctrine of the Trinity.
Instead, consider what we saw earlier about the angels and the Lord Jesus Christ. The angels were called “God.” As we saw, this did not mean they were God Himself. None of us would think to say the angels were part of God. Instead, the Father gave the angels this name because they perfectly represented Him and acted on His behalf. They revealed His character and purpose completely.
As we also saw earlier, the same is true with the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of being part of the Trinity and being “God” Himself, the Lord Jesus is a representative of God. He perfectly shows the principle of God manifestation in bearing God’s name.
Once you start looking for it, you will see this teaching throughout the whole Bible. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews used a term that powerfully reinforces what we’ve just seen about Jesus. Notice how the writer described the Lord in relation to his Father:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son… who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person… (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Lord Jesus is the “express image” of God. Note the specific words used there. The writer didn’t say Jesus was literally God Himself. He didn’t say He was part of God. Instead, he said that he was the “express image” of God—he was an exact picture or resemblance of God.
Essentially, the Lord Jesus was to God like the image we see when we walk in front of a mirror. It’s a picture of us and it does the same things we do, but it isn’t literally us. This was how Jesus described himself; he did those things that his Father did and he could do nothing of himself (John 5:19, 30).
What’s important to remember about an image is that it is not literally the same as the original; rather, it resembles the original.
Bringing Everything Together
We have been attempting to know our God better and what we’ve seen is that He reveals Himself through representatives. All throughout the Old Testament, He used the angels to bring about His will and to enact His purpose. They spoke on His behalf and they bore His name. Sometimes the same thing even happened with the prophets.
When we come to the New Testament, we see something a bit different happening. While the angels are still God’s representatives, we see a man enter the scene who was more than just a representative, he was the “express image” of God. Everything that God would have done if He had been here was what Jesus did. Jesus did nothing of himself. He spoke the things that God had commanded him. He was the perfect representative, and that is why he could be called “God,”5Jesus once confronted the rulers, the judges over God’s people, pointing out that they too were called “god” because of their representational role in the nation. Jesus expounded Psalm 82 to them to prove his point, and to implicitly condemn them for their failure to be true representatives of God. This account is found in John 10:29-38. just as the angels were in the Old Testament (e.g. John 20:28).
In our attempt to understand God, we have stumbled across an unexpected challenge to the teaching of the Trinity. We have found the Trinity to be at odds with the Bible’s teaching about Jesus Christ. We have learned that he actually was one of God’s representatives. No, more than that, we have learned that Jesus Christ is the supreme representative of the Father in every way. He was a true and most worthy bearer of God’s name, the very first human to ever truly be in the image of God as God intended from the beginning (cf. Genesis 1:26-27)!
With all that said, we still haven’t necessarily met our initial goal, the goal of coming to know God. Perhaps, though, we have come much closer than we were at the beginning. In recognizing the Lord Jesus as God’s representative, the “express image” of God’s person, we are now in a much better position to understand God.
No one has ever seen God, and because of that, it can be difficult to know Him. But, people have certainly seen the Lord Jesus and Jesus did everything he had learned from his Father. Thus, it follows that as Jesus told Philip, he who had seen him had seen the Father, we too can see the Father when we listen attentively at Jesus’ feet to his teaching, and when we closely observe his way of life.
When we read about the Lord Jesus, we’re essentially reading about the Father.
When we see the Lord Jesus give freely of himself for the sake of his followers, we get an insight into God’s character. When we see the Lord Jesus empty himself on the cross for the sake of the world, we see the love of the Father.
This means we need to spend time reading through the Gospels, pondering his life and his actions, and seeking to foster a relationship with him by acknowledging him in all we do and say. Really, since Christ was God’s perfect representative, what better way to the Father than coming to know His Son? As the apostle John wrote,
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
If we really want to know God, we must truly come to know His Son.