No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)
I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly. (Ps.40:9-10)
While he was still speaking a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him’ (Matt.17:5)
In our previous study we saw that Christ is fully God, embedded intrinsically in the fellowship of the Trinity as the Son, and fully aware of the infinite immensity of the life and mind of His Father. One reason why this is so critical is that it establishes His exclusive credentials to reveal and interpret the Father to us. One of the earliest realisations in the early Church as they explored the reality of Christ was that ‘the finite cannot contain the infinite’; and that which is created cannot contain the Creator (Col.2:9). Only God can fully reveal the truth about who God is – none other is sufficient. No other being has the capacity to fully know God, let alone to reveal Him to others - yet it is precisely this claim that lies at the heart of Jesus’ self-understanding: ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn.14:9); and even more directly, ‘I have revealed you to those you gave me out of the world’ (Jn.17:6). It is telling that in the opening of the Book of Revelation, Jesus is styled as ‘the faithful and true witness’ (1:5).
An element of the Bible’s teaching that often proves difficult for people is the exclusivity of Jesus as the source of revelation. God is not discovered through human ingenuity or speculation, inspiration or reflection. We can only know the truth of God as far as we know Jesus (Jn.1:18; Matt.11:27 etc.), because the Father is who He is in relation to the Son. If we don’t know Jesus, we remain utterly ignorant of the reality of God. As Jesus Himself said: No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt.11:27). There is no ‘basic’ knowledge of God that is then ‘topped up’ or enhanced, or brought into clearer focus when you know Jesus. All ideas about God not rooted in Christ are idolatrous. As one old theologian puts it: ‘Fallen man has become a false prophet’. There is only knowledge of God in Jesus, or devastating lack of knowledge without Him. In the final analysis there is only faith or unbelief.
This does raise the question of how we should relate to those who claim to know God, but whose religion or spirituality has either no place for Jesus, or (almost worse sometimes) has a nominal or downgraded vision of Jesus as less than the God He is. The first thing to notice is that the Bible recognises the reality of other religions and visions of ‘god’, and indeed the reality of other spiritual powers that bear the name ‘god’ (Ex.15:11; Dt.32:15-17). The Bible’s warning is always unambiguous: ‘Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practises’ (Ex.23:24). Indeed, there must not be even a ‘root’ of such worship (Dt.29:18). The Lord is a jealous God and will not share the affections of His Bride with any other pretender to His title or His place in their heart (Ps.95:3 & 6). We must be careful not to read more into this than is warranted. There remains no-one who is actually at any level ‘equal’ with the Triune God. Others who claim for themselves the name of God are subjected variously to mockery (Is.41:21-24); humiliation (I Sam.5:1-5); judgement (Ex.12:12) and calls to repentance (Ps.97:7). Those who worship them are warned of both the futility and of the dangers of such idolatry (Dt.18:19-20; Ps.115:4-8; Is.44:6-26). And finally, their true identity is revealed: ‘the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons’ (I Cor.10:20). Against the bleak and hollow emptiness of such worship, the reality of Christ stands in blistering glory. Where vacuous idols bring only slavery and despair, Christ alone is the source of life and liberty. Against the confusion that is the religious landscape of a fallen humanity, Christ alone stands forth as Truth.
And as Flavel (who we have quoted already in these studies) said: ‘[W]hen His will is understood and known, we have no liberty of choice, but are compelled by it, be the duty commanded ever so difficult, or the sin forbidden ever so tempting (Fountain of Life, 121). The fact that Christ reveals God’s will and character is no academic or abstract realisation. It has an overwhelming impact on every aspect of our life. There is no longer ambiguity. Because we know who God in Christ is, because we understand who He is, we know who we are supposed to be. And perhaps therein lies the problem.
Do you think we can really say that all religion and spirituality outside of Jesus is false… or even demonic? Why / why not? Do you really think there is no truth outside of Jesus? What would you say to the idea that we can learn from other religions and spiritualties? How does your answer affect your attitude to evangelism?
If Jesus does in fact reveal the character, person, heart and mind of God to us, what should be our attitude to Him? How could we encourage that attitude in one another? What does that look like for you as a homegroup?
Read I Cor.1:18-31
Do you think Paul is unduly pessimistic about humanity’s pursuit for knowledge of God? What about those who are sincerely seeking God?
Why has God made truth so obscure and elusive?
Do you think God is deliberately frustrating humanity in their search for truth? Can you show why you think what you do from this passage? If you think the answer is ‘Yes’, why would God do that?
If ‘demanding signs’ is a bad thing, what do you make of the idea that people would become Christians if they saw more miraculous signs?
If ‘wisdom’ is a bad thing, do you think we should work hard at explaining what we believe and why we believe it? What does Paul have in mind when he talks about wisdom? What might be a contemporary equivalent?
Why do you think Paul is so derogatory about the Church (v.26-27)?
How does this passage affect our approach to evangelism? When you have answered this question, read I Cor.2:1-5. Does that change your answer in any way?
The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in His mouth. He will tell them everything I command Him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.’
Deut.18:17-20, cf also John 6:14 & Acts 3:22
For further reflection:
This vision of Jesus as the Revealer of God is often spoken of by theologians in terms of His role as Prophet. As we’ll see in a couple of studies time, Jesus adopts this role from the beginning of history, and retains it throughout. We might tend to focus on His work of revelation, His acting as prophet, during His earthly life recorded in the Gospels. But He was equally at work in the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Apostles of the New; and He continues to be in those who faithfully fulfil any preaching or teaching role in the life of the Church today (Acts 1:1). His prophetic ministry did not end with His death, or resurrection. He continues to instruct us by His Spirit and His Word. All ‘revealing’ of the truth of God has its origin and terminus in Him, and cannot happen except by Him.
It is Christ who, at the point of His ascension, gifts the Church with those through whom He will continue to teach by His Holy Spirit (Eph.4:11-13). Through such He continues to open God’s will to our hearts and our hearts to God’s will (I Cor.2:14). This ongoing ministry of Christ has been seen as so critical that the Anglican Church defines the boundaries of the Church by it: Art.19, ‘The visible church of Christ is a congregation of believers in which the pure Word of God is preached and in which the sacraments are rightly administered…’ Even more breath-taking perhaps is a document from the 16th century Swiss Church called The Second Helvetic Confession (1:4): ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful…’. Truly it has been the understanding and experience of the Church that Christ continues to speak by His Holy Spirit.