The Trinity in Scritpure: The Comfort of God

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [παρακλητον] , that he may abide with you for ever… But the Comforter [παρακλητος] , which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16,26)

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate [παρακλητον] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… (1John 2:1)

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort [παρακλησεως]… (2Corintihians1:3)

If you have been long in the faith you have probably heard the explanation about “another” in John 14:16. Greek has two words to express the idea of another: another of the same kind and another of a different kind. It is something like the difference between “another” and “an other.” Jesus uses the first type of word: the word that indicates that the Holy Spirit is the same kind of comforter that Jesus is. The apostles have no reason to worry or fear. The Holy Spirit stands in the place of Christ and offers the comfort that the physical presence of Jesus would no longer provide. The Holy Spirit mediates between the Son and his disciples. He is sent to the disciples to draw them closer to Christ.

While John 14 is based on the assumption that Jesus is a comforter, the apostle John goes ahead and makes it clear in 1 John 2:1. Jesus is our comforter in our relationship to the Father. Jesus has borne the wrath of God against sin and presents us faultless before the throne of God. Jesus mediates between his disciples and the Father. He was sent into the world to rescue a people from sin, drawing them into fellowship with God.

The Father is the God of all comfort. A slightly different, but obviously related word is used here. Whereas the Son and Spirit are both a comforter (personal noun); the Father is the source of all comfort (impersonal noun). The Father is the source of all comfort. He eternally begets the Son who is our comforter before the Father. The Father is the source of all comfort: the Sprit eternally proceeds from him comforting God’s people with the presence of Christ.

This is yet another way we see the illumination of two truths that seem to be in tension. We are told by the more careful theologians that the Trinity acts in concert: what One does the Three does. Yet we also see individual “actions” each member performs. Most notably, it is only the Son who died for the salvation of humanity. But the death of the Son was a death to the Father in the Spirit. These passages remind us that the Trinity is a God of comfort. The comfort the Trinity offers to man is the comfort that the Three offer as One. The Spirit comforts us with Christ who comforts us with the Father who comforts us with the Son and Spirit.

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The Trinity in Scripture: Hebrews 3:7-14

The book of Hebrews can be viewed as built around multiple warnings to continue in the faith and against falling away from the faith (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:26-39; 12:15-17; 12:25-29). Just as in the first warning to hear the message of God declared in his Son by attestation of the Holy Spirit; the author of Hebrews forms his second warning in a Trinitarian manner.

 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:7-14)

Whereas the first warning in Hebrews was to pay attention to the message delivered by the Trinity, this second warning begins to explain how we know we are paying attention to that message. The teaching is accurately summarized by the maxim, be doers of the word and not hearers only.

The person who will inherit the rest of God is the one that perseveres until the end. This emphasis of continuing “to the end” is directly from Jesus: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22 & 24:13). How does one continue to the end? The way to continue to the end is to exhort fellow believers daily. While Hebrews 10:25 is often used in support of faithful church attendance, it should not be read apart from Hebrews 3:13 and the instruction to practice exhortation “every day.” Unfortunately we separate these two verses from one another and from the centuries-long practice of the early church.

The sure sign of a believing heart is not the exuberant youth caught up in the “original confidence” of trusting Christ. The sure sign of a believing heart is the 80 year old widow who has remained faithful in tangibly supporting the ministry of her church.

What does it mean to fall away from God? What does it mean to lose fellowship with Christ? Whatever it may or may not mean, the surest indication that one has done so is that he stops fellowshipping with God’s people. That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The larger context of this passage is also important for formulating a proper understanding of the nature of Scripture. Hebrews 3:7 unmistakably indicates a super-natural source for Scripture: the words of Psalm 95 are the words of the Holy Spirit. In the following verses, the author Hebrews continues to explain Psalm 95 and in 4:7 asserts that the words of the Psalm came “through David.”

This does not answer all of our questions about the nature of Scripture, indeed it perhaps arouses even more. Even so, the author of Hebrews presents Scripture (at least Psalm 95) as the product of the Holy Spirit speaking through men.

The Trinity in Scripture: Hebrews 2:1-4 The Final Word of the Trinity

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The first chapter break in Hebrews is somewhat unfortunate. As we have it numbered, the first four verses of chapter 2 serve to summarize all of chapter 1. Perhaps more people would see this if they were labeled 1:15-18 rather than 2:1-4!

Hebrews 1:1-2:4 begins the book as many modern systematic theologies do: with a discussion of revelation. The first three verses make it clear that Jesus Christ is the supreme and unsurpassable Word of God. There is no clearer communication possible. In verse 4 the author transitions into a discussion of the Son’s superiority to angels. This seems a little strange: what does the Son’s superiority to angels have to do with him being God’s ultimate revelation?

The first four verses of chapter two answer that question by returning to the subject of revelation. One of the “many ways” in which God gave his word to the Old Testament prophets was through the mediation of angels (2:2; cf. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19). This word was considered God’s word and disobedience was punishable by death. So if a word from God given by angels is so dreadfully binding, what can be said of a word that is given by God’s only Son who is himself the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature?

If death was the punishment for breaking the Old Testament law given through angels, how much more severe is the punishment for breaking the New Testament law given through the Son?

Yet, just when you think the author of Hebrews cannot impress upon us any more clearly the danger of rejecting God’s word of salvation: he does just that. This great salvation was not something that the Son just dreamed up on his own. This word of salvation was declared by the Son who preached “Repent…”; “Come unto me…”; “I am…” It was validated by the Father who proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son…” He who blackened earth at the Son’s crucifixion. He who gave new light at the Son’s rising. It is propagated by the generosity of the Holy Spirit who gives gracious gifts for the building of the church.

The Son is God’s supreme Word to mankind. But his voice is not alone. The Father testifies by wondrous works. The Spirit testifies by gracious gifts.

The Trinity has spoken.

What more can he say?

 

 

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 12. The Trinity and the Unpardonable Sin

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:8-12

There are a couple knots in this passage that demand careful attention. First, what is the significance of being acknowledged- or not acknowledged- before the angels of God? The statements by Jesus make it seem like the angels are somehow involved in the judgment of men. Second, there is the entire constellation of questions relating to the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit: why is this sin unforgivable; how is it committed; can it be committed today; etc.

As we approach this text, two things should be noted. It is somewhat interesting the each person of the Trinity is mentioned twice, and each is mentioned in the same terms. I have found over one hundred New Testament references to the Trinity, and such a balanced, or symmetrical, presentation does not occur very often. Luke 2:25-32 is far more representative of passages where there are multiple mentions of the Persons: the Father is mentioned three times with two different terms; the Son is mentioned twice with two different terms; the Spirit is mentioned three times with two different terms. I would not necessarily say that the vocabulary usage of the Trinitarian usage in this passage is significant, but it is somewhat unique.

Secondly, the flow of Jesus’ arguments in the context is important for understanding what is going on here. The entire chapter deals with Jesus’ teaching on faithful perseverance and readiness. Even when someone in the crowd tries to change the subject, Jesus does not simply dismiss the question but does so with a parable that shows how foolish the concern is in the light of what Jesus is trying to teach (12:13-21).

Jesus begins his discourse by warning his followers to be wary of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (12:1). In 12:4 Jesus reveals just how dangerous their hypocrisy was. Jesus knew that the hypocrisy of the Pharisees had filled them with hatred toward God’s Messiah. He knew that their hatred would lead to his death. And he knew that their hatred would lead to the persecution and death of some of his followers. Hypocrisy and false teaching are not merely psychological or intellectual problems. Jesus strengthens the resolve of his disciples by reminding them of the One who is really in charge. God cares for all of his creation and judges righteously.

It is in this context of persecution by earthly authorities that Jesus warns his followers about denying him. This is made all the more clearer in verse 11: “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities…” In all of chapter 12 Jesus is constantly using earthly shadows to point to eternal realities. Jesus is constantly teaching his disciples to forsake a temporal mindset and to embrace a view of the gravity of eternity. Do not fear judgment here, fear it there (12:4-5). Do not store up treasure here, store it there (12:21). Do not worry about even the daily necessities here, seek the kingdom (12:31). Do not hoard to provide for your body, give to provide for your heart (12:34).

And so it is in 12:8-9: the verses are merely a re-emphasis of 12:4-5. When the disciples of Jesus are standing before court on earth they should keep in mind the court in heaven. Just as one stands before a judge, jury, and witness here on earth, he will one day stand before the Judge and the heavenly witnesses: the angels of God. To deny Jesus is to forfeit all right of dwelling eternally in the presence of God.

But Jesus then seems to immediately take the teeth out of his teaching with the statement in verse 10 that anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. At first, eternal life was dependent upon acknowledgment of Jesus, but now it is dependent upon not blaspheming the Spirit. Verses 11 and 12 help us reconcile this apparent contradiction.

Far from ranking the Trinity in some order of “Importance of Acceptance”, Jesus actually demonstrates the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. A careless interpreter of 12:8-9 might claim that salvation is a matter of works. “If I profess Jesus when I am persecuted I will be saved. If I deny him, I will be damned.” But Jesus is careful to teach that such strength to confess the Son of Man does not come from a person’s own strength or will. A person will only be able to confess the Son of Man when he does so in response to the teaching of the Holy Spirit (12:12).

In his weakness, Peter denied the Lord three times before men in just one evening. But after the Holy Spirit came upon him, he boldly proclaimed Jesus even in the face of persecution. Had Peter continued to live in fear and denial, it would have been proof that the Holy Spirit had never indwelt him.

Just as the Son was sent forth as the Logos, Word, of the Father; so the Spirit is sent forth as the witness of the Son (John 1:1, 15:26). A person simply cannot live in denial of the Son and claim to have any part of the Holy Spirit. To live in denial of the Son is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit because such denial is counter to everything the Spirit is trying to achieve on earth. The heightening of expression between “speaking a word” and “blasphemes against” is apparent and it is instructive. In weakness and sin men can deny the Son of Man. But persistent, willful denial is blasphemy: it is opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit.

To live in denial of the Son is to live in denial of the work of the Spirit is to die to face denial by the Father.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 11; The Trinity and Prayer

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)

Here is a passage that is must have weighed heavily in the thinking of Luke. As detailed in posts in previous months, in the book of Acts Luke repeatedly speaks of the Trinity in terms this passage presents.

Jesus’ instruction in Luke 11:1-13 is in response to the request of his disciples for instruction on prayer. After giving the model prayer in 11:2-4, the bulk of the instruction is devoted to a parable and its interpretation. Jesus wishes to encourage his disciples to persevere confidently in prayer.

The rational basis for confident perseverance is prayer is demonstrated by an analogy using the logic of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If even sinful fathers on earth know how to answer the requests of their children with good gifts; don’t you think the perfect Father in heaven will do so as well?

But as comforting as such a truth is; it is not just a theological abstraction. The truth is firmly grounded in the action of the Triune God. In the theology of Luke, Jesus is that Son who has asked his Father for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; cf. Acts 5:32; 10:38; 15:8). As sound as the logic is, we are not finally dependent upon logic for our confident assurance in the efficacy of prayer. We pray because of the faithfulness the Father has already demonstrated to the Son in answering his request to pour out the Holy Spirit.

Our perseverance in prayer is further encouraged by one other Trinitarian truth: the intercession made for us within the Trinity.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom. 8:25-27)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34 cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:24)

How shall we not continue in prayer? The foundation is sure- the Father has answered the prayer of his Son to send the Spirit. The building continues- the Son and Spirit continue to make intercession to the Father for us. The prayer life of the believer is both motivated and sustained by the prayer life of the Trinity. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Trinity in Scripture: Luke 2

Just as in the sequel to his gospel, the book of Acts, Luke densely populates the beginning of his first work with references to the Trinity. Chapter 2 contains the fourth Trinitarian passage of the book (cf. 1:35; 1:41-45; 1:67-75).

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

Just as in the first three mentions of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is seen as the powerful mover and communicator of the Trinity. Simeon is introduced as a man whom the Holy Spirit was “upon” (2:25). This is a significant description. While the Holy Spirit “filled” Elizabeth (1:41) and Zechariah (1:67), he was “upon” Simeon. This certainly seems to be something more than the momentary filling the parents of John the Baptizer received; yet it is not quite synonymous with the indwelling of the Spirit that New Covenant believers partake of. Commentator Darrell Bock is certainly correct in writing that Simeon was “a righteous man of rare spiritual quality and gift.” Such a statement is in some ways both the least and the most we can say about the work of the Holy Spirit in Simeon.

The work of the Holy Spirit “upon” Simeon meant at least two things: he had received a revelation that he would see the promised Messiah (2:26) and he was led to the right place at the right time to see that Messiah (2:27). But the work of the Spirit continued to manifest itself in ways similar to what we have seen already in Luke.

Just as in the first three references to the Trinity, the Holy Spirit moves a person to praise the Father for sending his Son to accomplish the work of man’s deliverance. God is sending his Son to be the light and glory to Israel and the nations (2:32), the work of the Spirit causes man to praise God for this great goodness.

Secondly, while the Holy Spirit fills and empowers people to recognize God’s work and praise him for it, their praise is always connected to previous revelation. The revelation they receive is added and based upon the revelation they already had. It might be said that in each case, the Spirit gives newer revelation but not new revelation. This is not revelation ex nihilo.

The Trinitarian comfort offered to Mary in 1:35 is in fulfillment of the promise of God to David (1:33 cf. 2 Sam. 7:8-16 noting the use of the key terms throne, house, and kingdom). The Trinitarian praise of Elizabeth is based upon the “fulfillment of what was spoken to [Mary] from the Lord” (1:45). The Trinitarian praise of Zechariah is based upon the Lord’s faithfulness to accomplish all that “he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets of old” (1:70). Such mercy promised to the fathers stretched all the way back to “the oath that he swore to…Abraham” (1:72-73). Similarly, Simeon’s praise for God’s salvation draws from the vocabulary of OT passages such as Psalm 98:2-3; Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7; 60:1-3. Even as he breathes out new words from God, the Holy Spirit continues to move recipients of new revelation in the sea of the revelation already given.

Finally, we see from the very beginning of the life of Jesus his life was meant to impact “all peoples” (2:31). Just as he did in Acts (cf. 8:26-40; 10:44-48; 11:15-18), Luke demonstrates that the work of redemption accomplished by the Trinity is intended for all nations. Granted, Luke wrote this book as the gospel was going or had gone into the entire world; and he was writing to Gentile, Theophilus. But he was not a revisionist. Simeon drew upon numerous OT texts pointing to the salvation of people from all nations. Zechariah and Mary both mentioned the promise God made to Abraham: that promise that all nations would be blessed.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is God of all nations. To all nations his blessings flow.