How did an essentially Jewish sect following a crucified Messiah start worshipping him as God? Here, in time for Trinity Sunday, are five ways in which God prepared the way for the arrival of his Son through revelation and providence.
1. Agents and Representatives of God.
Right from the start, we see that the God of the Bible is committed to working in the world through agents and representatives. For example:
- He makes humans in his image to rule the world as his stewards (Gen 1:26-28), thus associating them with himself and making an attack on them an attack on him:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen 9:6; see too James 3:9-10)
- He sends prophets who speak for him and – even model his relationship to the world:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. (Ex 7:1)
- He makes the heirs of King David to be his “sons” to rule on his behalf (with very similar connotations to the idea of “image”). Sometimes the language applied to these kings can become over the top!
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 beyond your companions (Ps 45:6-7)
- He rules the world through other “sons of God”—angelic deputies who serve as his ministers (Job 1:6; 2:1). It may be to these (or possibly human rulers) that Jesus refers to when he defends his own much greater claims:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:34-36 c.f. Ps 82)
While none of these figures is divine, or equal with God, their function means that they must be, at least to some degree, obeyed or heeded as God when they speak and rule on his behalf. This prepares the way for Jesus, the true man, image, prophet, king etc who represents God in every way.
While none of these figures is depicted as divine, or equal with God, their function means that they must be, at least to some degree, obeyed or heeded as God when they speak and rule on his behalf. This prepares the way for Jesus, the true man, image, prophet, king etc who represents God in every way.
2. Divine Agents
As well as these many creatures who represent God in different ways, there are also two figures who seem so closely associated with God as to share in his identity. These are the Commander of the Armies of the Lord whose presence makes the ground holy (Joshua 5:13-15) and the Angel of the Lord who bears God’s name (Ex 23:21) speaks God’s words and sometimes seems to just be God:
… the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in flames of fire from within a bush … When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Ex 3:2-4)
Many Christians have seen these figures as pre-incarnational appearances of Jesus. This is difficult to prove, but we should notice that an “Angel” who brings God’s words, and is both God and distinct from God, corresponds very closely to the Word who was both with God and was God (John 1:1), and who always spoke God’s words (c.f. John 12:49; 14:10)
3. Personifications of Divine Attributes and Activity.
Old Testament Scripture sometimes depicts God’s word and spirit in concrete terms as if they were entities that mediate between him and the world. For example:
[M]y word be that goes out from my mouth … shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Is 55:11)
[The Israelites] rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. (Is 63:10)
By the time of Christ, Jewish tradition had developed this way of speaking. The Targums (oral, and later written, translations of Hebrew Scripture) might avoid saying God’s name by substituting the Aramaic word memra—meaning “word/decree”—producing things like this:
And the Word (memra) of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them. (Jerusalem Targum on Gen 1:27 )
And the Word (memra) of the Lord said: “let there be light,” and there was light according to the decree of his Word (memra). (Targum Neofiti on Gen 1:3)
Something similar occurs with the idea of Wisdom. In Proverbs 1-8, and in later intertestamental (see for example Sirach 24 c.f. too Wisdom 7, 10 ) we see Wisdom personified as a gracious hostess, helper and co-worker with God
These ideas fall short of the NT depiction of Jesus—they are either poetic anthropomorphisms that describe abstract aspects of God (wisdom, word, glory etc) or personify God’s plans and purposes for creation itself. Yet, at the very least, these metaphors prepare the Jewish imagination for the Word who is both God’s word, wisdom, glory, co-creator and a real person.
4. The Son of Man
In Daniel 7 the prophet sees “one like a Son of Man” who…
… came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Of course, this is a very significant prophecy in the light of Jesus’ adoption of “Son of Man” as his preferred title. But other Jewish texts outside Scripture make their own use of the Son of Man. First Enoch (written sometime around the time of Christ) presents an even more exalted vision:
And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days. Yea, before the sun and the signs were created, Before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall, And he shall be the light of the Gentiles, And the hope of those who are troubled of heart. All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him, And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. (1Enoch 48)
5. Logos Philosophy
These Jewish ideas about God’s Word and Wisdom receive a great boost when they come into contact with Greek philosophy—specifically, the idea of there being a Logos—word/organising principle that shapes the world and the flow of history. Philo of Alexandria—contemporaneous with Jesus—shows us how close this final synthesis comes to anticipating the true Logos described in NT passages such as Colossians 1 and John1:
But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, “And God made man according to the image of God. (On the Allegories of the Sacred Laws, 31)
And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race … neither being uncreate as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties. (Heir to Divine Things, 62)
With 1Enoch’s depiction of the Son of Man and Philo’s drawing together the Angel of the Lord with the idea of Logos we are very close to some of what the Bible says about Jesus. He is a personal entity predestined to be the centre and saviour of the world; the one through who God creates; who determines the purpose and path the world and who mediates between God and the world.
Of course, we are still not quite there. These writers guess right in what they affirm but fail to see the bigger picture. Enoch’s Son of Man is never more than a highly exalted creature—not a fully equal sharer in the one divine nature. Philo’s Logos is a part and product of God’s creating—not the eternal beloved Son for whom the world was created.
But the fact that they come as close as they do is a great testimony to the way God prepared the way for his Son. When Jesus came into the world—in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4)—the pieces were already on the table. People were trying to fit them together like children trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle without seeing the picture they are meant to be working from.
What a privilege it is to have that picture—to live after the revelation of Jesus: the fulfilment of the ages; the revelation of God’s mystery; the substance of which every former thing was a shadow.
 By which, I mean, that it is hyperbolic in its OT context and literally true when applied to Jesus, its greater fulfilment..