Dan Rogers earned his PhD in historical theology from Union Institute and University. He is now retired, after serving many years as the Director of Church Administration & Development in Grace Communion International.
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For Christians, there are two very important questions: “Who is Jesus?” and “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?” To help us get at those two questions, I’d like for us to consider some answers given by Jesus in the Gospel of John.
Let’s first take a look at John’s account of Jesus at the Jewish Feast of Dedication in John 10:22-30. “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter.” Let’s stop for a moment right there and ask this question: What is the Hebrew word for dedication? I bet you know, even if you don’t think you know it. It’s Hanukkah. The celebration of the Feast of Dedication or Hannukah was established by the Jewish leader Judas Maccabeus in 165 BC to commemorate the Jewish victory over the army of the Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV. It celebrated the rescue of the Jewish temple from Gentile occupation and desecration. Judas Maccabeus was viewed by many of his countrymen as a Messiah because he had delivered his people and their holy city.
Now let’s look at John 10:23. “And Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” This was a common place for rabbis to meet with their disciples, so if anyone were looking for Jesus, he would be easy to find on this occasion. Now let’s look at John 10:24. “The Jews gathered around and circled him saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ [that is, the Messiah] tell us plainly.’” The question these Jewish religious leaders are asking is, Who are you, Jesus?
They want him boldly to proclaim that he is the Messiah. Then they can turn him over to the Romans for treason and rebellion, proclaiming that he is the King of the Jews. But Jesus, I think wise to what they’re doing, does not answer in the way they wish or expect. Indeed, he gives three answers as to who he is. Let’s notice those answers.
First, let’s go to John 10:25 and 26. “Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’” So answer number one is you know I am the Messiah, but you choose not to accept it.
Now, let’s look at John 10:27-29. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Here we have answer number two. I’m the Messiah, but I’m not here as a messianic warrior of the line of David, but rather as the messianic good shepherd like King David, the shepherd boy.
Then he shocks them with his third answer as to who he is. Let’s look at this in John 10:30. “I and the Father are one.” Okay, so here is answer number three. Totally unexpected by the crowd. Jesus says, “I am God, equal to the Father.” Think about what he has just said. We have a compound subject, I and the Father. Each are distinct. We have a plural verb and “one,” which in the Greek is in the neuter, meaning a thing or a being. That is, it’s not separate. It’s not in the masculine, meaning one person. It’s “I and the Father are one.” Wow.
What did he mean? How did he mean one? People have debated, did he mean one philosophy, of one attitude, of one goal? It’s evident from the story that the Jewish leaders seem to know exactly what he meant. They were clear as to what they understood him to be saying, because they picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy. They indeed believed that Jesus had just made himself equal to God. What do the words of Jesus quoted by John 10:30 mean? “I and the Father are one.” This became a key verse in the discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity and who is God in the early church.
Let’s look further at John 14:8-11:
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The words that I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe me on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
Here again, Jesus makes this bold claim that “the Father and I are one.” I am in the Father and the Father is in me and we are one. How can two be one? This was a very difficult question for early Christians to begin to try to analyze and work out and explain. But then you may say, “What about the Holy Spirit? What does Jesus say about the Spirit?”
Let’s look at John 14:16-20. Jesus said:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, for he lives with you and will be [some early manuscripts have, “and is”] in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
Now, Jesus has added the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is “another Comforter.” The Greek means by “another” “one just like myself.” Now, Jesus is added to the mix. Not only are he and the Father one, but there is going to be another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who is like him, similar to him, who is God, and is in the Father and in the Son as well.
We’ve got God the Father who is in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, we’ve got Jesus who is in God the Father and in the Holy Spirit, and we’ve got the Holy Spirit who is in God the Father and in Jesus. We might comically say, “Wow, it must be getting crowded in there. What is going on? I thought there was one God?” Indeed, there is. That one God as revealed by Jesus is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each is in each other.
What we are reading here is that John has Jesus saying that there is the Father who is God, there is Jesus the Son who is God, and there is the Holy Spirit who is one just like Jesus, but is not Jesus, who is also God. We have the Father who is in the Son and in the Spirit. We have Jesus the Son of God who is in the Father and in the Spirit and we have the Spirit who is in the Father and in the Son. These three are one. There is one God, but that one God is Father, Son, and Spirit – each distinct but not separate, in a union, a communion together as one being in three persons.
Further, listen to what Jesus has to say about the disciples, believers who are yet to come. Let’s look at John 17:21. Breaking into the middle of the thought here, Jesus says in chapter 17, verse 21, “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
What does all this mean? Who is Jesus, and who is the God revealed in Jesus? Based on the scriptures we’ve just discussed, plus others, and being guided by the Holy Spirit, the early church came to understand that God is a Trinity: three persons and one being: Father, Son, who became the incarnate Jesus, and Spirit. All three who indwell and interpenetrate each other. Each distinct, but not separate.
By the eighth century, Christians were using the Greek word “perichoresis” to explain what Jesus was describing in the verses we have just read. Literally, the word comes from the prefix, “peri,” meaning around and “choreo,” meaning contain, move, rotate, go about, dwell around, and inhabit, we come up with the word in English “indwelling” or “interpenetration.” When Jesus in the Gospel of John talks about “that they may be one as we are one,” he is inviting us, all of humanity, into active participation and the perichoretic relationship the Father, the Son, and the Spirit have.
The early church fathers spoke of this relationship as being like a great dance, and this is a relationship with the Father and Jesus and through the Spirit. It is shared life; rich, full, abundant life; the shared life of God. God, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, reaches out to humanity and invites all into, as the great fathers called it, the great dance. I invite all of us to take Jesus’ hand and actively participate in the life of God now and for all eternity. Take Jesus’ hand and come enjoy the dance.
I'm Dan Rogers for A Word From Our Sponsor.