Searching for the Real Jesus (John 5:18) – Notes
by Pastor Gene
Good morning, Church.
Where do we even begin with such lofty passages? All I can say is that I take it as a gift of God that we are in these verses so close to Holy Week!
In them, Jesus makes the greatest defense recorded in Scripture of who He is, who He’s not and what His relationship to the Father is like.
I think a lot of these verses are bewildering to modern readers – and that’s certainly a challenge.
Why would “My Father is working until now, and I am working” lead to a charge of blasphemy?
Did His hearers misunderstand His words?
Did they misquote Him?
Well, as it turns out, Jesus was given every opportunity to back down from His statements, but instead He doubled down.
Is Jesus equal to God as He seems to claim?
If so, why does the Father have to “show Him” all that He’s doing (John 5:20).
The “Father has life in Himself,” but why did He have to grant “the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).
Has Jesus always been equal to the Father? Or did the Father have to ‘make Him’ equal?
Jesus is the great Judge, but why did the Father have to give Him the “authority to execute judgment”? (John 5:27)
These are important statements, but behind them is the mystery of who Jesus of Nazareth really is.
And any reverent person should expect no less than bewilderment at trying to capture within his or her finite minds a clear picture of the infinite God-Man.
But that’s the task that’s before us this morning!
1) Matthew 16:13-17 records an important conversation that Jesus had with His disciples …
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
What we’re going to consider this morning is something that Jesus Himself asked to wrestle with!
Who do PEOPLE say that Jesus is?
Who do YOU say that Jesus is?
Well, the Bible paints a very distinct portrait of who Jesus is.
Let’s begin at the end, shall we?
2) The book of the Revelation, written by the same John as our Gospel, begins like this ….
“Grace to you and peace from [ἀπό] him who is and who was and who is to come [the eternal Father], and from [ἀπό] the seven spirits [the seven-fold manifestation of the Holy Spirit] who are before his throne, 5 and from [ἀπό] Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth [now, let’s pull over and park and talk about this last One!].
To him [Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:4-8)
Now, let’s notice a few things:
- Revelation 1:4-5 clearly references the Trinity: “Grace to you and peace from
(1) Him who is and who was and who is to come [the eternal Father], and from
(2) the seven spirits [Isaiah 11:2 – the seven-fold manifestation of the Holy Spirit] who are before his throne, 5 and from
(3) Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
This clear reference to the Trinity is a part of Jesus Christ’s ἀποκάλυψις, or unveiling.
- After mentioning Jesus Christ, John (as I said) essentially says, let’s pull over and talk about Him for a bit!
And here’s what the Holy Spirit revealed to John about Jesus.
He is …
- Jesus Christ, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, that is Jesus the promised One, Jesus the Messiah.
- He is the faithful witness, ὁ μάρτυς, ὁ πιστός, the One who gave His life as a martyr testifying to the truth.
- He is the “firstborn of the dead, ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν, the first one to rise from the dead never to die again – a token of the potency of our own coming resurrection.
- He is the Ruler of kings on earth, ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς, the King of every king.
- Furthermore, He is the One who loved us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
- Because He loves us, He has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- And something else about this Jesus: Behold, He is coming with the clouds and [when He does] every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him [Israel will at last recognize their Messiah], and all tribes of the earth [Gentiles who are alive at His coming] will wail on account of Him.”
He is coming with clouds and every eye will see Him!
Jesus described His return this way as He sat with His disciples on Mt. Olivet:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).
It does not say ‘He will come someday,’ but “He is coming,” present tense, right now!
And He has been coming since He promised as much to His disciples in the first century.
Everything that has happened from then until ow are absolutely necessary for the bringing about of His return.
He is coming with the clouds.
When Jesus ascended into Heaven, His disciples looked on with their jaws agape.
Jesus commissioned them by saying: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
And then: “When he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes [angels], 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
In the same way: visibly and spectacularly!
Only in our generation has it even been remotely possible for the “every-eye-will-see-Him” prophecy to be fulfilled literally!
The Jews, who are in darkness to this very day – eagerly awaiting a Messiah who’s already come – will weep bitterly!
Here’s how Zechariah prophesied it:
“[W]hen they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn … The land shall mourn, each family by itself” (Zechariah 12:10b, 12-13).
“Behold, He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)
- Finally, this section of Revelation 1 ends with something truly astonishing.
In verse 8, Jesus essentially pulls the pen out of John’s hands and signs the previous statement with a four-fold signature!
Here’s what it says …
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
R. C. H. Lenski, a Lutheran scholar (and, for my money, one of the greatest exegetes of the Greek New Testament in the history of the Church) describes the verse like this:
“This statement is sealed with Christ’s own signature … This is Christ’s signature, the signature of His deity. The book [of Revelation] is signed in advance by Christ as the One who is no less than “Lord God,” co-equal with the Father. That is why the first name which He here signs is the name “Alpha and Omega.” These two great letters have passed into universal use in the church; we place them on our altars and elsewhere in the churches. Our people regard them as a reference to Christ, and they are right.”
There are some who will tell you that it’s the Father who is speaking here.
Jesus is clearly the subject of the previous verses and is also clearly the subject of the verses that follow.
To have the subject be Jesus in verse 7, and then switch to the Father in verse 8, only to return back to Jesus in verse 9 is way too abrupt to be syntactically reasonable!
Furthermore, Jesus describes Himself as the “Alpha and the Omega,” a phrase that is clearly a reference to Jesus.
The “I am” (the Ἐγώ εἰμι) is emphatic: ‘None other than I alone am “the Alpha and the Omega.’
In fact, one of the last things Jesus says in the Bible – Revelation chapter 22 – is this:
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12-13).
Furthermore, Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last.
These have a literary reference: letters make up words which make up sentences which make up books.
Jesus is the Living Word that became flesh, the VERY subject of the Written Word which we diligently study!
When we study the Word of God, we’re not studying a book; we’re studying a Person!
So, in John 5:39-40a, Jesus will say, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
He is the “Word of God” who literally became flesh and when He returns “the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13).
He alone is ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, so the phrase “Alpha and Omega” suits Him perfectly!
A second designation adorns Jesus’ signature in Revelation 1:8: Κύριος ὁ Θεός, “the Lord God.”
This phrase also marks Christ as the author.
Philippians 2:10-11 says that at the name of Jesus “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς] …”
John 20:28: “Thomas answered him, “My Lord (ὁ θεός μου) and my God (ὁ κύριός μου)!”
So, the phrase “the Lord God” certainly describes Jesus!
The third phrase in Jesus’ signature is true of each Member of the Trinity: “who is and who was and who is to come.”
The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit are an eternal IS.
They always have been, are and always will be a present tense reality: God always IS.
“I AM” is the Name by which YHWH described Himself to Moses.
Each has always existed into the eternal Alpha ages and will exist long into the Omega ages.
The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit are eternal, without beginning or end, always in the present tense.
So, Jesus – like the Father and Spirit – is the One “who is and who was and who is to come.”
So then, why the controversy?
Why would anyone want to argue that it must be the Father and not Jesus who affixed His signature to the Book of Revelation in verse 8?
Why engage in syntactical gymnastics and argue for a radical shift of subject from the Son to the Father and back to the Son in a mere three verses?
Because of one word in Revelation 1:8: the last one, the fourth phrase in the signature.
The word is ὁ παντοκράτωρ, the Almighty.
That word makes people nervous, REALLY nervous.
It may be the strongest word in the entire Bible.
It means the One who is all-powerful, almighty and alone omnipotent. 
It is only and can only ever be used of God Himself.
Only God can be ὁ παντοκράτωρ – no other identification even remotely makes sense.
It’s only used 10 times in the entire New Testament – 9 of which are found in its final book, the Book of Revelation.
It’s a compound Greek word made up of πας (“all”) + κρατος (“power”) = “all power.”
The Church Wrestles with the Defining the Biblical Jesus
- So, who is this Jesus?
Is He merely a humble carpenter’s son as some supposed who gained fame by His wise sayings and wonder-working?
That would be OK, we can accept that.
Or is He, as He claimed when he visited Nazareth after His testing in the wilderness, the promised Messiah?
Or is He perhaps something even more than that!
Is He God Himself?
Is He equal with the Father?
2. Is He God and Man in One Person?
Two of my great loves are theology and history.
So, the history of theology – how doctrines have developed – has always been of keen interest to me and something I devoted a lot of time to in Seminary.
Of all the mysteries of the Christian Faith, this may be the greatest: who was Jesus of Nazareth?
Is He God? Is He Man? Is He both?
If both, in what measure?
Equal parts of each?
Is He still both God and Man or has He changed since His resurrection?
This is one of the important questions which the Early Church Fathers had to answer.
Was Jesus really?
Was He really a Man, or did He only appear to be such?
The longer I walk with God the more I am in awe of the wisdom of the Fathers and the care with which they approached these difficult theological problems!
Take for example the Council of Ephesus:
In the 5th century, a dispute arose between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius.
According to Nestorius, the title theotokos [“God-bearer”] could not be used to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Nestorius argued that Jesus had two distinct natures and that God could not possibly be born.
So, he argued, the man Jesus of Nazareth was born in union with, but separate from, the Word, or “Logos,” of God.
Well, in 431 a council convened in Ephesus.
Under the leadership of Cyril himself, they disagreed with Nestorius and found that Jesus had a human nature and a divine nature and they were one in Jesus.
Therefore, they reasoned, it is wholly proper to refer to Mary as the theotokos because she really did bear within her womb, God Himself!
Cyril of Alexandria, by the way, was the first person to use the word “hypostatic” to refer to Christ’s dual nature.
Further clarity came at the Council of Chalcedon held in 451, 120 years later in what is today Turkey.
This understanding of who Christ is was finally codified into the Creed of Athanasius.
Athanasius, amazing as he was, probably didn’t write it.
But this stuff is not for the faint-of-heart!
It begins by saying that unless One keeps these things “whole and undefiled,” he shall “without doubt … perish everlastingly.”
Then the writer sets out to describe the Holy Trinity …
“And the universal faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence.”
“For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit.”
“But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.”
This understanding of the Trinity is often shown in the so-called Shield of the Trinity, a traditional Christian symbol which expresses many aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity as described by the Athanasian Creed:
- “The Father is God”
- “The Son is God”
- “The Holy Spirit is God”
- “God is the Father”
- “God is the Son”
- “God is the Holy Spirit”
- “The Father is not the Son”
- “The Father is not the Holy Spirit”
- “The Son is not the Father”
- “The Son is not the Holy Spirit”
- “The Holy Spirit is not the Father”
- “The Holy Spirit is not the Son”
In late medieval Europe, this emblem was considered to be God’s actual coat of arms!
Moving on from the Trinity, the Creed next takes up the question of the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It says …
“He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is human from the essence of his mother, born in time.”
“Completely God, completely human … [E]qual to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity.”
Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself.”
“He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person … Christ is both God and human.”
The true nature of Christ is certainly not easy to comprehend.
Like the doctrine of the Trinity, it is one of the great mysteries of the faith which continue to stretch the Church and its people.
Orthodoxy doesn’t change – only its illustrations do.
The most used illustration to describe the dual nature of Christ is this.
Notice that the ‘divinity aspect’ is indicated by a broken line to show infinity.
The ‘humanity aspect’ uses solid lines to indicate that the Incarnation occurred at a fixed point in time.
Here’s the latest one I’ve seen.
Do you know what an interrobang is?
It’s a lesser known punctuation mark designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory, rhetorical question.
For instance, you might say, “You lost the car?”
Or you could say, “You Lost the car!”
Or you could say, “You lost the car!?”
Or you could use an interrobang and say, “You lost the car‽”
Well, recently, the two natures of Christ have been defined like this.
I don’t mind it. It’s orthodox, but I like the older one better!
3. So, as we stand upon the shoulders of 20+ centuries of Christian belief, what can we say about Jesus?
Theologian Paul Enns summarizes Him this way.
“The two natures of Christ are inseparably united without mixture or loss of separate identity. He remains forever the God-man, fully God and fully man, two distinct natures in one Person forever.
Though Christ sometimes operated in the sphere of His humanity and in other cases in the sphere of His deity, in all cases what He did and what He was could be attributed to His one Person.
Even though it is evident that there were two natures in Christ, He is never considered a dual personality … although He has two natures, Christ is one Person.”
- Christ Pantokrator:
At the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, near the town of Saint Catherine, lies one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world: Saint Catherine’s Monastery, named for Catherine of Alexandria.
It was built between 548 and 565 and contains the world’s oldest continually operating library including Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, a very important late-4th-century manuscript of 358 pages, which contains a translation of all four canonical gospels into Syriac.
The monastery is a part of the larger Greek Orthodox Church (although autonomous) and houses some of the most important early Christian Icons.
The greatest of which is this one: the Christ Pantokrator.
The Christ Pantokrator is a painted wood panel dating back to the 6th century.
It’s considered to be one of the earliest Byzantine Christian icons in existence.
Here Christ is shown dressed in a purple robe— a color commonly used to represent kingly status and royalty.
So, the color of His robe is symbolic of His status and importance.
Jesus is depicted with His left hand raised in blessing and His right hand holding on to the Gospel.
His large, open eyes peer deep into our souls.
Although clearly the Ruler of all, He wears no crown and bears no scepter as the kings of this world do.
He’s different from all of them.
His high, curved forehead indicates wisdom.
His small, closed mouth, the silence of contemplation.
But do you notice something a little ‘off’ about this painting – it’s true of all icons in the ‘Pantokrator style.’
The painting is asymmetrical.
The left side of Jesus’ face – His eyes, His hair, His cheekbone, etc. – doesn’t really seem to match the right side.
Do you see it?
His eyes differ from one another in both shape and size.
And here’s why: the painting is deliberately asymmetrical in order to symbolize Christ’s dual nature.
Christ’s left side is symbolic of His human nature – and so, those features are depicted as much softer and light.
But the right side is symbolic of His divinity, and those features are far more intense.
2. This is an early Christian artist’s attempt to present to us a really BIG Jesus – one that’s consistent with the biblical picture the Scriptures paint of Him.
So, how big is your Jesus?
If you’re like me, probably not big enough!
But, He’s growing all the time as He eclipses me little by little, more and more, day by day.
He’s big enough for everything I need – more than sufficient for every mountain and valley He leads me through.
As the One who became flesh and dwelt among us, He can truly sympathize with everything I’m going through.
So, Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus knew hunger and thirst, He wept over the loss of a friend – even a friend that He was about to bring back from the dead!
He knew the sting of rejection and harassment and persecution.
He was despised without cause and hated by those who envied His freedom.
But at the same time Jesus is the Almighty – the Pantokrator.
He is able to do for us more than we could ever ask or think.
He is the Alpha and the Omega – He was there at a beginning that was not a beginning and He will be there at an end that will never end.
And He promises that, if we’ll come to Him in faith, we’ll be there with Him too – forever and exuberantly into the Omega Ages.
He encourages us to bear this in mind that our lives here are but a fleeting shadow.
Someone came up to me last week and said, ‘I’m just sick of being sick.’
I know you are, sister – but it won’t always be this way.
This is the promise of the One who promised and cannot lie.
And He is with us now – with us always even to the very end of the age.
We are His children and He loves us!
And if, while we were yet His enemies, we were reconciled to the Father by His death, “much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life!” (Romans 5:10).
O Church, behold the wonder of the Lord Jesus who should ever be the occupation of our Christian hearts – and especially as we move toward Holy Week!
Draw strength from His glorious Person, from who He is!
And never, never, never forget the promise of James 4:6-8 –
that “God gives MORE GRACE” – μείζονα χάριν, grace upon grace upon grace upon grace!
He “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
So “submit yourselves therefore to God!”
“Resist the devil, and He WILL flee from you.”
“Draw near to God, and he WILL draw near to you.”
O, may He draw nearer to each and every one of us!
 Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961) pp.36-54.
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 3rd ed., p. 755.
 The other is in the 2 Corinthians 6:16b-18 doxology: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty [λέγει κύριος παντοκράτωρ].”
 He did so in a letter to Nestorius: “We must follow these words and teachings, keeping in mind what ‘having been made flesh’ means …. We say … that the Word, by having united to himself hypostatically flesh animated by a rational soul, inexplicably and incomprehensibly became man.”
 Paul P. Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1989), p. 225.
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