Three in One in One Picture

Matthew 3:16-18

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus is God. The Father is God. The Spirit is God. There is one God. This, in short, is the doctrine of the trinity. We worship the one God in three persons.

Among some believers, a belief system we call modalism has tried to redefine the doctrine of the trinity for centuries. The modalist believes that the persons of the holy trinity, the one true God, are simply different presentations of God, but not different persons. In simplest terms, these would suggest that God presented himself as the Father or Yahweh (Jehovah) in the Old Testament, but became Jesus in the New Testament. Once Jesus left, God presented as the Holy Spirit. But, to those who follow this belief system, there is no trinity, no single God who is these 3 persons all at once.

But take note of what we see happening in Matthew 3 as a simple prooftext that the doctrine of the trinity is actually biblically correct and the presentation of modalism is mistaken. At the baptism of Jesus, in one biblical picture, we see Jesus, God the Son, going into the water. We see the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove. We hear the voice of the Father. These are three persons in the frame of the picture at the very same time. There is only one God. These three persons are God. This is the trinity presented in a moment.

You might think to yourself that you have never struggled to believe in the holy trinity, even if it is hard to explain. But you might be wise to consider if you have tried to explain the trinity and ended up in a form of modalism. For example, I once heard a dear Christian attempt to illustrate the trinity by saying that a man can, at the same time, be a husband, a father, and a son. That is a perfect picture of the unbiblical doctrine of modalism. You might hear another person try to explain the trinity by reminding us that ice, water, and steam are all water. Again, this is modalism, one water changing form. Honestly, there is no such thing as a good metaphor for the trinity. We are far more likely to present false doctrine through a metaphor than we are to accurately express the infinite in a finite picture. So, I recommend we ditch any metaphor and stick with the Scripture’s claims: God the Father is God; Jesus is God; the Holy Spirit is God; There is only one God.

Jesus Judges

Revelation 7:15-17 – 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

God is holy. This is true of God the Father and of God the Son. Jesus, if he is not holy, is not God. While the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, when it comes to the attributes of divine perfection, all that the Father is, the Son is also.

When we think of attributes of divine perfection, we think of things like merciful, gracious, and kind. We think of things like good, faithful, honest, unwavering. And, when we describe God, we understand that the Lord, in his holiness, is both full of love and perfectly just and full of holy wrath against the sin of humanity.

For some, the notion that Jesus would judge with the same wrath as God the Father is tough to understand. Unfortunately, there are those who have painted the Father and the Son as on opposite sides of the love and wrath continuum. This division of the character of the persons of the Godhead distorts our understanding both of the love of the Father and of the wrath of the Son.

How can we know that God the Father is loving? It is from his love that the Father entered into a covenant of redemption with the Son and Spirit to rescue from sin a people. Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God the Father’s love is on display in the death of his only Son for sinners. The Father does not begrudgingly accept us because of the Son’s work. The Father actively sent his Son to rescue us.

Similarly, some fail to see the perfect just wrath of the Son against sin. But we see it quite clearly in Revelation 6. As John, inspired by God, paints a picture of the judgment of God on the rebellious and unrepentant, notice whose wrath is in view. The sinners who fear the judgment they can now not avoid cry out in terror of the wrath of God and of the Lamb. They know that the day of “their” wrath has come.

When God finally judges, Jesus is not an unwilling participant. No, just as the justice of the Father will be fully on display in the final judgment, so too will we see the perfect justice of the Son. Jesus hates sin just as much as God the Father hates sin. Jesus will judge just as perfectly, just as wrathfully, as God the Father.

Why paint this picture? How does it help? It is good not to misunderstand the Father. God is love. It is good not to misunderstand the Son, Jesus is a just judge as well as a gracious Savior. All that God is, Jesus is. All that God is, the Father is. All that God is, the Spirit is. Does God the Father hate and judge sin? So does Jesus. Does Jesus lovingly rescue a people by grace through faith? That is also the heart of God the Father.

It is also helpful for a Christian to see the wrath of the Son when you think of your own salvation. Jesus will judge. Jesus also knew exactly what he was doing when he went to the cross for your sin and mine. Jesus knew that he would bear a perfect, infinite wrath against your sin because that wrath is just as much his wrath as it is the Father’s. Yet Jesus, out of love for you, out of love for the Father, chose to willingly suffer that wrath that you might both be rescued and be a permanent reminder of God’s perfect love and mercy.

Finally, it is good for a non-Christian to see this. Jesus will judge. Do not dare let yourself think, just because Jesus is loving in Scripture, just because Jesus warned us against hypocritical judging, that Jesus will not judge you. Yes, Jesus offers you salvation. You can come to him and be forgiven if you will turn from your sin, bow to his lordship, and entrust your soul to him and his finished work. But, if you refuse this offer of mercy, you will suffer his wrath on the day of judgment, and that will be a wrath you cannot survive.