What is the basis for claiming ‘God looks like Jesus?’ In order to answer that question, we obviously have to look at the biblical revelation of God.
Personally I’m convinced by a wide spectrum of biblical teaching. Unfortunately, because of the large scope of material, we’ll have to be selective. May I suggest we on this occasion limit ourselves to the Gospel according to John. [those wanting to explore further, cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20 (NLT); Phil. 2:1-11 (Is. 45:22-25** footnote); Col. 1:15-20, 2:6-12; Heb. 1; etc]
A little background to John’s Good News. Traditional scholarship dates the beloved apostle John’s eye-witness account around 85 AD or even later. Other scholars insist he wrote it much earlier, as early as the 50’s AD & certainly not later than 70 AD (fall of Jerusalem). His Gospel addresses Hellenistic Jews as well Greek thinkers. It’s purpose is evangelistic (cf. 20:31). While the Synoptic Gospels each have their particular slants, John’s account is probably the most interpretative. His prologue (1:1-18) is apologetic, i.e. a ‘reasonable explanation’ of the Christ-story to an idolatrous world. We refer to 6 basic texts:
- Jn. 1:1-3/NIV. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him was nothing made that has been made…’ Here is a clear echo of Gen. 1-2. In Genesis God spoke the creation into being, in deliberate parallel John presents God speaking ‘salvation’ into existence, the two being complementary. In Jesus God’s word takes on human form and enters history! Jesus not only speaks the word of God, he is the Word of God, and through him he speaks ‘life’ to a hopeless world.
- Jn. 1:17-18. Climaxing John’s stupendous claim that ‘the Word became flesh,’ the apostle discloses the Divine Nature. ‘For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the only Son (lit. ‘God only begotten’), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’ William Temple summarises, ‘He does not reveal all that is meant by the word of God. There ever remains the unsearchable bliss of Deity. But he reveals what it vitally concerns us to know; He reveals God as Father.’
- Jn. 5:19-23. John explains a further implication of ‘life through the Son:’ ‘the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him’ (v. 22-23). Jesus, the God-Man, is God’s ultimate standard of judgment. Interesting!
- Jn. 5:29-30. John continues with Jesus’ inheritance. ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ Jesus and the Father, though two persons, are ‘one’ in very essence.
- Jn. 12:44-46. Confronting the Jews’ continued unbelief, “Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’ To observe Jesus is to observe the Father.
- Jn. 14:8-11. Jesus proclaims himself as the way to the Father. “Philip said to him, ‘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 (chew on that). 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? … Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.'” Surely no comment needed…
So if God looks like Jesus, I guess we need to clarify what Jesus looked/looks like, again a huge subject [in our house church we’re doing a 6-part study on ‘The Authentic Jesus,’ we’re also convening a 4-day city conference on the same topic in mid-February 2019, d.v.]. While shaving one morning, I listened to a secular radio interview with an experienced Child Psychologist. She was asked to define ‘love,’ how children experience and express it. Interestingly, she referred to 1 Cor. 13! [Years ago I learned that one could replace the word ‘love’ in 1 Cor. 13 with ‘Jesus,’ or even one’s own name (ouch!)]. Here goes: v.4-8/NLT, ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices wherever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever…’
We conclude with a selection of biblical pointers to what Jesus (and therefore the Father) looks like:
- Jesus is magnificent in his holiness. ‘Holiness’ in the Bible has the sense of ‘otherness.’ Rudolf Otto in his classic ‘The Idea of the Holy,’ used terms like the ‘numinous’ and ‘mysterium tremendum’ to describe that ‘otherness.’ We capture something of it in the prophet Isaiah’s temple-encounter with God: ‘”Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory…’ ‘I am ruined!… My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty'” (Is. 6:3-5). Franz Schubert conveys something of it in his beautiful ‘Sanctus.’ Simon Peter, confronted with Christ’s majesty and otherness on Galilee’s shore, exclaimed ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!‘ (Lk. 5:1-11).
- Jesus is magnificent in his lordship. Jesus is Lord of the universe. He’s the source and instrument of creation and reconciliation. Do take time to read the apostle Paul’s magnificent hymns in Phil. 2:6-11 and Col. 1:15-20 – together they form the very heart of the Gospel!
- Jesus is magnificent in his humanity. His holiness is earthy. ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood’ (Jn. 1:14/MSG). He has a sense of humour. One super-spiritual student said to his College Principal, ‘We never read of Jesus laughing in the Scriptures.’ The wise Principal responded immediately, ‘Nor that he brushed his teeth!’ We are not Gnostics. Jesus came to make us truly human (D. Bonhoeffer). We are free to be ‘human’ in the most glorious sense.
- Jesus is magnificent in his redemption [cf. my archives, ‘Another Look at the Atonement’]. Jesus absorbed all that sin, evil and the devil could throw at him. He took it into his own body, died and rose again, defeating every enemy. He emerges as ‘Christus Victor’ (Gustav Aulen). ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). In outrageous grace he paid the costly price of our redemption from the slave-market of sin and the devil and and set us free forever!
[Do you make the connection here? The Father is as approachable as Jesus]
Wishing you all the blessings of Advent 2018! I thank and greet you, my patient readers and your loved-ones, in the glorious name of ‘Immanuel, God with us!’
** I’m no OT expert. However it seems that while in the OT we have an accurate revelation of God, it is incomplete. It’s a case of shadow and full light. In Jesus we also enjoy a ‘new (i.e. ‘fulfilled’) covenant,’ realised by the indwelling Spirit (cf. Jer. 33:31-34; Heb. 8) [cf. my blog series, ‘The Freedom and the Glory’]. Writer Keith Giles may be right when he suggests that we have struggled with understanding God because we’ve often read the OT through old filters. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:14-16, 18, ‘But their minds (i.e. the Israelites’) were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away… And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect (or ‘contemplate’) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…’ Even the the OT prophets and angels did not fully see what we see (1 Pet. 1:10-12). If everyone in the OT already fully grasped who God is, what was the point of sending his Son into the world? (cf. Heb. 1:1-4)