I see Jesus in new dimensions as I study the doctrine of the Trinity. The First Family of the universe is a model to every earthly family of loyalty, joyful cooperation, exuberant creativity, mutual admiration, and self-sacrificing love. The way they interact is extraordinary. Jesus comes from a splendid family.
I am glad that God is a family. If He were a single individual, then in the eternity of the past before He created anyone He would have been alone. But God is love, and since love cannot be solitary, there must always have been someone to love. So the Bible reveals God as a wonderful family of three living together in exquisite harmony. Three is the number of unselfishness. One can be self-absorbed, as Plato's god, the Demiurge. Two can be wrapped up in each other, excluding all others. Three is the number of openness, requiring the ability to love impartially.
Would it be accurate, then, to say that we serve three Gods? No, this would be a great mistake. We must hold to the oneness of the Trinity. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4, NIV). Three Gods would mean three separate, rival beings. They would fight for supremacy over the universe. If they were equal in power, each would gain control over one third of the territory. Immediately there would no longer be a universe, but a multiverse, each section having differing properties and laws. There would not be one Supreme Being, but three lesser gods with lesser dominions. This is the state of all polytheistic religions.
God is truly one because He has one character. The word for one, echad in Hebrew, comes from the verb yachad meaning to make one, unite. God says of husband and wife, "They will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24) even though they are two. Love is the cement that holds a marriage together, transforming two into one. Love holds the Trinity together, transforming three into one.
We are introduced to the Trinity as far back as the very first chapter of the Bible. "In the beginning, God. . . ." The word for God, Elohim, is not singular but plural showing that God is a composite Being. The Spirit enters the scene in the second verse as He broods over the face of the waters. Later we hear the members of the Godhead talking to each other as one says to the others, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Then God creates a human trinity of man, woman, and the potential child, to model the divine Trinity.
The reason why the Old Testament writers insisted on the unity of God is that they were combating polytheism. God did not want His people to think of God as they did the heathen gods a male with his female consort and son, plus numerous other deities. This makes for small gods, each one sovereign over his own country (2 Kings 17:26), ultimately lower even than humans (Isa. 44:12-19). So God insisted on His oneness and sovereignty over all creation. The reason the Old Testament says very little about Satan (though he appears in a few places like Genesis 3, Job 1, and Zechariah 3) is that people tended to ignore a benevolent god and worship only ones they feared would do them harm. They would have worshiped Satan! So God took upon Himself the responsibility for all that occurred, even evil "I . . . create evil" (Isa. 45:7, KJV); "an evil spirit from the Lord" (1 Sam, 16:14, NIV); the Lord (Satan) tempted David (2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chron. 21:1). At the risk of being misunderstood, God took responsibility for all that happened so His people would not worship Satan.
The Trinity can be seen in the Old Testament. While the Father appears seated in majesty upon His throne (Isa. 6:1; Eze. 1:26-28; Dan.7:9-10), Jesus is the one who often appeared in human flesh. Abraham bargained with Him (Gen. 18:20-32), Jacob wrestled with Him (Gen. 32:22-30), Joshua encountered Him as "captain of the Lord's host" (Josh. 5:13-15, KJV), the three worthies walked with Him in the burning fiery furnace (Dan.3:25). We know it was Jesus because God said, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Ex. 33:20, NIV). Jesus appeared in human form long before He took on human flesh in Bethlehem.
The Holy Spirit also appears in the Old Testament. He brooded upon the face of the waters as a mother hen bringing forth life (Gen. 1:2). He filled the heart of Joseph (Gen. 41:38) and Joshua (Num. 27:18), and changed Saul into a different person (1 Sam. 10:6). David, after his sin, pleaded "Do not... take your Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11, NIV).
In the New Testament Jesus gave precious insights into relationships between the members of the heavenly Family. They live together in an incredibly warm relationship of love and fellowship. They are social, generous, and hospitable. They are masters of communication. They put themselves at each other's disposal and achieve tremendous fulfillment in doing each other's will. They affirm each other. They not only enjoy intimacy, but open up the circle of intimacy to all who wish to enter.
The three members of the Trinity are equally God. John's gospel presents the highest view of the deity of Christ. He begins with the premise that Jesus is God (1:1) and concludes with Jesus accepting worship as God (20:28-29). Eight times Jesus calls Himself the I AM, corresponding to Yahweh, the I AM of the Old Testament.
Jesus identifies Himself so closely with the Father that to see Him is to see the Father (14:9), to believe Him is to believe the Father (12:44), to know Him is to know the Father (8:19), to dishonor Him is to dishonor the Father (5:23), and to hate Him is to hate the Father (15:23-24). He is one with the Father (10:30; 17:11, 22). The relationship between Him and the Father is so close that He is in the Father, and the Father in Him (10:38; 14:10-11; 17:21).
Though Jesus was God in the highest sense, He submitted to His Father. He did nothing of Himself (5:19, 30) because all His powers to raise the dead, execute judgment, lay down His life and take it again -were derived from the Father (5:25-27; 10:18). His whole mode of life was to do not His own will, but the will of the Father (4:34; 5:30; 6:38). He came in His Father's name (5:43) and lived and died to glorify the Father (12:28). The Spirit also does not speak His own words, but Christ's (14:26; 16:13-14). He bears witness to Christ (15:26) and glorifies Christ (16:14).
What looks like subservience to us is really something very different. When Jesus said, "By myself I can do nothing" (5:30, NIV) He was not confessing the weakness of His humanity. He was saying in essence, "In the Godhead We never act on our own. I do nothing by myself. We do all things together" (see vs. 19-22). The Father behaves the same way Christ and the Spirit do. He makes no judgments on His own (5:22) but always works jointly with the Son (5:17) and takes Him into all His counsels (v. 20). The Father works together with the Son and the Spirit.
There are different roles in the Godhead. In the work of creation, salvation, and revelation, the Father is the power behind the scenes, while the Son is the active agent in carrying out the divine will. The Father created the world through the Son (Heb. 1:1), reconciled the world through the Son (2 Cor. 5:19), and revealed Himself to the world through the Son (John 1:18). The Spirit seems to be the power that penetrates matter and mind as He too cooperates in the work of creation (Gen. 1:2), salvation (Eph. 4:30), and revelation (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Whenever one member of the Trinity is working, the others are supporting and cooperating. One never works in isolation from the others.
In Luke 15 Jesus told three parables to show how each member of His family works to save lost human beings. The good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep is a picture of Jesus (compare John 10:11). The woman with the lamp who searches for the lost coin depicts the Holy Spirit (see Rev. 4:5). And the one who receives his wayward son back with open arms is the heavenly Father Himself.
Since the divine Family are united in Their plans, They find fulfillment in accomplishing them. It was Jesus' sheer delight His food and drink to do His Father's will (John 4:34). He felt immense satisfaction when He finished the work God gave Him to do (17:4). The Father enjoyed doing what the Son requested (12:27-28).
The heavenly Family also find fulfillment in bringing glory to each other. The Son glorifies the Father (John 17:4), the Father glorifies the Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Spirit glorifies the Son (John 16:14).
The First Family of heaven is not exclusive. Though They live in an atmosphere of glory, the door is always open to Their circle of intimacy. Jesus prayed for His earthly family, "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" (John 17:21, NIV). And the Godhead joyfully accepts human hospitality: They will come in and make Their home with anyone who loves God (John 14:23). They invite us into Their circle of intimacy, and They welcome an invitation into ours.
Jesus' view of His family and of how He relates to it gives us insights into how to relate to our families the home, the church, and the world. By becoming one with the heavenly Family and absorbing Their love, we learn to experience oneness with each other (John 17:21). We are able to love with Their love. And as this love from the heavenly Family permeates the human family, it leads the world to believe in Jesus (v. 21).
Beatrice Neall is a retired professor of religion at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska where she taught Bible for 16 years. Before that she served with her husband, Ralph Neall, as a missionary in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore. She wrote the book Outside the Gate, and also has authored a number of articles for the Adventist Review and other church publications.