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Jesus and the Christ Angel


[Note: I wrote (the initial version of) this article in 2009, but did not post it until much later (9/2014, revised 3/2016). It came to me as I was meditating on the Gospel of John, wondering how to make sense of its many problematic passages, some of which seem not only to disparage Jews but to preach a hateful intolerance. I think for example of John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and how that verse has been used through the centuries to condemn people as much as help them. But in light of the understanding of Jesus presented here, such passages make perfect sense and do not threaten but heal.

More than any of the other Gospels, the Gospel of John becomes difficult and even demonic when seen through the lens of theologies that were later imposed upon it, after the split between Judaism and Christianity became well established. When approaching this Gospel we need to consider that it comes from a world different from our own, and how little we understand and know about that world. The current article does not deal with the very important issue of John’s pejorative use of the term “the Jews.” While that cannot be ignored, there is no scholarly consensus on the origins of this phrasing and what it meant in John’s time and place. I understand it as reflecting an early stage in the separation of church and synagogue, the two viewing each other with mutual suspicion. It is the sign of a rift that the approach of Judeochristianity is intended to heal. The struggle with this text regarding the implications of this phraseology, especially in our time, must never end.

Because of the perspective on this Gospel and on Jesus presented below, which came to me in kind of a vision without pictures, I have finally become reconciled with this Gospel. After I wrote this piece I did not publish the initial version for at least five years, because I did not think it would make sense to anyone else. But especially after its recent revision I think it is important enough to share. - CG]

“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
John 1:51

The Mystery of Jesus’s Identity

Jesus was such an unusual figure that people have been trying to figure him out for over two thousand years. Was he man? Was he God? Was he both? Was he neither?

There is no simple answer, nor even a definitive one. But there are things we can glean from the Gospel record, and things we may be able to sense.

First, from the Synoptic Gospels, and even in the Gospel of John, it is clear that Jesus and God cannot be identical. Jesus prays to God - does God pray to “Himself”? Jesus never calls himself God nor claims to be God. He uses the term “Son of Man,” a term first appearing in the Hebrew prophets, yet with Jesus coming to mean humanity’s ultimate representative. In fact, even the term “Son of Man” is ambiguous, since Jesus usually speaks of the Son of Man in third person, as though he were testifying to the presence of something else. Just what that might be will shortly become clear.

Meanwhile here are some Gospel passages clearly showing that Jesus and God are distinct.

Jesus does not want to be equated with God:

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)

Jesus has a will of his own, which he subordinates to God’s will:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

“I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.” (John 8:28)

God knows things that Jesus does not know:

“But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

At one point Jesus thought God had abandoned him:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

Jesus recognizes the superiority of God:

“If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)

So how can Jesus be called God? The doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to explain it. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three “faces” of God, three divine “persons,” three ways in which the real God is revealed to us. However, this cannot explain the discrepancies cited above in scripture. Either there is one God or there is not, and if there is one God, than that one God cannot both be finite and infinite, cannot both know and not know something, cannot have two separate wills, and cannot believe “He” has abandoned “Himself.” It is quite clear that the Synoptic tradition does not consider Jesus equal to God. Even in John’s Gospel with its apparently higher Christology there is no clear equation of Jesus with God, as indicated by the verses just quoted. Additionally, if Jesus and God were absolutely identical then God would be male, with men created in the image of God and women not. This is clearly unacceptable.

So was Jesus merely a man, a human being like the rest of us? It is hard to imagine this either, for a number of reasons. First, it is amazing that a mere human being could have attained Jesus’s faith and wisdom already by his early thirties. And what is even more amazing was Jesus’s love. Love of the rejected, of the outcast, even of the hated - to be capable of such love, Jesus must have been spiritually developed far beyond even the wisest elders of his time. Desperate people felt such love in Jesus’s presence that they even experienced themselves healed - how could a young man like Jesus accomplish all that?

And then there is the resurrection. The resurrection is truly a mystery. It cannot be taken literally, since the Gospel accounts all diverge and even contradict each other. However, neither can it be dismissed. Something must have occurred to keep the disciples’ faith alive right after they witnessed the murder of their leader. Something must have happened to have inspired the incomparably beautiful music and art that even two thousand years later still heals people’s spirit and renews their faith.

Can there be a way of understanding the Trinity, and also Jesus’s resurrection, that avoids these contradictions and preserves faith?


Angels

Before attempting to answer these questions, let us try to explain the existence of such remarkable qualities in a man as young as Jesus. We begin by taking a look at something else the Bible describes that may be outside ordinary experience. This is the existence of angels. We are all used to the caricature of winged heavenly beings flying and playing harps. But in fact the Greek word ángelos and its Hebrew equivalent, mal’akh, both simply mean “messenger.” Angels are messengers of God, sent to fulfill specific tasks. They play key roles in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

When we first encounter angels in the Bible they are not even given that name. In Genesis 18 Abraham is sitting in front of his tent in the heat of the day when suddenly he sees three strangers approaching. He rushes to offer them hospitality. At first he has no way of knowing who they are. It turns out they have a special message for him: that his wife will bear a son, fulfilling Abraham’s deepest wish.

And so throughout the Bible we encounter appearances of God’s messengers, bearing news or a word about the destiny of the people or of specific individuals. Why don’t we see them today? Perhaps we do sense them, but not in ways we might expect. Looking back on the course our lives have taken, we might experience that what seemed to be random events now appear to have had a pattern leading us to a certain destiny. Or we might even have an intimation about a future calling, a sense that we are being led towards something even greater than what we have known. We might not see or hear anything, yet have a sense of presence, of something beyond ourselves guiding and giving our lives meaning. If we have had such experiences, we may think of them as indicating an angelic presence, a messenger from the eternal helping us make sense of our temporal existence.

So we may think of an angel as a being, a messenger, or perhaps best as a presence. All of these terms are approximations. Angels are God’s ways of communicating God’s existence to us. Whether or not we sense the presence of angels at least to some extent depends on us. We can listen for this presence in our lives, we can look for signs of patterns shaping our lives’ events, or we can ignore those signs. We can find help in detecting those signs by paying attention to goodness. The keener our sense of goodness, and especially self-transcending love, the more ready we become to receive awareness of the angelic presence.


The Christ Angel

There is one angel higher and purer than all the others. That is the angelic presence of pure love itself. It is beyond any word about any specific destiny that any particular angel may carry. We may be graced to sense this angel’s traces, when we experience ourselves in the presence of a love that knows and accepts us and demands nothing in return. This angel is particularly associated with the Christmas season, during which many seem to feel a love and good will that somehow escapes us by December 26. Dickens described this loving spirit in A Christmas Carol:

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was. God love it, so it was.

This particular angel was called the Ghost of Christmas Present. And the incense he sprinkled came from a place that gave it the power to do something more miraculous even than turning water into wine: it turned anger into love.

Where did this incense come from? It was the essence of pure, non-self-interested love. It is a very special type of presence, suggesting the very essence of God. It is the presence of the Archangel, the angel above all others, the carrier of pure love itself to human beings. In the New Testament this angelic presence is called the Christ.

If this description of the Christ as an angel seems magical, it is so only in the sense of “wondrous,” not in the sense of being contrary to nature. The presence of the Christ - of pure love - is available to each one of us. Anyone who has ever felt the “Christmas Spirit,” at Christmas or at any other time, has been stirred by the Christ Angel. Anyone who has experienced the absolutely giving, non-self-serving love of a stranger has seen it. Anyone committed to knowing and living this love has the chance to become intimately acquainted with it. The Christ Angel is real. It can become the most real influence of all on our lives. It can determine our destiny. That is our choice - not to know it immediately, for that is beyond our human limitations, but to commit ourselves to following it, to living this love as best as those limitations permit. That is all that is asked of us, and all we need to become able one day to enter into the presence of the Christ Angel and to know it with a faith far deeper than belief.

The Christ Angel is God’s essence of love and goodness, and God’s messenger bringing that essence to us in a way that can reach us through our human frailty and become real to us.


Jesus and the Christ Angel

There are other messengers of God in the Bible. They are called prophets. Prophets do not speak through their own individual voices; they allow themselves to become carriers of a word they have received. Thus in the Hebrew Bible the prophets typically preface their remarks with the words “Thus says the Lord.” The prophet “hears” a word understood to be from God, and allows that word to find expression in the prophetic utterance. This “hearing” is not an auditory phenomenon but rather an inner sense that what the prophet has to say comes from a source that is different and greater than the one who speaks it. The proof of a “prophecy” is not simply whether a prediction actually comes to pass, but whether the words suggest a truth that is greater than the speaker and that is healing. God does not have a literal voice that speaks, or produces words. The “voice” that the prophet hears is God’s messenger, conveying God’s truth in a form the prophet can understand. It is therefore an angelic presence.

The vocation of the prophet is assigned from birth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). A prophet has the power to refuse the vocation. Jonah tried to do that, for a while, but later returned to his vocation after he was helped to understand it.

As the Messiah Jesus was a very special prophet. The angel that spoke through Jesus, whose word Jesus carried, was the greatest of the angels, the Christ Angel. Jesus allowed himself to become its instrument. The precise moment when this happened is reported as Jesus’s baptism:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

The spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove is a symbolic representation of Jesus’s receiving the Christ Angel into his spirit, and henceforth allowing it to speak through him.

The Christ Angel, as the head of all the angels, speaks through Jesus directly. Usually when we hear Jesus speak, it is the voice of the Christ Angel. This is true of the Sermon on the Mount, of the great teachings and parables, and of the famous “I am” passages in John. For example, when Jesus says the following, it is not Jesus the human being speaking, but the Christ Angel speaking through Jesus:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

All of the famous “I am” sayings in John can be understood this way. They are not intended to restrict God’s love to Christians only, but to show us that eternal life is rooted in self-transcending love. Remember that the Christ Angel is the presence of pure love itself. This passage is really saying one can only know God by knowing love; there is no other way. Unfortunately it has been grossly misunderstood throughout the centuries, and interpreted in ways that have destroyed love. But if we understand the true source of these words not as Jesus the man but as the angelic presence of pure love, we will see how they make sense and will sense their healing power. That is the true test of prophecy.

Here is another often-quoted passage from John that now takes on new meaning:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We already know (see my book Judeochristianity: The Meaning and Discovery of Faith) that “faith” in the New Testament is something much more than belief, and the Greek word translated here as “believes” is simply the verb form of the word for “faith.” To have true faith is to be held by the power of eternity itself. The foundation of faith is love. Without love, there can be no awareness of the eternal. Through non-self-interested love, we begin to grasp God’s nature. The existence of this love enables us to participate in eternal life. We can discover this love, we can recognize it, we can open ourselves to it, we can become it, because God sends us hints of what it is. These come to us through the loving examples of true saints (often unrecognized, not necessarily canonized), through the experience of love in communion with God through prayer or inspired music, and through our own sense of goodness. We receive many different messages of God’s love. Who is the messenger? It is the Christ Angel, here called God’s “Son.”

For God so loved the world that God sent us the Pure Presence of Love Itself, to show us what love is, so that we may participate in it and find eternal life.

This is the true meaning of John 3:16, and how unspeakably tragic it is that this verse has been turned on its head and has become a banner of intolerance. The meaning is not “Believe, or be damned.” It is “Love, and be healed.”

“Son of God, love’s pure light.” The Christ Angel is like pure light; if we could know it directly we would feel overpowered, dwarfed by the sight of our own darkness, which it illuminates and exposes. And so Jesus gives it to us in a language of symbols, in signs and in parables we each can grasp according to our present ability.

Jesus is the “Son of God” in that he brings to us the Christ Angel. The “Son of Man” is the Christ Angel in the human world. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering” (Mark 8:31): this is another way of saying that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). And so Jesus speaks of the Son of Man as if he were pointing to something beyond himself, to something that has taken him over and that he wants all of us to see, so that our own souls might become whole, conformed to God’s perfection.

Jesus does not make it as easy for us as his predecessors did. He does not say “Thus says the Lord” before each prophetic utterance. Because the Christ Angel is so all-encompassing and so overwhelming, Jesus hears the word from the messenger and speaks it immediately. He gives us the message as he receives it himself, sharing with us the same narrative he heard through his spiritual senses. He tells us what the Christ Angel says in its very own words. Therefore not only does Jesus speak of it in the third person but in the first person as well, when conveying its words as he heard them. It is our own task of discernment to determine when we are hearing Jesus the man and when we are hearing the voice of the Christ Angel.

Sometimes we do hear Jesus himself speak, Jesus the human being, as when that night in the garden he tells God he is afraid, or when on the cross he says God has abandoned him. Jesus, just like all of us, had to endure the struggle to discover faith and the pain of being human. But he also had the ability to open himself to the expression of something beyond himself.

It would be extremely helpful to read all of the Gospels, and especially John, with the understanding that the inspired words of Jesus come through him from the Christ Angel. Through those words we can hear God’s love speaking to us. If Jesus’s words sound at times like they come from more than just a mortal human being, they do. They are God’s love using Jesus as their mouthpiece.

Jesus’s precursors, the prophets of old, also transmitted the inspired word. Often they addressed situations that were time-bound, having to do with the politics of their day. The one prophet who most resembled Jesus, and who was Jesus’s spiritual mentor, was Isaiah, both “First Isaiah,” who denounced the religious hypocrisy of his time and cried out for social justice, and “Second Isaiah,” who proclaimed God’s undying love in the midst of exile. The young Jesus quotes from his teacher:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:18-19)

These are the words of Isaiah (chapter 61). The Spirit of the Lord was upon Isaiah and speaking through him, and now Jesus has inherited the mantle and the Spirit of the Lord speaks through him as well. This is what he wants the people of his synagogue to know, and of course most did not understand him. Later on they accused him of blasphemy, because people did not understand that when he spoke it was not his own words they heard but the words of the Christ Angel. Not understanding this distinction, they may well have formed the impression Jesus was making inflated claims about himself. But even today we can sit at Jesus’s feet and hear God’s love speaking right to us, and we will understand why there were some in Jesus’s own time who did grasp his source and so were “amazed.”

Above all the Christ Angel is spiritual presence. It is the presence that carried Jesus through his darkest moments, his anxiety in Gethsemane and his near despair on the cross. This presence never left him, and carried him through until the resurrection.


What This Means for Us

We live in a world without much faith, and also without much love. Yes, there is lots of love of a certain kind: familial love, erotic love, the love of our own group or limited circle. What we lack is love of the stranger, a teaching that goes back to Leviticus (19:34) and Deuteronomy (10:19). There are many spiritual paths, but all the valid ones have one thing in common: they ask us to choose love, and not just love of the familiar, but love of the stranger as well, love of the poor, of the rejected, of those who cannot give anything back. Only this love, beyond self-interest, can be called “perfect love,” and only perfect love can “cast out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Fear makes life hell. It destroys our joy. It makes us suspect and hate one another. Fear is the voice that says there is no God. We can defeat fear convincingly only by choosing the path of love. If we choose that path, we will receive help. We cannot do it alone. We cannot simply will ourselves to love. But we can aspire to it, and commit ourselves to it, and we will be helped. We will be helped by God’s messengers, those spiritual presences whom the Bible calls angels.

We may not be able to hear the angels ourselves. We may not even believe they exist. It is difficult even to describe them, to tell whether they are actual beings or aspects of eternity breaking into our awareness - and that difference may not even be meaningful. We just have to know that the word of God can speak to us in inspired moments. We may have these moments ourselves, or we may benefit from others who have had them, like the prophets of the Bible, especially Jesus.

Jesus is unique because he became a carrier of God’s word in a purer form than anyone before him or since. He received his prophetic vocation at a very dark time, but no darker than the times we live in now. We suffer on this earth because that is the only way we can learn the meaning of compassion; yet God knows we need help getting through it, and so we are not left without resources. We have the angelic presence, the messenger, the divine word itself spoken to us, showing the way of faith.

Only faith can take us through the horrors of this world and overcome them. To acquire this faith, choose the path of love. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14-15). Without faith, life is laden with fear; it feels like death. The source of faith is love. By choosing the path of love, we can move from death to life - regardless of our circumstances. The path of love does not depend upon particular circumstances, and it even flourishes in suffering and at the cross, in whatever form it may take for us. This love itself becomes a presence, and it comes to us as the Christ Angel, carrying us as it carried Jesus through the trials that composed his destiny.


The Meaning of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most controversial topics in theology. Most often when it is presented, a critical question is not answered: How does the resurrection of one man save the rest of us? Yes it would be wonderful if Jesus’s body actually rose from the grave. That would be fine for him, but what about you and me? How does it affect the rest of us?

Much confusion arises from trying to take the resurrection literally. The synoptic Gospels and even John are “synoptic” (able to be seen in parallel) only up until the resurrection. After that they go in four different and even contradictory directions. This strongly suggests that we are not dealing with historical accounts but rather with powerful symbols.

The resurrection of Jesus cannot have been his body literally reviving and walking out of the tomb. It was not, in the oft-used phrase, a “resuscitated corpse.” The disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:15-16) and even Mary Magdalene who knew him so well (John 20:14) did not recognize him. Only afterwards did they realize who this presence was - and then it suddenly vanishes! (Luke 24:31). While it is true that elsewhere Jesus is described as having physical characteristics (Luke 24:39-43), it is really not that simple. We all remember “doubting Thomas” touching Jesus’s wounds (John 20:27), but in that very same chapter Jesus warns Mary not to touch him (John 20:17) and he seems able to pass through closed doors (John 20:26). So it is clear we are not talking about a physical body as it was in human life. Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus even leaves the tomb before the stone is rolled back! (Matthew 28:2).

Even Paul's testimony supports the view that the resurrection did not involve Jesus’s physical human body. “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44): the meaning of this passage has been debated at great length; however, clearly whatever is raised is not the same as the physical human body. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthains 15:50). Paul also says:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

By all accounts Paul never interacted with Jesus’s physical body. As the evangelist Luke tells the story:

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3-9)

Paul did not see a physical body. In fact, after that blinding light from heaven he couldn't see anything. But he heard a voice. It is clear that Paul experienced a very strong and vivid sense of Jesus’s presence. Yet even according to the most literal interpretations Paul could not have experienced Jesus’s body emerging from the tomb; in fact, Jesus had already ascended before Paul encountered him. Yet Paul equates Jesus’s mainfestation to him with all the other resurrection appearances: “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.... Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

What is going on? If we are not to interpret Jesus’s resurrection literally, then how are we to understand it? It is, after all, the foundation of Christian faith.

There is a very compelling argument for the reality of some kind of “resurrection” experience: if the execution of their leader had eliminated him without a trace, then his followers should have collapsed in despair. Instead the movement continued with renewed vigor and a faith stronger than ever. Something had to have happened to account for that. The idea of the resurrection of the dead was not new. It existed in Hebrew scripture and apocalyptic literature ever since Ezekiel 37 (the Valley of Dry Bones). The Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead and included it in synagogue prayer. Physical resurrection, not unknown in Jewish theology, provided the disciples with a familiar if inadequate language that was the best they could find to describe what happened. They did experience something that survived, that didn’t die with Jesus’s physical body. It may have been natural for them to associate whatever that was with terms that already made sense to them .

Any description of what happened on the first Easter can only be an approximation, but it would perhaps not be far-fetched to imagine that what the disciples experienced was the direct, immediate presence of the Christ Angel. In the resurrection accounts the physical becomes a symbol of something greater. The disciples had previously known the Christ Angel through its presence in Jesus the human being. But an angelic presence is not subject to death. Jesus’s mission as the Christ Angel’s instrument never ceased. After the destruction and disappearance of Jesus’s body, the Christ Angel remained in its pure form and somehow the disciples knew it and felt it. We can hardly imagine how shattering and uplifting that must have been.

What the New Testament calls the “Christ” may be described as “the consciousness of absolute goodness in the form of infinite love” (Judeochristianity p. 347). The Christ Angel is the “messenger” who brings this to us. If we can sense the Christ Angel in Jesus’s presence, and if even from a distance we can allow ourselves to be seized by it as it seized Jesus’s disciples after his death, then we too can participate in the resurrection. For if we are seized by the same Presence that remained after Jesus left the earth, then we can trust that we, and our loved ones as well, will be raised to the same destiny that awaited Jesus when he passed through this transition (1 Corinthians 15:20). We cannot speculate on what this is or what form it will take. We can only know that nothing spiritual perishes. Participation in the resurrection leads us toward this knowledge. And while we are still waiting, God’s love working within us can change what happens to us, ensuring that we meet our destiny with all the strength required to face its challenges. But we have to allow it to enter.

So perhaps we can briefly describe the resurrection this way: that the Christ Angel, whom Jesus embodied during his lifetime, does not die but survives as a living presence that can be felt by those who have faith and pursue goodness and love, and that can be relied upon to accompany us through any trying experience to bring us closer to our destiny, which is our God-given purpose serving the highest good. Such faith is the greatest resource we can have when facing any form of adversity. It may take a lifetime to achieve, but if we are devoted to “seek first the Kingdom of God” then the Christ Angel will guide us to it. This is what it really means “to have a friend in Jesus.”

Those who can see God revealed in the life of Jesus, his love showing us God’s love, have already received a sense of this transcendent presence. The existence and persistence of God’s love have become real. Its existence is celebrated in Christmas; its persistence is celebrated in Easter. Christmas tells us that God’s love has entered the world. Easter tells us that this love includes us for all eternity. If we can truly appreciate that this love, which the life of Jesus expressed in its purest form, survived even his death and was felt as a powerful reality, then what seized the first disciples seizes us as well. We too are included in the resurrection.

“Resurrection is the power of eternity breaking into this world, surprising us, healing us, redeeming us“ (Judeochristianity p. 371). Resurrection means many things, but in essence it is the revivifying power of God (Judeochristianity p. 364). It is the signal that we receive, through Jesus’s carrying the Christ Angel to us, that death is not the end. It is also the process through which the divine presence (Holy Spirit) continues working through our lives to bring us to new and better places, and ultimately to our destiny. Easter is the celebration of this divine power of renewal, made real to us through the appearance of the Christ Angel in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in the form of providing our lives with a sense of directedness and purpose. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

Therefore resurrection is not something we just wait for until after we die. It is often presented this way, as if this life and its struggles counted for nothing and our true closeness to God comes only in another world. Resurrection is the biblical symbol for eternity intersecting with time. It is a process that starts now, in this moment, as soon as we commit ourselves to conforming to God’s image of love and thus enter into the divine Covenant. Through this commitment our experiences are transformed and we find, perhaps not right away but always eventually, that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This is where resurrection begins. We are no longer victims of life’s random accidents. God works with all we experience, including especially our trials, and uses them to bring us to fulfillment. The present life, in spite of its suffering, is not a throwaway. It becomes our first participation in “the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

If we are totally lost, if we have no idea where to begin to feel this presence and power, we can start by contemplating the example of Jesus in the limitless love he showed to others, in the greatness of his servitude, and in his victory over death through the overwhelming presence of love that remained after he physically disappeared. This is precisely where John differs from the other Gospels: it makes Jesus himself the point of entry. And that can lead either to fulfillment or to confusion.


The Trinity Redefined

The Trinity is a way of understanding the New Testament after it was written. Its intent is to inform us that we can know God in three ways. However, the way the Trinity is usually presented, as three “persons,” leads to conundrums and contradictions that have made the idea nearly unsalvageable. It is hard to defend a notion of three independent agents (or “persons”) all being God without making it sound like tritheism, and so it has seemed to many non-Christian observers, including for example the Qur’an, which considers the doctrine idolatry. We have already seen at the beginning of this article that Jesus and God are not the same “person.” Perhaps we can understand the Trinity as follows:

The first way of knowing God: the “Father.” This is God in God's pure essence, as Absolute Goodness, or the basis for non-self-interested love. We can come close to God by appreciating goodness in all its forms, especially the type of love that stretches us beyond the limitations of the self.

The second way of knowing God: the “Son.” To know God through Jesus it is not necessary to equate Jesus with God, which is impossible anyway since Jesus prays to God, subordinates his own will to God’s will, and does not know all that God knows. The “Son of God” is the Christ Angel working through Jesus. As prophet and Messiah, Jesus embodied divine qualities so faithfully that he became a concrete expression of God’s presence: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus brings us to God by bringing us close to himself. He becomes “transparent” to God. This is the meaning of incarnation: by allowing the Christ Angel to work through him Jesus became the “embodiment” of God's image. It is the Christ Angel speaking through Jesus when he says:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:39).

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

“I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1).

This is pure divine love speaking, and indeed it is the only way.

The third way of knowing God: the “Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, which Jesus promises in John 14 and 16, goes by many names: “Counselor,” “Comforter,” “Advocate” “Spirit of Truth.” This is a way of experiencing God apart from the presence of Jesus: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7). As an entrance into faith we may need the example of Jesus, the embodiment of divine qualities (most especially reflected in love and service) in the form of one who most closely conformed to the image of God. Jesus’s example enables us to behold what is Godlike in a way that we can grasp. We still need to sense God’s presence working in us as well. That is the Holy Spirit. It is spiritual presence working through us, changing us, and activating God’s image within us. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14). This presence actually has power in our lives. It can be a source of guidance and strength, and even help shape our life’s events if we are open to it and willing to embrace our destiny.

Angels too, including the Christ Angel, are a form of spiritual presence. Indeed we should not be surprised to find the Christ Angel appearing in all three expressions of the Trinity. These are not three different Gods nor even three different “persons.” They are three ways of knowing the one God. Thus the Christ Angel is God’s nature impacting human life (the “Father”). It is God become visible through the life and ministry of Jesus as the Christ (the “Son”). And it is the sent presence or “comforter” who is always with us (the “Holy Spirit”). More succinctly, the Trinity means that God can become real to us as essence, example, and presence.

Understood this way the Trinity provides a pathway to faith. We can know God's nature directly: God is love (1 John 4:16). We can see God's essence exemplified in concrete human form by looking at Jesus. And we can find God working in our own lives by turning to the Holy Spirit or presence of God’s love within us to the extent that we value and practice it. This also includes non-Christians who devote themselves to non-self-interested love. The Christ Angel comes to them too, though they may give it a different name or even no name at all. Christians’ advantage is not that only they are saved, but that they have a concrete example and language to describe the way God’s presence works in our lives and how we can find its reality.

In the resurrection these three ways of knowing God come together. Experiencing Jesus as a place where Godís nature as infinite love is revealed, and sensing the Presence that this love becomes even when the physical appearance is lost, can bring us the reality of the eternity of God. In our own lives each of us will face a period of Gethsemane leading to the cross. Under the resurrection’s light this experience of loss, whether of loved ones or of our own life, will not prove final. It will become Holy Saturday, a time of waiting in anticipation until our redemption is manifest fully. Such holy waiting carries its own blessing.


An Accessible God

In conclusion, the way of understanding Jesus presented here solves a problem that has bedeviled theology since the Arian controversy: if Jesus is merely human he can have no saving power, but a Jesus who is God is different from us in essence and beyond our reach. We are not God and can never reach God's perfection, so it is hard to see how a divine Jesus could be a model for us, or how his overcoming death would even apply to us. But neither was Jesus “merely” human. Jesus the man, the Messiah, and receiver of the Christ angel, brings to us a spiritual presence in which we too can participate. Jesus makes God accessible to us by showing us what God is like in a way we can actually see. That was his special, his Messianic vocation.

Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. (John 12:44-46)

These verses summarize Jesus’s Messianic vocation. While there are those who read into John a “high” Christology of Jesus identifying himself with God, that is not the case as we have seen earlier and can see in this passage as well. Nevertheless, Jesus actually was the incarnation and embodiment of God’s presence on earth, and in that sense through Jesus Christ God walked among us.

The Gospel of John has neither a “high” Christology nor a “low” one. It gives us the personal presence of Jesus and his “transparency” to God as a way of grasping God’s nature since God cannot actually be seen. By allowing the Christ Angel to work through him, Jesus made the divine nature visible and accessible. This also becomes a model for us when translated into the human equivalents of non-self-interested love and service to others. And as noted, we can also participate in the spiritual presence that survives physical death, because as we apprehend the Christ Angel in Jesus’s own life, ministry, and death, it becomes a reality in our own lives as well. This is an entrance into faith.

Just how powerful is the Christ Angel? Powerful enough so that through it the world was created. This too we read in John’s Gospel, at the very beginning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

The masculine pronouns are a little misleading, but they are standard biblical language. The “Word,” Greek logos, can actually be understood as the Christ Angel. It “became flesh” in the presence of Jesus as the Christ. In Volume 1 of his Systematic Theology Paul Tillich calls the Logos “the principle of the divine self-revelation” and “the structure of reality as a whole.” The Christ Angel, or essence of goodness itself manifest as the highest love, even has within itself the power of creation. This is how the prologue to John and other passages of preexistence (such as Colossians 1:16-17) should be understood. The persistent philosophical question “Why is there something and not nothing?” has no scientific answer but it does have a theological response in that goodness is so essential to our experience that its nonexistence is inconceivable. Under even the worst conditions of life, if we experience goodness mostly by its absence, our suffering testifies to the goodness we have lost and for which we yearn. All suffering is temporary but goodness is eternal. That is the basis of our hope.

And so we are not alone. We have resources. Even if we feel completely poor in spirit, with no accomplishments or faith of our own, we can hear the word of love. We can let it enter our being and even change our nature. Love of the stranger is a revolutionary idea; it is a Messianic idea. It is our prophetic legacy. In the Bible it begins with the first prophet Abraham, when he welcomed the strangers who appeared at his house in the heat of the day. It culminates in the words that Jesus heard and gave to us, which express this love in its purest form. These words belong to us too. We can listen to them through Jesus: the words of the Christ Angel.

June 2009 / Easter 2016