It would be wicked folly and gross irreverence on the part of any to attempt to pry into the mysteries of the Trinity or to comprehend the Blessed Person of the Son. On the other hand, it would be an affront to divine grace to despise such revelations of Himself as He has been pleased to make. What has been revealed is necessary to the development of the spiritual nature that the Father may receive from us that worship in truth which He seeks; and that in our worship we may intelligently worship One Whom we know (John 4:22) according to His own manifestation in the Son.
The Meaning of Manifestation
Let us then strive to "receive with meekness" what unfoldings of the Father and the Son are stored in scripture for the deepening of our communion. It is an amazing comfort to remember that the profoundest truths of scripture are learned in a personal manner. They are communicated to us, not on tables of stone like the law, but in the Person of Christ Himself. To know the Son is to know the Father also (John 8:19).
We of course treasure and "keep" His words; they are to us "sweeter than honey and the honeycomb." But the Lord Jesus is Himself what He taught. As He said to the Jews, answering their question, Who art Thou? "Altogether (or absolutely) that which I also say to you" (John 8:25). So that the incarnate Son was Himself the embodiment of what He came into the world to communicate. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." This truth holds good of Him now in glory. Paul had before him as a governing motive the excellency of "the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord," and his ambition was "that I may know Him" (Phil. 3:8, 10). And to come to "the knowledge of the Son of God" is the pursuit of the whole assembly under the combined teaching of the gifts of Christ Himself (Eph. 4:13).
Setting out the truth in this living personal manner before the eyes of men is sometimes spoken of in scripture as "making manifest" or "manifestation." We read of "God manifest in flesh," and that "the Son of God was manifested." Before considering the context of these and other of its occurrences, it is helpful to recollect the meaning of the word.
To make manifest (phaneroo) is to bring to light what has been hidden hitherto. The idea of manifestation is never a transition from a state of non-existence to that of existence. You could not call the manufacture of the first locomotive, for instance, its manifestation, for the word takes for granted that the locomotive was in existence previously, but unmanifested, so that it could not be intelligently applied in this or such a case.
Manifestation, therefore, signifies that there is a point of time in the history of the person or thing at which it passes out of a concealed into a public or visible life. Scripture speaks of "God manifest in flesh." That manifestation took place at the time when He Who was God became flesh and was seen of men and angels. In like language, it is said that the Son of God was manifested. He Who was the Son, and unseen and unknown as such, appeared or was manifested "in the likeness of sinful flesh."
Accordingly, if we would do the honour to the Son that is due to Him, we must acknowledge that He was the Son of God before His manifestation. The true and acceptable confession of the Son is to own Him in the relationship assigned to Him by the Holy Spirit in the written word. To deny His Sonship before His incarnation is to deny the plain meaning of "manifestation" in its scriptural usage, and to rob the Son of God of this revealed glory. Being Son of God eternally, He has been manifested publicly and visibly in flesh for His mediatorial work (1 John 3:8).
Manifest in Flesh
"Manifest in flesh" is a scriptural term for the incarnation. We find it in 1 Tim. 3:16, that remarkable passage: "And confessedly the mystery of piety is great. God has been manifested in flesh . . ." There is no need to refer to the alternative reading here, "He Who"; for with either phrase, the sense of the passage is unaltered. There is but One of Whom it could be written that He appeared or was manifested in flesh. Other scriptures confirm that it was the Son of God Who was manifested in flesh; and He is the true God and eternal life.
It may be said of all mankind generally that they are flesh, since all men are naturally born of the flesh (John 3:6). But the Word became flesh (John 1:14). The incarnation was a manifestation of the Word, of Him Who was in the beginning, Who was with God and Who was God (John 1:1). Becoming flesh, and therefore "manifest," was a point, an era in the history of the One Whose existence as the Word was previous and eternal and invisible to the creature.
The word, "manifest," irresistibly carries our thoughts backward from the date of the incarnation or of becoming flesh, marvellous as that event is. The One Who became visible is the same as He Who was invisible, for there is no change in Him personally, when manifested. The "Infinite Unseen" became visible at His manifestation in flesh. He Who dwelt "in light unapproachable" came and "dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth," "the image of the invisible God."
Manifestation and Mediation
It may be well to remind ourselves that in scripture the fact of the manifestation is closely coupled with its purpose. The incarnation itself is not atonement. The fact of the manifestation of One Whom man has not seen nor could see is wonderful. But the object of the divine manifestation, the true Theophany, was to secure the full glory of God in His dealings in grace and righteousness with sinful man. Therefore, the Son of God Who has been manifested is the Mediator between God and men.
Manifestation and mediation are intimately associated in New Testament teaching, the latter being consequent upon the former, and both being "in flesh." God's manifestation among men was "in flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16), and "the Mediator of God and men" was in flesh also, for He is the "man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). And He "gave Himself a ransom for all." His mediation involved not only His appearance in the likeness of sinful flesh, but the sacrifice of Himself, God's Son sent a propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10) and "not for ours alone, but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
In John's writings, the Spirit seems to love to dwell upon the redemptive work of Him Who was manifested. For example, He shows that the object of the manifestation of the Son of God was the removal of our sins and the destruction of the works of the great enemy. He says, "Ye know that He has been manifested that He might take away our sins; and in Him sin is not"; and further, "To this end the Son of God has been manifested that He might undo the works of the devil" (1 John 3:5, 8). Similarly, Paul links His sacrificial work with His manifestation, saying, "Now once in the consummation of the ages He has been manifested for [the] putting away of sin by His sacrifice" (Heb. 9:26).
These scriptures all relate to the mediatorial work of Him Who has been manifested. They combine to show that He Who was manifested in time as the Mediator of God and men was the Son of God before His manifestation in time; and He was therefore the Son in eternity. His original and essential relationship of Son in Deity was manifested in flesh, and having been made manifest and recorded, what blindness and hardness of heart to deny it!
The Manifestation of Hidden Treasures
In the treasury of the Father's house the deep and precious things of eternity are stored, unseen by human eye and unknown to man's heart. All "the secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29), Who reveals at His pleasure what He will to whomsoever He will.
At the moment we are not concerned with the revelation of Jehovah's ways with men in the government of the earth. Above and beyond all these plans are the truths relating to the Essential Being of God, concealed of necessity from the eyes and heart of the creature. What God is must be even more private and profound than what He will do: "Is not this laid up in store with Me, and sealed up among My treasures?" (Deut. 32:34).
In New Testament days, many choice treasures of heavenly wisdom and knowledge connected with God and His Son were revealed. Even then, such supernatural knowledge was hidden from the wise and prudent of the earth, but revealed to "babes" by the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11:25). So the treasures of God's latest revelations are included in the mystery, the truth entrusted to Paul concerning Christ and the church (see Col. 2:2, 3). The assembly has now been made the depositary of those transcendent truths, hitherto kept secret in the heavenly archives. We may briefly note the following, among other revealed truths of this character: —
(1) God's eternal purpose and grace are now manifested. Accordingly, we find the apostle Paul declaring that God's purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time, has now been made manifest (2 Tim. 1:9, 10). The time for this revelation did not come until Messiah had presented Himself to Israel according to promise and prophecy, and was abhorred by the nation and crucified. This wicked refusal of their King and Saviour was anticipated by "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God."
Consequently, "a better thing" was purposed by God from the beginning. If man's infamy thwarted the introduction of promised blessing for the earth, God purposed to let loose the flood-tides of His grace and bestow spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. Silence was kept throughout the times of the ages concerning this purposed heavenly calling of the assembly, but now the treasured heavenly secret is made manifest, being announced by prophetic scriptures (see Rom. 16:25-27).
(2) Life is now manifested in Christ Jesus. The apostle John was chosen by the Holy Spirit to set out in his writings the present manifestation of life in Christ Jesus. Again we encounter the term, manifestation: "the life has been manifested" (1 John 1:2). It was not a life recently come into existence, but it was a life eternally existent in the Son, and hidden until now when it has been manifested. Its characteristic feature is "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3); and this fellowship is for us!
Here, then, is another priceless secret brought forth from the treasure-house of eternity, and now disclosed to the family of God. Sin-tainted life had been upon the earth since the days of Adam, but none had seen that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, until it was displayed in the Son Who became incarnate. That Eternal Life was ever with the Father, but in these last days has been manifested among men by Him Who is "the true God and eternal life."
This life then was ever existent, for it is "in the Son," but was concealed from men until its manifestation, of which John testifies for himself and his fellow-witnesses: "the life has been manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and report to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us" (1 John 1:2).
(3) The love of God has now been manifested. The love of God announced in the gospel is not of recent origin. It was hidden, but is now made manifest. Upon this aspect of love John dwells. He teaches us that "love is of God" and that "God is love" (1 John 4:7, 8). God Himself is the origin, the primeval fount of love: He is love.
It being so that love is the very nature of God, that love of God is inscrutable, incomprehensible, inaccessible to the creature, as the divine nature must necessarily be. But in our day the choicest treasure of the Father's house has been manifested, being adequately and gloriously displayed in the Incarnate Son. "Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9).
This manifestation is very simple in its results to us, and profoundly blessed. How do the family of God learn the eternal love of God as it rests upon and affects themselves? They absorb it as they meditate upon it and contemplate it where alone it has been or could be manifested — in the Person of God's Only-begotten Son.
Among other beauties that shine upon us as by faith we behold the Son of His love is that we perceive in the glory of that Blessed One the unbounded measure of His manifestation of the love of God. We may inquire to what degree the infinite love of God has been displayed in this poor world. On the one hand is the illimitable expanse of the love of God for manifestation; on the other, the tiny vessel of the human heart for its reception. Was the eternal fullness of divine love manifested sufficiently to fill our little cups, and then did the display stay, like the widow's oil?
Ah, no; a restricted display of His love was not the will of God. His boundless love has been manifested to its utmost bounds, for the glory of His own name and the delight of His own heart. It is His will that we should know the love which passeth knowledge, and that we should learn its rich plenitude in Jesus Christ, His Son. In Him, in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, dwells the love of God, which in its essence, its qualities, its activities, baffles all human comprehension. The love abiding in Him is the love wherewith the Father loved His Only-begotten Son before the foundation of the world; yet we may say, Of that vast fullness have all we received.
Manifestation in the Son
The competency of the Son of God to manifest the Father's name (John 17:6) rests upon His own relationship with the Father before His incarnation. His own self-revealing words were, "I came forth from the Father . . . again, I leave the world and go to the Father" (John 16:28). Moreover, while here in the lowly guise of manhood His relationship of Sonship remained intact. He speaks of the Father as "My Father," and in addressing the Father He speaks of "Thy Son."
Incarnation had not broken nor weakened the eternal bonds between the Father and the Son. Throughout His manifestation, They were in the most intimate communion. His disciples might leave Him alone, but He was not alone, for the Father was with Him (John 8:29; John 16:32). He said, "I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John 10:38; John 14:10); and, speaking of His service, He said, "The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works" (John 14:10).
These sayings in the mouth of even the greatest of mankind would seem contradictory and paradoxical, and even worse, but as utterances of "God manifest in flesh" they are exquisitely appropriate and illuminating. The Son was in conscious communion with the Father, for He said, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30). He was in conscious manifestation of the Father's name, for He said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Clearly, the plenitude and perfection of the Son's manifestation of the Father depended upon His eternal relationship. In this lay the radical difference between the Son and the many servants of God. The latter were assigned their several duties, and each entrusted with some particular message. They remained subordinates, however high their temporal dignity.
Abraham was called the friend of God, and Jehovah confided in him the impending destruction of the cities of the plain (Gen. 18:17). Jehovah spoke to Moses, the mediator of Israel, face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11). These were great honours for two of the sons of men, yet they never advanced above their original status, as the parallel record of their frailties and failures testifies concerning both of them.
In the lips of Abraham, how incongruous and evil would have been the words, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Almighty"! But our Lord said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." How true and how blessed the saying in His lips!
Nor would Moses have dared to say, "I and Jehovah are one" yet the Lord said (not, My Father and I are one), but "I and My Father are one." This order of precedence was not used invariably, for elsewhere He said, "My Father worketh, and I work" (John 5:17). Each phrasing is beautiful and appropriate in its setting; while all His sayings unite to show the divine personality of the Son on earth as the Sent One of the Father.
None but "God manifest in flesh" could make such claims, and escape the blasphemer's doom. We may surely take up the language of redeemed Israel, and as we consider the manner of this marvellous manifestation, say, "This is the Lord's doing it is marvellous in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23). The Son came down from heaven (John 6:33) to reveal the Father to whomsoever He would (Matt. 11:27). Coming down out of heaven, He testified what He had seen and what He had heard (John 3:31, 32).
The Son's words were, "I speak what I have seen with My Father" (John 8:38). The character of His manifestation rested upon the fact that He was with the Father before His entrance into the world. Of this eternal presence with the Father, and of the glory He had along with Him before the world was, the Son was fully aware, and of it He has testified (John 17:5) , that we may believe that the Father sent the Son, and, believing, Father and Son adore.