What is the most unique and mysterious doctrine of the Christian faith? What could be more unique and mysterious than the Christian view of God? The doctrine of the Trinity is the assertion that there is one God who eternally exists in three Persons. How can you understand the Trinity? And if you can’t understand it, how can you teach it?
The observations below were a tremendous help when I began teaching the doctrine of the Trinity because they focus on the life of Jesus and highlight his relationship to the Father and the Spirit as it unfolds in the narrative of Scripture.
Jesus and the Father
John begins his Gospel in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Since “the Word” refers to Jesus, John’s opening statement means that Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. How can that be? How can you be both with someone and be that someone at the same time? You can’t. John’s statement takes us into a mystery about God. John is saying that Jesus was with God the Father and that Jesus himself is God. Specifically, Jesus is God the Son and he was with God the Father. According to Paul, before Jesus became a human he was “in very nature God” (Phil. 2:6). John continues by saying that through Jesus “all things were made” (Jn. 1:2). So Jesus was with God the Father before anything else existed, he was divine in nature, and God made all things through Jesus.
Out of love, God sent his Son into the world he created in order to save it. The Son was given the name Jesus at his birth. Even at the age of 12, Jesus had a close relationship with God, calling him “my Father” (Lk. 2:49). When Jesus was about the age of 30, the Father announced his love for him at his baptism – “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). Jesus demonstrated his love for his Father by perfectly obeying him (Jn. 14:31)—doing only what he saw his Father doing (Jn. 5:19) and speaking only what his Father told him to speak (Jn. 12:50). And Jesus’ perfect obedience found its greatest expression in his death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). In response, the Father vindicated his Son by raising him from the dead (Acts 2:32) and exalting him to the highest place (Phil. 2:9). Jesus is now seated at his Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3; Col. 3:1). The Father has entrusted final judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (Jn. 5:22-23). And book of Revelation describes a worship scene where Jesus (or the Lamb) receives the same praise and honor as God the Father (5:13-14). “Then the end will come, when the Son hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).
Jesus and the Spirit
The Spirit is so intricately connected to Jesus that he is referred to as the “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7) and the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9). Mary’s miraculous conception of the baby Jesus was the work of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20). Three decades later, while John was baptizing Jesus, the Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove (Lk. 3:22), and remained on him (Jn. 1:33). Following his baptism, the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert where he was tempted by Satan (Mk. 1:12-13). Returning from the desert in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:14), Jesus announced that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him for his mission (Lk. 4:18-19). By the Spirit of God, Jesus drove out demons (Mt. 12:28). Before his crucifixion, Jesus taught his disciples in greater detail about the Spirit, explaining how the Spirit would be his replacement on earth by coming to aid his disciples in a variety of ways (Jn.14:16-17, 26; 16:13). Even during his suffering, the Spirit did not leave Jesus; it was through the eternal Spirit that Jesus offered himself to God (Heb. 9:14) and then he died. Three days later Jesus was raised from the dead by the same Spirit (Rom. 1:4; 8:11). As promised, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit from the Father upon his disciples (Acts 2:33), giving his followers power to be his witnesses.
Without the Father sending his Son into the world no human would have ever met the Son. And without the Spirit enabling Mary to conceive, empowering Jesus for his mission, and raising Jesus from the dead no human would worship and follow Jesus. The conclusion is clear: you can’t have one member of the Trinity without the others. The Father, Son, and Spirit are intrinsically connected to each other.