The “Heavenly” and “Earthly” Yahweh:
A Trinitarian Interpretation of Genesis 19:24
The New Testament Case for a Trinitarian Interpretation
(Continued from Part II)
Though the New Testament never quotes Genesis 19:24 specifically, it does make remarks about and relevant to the judgment of Sodom and the identity of the persons called LORD or Yahweh on that occasion.
To give a preview of what we will see the New Testament says regarding this issue, there is first of all the fact that Jesus sustains the same relation to the Father and has the same role and engages in the same activity in the New Testament as the “earthly” Yahweh does to and on behalf of the “heavenly” Yahweh in Genesis 18-19; secondly, there is strong inferential evidence supplied in certain broad teachings of the New Testament that leads inexorably to the conclusion that Jesus is the second person called Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh (and its cognomens in ancient Jewish literature) who was active throughout the Old Testament, which includes Genesis 18-19; and third, there are specific New Testament passages that, while they do not specifically quote Genesis 19:24, do refer to the visitation to Abraham and to the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain and attribute the whole of it to Jesus. When all is said and done and everything is taken into account, this is tantamount to explicit evidence that Genesis 19:24, when properly interpreted and fully explicated, means that “God the Son brought down the rain from God the Father.”
Role and Activity of Yahweh in Genesis 18-19
and the OT generally and of Jesus in the NT
Taking up the first point, Jesus in the New Testament is equivalent in role and activity to the one who appeared to Abraham on earth and who destroyed Sodom calling down the fire from Yahweh in heaven.
1. Equivalent in Role
The relation between the “heavenly” and the “earthly” Yahweh of Genesis, as also the distinct role that each one assumes in Genesis 18-19, are equivalent to the relationship and roles assumed and sustained by the first and second persons of the Trinity as recorded in the New Testament. Occasion has already been given to note certain features of this in Genesis 18-19, such as how one person remains unseen in heaven and carries out all activities in and through the person who comes to earth in the appearance of a man, but this becomes all the more poignant when brought into contact with the New Testament. As one early Christian observed as he reflected on Genesis 19:24:
“But we know from the Gospel that Christ keeps this mode of speaking everywhere; for He relates everything, both His sayings and His deeds, to the Father. He says (John 7:16): ‘Philip, he who sees Me sees My Father;’ (John 14:10): ‘The Father abides in Me, and I in the Father’; and (John 5:19); ‘Whatever the Father does, the Son does the same.’ What else is this than what Moses says: Christ teaches, Christ works, but from the Father or out of the Father.”1
No one familiar with the New Testament can fail to see that this is the divine economy.
2. Equivalent in Activity
Related to the above is the fact that just as Yahweh in the Old Testament came to earth and called down the fire from Yahweh in heaven, so the Lord Jesus according to the New Testament will, in the same manner, come from the bosom of God the Father to judge all men on the last day. The divine prerogative exercised by Yahweh in the Old Testament account of the destruction of Sodom, which itself sets an Old Testament precedent of what God does when He comes in His wrath, finds a direct correspondence in the work of Jesus according to the New Testament.
Does the Old Testament speak of the Lord Yahweh as one who will “come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebukes with flames of fire” (Isaiah 66:14-16)? Then so does the New Testament say of the Lord Jesus that He “will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2. Thessalonians 1:7). Does the Old Testament speak of God when He comes forth to judge as one whose “apparel is red … like the one who treads in the wine press” (Isaiah 63:2)? Then so does the New Testament say of Jesus: “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God ... He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Revelation 19:11-15). And does the Old Testament speak of “the breath of Yahweh, like a stream of burning sulfur (Isaiah 30:33)” setting a wicked land ablaze? Even so the New Testament says that the Lord Jesus will “overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8), ultimately casting the wicked into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.
In fact, not only does the New Testament speak of the Lord Jesus exercising this divine prerogative in a way that exactly mirrors what Yahweh is said to do according to the Old Testament, but it does so in a way that could hardly be passed over in its significance relative to Genesis 19:24.
“For the Son of Man [i.e. Jesus] in his day will be like the lightning which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation … It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be JUST LIKE THIS on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:24-25, 28-30)
Interestingly enough, when Jesus refers to Himself as exercising this function on that day, He does so by referring to Himself as “the Son of man”, His preferred self-designation, which is derived from Daniel 7:9-14, another Old Testament passage that unmistakably speaks of two divine persons.
3. Jesus has angels
Additionally, even as Yahweh appears with His angels to Abraham, so Jesus has angels according to the New Testament. For example, the revelatory angel sent to the apostle John is said to be Christ’s angel. At the beginning of the book of Revelation, the apostle John says:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave HIM to show to HIS bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and HE sent and communicated it by HIS angel to HIS bond-servant John, (Revelation 1:1)
That the pronoun “His” in “His angel” in 1:1b refers to the same person referred to by the pronouns in 1:1a, i.e. Jesus, is evident from at least two facts:
1) “He sent and communicated by His angel to His bond-servant John” (1:1b) answers to the first part of the verse which says that the Revelation was given to “Him” by God “to show to His bond-servants” (1:1a). It was by means of the angel that Jesus showed the revelation to John, thus fulfilling the task given to Jesus by the Father to send and communicate it, proving thereby that the revelatory angel is Jesus’ angel.
2) Even as Jesus is said to have bond-servants in 1:1a, where He is the one to whom it was given by God “to show it to His bond-servants” what will soon take place, so likewise John is called “the bond-servant” of the one who “sent and communicated by His angel” in 1:1b. (That the apostles and all believers are Christ’s bondservants is stated many times over in the New Testament: Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:7, 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:24; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1; and, finally, Jesus even refers again to believers as “My bond-servants” in Revelation 2:20.)
Even if it is still denied that the pronouns clearly refer to Jesus here throughout the verse, this is put beyond any peradventure of a doubt at the end of the book of Revelation, where it is written:
“I, Jesus, have sent MY angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)
This is not only interesting in so far as it establishes a connection with Yahweh in the Old Testament who appears with His angels to Abraham, but also because of what it says several verses before this in Revelation 22:
And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent HIS angel to show to HIS bond-servants the things which must soon take place. (Revelation 22:6)
That all the angels are under Jesus as their sovereign creator and king, even as Jesus is over the world and all things for the Church, the latter of which He is also the head by virtue of His Messianic work, is also made plain in the following passages:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “ALL authority has been given to ME in HEAVEN and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, FAR ABOVE ALL rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put ALL THINGS in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19b-23)
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and HE is the head OVER ALL rule and authority; (Colossians 2:8-10)
For by Him ALL THINGS were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—ALL THINGS have been created through Him and for Him. He is before ALL THINGS, and in Him ALL THINGS hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place IN EVERYTHING. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for ALL the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile ALL THINGS to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:16-20)
Finally, the New Testament speaks of Jesus, when He comes to meet out fiery vengeance on His adversaries, as coming with His angels, the very thing Yahweh did when He came to meet out His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.
In explaining to His disciples privately the Parable of the Tares that he originally told to the large crowds in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus identifies the reapers that He will send at harvest time (i.e. the end of the age) as His angels:
Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36-43; see also Mark 8:38)
The same point is made in the Olivet discourse, where Jesus said:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31; see also Mark 13:26-27)
The following passage is also to the point:
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with HIS mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
(See also Matthew 16:27, 25:31; and Luke 9:26.)
In light of the fact that it has already been established from the Old Testament itself (not to mention ancient Judaism as well) that there are at least two persons who are called Yahweh, one of whom bowed the heavens and came to earth in the appearance of a man, the other of whom remained unseen and exalted in heaven, if it is asked who the New Testament casts in the role of the “earthly” Yahweh, then the New Testament answer is resoundingly clear: the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in heaven.
Strong Inferential Evidence Identifying Jesus as
the Yahweh who appeared in Genesis 18-19
Five broad teachings of the New Testament shed significant additional light on this matter, providing once again for the sound inference that Genesis 19:24 is Trinitarian in quality, just as we have seen in the Old Testament, and that, according to the New Testament, the one identified in the Old and in intertestamental and other ancient Jewish literature variously as Yahweh, the Angel/Messenger of Yahweh, the Word of God, and the Wisdom of God, is none other than the eternal Son of the Father.
FIRST – the New Testament says of the Lord Jesus that He eternally pre-existed His conception and birth as a man, a fact that makes possible His appearance during Old Testament times:
According to the inspired apostle John, when all things came into existence, the Divine Word, who is identified as Jesus in John 1:14, was already there with God, and it was through Him that all things came into existence:
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 apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-3)
The import of the phrase “In the beginning” and the tense of the Greek word for “was” are significant for pointing out that the Word not only preexisted everything else but that He was eternally preexistent with God. As Leon Morris explains:
The Word was “in the beginning”: This means that He was before all else.7
… The verb “was” is most naturally understood of the eternal existence of the Word: “the Word continually was”.9 We should not press the tense unduly, but certainly the verb denotes neither a completed state, nor a coming into being. It is appropriate to eternal, unchanging being. John is affirming that the Word existed before creation, which makes it clear that the Word was not created.2
7. Knox renders, “At the beginning of time”, but John’s [en arche] is at once more concise, more far-reaching, and more impressive. We might get something of its force by considering the slightly different [ap arches] which is used in 1 John 1:1. This draws attention to what took place from the beginning on, whereas our present passage tells us that in the beginning “the Word was already there” (Barclay). Barth says finely, “this Word was not, like all other words, a created human word, merely relating to God, merely speaking from God and about God. As the Word it is spoken in the place where God is, namely, [en arche], in principio of all that is” (Church Dogmatics, I, 1, Edinburgh, 1955, p. 459).
9. “Was” is [en] not [egeneto], which is used in vv. 3, 6, 14 (see 8:58 for a good illustration of the difference between [ginomai] and [eimi]). It is relevant to notice that exactly the same verb, [en], occurs in the next clause, where Knox brings out the continuous force by rendering, “God had the Word abiding with him”. Westcott draws attention to the fact that, whereas the opening of Genesis takes us back to the beginning and that which starts from that point, “St. John lifts our thoughts beyond the beginning and dwells on that which ‘was’ when time, and with time finite being, began its course.”….
This is further confirmed by noting the contrast between what is stated about the Word in John 1:1 and what is stated about “all things” just two verses later in John 1:3. Whereas the Word “was” in the beginning, everything else came into being:
“By Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
The Greek for the first two occurrences of “made” in this verse is egeneto and for the last is gegonen, and both words refer to something coming into being or “becoming”.
Another contrast is supplied by John later in the Gospel when he uses the phrase “from the beginning,” which, if used for Jesus in John 1:1, would have only communicated that Jesus is preexistent, something that would be true in any case since if Jesus is eternal then He is preexistent, but the use of this phrase would have left open the question of whether or not He is eternal.
That John uses these words elsewhere shows that he could have unambiguously taught the creation of Jesus (egeneto, gegonen) or at least spoken in a way that did not communicate His eternal existence (ap arches), and that John did not do so reinforces the significance of what John did say. In the words of Robert Bowman, Jr.:
Had John wanted to say that the Word was the first creation of God, or even simply say that the Word existed before the rest of creation, there are a number of ways he could have said so clearly and without any possibility of misunderstanding. He could have written, “From the beginning,” using the word apo instead of en, as he did repeatedly in his writings in the expression ap’arches (John 8:44; 15:27; 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5, 6). This would trace his existence back to the beginning without telling us anything about his existence “before” the beginning (if such existence were possible). Or, he could have written, “In the beginning the Word came into existence,” substituting for the word en the word egeneto, which occurs repeatedly in the Prologue (John 1:3, 6, 10, 14, 17). This would have settled the debate forever in favor of the JW interpretation of the text [which teaches that Jesus was a created being], since it would be an explicit affirmation of the creation of the preincarnate Jesus. Yet John wrote neither of these things. Instead he wrote what most naturally would be (and as a matter of historical record has been) interpreted as a declaration of the eternality of the Word. “In the beginning the Word was”; the verb was is the imperfect tense verb of en, here unquestionably used of durative, continuing existence. To continue existing at the beginning of time is to be eternal by definition.3
The eternal preexistence of Christ is taught many times over in John’s Gospel just as we would expect since the narrative functions to explicate, draw out, and confirm what is stated in the prologue in John 1:1-18. Two examples from the narrative portion of the Gospel will be mentioned here, starting with John 8:56-58, where Jesus said:
"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was (genesthai), I am (ego eimi)." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
The Greek word for “was,” en, used in John 1:1, and the word for “am,” eimi, which is used here in John 8:58, are both forms of the verb to be. By the latter passage John is drawing out the truth of what was stated in the prologue. This is all the more apparent once again by the juxtaposition of words found in the statement of Christ that before Abraham “was”, literally genesthai, which is a different Greek word than found in John 1 for Jesus and literally means “became” – in fact, it is related to the word used in John 1:3 for the creation in contrast to Jesus – the Lord Jesus Christ “is”. In other words, before Abraham became, Jesus is.
For a final passage from the fourth Gospel, one that requires little comment, John records the following words spoken by Jesus in his great High Priestly prayer as He looked toward the cross and the completion of His redemptive work on earth:
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:4-5)
The apostle Paul also indicated Christ’s preexistent divine nature as the Son of God in his letter to the church at Rome in a way similar to what we saw in the Gospel of John:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:1-4, KJV)
As to his human nature, Jesus was made of the seed of David, but according to His divine nature Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness. As Robert Haldane explains:
The word here translated ‘declared’ imports, according to the sense of the original as well as the connection, defined or proved. The term properly signifies, to point out, or to limit, as when bounds are set to a field to regulate its measurement. Jesus Christ was made or became the Son of David; He did not become but was declared, defined or demonstrated to be the Son of God.4
In other words, Jesus became a son of David at a point in time but He already was the Son of God, a fact imperceptible at first and vociferously denied by Christ’s detractors that was openly demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead as the supreme proof of His claims. Jesus was put to death in the flesh for His claim to be the unique Son of God (Mark 14:62), and He was vindicated by the Spirit of God Himself who raised Him from death (1 Timothy 3:16). Luther’s comments on Romans 1 are most fitting and worthy of full mention:
… The Gospel centers in the Son of God, but not merely in the Son of God as such, but inasmuch as He became incarnate of the seed of David, that is to say, inasmuch as He emptied Himself and became a weak man. He who was before all things and created all things, Himself assumed a beginning and was made man. The Gospel, however, treats not only of the humiliation of the Son of God, according to which He emptied Himself, but also of His majesty and sovereignty, which in His human nature He received of God according to the human nature. Just as the Son of God by His humiliation and self-emptying became the son of David in the weakness of the flesh, so now conversely He is ordained and appointed to be the Son of God with omnipotence and glory… It is necessary at this point carefully to consider the manner in which the Apostle most peculiarly expresses himself; for he does not say “He was made the Son of God with power,” as he says: “He was made the seed of David according to the flesh.” …
But even though He was not made the Son of God and though He was made the son of man, yet He always was the Son of God and remains the same forever. That, however, was not yet fully made known and revealed to men. He had already (by his incarnation) received sovereignty over all things and was the Son of God, yet He did not exercise it. In His state of humiliation He was not yet regarded as the Son of God. That was accomplished by the Spirit of Holiness, for the Spirit had not yet been given Him (for glorification) while as yet He was not exalted, as He Himself says: “He shall glorify me” (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit firmly established and made known through the apostles that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the sovereign Lord of all things, to whom all creatures are subject and whom God the Father has appointed to be Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). That is what the words “declared to be the Son of God with power” express: This man, the son of David according to the flesh, is now publicly made known as the Son of God with power, that is, as the omnipotent Lord of all things, after He had been subjected to all things in weakness as the son of David. And all this was done according to the Spirit of Holiness; for, as said before, to Him is ascribed Christ’s glorification. That, however, the Holy Spirit did only after the resurrection, for which reason the Apostle adds: “By the resurrection from the dead.”5
In his epistle to the Colossian church Paul put it this way:
He IS before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. (Colossians 1:17-18)
Commentator H. Dermot McDonald brings out the force of this:
By the use of the present tense (he is), Paul is declaring that the Son’s preexistence is an absolute existence. The he is emphatic – Paul uses the personal pronoun in addition to the third person singular of the verb. He, this beloved Son, this Jesus Christ, is … before all things. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). His is the timeless nature of eternal being. And it is in such a One that all things hold together (sunesteken). He is the chain-band of all existence. Without him the cosmic whole would fall apart. By the action of the Son of God the universe “is preserved from disbanding, and running into confusion” (Henry). “He is the principle of cohesion in the universe. He impressed upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos” (Lightfoot). It is, then, a Christ-caused, a Christ-centered, and a Christ-controlled universe that Paul sees (cf. John 1:3; Heb. 1:3).6
The inspired author of Hebrews said:
in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Hebrews 1:2)
The Greek word used by the author of Hebrews that is translated “world” above is aionas and literally mean “ages”. Although it is certainly true that the world (Gr. Kosmos) was created by and through the Son, yet, as Kistemaker explains:
… the meaning [of aionias – AR] is much more comprehensive than this, because it involves all the events that have happened since the creation of this world. It concerns the earth and its history throughout the ages…. It refers not to the world as a whole but to the entire created order that continued to develop in the course of time.7
The upshot of all this is that Jesus, as the eternal Word and Son of the Father, the one who was already with God when all things came into existence, the very agent by whom the world and world history were made, indeed, the one in whom all things, past, present, and future, subsist, could have appeared on the scene of world history from the beginning and before His birth in Bethlehem, which includes the time of Yahweh’s appearance to Abraham in Genesis 18 and His destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19.
Continue to Part IIIb.