The Three In One
Get ready for Enigma, Riddle and Paradox. These aren’t exactly Biblical names for God, but they might as well be. Solomon wrote that it is the glory of God to conceal things and the glory of kings to search them out. In seeking to know our God better we all hope to be “crowned” with true understanding of all the “hidden” things about Him. Be forewarned: just as often as you may feel that crown upon your head, you will want to throw it down at His feet in humble submission to Someone you really don’t know as well as you think you do. Now multiply that Mystery by Three…
"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." John 14:25-27 ESV
A Simple Analogy
Let's not make this any more difficult than it has to be. Imagine for a moment a man and a woman whose thoughts, feelings and desires are so much in synch that they experience perfect harmony. Maybe you have never seen in or experienced it, but you have caught glimpses of it as a possibility. Of course for us this can never last very long since we are all so tragically self-centered and off-center that we can't stay centered with anyone else.
God just doesn't have our problems. We are told in scripture about an amazing love story between a Father and His Son that has been endlessly (and beginning-lessly) going on. In perfect harmony. A divine dance of love in which neither ever misses a step—so perfectly attuned are their great hearts to all that is good, beautiful and true.
Naturally it only gets more complicated. Do you remember when you first tried your hand at juggling oranges? (Let's hope it wasn't glasses or light bulbs.) At first you were doing reasonably well with only two. But that couldn't last. You knew you had to add in at least one more to honestly call it juggling. Then things really got out of hand! Again, some things are hard, even impossible for us, but not so with God. As hard as it is to juggle the idea of endless harmony between the Father and Son, we have to add in the Holy Spirit to get the complete picture. Why? Because both the Father and the Son speak of the Spirit as somehow different or separate from themselves. Now you are hopelessly confused!
Fortunately for us they answer to all three Names. Because they are God, all Three are present with us at all times. Because they are a Unity, they are each One inside the Other. Still, it can be difficult to recognize and relate to Them whenever They are not making a clear manifestation of Who it is we are encountering at the time. Don’t worry about that. For now just take it in faith (we have to do this a lot!) that God will be delighted however you relate to Him. If you have most recently encountered Jesus, go with Him! It is always wise to keep our inner focus on Jesus. Just know that there is much more for you to grow into in the future and stay open to being taught and guided. Jesus won't steer you wrong!
Previews of Plurality in God
Naturally enough, God didn’t suddenly split into Father, Son and Holy Spirit just as the New Testament opens. Even to think of a division occurring is to let our thoughts go in the wrong direction. Any such division would be an unthinkable catastrophe for “Them” and for their creation. The Three in One are seamlessly united in a perfect harmony. That unity in God was apparently the first thought that the Lord wanted to get across to us.
The paganism which surrounded Israel—whether of Greece or Rome, Egypt or Babylon—thoroughly believed in a plurality of gods. What they rarely conceived was the idea that there might be only one God and that that one God was thoroughly good. Hence, Israel was instructed repeatedly that the holy God is one God. As carriers of this revelation they were “set apart” from the pagan world. In the form of the Shema this became their national statement both of God’s identity and of themselves as God’s chosen children.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV
Evidently, the Lord didn’t want to leave it at that. All throughout the Old Testament our God scattered hints or glimpses that are highly suggestive of a plurality in God. Looking back it is easy to see this as a trail of “bread crumbs” leading to the fuller revelation of the Three in One that would come to us. These precursors greatly enhance our faith, but if Israel was meant to read the signs, that just didn’t happen. When Jesus announced that He and the Father were “one,” He signed His own death warrant, so to speak, since every faithful Jewish ruler “knew” that God was only one God. But was He? If they could have connected the dots…
Six Suggestive Signs
1) "Elohim." The first name given for God in scripture is elohim. As it happens elohim is the plural form of the word for God. It is used over 4000 times in the Bible and it rarely ever occurs in plural form anywhere else. It is a description of God unique to scripture. Accordingly, a more accurate translation of the first verse of the Bible would be “in the beginning Gods created.”
In the beginning, God [elohim = Gods] created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 ESV
2) "Let us." The unexpected appearance of plural pronouns is also a clue. This occurs in four separate verses. Clearly, a plurality is being revealed, but how many are included in the “us” and “our”? None of these six precursors can be pinned down as describing a Triune God, but they certainly point to a plurality in God.
Then God [elohim = Gods] said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26 ESV
3) "Ehad." Even the Shema carries a hint of something more going on than meets the unschooled eye. The Hebrew word, echad, which is translated as "one" often indicates a plurality held together in unity: a composite unity.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God [elohim again], the Lord is one [ehad]. Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV
4) "The Angel of the LORD." The Angel of the LORD shows up fairly often as being Someone other than a normal angel from the LORD. This intriguing Being is consistently portrayed as an agent for the LORD, as the LORD, and as interacting with the LORD. Such distinctions and interactions make sense only if there is a plurality in God.
And [the Angel of God declared] a blessing on [Jacob] there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the face of God], saying, For I have seen God face to face, and my life is spared and not snatched away. Genesis 32:30 AMP
5) The Spirit of God. Numerous passages display some sort of distinction between God and His Spirit. God is shown as sending, putting, withdrawing, and giving His Spirit.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Psalms 51:11 ESV
6) The Messiah. Unquestionably, the Messiah was understood to be sent from God in order to rule for God, but the common expectation—based on the scriptures—was that Messiah would be more than a mere mortal. The Messiah was clearly depicted as being distinct from God and yet declared to be divine Himself.
Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me. And the Lord [the Messiah], Whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; the Messenger or Angel of the covenant, Whom you desire, behold, He shall come, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1 AMP
Isaiah goes even further, giving evidence—from our Christian perspective—of the Father ("Lord God"), the Son (the Messiah who would be sent) and the Holy Spirit who would be upon the "anointed one" (Messiah). In Daniel we are shown the Father ("the Ancient of Days") and Jesus ("one like the Son of Man"). Both of these passages have their counterparts in the New Testament: the Isaiah passage with Jesus’ baptism (the Father’s delight in Jesus; the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus) and the Daniel passage with John’s vision of this same scene in heaven while he was at Patmos (Revelation 5).
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 ESV
As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat... I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:9; 13-14 ESV
The Best Reason of All
What is the main reason why we believe in the Three in One? Because Jesus did!
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26-27 ESV
More to Explore about Our God
Passover, Pentecost and Booths What do the three great pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel have to do with our Triune God? Plenty! Seeing their relevance even for us today, it's no wonder that the Lord commanded His believing people to "present" themselves before Him three times a year in Jerusalem. Two of these festivals have already been enacted for the Body of Christ as a whole. The third is soon to come to the world stage. What's more, we are all invited to experience our own individual re-enactment. These are feasts of divine Presence you don't want to miss.
Our Father in Heaven Someone has to be in charge and we couldn’t hope for a more loving, joyful or completely competent Being to take the reins. God our Father has never failed to love or to govern wisely—it is impossible for Him to make a mistake or commit a moral failure in anyone’s life. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit apparently defer to the Father’s leadership to say nothing of the unnumbered hosts who serve Him night and day. Yet, Satan rebelled, as did the entire kingdom of darkness and they have seduced humanity into thinking that their Enemy is somehow our enemy…
Jesus Our Savior Jesus is the Hero of our story. In fact all of history is His Story. Before the cross it tells us of humanity’s fall and of God’s ways of preparing us for the Savior to come. Then for a brief moment in time Jesus left His divine powers behind, took the plunge into earth’s pain and darkness, and lived in our midst, becoming forever united to our humanity. At the cross He single-handedly redeemed us. After the cross and His ascension history reveals His slow, patient way of redeeming humanity through us. It is easy to miss it: easy to look at the world and not see a Creator; easy to look at our history and not see His Story. Seeing Him changes everything.
Plural Unity in the Hebrew Scriptures
Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:22 ESV
And the Lord said… “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech." Genesis 11:6-7 ESV
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." Isaiah 6:8 ESV
"Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last"... Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there." And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit. Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go." Isaiah 48:12; 16-17 ESV (Compare with Revelation 1:17-18)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV
The Trinity in the New Testament
These verses are but a slender sampling of the many New Testament passages which clearly indicate the reality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:22 ESV
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Acts 1:4-5 ESV
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 ESV
Scriptures and Foot Notes
 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2 ESV
 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." John 17:20-21 ESV
 The lone outstanding exception is the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1364-1347 B.C.). He elevated the sun god Ra as the one and only god to be worshiped. His poetic praise to Ra sounds similar to an Israelite psalm. Sadly, the new monotheistic emphasis didn’t survive his death.
 The word “Shema” means hear. It is taken from the beginning of the Deuteronomy passage: “Hear, O Israel” translates shema yisrael.
 “I and the Father are one." John 10:30 ESV
 For much more on the Three in One in the Old Testament visit http://christianthinktank.com/trin02.html