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John 20:28
“My Lord and my God”

by Paul Sumner

  Toward the end of the gospel of John, Thomas encounters the resurrected Messiah in a room filled with Yeshua's disciples. Though doubting what he sees, Thomas puts his finger in the nail holes in Yeshua's hands and his hand into Yeshua's spear-sliced side.

He is stunned and exclaims, "My Lord and my God."

For many believers over the centuries, Thomas's declaration has served as their own confession of belief in Yeshua's deity. Some have even condensed his testimony into a mini-creed of just three words: "Jesus is God."

Thomas's declaration of faith is unique in the NT. But it is only one of many confessions of belief, and it does not summarize the entire NT witness about Yeshua.


Astronomical Metaphorical Analogy

John 20:28 is like Sirius, the brightest visible star in the sky.

The unique beauty and premier radiant magnitude of Sirius can be studied and appreciated by itself. But Sirius is not the only star; it is one of thousands visible on earth (to the unaided eye). Sirius is near the constellation Orion, which has two magnificent stars, Betelguese and Rigel. Together with them and the Belt of Orion, Sirius is part of a stunning display in the winter and spring heavens.

Yet they are only part of a wide expanse of constellations and galaxies that make up the visible universe.

This can teach us a valuable lesson about how we should appreciate the heavens. Their glory is not found in only one object. We must treat them as a Whole — scanned from horizon to horizon, pole to pole, from season to season — to behold the fullness of their glory and their testimony to the Creator.

In fact, the Hebrew word for "heaven" is plural: haShamayim, "the Heavens." Their expanse is limitless.

sirius
Sirius (left center) and the Orion constellation.
Photo taken in Alborz Mountains, northern Iran.
Used with permission: Babak Tafreshi @ dreamview.net
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John's Star Map

No one else in the gospel of John or the NT addresses Yeshua as "God" the way Thomas did. And, surprisingly, Yeshua's response is frankly not very affirming. He doesn't say to him, "Blessed are you, Thomas, for my Father revealed this to you."

In contrast, that is precisely what Yeshua said to Peter when he confessed him as Messiah and Son of God (Matt 16:17). Why not validate Thomas's confession similarly?

Yeshua seems to dismiss the disciple's dependency on material validation for his faith: "Because you have seen me, have you believed?" (v. 29a).

In other words, did it take the resurrection and his tangible touching of Yeshua's scarred body for Thomas to believe?

Some of the other disciples believed he was the Messiah even before he was raised from the dead (see Peter's two confessions of faith below). Though they probably did not fully grasp what his messiahship would entail (crucifixion, resurrection, enthronement next to God), they already had an inkling of his mission.

It's surprising, too, that Thomas did not kneel down or bow before Yeshua when he made his confession of faith. He didn't "worship" Yeshua.

You would think that if he believed Yeshua was God absolute, he would respond accordingly. Why was his verbal conviction devoid of all physical response? The spirits in heaven bow before him and God (Rev 5:11-14).

In contrast to all of Yeshua's disciples, the only person in the entire gospel of John to bow before him was the Blind Man whom Yeshua healed (" 'Lord, I believe.' And he knelt down before him"; 9:38).

Perhaps John the gospel writer is reminding us that the Blind Man, of all those whom Yeshua enountered, immediately responded with an act of honor, respect, even adoration. He is a rebuke to the spiritually blind Jewish leaders and to Yeshua's companions who were "slow" to believe (John 2:22; also 12:16; 20:9; Luke 24:25).

If Thomas didn't kneel before Yeshua, what exactly did he mean by calling him "Lord and God"? Was it emotional hyperbole? Was he over-confessing to make up for his previous disbelief and skepticism?

If we read the narrative closely, Yeshua apparently doesn't accept Thomas's acclamation at face value. He doesn't flatly reject him. Rather, he counters Thomas by saying that the person who is truly "blessed" (by God) is the one "who did not see and yet believed" in him (v. 29b).

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John the narrator-reporter of this episode also seems reticent to say "Amen" to Thomas's acclamation. For just two verses later he writes to people who never saw Yeshua in person nor his resurrected form:

Many other signs therefore Yeshua also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. But these have been written that you may believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

We should be shocked to read this, particularly after just reading Thomas's confession. Did John miss the import of Thomas's public exclamation? No. John's constraint should not surprise us, for he demonstrated it before.

In the first verse of his gospel, John makes two seemingly counterintuitive statements:

the Word was with God (1:1b)
the Word was God (1:1c)
The second line (v. 1c) is like a brilliant Sirius to many believers. Yet John prefaces it with a qualification (1b), then encloses it, as if for emphasis, with another qualifying "with" statement.

the Word was with God (1:1b)
the Word was God (1:1c)
He was in the beginning with God (1:2)

We sense that the phrase "the Word was God" is not the whole story John wants hearers/readers to know. It is not the only object on his star chart. More often he stresses that in relation to "God" the Word was "with" or "beside" him [this link has examples of prepositions].

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Other Stars in John's Sky
Let's hear testimonials or declarations of belief by others in the gospel of John.

John the Immerser: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29, also v. 36)

John the Immerser: "I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God." (John 1:34)

Andrew: "We have found the Messiah." (John 1:40)

Nathanael: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel." (John 1:49)

Woman of Shechem: "Master, I perceive that you are a prophet... . This one is not the Messiah, is he?" (John 4:19, 29)

Simon Peter: "We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:69)

Martha: "Master, I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world." (John 11:27)

Multitudes in Jerusalem: "Hoshiana! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel." (John 12:13)

Pilate: Pilate wrote an inscription also and put it on the cross. And it was written, "Yeshua the Nazarene, the King of the Jews." (John 19:19)

These titles overlap in significance. The Son of God (ben Elohim) is the Messiah (Mashiach) who is the coming Prophet (Navi) and King (Melech) of Israel. After interweaving these testimonies into his history, John sums up the intent of his gospel (20:31):

...that you may believe that
Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God.

We assume John could have been divinely moved to write instead: "...that you may believe that Yeshua is God." (He nearly said as much in 1:1c.)

Instead, he told us Yeshua was God's son, not God himself.

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Other Gospel Sky Maps

Fisherman Peter
One is reminded of Simon Peter's other confession of faith, spoken to Yeshua directly:
You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. (Matt 16:16)
Yeshua did not jump up to correct Peter and fine-tune his theological insight. He did not say, "No, no, Peter, that's not enough. That's not the whole truth about me. I am your God." Instead, unlike his later, cool response to Thomas, Yeshua affirmed Peter's confession in the strongest way:
Blessed are you, Simon bar Yonah, because flesh and blood
did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 16:17)

The Father himself revealed this. Did he also reveal to Thomas what he confessed about Yeshua? The Bible doesn't say He did.

Two Thieves, Two Perceptions
One of the thieves crucified near Yeshua repeats what he had heard from the crowds, in apparent mocking desperation.

Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us! (Luke 23:39)
The other thief gives a different, less direct testimony. He believes Yeshua was indeed a king and he rebukes the other man. Then he speaks to the One hanging between them:
Do you not even fear God? ... This man has done nothing wrong...
Yeshua, remember me when you come in your kingdom. (Luke 23:40, 41, 42)
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Influential Rejectors
The most vocal mockers at the crucifixion were "chief priests, Torah scribes, and elders." They taunted:

He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his Chosen One." (Luke 23:35)

Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe! (Mark 15:32)

If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross... He trusts in God; let him deliver him now if he takes pleasure in him. For he said, "I am the Son of God." (Matt 27:40, 43)

These opponents never deride Yeshua for saying he was "God." Throughout his ministry, they had accused of him saying he was "equal to God" as "the Son of God" (John 5:18; 19:7).

Why not throw his ultimate blasphemy back at him now as a coup de grâce? "You say you're God, you blasphemer! You're worthy of death."

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Pagan Soldier with Jewish Insight
Matthew's gospel contains the testimony of a Roman centurion in charge of the execution squad on Golgotha. When he witnesses the character of Yeshua, he says of him:

"Truly this was a son of God."
[Grk., alethos theou huios en houtos] (27:54)

Because the Greek does not have the article "the," some commentators think his statement is less than the outright confession "the Son of God." But the absence of "the" is not decisive in Greek.

Either way, the Roman heard or saw something in Yeshua that ironically, paradoxically confirmed the mocking words of the crowds. Yeshua was indeed what they accused of him of being. He was a divine man, God's Son.

Luke reports the centurion's response differently:

Certainly this man was innocent. (23:47)
The Greek for "innocent" is dikaios, which in a Jewish context means "righteous" or tzaddik. One wonders if the Roman officer was actually saying, "Certainly this man was a Tzaddik" [ontos ho anthropos houtos dikaios en]. Note that Luke elsewhere emphasizes dikaios/tzaddik (1:6, 17; 2:25; 5:35; 14:14 "resurrection of the tzaddikim"; 15:7; 18:9 false tzaddikim; 20:20; 23:50). [See The Tzaddikim Who Raised Yeshua.]

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The Father's Testimony
Finally, we must include recorded statements by God, the Father of Yeshua, about his Son.

This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. (Matt 3:17; see Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)

This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him. (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7)

This is my Son, the Chosen one. Hear him. (Luke 9:35)

One assumes that the gospel historians, as inspired writers, accurately transmitted the very words of God. Why did not "God" here affirm to the human audiences — in unambiguous, doctrinally precise words — that his Son was "God" or "God the Son" or "I myself in human flesh."

Could not the Master of the Universe pre-validate later Christian Trinitarian theology by having Thomas publicly confess to all of Israel (and future generations of Gentiles): "Behold my Son. He is your Lord and God. Worship him"?

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The Jerusalem Theologians

In contrast to the confessions made by Yeshua's Jewish disciples, by Jewish observers and Gentiles, and especially by God himself, the Temple elite — the Elders and Shepherds of Israel — heard something far more disturbing that ominously threatened their positions.

They methodically, forensically gathered the testimonials about Yeshua and turned them into a charge of blasphemy. They interpreted the designation "Son of God" as a dark threat to the unity of God, even though in the prophets David and the future Mashiach are called God's son and even elohim.

(In the following texts from the gospel of John, the term "the Jews" means the Jerusalem religious establishment, not the Jewish people as a whole.)

The Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God his own father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

We have a law, and by the law he ought to die because he made himself out to be the Son of God. (John 19:7)

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Yeshua answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning me?" The Jews answered him, "For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy; and because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God." (John 10:31-33)

To disavow the illogical conclusion of these theologians and politicians, Yeshua asked them a question. How could they rightfully accuse him of blasphemy for saying, "I am the Son of God." God himself even calls Israel's leaders elohim ("gods"; John 10:36; Ps 82:6; Exod 21:6; 22:7). They could not answer him.

But note: Yeshua did not admit to them that he ever said, "I am God."

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To complete our survey. . .

We should also list the testimonies of Unclean Spirits who acknowledged Yeshua when he came near: They Knew Who He Was. They feared him so much they made their human hosts "bow down" in his presence. And the spirits' dark lord, Satan, even indirectly confirms the witness of God regarding his Son ("If you are the Son of God..."; Matt 4:3, 6).

The magnificent irony is that the witness of evil entities to Yeshua's identity as Son of God is one that his human enemies — then and today — would not and will not give. Such is rebellious, unbelieving human nature.

Discerning the Alignment of Stars

There is an ironic symmetry in John's gospel regarding the two entities who call Yeshua "God." For it is ...
The gatekeepers of Israel's revelatory, legal, and spiritual traditions (who scoffed at Yeshua's identity and mission)
and
One cynical, young disciple (who at first scoffed at the news of Yeshua's resurrection)

... who go beyond the explicit testimony of Yeshua, his believing followers, even the God of Heaven. In other words, it is Yeshua's enemies and a previously unbelieving, doubting disciple who call Yeshua "God." This raises a fundamental question for his modern disciples:

Should we listen to Thomas and the Elders of Israel, and make their testimonies the foundation of our faith, even though no one else confirms their conclusions?

Or should we listen to the entire gospel account, including the terminology found in the testimonies of the believers and of God the Father?

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Why John 20:28?

But why did John include Thomas's statement, if he didn't want this confession at the center of his gospel account?

We know that John does not present the Messiah as simply a man, a tzaddik rabbi, a holy prophet, or merely a physical descendant of King David. Yeshua is those, and more.

The "more" includes being "the Holy One of God," the "Anointed One" of God, and God's "Son." In his pre-human existence the Messiah was God's spoken Word: the Davar that was the agent of creation:

All things came into being through [Grk, dia] him. (John 1:3)
The world was made through [Grk, dia] him. (John 1:10)

Upon becoming a man — literally, "a tabernacle" (1:14) — he was in effect the true Mishkan in which dwelt the Kavod or Glory of the God of Israel. Yeshua "came from (beside) God" (16:28) and returned thence, to the kolpos (Grk, chest, bosom, place of fellowship; 1:18) of the Father, of God.

The choice given to us by John is not between Yeshua as-man or Yeshua-as-God. He is, rather, "Son of Man" (3:13-14) and "Son of God" (3:18) — or in Hebrew: Ben Adam and Ben Elohim.

But to call Yeshua merely, simply, absolutely "God" is not the gospel of the gospel of John.

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The Whole Sky

Anyone who has spent an evening (or years) gazing at the heavens knows how richly complex they are. With binoculars or telescope, their glory only becomes greater when asteroids, comets, star clusters and galaxies appear on the pupil of one's earth-bound eye.

No one celestial object takes center stage — even Sirius, the brightest. The glory of one is enhanced by the glories of all the others: by the Moon, by the "Wanderers" (lit. Grk, planetes), even by the dust of the Milky Way. To appreciate the fullness of the expanse, one must keep moving one's eyes around the full circle of the sky.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the star Polaris (North Star) serves as a constant navigational point of reference for night travelers. It is a still point around which the stars and planets all turn.

startrails

Is there a passage of Scripture that would serve as our Polaris? If so, should it be John 20:28? Or John 1:1c? Or perhaps John 3:16?

In my opinion, Yeshua's declaration in John 17:3 should be both our Polaris and our Sirius. For here the Messiah himself (not a disciple) — in prayer — tells us:

This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and Yeshua Messiah, whom you have sent.

Each person who scans the spiritual universe in the gospel of John (and the rest of the NT) eventually chooses for themselves a favorite celestial object. But it's important to choose which is the most central guiding star — according to Scripture's overall emphasis — for traveling in this benighted world.

We want to be in the right orientation so that when the pre-dawn Dayspring [Grk, Anatole; Heb, Tzemach; Luke 1:79] reappears, our eyes will have been prepared to meet the full glory of the rising Sun.

Paul Sumner

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