My Father And I Are One

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In the Disney cartoon ‘The Lion King II’, Simba the lion teaches his daughter the importance of working together. They sing:
We are one, you and I
We are like the earth and sky
One family under the sun

This is a children’s film, and children understand that Simba and his daughter are different and separate. The words ‘We are one’ express how close they are – thinking alike, sharing goals, working together to achieve their goals.

Reading: John 10

In the Bible, we find the same figure of speech. For instance, the Apostle Paul recalls that he started the preaching work in Corinth and his colleague Apollos followed up with detailed teaching – “I planted, Apollos watered” 1 Corinthians 3:6). A couple of verses later, he comments: “He who plants and he who waters are one…” (1 Corinthians 3:8). He wrote this because opponents alleged that there was disagreement between Paul and Apollos. Paul was responding that he and Apollos were in perfect agreement. Another time, Paul commented, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

When Jesus knew he would soon be crucified, he prayed for his disciples. He knew how devastated they would be – they relied upon him heavily. He had tried repeatedly to prepare them, telling them what was in store. But, they simply hadn’t understood – they couldn’t accept that Jesus would be killed. Now that it was imminent, Jesus worried about how they would cope. When he’d told them, they’d hardly listened – they’d been arguing about which of them would get the best government jobs when Jesus became king. This arguing particularly concerned Jesus. The infighting had to stop; they must come to trust one another and work together, because Jesus wasn’t going to be around to keep the peace. So he prayed for God to help them put their differences behind them. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

Jesus prayed for his disciples to experience the same unity of thought, purpose and action that he and his Father shared. He didn’t pray for a mystical process to make the disciples lose their separate identities and coalesce into a single entity. Instead he prayed for them to forget their personal ambitions and learn to work together. Jesus presented the relationship between himself and God as the model for the unity he wanted for his disciples: … “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John17:21). It’s exactly the same kind of language used in the children’s film (The Lion King): “We are one, you and I”. And it’s exactly the same imagery as Paul used about himself and Apollos: “He who plants and he who waters are one” (1 Corinthians 3:8). In each case, we understand that they kept separate identities while working closely together.

God is unique because there is only one true God. Jesus is unique because he is God’s only begotten son. Since both God and Jesus are unique, their relationship is also unique. Long before Jesus was born, God had plans for him. In fact, from the beginning of creation, God had Jesus in mind. Even his death and resurrection were planned from the beginning: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) (NKJ).

The lamb represents Jesus. He is described as slain from the beginning of time. This was centuries before Jesus was born, let alone killed. But God’s plans were so clear in his mind that it was as certain as if they had already happened. Some scholars miss this point and struggle to understand passages like this. Some Bible translators have even changed them in their Bible translations and altered their meaning. However, the Greek text of Revelation is clear, and there is no justification for translators changing the Bible to fit their own ideas.

Nowadays, couples expecting babies often make plans for their children even before they are born. We hear occasionally of a couple conceiving a second child solely to provide an organ donor for a sick sibling. That’s an extreme example, but it demonstrates a point. Long before Jesus was born, God had his life, death, resurrection and kingdom planned. God told people about it. As the New Testament tells us, God organised many Old Testament events to teach about his coming son. Genesis 22 tells of God testing Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice his only son. When Abraham obeyed, God stopped him before he struck the fatal blow. The New Testament tells us this had a meaning – Abraham’s son was as good as dead when he was released – a symbol of resurrection. The whole episode was a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Other Old Testament prophecies were more direct. God told King David that one of David’s descendants would be called the Son of God and would reign for ever on David’s throne. The Jews called him ‘The Anointed One’ – in their language, ‘Messiah’. So the Old Testament was bursting with prophecies about Jesus. But they were only words in books. When Jesus was born, those prophecies started coming true. John commented that “the word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14). The words written long ago came to life in Jesus.

We don’t know exactly when Jesus came to understand whom he was and where his destiny lay. We know that by the age of 12, he had remarkable understanding of scripture and knew that he was Son of God. When Mary and Joseph lost him at Jerusalem, Mary chided him, “Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48). Actually, she was wrong in referring to Joseph as Jesus’ father, a point Jesus made in his reply: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48, 49).

Jesus understood that he was Messiah and from scripture he came to understand that he faced crucifixion. That was foretold, “they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). It must have been a terrible realisation. It’s no surprise to read of Jesus spending long periods talking to his Father in prayer, seeking further understanding and comfort. We can imagine him exploring all the possibilities – was there no other way to save mankind from sin and death? No, there was no other way. Only Jesus could bring salvation, and only by facing crucifixion. God had designed this plan of salvation. Now Jesus considered it and realised that God was right. He agreed totally with his father on this and every point they considered. So it’s no surprise that he said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus said this to some Jews who asked whether he was Messiah. However, they misunderstood his answer and accused him of claiming equality with God. In fact, they gathered stones to kill him for blasphemy. Jesus calmed the situation by explaining that he never claimed equality with God. He was simply doing work for God, his Father.

Something similar is recorded a few pages earlier in John 5: This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. On that occasion, we have a more detailed record of how Jesus refuted the accusation. In replying, he emphasised the superiority of the father by saying repeatedly that he could do nothing on his own – it was only by his father’s power and authority that he performed mighty works; “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). He also said that though God had life of his own, Jesus had it only because God granted it to him, that Jesus judged only because God gave him authority.

When we read these scriptures in their context, they are not ambiguous. It’s a sad irony that Jesus took trouble to refute any suggestion that he was equal with God, but people even today choose to ignore what he said and to proclaim that he is ‘co-equal and co-eternal’ with God. This is not what the Bible teaches, is not what apostles taught and is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught.

Jesus is no ordinary man. He is the greatest man ever. By what he achieved, he has risen to be in heaven alongside God himself. We can describe him as ‘divine’. But we must remember that while he and his father are one in thought and purpose, Jesus emphatically insisted that he and his Father were not equal:

“… the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

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