Choose your own adventure was a series of children’s books where the reader choose the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. This style of writing has been called gamebooks and interactive fiction. Today we are looking at choosing your own metaphors.
The key message of the Bible is the good news (or message) about Jesus, which includes:
– Our sinful state,
– Who Jesus is,
– What blessings God has promised to us, and
– What our response must be.
Various methods are used in the New Testament to communicate the message about Jesus including: parables, letters, speeches, sermons, conversations, and discussion meetings. Today God uses people like us to tell the message to humanity so that they can repent of their sin, trust that Jesus paid their penalty for rebelling and ignoring God, and follow and obey Him (Rom. 10:14-15).
The Bible gives us different ways to tell the message about Jesus to different people. To Jews, the apostles presented Jesus as the risen Savior and they quoted from the Old Testament. For example, Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Whereas to the Gentiles they talked about God’s providence (sending rain, making crops grow, providing food), His creation, and the universal human desire to worship a god. For example, Paul’s preaching at Athens (Acts 17).
Transgression and guilt
In the past we have often explained the gospel message like this. “We have all done things that we know are wrong, and if we break one law, it’s equivalent to breaking all of God’s laws. We stand guilty before God. We deserve to be punished by Him. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will forgive and justify us”. It describes how we can move from sinfulness to salvation.
This worked well in the previous generation for Billy Graham because people were familiar with the Bible. But many people no longer believe in absolutes and they aren’t familiar with the Bible. They see laws as just oppressive institutions, such as governments and churches, wielding power. So, we should probably be looking for other models of sin and salvation to this one of transgression/guilt and forgiveness/justification. Some other models for sin are given below.
Shame and dishonor
Smith, Warner and Bancroft brought shame and dishonor to the Australian cricket team last year for cheating in South Africa and were banned from playing for up to 12 months. They brought the game into disrepute and let down their teammates. When Paul preached to Gentiles, he said that they had been enjoying God’s general creation blessings but didn’t thank Him for them. Because they dishonored God, they needed to repent (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31). So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We have not been honoring God” or “We have shamed God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will restore us.
Defilement and impurity
Women who suffer domestic abuse often feel defiled by what they have suffered. And those who are addicted to drugs can feel defiled and disgusted with themselves. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We feel defiled”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, God will purify us.
All our relationships have some level of brokenness. This includes our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “Our relationship with God our Father is also broken”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can be reconciled with God.
We tend to look down on people that are not like us. If we care for the environment, we will look down on those who don’t care for the environment. If we are happily married, we will look down on those whose marriages have failed. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We are guilty of putting other people down and having an elevated view of ourselves”. We feel morally superior to them. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find our identity in Christ.
God gives us life, freedom, pleasure, success, health, sports, school, work, family, friends, wealth and possessions. But we can live for these instead of the God who gave them. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We become enslaved to what we live for and neglect the giver”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we can find real freedom as we worship Him.
People are often urged to make the most of every opportunity and be the best they can to make a difference in this world. It’s a common message at school speech days. And we can do lots of good things, but we’re not good enough to be God’s children. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need to admit we fall short of being a child of God”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we become a child of God.
Because of fractured relationships at home and work, many people long for peace. Every aspect of our lives is affected by disharmony, disruption and despair. So instead of saying, “We stand guilty before God”, we could say “We need peace in our lives”. But if we trust in Jesus’ death for us, we will have peace with God.
One commonly used definition is “Sin is anything that we think, say or do that is against what God says in the Bible”. It displeases God and separates us from God. And that’s right. But we can also use other words to describe sin. That’s what Jesus did in His parables. In the parable of the rich fool, it’s described as storing up earthly wealth but not having a rich relationship with God (Lk. 12:21). In the parable of the lost sheep, it’s being lost (Lk. 15:1-7). In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it’s being confident of our righteousness and looking down on others (Lk. 18:9). Also, the meaning of the word “sin” has changed to the idea of a guilty, playful pleasure, like chocolates, ice cream, candy (lollies), or lingerie. It’s something that we have a delightful giggle about. Not something that can have serious consequences. So, some other ways to describe sin are: shame and dishonor, defilement and impurity, brokenness, self-righteousness, idolatry, falling short, and needing peace.
Likewise, we can use other metaphors to describe salvation (see Appendix).
Let’s be creative and use these metaphors appropriately to present the message about Jesus to others.
Appendix: Tabular summary of metaphors for sin and salvation
|Sin or sinful state||Correct response||Salvation (blessings)|
|Recognize our defilement||Cleansed
|Recognize our brokenness||Becoming a child of God
Looking down on others Pride
|Calling on Jesus name||Have our identity in Christ|
|Idolatry||Worshiping God||God’s favor|
|Falling short (of God’s righteousness)||Calling on Jesus’ name||Reconciliation|
|Enemy of God||Ceasing our hostilities||Peace
|Following God’s ways||Being on the correct path Restoration|
|Recognize our blindness/disease||Healing
|Deafness||Recognize our deafness||Healing
|Deadness||Recognize our lack of spiritual life||Life
|Ignorant of God||Listen to Jesus||Know God personally|
|Not a child of God||Repentance
|Thirsting||Recognize our thirst||Contentment|
|Recognize our hunger||Contentment|
|Calling on Jesus name||Rescued
|Calling on Jesus name||Rest|
This blogpost was sourced from the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 63-101.
Written, November 2018
The most common logo of the Christian faith is a cross. But it isn’t mentioned in this way on the Bible. However, there are other symbols in the Bible that should identify and characterize Christians.
During corporate worship, Christians often celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). This was instituted by Jesus at the Passover just before His crucifixion. The Jewish Passover was a symbolic reminder of an historical event. It was an annual celebration to remember God’s act of passing over the firstborn of Israel and their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus took two symbols associated with the Passover, bread and wine, and gave them a new meaning. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration to remember the death of Jesus just like the Passover celebration was to remember God’s passing over the Israelites.
Bread as a metaphor
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “bread” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metaphor, where something is described by something else that is considered to possess similar characteristics. It’s like saying, “You are my sunshine” or “The Lord is my shepherd”. Jesus took some bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to His disciples. He told them to eat it because, “This [bread] is my body, which is given for you; do this [eat it] in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19NIV; 1 Cor. 11:24). He meant that the broken bread was to be a symbol of His body. The broken bread represents Christ’s suffering body when He died. When they ate it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we eat the broken bread we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metonymy
The Scriptures about the Lord’s Supper use the word “cup” in a figurative sense. The figure of speech is called a metonymy, where something is described by something else that is associated with it. Like, “can you give me a hand?” or “the team needs some new blood”.
Then Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and told His disciples to drink from it. Paul calls it to “drink this cup” and he mentions someone who “drinks the cup of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:26-27). But we drink the contents, not the cup. In this case, the container is substituted for the contents. The cup stands for its contents. Like “God so loved the world”, which means the people who inhabit the earth. What were the contents of the cup? Matthew says that it was “from the fruit of the vine”, which was wine (Mt. 26:29, Mk. 14:25). So in this context, “cup” means “wine” (or grape juice).
Jesus said that the disciples were to drink the wine “in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). The wine represents Christ’s death. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins.
Cup as a metaphor
But “cup” also has another figurative sense in the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus gave the disciples the cup of wine, He said “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28)”. Elsewhere it is recorded as: “This cup is the new covenant in [through] my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). And “This cup is the new covenant in [through] my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25).
So the cup (wine) is said to be “ my blood” and “the new covenant”. That’s what it symbolizes. These are more metaphors. In this context, the poured out wine is a symbol of the shedding of blood, which indicates a violent death. But it was one that established a new covenant. So the cup of wine represents both Christ’s death and the new covenant. When they drank it they were to remember Christ’s death for their sins and the new relationship it brought with God. Likewise, when we drink the wine (or grape juice) we are to remember Christ’s death for our sins and the new relationship we can have with God.
Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith. Like the Passover, it’s when God delivered us from sin. “For He [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves [Jesus], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
In His death, Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). Jesus commanded His followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly as a reminder of this fact. By doing this together, we are proclaiming the core of the gospel to each other (1 Cor. 11:26). As the Passover recalled the defining moment in the history of the Israelites, so the Lord’s Supper recalls the defining moment in our history.
So according to the Bible, the Christian logo is a drama, not an image. It’s eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice). In the Lord’s Supper we remember what Christ did for us and we celebrate what we receive as a result of His sacrifice. It’s about the gospel. How Jesus sacrificed Himself so we could have a new relationship with God. Let’s celebrate it weekly (Acts 20:7) and recall our spiritual blessings at this time.
Written, September 2018
Recently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.
Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.
Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.
Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.
The journey of life
A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.
But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.
Lessons for us
Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.
Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.
Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?
Written, August 2018
Same-sex marriage has been legalized in about 23 countries including: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), Ireland, Luxemburg, United States, Colombia, Greenland, Finland, and Slovenia.
This month Australia faces a postal survey on marriage law. The survey form asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” In this context, a recent article in the local media claims that it’s wrong to claim that marriage is “a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible” and it’s wrong to claim that “a biblical view of marriage is between one man and one woman”. So what does the Bible say about gender and marriage? We will look at the portion of the New Testament written to the church (Acts to Revelation) in the first century AD because the principles given in this part of the Bible are directly relevant to us today.
According to the Oxford dictionary, sexual orientation is “A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual”. The media article also says that “There is nothing like the contemporary concept of sexual orientation in the biblical text”, with the implication that this is a modern idea to which the Bible is irrelevant.
But same-gender attraction isn’t new. It (and homosexuality) was prevalent in the Roman Empire. And homosexual sexual activity is mentioned specifically in three passages of the Bible between Acts and Revelation (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). These weren’t isolated incidences of homosexual practices, but were characteristic patterns of behavior by a sector of people in society at that time. So, the Bible certainly addresses homosexuality. And if sexual orientation includes homosexual sexual activities, then what the Bible says is relevant to “the contemporary concept of sexual orientation”. So the article’s claim about sexual orientation and the Bible is false.
Husband and wife
The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 36 verses in Acts to Revelation.
The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 32 verses and “wives” in 11 verses in Acts to Revelation.
What was the pattern of these marriages in the early church? The early Christians followed the teachings of the apostles who had been trained by Jesus. And the apostles followed the teachings of Jesus who said, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mk. 10:6-9NIV). This was repeated by Paul, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Clearly, these marriages involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).
Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.
Heterosexual marriage commanded
Paul mentioned husbands and wives when he wrote, “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Here Paul is correcting two false teachings, that the married should abstain from sexual relations and an acceptance of sexual relations outside marriage (adultery or homosexuality). His command restricts sexual relations to marriage. And the marriage is where “each man” has “his own wife” and “each woman” has “her own husband”. So sexual relations should be restricted to heterosexual marriage. “Husband” is mentioned in six more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. “Wife” is mentioned in ten more verses in this chapter with the same meaning. And “wives” is mentioned in one more verse in this chapter. So, in this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul’s main instructions for marriage are given in Ephesians 5:22-33. And a short summary of these is given in Colossians 3:19-19, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. He commands husbands to lead and love their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. These are commands for heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. Elsewhere, he condemns homosexual sexual activity (Romans. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
The Bible says that a church leader (one of the elders) must be “faithful to his wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6). So, if they were married, it was to be to a woman (wife). Likewise, a widow that was supported by the church must have been “faithful to her husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
One of the purposes of heterosexual marriage was to have children (1 Tim. 5:14). In this verse, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. In those days, homosexuals could only have children by adoption.
Another purpose of heterosexual marriage was to prevent sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2, 8-9). In this passage, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. On the other hand, same-sex marriage promotes sexual immorality in the form of homosexual sexual activity.
According to the Bible, another characteristic of heterosexual marriage is that it is intended to be a lifelong relationship (Rom. 7:2-3). And divorce was meant to be rare. Unfortunately, this is not the case today where divorce and serial marriage is common.
We see that in all these instances when the Bible issues commands to people that are married, the marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about models of marriage in this portion of the Bible that aren’t commands?
Heterosexual marriage modelled
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and heterosexual. Paul wrote, “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul implies that each wife had a single husband. Similarly, if wives had any questions at church, they were to “ask their own husbands” as the head of the household (1 Cor. 14:35). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Paul stayed in Corinth with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). And the apostles and their wives were entitled to be supported by the churches (1 Cor. 9:5). In these passages, marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
But what about when marriage is reported in this portion of the Bible and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?
Heterosexual marriage reported
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the early church was monogamous and that the most common pattern of marriage in the first century was heterosexual. Ananias and Sapphira were a husband and wife who set a bad example (Acts. 5:1-10). And the governor of Judea, Antonius Felix had a wife called Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Apparently he married three queens in quick succession. In these cases, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This makes sense because the continuation of the human race depended on the birth of children, which required a husband and a wife.
In an illustration, Paul said that adultery was wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus), but a woman could marry another man if her first husband dies (Rom. 7:2-3). This marriage involved one man and one woman. Like adultery, homosexual marriage is also wrong (being different to the pattern endorsed by Jesus).
Besides these references to marriage between a man and a woman, marriage is also used as a metaphor in the Bible.
Marriage as a metaphor
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is said to be like a bridegroom (or husband) and the church is said to be like His bride (or wife). Paul said, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). After mentioning marriage, Paul says “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). So the union of a man and a woman in marriage is an illustration of the union between Jesus and the people of God (the church). The metaphorical union culminates in the wedding of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). So heaven begins with a wedding! It’s a wedding where two different types of people are united (Jesus and the church). In the Bible they are likened to husband and wife, man and woman; and not man and man or woman and woman. The metaphor only works for heterosexual marriage, and not for homosexual marriage (as there is no “husband” or “wife”, just “partners”).
Other types of marriage?
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to marriage. So the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.
Other media claims
We will now look at four additional claims in the media article. First, “There is nothing inherently Christian about the so-called traditional arrangement of the nuclear family”. This is deceptive. The topic is “same-sex marriage”, not “the nuclear family”. I have shown that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. As one of the purposes of marriage is to raise children, then a normal family includes: a husband, a wife, and their children (a nuclear family). But it isn’t restricted to only a nuclear family! Of course a household may also include other generations and/or relatives.
Second, “You can find that model (heterosexual marriage) in the Bible if you look for it, but it is not the dominant view. Nor does the Bible condemn what we understand to be loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today”. This statement is based on the Old Testament, which was written under the Old Covenant of Moses. As the Bible is a progressive revelation of the will of God, we should give more weight to the portion written to the church (Acts to Revelation). When we do this it is evident that heterosexual marriage is the dominant view. So the article is wrong. The Bible condemns homosexual sexual activity. If “loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today” include homosexual sexual activity, then the Bible condemns them as sinful.
Third, “Paul, thinks celibacy is preferable (above marriage) for a Christian”. But this isn’t representative of Paul’s view on marriage. It’s cherry-picking. The passage being referred to addresses those who were unmarried (1 Cor. 7:7-9). Paul was unmarried when he wrote it. But we don’t know whether he had always been a bachelor or whether he was a widower at the time. Paul expands on this passage in verses 25-38. His principle was if you are married, don’t get divorced, and if you are unmarried stay that way if you can because you will have more time to serve the Lord and marriage brings extra troubles. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry”. Furthermore, about ten years later Paul condemned those who “forbid people to marry” (1 Tim. 4:3). So, Paul’s view wasn’t as simple as that proposed in the media article.
And finally, it also claims Paul’s statement that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you (Christians) are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), “profoundly disrupts patriarchal family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”. This verse states that the unity between Christians transcends their racial, social and gender differences. They are equally accepted by God. The differences between them are demolished with regard to our salvation, our position (status) before God and our inheritance. But the distinctions still existed in everyday life. So the statement has no impact on “family structures, gender roles and hierarchy”, apart from Christians recognizing that no category has more acceptance with God than another. See my post on the common misuse of this verse.
We have seen that the biblical view of marriage in the first century AD was between one man and one woman. As we are still under the new covenant today, the biblical view of marriage for us in the 21st century AD is also between one man and one woman. So the media article is wrong.
Written, September 2017
20 Biblical images of Jesus
According to a survey, 40% of people in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person. Instead they think He is a mythical figure. Some think that the characters in the Bible are metaphors for something deeper. That the Bible is a symbolic story. That the gospels are historical fiction. On the other hand, some think that Jesus was a historical figure, but His resurrection was a metaphor rather than a real event.
What do the historical records show? According to the New Testament scholar Darrell Bock (2015), “Christ’s story is just as well attested as Caesar’s. You can accept or deny claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but you can’t pretend they were never made …
If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ”.
Today we will look at what Jesus is like from the images given in the Bible. This will help us to follow Him. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1NIV). And Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Jesus told His followers “follow me” and “learn from me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24).
The big picture
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at Jesus, who is God the Son.
As a spirit, God doesn’t have a body like us. He’s invisible. But when Jesus came to earth, He took a human body. So God was visible when Jesus lived on earth. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God. However, He lived before cameras were invented, so the only images we have of Him are words in the Bible.
Metaphors as images of Jesus
The best way to know what Jesus is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In the New Testament, there’s lots of information about what Jesus said and did.
But today we’re looking at images of Jesus in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images which help to show who Jesus is and what our relationship with Jesus can be like.
First; Jesus is likened to certain people.
When Jesus is described as being a “Son” it doesn’t mean a biological son, Instead, it’s a figure of speech. For example, Judas Iscariot was called the “son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12ESV). This means he was characterised by destruction. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, which meant they were like thunder (Mk. 3:17). Likewise, Jesus was called “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. So it means that Jesus was like a man and like God. In fact, He was both a man and God. He was fully human and fully divine.
The most common title that Jesus used for Himself was “Son of Man” (Mk. 8:31; 14:62). It’s used 78 times in the gospels. It had two meanings in the Old Testament. In Daniel’s vision the son of man was the heavenly Messiah who will rule over the whole earth in a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 7:13-14). This was a subtle way of saying that He was the Jewish Messiah (Mt. 26:64). But “son of man” also meant a human being (Ps. 8:4; 144:3; 146:3). God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. So the title “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is both the Messiah and a human being. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed (Col. 1:15).
The other title “Son of God” (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), meant that Jesus was God in human form and that’s why the religious leaders had Him killed (Jn. 1:14; 10:33-36; 19:7). Sometimes this is abbreviated to “the Son” (Mt. 11:27).
Jesus is also called “Son of David” (Mt. 21:9; Lk. 18:38). This title is equivalent to “Messiah”. He fulfilled the Davidic covenant and with respect to His humanity, He was a descendant of king David (2 Sam. 7:11-16, Ps. 89: 4, 36-37). Jesus was the only one who was qualified to be the Jewish Messiah. And because His lives forever, His kingdom will last forever,
If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God, then He is both human and divine. Because he was human, He could die. And because He was God, He was sinless. So He’s the only one who could take the punishment for our sin.
Jesus is like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
The Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) translated “Lord” means master or owner. One who has power, authority and control. The master rules the servant and the servant respects and submits to the master. In the Bible, the title is given to God as the ruler of the universe.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), which the Jews would have understood as a reference to God the Father. But then he said that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). So, He’s giving Jesus the same title as that given to God the Father in the Old Testament. It means that Jesus is the ruler of everything in the universe. He is supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15). And we know this is true because He is both the Creator and the Redeemer (Col. 1:16, 20). Besides this, Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).
Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). And Jesus is “Lord of all”; both of the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). In future, everyone will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). And John said that Jesus is “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
This metaphor caused tension in the Roman Empire. It was declaring that there was only one God, not many. Jesus was above all their other gods. Also, it was deemed to be unpatriotic because the Emperor was treated as being divine. But Jesus was above the Emperor.
If Jesus is like our master, then it’s like we’re under His rule. This image reminds us of the need to submit to Him and obey Him.
Jesus is also like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).
Christ showed His love for the church in three ways (Eph. 5:25-27). By:
– Redemption – “He gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”. He gave up His life on the cross to make us positionally holy before God.
– Sanctification – He’s “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. As we hear and obey the words of Scripture, we are being made holy practically.
– Glorification – He will “present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. In the future the church will be perfectly holy.
This metaphor continues after the rapture when there is rejoicing “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-9). Jesus is like the bridegroom and the church is like the bride. And their union is like a wedding and a wedding supper.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of His love for us.
Jesus is like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority.
Nathaniel, the crowds, and the religious leaders called Jesus “king of Israel” (Jn. 1:49; 12:13; Mt. 27:42). This title is equivalent to “Messiah” (Mk. 15:32). The Magi came to visit “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). And the notice on His cross said that He was “The King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19-21).
This metaphor is absent in the Scriptures that describe the period between Christ’s death and his second coming. Instead, the main title used by the early church was for Jesus was “Lord”. But Jesus comes as the “King of kings” in His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). And after this as a great “King” he will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
If Jesus is like a king, then the time will come when He will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace and rule over all creation.
Jesus is also like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
When John had a vision of Jesus as a judge, he was told “I hold the keys to death and Hades” (Rev. 1:12-18). This means that He controls both the body and the soul. And Jesus can raise the dead. Then Jesus judges the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).
After the rapture, believers will be rewarded according to their service at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 2:6; 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:10). The rewards are expressed in the second coming and the millennial kingdom (Lk. 19:17-19; Mt. 17:27; Rev. 3:21).
In His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), Jesus judges those left after the rapture and after this He will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).
Peter said that God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). This is consistent with God the Father “entrusting all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). This means that Jesus will be the judge at the Great White Throne where each unbeliever will be judged “according to what they had done” (Rev. 21:11-15). That’s when people’s secrets will be judged (Rom. 2:16).
If Jesus is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
Jesus is like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep by protecting, guiding and sustaining them.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He laid down His life for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn. 10:15-16). The relationship between Jesus and His sheep is like that between Jesus and God the Father. In contrast, the religious leaders were like hired hands who abandon the sheep when there is trouble (Jn. 10:12-14). They are selfish and don’t care about the sheep.
The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Our sinfulness is likened to sheep going astray. But Jesus, like a Great Shepherd, gave His life for our protection (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 2:25). When He returns at the rapture it will be as the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).
If Jesus is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of His loving care.
Jesus is also ike a high priest. A high priest went into the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple once a year to atone for the sins of the people of Israel.
Jesus was a great high Priest, who was tempted like us, but didn’t sin (Heb. 4:14-15). As a High Priest, when He died Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 9:15).
He was a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Unlike other Jewish high priests he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron or from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-28). “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood”. His sacrifice was “once for all” and “He always lives to intercede” for us. And His new covenant is better than the old one (Heb. 8:1-13).
If Jesus is like a high priest, then we are like sinners separated from God. Because Jesus was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, this image reminds us that because of Jesus was can approach God the Father.
Jesus is like a servant. A servant serves others. It’s a humble position.
There are four servant songs about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The last one about the suffering righteous servant is often quoted in the New Testament in regard to Christ’s suffering. Its central verse is, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ’s death brought spiritual healing; forgiveness and salvation; to those who trust in Him. That’s His greatest work as a servant.
Paul says that Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:44-45). He gave up the enjoyment of His rights to live a life of obedience to God the Father.
If Jesus is like God’s servant (Acts 3:26), then we can benefit from His work of salvation. If He’s our example, then serving God and others is more important than serving ourselves.
Second; Jesus is likened to some animals.
Jesus is also like a lion. A lion was a symbol of sovereignty, strength and courage.
In Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This title comes from Jacob’s final message to his son Judah (Gen. 49:8-10). He said, “The sceptre (of royalty) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). This was initially fulfilled by David, but as it was also stated by Ezekiel, it refers to Jesus, their Messiah (Ezek. 21:27).
In this verse, Jesus is also called the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). This is a reference to the millennial rule of the Messiah that includes Gentiles (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:12).
If Jesus is like a lion and a great ruler, then everyone should submit to Him (Phil .2:10-11). This image reminds us of His coming reign as Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
Jesus is like a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
The Israelites killed a lamb in the first Passover and annually since then (Ex. 12:21). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
Lambs were also sacrificed in the fellowship offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the guilt offering. (Lev. 3:7; 4:32; 9:3; 14:12). When they walked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Isaiah wrote about the servant who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Peter said He was sinless; “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19).
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In John’s vision of heaven, he “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) who was being praised, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain (Rev. 5:12).
If Jesus is like a lamb, then His death was a sacrifice for our sin. This image reminds us of the need to accept His sacrifice as the only way to be reconciled with God.
Third; Jesus is likened to some inanimate objects. Now physical things are used to teach spiritual truths.
Jesus is also like bread. Bread is food that helps to sustain us physically.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). And, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). To “eat this bread” means to believe in Him and receive eternal life (Jn. 6:47). Those who accept Him in this way satisfy their spiritual hunger forever.
If Jesus is like bread, then His death provides spiritual life to those who believe in Him. This image reminds us that without accepting Jesus, we are spiritually dead.
Jesus is like a light, which is the opposite of darkness. We need light to see and to know the way to go at night.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). To follow Jesus means to believe in Him by repenting of our sin, trusting that His death paid the penalty we owe, and committing our life to Him.
Conversion involves moving from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Pt. 2:9). So darkness symbolises evil, sin and separation from God.
If Jesus is like a light, then He is the solution to the evil and sin in the world. This image reminds that without accepting Jesus, we are in spiritual darkness.
Jesus is like a gate. A farm gate keeps animals safe from danger and predators.
Jesus said that He was “the gate for the sheep” into the sheep pen (Jn.10:1-10). The sheep would be safe if they went through the gate to the protection of the sheep pen. In contrast, the religious leaders were like thieves and robbers who climb into the sheep pen by some other way so they can steal, kill and destroy the sheep.
If Jesus is like a gate to the sheep pen, then we are like sheep. If we rely on His provision for us, then we will be safe. This image reminds us of the security of Jesus’ salvation.
Jesus is also like a vine. A grape vine has branches and fruit.
On the night He was arrested Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If we keep in fellowship with the Lord by prayer, reading and obeying His word, and fellowshipping with His people, we can be fruitful. This fruit is associated with peace, love and joy (Jn. 14:27; 15:9-11). It’s Christ’s character, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s evident as answered prayer, being aware of God’s love for us, and the joy of being used by God (Jn. 15:7, 9-11).
If Jesus is like a vine, then we are like its branches. This image reminds us of the need to stay connected with Him.
Jesus is like a stone. In those days, buildings were constructed with stones.
When Peter describes the Christian’s privileges in the church he uses the illustration of a stone building (1 Pt. 2:4-8). He uses the metaphor of “the living Stone” to describe Jesus. He was rejected by people, but chosen by God. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive forevermore. And He gives spiritual life to those who believe in Him, who are called “living stones”. They are being built into a “spiritual house” like the Old Testament temple where God dwelt and was worshipped. Jesus is like the most important stone in the building, the foundational cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The cornerstone was the first stone to be set in the foundation and all the other stones were placed in position with reference to it. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. He’s precious to believers, but rejected by unbelievers. Peter takes the stone imagery from the Old Testament and applies it to Jesus (Ps, 118:22; Isa. 8:14-15; 28:16). Before this time, Jesus quoted this verse in the parable of the wicked tenants and Peter in an address to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt. 21:42; Acts 4:11).
If Jesus is like a cornerstone, then we are like stones orientated with respect to the cornerstone. This image reminds us that our faith is based on Jesus and what He and the apostles taught.
Jesus is also like a star. A star shines in the night sky.
Jesus is called the “bright morning star”, which appears in the night sky before dawn (2 Pt 1:19; Rev. 22:16). The dawning of the day symbolizes the end of the present church age (Rom. 13:12). And the morning star symbolizes Christ coming for the church. While we wait for the rapture, the Scripture is a like a light shining in a dark place.
Just as the morning star is followed by the sunrise, the rapture is followed by the second coming and reign of Christ, which is likened to the sunrise of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; Lk.1:78-79). Once again, Jesus will be like light coming to a dark world.
If Jesus is like the morning star, we can look forward to His coming for us. This image reminds us that better days are ahead for us.
Fourth; Jesus is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
Jesus is like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. He rules over history and has authority to reward the faithful and punish the wicked, “according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:11). And the Lamb is in the eternal new heaven and the new earth after the end of time (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
If Jesus is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that Jesus is eternal.
Jesus is also like a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
The angel told the shepherds that Jesus was a Savior (Lk. 2:11). And the Samaritans said He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
A similar metaphor is that Jesus is like a redeemer who liberates and releases from a bad situation by paying a ransom. Jesus redeems believers from their sinful situation at the cost of His death (Gal. 4:5; 1 Pt. 1:18-19). The result is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14).
If Jesus is like a savior, then people are like those rescued. This image reminds us that Jesus came to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued in this way yet?
Jesus is like words. Words communicate a message.
Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn. 1:1). As He is eternal, He had no beginning. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God the Father and was fully God. The Word came to live on earth as a human being (Jn. 1:14). That’s amazing, God living as one of His creations!
Jesus is also called the “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Words express thoughts. We communicate our thoughts in words. Jesus expressed the thoughts of God. In this instance He executes judgment on the wicked.
So, Jesus was God’s communication or message to humanity. He showed us what God is like. For example, by His death, He showed us how much God loved us.
If Jesus is like words, then He tells us what God is like. This image reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is like a pathway. A pathway is a route to follow to a destination.
When Jesus told the disciples about heaven, Thomas asked about the way to get there. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only way, the exclusive way, to God and heaven (Acts 4:12). The early church was called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23;22:4; 24:14, 22).
He is also the truth, everything He said is true. John said He was full of truth (Jn. 1:14). He is also the life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:3). He is also “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25-26). He has the power of resurrection and of life.
If Jesus is like a pathway, then there is no other route to God or heaven. This image reminds us to be on the right pathway.
Jesus also like a lawyer, a pioneer, and a last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).
We have seen that the Bible uses many images to show what Jesus is like. Different images highlight different aspects of His life and character. For example, He:
Is both human and divine, as Son of Man and Son of God
Rules like a master and a lion
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Cares like a shepherd
Mediates like a high priest
Serves like a servant
Sacrifices like a lamb
Sustains like bread and fruit of the vine
Overcomes darkness like a light
Secures like a gate
Is a foundation like a cornerstone
Is coming soon like the morning star
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is a message that tells us what God is like
Shows us the way to God and heaven like a pathway
And, is always there.
So, that’s the example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). In response, do we:
Live like He is the unique Son of God?
Follow His divine instructions in the Bible?
Feel secure in His love?
Have a close relationship with Him?
Anticipate His coming and His reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our penalty?
Care for one another?
Approach God the Father through Jesus?
Serve Him and others?
Feel thankful for His sacrifice?
Stay connected to the Lord?
Shine like a light in a dark world?
Feel safe in salvation through Christ?
Tell others about salvation through Christ?
Realize Christ’s presence with God on our behalf?
So, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Written, April 2016
19 Biblical images of God
Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).
Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.
Does God exist?
But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.
But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.
I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).
The big picture
We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.
God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.
Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.
How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.
Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.
Metaphors as images of God
These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.
God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.
God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.
In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.
As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).
For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).
This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.
If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.
God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.
God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).
If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.
God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)
God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).
This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.
What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?
If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.
God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.
The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.
God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.
God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).
He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).
In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.
If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.
God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).
There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).
If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.
After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).
One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).
Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).
If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.
God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)
The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.
If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.
God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.
In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people
David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).
If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.
God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.
In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.
If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.
Second; God is likened to some animals.
God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.
God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.
If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.
God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.
After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).
The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).
If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.
God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.
Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.
David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.
God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.
If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.
Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield
God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.
Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).
If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.
When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).
Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.
If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.
God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.
God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.
If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.
Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.
If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.
God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).
This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).
If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).
God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?
God’s also like an eyelid, a builder, physician and teacher (Dt. 32:10; Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).
We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
Provides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?
So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.
Written, February 2016