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Yeah, I know it is a provocative title, but I honestly think this is a very important question and I'd like some serious exploration. The question is "has Jesus become an idol like the serpent from the wilderness did?" I have done a bunch of thinking on this as well. Here's what I have:

First, I don't think I need to go through the many Torah prohibitions against idols from the ten commandments and then on through the prophets. Most of my thoughts on this follow from the two verses preceding the most popular verse in the bible.

John 3:14-16, And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

So this wilderness story is from numbers 21 and Michelangelo painted it on the Sistine Chapel ceiling because of its influence on Christianity. There is a ton of compelling art on it including a stained glass in St Marks Church, Gillingham, UK (see below).

Numbers 21:7-9, the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[d] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Moses' Serpent on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling St Marks Church, Gillingham, UK

Pope Benedict XVI also writes about how the serpent and christ are antitypes. (meaning they can be matched up between OT and NT). For those "looking for Jesus in the old testament" it seems that this is a great candidate for it.

But here's the problem... It was pointed out by Hezekiah

2 Kings 18:4, He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the ashera pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.

Now, assuming that God did not tell Moses to make an idol against his own law. The serpent seems to be an empty sign of obedience. If you look at it, you live. If you don't, you die. This was a commandment given by God. The serpent doesn't do the healing, God does.

But people started a cult around it, and sometime between Solomon (c930 BC, built the temple) and Hezekiah c700 BC), there was a 230 year window where the upraised serpent was possibly worshiped in the temple as central to Israelite worship.

In John, there are several themes of Jesus' will not being his own:

John 5:19, "Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own. ... I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. John 14:10b, I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

There are plenty others. There is also a criticism of the synoptic's narrative that Jesus had tension between his own will and God's will in Gethsemane.

John 12:27, "“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour."

There seems to be a transparency to Jesus. No will of his own.

Question So all that being said, have we all begun "offering incense/offerings" to our version of the upraised serpent? Did the protestants get it right by dragging the image of christ off the cross, as Hezekiah did, and eliminating the crucifix icon worshipped by the Catholic church? Is Jesus, as a being in himself, with separate will, and separate existence (e.g. people look for him walking around in the old testament)... Is that Jesus an idol? Is trinitarianism Idolatry in this sense?

  • That Jesus had a will that was evidently contrary to God is a main pointer that he was a man and not God at all. Hence he learned obedience leading to the greatest test of all at the end! It was a final temptation... but of course God cannot be tempted... – user48152 May 24 at 21:47
  • To the extent that we are all human and understand God imperfectly and incompletely, we are all guilty of believing in a false version of God in some sense. But God "winks at our ignorance" (Acts 17:30), so I struggle to understand this question properly. – Dottard May 25 at 0:38
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Idols are man-made objects fashioned from created material:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4) [ESV]

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.
(Leviticus 19:4)

“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 26:1)

As Jesus came in human form, He was not an idol:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The bronze serpent is symbolic of the type of death Jesus would die. However, when He died, the people were not looking at an idol or a man-made object. They were looking at the Son of God who was crucified:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10 cf. John 19:37)

The Letter to the Hebrews explains in detail:

5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” 8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10)

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  • What if someone worships the Sun without making an image of it? – Perry Webb May 25 at 1:55
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NO. Jesus is not an idol because he points to God - everything he does or says is for and toward his Father, doing his Father's will with every breath. He is the image of God so that all who know Jesus may know the Father also.

An idol on the other hand points away from God. Even if it intends (with the best intentions) to point toward God, if it is of men, it is basically of the devil, distracting, deceiving etc to draw men away from God.

Making up any kind of God not revealed through scripture is an idol. You do the math.

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  • I like this take, but is he a pointer to God like the serpent in the wilderness? Or is he (treated as) God. There is an important difference between an icon and an idol. Is trinitarianism (in this sense) idolatry? People send up prayers to Jesus or through Jesus. Is there anything there in Jesus? Is he a pointer? Is he empty? Is he solid? – Gus L. May 24 at 18:38
  • As Israel took gods from gentiles, so the church (spiritual Israel) has done the same - taken another god not revealed in the word. There is a great power of deception that firmly infiltrated the church around the 4th century - at the point of a sword! (or with a fire) – user48152 May 24 at 21:40
  • He's solid. He's pointing. And God points to Him. Given Him the name above all names, Philip 2, made Him Lord and Christ, Ac 2. God has filled Him and God is Him. That's the difference between His old covenant and new. Having spoken of old in many ways, God's spoken to us in the last of these days in the Son, who, being the effulgence of His glory and the impress of His substance and upholding and bearing all things by the word of His power, having made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, Heb 1. Unlike Judaism, Islam, Jehovah Witnesses: God Himself came – Walter S May 25 at 1:25
  • :) the Jesus I know can die. Can yours? Did God send only 1/2 His son? – user48152 May 25 at 1:32
  • I'm glad you know Jesus. I pray you'd know Him, – Walter S May 25 at 3:05
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That was Athanasius's argument for Christ being God:

  1. Christ is worshiped in Christian churches, including churches following the teaching of Arius. How could the church rightfully worship Christ if Christ was not God? Athanasius asked. Did the Arians not realize what they were doing in their worship services, at least if their theology was correct? To worship a creature was to commit terrible blasphemy. In fact, Athanasius would contend, Arius and his followers committed blasphemy on two counts: they worshiped a creature as God and called God incarnate a mere creature. Arius’s desire for, as C. S. Lewis calls it, a “ ‘sensible,’ synthetic” religion had led him into a rationalistic cul-de-sac.

Hall, C. A. (1998). Reading scripture with the church Fathers (p. 61). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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  • To the Arians, Jehovah's-Witnesses, and the 'Jesus is only man' folks, we whose God is Christ are idolaters. To us, those religious are the worst heretics – Walter S May 25 at 0:10
  • It's just like the 4th century, they killed (closed) those who disagreed with the new theology which departed from the word of God. Indeed, they disputed the very WORD of God who was flesh and beat the devil on just terms, making him a mystery and a liar. – user48152 May 25 at 1:18
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The serpent was never intended to be worshiped. Once Israelites began worshiping it, it became an idol. Christ being God (John 1:1), it's impossible that He is an idol or can be made an idol. Notice in John 20:28 when Thomas calls Jesus "my Lord and my God", Jesus does not rebuke him.

That being said, I think this is a great place to mention that we have a habit of building our own idea of who Jesus is, and worshiping that. I can't count the number of times I've been told "MY Jesus would do this" or "MY Jesus would never do/say that". I don't care what someone's "Jesus" thinks -- what about the one true Jesus? I think that's akin to the Israelites forging a molten calf and calling it Yahweh (Exodus 32:4-3). In this case we're ascribing the name of Jesus to an idol, rather than making an idol of Jesus... but I think it's relevant.

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Question So all that being said, have we all begun "offering incense/offerings" to our version of the upraised serpent? Did the protestants get it right by dragging the image of christ off the cross, as Hezekiah did, and eliminating the crucifix icon worshipped by the Catholic church?

Well there is a precedent for this:

Isaiah 1:10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

1:12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

1:13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

1:14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

1:16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

1:19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

1:20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

1:21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.

1:22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:

1:23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

Are we much more righteous now than in the times of the kings that did evil in Israel and Judah. Have we put away our idols, and ceased from following the manner of the people round about us? I trow not.

Israel are indeed an example for us to not to follow after their ways. Or perhaps more precisely we have inevitably followed that pattern for Christ to rescue us out of it.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 5-7 to build our lives on following his commandments. Is that the true rock to stand on?

Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

Jesus here seems to be saying, I don't require worship; resolve your differences, then come and worship.

Some people say we are saved by his blood. Yet it was the Jews that said that Christ's blood was on them as they asked for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus, according to the persuasion of the chief priests and the elders.

How is it that we can be all doing the right thing while we all disagree on what that is. When Jesus says agree with thine adversary does he mean "agree to disagree", or rather talk this out and don't be at variance without a reason?

There is also have the idol of Paul and his teaching. He himself states:

Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

I would be much more comfortable with Paul if he said if we, or an angel teaches anything other than what Christ taught...

The actual commandments are something more like:

Deuteronomy 13:1 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

13:2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;

13:3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Jesus makes it quite plain there are people who simply give lip services when he quotes Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:8.

And plainly many people do worship him have to deal with:

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Money and the media, medics, and experts have all become idols.

Is Jesus, as a being in himself, with separate will, and separate existence (e.g. people look for him walking around in the old testament)... Is that Jesus an idol? Is trinitarianism Idolatry in this sense?

Well what does 1 John 5:7 say?

1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

and this is in agreement with what Jesus teaches in John's gospel:

John 12:44 Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.

12:45 And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.

12:46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.

12:47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

12:48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

It seems to me that the purpose of God being three in one is that they are all simply different ways of looking at the same thing. Much like three-dimensional space has a length, breadth and height, but it is all the same.

When Jesus says, I am the bread of life, surely we do not need to add another person in there but understand he is saying he is the Word of God. And again in agreement with 1 John 5:7, he states:

John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

And I think here we can begin to touch on the true notion of Jesus being an idol, when we worship him in vain, not keeping his word.

Sorry for the long and disjointed reply.

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