Well, is there a Bible verse that says that? Can’t think of one? Me neither. But let’s explore that statement. First, it presumes that Jesus Christ is currently “absent.” Is he?
“Lo, I am absent always…” No, that’s not what he said—“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20–NASB). Jesus spoke those words to his followers after his resurrection and shortly before his ascension. Remember that in the previous verse he had told them to go all over the place and teach people about him, and so he was assuring them that he’d go too. But how was he planning to be so diversified?
And the answer is…By way of the gift of holy spirit that he subsequently poured out to each person who believed in him as Lord from the Day of Pentecost onward (Acts 2:33). The “spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7 properly rendered) is figuratively called, “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), and these are among a number of synonymous biblical terms for the gift of holy spirit that makes one a Christian. It is the “incorruptible seed” of Christ—the son of God (1 Pet. 1:23–KJV) by which one is born again as a son of God.
The Church Epistles, primarily Ephesians and Colossians, identify Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church, which is his Body. Can a living body have an “absent” head? Nope. So that would make the Head present.
OK, so if you are a Christian, a member of the Body of Christ, Jesus is not “absent” from you.
“But I can’t see him!”
So? You can’t see your breath either, and hopefully that is present with you. Although the Lord Jesus is not present physically, I’d say that he is even closer to you than your breath.
So the answer to the FAQ is: “No, the Word does not take the place of the absent Christ.”
But that answer begs another question, one with a biblical answer that is critical for every Christian to understand: “What is the relationship between the written Word and the Lord Jesus Christ?”
I’m glad you asked—how about this answer?
The written Word directs us to the present Christ.
How so? Because from Genesis 3:15 through Revelation 22:21, the grand subject of Scripture is The Man Who is The Plan Because The First Man Ran. It’s all about The Man (the “Last Adam”) who was the only possible solution to the two-fold problem of sin and death caused by the First Adam. Jesus Christ is the “golden thread” woven throughout the Royal Tapestry of Truth. But—the written Word is the means to the end—knowing, loving, and being intimate with the living Lord.
John 20:31 (ESV) sums it up by saying that the Gospel of John (ditto for all Scripture) is “…written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The Word never calls us to “fellowship” (koinonia) with itself, but it does call us to have such personal closeness with the Lord Jesus (1 John 1:3), whose goal is to help us become like him. He longs to mentor each of us in the art of faith, that is, trusting the same God he trusted.
Jesus is the means by which the logos of God, the contingency plan of salvation that God had in mind when He created Adam, was “fleshed out” (John 1:14). As a human being who was tempted in all ways like we are, this Man has walked the full length of the valley of human need. He is touched by the feeling of our infirmities, and fully able to help us in whatever way we need him to.
Scripture contains a two-fold answer to the question asked by Pontius Pilate in John 18:38, a question he asked while looking into the eyes of the Answer: “Day of Pentecost”
John 14:6 “I am the…truth”
John 17:17 “Your word is truth.”
Think about it. Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the written Word, because he is its embodiment, the only man to perfectly live the truth! Truth is both doctrinal and practical, both propositional and relational. Another way to say that is: “Hey, the point of knowing The Book is to become like The Man.”
Consider these pairs of verses that also draw parallels between the written Word and the living Word, Jesus Christ:
John 8:12 — “…I am the light of the world…”
Psalm 119:105 — “Your word is…a light for my path.”
1 Corinthians 1:24 — “…Christ the power of God…”
Romans 1:16 (KJV) — “…I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation…”
Galatians 5:1 — “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free….”
John 8:32 — “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Matthew 9:35 — “Jesus went through all the towns and villages…healing every disease and sickness.”
Psalm 107:20 (KJV) — “He sent his word, and healed them….”
The Word of God makes it clear that Satan’s primary goal is to blind people to the truth about Jesus Christ, because he is the only way to salvation, and he is the perfect re-presentation of God’s heart for mankind. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says just that: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
God is spirit, and Satan doesn’t have to “blind” people to something that is invisible. But he does all he can to blind people to the glorious image of God, Jesus. His chief goal is to stop people from believing in Jesus as Lord and being saved, and to that end he offers a wide variety of lies about Jesus, which gazillions of well-meaning people believe.
But Satan obviously cannot turn everyone away from the truth that Jesus is the Savior, and millions do believe and are saved. That in no way dissuades him from his main goal: distorting as much of the truth about Jesus Christ as he possibly can. The Enemy has succeeded in obscuring key truth about Jesus for most Christians by way of the spurious idea that Jesus is God in human flesh, a God-man who is 100% God and 100% man. At best, this is 200% puzzling. At least, it negates one’s genuine identification with him as a man who had to trust God and live by faith, just as we are asked to do. At worst, it is idolatry.
But what about those Christians who do not buy into the teaching that Jesus is God? [to best understand who Jesus is see our book: “One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith“]. Satan’s goal is still the same—to keep them in the dark about whatever truth about Jesus would enhance their lives. Oh, you mean like the truth that he is with us every second and doing all he can to help us know him, love him, and serve him? The statement that “the Word takes the place of the absent Christ” is in large part a backlash to a Jesus-is-not-God-so-we-gotta-keep-him-quiet-and-seated paranoia, and too often those who believe it find themselves with no relationship to their Savior other than having to jam his name into the ending of each prayer so as to get it through the ceiling.
Corollary to the misconception that Jesus is currently “absent” is the misnomer of referring to what Scripture calls the “appearing” of Christ as his “return.” If Jesus is “absent,” then we are awaiting his “return.” But if he is present (though invisible), we are awaiting his “appearing.” If you study this, you will see that the several Greek words used are all visual in their connotation. Some may say that this is a matter of “semantics,” but God did choose words as His primary medium of communication, and their meanings are critical for our understanding and applying what He says to us.
In conclusion, nothing or no one can take the place of Jesus Christ, The Man, the Mediator, the Lord, the Savior, the Lover of our souls, our Mentor in fruitful living, the one who is all that the Word of God says he is. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is God’s favorite subject, and we do both a grave disservice if we do not elevate the Lord Jesus to the place where God has placed him. John 5:23 says that whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. So let us diligently hide the written Word in our hearts and allow the Lord Jesus to come off its pages and into our lives as a present reality. Amen.