He Came Down From Heaven

He Came Down From Heaven

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony”. The Apostle John. 

In the above passage, John says there are two ways of seeing.  There is an earthly way and there is a heavenly way.  The earthly way views everything from the bottom up.  It begins with man and ends with man; man is the sum of all things.  From this point of view man begins with his own thinking, and in this, he creates his own world, a world filled with illusions.  He creates his religions, his science and his philosophy.  Then he falls down and worships them and in turn, looks to them for his salvation.

The other way of looking at things is the heavenly.  This point of view looks at everything from the top down and begins with the Wholly Other.  However, the problem is how can a human start with God?  It is obvious that he cannot.  The initiative must be of God.  God must make Himself known to man.  But how?  In the above words of Jesus, we hear him claiming to be that initiative.  In other words, God through and in Christ entered space and time to show us Gods viewpoint and to reveal the truth about God.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

This helps us to understand religion and revelation.  Religion is man trying to find God from the bottom up, revelation is God revealing himself from the top down.  In making this statement, I am not saying that man by his own effort cannot know anything about God, to the contrary man is a powerful being and a most remarkable creature that can and does create worlds and gods in his mind.

It also obvious, that God has given clues to his existence and his nature.  He gives these clues that men might seek him and find him (Acts 17:24-28).  However, man must interpret the clues and it is here where the problem begins, for in the deciphering of the clues, the divine often gets mixed with the human.  Only the Spirit of Truth can then separate the human from the divine (Heb.4:12).

This helps us to understand Scripture.  Scripture is both human and divine.  It is written by men, wishing to communicate God’s point of view to humanity.  However, they must use the medium of human language.  So, in Scripture, you have both a divine element and a human element.  You might say that God’s Spirit hides in the words of Scripture and is revealed and released by faith.

This may help us to understand the Old Testament God.  He revealed himself as the true God, the great “I Am” but the people viewed him and interpreted him from an earthly or human point of view.  Therefore, they saw him as a tribal God committed only to Israel and hating all other nations.  When in fact he wanted to use them to be a blessing to the other nations (Gen. 12:1-3). If the Old Testament Scripture could have given us a complete or even adequate view of God, there would have been no need for the Logos to take up flesh and give the Spirit to reveal the Father.  This is why John tells us that, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17-18).

 

The Old Testament scripture was given as a mediator[1] between God and the Hebrews, and like most mediators, they both enlighten and darkened the thing they mediate.  The reason for this is that people tend to view or focus on the mediator instead of the thing which the mediator points too.  An old seer once said, “When a prophet points at the moon most people look at his thumb”. However, there is one mediator (Christ) who truly mediates the complete and full image of God, i.e. as much as humans can understand while in the flesh.  Of course, while in the flesh we look at everything as through a veil (1 Cor. 13:12).

How are Christians to view the Old Testament Scriptures?  Well, the New Testament tells us.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy “that from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The purpose of Scripture here is clear, it is to impart the wisdom of God for righteous living that leads to salvation and eternal life.

When a Christian views the Old  Testament scriptures they should view them in faith and in the light of the words of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ, for He is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophet which in turn bear witness to him.  We also need to remember that as God was hidden in Jesus of Nazareth, so is He hid in scriptures to a larger degree.  As said above, in Jesus the Christ we see both the human and the divine.  However, for those who do not have the eyes to see the divine, he is veiled or hidden in his humanity.  The same is true of scripture, without faith a person will not see the divine in scripture.  Therefore, to the person without the Spirit, the scriptures are veiled and represent nothing more than a dead letter.

In Christ, the redemptive purpose of scripture is completed.  On the cross, Jesus said of the old covenant it is “finished” in the death of Christ the old covenant was fulfilled,[2] the shadow had become reality in the person of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus of Nazareth, you see a man of flesh and blood in all of its weakness.  Yet, in his Spirit, he was the power of God.  So, it is the same with the scriptures, in the written word we see all the weakness of any written word, but on a different level, the spiritual, it is the bearer of the Spirit and the power of God.  One proof of this is that all true Christians find that when they read and study scripture there is a ring of truth there that inspires them and stirs their spirits to be more like Jesus.

In Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God became flesh and blood (He came down from heaven) and it is to that Word (Logos) that we, and scripture, bear witness to.  In fact, all those who have the Spirit are truly becoming living scripture as their Lord was while in the flesh (2 Cor. 3:1-18).

[1] Gal 3:18,19

[2] Heb 10:9-10 “then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God. “He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. NKJV

On Authority

 Authority

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him.”By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Matt 21:23

We live in confusing times where there are so many theories and opinions being thrown out there that we are lost in an ocean of ideas.  People no longer have the ability nor the time to sort them all out.  Many are beginning to question whether or not reason has the ability to discern between them.  It has reached the point where many are questioning whether reason leads to discernment or sophistry?

In this, our time is much like the time that Jesus lived in.  Jesus and the early disciples lived in a world of new ideas and conflicting beliefs.  From the west, Roman and Greek philosophy was pushing in and from the east, the mysticism of eastern religions were make there way into the west.  Within the merger of these world views there was a clash between the reason of the Greeks and Mysticism of the east: the Greeks and Romans looked to reason as their authority for governing their personal and corporate lives.  In contrast those in the east look more to personal inward light that we, today, might call a subjective experience for their authority.

However, when looking at the Hebrews we see something different.  The Jews believed in a hierarchy of authority passed down by the community in the form of revelation, law and religious office.  Moreover, they believed that in order for all revelation to be authoritative it must be confirmed by miracles, signs and wonders.  This confirmation of personal authority by miracles[1] was a long tradition that started in the time of Moses and was commanded by the law.

Moses “You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him (Deut 18:21-22).

This tradition of looking for confirmation by signs and wonders from a teacher continued and actually increased with the dawn of the New Testament.  Once the scribes and the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him by what authority he did something.  What they were looking for was a miracle to confirm his authority.  We see Jesus confirming his authority by miracles in Marks gospel.  Jesus said to those that questioned his authority, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”  And the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men (Matt 9:4-8).

We see this principle of confirmation of authority at work also in the ministry of Jesus’ apostles.  The writer of the book of Hebrews said; “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Heb 2:3-4). The apostle Paul claimed this confirming power in his letter to the Corinthians, “The things that mark an apostle-signs, wonders and miracles-were done among you with great perseverance (2 Cor. 12:12-13).

What can we gather from this?  We can gather that an authentic word from God is accompanied with a confirmation of that word by miracles[2].  We might learn that our own culture is much more naïve and accepting in regards to doctrines and opinions of men, accepting them without any evidence that their words are true.  As a result we are like those that the apostle Paul speaks about when he says that “they are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the cunning of men” (Eph 4:12).  We can say of Jesus like no other man that when he spoke things happened.  More importantly, unlike people today he did not attempt to prove his miracles with his words, but rather he proved his words with his miracles.

This view of revelation and miracles also helps us explain the rampant spread of Christianity throughout world in the first century.  Luke in his gospel tells us the reaction to a miracle of Jesus by the people, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee (Luke 4:31-37).  In fact, if we step away from the situation it begins to looks as if the era Jesus lived in was prepared by divine providence for the coming of Jesus.  At that time there was a universal road system, the universal economy, a universal language, and a universal authority.  For the first time in history the rule of law dominated the world.  All of these things expedited the spread of the news about Jesus, and a part of that news was that there was a man who had the authority of God and unlike everyone else he proved it by doing signs, wonders and miracles that no one else had ever done.

What about these corroborative miracles in the history of the church?  From studying the early fathers of the church, that is the writings of Christian leaders that lived in the second and third centuries, it seems that these miracles increasingly diminished as the church moved away from the apostolic ministry of the Apostles and their immediate disciples.  This should not be considered strange for two reasons.  One is that the message of the gospel had already been confirmed by the apostles and earlier disciples and it would seem that God’s intention was never to have the church live on a milk-toast diet of the miraculous.  We must remember that we are to walk by faith and not by sight..

One reason why some reject the concept of miracles is that if it was true it would empty their ideas of having any merit or authority.  It would reduce all of their ideologies to mere opinion.  Without the proof of miracles all they would have is their sophistry and their power of debate which often depends more on personality and speaking ability than truth.

If a person could work miracles they would automatically have more power than those that cannot.  So the only thing that those that do not have this power can do is to deny the idea of miracles.  For such an idea of miracles robs their ideas of any actual authority.  The religious leaders, the Scribes and the Pharisees in the day of Jesus, did not want to accept his teachings however they accepted his miracles as self-evident and realized that they could not deny his miracles less they themselves would look like fools.  So, instead of denying them they simply contributed them to Satan.

The denial of miracles today is not based on science but rather on a dogma of materialistic philosophy.  The materialists clearly understand that if miracles are true then their philosophy is false, leaving them without any power or authority.  It was a philosopher of the Enlightenment, David Hume, who was the first champion of the denial of miracles.  However, his arguments have been successfully overthrown by a number of modern philosophers.  C.S. Lewis summarizes these arguments in his book on miracles.  He shows that a denial of miracles in itself is a faith not grounded in reason.

Here would be a good time to insert some remarks about human reason and knowledge.  Much of so-called human knowledge is based on hidden assumptions that are grounded in the faith or speculations of few men.  Most of these men never demonstrated their authority in any fashion and a large percentage of them did not live an exemplary life[3].  Where then did they get their authority?  You could say that it was their own soul power which gave them their authority.  In other words, their intellect and their ability to manipulate others gave them power over others.

What about miracles today?  I would have to say that I personally have never seen a confirmation miracle like the ones done by Jesus, nor have I see any actual miracles of healing performed by people claiming to have gifts of the Spirit.  What I have seen is healings and powerful works done through prayer.  I find this observation and experience to be quite normal and there is evidence throughout history that there were periods of time without miracles or very few.  For example, in the book of Judges, Gideon asked the angel that appeared to him “where are all the miracles that our forefathers told us about?”  From this we can gather that at the time of Gideon there were fewer miracles being performed in Israel, than during other times.

[1] By miracles I do not mean what we might call faith miracles. We now understand the power of faith in the healing process of the body. In this article when talking about miracles I am talking about supernatural events that often have nothing to do with faith though sometimes in healings are connected, i.e. the calming of the storm, feeding of the 5000, the raising of the dead. These kinds of miracles have nothing to do with the faith of those that are observing, but rather were designed to create faith in those that are observing.

[2] Some have tried to dismiss the importance of miracles by pointing out that that the East was filled with miraculous stories. However, when compared to the miracles of the New Testament it is obvious that there is a difference. For one they are not connected with the confirmation of revelation but rather tied more to magical practices and are set forth that way in the narrative. In contrast the New Testament miracles were set forth in a historical narrative. In other words they were intended to be taken as real.

[3] In his book intellectuals Paul Johnson demonstrates the failed lifestyle of many Western intellectuals. He sums up the book in the last chapter with the question “Why do we listen to such men?”

From Jesus to Religion Conclusion

Conclusion

“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die’” (Ex 20:18-19).
In our study, we have seen how the symbols of mediation have separated and distanced people from God. There is nothing new in this book; it all has been said before in various ways and at different times in the history of the Christian movement. I have simply tried to put it in a fresh way that might help some to understand the extent of our finite and fallen state and how much we depend on the grace of God for our salvation.

I am sure some would like to know what we could do in regard to the forms of mediation. Of course, we can be vigilant in our lives and in our ministries to minimize the effects of these mediators. John Philpot Curran’s said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” We do need to be constantly aware that our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers that are spiritual and often unseen. These powers can only be discerned by the spiritually matured and those who are willing to recognize the terrifying and helpless state that we live in. To know reality is to know terror. If it were not for the mediation of our Lord, we would all be consumed by the very image of the reality. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31).

In the present mediated state, the majority have been deluded into believing that they are reality’s master, which demonstrates the degree of their blindness and hubris. All this simply means is the first thing that we need to do is to see, and I hope the material in this book has helped you to do that. The Lord said a man had to be born again to see the kingdom of God, and we might add, a man must be born again to see the kingdom of darkness. Pointing out the forms of mediation is, I hope, a way that will help people to be able to see.

Due to the very nature of the powers that are arrayed against us, few will see the forms of mediation that distort their vision. The reason for this blindness is they cannot live with the tension of being in an unmediated state. Most will continue living under and from the forms of mediation found in religion and their culture. As the Scripture says, “They have eyes but do not see.” They will continue to live from the doctrines and commandments of men, which will justify themselves in their own eyes and the eye’s of others.

We can see in the early Christian movement the difficulty of trying to live in an unmediated state. The first Christians were called atheists because they questioned and refused to accept the religious and cultural forms of mediation. We saw after the death of the apostles, the Light seemed to be dimmed and the church returning to the old forms of mediation that were found in Judaism and paganism. To this day, the church is still fighting over many of these forms of mediation, even though they were never a part of the revelation of God in Christ. The Lord has said, “You cannot put new wine into old wine skins.” Therefore, any large-scale movement to remove the forms of mediation will surely fail.

In fact, mass movements are one of the problems. In order to win the masses, one would have to reintroduce forms of mediation that would take the tension out of the true faith. When you do it, you no longer have the faith, but rather a feel-good religion filled with forms of mediation, or even worse, a legalistic oppressive religion like Calvinism or the Muslim religion.

It would seem the best we can do until the coming of the Christ is to try our personal best to live emancipated from all forms of mediators except Christ and attempt to raise up small groups of people who can live free of the forms of mediation by focusing on the true mediator, Jesus Christ. We should not have any lofty expectation that large groups or the masses will embrace living in an unmediated state, or that the groups we create will continue for long. Remember, Jesus said only a few will be saved (Matt 7:13-4). According to God’s design, all living things are born, mature, and then die. They seem to have a very short life expectancy. If they do remain, they do not continue as living organisms but rather lifeless monuments or fossils (institutions). We can only hope those organisms that do survive will give life to the men and woman who will be faithful to the message and pass it on to others so the truth will not be lost or hidden in a forest of mediators and idols.
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).

To live in an unmediated state, you must be lifted up to a new state of being.
The laymen must become a priest. The worker must become the owner. The student must become the teacher. The disciple must become the master. The one under authority must become the authority. The student must become the seer. The child must become an adult.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty (Zech 4:6).

You can contact Lyle Duell at lyleduell@gmail.com or follow him on lyleduell.me

References

The Hero With A Thousand Faces-Jesus

Jesus the perfect Hero

The Old Testimony is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. The Apostle Paul, Hebrews 10:1

Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” discovered that there were a number of central themes and motifs in many of the myths of heroes throughout the world.  This raises the question does this phenomenon point to something or someone beyond itself or is it just an accident?  Campbell infers that the very purpose of myths is to point beyond themselves to something deeply profound and yet hidden.  If this is true what about the phenomenon of myth and the fact that all share the same motif?

In ancient times, there were gods, heroes, demigods and humans.  The demigods were divided up into demons and angels.  The gods and heroes beckoned men to a higher standard and to living a virtuous and courageous life.  The negative demigods or demons tried to hold humanity down to the earth and to live on a mere animal level.  The good demigods were the angels or messengers that were mediators for the gods.  The heroes mission was to overcome and save his people from the dragon or the serpent which symbolically represented the chief evil in the world.  Often we see the hero save his people by leading them to a promise land where they would be prosperous and safe from the forces of evil.  To accomplish this the hero would have to suffer many things and sometimes even sacrifice himself.  However, there was never an end to the story of the hero for there was always rebirth and resurrection.

We live in a world without real heroes.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman make great heroes for children but they lack the authenticity to inspire adults unto living a virtuous life.  However, human beings need actual heroes that can save us from the dragons in our  lives and inspire us to move up to higher ground and to live courageously in the face of the dragon (death) which is devouring us.  For an adult, an actual hero must be grounded in reality, i.e. there must be a factual element in their story.  The hero must be truly virtuous, courageous himself and experience the sufferings and victories of a life well lived. They must have the power to do what they promised, and their powers must come from the gods.  If they have no super powers they cannot be heroes.  They would simply be mere men.  At the very least, they must have a special relationship with the gods that set them apart from other men.  They are the chosen ones.

How do we explain the similarities of all of the myths, and the central themes of their story.  I believe that in the myths, we see how God communicates to men through stories.  Myths are one of the languages of God.  The myths basically are shadows of good things to come or in some cases the bad that is to come.  In other words, they are living metaphors of the truth.  They are like the truth, but in themselves are not the truth, but rather they are vessels that bring to those who have eyes that see, the truth[1].  The New Testament writers looked upon the Old Testament as a shadow of good things that were to come but not the reality (Heb 10:1).  The Old Testament stories were shadows pointing to the mighty hero who was to come.  The whole theme of the Old Testament is that someone is coming and as we move into the gospels it changes to someone has come, and when we get to last book of the New Testament, it changes once more to someone is coming again.  The theme of the entire Bible is, someone is coming and that someone is going to be the mighty hero who will embody all heroes of history.

What am I saying?  In Jesus the myth becomes real as the apostle John says, “The Word[2] became flesh and dwelled (literally, tented) among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1).  The apostle Paul also said, God was in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.”  In Christ, the veil of the myth is lifted and we see face to face the divine glory.  In Jesus, all the hero myths of history are fulfilled and clarified.  On the cross, he said “it is finished”.  God was unveiled in his final and complete form.  The revelation of God was complete.  God’s self-communication became a living being.

Moreover, in Jesus we see the perfect hero, which must be expected if the above is true.  Jesus covers all the bases and fulfills the needs of all men.  He is The Prophet, the Righteous King and The Faithful Priest.  Even more important, he is the Eternal one that never dies.  Did you ever notice that in most hero myths the hero never dies, or he dies and comes back to life.  In his resurrection, Jesus’ hero-ship is made perfect, and he becomes the standard of all truth and the judge of all the earth  “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “the Father has committed all things to the Son” and “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

In the resurrection of the Jesus-hero we see his mission fulfilled; in going home leaving his people with the promise that he was coming back for them, to lead them out of the hostile country of darkness and into a place of glorious light.  His resurrection guarantees that he has the power to do what he promised.  No matter what you are experiencing on your journey Jesus has the power to save you and to help you complete your journey in hope and joy.

In summary, it might be said that there may be a 1000 heroes but they all have the same face and that is the face of Jesus.  The face of the mighty hero who would stand at the end of time.  This may not be a popular message in a pluralistic world where everything is supposed to be equal.  However, personally I believe that that pluralistic world dogma where everything is equal is the biggest lie of all time.  Not all heroes are equal.  There is a hierarchy of heroes and Jesus is on the top.  This does not take away from the other heroes, it simply means that they are to be viewed through the final revelation that comes through Jesus Christ.

[1] Myths are like parables they can reveal the truth for those seeking it or veil the truth to those that are not seeking it (Luke 8:9-10).

[2] The Greek word for the word “Word” in John 1:1 is a logos which the Greeks believed was the cosmic order or the wisdom and power that ordered the universe. That power had been revealed in myths for thousands of years before the coming of Christ and John says that Christ was the embodiment of it.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 10 The Goal of Religion

Chapter 10

The Goal of Religion

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Religion is man’s attempt, through his own efforts, to close the gap between himself and the transcended. In a sense, religion itself is evidence of a vague remembrance of a lost relationship. Therefore, we might conclude that the goal of all religion is to unite God and man, or what we might call the “at-oneness” of God and man. In religion man tries to bridge the chasm between himself and his God. The idea to bind back or to bind together is inherent in the root word from which we derive the word religion. Although the goal of religion is a worthwhile one, we will see that it is not achievable.

Mankind’s efforts to bind himself back to God have taken many forms throughout the history of the world. Usually these forms are nothing more than the projection of man’s wishes or a reflection of his own culture that he projects into heaven. In other words, man creates God in his own image.

Therefore, it is not surprising that most tribal gods resemble and validate the society they ruled over. They are nothing more than a reflection of the culture that created them. In fact, this is not like Western Christianity that has subverted the teachings of Jesus to justify its capitalistic system and the brutal wars it has fought to support it. Though man is and was self-deceived and often self-justified in creating these gods in his own image, he was not self-satisfied. There still remained a nagging awareness that there was something more than the dumb idols that he had created in his own image. There also remained this terrible sense of alienation that his tribal gods could not deal with. So there were a few men who began to seek the true God apart from religion.

Salvation Without Religion

The greatest example of this in Biblical history was the man named Abraham. Abraham did not seem to be an overly religious man, at least according to our standards. Yet he left his father’s home and his tribal gods to seek a new land and the true God. We are told he found God, or should we say, God found him outside of any organized religion. Not only did God find him outside of religion, but God also saved him outside and without any religion. We might say God saved him in the place where God put him, but that place was not organized religion. Though God has often used religious men to proclaim His will, when it comes to a paradigm, or model of faith and salvation, God used a non-religious Abraham. This is not to say that Abraham never practiced religion. For after God chose Abraham, we find him proclaiming his faith by making an altar to God. However, this simple proclamation of faith is a far cry from the cultic worship of organized religion.

From the story of Abraham, we come to understand that it was God’s intent from the beginning to save all men apart from religion, through a personal relationship with Him through faith. His goal was to have such an intimate relationship with His people that they would be called the friends of God. This was to be even as their father Abraham was called the friend of God (James 2:23). His method of achieving this was to create a new being or a new humanity that would relate to Him not through the mediation of religion, but directly, friend to friend. This was fulfilled when we see Jesus (God among us) calling His disciples friends (John 15:15).

God’s intent to create a new humanity or new being did not start with the coming of Christ. No, it actually began in eternity and took its first form with Adam. It was revealed in a fuller degree in the man Abraham and later revealed completely in His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12 ff).
Thus in the story of the exodus we see God bringing the family of Abraham, which by that time had become a nation, out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. Here they were to enter into a faith relationship with Him, the kind of relationship He had with their father Abraham. However, the people chose not to have a faith relationship with Him. Instead, they chose to have a mediated relationship with Him through the mediation of religion. Therefore, God gave them a religion, with the idea that the religion might mature them, or at least give them enough time to mature to the point where they could have a true faith relationship with Him in Christ (Gal. 3:25-27). He did this not because of anything He saw in them as a people, but because of the promises He had made with their father Abraham (Deut. 7:7-9). He also promised them that He would send someone in the future who would lead them into this faith relationship He had with their father Abraham (Deut. 18:17). We see this promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Christ.

There is Biblical evidence to show that God, at the time He was developing a relationship with Abraham, was also in a relationship with other men of faith. For example, there was at the time, Melchizedek, king of Salem, who is referred to as a priest of the Most High God. Later on there was Balaam, the prophet of Pethor, who was outside of the covenant, yet had a relationship with the true God. In this, we might gather that God never had an exclusive people. In fact, the nation of Israel was called to be a servant and a blessing as it mediated God’s presence to all of mankind. So how can anyone interpret his or her calling as condemnation for the rest of the world? From the very beginning, the nation of Israel was a symbol that God not only loved them, but also the world. Today the body of Christ has inherited this role of being the symbol of God’s love for man. Wherever Christians go in the world, they are to proclaim God’s love in word and deed. Thus they become living symbols of God’s love for all of mankind (John. 3:16).

The Making of Religion

Though God had developed a faith relationship with a few men in recorded history, the majority of men continued to manufacture their gods and their religions. We moderns should not be too hard on ancient man. For the only difference between them and us is the number of gods we have created. They had their tribal gods, and we have our personal gods. They created their gods in the likeness of their culture, and we create ours in the likeness of the individual self. It could be a toss-up as to which is more primitive. They used their religions and gods to validate their culture, and we do the same. They used their religions to restrain and to justify their brutality, and we do the same. It seems from all of this, religion is both a blessing and a curse. The apostle Paul came to this conclusion and saw this paradox of religion when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24-25). God rescues us from the body-religious by judging it in Jesus as weak and unprofitable, nailing it to the cross with His Son, thus putting it to death (Heb. 7:18-19, Col 2:14).

The Paradox of Religion

The paradox of religion is by all human standards, it should work. Religion’s chief tool in binding man back to God is law, and we all know that law is good therefore religion should work. The truth is that law is good when it is used lawfully. It is here that religion fails, for it neglects to see that law is not the way for man to be at one with God, nor can man bind himself back to God through obedience to a law or through the practice of religious ritual (Gal. 3:21-22). Therefore, it is not lawful to use law (religion) as a mediator or a bridge between God and man. The lawful use and purpose of the law would be to view it as a schoolmaster or a tutor who was put over mankind until men had enough self-knowledge and God-knowledge to seek God through faith. When men become of age, they no longer need religion. The Scripture tells us that a man becomes of age when he realizes that he cannot approach God through religion, but must come through simple faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words, religion and its laws are not for the spiritually mature, but rather for those who are still spiritually immature and in need of external rules and regulations to control them. In the book of Colossians, Paul addresses the subject of religion and its rules. “Since you die with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch? These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).

Paul’s list of don’ts sounds a lot like many modern preachers of religion as they wail against the social sins of their congregations. To the spiritually immature, this appears to be God’s will, when in reality it reduces God to a tribal god. This tribal god is used to support one brand of morality and culture. This god is usually the kind that is chosen by and benefits the ruling class and the clergy. Preaching against social sins also show a profound misunderstanding of the nature and degree of the problem of sin.

The True Bridge to God

God intended the law (religion) to be used as a sign to point the way to the true bridge to God (Gal 2:19). It points to Christ who is the true bridge to God. In this, the law pointed to its own end or goal (Rom. 10:4). With this in mind, we might look at John the Baptist as the final embodiment of the law and prophets. He was the forerunner who was to point the way to the perfect revelation of God, which is Christ. In speaking about his mission he said, “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3). In this act of preparing the way for Jesus, John symbolized the law (religion) and its divine purpose of pointing man to Jesus. Unlike many modern Christians, John understood the temporal nature of his ministry and the law (religion). This can be seen in his statement, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In other words, religion must decrease in order for Christ to increase.

In contrast to the law (religion), we might say that the true bridge to God is the way of grace (promise) and that the promise has been embodied in the man we call Jesus. The pinnacle of this promise is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For it is there that we see a preview of what God is going to do for and to all men on the final day. Therefore, in the Christ event we see judgment and promise. We see judgment on death and sin. Sin being death in the form of life is completely negated along with death. Moreover, in the resurrection we see God foreshadowing the fulfillment of all of His promises. In the resurrection of Christ, God is promising a life with Him that is beyond anything we can imagine (Eph. 3:11).

It is here that we see Jesus as the true end and fulfillment of all religion. If you remember, I said the goal of all religion was the oneness of God and man. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that God foreshadows the oneness He will have with His people in the final resurrection of the dead: a relationship that we now have by faith in our new place, which is in Christ, a faith that believes that whatever God did in His Son He will also do in all of His people. What did God do in His Son? He formed a new creature, a new kind of being—a being that never existed before Christ took on flesh. In the mighty acts of the incarnation and resurrection, God became man, and man became God. Thus in Jesus we have a God-man being (for a lack of a better term) who is the prototype of the new creation of God. In this new creation we see God and man coming together in the person of Jesus Christ and forming the new being. In the Christ event, God shares with man a preview of where He is taking humanity. So in Jesus Christ, we see the goal and destiny of the new humanity. Thus we see God’s eternal purpose of becoming one with humanity in and through the new being, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10, 3:11-2). He became like us, that we might become like Him (1 John 3:2, 1 Cor.15:49).

Death, Resurrection, and Atonement

In much of traditional Christian theology, the atonement of Christ is said to have taken place on the cross through His death. However, I believe that this view of the atonement is too narrow. It does not give to the resurrection of Christ the importance it rightly deserves. I believe it is the entire Christ event that makes up the atonement. This would include the incarnation, His life, death, and resurrection, and in a sense, even His second coming. In a very real sense, Jesus Himself is the atonement. Each of the events in His life makes up a part of the whole story of how God has made man at-one with Himself through His Son. To use only the metaphors of death, sacrifice, and law to understand the atonement is too limited and tends to fragment the gospel. This limitation destroys its unity and causes the neglect of some aspects and undue emphasis on others.

I also propose that the idea of atonement is a prophetic metaphor that prefigures what will happen to all believers in the resurrection. In fact, it already has begun to happen in the new humanity. For Jesus, as the head of this new humanity, now stands in the presence of God as the one new and complete man who represents the entire race of men. The new humanity is being created in Him and in His likeness. In this one perfect and complete God-man, figuratively stands all of the new humanity in an at-one relationship with God. So we see that it was the resurrection that sealed the atonement and becomes a promise and a foreshadowing of the future resurrection and at-oneness with God. In this, Jesus is the first one of the new humanity to enter into the heavens to experience an at-one relationship with the Father. In solidary with Him, we now experience that relationship through faith (Eph. 2:4-6).

Moreover, in Jesus the final resurrection has already begun and because of our faith-union with Him, our resurrection is therefore guaranteed (Rom. 6:1-11). It is on this promise, the apostle Paul bases his argument in his letter to the Corinthians that it is in the resurrection of Jesus that we see the beginning of the general resurrection: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12-13). Paul can argue like this because he saw the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of the end-time resurrection. For Paul to deny the general resurrection is to deny the resurrection of Christ Himself. If this is the case, how can a Christian believe in the doctrine of reincarnation? Christians believe in resurrection.

Paul adds further strength to this idea when, in the same chapter, he refers to Christ as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor.15:20). The word firstfruits in this expression is our particular concern. There, with few exceptions, firstfruits have a specifically cultic significance. It refers to the firstfruits offerings of grain, wine, cattle and the like, appointed by Moses. The point of these sacrifices is that they are not offered up for their own sake, as it were, but as representative of the total harvest, the entire flock, and so forth. They are a token expression of recognition and thanksgiving that the whole has been given by God. Firstfruits express the notion of organic connection and unity, the inseparability of the initial quantity from the whole. It is particularly this aspect that gives these sacrifices their significance.

“These ideas of representation and organic unity, apart from the specifically cultic connotations of the Septuagint usage, find expression in the use of firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:20. The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority; rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse, it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events, but as two episodes of the same event. At the same time, however, he clearly maintains a temporal distinction between them. Then (v.23) makes this apparent.” (Resurrection and Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

Resurrection, the Goal of all Religion

In light of the above, we might say that the goal of religion and all of life is resurrection. Not just the resurrection of any man, but of God’s one and only Son. Here, it is important for us to understand that the expression “one and only Son” and “only begotten Son” are used in the Scripture mainly to denote uniqueness and authority and not order of origin. Jesus is the unique Son of God because he is one of a kind. He is the prototype of the new creation or new humanity that has been in the plan of God since the beginning of time. In Scripture we see the ongoing history of God’s creative acts as He is creating this new humanity. All of God’s mighty acts were parts of a single and progressive creative act that finds its completion in Christ.

Much of man’s emptiness and his corresponding need for religion comes from his vague consciousness of being incomplete, and much of his sense of alienation is a longing to be made whole or complete. This alienation is heightened when men try to bring themselves to completion without God. No man will find completion in anything outside of God’s plan. God’s plan for completing man is man’s bodily resurrection in the likeness of Jesus. You might say that much of human anxiety comes from the fact that mankind is only partially created as he progressively moves to his completion in the resurrection (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore, believers should look suspiciously on any teaching or movement that promises completeness or liberation before the Parousia (second coming). We miss the mark when we try to find fulfillment or completeness in anything in this life; this includes religion, even the Christian religion. In fact, religion is one of the easiest ways to miss the mark, for it gives its practitioners a false sense of completeness. No one will find completeness and wholeness until God is finished with him. He is not finished with believers until their bodies are resurrected in the likeness of God’s Son (Rom. 8:22-30).

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see in capsulated form the entire history of God’s creative acts and eternal purpose. All of God’s dealing with mankind is summed up in Jesus. We might say that Jesus was God’s epitome of His creative history. Therefore, we find Jesus being referred to as the new Adam, the new Israel, the new creation, the new exodus, new Torah, etc. All of these things point to the final and complete creative act of God, which is Jesus Christ raised from the dead. This helps us to understand why such emphasis is placed on the death and resurrection of Christ. These two events are viewed in Scripture as two parts of one event and mark the coming together and completion of God’s plan for a new humanity that has been truly created in His image.The death and resurrection marked the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in creating the new being (Eph. 3:11).

The mystery of the new being is that His body is made of many members (Eph. 3:6). Hence, we see in the death of Christ, the death of the old humanity, and in His resurrection, the creation of the new humanity. In fact, the whole thrust of Romans chapter six is that if you are really a part of this new humanity, your life will reflect it. In this chapter, Paul points to Christian baptism as a sign, promise, and a seal on God’s part that one has been united with Christ and will share in His resurrection. On man’s part it is a sign, promise, and seal that
one has entered into solidarity with Jesus and His people. Our baptism into Christ is a proclamation that we have entered the history of the one representative man, sharing not only in His history and suffering (cross), but also His future (Gal. 3:26-27). In the Christ event, the history of God and the story of man merge into one story and one history, forming one new creation, a new creation where there is no need for religion (mediator) for God is present in the person of His Son (Rev. 21:1-4, 22-27).

We have seen that the goal of all religion is the oneness of God and man. We have also seen that only Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that goal, for it is in Him that man is bound back to God in an eternal oneness. If this is the case, the Christ event marked the death or end of all religion (Rom. 10:4). As it did two thousand years ago, the death and resurrection of Christ still demands a radical way of looking at all things anew. In fact, it brings into question many aspects of the very religion that now wears the name of the crucified one. At the very least, it demands that we reflect anew on the meaning of the Christ event. For a generation, which is so close to the coming of its Lord, does not the resurrection of Christ demand that we see Him at the door at all times? Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.