Creation: The intention of creation has not been discarded. What is the intention of creation? God created everything, including humanity, to be filled with the glory of God. Creation was NOT TO BE a secular place for humanity while God was off running a business somewhere in heaven, like a parent who pursues a career over family to the point that family does not interact with their father in daily life, yet only sees him when serious work isn’t a priority. God created the world where heaven dwelled in the midst of humanity. Creation was not meant to be a secular world where humanity powered themselves with typical human agendas. Creation was meant to be the sacred space in which God dwelled with humanity as “co-rulers” of this sacred and holy world. This was the intention of creation.
Humanity rebelled against their God-given vocation and were exiled from a truly complete existence. They sought to create their own vocation apart from God. They sought the power fixes of their generations which proved to be short lived. Humanity was settling for culture that was less demanding and obviously one that seemed to benefit themselves. These types of power structures created haves and have-nots, and therefore sin was accomplishing it goal of perverting a godly world. God was against this of course. Humanity was intended to serve God by living out life the way heaven intended it.
However, God did not want a distant relationship with humanity. God was not up in outer space looking upon humanity as a disconnected CEO of a company. God sought to save the world from its corruption even at the beginning of the fall of mankind. The faithful in Genesis 3-5 can be seen as good, blessing humanity but unable to ultimately save it from destroying itself. We then see a climax of human corruption in the Flood story where God intends to ‘reboot’ the human project.
Noah would serve as a fresh start but it wasn’t long before subsequent generations rebelled against God again. The earth failed to retain and sustain suitable stewards. So, Abraham was called to be the creator of a nation among nations. Abraham would be found faithful to God in that he advanced God’s purposes for the world, albeit painfully slow to our modern minds. Israel would become a blessing to the world in the sense that the only true and eternal/living God could be known and worshiped through their story and their hope. Their covenant with God was initiated by God’s grace and therefore Israel was to understand themselves as teachers of the nations. They were to be a holy people designed to restore the proper human vocation. Judaism served as a sign on an interstate, providing the world confidence in the direction God wanted to lead it.
We know that Israel peaked under the rule of David and began its decline under Solomon. Moses reveals God’s intention for Israel in Deuteronomy 28:1 “I have determined to set you high above the nations of earth.” Yet, Moses relays the tragic future that Israel will dive into. Exile, by both Assyria and Babylon (28:33 & 28:49). Israel, influenced by idolatry, failed to bless the world as God intended. This chosen nation becomes just as corrupt as the surrounding nations. They forsook God and their covenant with Him. They will be in exile for centuries even after Babylon. The Grecian Empire and Roman Empire inherit the bestial nature of previous power structures in Medo-Persia and Babylon. They rule the known world shortsightedly, as sin would desire, with brutality while seeking “heavenly” glory. Their desires are not in line with establishing and sustaining a godly world. God must judge them and will.
God still wants the world to flourish and enjoy the proper relationship with God when Jesus comes into the story. Yet, Israel has gone off the deep end for the most part, and they, like the nations, are in exile and in need of deliverance. So, Jesus creates a new nation from the old Israel, beginning with the 12 disciples (much like Jacob’s 12 sons began the new nation of Israel). Jesus wants God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus wants the human project to resurface in the hearts of His followers. (NOTE: Jesus understands heaven to be something that can be copied on earth. Jesus understands heaven to be in existence at the time of his prayer, not off in the distant future. This needs to be clarified among many. I’ll return to that at some point in a future post.)
Jesus came to create a new humanity (beginning with himself) that would bless the world now and ultimately that new humanity would be the real future of the world. Jesus is the Adam God always wanted. Jesus reflected true worship of God and true love of humanity.
Jesus’s death and resurrection are the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s original intention for humanity. Jesus deals with the robber named Death. The human project cannot be fulfilled if they have no bodies to fulfill it. Humanity, through death, has been robbed of its purpose. Therefore, we are encouraged to understand that God will accomplish this in the future. Presently, we see Jesus (resurrected). Now, we see God’s purpose for the future in Jesus. Jesus has overcome death. He is the first of many who will overcome death through their faith in Jesus. We see how God rules the world. Kingdom power does not originate from perverted power-grabbing. Instead, Jesus rules through the structures of forgiveness, love, patience, grace, and truth. Meanwhile, Christians are to strive to be that holy nation that fills the earth as God’s suitable and sustainable stewards. This can only be done if believers have Jesus’s story correct. And, that means transformation of heart, mind, and soul, must take place; and that requires some heavy lifting.
The good news (gospel) that was being spread by the apostles and disciples is that Jesus has become God’s rightful chosen ruler over the nations of the earth, by virtue of his endless life. He cannot be replaced as King, nor does He give his throne to anyone else (emperors always worried about their successors). The exile of Israel was now over. Jesus has paid for their sins as well as the the sins of the world, and human exile is now over and ready for a new birth. At the present creation is going through the birthing process. It is painful. Humanity is in a state of convulsing. When Jesus appears again this will all be changed. The human project will be fulfilled in a new way. Just as seeds planted in soil must decay and die before the transformation of a stalk and leaves and fruit can appear, so must creation go through the same metaphoric process. Creation, as we see in Jesus’s new body, will be transformed and made suitable for what we typically call “eternal life.” We will be transformed at Jesus’s return and will be redeemed with transformed bodily life, just like Jesus’s.
In order for the world to become what God wanted God had to act in a new way. The early Christians didn’t believe in an 18th century model of progress perpetuated by our politicians today, even if there was a steady influence by God. Progress wasn’t going to realign or save the world the way God intended. Neither did the early Christians believe the world necessarily got worse and worse as it continued moving on under its own steam and that they must somehow escape it. They were not first century dualists. They believed that God would do for the world what he had done for Jesus in the Resurrection. This will obviously require more reflection.
Does this sound like what we’ve taught for generations? Consider this angle: Moses delivered Israel, by sending them a letter which told them that God had saved them but they will remain as slaves in Egypt. All they had to do was hold on to the hope of an afterlife, one where they would finally experience freedom from the oppressive empire and a painful life. Or, did Moses came with a message of real deliverance? Did he deliver Israel in order that they would become a functioning nation that served as salt and light to surrounding nations from a central location? Moses did not deliver Israel by simply stating that God was forgiving them and now all they needed to do was to remain faithful while enduring as slaves, and one day when they passed away one by one they would enjoy a paradisiacal afterlife.
Jesus delivers humanity not only so they can now rest assured that after death there is a place to ‘go’ (heaven), but instead delivers humanity into a new life where they find themselves as servants of God, behaving as a nation that forgives its oppressors and returns blessings on the world, ‘saving’ it from it’s corruption (as difficult and challenging as it may be).
Think of the apostles as they were commissioned to take the good news that Jesus was Lord of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:16ff). They understood that some would hear the news (in faith) and God would add them to this new nation and new life through their obedience, initially through an Exodus metaphor (a political metaphor for the Jews) called baptism (cf. 1 Corinthians 10). They understood that they have died to the world of sin and all of its corruptive and manipulative potential through their death with Jesus’s death (in baptism). They understood (Romans 12:1ff) that their worldview needed constant refinement because the evil world was always changing and perverting life. They understood they were the new human project. They also understood that Jesus’s Kingdom message meant that other rulers, emperors, tyrants, and dictators, would not take kindly to any grassroots kind of revolution. The good news was an offense as much as it was genuine hope for the world.
Of course, there is an afterlife apart from planet earth where someone can be with God but that place isn’t the final destination. It’s temporary. There is life (resurrected life) after a disembodied afterlife in Paradise (a refreshing garden, like a vacation of sorts in one of those dwelling places Jesus spoke of to the disciples in John 14). Remember, Jesus told the one crucified next to him that he would be with Jesus in Paradise that day, not heaven. Although, its needs to be discerned that heaven isn’t just future. Consider Luke 15 where the angels in heaven rejoiced over one sinner who repented. And, Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it’s done in heaven, which presently existed. In following posts I will try to wrestle with this more.
Personal redemption has its place in God’s story, yet personal redemption isn’t God’s entire story. Personal redemption seems to have eclipsed God’s story so much in society that we can’t hear anything else when reading the Bible. Churches are influenced by our perceptions of personal rights and we read that into Scripture all the time. A society being raised on an entitlement mentality also conflicts with the Bible’s grand narrative. We in the church tend to think that Jesus got us out of jail so that we could escape this evil world. Now all we need to do is behave (not too badly) and we might have a shot at that heavenly passport which Peter will give at the pearly gates. That is the thinking of Epicureans, Stoics, and Gnostics. That isn’t biblical teaching. Instead, we ought to teach that Jesus freed us from enslavement so that as His new nation we’re ordained to fulfill the human project, and can work at really saving this corrupted world by making disciples of all the nations.
We may not see what difference this all makes. Here is an example, though. Some of us will have gone into foreign countries to teach the Gospel. Take India as a targeted location. India is not a Christian thinking nation. We may teach there during our lifetime and feel as though any efforts have been nearly futile. Yet, the seeds that are planted now and the converts (as lowly in society as they may be) may take root and become trees in 200 or 300 years. At that time the Gospel might have taken deep root in the culture and actually changed national policies, enough to the point of producing missionaries to surrounding cultures and nations; enough to have major influence on surrounding oppressors. We may never see the fruit of our labors in our lifetime. However, God promises us that our work in Him is not futile. Why? Jesus is ruling. In America we don’t see idols of wood and stone like we could see in present day India. America has been unique in many ways but the nation and its influence for the Gospel wasn’t generated overnight. Imagine India without its corruption and idolatry. With the power of the Gospel, understanding the only true and living God, any nation and any humanity can be transformed/saved for the sake of God’s human project. “God so loved the world…He sought to destroy it?” or “God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that through Him the world would not face condemnation, but instead, salvation.”
If we are content to sit in auditoriums once a week and wait it out till we pass on to a disembodied life, we can likely understand why churches seem to be dying and behaving like impenetrable fortresses while megachurches which act like spiritual shopping malls are inflating (not a good thing; that’s not an indication of Christian formation or Christian maturity or Christian discipleship). If we are that content we will likely reject opportunities to build bridges with people we don’t know very well. We will likely settle for arguing over traditions and line ourselves up against opponents. We won’t likely consider how massive God’s human project really is. We won’t (in proper ways) speak out against societal injustice from a godly, Christ centered context. We won’t likely see Christ as the central motivation for planting churches. We won’t likely care what the story is really about.
But we should. Why? We’ve gotten a glimpse of the future. How? Jesus is risen from the dead and God has made him both Lord and Christ over heaven and earth.