Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus





God Crashing into Humanity

    In Michaelangelo's work, God and Adam come so close to the smallest touch - just one fingertip to another. God stretches. Adam reclines, apathetically extending his hand just a bit. We pine to see them connect, divinity and humanity, even in the smallest point of a fingertip. What could one little touch accomplish? Would it destroy Adam? Or perhaps comfort him?

    Having written close to AD 400, Gregory of Nyssa displays for us early Christian thinking about the impact of God's collision with humanity. The Roman Empire had punished Greg's parents and confiscated their wealth for the crime of confessing the Kingship of Jesus. Under the persecution of Maximinus II, the empire had martyred his grandfather. Despite the prevalence of pagan schools all around him, Gregory learned a pious faith from his older brother Basil. While his brother would come to be known as "Basil the Great" and one of the three "holy hierarchs" of Eastern Orthodoxy, it is the younger Gregory, the bishop of Nyssa, to whom we turn to hear the grand story of God's impact on frail humans. As Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being "born again," so too did the early Christians understand believers to have been created again. Here are Gregory of Nyssa's words:

    For we recognize a twofold creation of our nature, the first that whereby we were made, the second that whereby we were made anew. But there would have been no need of the second creation had we not made the first unavailing by our disobedience.
    Accordingly, when the first creation had waxed old and vanished away, it was needful that there should be a new creation in Christ, (as the Apostle says, who asserts that we should no longer see in the second creation any trace of that which has waxed old, saying, “Having put off the old man with his deeds and his lusts, put on the new man which is created according to God,” and “If any man be in Christ,” he says, “he is a new creature: the old things are passed away, behold all things are become new:”) —for the maker of human nature at the first and afterwards is one and the same.
    Then He took dust from the earth and formed man: again, He took dust from the Virgin, and did not merely form man, but formed man about Himself: then, He created; afterwards, He was created: then, the Word made flesh; afterwards, the Word became flesh, that He might change our flesh to spirit, “by being made partaker with us in flesh and blood.
    Of this new creation therefore in Christ, which He Himself began, He was called the first-born, being the first-fruits of all, both of those begotten into life, and of those quickened by resurrection of the dead, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living,” and might sanctify the whole lump by means of its first-fruits in Himself.


NEW IDEAS IN EUROPE
    Approximately AD 1100, Anselm of Canterbury began teaching Roman Catholics that Jesus came in human form in order to satisfy sin's debt of honor to God. In Anselm's teaching, human sin dishonors God, creating a sin debt. Anselm taught that a human had to undergo the ultimate act of honor toward God, as did Jesus for the Father.

    In the mid 1200's, Aquinas taught Roman Catholics that sin creates a debt of not only honor, but also of punishment. Therefore Aquinas said that Jesus offered His own punishment at the hands of men. He offered His punishment to the Father, who received it as satisfying the punishment debt of human sin. Anselm and Aquinas innovated. For the first 1,100 years of Christianity, the incarnation of our Lord Jesus was understood quite differently, and the original understanding is maintained by all three of the other apostolic branches of Christianity.

THE ORIGINAL UNDERSTANDING
    From the second century forward, we have preserved documents in which Christians consistently taught that the Word became flesh so that divinity might collide with humanity and thereby transform humanity. They taught that Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb who died for the sins of the world, but they did not consider Him to have been punished by the Father, much less one whom the Father tortured in His wrath.

    Notice Gregory's words above: "the Word became flesh, that He might change our flesh into spirit ..." and then: "that He might ... sanctify the whole lump by means of its first fruits in Himself." Jesus taught in Luke 13:21 that the kingdom of God is like a bit of yeast hidden in ten gallons of flour,1 yet the yeast transformed all ten gallons from unleavened into leavened or yeasty flour. When anyone believes that Jesus is the Psalm 2 King of all Kings,2 scripture says we are set free from the kingdom of darkness,3 we gain true life,4 and we are born of God.5 This rebirth or re-creation is the collision of divinity and humanity, transforming the entire human from fleshly to spiritual. The Spirit of God takes up residence in the believers, transforming us just as surely as yeast transforms wheat.

We need to escape the wrath of God, but we also
(and perhaps more importantly) need to be transformed.

   
Early Christians taught that we have escaped the wrath of God because we who believe are in His Son, our King. Those who believe in the identity of the King are in the King. The Son of God is no longer the object of God's wrath, and if one measures scripture by what early Christians wrote and Eastern Christians still believe, the Son never was the object of God's wrath. How then, one asks, was Jesus the "propitiation" or "satisfaction" by which we are justified? Early and Eastern Christians have explained this too, but I will have to save that for another post. In the meantime, the curious reader is commended to Gustaf Aulen's "Christus Victor" to learn the ancient understanding of the cross which does not contradict the Roman/Protestant idea of atonement and may be understood as complimenting our notion of atonement.



                                                    
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1. 3 pecks  = 9.77 gallons
2. John 20:31, 1John 4:15, 1John 5:1 all tie belief in the Psalm two identification of Jesus with eternal life. The Psalm two identification is as the Anointed (Christos in Greek) as listed in Psalm 2:2 and as the begotten Son of God in Psalm 2:7. Psalm 2 is the only place scripture ties together the titles of Anointed (Christ) and God's Son.
3. Colossians 1:13, Romans 10:9. We are delivered, rescued, liberated, and saved first and foremost from the domain of darkness which Romans 5:14 shows rules humans from the womb.
4. See #2.
5. 1John 4:15, 1John 5:1, John 3:3-5, 2Corinthians 5:17.
"God Crashing into Humanity" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on November 1st, 2014. All rights are reserved.