Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Victory of Jesus over the devil

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the work of the devil." (1 John 3:8.) But how did Jesus defeat the devil and destroy his works? Surely not by deceiving the devil as the ransom to Satan theory suggests (see my blog article, "Has Steve Chakle lost the message of Jesus?"). Christ defeated the devil by his holy life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead.
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In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus stood as the new Israel in the wilderness, "Out of Egypt I called my Son" (Matthew 2:15), "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temped by the devil." (Matthew 4:1.) Each time, Jesus resisted the devil's suggestions and insinuations. He repelled him by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, "it is written" (Matthew 4:4, 7 & 10.) While Israel failed in the wilderness period, Jesus as the "true Israel" repelled the devil and remained untainted by sin. Throughout his life in the flesh, Jesus "was in all points temped as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15.) Near the end of his earthly life, as he faced the cross, Christ could say, "the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me." (John 14:30.) If Jesus had sinned, the devil would have defeated him and rendered his saving work impossible. A Saviour who himself needs saving from sin is no Saviour at all. Jesus triumphed over Satan by living a life of sinless perfection. The first Adam fell, the last Adam stood firm.
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The cross of Christ was the devil's death knell. In one sense, Jesus could detect the devil's hand behind the events surrounding his death. As he was betrayed and arrested he said, "this is your hour and the power of darkness." (Luke 22:53.) Paul identifies the devil and his emissaries as "principalities...powers...the rulers of the darkness of this age" (Ephesians 6:12.) But beyond the devils' evil schemes to extinguish the Light of the world, lay God's saving purposes, "But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." (Matthew 26:56.) The devil who engineered the trial and condemnation of Jesus was himself judged and condemned on the cross, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out." (John 12:31.)
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Christ triumphed over Satan, "the accuser of the brethren" because he died in the place of the people of God. The context of the key verse, Colossians 2:15 is that of those who are dead in sin being forgiven their trespasses [ie law breaking] (Col 2:13). Because of sin, the law is "against us" because it condemns us (Romans 3:19). Christ deals with the requirements of the law in his death (Col 2:14). That is how he disarms the principalities and powers, triumphing over them (Col 2:15). Satan can no longer say to God, "You must condemn Guy Davies as a law breaker - your justice demands his death!" In the words of the old hymn, "I can my fierce accuser face and tell him thou [Christ] hast died." It is through his propitiatory death that Christ destroys him who has the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14. & 17) .
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See also Romans 8:31-34. "Who can bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.Who is he who condemns?" It is on the basis of Christ's being delivered up for us all, his resurrection and intercession that we are "more than conquerors through him that loved us". Nothing, not even the malignant principalities and powers (Rom 8:38) can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus the Lord. (Rom 8:39).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Resurrection and Cosmic Transformation

The resurrection of Christian believers from the dead is part of God’s eschatological purpose to renew the whole of creation. When man fell into sin, corruption and death entered the universe. In Christ, God has acted to redeem the world that he made.

The Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the final goal of the universe, Isaiah 65:17-25. Peter preached of Christ “whom heaven must receive till the times of the restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the word began.” (Acts 3:21.) This theme is developed further in the New Testament. Jesus spoke of “the regeneration” (Matthew 19:20). Paul wrote of God’s purpose that, “he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (Ephesians 1:10 compare Colossians 1:20).

Christ will transform the bodies of believers “according to the working by which he is able to subdue all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:21.) This includes the physical universe (Romans 8:19-21).

The present, fallen universe is subject to entropy and decay. These are the birth pangs of the new creation (8:22.) When the sons of God are revealed in resurrection glory, the universe will be liberated from corruption and gloriously renewed. God will not annihilate the world that he has made and make a fresh universe from nothing. If he did that, sin and evil would have defeated his purpose in creating the world for his own glory. He will transform the earth just as he will transform and redeem the bodies of those who believe in Christ (8:23).

What, then of passages such as 2 Peter 3:10-13 that suggest that this present creation will “pass away”, “be dissolved”, “melt with a fervent heat”? This seems to speak of the annihilation of this present creation. In that case, the new earth would be created from nothing, completely unrelated to the old one. But we must be careful not to read too much into Peter’s words. He also wrote that the pre-flood creation “perished” (3:6) in the deluge. That does not suggest that the pre-flood earth was literally annihilated and then remade after the flood.

This old earth will be purged by the fiery judgement of God (3:7). All blemishes and impurities will be removed, all vestiges of the fall destroyed in the crucible of judgement. Then God will renew the cosmos. The division between heaven as God’s dwelling place and earth as the abode of men will be dissolved. “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people…Behold I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:3, 5.)
Then Christ’s redemptive mission will have been accomplished, “Now when all things are made subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subject to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all”. (1 Corinthians 15:28.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Resurrection and Justification

Paul, in Romans relates justification by faith to Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

It [righteousness] shall be imputed to us who believe in him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, who was delivered for our offences and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:24 & 25.)

Christ’s resurrection as well as his death is related to justification by faith. In justification, God forgives sinners and imputes to them the righteousness of Christ on the basis of his obedience (5:19) and death (3:24 & 25.) This righteousness is received by faith alone.
Jesus was “raised because of our justification” in this sense:

Just as Christ’s death was a demonstration of God’s righteous judgement on the sin of the world, visited on him as the means of propitiation, so his resurrection was the demonstration and proof of the acquitting righteousness of God (H.N. Riddberbos, Paul an Outline of his Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 167).

God condemned sin in Jesus’ flesh (Romans 8:3). He was “delivered for our offences”. By raising his Son from the dead, God was declaring that his sacrifice was accepted and that he was righteous. Christ was “justified in the Spirit” (1 Timothy 3:16). God vindicated his Son whom the world had rejected , when he raised him from the dead.

Believers are justified by Christ’s resurrection, because the risen Christ is the object of justifying faith (Galatians 2:16 & 20). A dead Christ, who himself remained under the curse of death could justify no one. It is as the risen Lord that Christ is the righteousness of God for his people.

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:33 & 34.)

Paul’s concern here is for a person’s right standing before God: Who can bring a charge of guilt or condemnation against God’s elect? Christ has died for his people, bearing their sins; he has been raised from the dead, vindicating his sacrifice. He is at God’s right hand interceding for the people of God on the basis of his finished work. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

“New Perspective” scholars (see N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, Lion, 1997, p. 113-133) see justification as a matter that concerns the question, “Who are the people of God?” The classic Protestant understanding is that justification addresses the question “How can I be right with God?”

When justification is related to the resurrection of Christ, Paul’s preoccupation is with a person’s standing before God, their offences and condemnation, not primarily their membership of the people of God, as “New Perspective” scholars suggest.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Risen Jesus is Lord

The great claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is claim related to his resurrection from the dead. Paul makes a connection between the resurrection of Christ and his Lordship:

If you confess with you mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)

Paul makes it clear that Jesus is Lord precisely because he died and rose again,

For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living. (Romans 14:9.)

In a sense, Jesus has always been Lord. He claimed as much for himself in his pre-resurrection life. “Therefore he Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28.) God’s day was his day to rule over and regulate. When Jesus designated himself “Lord” in this way he was identifying himself with the God of Israel.

The lordship that Jesus received at his resurrection was given him not just because of who he was as the Son of God, but because of what he had achieved as the obedient suffering servant (Philippians 2:5-11). The one who was in the “form of God” as his image and glory emptied himself by taking the “form of a bondservant”. He was obedient to death on the cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him”. Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation were the reward for his suffering and death. Now the risen Jesus rightfully demands that all creation acknowledge his Lordship to the glory of God the Father.

The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus are tightly linked in the New Testament. There is a close parallel between what Paul says of his resurrection in Romans 14:9 and what he says of his exaltation in Philippians 2:2-5. Christ is exalted via resurrection. Borg (Wright & Borg, The Meaning of Jesus, SPCK, p. 136 & 137) suggests that Jesus is Lord without his being raised from the dead. But the idea that Jesus could be highly exalted by God and given dominion over the universe while his body rotted in a tomb would certainly have surprised Paul. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated his claim that he was Lord. It was God’s seal of approval on the claims and work of his Son.

While the exaltation of Christ and his resurrection are mutually dependent we must be careful to distinguish between the two events. In the resurrection accounts of the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ resurrection body was endued with special powers. He could appear and disappear at will, he could appear unrecognised to his disciples as well as show them his hands and his side and convince them that he was alive.

On his exaltation, however, Jesus’ resurrection body was glorified. Paul writes of “his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). As Donald McLeod dryly comments:

Paul could never have mistaken the Christ of the Damascus road for a gardener. Neither could John in Patmos (Rev. 1:12-20) have imagined that what he was seeing was a ghost, far less a resuscitated corpse. (McLeod, Jesus is Lord, Mentor, p. 177.)

McLeod further reflects on the significance of the glorification of Christ’s resurrection body:

In him, man (and indeed the whole of created reality) have reached their Omega-point. His is a body whose glory now accords fully with the divine glory in which it shares. (McLeod, p. 177.)

The risen Jesus reigns for the good of his people who will one day share in his resurrection glory.

And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the pre-eminence. (Colossians 1:18.)

Christ’s sovereign lordship is conditioned by his resurrected humanity. The King of kings and Lord of lords knows our frame, he remembers that we are flesh because he shared and continues to share our humanity. Because of his resurrection from the dead, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.