Called to die with the first-born (Easter 2015)

Allow me some reflections today, on a connection to Passover which isn't always appreciated.

On the first Passover, the Hebrews (the dusty ones) were instructed to escape the destroyer sent by God (leaving aside whether the destroyer was or wasn't God Himself in action), by painting the blood of a slain lamb around their doors.

On the last Passover (or the greatest Passover so far anyway, since we still celebrate it every year in remembrance as though we are participating in the event ourselves at that time), the One Who authoritatively sent the destroyer (or Who possibly even was acting as the destroyer Himself), voluntarily dies in a way the lambs had been symbolizing for centuries (as well as fulfilling other Jewish sacrificial prefigurations).

The Lamb of God dies in solidarity with the lambs.

But not only in solidarity with the lambs.

The Only-Begotten of God dies in solidarity with the firstborn sons of man (and beasts) who were destroyed by the destroyer on that first Passover night.

The Judge Himself voluntarily dies with those who have died so that others may be spared the judgment; and voluntarily dies with those who died in result of His judgment.

That in itself is astonishing enough: so much so that it is unique as a claim in the history of religions, despite all attempts at teasing out supposed parallels (typically later than the idea!) to explain the emergence of the idea.

But it is so astonishing that even the people who are supposed to be representatives of the Judge today, Christians all over the world, usually overlook the connections.

And those connections go even farther. For all the unjust are called to return to justice by cooperating with the Judge in dying with and for the sake of everyone -- including with those who are slain by the Judge.

For as St. Paul says in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with the likeness of His death certainly we shall also be of His resurrection.”

Those who die with Christ, Paul goes on to say, crucify their old selves with Him so that our body of sin may be made powerless and so we may no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is acquitted by the judge from sin. “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is no longer dying: death no longer is master over Him, for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”

Yet Christ dies for all, and with all! -- not only with the victims of injustice, and not only with those who die for the sake of saving the unjust and bringing them to justice, but also Christ dies with the unjust, the Judge Himself “being reckoned with the transgressors” (as Paul puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians.) No one can come to die with Christ except those for whom and with whom He first dies.

That means, at the very least, the Judge Himself, having died with the first-born sons of Egypt, shall someday, sooner or later (perhaps even already), save and free them from their sins, to live the life the Judge Himself lives, together with the Judge, and in honor of the Father Who gives all judgment to the Son so that all may come to honor the Son and the Father both together (and the Holy Spirit, too): even those of “the all” given to the Son by the Father who are raised by the Son into a resurrection of judgment instead of life.

As Jesus explains by report in GosJohn 5:21 and afterward, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.”

Does Jesus mean a false honoring with the lips and not with the heart? No; the Son does not give false honor to the Father, and would not give those who falsely honor the Father to the Father. “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father Who sent Him.”

What of those who come to honor the Son and the Father? Those who do so come out of death into eonian life, God’s own life that He shares with His creatures even though they are not God and, unlike the Son, do not have this life in themselves. Those who do not yet honor the Father and the Son are raised to a resurrection of judgment, but by Christ’s explicit terms a judgment that did not result in those being judged coming to honor the Father would be failure by the Son; and if the Son did not intend them to come to honor the Father, that would be an unjust judgment by the Son! For the Son (as Jesus goes on to say in that fifth chapter) does nothing for Himself and brings those who do not yet honor Him to honor Him only so that the Father may be honored.

Does the one who honors the Son hear the word of the Son and so come to believe in the Father Who sends the Son, come into sharing the gift of eonian life from the Son? Of course! Thus the goal of the Judge’s judgment, being that all may honor the Father and the Son, results in those coming out of death into eonian life. And so Jesus promises, in this context, with the double Amen: an hour is coming when the dead ones shall hear the voice of the Son, and those who hear shall live! -- both those who already honor the Father and Son, and so who do the good things, and also those who have done the bad things and so who are raised to a resurrection of judgment. The goal of that judgment remains: so that all, including those being judged in the coming resurrection, may honor the Son and the Father and so pass out of the death into eonian life.

In a later incident, reported in John 6 where Jesus is disputing with His religious opponents again, He states that those who are given to the Son by the Father are saved by being dragged to Him -- and not even one person can come toward the Son if the Father Who sends the Son doesn’t “drag” Him. Relatedly, all that the Father gives to the Son shall come to Him, sooner or later, and shall not be cast out; nor shall the Son lose any of “the all” who have been given to Him by the Father: but that includes all those given to Him by the Father to be judged! Jesus even connects this raising (reported at verse 45 of that chapter) to the prophecy from Jeremiah 31:34 that all people from the least to the greatest shall come to YHWH to be taught by YHWH. Even those who are unjust? Yes! -- “for I will forgive their injustice, and their sin I will remember no more.” So Jesus isn’t talking about raising people who will never be given to Him, but about raising people who have not come to Him yet: but they will, and will be saved.

Again, reported a day before the death of Jesus on that final Passover, in GosJohn 12: when Christ drags all persons to Him by being “lifted up” (whether on the cross or beyond the cross, but not apart from the cross), that definitely involves a judgment of the world. Yet the Son, as Jesus says at the conclusion of His final public evangelism before His death (vv.47-50 of chapter 12), is not sent by the Father to judge the world, even down to the one who doesn’t maintain His declarations (which Jesus was also just complaining about His religious opponents, who ought to have been serving Him instead), but instead to save the world. And yet the Father does send the Son to judge the world! The “precept” given to the Son by the Father to be saying and speaking, the word which shall be judging those who reject the Son on the final day, is itself eonian life. But Jesus has also just said that He doesn't give this judgment to be judging the world but rather to save the world!

In other words, the judgment of the last day will itself be the gift of eonian life by the Son, and not with the intention of hopelessly judging the world but to save the world: to bring all persons to truly, not falsely, honor the Son and the Father together.

It is true that those being judged by the Judge Himself may still continue rejecting eonian life for a while. But every saved sinner was already rejecting the eonian life which God was insisting on giving to them, so it is not a case of God 'respecting' their choice to be finally unrighteous (as though He Who Is Essential Righteousness could ever be feasibly said to respect any choice of unrighteousness per se!) or He wouldn't be acting to save any sinner at all! But whoever is saved by the Son was and will be dragged by the Son toward Himself by being raised out from the earth. That isn't a passive offer by God which someone might refuse without God's active and continuing pursuit, and Jesus says the scope of the action is all not only some.

The judgment itself is eonian life, which God has been, and is, and shall be pressing those who don't yet have it to accept -- and whom God is dragging to accept. However long they refuse to accept it, their refusal doesn't prevent God from goading them to accept it until He gets it done. How hard it may be for them (or any of us) to kick against the goads, as Saul of Tarsus once did! -- but God accomplished His goading of Saint Paul, and God means to accomplish this goading, too.

Thus later that night before His Passover sacrificial death, Jesus starts His final prayer together with His apostles and disciples (minus Judas Iscariot, already off to betray his friend and teacher and king and lord), as reported in John 17:1-2: "Glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You; just as You gave Him authority over every flesh, so that He may give eonian life to everything You have given Him."

By those explicit terms, the only way that the Son and the Father may glorify each other is if the Father gives all authority to the Son so that the Son may give eonian life to everything over which He has authority.

That's the context in which Jesus soon afterward says He isn't praying for the world but for His immediate disciples: He's asking that they should be preserved as witnesses to the world, including about this, that the Father gives all authority to the Son so that the Son may give eonian life to everything over which He has authority. Similarly, as Jesus says here (and elsewhere before here), everything the Father gives the Son belongs to both Persons and must not, shall not, be finally lost.

By the same token, this means that although the "son of perdition" given to the Son to be guarded will perish, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, Judas still was also given to the Son and so shall not be finally lost; Judas Iscariot isn't among those whom Christ is praying will stay true for evangelizing the world, but he is among all those over whom the Son has been given authority for the purpose of giving them eonian life.

Today we celebrate the resurrection of the Judge Himself “out from among the dead ones”, as the scriptures often put it (in Greek, a little obscured by English translations usually). As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Ephesians, beginning in chapter 1, the secret of God’s will, in accord with God’s delight which He purposed in Him (the Father in the Son), is to “head up the all in the Christ”, i.e. to bring all things into the federal headship of Christ, “both that in the heavens and that on the earth” as the fulfillment of the ages -- the same Christ “in Whom our lot was also cast”. God operates all things in accord with the counsel {boulê} of His will {thelmô}: a will which up until the days of Christ had remained an obscure secret but which Paul now prays (in verse 18) that his Christian readers will be enlightened about, in the eyes of their heart, so that we will know what the hope of God's calling is: the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. This secret will to bring all rebels against God into loyalty, Paul goes on to say is not only in accord with God’s delight, but also in accord with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He (the Father) raised Him out of the dead ones to be seated in the right-hand of God, as the living power of God in other words.

This, Paul goes on to say (verses 22-23) is why the Father under-sets all {panta hypetaxen} beneath the feet of Christ and gives Christ to the out-called (probably meaning the church here) as head over all {kephalên huper panta}. Headship always implies (later if not sooner!) a proper coherent relationship to those under the head, and the relationship in this case is not merely to the ecclesia but to {panta}, all. It is as the head of all that Christ, Who (very emphatically) fills complete the completion of the all in all (verse 23), is given to the Church (over which Christ is also head of course) by the Father.

And who does Paul go on to say is also included under this headship that shall complete the completion of the all in all? Every {archês} and {exousias} and {dunameôs} and {kuriotêtos} (every original leader and authority and power and lordship) and every name that is named not only in this age but in the age to come -- using terms typically recognized in Pauline language as referring to rebel spirits (human or otherwise).

Since they are still rebelling and so are not yet under the headship of Christ in proper subjection to Him, much less completed to the emphatic extent of completion by Christ, such promises would be an example of assurance by prophetic promise: the fulfillment is as certain as if it was already fulfilled. And not incidentally, Paul's point here is to reassure the Christians in Ephesus and teach them to understand (what they had apparently not understood yet but which would be revealed to them eventually) the total extent of the hope of God's calling, the total extent of the glory of His inheritance to the saints, and the total extent of the surpassing greatness of His power into us {eis hêmas} the ones who believe in accord with the energy of the might of the strength of Him!

Just as the Father had the strength to raise Christ out of the dead ones, so He shall have the strength to do all those other things, too. But those other things explicitly include bringing the rebel powers under the headship of the Son so that God may fully complete them, too.

Paul prays back in verse 1:17 that "the Father of the glory" may be giving Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, enlightening the eyes of our hearts, into our perception of what we should expectantly hope about this calling. One way or another this would involve the Holy Spirit also leading Christians (sooner or later) to perceive both the utter extent of this evangelical expectation and its utter assurance of salvific victory!

(Admittedly, so far in Christian history most Christians tend to perceive one or the other assurance but not both; yet either side regularly recognizes that whichever assurance they perceive does come to them thanks to the operation of the Holy Spirit.)

Consequently, we who have been already saved have no right to boast about special privileges or merit. For (as Paul goes on to say at the beginning of chapter 2) we were also dead in our rebellions and sins, in which we also once walked according to the current age of the world, in accord with the prince of the power of the air, the rebel spirit now working in the sons of disobedience. We were ourselves by nature the children of wrath, too. But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we also were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ, saving us by His grace, and raising us up with Him to be seated with Him and in Him in the heavenly places -- so that in the ages to come He may use us as an example of the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus!

If us, who are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, who once were sons of disobedience and wrath, then also for anyone else who is without God in the world and who currently has no hope: no hope except for the grace of God, the Judge Who dies with us that we may live with Him together!

For we also were once far off and have been brought near by the blood of Christ on the cross, Who on the cross establishes peace between us, reconciling us to each other and to God through the cross. As it is written (in Isaiah 57, quoted by Paul in Ephesians 2), God punishes rebels even to death in order to lead them to repentance and salvation from sin, promising that He will surely succeed at this, thus comforting both the doers of evil who were punished by God to death, and the good people who are mourning over those who have sinned. The result is "Peace, peace, to those who are far and to those who are near", Gentiles and Jews becoming one people through the Messiah -- even though naturally, until those who insist on remaining wicked repent they can have no peace.

It is true that God is angry with sinners because of their injustice, and that after striking them and turning away His face they still continue turning away in their hearts (Isaiah 57:17), and God does see this: but even so God says through Isaiah He will heal such a sinner and lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners (those who weep because God has slain the sinner), leading the penitent sinner to praise Him instead. It is true that there is no peace for the impenitent wicked, who toss like a sea bringing up refuse and mud; but there will be peace when God finally leads them to be unjust no longer, reviving the hearts (v.15) of those whom God has made contrite or pulverized.

“For I will not contend forever,” God says through Isaiah in that chapter, “neither will I always be angry, for the spirit would grow faint before Me and the breath I have made.”

So let us have hope in God for those who have died: for the Judge Himself, the Only-begotten Son, voluntarily died on the cross, and rose to life again (as we celebrate this weekend and today): not only with and for the sake of victims of injustice, but with and for the sake of all who are doers of injustice!

And let us serve God in one of the purposes of the Church (as St. Paul says later in chapter 3 of that epistles to the Ephesians -- whom God later warned had set aside their first or primary love and so would be punished themselves unless they returned to that primary love, despite caring so much for truth that they would even test apostles),

in cooperation with the purpose of the ages which God the creator of all things brought about in Christ Jesus our Lord,

by making known the inimitable riches of Christ and the manifold wisdom of God,

not only to the Gentiles (as well as the Jews), but even "to the rulers and authorities in the heavens"! -- against whom we war as rulers of this present darkness.

For since the goal of making the inimitable riches of Christ known to Gentiles is to seek their salvation from sin, calling them to loyalty with the one and only God Most High, so the goal would be the same when making this known to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.

If they can, and by God’s intention shall, be saved, so will the firstborn sons of Egypt, slain long ago on the first Passover, be saved:

by the Judge Who died with them, and rose again from among them,

on that last and greatest Passover

we celebrate today!

Jason Pratt
Easter Sermon 2015


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

As usual I talk about the Greatest Hope in my holiday sermons; but I'm well aware there are many other scriptures (including in the texts I referenced) which seem to count against God finally saving all sinners from sin (even the devils).

I've been sllooowwwllly posting up several hundred pages of exegetical commentary on this topic here at my ExCom collection on the EU Forum, if anyone wants to read more of my work on that topic. The material already there is only perhaps 20% of my notes, much of which hasn't been posted yet, so if you don't see discussion on a scripture that doesn't mean I don't have notes on it.

(Been a while since I've done html code, but at worst it should still show the address link...)


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