PAUL’S VIEW OF JESUS CHRIST: XIV
Paul did not, nor could he write an orderly account of Jesus the Son of God. He found it impossible to put the “One” in whom the fullness of God was into a letter or even into a dissertation. It was like putting an ocean into a coffee cup. The immensity and the match up is beyond all human comprehension. With Paul, we all nibble on “tiny bits and pieces.” Even the crumbs, which fell off Christ’s table, were more than sufficient for Paul to pen these words:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:16, which was preserved for us, he wrote this, “From now on, therefore, we regard on one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer.” The Jesus, the Emmanuel, who walked the dusty roads of Galilee, was no longer on earth, but He is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). With the help of Paul, we only can sample what pertains to us. Yet, these “bits and pieces” of Jesus’ dusty walks on earth are more than sufficient for us to believe in and to gain access into Christ’s world. To follow Paul — he left us this message:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you; immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:1-11).
Who is this Christ? Who can live among us human beings? In contrast to Christ’s enormity, we are but tiny specks of dust. It is Jesus, the Christ, who showed us how it is possible! And it was Paul who received the gift of explaining it:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience to the faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6).
Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but have emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bin heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
Paul believed that Christ’s death was necessary for Christ Jesus to preach to the dead, who had fallen asleep before Christ Jesus came into the world to preach to the living. The dead were not dead — they were asleep. The “soul or the breath of life” did not die, but the “soul or the breath of life” returned to God. The writer of the Book of Job believed:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then without my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
The pyramids in Egypt bear witness to the belief in an afterlife. King David believed that his soul would not remain in Sheol:
I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure. For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit (Psalm 16:8-10).
Paul, too, believed that he would sleep with all the other believers before Christ returns, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (I Corinthians 15:51-52).
Christ had a relationship with the living and with the dead. That was — while Christ was regarded as being dead, He actually was alive — visiting those who were sleeping in Sheol. They were awaiting “Christ’s Coming!” Paul writes, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9-10). The Apostle Peter expressed a similar belief:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which (in the Spirit) he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly dd not obey. When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for your conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (I Peter 3:18-22).
The “Resurrection,” and the “Return of Christ” from the dead, proved to Paul and to all the believers, that life in the hereafter is a reality. Like Peter, Paul linked baptism as literal evidence that the souls, who depart in Christ, would share in “Christ’s Glorified Life.” Some of the Corinthians required much convincing, which is no different from us today:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, your faith is futile and you are still in our sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life we who are in Christ have only hop, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order. Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdoms to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
But when he says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone.
Otherwise, what do people means by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why am I in peril every hour? I pretest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Come to you right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame (I Corinthians 15:12-34).
In Romans five, Paul summarized the entire process of the “Redemption” Christ had to accomplish in order for the believer to follow if he is to gain his own “Redemption.” In many ways, the believer’s journey into the kingdom of heaven is identical to the “Life of Jesus” as the Savior Himself. Everyone must bear his own cross, just as Christ did. While we live on this earth, there is no “Redemption” without some tough sacrifice.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love had been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if man died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1-21).
This faith! What does this faith require to be and to stay saved? It begins by believing in our hearts and to confess with our lips — but — this faith also demands that we sacrifice our bodies for the Lord. Therefore, that means, we must be ready to die for Christ, who is our way to salvation:
But what does it (the scripture) say: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13).
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
What did Paul mean by being “saved by grace through and not of works?” But then, Paul insists that we put our bodies to work! What did Christ really secure for man in His work of “Redemption?” By securing mercy, forgiveness, and by His atonement, Christ did appease God’s anger. Paul’s most crucial explanation for the remedy of man’s sin, which leads to eternal separation from God, is found in Romans:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
Paul was addressing his own Jewish people, who were led to believe that their offerings, their rituals, and their sacrifices appeased God. In the process, they disobeyed the Law and the warnings of the Prophets. For instance, circumcision, strict obedience to the “Sabbath Laws,” or the washing rituals, before and after meals, were acceptable deeds for being righteous. This kind of law became self-serving and this was regarded as loving God and their neighbor, who only were Jews. They actually were abandoning and distorting the real Law (the Ten Commandments). The Jews abandoned the real Law of Moses — they replaced the Law with their own traditions. Hence, the Jews, like the Gentiles (who were conscious of justice without the law), sinned. The Jews fell far short of glorifying God, in whose image and in whose likeness all human beings were created. So, because of God’s love and God’s grace — God gave all human beings a gift. Therefore, God’s grace is a prescription to man! And if man takes that prescription and uses it, man will become healed and will become righteous again; and therefore, man becomes acceptable to God. The medicine is Jesus the Christ — the expiation or the propitiation that buys man’s forgiveness for his sin, provided that man takes the medicine and lives by the medicine. The Greek word, which describes the process of man’s redemption is “hilasterion.”
“Hilasterion” is not a simple free gift of forgiveness or redemption by God, but the gift “hilasterion” is the most demanding compliance of rescuing a life from eternal damnation. If man does not take the medicine and follows the prescription, man dooms himself. The “hilasterion” is the medicine (Christ) that sets man free from doom, or from eternal death. If man wants to live in eternity; then, man must take the medicine (Christ) and man must live in Christ. God, in Christ, has provided the means of “Redemption,” but only man alone can take the medicine. And only man alone can set himself free! If man does not take the medicine (Christ), then — it is man who bargains with his life and man puts his soul at risk. I am a survivor of cancer, over twenty years, I know what it means to face eternity in Christ. And I can not to take a bag of sins with me. The only way I can free myself is when I stop sinning. Paul on sinning wrote:
Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).
The author of Leviticus records when “The Day of Forgiveness” became a law.
And Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and his house. Then he shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of the fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small; and he shall bring it within the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat which is upon the testimony, lest he die; and he shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.
Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood within the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat; thus he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins; and so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which abides with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. There shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar which is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat; and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:6-22).
Solomon turned the simple “Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Sacrifices” into a temple with very costly sacrifices. These sacrifices broke the people’s back. And as a result, ten tribes separated from Judah. These ten tribes set up their own gods. It was the misuse and the abuse of religion, which contributed the fall of Israel.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, the they will be your servants for ever.” But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them. “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put upon us?”
And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you lighten it for us’’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions’” (I Kings 12:6-11).
King David, the founder of the nation of Israel as a monarchy, himself became an idol of worship. The people of Israel were enamored with materialism at the cost of losing God. By the time of Isaiah, Yahweh sent a dissatisfied message to Israel and Judah:
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am wary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they all become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:11-20).
The Prophet Hosea was told to say to Israel and Judah:
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:4-6).
Following Hosea, the Prophet Micah was sent to proclaim:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8)?
To be fair, forgiveness requires “Grace and the Law” because without “Grace and the Law,” forgiveness becomes partial in favoring likes and dislikes. In the Hebrew tradition, “Grace” itself is defined as granting favors. In particular, God was believed to favor Israel or Jacob over Esau. For instance, “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How hast thou loved us?” “Is not Esau your brother,” says the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau; I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Malachi 1:2-3).
To assure fair justice, immediately after the flood of Noah, God gave man a very simple law. He established a covenant with Noah as follows:
Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image (Genesis 9:4-6).
If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23-24).
The initiation of the “Atonement” by Moses was guarded by the ten impartial and neutral Commandments. The “Ten Commandments” show no favoritism, not even to God. The love a person has for God must be the same love for oneself, and for a total stranger. In the Hebrew faith, the “Ten Commandments” were to govern grace and forgiveness. Therefore, the “Ten Commandments” also are the secure guides for gracious Christians.
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
‘You shall have no other gods before me.
‘You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that if in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
‘Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
‘You shall not kill.
‘Neither shall you commit adultery.
‘Neither shall you steal.
‘Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
‘Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s’ (Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
It all is summed up in the “Commandment” to love impartially. The “Commandment” to love impartially proves to be the most difficult for most human beings. And this was and this still is especially true for the Jewish people, who think of themselves as being favored by God. The “Grace concept of being favored by God” is not redemptive! Neither does the belief of being favored by God promote forgiveness. And without forgiveness — reconciliation is not possible. For that reason, Christ Jesus introduced a “Redemptive concept of Grace” that was based on faith and not works. It became Paul’s task to explain the relationship between “faith, grace, and works.” In Ephesians Paul reminds us, “Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:1-32).