ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS? INNOCENT QUESTIONS ABOUT GUILTY SENTENCES

What if sacrificial blood is associated with every salvation category in the New Testament?

Yet what if sacrificial blood represents life-from-the-dead, vivification, but never death, as such?

Thus, what if the resurrectionary power of divine life touches whatever the blood “sprinkles”?

Then what if the diversity of salvation associated with sacrificial blood (virtually every category) should be understood as rooted in and ramifying from the power of Christ’s resurrected life?

What if sacrificial blood is the Old Covenant ritual symbol of life-out-of-death, foreshadowing the Resurrection of Christ?

What if under the Old Covenant administration there could be no remission of sins without shed blood for the simple reason that such blood was the temporary ritual token of Christ’s life-from-the-dead, i.e., his resurrected living soul…now a life-making Spirit, toward which the whole Levitical economy looked for fulfillment as the true power source for taking away sins wholesale under the unconditional New Covenant yet to come?

What if the Levitical blood sacrifices were prophetic ritual rehearsals of Israel’s prime atrocity, culminating all its depravity in a single outrageous staging of human sacrifice as a once-and-for-all showdown that would unveil how God ventured to solve the agelong sin problem peaceably?

What if the reason God commanded some sacrificial blood to be splashed around the base of the altar is that, as a place of ritual wrongful death, the altar itself needed to be ritually atoned for, and only the blood (not the death itself) could do the job?

What if the cross “really works” to condemn sin, conquer Satan, and abolish death, not because it was right in any sense (not even substitutionally), but precisely because it was dead wrong?

What if Christ, in his sacrifice on the cross, was not bearing punishment for sins that others committed, but bearing sins committed against him, which themselves cried out for punishment?

In other words, what if Jesus was bearing crime, not punishment:  Israel’s unjust lethal assault by the hand of priestly representatives (at Satan’s bidding), which itself called upon God’s justice to avenge his innocent blood at their hands, consequently his sacrifice was not in the least penal on God’s part—in His eyes, intention, or reckoning?

What if, after all, God did not shed His beloved Son’s blood, nor did Jesus “shed his own blood,” as we sometimes say (but Scripture never does)—rather, others shed his blood?

What if Moses’ Law required victims to be overcompensated in order for justice to be satisfied?

What if God’s avenging of that innocent blood on Christ’s own behalf (premially) is, more than coincidentally, what inaugurated the New Covenant in that blood, by glorifying and awarding him the restitution of abundant life in the Holy Spirit to pass along, in love, to our mortal race?

That is, what if the New Covenant was inaugurated by the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, not at his cross, and that’s precisely why his blood may be said to “avail”?

And what if that blood, the cup of New Covenant blessings, along with its varied powers, is appropriated by us when we simply drink it worthily, by faith, in the risen Lord’s Supper, for a recollection of him, announcing his wrongful (not penal) death until he comes, by his blood getting shed criminally (not penally) for the sake of many, for the pardon of sins?

What if by “the righteousness of God,” as commonly but one-sidedly translated, the apostle Paul was not referring so much to the character quality as to an historic event—the event of Christ’s resurrection, which publicly and singularly exhibited God’s restorative premial justice?

What if the “righteousness of God” fell on the Third Day as rightful justice for Jesus?

What if Paul’s famous phrase “the righteousness of God” refers to God’s justice in action, revealed, manifested, and displayed by His raising Jesus from the dead, executed on the Third Day as restorative justice for His Son?

So what if Paul’s use of “the righteousness of God” has no direct reference to the cross at all?

In brief, what if “the justness of God” refers first of all to the Event that made it most famous:  His raising Christ from the dead?

Thereupon, what if such phrases as “justness of/for faith,” “faith accounted for justness [apart from works/acts],” the justness which accords with faith, etc., all refer to Christ’s just-award, the Gift of the vital power of God’s resurrectionary public justice—the Holy Spirit—now graciously poured out upon us, encompassing every spiritual gift and blessing of the New Covenant, as promised by God “to [eis]” and “on [epi]” our faith?

What if the Gospel of “the righteousness/justice of God,” from another perspective, is simply the proclamation of His righteous fulfillment of His ancient covenanted promises, first of all to Abraham concerning descendants and a Promised Land, then to David concerning Seed Royal who would save Israel, and ultimately to everyone who possesses the faith of Abraham, concerning the Gift of the Holy Spirit of adoption, the down payment of the inheritance of everlasting life in the Messiah, which all nations can now access by faith and immersion into Christ’s faithfulness and divine favor, divine power, indeed, even participation in divine nature?

What if the only thing that could really satisfy God’s justice was to welcome His Son alive and well back Home, restore his fortunes, exalt him over his enemies, and then kindly show them mercy so they could repent and be saved…and even share his good fortune?

What if Jesus never asked God for mercy, but his sinless blood did cry out for just avenging?

What if God’s justice was only “satisfied” by the resurrection, not by the cross at all, and therefore Christ’s resurrection is actually the paramount judicial act of God?

So, what if God’s justice fell not on a hill far away, but on the Third Day?

What if Paul never used such phrases as “Christ’s righteousness” or “the righteousness of Jesus/Christ,” etc., for the simple reason that he intended by “the righteousness of God” to denote the Father’s restorative justice toward the Son (and through him dispensed to others of faith) in distinction from the Son’s obedience of faithfulness toward the Father?

What if Paul’s famous reiteration of “the just shall live by faith,” which so resonated with Martin Luther, refers in the first place to the Lord Jesus himself—the Just One, who due to his own faithfulness to God was raised to superabundant life?

What if Paul’s strategically repeated phrase, “the faith[fulness] of Christ,” refers to Jesus’ own covenantal response to God’s will and promises, but does not include our faith in Christ, which is usually denoted by a different preposition and occurs abundantly throughout the New Testament for a complementary purpose?

What if, in fact, Paul is framing “God’s justice” and “Christ’s faithfulness” as covenantal correlates in order to highlight and epitomize their respective, discrete mutual obligations in the full process of our salvation?

What if, in view of the fact that a truly Just Man had finally shown up in Israel, Yahweh could finally break with long grim tradition and, instead of the routine curses, unleash wholesale the blessings He had vowed to give to any perfect Covenant-keeper?

What if Jesus, by his Covenant faithfulness, won all the promised blessings of the Old Covenant (so inaccessible to any mortal sinner) so that he could prudently give them away for free to repentant Covenant-breakers on the gracious condition of mere faith alone, by having negotiated via covenant renewal a New Covenant no longer liable to default by human failure?

What if the cargo to be conveyed in salvation is Christ’s own personal just-award of damages from God, transferred through him as Mediator of this fresh, new, better, everlasting Covenant to all believers—the stipulated beneficiaries—instead of our punishment getting transferred to him?

What if the uniquely Protestant expression, “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness,” has served to obscure Paul’s teaching that the Gift of Holy Spirit constitutes the subjective contents of God’s justness (via Christ’s just-award redistribution) within believers/saints?

What if such imputation theology all comes down to artful accounting—“cooking the books”?

What if one person’s sin, guilt, or punishment cannot economically, legally, or morally be accounted, imputed, or transferred to another person, yet one person’s reward, by contrast, can be further distributed at its recipient’s discretion?

What if the alternatives reduce down to:  either Christ’s sufferings were undeserved by him but borne as a substitute in the place of sinners who did deserve them, and then rationalized to benefit sinners somehow, or Christ’s sufferings were undeserved by him and hence deserved compensating justice from God to repay him with an extraordinary award of damages that could be transferred to whosoever will receive them by faith?

And what if such abuses of imputation also undermine the apostle Paul’s categorical declaration that our faulty human faith is imputed or accounted for justness precisely because it is not a work at all, so it accords fully with God’s graciousness?

What if God chose faith as His condition for selecting sons and heirs because it is not a work at all, but a work-stoppage or Sabbath, thus it cannot render God indebted to sinners on account of their work, yet it does necessarily obligate Him on account of His own voluntary, oath-bound promise to Abraham to reward his faith with the status of justness, and thereupon confer life?

What if the stimulus that generates faith is simply the vital power of the Gospel story about God the Father raising up His Own wickedly sacrificed Son instead of—that is, “as a substitute for”—destroying the wicked, so that this Story itself gets accorded the distinctive credit for conciliating God’s enemies peacefully, without any violence from His side, then turning them into friends?

What if the sin that kept Moses out of the Promised Land was that he “struck the rock twice,” i.e., in wrath, thus, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me before the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I will give to them”?

And if God’s holiness was compromised because Moses represented God as wrathful when He was in fact not, then what if the doctrine that God poured out His wrath on His own sinless Son in order to vindicate His holiness likewise compromises that holiness and makes God indignant, yet praying, “Hallowed be Your name,” rehabilitates the graciousness of God’s premial justice?

What if the only enmity at the Cross was between Satan and Christ?

What if Isaiah, in 53:4, “And we account him assaulted, struck by God and humbled,” is faithfully reporting Israel’s false imputation of divine enmity and wrath toward His Servant, due to their forensic blindness to God’s ways of wisdom?

What if God “desires to crush” (Isaiah 53:10) him whom He actually highly favored, because of the extraordinary good that He planned to bring out of it to bless and benefit multitudes more?

What if the word “cross” itself is mentioned exactly nowhere in the book of Acts?

By stark contrast, what if every one of the eleven Gospel presentations in the Book of Acts without fail emphasizes Christ’s resurrection, and most of them more than once, for a grand total of twenty-seven references in only eleven speeches?

What if Paul dispensed with any word for cross or crucifixion in his epistle to the Romans?

What if Paul’s unique expression, “word (logos) of the cross,” although launched in 1 Corinthians 1:18 already, he strategically delayed elaborating until chapter 15 (“the Resurrection chapter”) so that in the meantime he could correct his spiritual offspring about crucial ethical matters without prejudice, since they had become ensnared by anti-resurrection doctrines that Apollos introduced in the church at Corinth?

What if Paul never wrote, “If Christ has not gotten crucified, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins!” but instead said, “If Christ has not gotten raised, vain is your faith—you are still in your sins!”?

What if the cross alone is never said to be the “power of God”—only “the word of the cross” is?

What if the “word (logos) of the cross” can be spelled:  R E S U R R E C T I O N ?

What if the cross is never depicted in earliest attested Christian art before Constantine?

What if the New Testament contains virtually no “theology of the cross,” since its focus is riveted on Christ’s resurrection from the dead instead?

What if the cross was necessary in order to certify Christ’s real death, and so reinforce the authenticity of his extraordinary resurrection from the dead?

What if the cross was the fulcrum to leverage the resurrection, because you can’t proclaim a plausible resurrection without a successful crucifixion?

What if, by means of the cross, the ancient Serpent bruised Christ in the heel, yet by his resurrection, Christ bruised that Great Dragon, called “Adversary” and “Satan,” in the head?

What if the cup that Christ drank was not of God’s wrath, but rather the bitter cup of those prophesied afflictions from the Devil, as did Joseph and Job, but with no holds barred this time around, so as to win a more extreme prize, proving that God is for the underdog who endures faithful?

What if the cross was the arch-exhibit of Satan’s rage and fury, whereas the resurrection was the landmark exhibition of God’s grace and favor, which, to be sure, was abundantly present at the cross as well (in order to sustain the Lord in his trial), yet strategically hidden by God’s wisdom?

What if the obedient Boy must be killed or the Father’s transcendent resurrectionary justice must lay dormant forever, along with all its ultra-compensating hope and redemption for the cosmos?

What if God’s wrath against sin is sufficiently revealed by His myriad punishments shown throughout history (particularly Israel’s), so that the cross (at which Israel committed its greatest sin) was designed to reveal, by contrast, the very opposite:  the Lord’s mercy for not calling more than twelve legions of angels to destroy those tormentors (merely Satan’s dupes, after all)?

What if the cross was violent because sinners “needed” to vent their enmity in order for God to leverage His readiness to forgive even such a nefarious misdeed by showing His miraculous power to set matters right even after the fact, and thus God was playing to our human weakness?

What if God’s justice was “revealed from heaven” as life-raised-from-the-dead for the One who was “just by faith,” in fact, who was “the Inaugurator and Perfecter of faith,” “who, for the joy lying before him, endures a cross”—a joy undimmed by God’s wrath?

What if there was no outpouring of God’s wrath at the cross, no punishment, no condemnation, no penal judgment—in fact, no justice whatsoever, either from God or human?

What if Christ was wrath-proof due to his perfectly faithful obedience, especially under extreme trial, so that whatever suffering he endured could only have been wrongfully inflicted, hence he remained beloved, God’s delight, ever in His favor, all the way through his well-pleasing sacrifice, and all the more so when temptations to revile and threaten became more severe?

What if we are safe from God’s wrath if we are baptized into and remain in Christ by faith?

What if Christ tasted wrongful sufferings and death in the graciousness of God so as to mature his faith through hard discipline?

What if the odd Levitical curse for getting hung on a tree was unjustly evoked (atypically, not for sinful behavior), and was overturned by the more ancient precedent of God’s Covenant promise to Abraham (whose faith was counted for justness) that his Seed would outnumber stars and sand—thus pre-empting any lethal late-coming curse (much less any alleged accompanying wrath), even as Christ’s Melchizedekian status and standing outranked any Aaronic pretensions?

What if the conciliation “we now obtained” equates to the solid realization that in fact God, for His part, does not harbor hostility or enmity toward sinners, and thus has no need to be reconciled with us, but rather only aches to conciliate us to Himself in grace and peace?

What if Scripture never teaches that “God was reconciled” to human beings or sinners?

What if the “grace and peace” from God and the Lord Jesus, with which Paul, Peter, and John almost invariably open their epistles, and the “peace” of God with which they, along with Hebrews and Jude, usually close them, instead of requiring a monumental display of God’s wrath and violence toward the Lord Jesus Christ, really only demand a credible demonstration of grace and peace in order to prove it plausible to sinners?  (Is this a no-brainer or what?)

What if forgiveness, after all, didn’t have to wait for someone blamelessly innocent to suffer as a substitute for sin, or what other blessings of our salvation would in that case likewise depend on substitutionary punishment to be deployed—specifically, was God’s expression of grace dependent on His wrath getting exerted in order to satisfy His honor, holiness, or penal justice?

What if the active ingredients of the Atonement are not wrath and violence from God, in the least, but the diametric opposite, grace and peace from God, which were exuberantly unveiled following Christ’s resurrection as the divine answer to all the Satanically inspired human wrath and violence at the Cross?

What if grace and peace did not, after all, come by wrath and violence from God—for otherwise wouldn’t the Gospel harbor a preposterous absurdity that would undercut its inner consistency, integrity, and credibility?

What if Adam’s descendants are not bearing the penalty for Adam’s sin, but instead are bearing collateral suffering or evil effects of his sin, even as the children of an abusive parent may suffer many a sinful assault yet remain innocent, not guilty of their parent’s wickedness, regardless of agonizing delays until the long arm of the law finally catches up to penalize the guilty parent?

What if, in the Old Testament, God’s “bearing” the iniquity/sin of His sinful people (as He so often did) equates to “forgiving/pardoning” them, and is usually so translated in such cases?

What if bearing a sin implies suffering whatever collateral evil consequences it may cause?

What if Aaron remained “Holy unto Yahweh” despite his duty to “bear the iniquity of the holy things,” because bearing the sins of others does not necessarily make a person guilty of sin for doing so—far from it!—it is often a magnanimous act, well pleasing to God?

What if the damage sustained by the first Adam’s descendants cannot properly fall under the rubric of punishment for his disobedience, nevertheless, whatever benefit redounds to sinners from the second Adam does properly fall in the category of reward for his obedience?

Since Christ fulfilled Isaiah 53:4a (“He our infirmities got, and the diseases he bears”) by miraculously expelling demonic spirits and curing illnesses (Matthew 8:16-17), then what if he similarly fulfilled Isaiah 53:5,6,11,12 (“…he was wounded from our transgressions and crushed from our depravities…Yahweh Himself causes to come upon him the depravity of us all…with their depravities he himself shall be burdened…he himself bears the sin of many…) by miraculously rising from the dead, thus both morbidity and mortality melt away miraculously?

What if sin was “condemned in the flesh” when Christ was “justified in Spirit” as the “life-making Spirit” of the better, New Covenant at his resurrection, hence God never “needed” to condemn the Savior in order to condemn sin?

What if the Old Testament type was simply a makeshift stopgap—a substitute—for the New Covenant Antitype until he should finally appear in the flesh?

What if “the death of the animal sacrifice” is a substitute for the death of the Lamb of God, not “a substitute for the death of the sinner”?

What if perfectly good animals (living-souls), “flawless” and “without blemish” (physically), could not properly be ritual substitutes for Abraham, Isaac, et al, since no human soul is perfectly good, i.e., “blameless” and “sinless” (morally)…well, okay, except for Jesus?

The point:  what if the offering was not a shadow of, or substitute for, the offerer, but the ultimate Offering, the Lord Jesus Christ, who did fulfill all conditions?

What if the Passover lamb, the daily sin-offerings, and the identical goats on the Day of Atonement were all temporary animal substitutes, prophetic stand-ins, for God’s own Lamb, who would actually, really and truly take away sins, not partially, cheaply, substitutionally?

What if the twin goats on the Day of Atonement denote the twin epicenters of the Atonement—wrongful death by bloodshed and rightful resurrection to new, enlarged life, free from captivity (unlike sheep, goats are renowned wilderness survivors)?

What if the Levitical ritual of “laying hands on the head” of the sacrificial animal was the prophetic type of the priests laying treasonous hands on their own Messiah (anointed Head) to surrender and sacrifice him?

What if just because the ancient animal sacrifices were substitutes for the Lamb of God, doesn’t mean Jesus was the “ultimate Substitute,” but rather the ultimate Sacrifice to end all substitutes?

What if Christ’s crucifixion was prefigured and appropriately termed a sin-offering (chattath/hamartia) precisely because it was a sin (chattath/hamartia)—the Supreme Sin—demanding speedy divine super-compensation to rectify it?

 What if that rectification of the unjust human (Satanic) guilty verdict and death sentence against Christ soon showed up in the startling form of rightful resurrection—certainly a “sufficient satisfaction of justice” (premial) for the Victim, but simultaneously a “good-enough substitute” (penal) for rightful execution of the offenders?

What if Christ’s resurrection was ironically substitutionary in the sense that it was mercifully executed instead of, and in place of, the destruction of his murderous enemies in order to morph them into friends, for Heaven’s premial sake—the diametric opposite of penal substitution?

What if this stunning upset play, rather than the alleged exchange of “our guilt for Christ’s righteousness,” was the authentically biblical “joyous exchange” (“fröhliche Wechsel,” à la Luther) that so amazingly revealed God’s love and mercy to the world?

What if no rationally calculable exchange rate is conceivable between “the degree of Christ’s sufferings” and “the number of sinners his redemption can buy”?

What if all the evil that was done to Jesus, culminating in crucifixion, was a divine set-up so God could work it together for the incomparable good of all mankind, come Pentecost and beyond?

Ergo:  What if raising a murder victim from the dead nullifies any legal necessity of judicially avenging the victim with the death of the capital offenders?

What if integral distributive justice encompasses both penal and premial facets—in other words, is double-edged, symmetrical, congruent with the curse/blessing sanctions in the Old Covenant?

What if God’s integral Covenant justice (i.e., both penal retribution and premial restitution) is designed to play out as punishments/curses for the sinners who deserve those, but also as rewards/blessings for the righteous/just who deserve those, as the case may be?

What if, instead of giving Christ “what we deserved,” at the cross, God gave him what he himself deserved, at the resurrection, thereby both reversing fortunes and sharing the bounty?

Conversely, what if God, with His Son’s uncoerced prior agreement, strategically allowed and authorized him to suffer from Satan what he did not deserve, precisely so that He could unload His overcompensating premial justice on that single flawless Covenant-keeper who ever lived?

What if God graciously includes us, the undeserving, in the Covenant blessings that the Covenant-keeping Savior exclusively deserved, through the graphic means of water baptism?

What if Paul’s characteristic “in Christ” language is baptismal imagery, referring to the entire creation-renovating contents of the salvation into which we get immersed, namely, the Holy Spirit—the down payment of the future complete inheritance in Christ?

What if Jesus came to baptize both in Holy Spirit (the just-award of premial justice) and fire (the punishment of penal justice) because God specified him to be Judge of the living and the dead?

What if grace characterizes God’s premial justice, even as wrath characterizes His penal justice?

What if Christ never got “punished in our place,” yet we do get rewarded in his place, as portrayed by baptismal inclusion in his wrongful death and compensating rightful resurrection?

What if Jesus, getting baptized by John though he had no sin, was not identifying with sin, but with our sorry plight, saying, “I’m all in!” and joining us in our deserved judgment, which for him was undeserved, so was repaid when God justified him with life-making Spirit to baptize us?

What if Christ, on the cross, was not “identifying with” either the guilt of sinners, nor their sin, nor their deserved punishment, but now indeed does simply welcome all people to “identify with” his own undeserved death and well-deserved resurrection, by means of faith and baptism?

What if the Bible’s angle on Atonement should be characterized not as “penal substitution,” but as “premial inclusion,” so aptly depicted in water baptism and realized in Spirit baptism?

What if there was no need for any payment for sin’s debt at the cross, because there was more than ample repayment for its injuries at the resurrection, and that made all the difference?

What if the finite terrestrial crime of the cross was repaid to Jesus at a super-compensatory rate in accord with the celestial appraisal of God’s fully restorative premial justice?

What if the New Testament teaches that Christ “bought” and “paid for” sinners, yet never that he “paid the penalty” or “satisfied the debt” of their sins, but instead simply forgives them, just like his Father does (and like all God’s children who are maturing in love should learn to do)?

What if God’s entire ethic of forgiveness is founded not on His Son’s paying Him back for His losses from infractions against His honor, rights, or property, but much rather on His own letting go of His honor, rights, and property…including surrendering even His own precious Son to the tender mercies of envious, malicious rivals, precisely so He could prove to the wondering universe His persistent tough love and genuine mercy against the worst odds imaginable?

What if it seems more in Character for our Father in heaven to forgive without payment than to “forgive” after payment—or is He obliged by some postulated “moral order” to somehow, somewhere, somewhen receive payment before He can forgive “justly”?

What if Jesus taught that to become perfect and holy like our Father in heaven is perfect and holy, we must learn to pardon outright those who ask our forgiveness rather than demanding them to pay us back for the loss first, because after all, children of God are “not simply loving, but also holy” like our heavenly Father is holy, who accordingly pardons like this?

What if being “not only loving but also holy” does not mean that we are bound to demand repayment or punishment for every debt or injury, as we have been taught a “holy” God does, but that we are bound to show mercy to those who repent and entreat us to forgive them?

Hence, what if it is morally incoherent to conceive that God’s holiness requires free forgiveness, yet in the same breath insist that God’s holiness requires that He somehow punish every last sin?

What if downplaying the fact that the Lord Jesus himself was rewarded for doing good actually undermines our own human incentive to do the good works God intends us to “walk in”?

What if God—His entire contents—was in Christ on the cross, Himself absorbing the cost that released the world from debt, not accounting their debts to them, but sacrificially conciliating the universe—He simply “ate the loss” (to get all technical), thus Christ wasn’t paying God to do it, he was demonstrating God doing it?

What if our liberty was won not by Christ satisfying any debt of, or paying any penalty for, sins, but by God awarding him the superabundant endowment of life-giving Holy Spirit when he was glorified, for his willing obedience to endure even a hyper-undeserved crucifixion for others?

In fact, what if “pay”/ “payment” never occurs among some thirty Greek word families that the Holy Spirit specifically associated with sin in the New Testament to elaborate upon its remedy?  Not once.  Ever.  Did I say never?  ’Cause I meant never.

What if our Savior died for our sins yet never paid a shekel for them, so there is no Biblical warrant for teaching that sins got paid for at the Cross?

What if, in fact, the Atonement was not accomplished on earth at the cross (O.T., altar) at all, but before the throne of God (O.T., Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle made without hands, in Heaven?

Oct. 8,12-16,19-20,26,29-30, Nov. 5,17, Dec. 2, 2017

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