Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 11

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

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 with a “price” (Luke 1:68, 2:38, 24:20-21; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23; 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:20-21; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4; Rev. 5:9, 6:10, 14:3-4), yet never that he “paid the penalty” or “satisfied the debt” of their sins, but instead simply forgives them like his Father does (and like all God’s children who are maturing in love should be learning 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 maliciously envious rivals, precisely so He could prove to the wondering universe His persistent tough love and genuine mercy against the worst odds imaginable, and thereby even win the additional love and praise of former enemies?

What if the Gospel simultaneously teaches, demonstrates, and empowers the ethic of Jesus?

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 a postulated “eternal moral order” to somehow, somewhere, somewhen receive payment before He can forgive “justly”?

After all, what if God is “faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice” (1 John 1:9; Rom. 3:25-26)—how exactly does that work…?

What if in Jesus’ parable of the king and the indebted slave (Matt. 18:23-35) the king actually had it right the first time, when he was merciful and forgave the slave who merely entreated him for patience to allow him to repay (whereas the king graciously decided to absorb the cost personally and simply remit the loan in its entirety…), or did the king have a relative handy who could subsidize, indemnify, or pay him back for his losses to the debtor, and yet (by some intra-trinitarian abara c’ dabara) still allow him to claim extra credit for pardoning him as well?

What if the only necessity urged in the parable is that “it was binding [edei] to be merciful [eleesai]” to others if you have been shown mercy, even if to do so entails some loss to yourself, yet without any hint of some necessity to get paid back fully, come Hell or global warming?

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, and therefore pardons in such a manner?

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?

What if the only wrath (orgistheis) in the parable (Matt. 18:34) is actually expressed by the king toward the debtor’s unmercifulness to other debtors, not toward his indebtedness per se?

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 a penal atonement spoils the true spirit of Christian personal and social ethics, for it showcases a Savior who not only was not requited (komizo) with wages (misthos) or reward (misapodocia), nor recompensed (antapodidomi) or paid (apodidomi) by God for his superior service, but instead was consigned to a cross in order to suffer God’s wrath in order to pay back God the Creator by himself (were it even possible, Rom. 11:33-36) for the cosmic sin-debt incurred by human beings, so God gets off the hook without having to forgive anything at all?

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 (2 Cor. 5:19, cf. Col. 1:19-20), Himself absorbing the cost that released the world from debt, not accounting their offenses to them, self-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?

But since God can be two places at once, what if He was also outside of Christ, doling out wrath on…Them Both—you know, to pay for sin and all that?  On second thought…

That is to say, what if the cross did not somehow “bring,” “effect,” “secure,” “achieve [complete],” “enable [final],” or “provide [full]” forgiveness of sins—instead, these words are linguistic substitutes, decoys, red meat thrown around to distract us from all the clues pointing to the cross as an actual bona fide revelation, manifestation, display, or demonstration of God actually forgiving His embittered enemies, and not merely a penal substitutionary mechanism, instrumentality, or expedient to “get there from here”?

~~ To be continued ~~


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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 10

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if “the forbearance of God” in “passing over the penalties of sins which occurred before” Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 3:25), like the other virtues with which forbearance/tolerance (anechomai/anoche) is associated—kindness, patience, amenableness, humility, love, peace, blessing others, pitying and tender compassions, dealing graciously, enduring persecutions, not reviling in return, not threatening others, not avenging oneself (Rom. 2:3-6; 1 Cor. 4:12; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-15; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rom. 12:17-21; Gal. 5:22-6:2; 1 Pet. 2:20-25, 3:8-18)—is of one piece with the justness (dikaiosune) displayed by God at Christ’s resurrection, although, to be sure, the latter overwhelmingly transcends all the former in magnitude?

In sum, what if God did not need to “pay back” or “hang in effigy” those earlier sinners to “show His hatred for sin,” since He’d devised a way to pay back the Sinned-Against so as to swallow up any deserved wrath by overwhelming graciousness…abundant enough to cover the sins of “the current era” (Rom. 3:26) in the bargain (getting raised from the dead is such sweet revenge)?

Thus, what if Paul is here unveiling God’s premial rationale:  a resurrectionary act of justice that packs enough punch to fund all that historic forbearance in “passing over” past sins (all of which were committed not only against the Father, out of Whom are all things, but also against the Son, through whom all things were made—John 1:1-5; Rom. 11:33-36 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3, 2:10-11, 11:2; 1 John 1:1-9), namely, by bestowing resurrectionary justice that awarded the divine Victim directly (instead of penal justice to punish him indirectly, as a mere substitute)—a rationale equally applicable “in the current era,” and which would render God most eminently just?

What if integral distributive justice must encompass both penal and premial/restorative facets—in other words, it is double-edged or symmetrical, congruent with God’s curse/blessing sanctions in the Old Covenant?

What if, in Romans 2:32, 5:16,18, and 8:4, dikaioma (whose ancient meaning has been very diversely rendered:  “righteousness,” “act of righteousness,” “act of uprightness,” ”righteous act,” “righteous deed,” “establishment of righteousness,” “accomplished righteousness,” “recovery of righteousness,” “righteous result,” “righteous judgment,” “judgment,” “judicial decision,” “righteous sentence,” “sentence,” “sentence of absolution,” “verdict,” “justification,” “justifying,” “God’s approval,” “undeserved gift of ‘Not guilty’,” “acquittal,” “declaration of ‘Righteous’,” “right standing,” “establishment of right,” “establishing of right,” “re-establishing of the right,” “restoration of the right,” “amendment of a wrong,” “legal ordainment of the law,” “legal claim of the law,” “legal deed of right,” “plea of right,” “pleadings,” “document [in a suit],” “fulfilling of the law,” “legitimate claim,” “righteous award,” “righteous demands,” “righteous requirement,” “just requirement,” “duty,” “God’s standards,” “God’s law,” “ordinance,” “decree”—so much for consensus!) can be narrowed by its cultural sitz im leben and these particular contexts to its forensic sense of the just due judicially decreed by law to recompense a defendant’s deed(s)—whether penalty or reward, depending on the criminal deserts or legitimate claims of the individual defendant (hupodikos, Rom. 3:19), according to God’s judgment, such that Paul’s meaning here may most accurately be distilled as “just deserts,” which in Christ’s particular case (not being liable to lawful penalty) would equate to legal damages, i.e., a “just award,” conferred in his favor?

And hence, 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 authorized (John 10:17-18) him to suffer from Satan what he did not deserve, precisely so He could unload His ultra-compensating 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, by means of the graphic rite of water baptism?

What if Paul’s characteristic “in Christ” language is baptismal imagery, referring to the entire creation-renovating contents of our salvation-of-such-proportions policy package (Heb. 2:5) into which we get immersed, namely, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11, 28:19; Mark 1:7-8, 16:14-20; Luke 3:16; John 1:32-34; Acts 1:4-5, 2:38-39, 8:14-17, 9:17-19, 10:37-48, 11:15-18, 16:30-34, 19:2-6, 22:16; Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:3-5; Col. 2:9-13; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), the down payment of the future complete inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), so human options reduce down to either live in Christ or die in Sin?

What if Jesus came to baptize both in the Holy Spirit (the just-award of premial justice) and in fire (the punishment of penal justice) because he was specified by God to be Judge of the living and the dead (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:16-17; Acts 10:42, 17:31; John 5:21-22; Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; 1 Pet. 4:5-6)?

What if the Holy Spirit just so happens to testify to these factors as well (John 16:7-11)?

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, by getting baptized by John although he had no sin to repent from or get forgiven for, was not identifying with our sin, but with our plight as sinners, in effect saying, “I’m all in!” and so joining us in our deserved judgment ordeal, which for him was undeserved and would be super-compensated when God justified him by a vast overflow of life-making Spirit to baptize us?

What if Christ, on the cross, was “identifying with” neither the guilt of sinners, nor their sin itself, nor their deserved punishment, yet now indeed does welcome all sinners 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 by water baptism and realized in Spirit baptism?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 9

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the prophetic enlargement upon the manifold unjust sufferings that the Servant of Yahweh willingly and nobly bore, simultaneously from and for his wayward people, which won him exuberant favor and ultra-compensation from God in return for all his troubles—enough to justify life forever for sinners who would grasp this conciliatory gesture?

What if the two massive multi-volume compilations of ancient and medieval Christian commentators on Scripture by Thomas C. Oden (Inter-Varsity, 2007), an evangelical Methodist and ardent penal substitution advocate, and Robert Louis Wilken (Eerdmans, 2007) were not able to come up with even a single line of commentary on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 that could be construed as penal substitutionary except the words of Theodore of Heraclea (d. 319):  “He bore the sum of human evils and every form of transgression as well as their recompense and punishment” (Oden, p. 164) and of Augustine (354-430):  “having paid for crimes against God committed by all humanity” (Oden, p. 170), neither of which have the faintest foundation in the “pattern of sound words” in Paul’s writings or any other Biblical Scriptures?  (Nice try.)

What if 1 Peter 2, 3:8-4:2,12-5:12 was the apostle’s deliberate elaboration on especially this crucial point of unjust suffering in Isaiah’s most famous passage, rather than on anything penal?

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

Accordingly, what if the ram in the thicket on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:13) was an animal substitute for Christ on Mount Calvary, not a substitute either for Abraham or for his son Isaac (who was himself but a sinful surrogate for God’s own Son—highlighting the emotional depths God would go to save us), and whose human sacrifice would have been an abomination to God, as indeed Christ’s was (which helps account for the three-hour darkness shrouding that scene of horror: Matt. 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45), only without the happy ending?

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?

In other words, what if the offering was not a shadow of, or substitute for, the offerer, but for the ultimate Offering, the Lord Jesus Christ, who did fulfill all such conditions?

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 and bring all the forfeited blessings of the violated Covenant?

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 (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:10; Acts 13:38-39), cheaply, substitutionally, and thus bring life?

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 it doesn’t take a “Substitute” to bring salvation and life, but rather a Savior?

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 (goats, unlike sheep, are renowned wilderness survivors)?

What if only Christ, “the Lamb slain” (Rev. 5:6,8-9,12, 13:8), by dying and living to tell about it (Rev. 1:18, 2:8), could fulfill the tandem functions of the twin goats on the Day of Atonement?

What if the Levitical ritual of “laying hands on the head” of the sacrificial animal (Ex. 29:10,15,17; Lev. 1:4, 3:2,8,13, 4:4,15,24,29,33, 8:14,18,22, 16:21, 24:14) was the prophetic type of the priests laying treasonous hands on their own Messiah (anointed Head) to surrender him (Matt. 17:22, 26:45; Mark 9:31, 14:41; Luke 9:44, 22:21,53, 24:7; John 10:39) and sacrifice him (Matt. 26:50; Mark 14:46; Luke 20:19; John 7:30,44, 11:47-53)?

What if Christ’s crucifixion was prefigured and appropriately termed a sin-offering (chattath/ hamartia, LXX) precisely because it was a sin (chattath/hamartia, LXX)—the Supreme Sin—demanding speedy divine super-compensation to rectify (Luke 18:7-8)?

 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 (2 Cor. 5:15) 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 his crucifixion, was a divine set-up so that God could work it all together for the incomparable good of all mankind, come Pentecost and beyond (Rom. 8:28-39), recollecting Joseph’s flash of insight in Genesis 50:15-21?

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?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 8

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if death was inherited from our original progenitor Adam (through whom sin entered the world) by the ban from the Tree of Life, whereupon (epho) everyone sinned willy nilly (Rom. 5:12), i.e., what if “original sin” is a phantom, whereas the biblical facts point to “original death” yielding bondage to sin’s reign by instilling fear of death (Rom. 5:21; Heb. 2:14-15)?

What if Adam’s descendants are not bearing the penalty for Adam’s sin, but instead are suffering the radiating collateral evil effects of his sin, even as the children of an abusive parent may suffer many sinful assaults 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 (Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ez. 18:1-19-31)?

In fact, what if, in the Old Testament, voluntary “bearing” (nasa) of the iniquity/sin of another person equates to “forgiving/pardoning” that person, and is usually so translated?

What if bearing a sin entails suffering the collateral evil consequences it may cause?

So, what if the only New Testament passages that use this expression (Heb. 9:28 and 1 Pet. 2:24) likewise should be interpreted as Christ (and God in Christ) pardoning the deplorable national sin that rendered the crucifixion a sin-offering, and by that conciliating act of peacemaking, beseeching the whole doomed world for Christ’s sake, “Be conciliated to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)?

What if Aaron remained “Holy unto Yahweh” despite his duty to “bear the iniquity of the holy things” (Ex. 28:36-38; Lev. 10:17-18), because bearing the sins of others does not make a person guilty of sin for doing so—far from it!—it can be an act well pleasing to God (Ez. 4:4-6)?

What if this means that the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement was likewise holy because it bore the iniquity of the people of Israel (Lev. 10:12-20, 16:20-22)?

So, what if this means that Christ remained holy while suffering the iniquitous assaults from Jews and Romans, so could not possibly have “become sin,” but rather “became a sin-offering,” i.e., the One-Sinned-Against?

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 under the category of reward for his obedience?

What if to suppose both the first and second Adam punished breaks the marvel of sustained antithetical parallelism and destroys the dialectic showcased in Paul’s sevenfold layering of logic in Romans 5:15-21, whereby in each of these seven verses he variously drills the identical contrasting correspondence epitomized by 5:19:  “even as through the disobedience of the one person the many were constituted sinners, thus likewise through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just,with no implied parity of punishment whatsoever (which would heavy-handedly overrule heuristic exposition with dogmatic imposition)?

What if “Christ is the end of the Law for justness” (Rom. 10:4) precisely because “the just-award of the Law” (Rom. 5:16,18, 8:3) that he alone could rightly claim for faithful obedience to God’s will (Rom. 5:16,18,19 8:3; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8-9, 10:5-14; John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38-40, 8:29, 9:31-33), and for which God’s justness duly super-compensated him (Rom. 5:17,21, 8:10), namely, the covenant-promised Gift of the vivifying Holy Spirit that raised him from the dead (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), he turned right around and dispensed for free (2 Cor. 3:3-18) to his believing brethren, apart from “works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16-5:14; Rom. 3:21-24), in order to fill them (Rom. 8:3-17), so they can walk in that same Spirit of love (Rom. 5:5; Eph. 5:28-33) bearing all the fruits of the Spirit, against which there is no law (Gal. 5:14-6:2)?

Since Christ fulfilled Isaiah 53:4a (“He our infirmities got, and the diseases he bears”) by miraculously expelling demonic spirits and curing illnesses (Matt. 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 (Is. 53:10b-12a, 52:13), thereby abolishing and swallowing up death in victory and simultaneously condemning sin, which can only reign in death, and whose power is the Law, the just-award of which Christ had won hands down (Rom. 8:3, 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:21-26,54-57), and thereby both morbidity and mortality melt away miraculously?

What if, in accord with the Patristic epitome that “What Christ does not assume, he does not heal” (Gregory Nazianzus, Epistle 110; Theodoret), so, by the logical law of conversion, what Christ does heal (consummately!) via his resurrection—namely, his Adamic mortality—he must have assumed, i.e., Adam’s “body of death” = “the flesh of sin” (Rom. 7:24, 8:3)?

What if sin was “condemned in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) when Christ was “justified in Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16) as the “life-making Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:43-45, 2 Cor. 3:3,6, 13:3-4) of the better, New Covenant (Heb. 7:11-28) at his resurrection, hence God never “needed” to condemn the Savior in order to condemn sin?

What if the world (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, ostentation of livelihood) was conquered in Christ’s own mortal flesh by his perfect learning of obedience (1 John 1:7-9, 2:12-14, 4:4, 5:1-8; Rev. 3:21), enabling him to defeat Satan at that last great trial (1 Cor. 10:11-13) and cast him out of the world by obedient endurance of the cross (John 12:31-33; 1 Cor. 2:8; Heb. 2:9-18), which God swiftly repaid by resurrection, thus swallowing up death decisively, including sin, which can only reign in death (Rom. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:55-57)?

What if Christ’s two-fold victory over Satan’s temptations—at the outset of his ministry, but ultimately at the appointed time of the cross (Luke 4:13)—equates to his condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3), the judging of the world, the expulsion of Satan (John 12:31), the erasing and nailing to the cross of the handwriting of Jewish decrees (Col. 2:14-15), and the “killing the enmity” in his circumcised Jewish flesh (Eph. 2:15-22) that had perennially separated Jew from Gentile?

What if at the Cross, in one fell swoop, Christ gained a decisive and total victory over Moses’ Law (with its curses), Satan the Tempter, along with the sovereignties and authorities in high places, plus Death and Sin—all by surrendering himself to be murdered by those he came to save and then waiting for God to justify him to new, immortal life (with a generous surplus to throw a gigantic giveaway) and exalt him to a throne of sovereignty, authority, honor, glory, and majesty over all things—a compound conquest completed, however, only in the aftermath of his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 8:1-3; Eph. 2:13-18; Col. 2:8-3:5)?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 7

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if Christ tasted wrongful sufferings and death in the graciousness of God so as to mature his faith through hard discipline (paideia, Ps. 105:22 LXX; Is. 53:5 LXX; Heb. 2:9-18, 12:1-11; Rev. 3:19; in classical antiquity, just preceding translation of the Septuagint, paideia denoted training or education in Greek culture, art, science, etc., not penal chastising)?

What if the “smoking stove and fiery torch” that appeared when the sun went down and a “darkening [flame, LXX] came,” and passed between the severed halves of the sacrificed animals during the cutting of the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:17), were not signs of God’s wrath but of His acceptance, as when fire would fall from heaven to consume well-pleasing sacrifices (even as with the tongues of fire at Pentecost, betokening cleansing for service as living sacrifices), plus divine graciousness in the midst of “the dread of looming darkness” (Gen. 15:12), prophetic of the 400 years of humbling slavery (Gen. 15:13), followed by analogous events at the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 19:18, 20:18-21), for “afterward they shall come forth with a great many goods” and “you shall come to your fathers in peace” and be entombed “at a good greyhaired age” (Gen. 15:14-15)—all tokens of God’s favor?

What if the odd Levitical curse for getting hung on a tree (Deut. 21:22-23) was unjustly evoked (Gal. 3:13—atypically, not for sinful behavior), and was overturned by the more ancient precedent of God’s Covenant with Abraham (Gal. 3:15-29), whose faith was accounted for justness (Gen. 15:6)—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 (Heb. 5-7; Ps. 110)?

What if Moses’ curse simply can’t hold a candle to God’s oath to Abraham (Gal. 3:5-19; Gen. 15, 50:24; Ps. 105:8-11,42; cf. 109:28-31)?

What if the conciliation “we now obtained” (Rom. 5:11) equates to the solid realization that in fact God, for His part, does not harbor hostility or enmity toward sinners, so does not need to be reconciled with us, but only desires to conciliate us to Himself in grace and peace?

What if Scripture never states or implies that God was reconciled to human beings or sinners?

What if such a notion is only a hypothetical “necessity” of the economic-legal framing of the penal substitution theory, but has no support in apostolic Scripture?

What if the Gospel reveals a God Who can reconcile because He can recreate, Who can give in, even give up, because He can give back?

What if that conciliation amounts to accepting the conciliatory terms and measures God initiated to placate our alienated race, namely, that His Son, “given up (ekdotos) in the specific counsel (boule; cf. Isaiah 53:10,11, LXX bouletai) and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), God Himself surrendered (paradidomi) to the tender mercies of his foes (Rom. 4:25, 8:32; cf. John 3:16), in concert with Christ’s willingness to surrender (paradidomi) himself into the hands of sinners for our sakes (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 5:25), and give (didomi) his soul a ransom to redeem many from sin (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:14; Gal. 1:4)—yet without a hint of wrath toward them, and certainly not toward himself, in the process—becoming thus impoverished in order to enrich us as co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 8:9)?

Indeed, what if quite a diverse group got in on the action of surrendering Jesus—not only the Father and the Son, but also the disciple Judas (Matt. 10:4, 17:22, 20:18-19, 26:2,15-48, 27:3-4; Mark 3:19, 9:31, 10:33, 14:10-44; Luke 9:44, 22:4-6,21-22,48, 24:7; John 6:64,71, 12:4, 13:2,11,21, 18:2-5,30-36, 21:20), the chief priests, elders, scribes, and Sanhedrin (Matt. 27:1-2,15-18; Mark 10:33, 15:1,9-11; Luke 18:32, 20:19-20, 24:20; John 19:11; Acts 3:13), plus the Roman Procurator Pilate (Mark 15:15; Luke 23:17-25; John 19:16)?

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 them plausible to sinners?  (Is this a no-brainer or what?)

What if shalom is actually a Hebrew economic term for a state of harmonization, equilibrium, balance, or stasis of economic obligations and satisfactions finding just, equitable resolutions without need for intrusive interventions or war to avenge imbalances and restore peaceful order?

What if forgiveness did not have to wait until someone blamelessly innocent came along to suffer as a substitute, 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 undercuts its inner consistency, integrity, and credibility?

What if in the actual historical denouement of Jesus’ prophetic parable of the vineyard owner (Matt. 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-20) God did not, after all, immediately destroy His Son’s murderers, but instead, in place of their well-deserved deaths, as a substitute for their timely destruction, He gently brought His precious Son back to life and declared a reprieve of one generation to give the killers time to repent before wreaking due wrathful vengeance upon the incorrigible by “surrendering” (paradidomi, Rom. 1:24,26,28) them to their self-invoked curse (Matt. 27:24-25; Acts 5:28) in a horror of unspeakable self-inflicted atrocities such as the nation has never experienced before or since (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-9, 21:20-24, 23:26-31; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 2 Thess. 1:4-10); however, divine wrath against His Son—what conceivable utility could that have, and what prophet ever announced such a travesty?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 6

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

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 (Gen. 3:14-15; Rev. 12:9-11)?

What if the cup Christ drank (Matt. 26:37-46, Mark 14:33-42, Luke 22:41-46), which so “disturbed” (John 12:27), “overawed,” and “depressed” him—“Sorrow-stricken is my soul to death” (Matt. 26:37-38; Mark 14:33-34)—was not God’s wrath, but the prophesied bitter cup of afflictions from Satan, as with Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 39:19-23; 50:19-21; Ps. 105:17-22) and Job (!), but with no holds barred this time around, so as to win a more extreme prize in his battle victory over Satan at the cross, proving God is for the underdog who endures faithful?

What if the cross was the arch-exhibit of Satan’s rage and fury (Rev. 12:12,17), 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, to sustain the Lord in his trial (Heb. 2:9-18, 4:14-16, 5:7-14), but was strategically hidden then by God’s wisdom?

What if Jesus stayed put for two days (John 11:6) before proceeding to raise Lazarus from a death he could have prevented (John 11:21-26,32,37) for the same reason his own Father waited two days before raising him from a death He could have prevented—for the greater credit of God, for Heaven’s sake (John 11:4,40, cf. 9:3-5, 12:23,28, 13:31-32, 17:1-5)?

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 pawns, 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 did not “choose so violent a means of reconciliation” as such, He simply chose a supreme blue-ribbon opportunity allowing His extraordinary conciliating touch, for Heaven’s sake, i.e., He needed suitable material to mold and stage a salvation Event of memorable dimensions, and nothing less horrific could leverage so great a salvation?

What if God needed a paramount episode of official, public, excruciating injustice in order to certify the wrongful death He had been planning to reverse since before sin entered history?

Conversely, 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” (Heb. 12:2), 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 being?

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 (Matt. 3:17, 12:18, 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 2 Pet. 1:16-18; Col. 1:19), ever in His favor (Heb. 2:9; Eph. 1:5-6; Phil. 2:8-9, 1:29), all the way through his well-pleasing sacrifice (Eph. 4:32-5:2; Phil. 4:18; Rom. 12:1; Heb. 11:6, 12:1-2,28, 13:16,20-21), and all the more so when temptations to revile and threaten became more severe (1 Pet. 2:19-23; Ps. 105:17-22)?

What if God was hyper-pleased with and copiously rewarded Jesus precisely because he did not return reviling for reviling, much less avenge himself (as he had the right to) but instead bore it all, and even made intercession for his foes, dying without an unkind word on his lips, therefore God brought him back for a curtain call—so it’s in his reward that we get justified and our sins washed away, because of God’s justness in him “acted out” so graphically (Gal. 3:1)?

What if we are safe from God’s eschatological wrath, then, if we are baptized into, and stay in, Christ by faith?

What if we are called to “be drinking the cup” that Christ drank (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39) and “be baptized with the baptism” that Jesus underwent (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50), then shouldn’t we likewise suffer God’s wrath as he was said to, or does this parallel fall apart?

What if we who wish to follow Christ are called to bear our cross even as Jesus did, then are we likewise called to bear God’s wrath as he is alleged to have done, or does this analogy inexplicably break down here, too, and we get off cheap?

What if the author of Hebrews stressed that Jesus “endures [hupemeinen] a cross, despising the shame [aischunes]” (Heb. 12:2), but missed a golden opportunity to mention the allegedly more efficacious wrath of God—something kinda’ crucial to some folks?

What if James, the half-brother of Jesus, similarly refers us to “the endurance [hupomonen] of Job” (James 5:11), to admonish us by his “example of suffering evil and patience” (5:10), along with the many “prophets who speak in the name of the Lord.  Lo! We are counting those happy who endure” (5:11), yet neglects to mention all the “wrath of God” Job was put through?

Or what if all Job’s suffering was an unsuspected encounter with Satan instead, whereas in hindsight we can now see “the consummation of the Lord” in awarding Job over the top for his sterling, if flawed, endurance (Job 42:10-17) of undeserved trials by the Wicked One—“for very compassionate and pitiful is the Lord” (5:11), and “No trial has taken you except what is human.  Now faithful is God, Who will not be leaving you to be tried above what you are able, but together with the trial, will be making a sequel also, to enable you to undergo it” (1 Cor. 10:13)?

But what if Christ’s trial was not merely “human” but more than human—then did that “extra” consist in his additionally bearing God’s wrath, or rather in his undergoing Satan unleashed, since God had charged Satan, “only keep his soul [alive]” (Job 2:1-6) in the case of the all-too-human Job, who in the end confessed, “I recant and repent on soil and ashes” (Job 42:6), whereas Jesus declared that he had come “to give his soul a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45) as a Good Shepherd (John 10:10-18) for his sheep, since he had the authority from his Father, and for which the Father loves him, because this is what a person does for friends (John 15:13) and family (1 John 3:16), since this is how we conquer Satan (Rev. 12:11)?

What if both the ordeals of Job and of Jesus, in view of “the consummation of the Lord” (James 5:11), are meant to heighten our expectation that God will certainly come through for us if we similarly bear our own crosses in vivid view of the glorious outcome?

What if, unlike Job, whose benefit from undeserved suffering accrued to his own family (cf. also Ez. 14:14-20), and unlike Joseph, his distant relative, whose benefit from undeserved suffering in Egypt accrued to a whole nation, our Lord Jesus Christ suffered without breaking down into a sinful reaction or casting blame—for the benefit of the whole blamed world?

Alas, what if Job’s “comforters” were compelled to offer up ascent offerings on their own behalf, “For you did not speak concerning Me what is rightly so as My servant Job has done” (Job 42:8), indeed, even daring to “teach” Job that he was suffering the wrathful displeasure of God (Job 20:20-29, etc.) so that if Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were found guilty of false doctrine concerning the wrath of God, then how much more are modern theologians and ministers guilty of teaching that God’s wrath was poured out on His beloved Son?

~~ To be continued ~~

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Calling All Saints! Calling All Saints! — Part 5

A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)

What if a chief function of Luke’s record in the Acts of the Apostles “whom [Jesus] chooses through Holy Spirit, to whom he presents himself alive also, after his suffering, with many tokens, during forty days, getting visualized to them and telling them that which concerns the kingdom of God” (1:3), building as it does on Luke’s Gospel (24:43), is to serve as a repository of public testimony (1:22) to the apostolic “teaching…and announcing, in Jesus, the resurrection from the dead” at the end of the age (4:1-2), which Jesus’ own resurrection confirms, for our assurance and consolation:  “And with great power the apostles rendered testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord.  Besides, great grace was on them all…” (4:33)?

What if the Holy Spirit was commissioned to corroborate with additional power of signs and miracles Christ’s own testimony about everlasting life (John 5:36-44, 8:12-18, 10:25, 15:26-27, 18:37) as well as the apostles’ testimony about his life from the dead (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8, 2:30-33, 3:12-15, 4:33, 5:30-32, 10:38-48, 14:3, 15:7-9; 1 Cor. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:6-14)?

What if the centrality of such resurrection testimony is emphatically confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament:  John 5:39, 15:27, 21:24; 1 Cor. 1:6, 2:1-2, 15:15; 2 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 2:5-7; 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Heb. 11:1-12:2; 1 Pet. 5:1; 1 John 1:1-2, 4:14, 5:5-13; Rev. 1:2,5,9, 2:13, 8:14, 6:9, 12:11,17, 17:6, 19:10, 20:4, 22:16-17?

Oh, and did I forget, what if the four Gospels stand as towering interdependent testimonies to the incontrovertible resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from an officially certified execution?

However, what if there is no mention of the cross or crucifixion (stauroo/stauros, xulon, prospegnumi) at all in the apostle Paul’s weightiest epistle, to the Romans, his landmark elaboration of the Gospel?

What if, by stark contrast, words and expressions referring or alluding to resurrection proliferate (egeiro, anistemi/anastasis, haima, zoopoieo, zesetai/zoe (ek nekron/aionion), dikaiosune (tou theou), dikaioma, anakainoo/kainotes, sozo/soteria, apolutrosis, huiothesia,  doxa/doxazo, elpis/elpizo, epaggellomai/epaggelia):  Rom. 1:4,16-17, 2:7,10, 3:24-25, 4:17,24-25, 5:9-10,15-18,21, 6:4-5,8-11,13,22-23, 7:4,6, 8:2,4,6,10-11,13,15,17-19,21,23-27,29-30,34, 9:23, 10:1,7,9-10,13,15, 11:11,14,26, 12:1-2; 13:11, 14:7-9 15:4,13) and constitute his pervasive centerpiece?

What if the unique expression, “word (logos) of the cross,” although launched in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul 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 semi-gnostic, anti-somatic, hence anti-resurrection doctrines that Apollos learned from Philo in Alexandria and 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!” (1 Cor. 15:17)?

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

What if the New Testament never attributes power to the cross, but only to the resurrectionary “explanation of the Cross” (1 Cor. 1:18), to the testimony, explanation, declaration, proclamation, or heralding of the risen “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23-24, 2:1-5), of the risen Christ (Acts 8:4-19, 10:36-47; Rom. 15:18-20), of the risen Jesus (Mark 16:6,14-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 4:1-14, 6:8-14; Rom. 1:2-4,16), of the risen Lord (Acts 19:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:3-15; 1 Tim. 1:8; Heb. 2:3-4), of the risen Son (1 Thess. 1:5-10; 2 Pet. 2:16-18), of the living God (Heb. 6:5, cf. 4:12), of the Kingdom of God and the name of the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12-13; 1 Cor. 4:20), to faith in the living God (Heb. 11:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:5), or simply to God’s raising the Lord and us to life (1 Cor. 6:14, 15:42-43; 2 Cor. 13:3-4; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 7:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:3)?

What if the cross is virtually never depicted by Christians in the earliest attested Christian art (whether catacombs, baptisteries, early house churches, etc.) before the era of Constantine?

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

What if in the New Testament the cross is an Event, certainly; an Ethic, without a doubt; but never an Emblem, and definitely not a Theology?

What if the cross only became an Emblem, under Constantine, when it stopped being an Ethic, and thereafter was ripe for mutating into a Theology?

What if the death of the Cross is encompassed in the Resurrection, but not the other way around?

What if  “the apostolic preaching of the cross” is a full-grown oxymoron ready for sacrificing?

What if in the absence of a sound theology of the Resurrection, Martin Luther’s doctrine of the Atonement fractured into a paradoxical, cheerless, comfortless theologia crucis on the one hand, and on the other hand deteriorated into reviling every “theology of glory,” by which he meant every fumbling attempt to rise above his approved “three uses of the Law” to grasp a lifestyle of walking in the Spirit—the gifts and the fruits alike, drawing from the cornucopia of Christ’s resurrection power?

What if the cross is not self-explanatory (as the theologia crucis seems to presume) but demands an explanation or reason (logos) that accounts for its necessity—the most “necessary evil” of all?

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 that leveraged the resurrection, because you can’t get behind proclaiming a plausible resurrection without a successful crucifixion?

~~ To be continued ~~

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