The heir of the universe

Part of the Turin shroudMost of the material on this site is designed to show how the story of heaven and earth – of the world that science illuminates – has a beginning consistent with what Scripture reveals about the beginning. But a further purpose is to explain that the story has an end. This end can only be understood in relation to the man Jesus (in his own language, Yeshua) who appeared at the end of the ages in order to offer a perfect sacrifice for sin and to make known the will of God for both the present and the age to come. An important theme of his teaching is that he would return.

Modern civilisation has misunderstood the nature of reality. It makes out that the universe is billions of years old, that it consists only of things detectible by scientific methods, that the breath of life (which gives us consciousness) is no different from what is not life, and that human beings have an evolutionary history pushing their identity back, through apes, fish and bacteria, to chemicals in the sea. The truth is different. The universe was created. It consists of things visible and invisible, physical and spiritual. Every new animal receives life from God, and the genealogy of all human beings goes back to him. We say these things, not as statements of mere theology, but as truths consistent with what is known about the world.

The body is made from nature’s elements (the ‘dust’), but it is God who breathes the spirit of life into the body growing in the womb. The miracle of creation continually repeats itself. It is manifest all around in the things he has made: the trees, the flowers, the mountains, the stars, notwithstanding that nothing is as it was at the beginning.

But we all die. The flesh is corrupt, and it corrupts the spirit. Consequently the world does not recognise its Maker and suppresses the truth about itself. We need to be renewed with a spirit that is holy. Jesus Christ came to grant eternal life to whoever thirsts for such life. In the nature of creation, those who are born into the world have no choice whether they are born or not. Therefore, in this time of temporary existence, God gives us a choice.

The Son of God

Christ is the only-begotten (Gk: monogenos) son of God. From the beginning God had many sons, but Christ was his firstborn and the only one to be later begotten in the womb. He was with God from before the foundation of the world, and shared in his father’s glory. Whoever believes in him becomes a son of God by adoption, and at the resurrection he is glorified: he receives an incorruptible body and has perfect fellowship with his Maker. The mission of Christ is to bring many sons to glory. He came down from heaven, to take a natural body and suffer death in our place. Sent for that purpose, he made the journey in reverse.

A son is not greater than his father. He comes after him, and owes his life to him. So Christ owes his life to his father. He is called the firstborn of all creation because he was the first to be given life, and his glory was something given. The very concept of sonship – of imparting life to a new being – comes from this relationship that God instituted before anything was made. Christ was before all things, but not before his father, for a father who does not precede his son is a logical absurdity. To teach this (as some do today) is to empty the concept of all meaning. Those who receive the spirit of sonship from the Father become Christ’s brothers; they do not become brothers of the Father.

After John the Baptist, the first to perceive that Jesus was Son of God was Nathaniel, who saw him as fulfilling a prophetic tradition that Israel’s final king – the Christ – would be a son not only of David, the founder of the royal line, but of God himself. The claims of Near Eastern kings to be born of a divine father were false. There would only ever be one king who could rightfully claim to rule the earth on behalf of the God of heaven, and that right had to be bestowed by God himself, who had told David, “One of your sons will build a house for me, and I will be a father to him, and he a son to me.” Although not lacking in vainglory, none of the kings descended from David appropriated that status. Solomon fulfilled the prophecy inasmuch as he built for God a physical house, but ultimately the tiny nation of Israel looked for a greater figure, one who would also fulfil these words: “Today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

It was Jesus who turned out to be the one foreshadowed. Coming down from heaven, he was begotten of a divine father and born of a human mother. The angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and bear a son, who will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” But the angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Being begotten of the Holy Spirit, Christ was both man and God. On both the father’s and the mother’s side, he was the son of God in both flesh and spirit.

The Son of Man

Vitruvian man (Leonardo da Vinci)Just as God was his ultimate as well as immediate ancestor, so also man was his ultimate and immediate ancestor. He most frequently referred to himself as the Son of Man, and like much else about him, this title has not been well understood. It was not a reference to Daniel’s vision of one ‘like a son of man’ who, coming before the throne of God, received authority to rule over the nations, but to the eighth psalm. It was an affirmation of the fact that he was fully man, through Mary his mother and Adam the father of all humanity. He was fully man and fully God, for in Adam the two natures were one. God expressed his nature in human form , and expressed his perfect spiritual nature in one who was descended from the first man, ‘Adam, the Son of God.’

‘Adam’ in Hebrew is the same word as ‘man’. ‘When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Adam [man].’ Thus in referring to himself as not merely a but the Son of Man, Jesus was stating that he represented man as well as God, thereby affirming that man’s ancestry itself went back to God. Similarly, he is called the second, or last, Adam, for there are but two representatives, the mortal and the immortal, and as in Adam all die, so all who are in Christ will be raised to eternal life. You are either in one or in the other. Christians should be under no illusion about the theological nature of Darwinism. It is as anti-Christian as Islam is, which also denies that Christ was the son of God. In Christ, God appeared in human form: therefore the human form is a divine form. In teaching that man descended from the apes, and that there is no Creator, Darwinism attacks Christianity at the very root.

The Lamb of God

The Jews’ belief that their Messiah would be a second Moses went back to a passage in the book Deuteronomy, where Moses told Israel: God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you. Although in the period of the kings many prophets arose, from Elijah in the 9th century to Malachi in the 5th, and all spoke with authority, none were recognised as fulfilling Moses’ words. After the kings, Judah became subject to a succession of foreign powers. What people hoped for was a leader who would liberate them in the same way as Moses liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

In the opinion of orthodox Jews today the prophecy remains unfulfilled – a failed prophecy, given the amount of time, not to say suffering, that has supervened. However, some first-century Jews, having heard him and seen his works, believed that Jesus was their uniquely ordained leader. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” lamented two of his followers as they talked with another traveller on the road to Emmaus. They had not grasped that his crucifixion was not the end, that it was death itself he had conquered. The stranger joined them for supper. As he broke the bread on the table, it dawned on them that this was the same Jesus they had known in life, now resurrected with a new body. It was death he had conquered. The liberation he had brought about was spiritual, not political, and in due time they would see that it was for all the nations, not only Jews.

During Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period the Israelites were slaves. Egypt had forgotten its debt to the deity who, under king Senusret III centuries earlier, had rescued them from famine. A later pharaoh now feared that their increasing population threatened the state’s security. Without wishing to liquidate this inexpensive labour force completely, he ordered that every male child of the Hebrews be left to drown in the Nile. At that point Yahweh, the Creator who had also created Israel, intervened. At his instruction Moses ordered the pharaoh to allow the Israelites to go into the desert and there worship Yahweh. It was a demand the king could not agree to. “Who is this Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and release his people?” In response to his refusals a series of plagues devastated Egypt. They culminated in the death of all the country’s firstborn, from the firstborn of the king on the throne to the firstborn of the slave girl behind the hand-mill. This last plague would have struck the Israelites too, but God instructed each household on the appointed day to sacrifice a lamb, to roast and eat the flesh, and to smear the blood on the doorpost and lintels of their houses. The lamb died in their place.

So Israel was given a national leader who delivered them from slavery. Their salvation was not only a deliverance from human tyranny and physical hardship; it save them from death, the ultimate fate of every soul. That required an expiatory sacrifice which Moses himself could not provide. Indeed, since death is the consequence of human sin, no animal could adequately stand in the place of the human sinner.

In AD 30, in the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Jesus Christ offered an atonement that was perfect and comprehensive. Through his death he conquered the one who had the power of death, the dark ruler of the world beyond its visible forms of authority, and thereby he effected a second Exodus. Like Moses, he made known the way to please God. Like Aaron, he was the high priest authorised to enter his sanctuary as the representative of humanity, this time breaking down the wall of division between man and God. He appeared once, at the consummation of history, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself.

The Firstborn from the Dead

His victory death had effect for the past as well as the future. ‘When he ascended, he led captivity captive.’ He went down into Hades and released many of Israel’s children from the sleep of death, so that they were raised with him, including the thief who died on the cross next to him. He also released many souls that had perished in the antediluvian world. Having died and risen, he became the first to be reborn. Those whom he ransomed became the firstfruits of his resurrection, as he himself was the firstfruits.

His victory procured rights which he did not have before. His father raised him to the place of highest honour and authority: the seat on his right side, far above all rule and power and dominion. We think that we govern ourselves, but in fact as individuals we are slaves to sin. As nations we are ruled by unseen powers. At the resurrection those unseen princes became subordinate, though they did not yet lose their power. All kingship and authority in heaven and on earth, were given to him.

The King of Israel

Magi from the East, coming to look for him, asked to see one born king of the Jews. Their study of the stars indicated a paradox, since normally one only succeeds to the throne on the existing king’s death: a point not lost on Herod, the Romans’ client king of the Jews. Much like the pharaoh who wanted all male Israelite babies drowned in the Nile, he ordered every infant boy in the neighbourhood to be killed. Jesus’ parents escaped with him to Egypt, and after Herod’s death they returned home, to Nazareth. There Jesus grew up, learned from his father the trade of carpenter and trained as a rabbi.

Inscription erected by Pontius Pilate At the age of thirty he received divine authority to begin his ministry, being anointed at the river Jordan with the Holy Spirit. Throughout the land of Israel he preached about the kingship of God and how it related to the Law of Moses. The rich would be turned away; the poor in spirit would be blessed.

His teaching on righteousness irritated the religious leaders. He was critical of their influence, and although they had the support of tradition, he performed works of miraculous healing that were difficult to dismiss. Ordinary people received him well. In his fourth year of ministry he publicly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, in deliberate fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy about its coming king. Perceiving the significance of this enactment, the crowd strewed palm branches before him. A few days later he was arrested. Since he offered no resistance, his disciples deserted him. Trials were hurriedly arranged, first before the Jewish high priest and then before the Roman governor. The former found him guilty of blasphemy, the latter found him innocent of all wrongdoing. So far as the people were concerned, the Roman governor’s failure to see him as an enemy also counted against the accused: they rejected Jesus and had him crucified.

The Jews, it must be remembered, were only part of Israel. Following the death of Solomon in 931 BC, Israel had split into two, a northern kingdom consisting of ten tribes, and a southern kingdom comprising the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In 721 BC the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and many of its inhabitants permanently exiled: the northern tribes never returned to the land. Only the southern kingdom was left to carry on the name of Israel, and in 587 BC it was destroyed as an independent kingdom by the Babylonians. That remained the situation in the time of Jesus. He could not have become ‘king of Israel’ for the simple reason that Israel no longer existed.

So it follows that he will not reign as king of Israel until he returns to Jerusalem and the whole nation is raised from the dead. The title ‘Christ’ is a continual reminder that one day he will come back to claim the kingdom. God has sworn: the offspring of Israel will always be a nation before him, just as certainly as the Earth daily rotates before the sun. He will clothe their dry bones with flesh and restore them to their land.

The King of the Nations

Christ will return to Jerusalem. His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives so that it splits and becomes a wide valley. With him will be the ‘saints’, his bride: those of Israel who were raised from the dead immediately after his resurrection and those yet to be raised when the last of seven trumpets sounds. He will be king over all the earth. After the wrath of God has been spent, the survivors of the nations will no longer have their own governments, acting as they see fit, but come under his government. He will gather them before him, and separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.

Once a year they will be required to go up to Jerusalem (not Mecca) to pay him homage and keep the Festival of Tabernacles. Every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. Because there will be insufficient accommodation in houses, they will camp in tents, just as the Israelites camped in tents in the wilderness before they entered the promised land. The Gentiles will be as the Israelites were: still in the tabernacle of their mortal bodies, men to whom the glory of God is revealed, subject to the Law (the message of the gospel having now been fulfilled), and standing at the threshold of a new heaven and earth. He will judge between the nations. Like Moses, he will determine national disputes, just as the saints ruling in towns and cities will decide lesser matters, and under his rod of iron he will bring peace to the earth. He will rule with justice and righteousness. Of the increase of his government there will be no end. His kingdom will have no end.

The Author of Life

In the beginning God spoke, and it was. Nine third-person commands were issued in the course of creation, followed by one first-person command, “Let us… .” The New Testament reveals that the person addressed, and identified through the “Let us” with God himself, is the same Jesus Christ who came into the world two thousand years ago. Hence he is called the ‘Word’ – in Greek, Logos, from which the word ‘logic’ derives. By ‘the Word of God’ is meant the whole counsel of God, the mystery which through the ages was previously hidden, the reason why God created. That counsel has been set down in Scripture. It is the authorised account of his deeds, of things past and to come, of his will for mankind. So the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament are the Word of God. It is also embodied in Christ himself. The word of God brings life, implanting imperishable seed into the human heart.

He was not the Creator, but the Son through whom and for whom all things were created. Without him nothing was made that was made. In him was life. So with the new life that comes through the Holy Spirit: as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. At the resurrection it will be the Son who sits on the throne. The dead will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement.

Alpha and Omega

He is before all things. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. Because all things were created for him, he is also the end of creation.

I am the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots. Does the clay say to him who formed it, “What are you making?” Woe to him who says to a father, “What are you begetting?” or to a woman, “With what are you in labour?” I made the earth and created man on it. It was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.

Yahweh will be king over all the earth. On that day Yahweh will be one and his name one.

From the throne a a voice cried, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.”

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.