The heir of the universe

Part of the Turin shroudMost of the material on this site is intended to show how the story of heaven and earth – the world as illuminated by science – has a beginning consistent with what Scripture reveals about the beginning. 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 make God known. After him came the Holy Spirit, through whom it became possible to know God personally. We now live in a period of unknown length when his offer of forgiveness is being communicated to every nation on earth. At the end of that period he will come back.

Modern civilisation has misunderstood the nature of reality. It makes out that the universe is billions of years old, 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. These statements are not mere assertions of theology, but truths consistent with what we know 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 everywhere in the things he has made: birds, insects, four-footed animals, the fish of the sea, mountains, stars, even though they are constantly changing. The grass withers, the flower fades; only the words of God stand forever.

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

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, later, to be begotten in the womb. He was with God before the foundation of the world, and shared in his father’s glory. He who believes in him becomes a son of God by adoption. At the resurrection he receives an incorruptible body and has perfect fellowship with the Father and the Son. The mission of Christ is to bring many sons to glory. He came down from heaven, took a natural body and suffered death in our place. Sent for that purpose, he made our 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. 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. A father who does not precede his son is a logical absurdity, and to teach this is to empty the concept of all meaning. Those who receive the spirit of sonship become Christ’s brothers; they do not become brothers of the Father.

Before him there was an unfulfilled 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. 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?” 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

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 Vitruvian man (Leonardo da Vinci)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 affirmed that he was the son of Adam, which means ‘man’ in Hebrew, as well as the son of God. In Adam himself the two natures were one. God expressed his nature in human form, in ‘Adam, the Son of God.’

‘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.’ 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. Likewise, considered from a future point of view, he is called the second, or last, Adam. 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-Christ as Islam is, which also denies that Christ was the son of God. In Christ, God appeared in human form, because 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 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. He had conquered death. 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, before obtaining land of their own, the Israelites had been 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 completely this inexpensive labour force, 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 called Israel into existence, intervened. With his authority Moses confronted the pharaoh and told him to let the Israelites leave their allotted territory, so that they might worship Yahweh in the desert. It was a demand the king could not agree to. “Who is this Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and release his people?” He was soon to find out. A series of plagues devastated Egypt, culminating in the Agnus Dei (Zurbaran)death of all the country’s firstborn, from the firstborn of the king to the firstborn of the slave girl behind the hand-mill. As a sign that he was saving them from death because he chose to, not because they were righteous, God instructed each Israelite family to sacrifice a lamb, roast it and eat its flesh, and to smear the blood on the doorpost and lintels of their houses. Thus when he went through the land of Egypt and struck down the firstborn, he saw the blood and passed over 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, it saved them from death, the ultimate fate of every soul. That required an expiatory sacrifice which Moses himself could not provide. However, 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 voluntary death he conquered the one who had the power of death, the invisible ruler of the world, and thereby effected a second Exodus. Like Moses, he made the character of God known. Like Aaron, he was the high priest authorised to enter his sanctuary as the representative of humanity, but this time he tore down the barrier between man and God, once for all.

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 first-fruits of his resurrection, as he himself was the first-fruits.

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 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 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, for normally one only succeeds to the throne on the 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 that every infant boy in the neighbourhood be killed. Warned in a dream, 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 PilateAt the age of thirty he was baptised by John, his forerunner. As he came up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended on him, signalling that he could now begin his ministry. Throughout the land of Israel he preached about the kingship of God and how it related to the Law of Moses. In the kingdom to come 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 performed miraculous works of healing that were difficult for them to dismiss. Ordinary people received him well. In his fourth year of ministry he publicly rode into the capital city 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. He offered no resistance, so his disciples deserted him. A trial was hurriedly arranged, first before the Jewish high priest, then before the Roman governor. While the former found him guilty of blasphemy, the latter found him innocent. However, the people, incensed that their Messiah had offered no resistance, insisted that he be crucified.

The Jews 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. The northern kingdom was destroyed in 721 BC by the Assyrians; many of its inhabitants were permanently exiled. 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 reigned as ‘king of Israel’ for the simple reason that Israel no longer existed.

He will not reign over 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. His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives so that it splits and becomes a wide valley. With him will be the ‘saints’: 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 but will 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 to pay him homage and keep the Festival of Tabernacles. Every knee will bow, and every tongue swear allegiance. The Gentiles will be as the Israelites were: still in the tabernacle of their mortal bodies, men to whom the glory of God was revealed, subject to the Law (the message of the gospel having been fulfilled), and standing at the threshold of a new heaven and earth. He will judge between nations. The saints will rule in towns and cities as his representatives. He will govern with justice and righteousness. Of the increase of his government there will be no end.

The Author of Life

In the beginning God spoke. The New Testament reveals that it was to his Son that he spoke, a togetherness made more explicit in the final injunction, the plural “Let us”, when man was made in the image of the Son. Hence he is called the ‘Word’ – in Greek, Logos. 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. The revelation of that counsel is set down in Scripture. It is the authorised account of his deeds, of things past and to come. 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.