The Mystery of Christ’s Second Coming

Moshe Dyan  Moshe Dyan

I remember when Israel was surrounded by armies and ultimately initiated an attack in its defense that precipitated the 1967 Six-Day War with Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.  My pastor at the time was so excited because he really believed that Christ’s coming could be at any moment, basing his beliefs on the words of Jesus when He said the following (Luke 21):

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21)

Since those days nearly 50 years ago, numerous teachers have arisen who have claimed to know not only when Christ would appear again (count 40 years from the date Israel’s became a nation in 1948), but also the identity of the Anti-Christ (Henry Kissinger?  Anwar Sadat?), the aligning of the Common Market in Europe to become the ten “horns” in Daniel Chapter 7, and even what the locusts represent in the Book of Revelation (helicopters).

I have attended numerous teaching presentations and read many books that included timeline charts purporting to show all of the events leading up to the Second Coming and beyond, including a secret “rapture” of the Church, a seven year tribulation period, a visible coming of Christ with His saints, and the setting up of the Millenial Kingdom, a 1,000 year period when Christ reigns on earth from Jerusalem.  The charts end with Armageddon, the place where the final battle will take place, and the coming of the “new heaven and new earth.”

All this chaotic speculation in spite of Christ’s own statement about His visible coming in the clouds with great glory” (Mark 13:26).   He also  related that “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (13:31-32).  We must be alert, Jesus taught, because we don’t know when He will come again.  In fact, Jesus Himself did not know the day nor the hour of His return (cf. Mk. 13:32) .

 

When Will He Come?

Actually, the Scriptures do tell us when Christ will come again.  It’s important to find a pattern when interpreting Scripture in order to confirm our interpretations with sufficient evidence.  I like to find at least three scriptural passages that relate the same or similar insights.  I believe that this interpretive technique is in keeping with Jesus’ statement that “out of the mouths of two or three witnesses” everything may be established.

In this case, three passages from three different New Testament books depict the same event in different language:

  • Matthew 24:31 says, “And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
  • I Corinthians 15:51-2 says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
  • I Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

All three of these passages relate in remarkably similar fashion the second coming of Christ and the raising of the dead.  Based on these three passages, we learn that His coming will be powerful, visible, and manifest to everyone.   All of His chosen people will either be raised from the dead or changed in a twinkling of an eye to meet Him in the air.

Plus, one significant detail that appears in all three of these passages is often overlooked–the blowing of the trumpet of God.  This detail links all of these passages together, serving as a key to help us discover the mystery Christ’s coming.  If you read them carefully in context with the surrounding passages and meditate on them, I believe you will receive significant insights from the Holy Spirit, your Teacher!  These insights should serve to clear away all of the confusion about Christ’s appearance.

Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:29-31 makes clear that both His coming and the blowing of the trumpet occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days.”  This blowing of the trumpet links all of three prophecies together, showing that His coming will neither be “secret,” nor take place in stages. nor before a mere seven-year period of tribulation.  

Thank God for trumpets!

 

 

The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective: Part IV

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Paul’s Mysticism Communicated

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is especially revealing in terms of his insistence on conveying the Gospel through the Holy Spirit to those who are on the way to salvation, for in the second chapter, he relates how he shared the Gospel with them:

  • He did not come to Corinth with “superiority of speech or wisdom” or using the wisdom of this world (v. 1).
  • His message was not delivered with persuasive words of wisdom, but in the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (v. 4).
  • He did speak God’s wisdom to them, however:  “We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory” (v. 7)
  • Paul had received this hidden wisdom from God by the Holy Spirit, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” which a “natural man” cannot accept (v. 13-14).
  • Only a spiritual person may understand this hidden wisdom, a person who has the “mind of Christ” (v. 16).

Finally, in spite of the appeal Paul’s teachings held for many seeking deliverance from a troubled world, Paul carefully establishes the fact that while a believer’s spirit was in heaven with Christ, his hands and feet still needed to be firmly planted on earth. Like Christ, the Word made flesh, the believer must paradoxically dwell by faith on both sides of the divide between Heaven and earth.

Though a believer may speak with the tongues of men and angels or understand all mysteries, Paul taught, he is nothing without love, a love which found expression in helping the poor and needy or working with one’s own hands rather than depending on others for sustenance. And as transcendent as his teachings are, they find expression in the ordinary observances of baptism or the communal partaking of bread and wine.[8]

This simple adherence to the sacraments, in spite of Paul’s disparagement of formalized religion reflected in his antipathy to the Judaizers, ties his teachings to physical observance rather than the mere contemplation of the transcendent only. 

I recall the expression, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good!”

 

The Apostles John and Peter

Indeed, the teachings of Christianity, as expressed by Christ and the apostles, are not entirely otherworldly.

The Apostle John emphasizes the incarnation as the central focus of God’s revelation: Not only has the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, he writes, manifesting the light and life of God, but also this same “Word” ate fish after his resurrection. 

John therefore proclaims, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands handled, of the word of life . . . we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-2).

The Apostle Peter cites his own mystical experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, hearing the voice of God:

17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.   (2 Pet. 1:17)

However, Peter states that the Scriptures confirm personal experience, for they are not interpreted privately, according to one’s own insight, but according to the Holy Spirit’s revelation to the whole Church. While each believer must work out his own salvation, he finds the source of his power through the Holy Spirit, who holds all believers together into one body of Christ.

As important as individual experience is, the whole Church benefits from individual expression. The apostles placed their emphasis, therefore, on the whole Church rather than the individual’s private expressions and personal revelations. Believers were taught to avoid schisms and recognize the mystical unity they had with Christ and all parts of his body.  Therefore, they were not to “forsake the assembling of themselves together.”

 

CONCLUSION

While this brief survey of the Apostle Paul’s mysticism is by no means complete, the mystical elements of early Christian teaching and practice are clear. Christ crossed the gulf separating humankind from God, and by willingly ascending the Cross, He bridged the gap for all who enter into mystical oneness with Him.

 

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (I Corinthians 12:27)

Body of Christ

The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective: Part III

 

Prayer

Throughout his writings, Paul’s own personal mystical practices are revealed. First, Paul differentiates between private devotion and public worship. He says he speaks in tongues “by the Spirit” more than all the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:18), yet he would rather speak the word of God in a known language in the assembly so that all may receive edification.

And by comparing his intercessory prayer life to the groanings of childbirth, bringing to life new children into the Kingdom of God, Paul relates the fervency of his devotion. To the Galatians he relates his disappointment that they have received the teachings of the Judaizers, who taught that gentile Christians must be circumcised and follow Moses’ Law: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you”  (Galatians 4:19).

And in a significant passage in his letter to the Romans, Paul describes his experiences of praying in the spirit, a form of prayer that is beyond language: “

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27)

Paul also compares his experiences with intercessory prayer as a spiritual battle, waged not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness and wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).

Paul’s teachings are also permeated with references to mystical secrets and revelations, from the mystery of marriage, a man and a woman becoming one flesh as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with his bride the Church, to the “mystery of the gospel” as a whole.  The gospel, Paul relates, was once kept secret, hidden for long ages, but now has been manifested to all nations (Rom. 16:25). These mysteries were kept hidden from the spiritual rulers of this world, the forces of darkness:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

But the mysteries were hidden in order to fulfill God’s plan, a plan which is now revealed through the Church to all nations (Eph. 8:11). These mysteries of the Gospel are exceedingly rich, particularly for the gentiles who were once excluded from the promises of God. This mystery, Paul declares has been hidden for ages and generations, but has now been manifested to all.

Furthermore, God desires to make known the riches and the glory of this central Christian mystery, which is the possibility of oneness with God through Christ (Col. 1:26-27). To know Christ, to be identified with him, to be joined to him in one spirit, to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, to be seated with him in heavenly places, to be a part of his kingdom rather than finding one’s citizenship in this world—all these mystical ideas find expression in Paul’s teachings of the mysteries of the gospel of Christ, for in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). If the Christian is dead, then he lives only by the animating spirit of Christ:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  (Colossians 3:1-4)

Paul also speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7) which will work in the world until the time of the appearance of the Anti-Christ and Christ’s triumphant return; yet the mystery of godliness is far greater, for Christ Himself is the mystery: 

He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.  (I Tim. 3:16).

Paul implies that while a believer’s standing in Christ is not a result of works, the deeper mysteries of the Kingdom of God which are themselves unfathomable and may only be seen in this life through a “glass darkly,” may be received through diligent devotion and imparted by God’s grace.

Paul refers to Moses’ shining countenance when Moses descended Mount Sinai, noting the Israelites’ inability even to look on his face. Paul compares their inability to receive full and direct spiritual revelation to the same blindness the Corinthians have in reading the Scriptures. Moses had to wear a veil because the Israelites could not look at his face, even though Moses brought to them a law which was only temporary. This same veil remains upon their hearts, for their eyes have not been opened to see the truth of Christ’s appearance (2 Cor. 3:13-15).

As with Paul’s own blindness after his experience on the road to Damascus, this blindness is removed upon conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:16-17). And as a result of the new believer’s ability to receive revelation in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, he is able to truly see Christ and the manifestations of his glory.

Consequently, the believer is metamorphosized and transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Paul’s belief in continual transformation and revelation is communicated in his prayer in the Letter to the Ephesians that “God might give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that their eyes might be enlightened to see the riches of their inheritance (Eph. 1:17-18). Thus, unlike the esoteric mysteries of the Greek mystery cults, all may receive the mysteries of the Kingdom of God if only they will turn aside from man’s wisdom and come in humility to Christ.

Finally, until a future Blog post, Paul describes how we are transformed or “metamorphosized” into the image of Christ.  Unlike those who believe that “practice” and diligent discipline, along with trial and error, are necessary to keep the laws of God, Paul relates that followers of Christ are under no such bondage.  Instead, we are changed into the image of Christ by seeing Him:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

This is a confusing verse, but allow me to explain it the best I can. 

Since we believers have become new creatures in Christ, the veil of unbelief and carnality has been taken away and we can see into the realm of the Spirit.  Paul says that as we look into the mirror we see not ourselves, but instead we see the “glory of the Lord.”  Consequently, when we see Him, we are changed into the same image.  We become Christlike by seeing Him, not by seeing our faults and sins.

The term “glory” is in itself mystical, but I define it as “the acts and the attributes of God in self-manifestation.”  In other words, it’s just a reflection of who God is, just because He is God.  It’s the totality of the things God is and the things God does, just because He is God. 

Thus, when we look into the “mirror,” instead of seeing ourselves, we need to see the mystery (secret God wants to reveal) of Christ in us, the hope of glory:

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,  that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.  (Colossians 1:25-29).

Thus, Paul strove to see Christ Himself manifested in the lives of the believers he was teaching.

 

The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective, Part II

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Paul’s principle of “faith alone” is decidedly mystical. Citing the faith of Abraham, who believed God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations in spite of his advanced age and Sarah’s barrenness, Paul demonstrates how faith is the “substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not:  Abraham believed God’s promises that he would be the father of many nations because God “calleth those things that are not, as those that are” (Rom. 4:16-17). Since God is able even to call into existence the things that do not exist, Abraham believed in spite of the evidence of his senses and his natural experiences in the world:

 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.  ( Rom. 4:18-21)

Paul uses a remarkable phrase in describing Abraham’s faith.   Abraham believed that God “calleth those things which be not as though they were” (KJV), or “calls into being that which does not exist” (NASB).  Therefore, Abraham looked forward to the future expectantly, even when his experience showed him the impossibility of God’s promises.

If believers exercise the same kind of faith, Paul writes, they too may be justified before God by believing the promises of God, in spite of their impossibility according to natural human intellect or experience.   And since a true believer has been “translated” out of the darkness, into the light, he must understand that believers in Christ are new creatures, and “the old things are passed away, behold all things are made new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Paul concludes that believers must not place their confidence in the flesh but “walk in the spirit.” We must by faith put to death our old nature, or “old man,” and put on the new, “him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.” By seeking the things that are above rather than minding the things of the earth, the veil is torn away, the believer sees Christ, and is transformed into Christ’s own image (2 Cor. 3:18). This transformation, or metamorphosis, is effected mystically by looking to things unseen rather than to the things seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

P.S.  I haven’t forgotten about the “mirror”!

mirror

 

The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective: Part I

mirror

The Apostle Paul’s Mysticism

As a young adult (confused teenager), I was not only self-conscious about my appearance, but also rather envious of others who seemed to mature faster and grow facial hair before I did.  I was always in the front row of class pictures because I was slow in developing, and I wore the smallest uniform in seventh grade when I was able to join the marching band.

My self-image didn’t improve one day when I was looking in the mirror  of our home and saw an image of myself.  I was appalled, for my face was not at all symmetrical, my forehead much too broad.  I thought, “No wonder the girls don’t seem to like me!  I’m a monster!”

It wasn’t until later that I discovered that the real problem was not my appearance, though I was never the “knockout” I desired to be.   Instead, I found that when I moved my body position up or down in front of the mirror, my face changed, altering depending on how high or low I made my reflection in the glass.

What a revelation!  I was thrilled to learn that the mirror was distorting my image, and I saw  a more faithful image in other mirror later.

The Apostle Paul has some wisdom to impart that relates to mirrors, and I hope to provide an accurate interpretation of his insights.

While still named Saul of Tarsus, the future Apostle to the Gentiles has a spectacular mystical experience on the road to Damascus, where he is travelling to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus.

Blinded by a great light, Saul is instructed to wait in the city. Ironically, only after he cannot see with his physical eyes are his spiritual eyes opened. After three days, Ananias, who has seen the Lord in a vision, is instructed to go and administer healing to Saul, who while praying has seen his own vision of Ananias’ coming.  As a result, Saul’s sight is restored, and he receives illumination: “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18 NASB).

Saul, whose name is later change to “Paul” to reach out to the gentiles, subsequently receives other mystical visions as well. In a dream, for example, he sees a man beseeching him to come and help the Macedonians (Acts 16:9-10). And referring to what is very likely a near-death experience, possibly after being stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20), Paul describes to the Corinthians his visions and revelations from the Lord:

 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2 Cor. 12:2-4)

His experience is so entirely inexplicable, or ineffable, that Paul’s perspective is displaced, and he even describes the event in the third person.

Finally, the gospel he preaches, Paul declares, came not as a result of being discipled by other Christians but as a direct revelation from Jesus Himself (Galatians 1:11-12), although Paul later submits his teachings to the other apostles in Jerusalem as a result of a further revelation, fearing that he might have “run in vain” (Gal. 2:1-2).

Paul’s Gospel

An examination of Paul’s teachings also reveals the mystical nature of his gospel. First, it is received by faith and by the spirit rather than the intellect. Paul states that even the foolishness of God is wiser than humankind’s wisdom. In order than none may delight in his own wisdom or insight, therefore, God has chosen to reveal his secrets first to the spirit rather than to mind:  

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger then men. For see your vocation, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his sight. (1 Cor. 1:25-29)

The truths of the Spirit of God are received only through the transformed human spirit. In St. Paul’s words, the gentile seeks for wisdom and the Jew seeks after signs, yet neither receives illumination, for the former seeks intellectual wisdom, while the latter seeks carnal wisdom. Those who seek God through the intellect or the physical eye shall seek enlightenment but not find it.   Likewise, St. Paul’s preaching is effected neither through eloquence nor the persuasive powers of the intellect: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8).  These mysteries, profoundly beyond the reach of the mind to comprehend, may be revealed by the Holy Spirit, Who has been joined to the reborn human spirit:

10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.(1 Cor. 2:10-11)

As a result, the mysteries are revealed only to the spiritual man, not necessarily in terms of human language but in the language of the spirit:

13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Cor. 2:13-16)

God’s desire to reveal his mysteries and secrets only to those on the way to salvation requires that a man may not be justified in God’s sight through the works of the law but through faith, a faith that brings identification with the crucified and resurrected Christ himself. Paul lives his life as though he were dead to this world, but alive as a new creature whose citizenship is in Heaven:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20).

Thus, by faith, looking to things unseen rather than to things seen, Paul lives in the flesh but dwells in the realm of the spirit.

(To Be Continued)

 

 

Crossing the Mystical Divide: Nicodemus

File:William Brassey Hole Nicodemus.jpg

Nicodemus, whose story is found in  John’s Gospel (3:3-21), is described by John as a “ruler of the Jews” and a “man of the Pharisees,” one who has seen Jesus’ miracles and appears to believes that Jesus has come from God, “For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (vs. 2).   

Unlike in the passage from Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 1, where Christ taught the multitudes publicly from the ship set near the seashore, John’s Gospel notes that Nicodemus came at night, seeking an audience in private.  Other Pharisees or Sadducees confronted Jesus publicly, but only to attempt to prove Him to be a false teacher or a blasphemer. 

Much has been made of Nicodemus’ nighttime visit:   Was he afraid?  Wanting to avoid the crowds?  Seeking anonymity? Intimidated by the other Pharisees? 

We can only speculate, but my sense is that he wanted to avoid peer pressure or persecution from his fellow Pharisees, so he sought out Jesus privately. 

Since Jesus does not need to speak obscurely with Nicodemus as He did to veil divine truth from the “unseeing” multitudes (Mark 4:11-12), He does not speak to Nicodemus in parables.  Still, Christ speaks in figurative language, using a metaphorical “analogy” which attempts to approximate the revelation of God’s ineffable (inexplicable) truths through natural examples or parallels in meaning.

Jesus’ words are filled with layered (multi-dimensional) meanings which are ridiculous if taken literally, yet Nicodemus continually fails to understand Christ’s meanings.  He cannot cross the chasm  between Christ’s mystical words and the transcendent truths which lay underneath the surface.

Nicodemus opens the conversation by noting the signs Jesus has performed, signs which Nicodemus took to be evidence of Christ’s divine calling.  Jesus, however, ignores the compliment to speak directly to his visitor’s personal needs: 

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?  (John 3:5-10)

 This passage is significant, for it relates such spiritual insights as being “born again” of the Spirit, yet ties this  mystery of spiritual rebirth to natural, physical events:  childbirth and the blowing of the wind.

Presumably, Nicodemus, as a spiritual guide himself, should have been able to make the revelatory leap from physical birth to spiritual birth, from the wind to the moving of the Spirit, yet he cannot resolve the paradox of Christ’s mystical discourse.

Nicodemus’ intellect prevents him from entering the mystical realm.  Even a direct confrontation with the tangible Word of God, Jesus the Logos, is not sufficient to open his eyes to see spiritual truth.  Nicodemus’s demands for interpretation ends the mystical discourse, for Jesus concludes the following:  “12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).

Even at the end of the conversation, Nicodemus continues to ask how spiritual rebirth may be possible.  As a teacher and master in Israel, his intellect interferes with his spiritual sight, which like the Holy Spirit is not tied to human language or logic, for the Spirit blows where He wishes. 

Ultimately, however, Nicodemus defends Jesus before his fellow Pharisees and the Chief Priest (John 7).  Before condemning Him, they should investigate who Jesus is.  And later, we find that Nicodemus risks even more persecution by partnering with Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

 

WHAT DO WE LEARN?

In order to cross the gap between the natural realm (what may be perceived with the five physical senses) and the divine realm of the Spirit (what may only be perceived by the born-again spirit), the seeker after God must be completely transformed into a new creature—like Christ himself, one born of the Holy Spirit  Thus, spiritual rebirth, as seen in John’s Gospel, is brought about through faith—believing on Jesus as the Christ.

Elsewhere, this initial mystical experience is compared not to rebirth but to the eating of Christ’s body and drinking of His blood, leading to the resulting “oneness” with Him: “I am the bread of life . . . If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever” (John 6:48, 52). This faith is essentially a resolution to believe not in a creed or ethical system but in the person of Christ Himself.  It is a total dedication to follow Christ even to the death if necessary—hence His command to take up the cross and follow Him.

This faith precedes mystical insight, yet throughout his writings the apostle John insists that faith is aligned with experience and tangible, historical events. Still, John’s use of the tangible amounts to a symbolic approximation of the mystical, for Christ’s miracles represent the signs of Christ’s divinity, evidences that Christ has bridged the  chasm between the world we see and hear with the heavenly realm of God.

Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Christ’s cross bridges the gap. Thus, the believer’s willingness to follow Christ wherever He may lead, in spite of the seeming foolishness of the path, is the first step in the believer’s initiation into “the Body of Christ,”  the “Church,” or the “fellowship of the saints.” It is also the necessary precursor to receiving mystical insights and divine illumination.

The believer is seen as passing over from death to life, from darkness to light, not as a future hope but as a present reality, thus revealing the essence of the believer’s paradoxical position in both the present physical world and the transcendent Kingdom of Heaven.  We are in the world, but not of the world. 

As the Apostle Paul writes in his  letter to the Ephesians, 

“In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will [emphasis mine], according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. …15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  (Ephesians 1:8-17)

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Paul’s Use of an Analogy: Galatians

 

Prism

The Apostle Paul is so angry that he refers to the people in the Church of Galatia as fools who are choosing to live under a curse. 

Rather than continuing under the Gospel of Grace  that Paul preached to them, he writes, they have been bewitched.  They have listened to those who claim that to be sons of Abraham those who follow Christ Jesus must also follow the laws given by Moses.  Consequently, the Galatians have decided to hold to the works of the Law rather than faith.

Paul then quotes from the Scriptures to show that the covenant God made with Abraham was not based on following laws, but instead on faith, believing in the promises of God.  In fact, he says, those who are under the law are cursed.  Jesus came, Paul relates, to redeem us from the curse of the Law by being cursed Himself (“Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” v. 13) so that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the gentiles also (v. 14).

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.  The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3 NASB)

Clearly, the gentile believers in Galatia have foolishly fallen for a deception promulgated by those claiming that to follow Christ they must also follow all of the rules and regulations in the laws handed to the Israelites by Moses.  However, Paul relates in later chapters in his letter to the Galatians that following the Law is impossible.  In fact, the Law was given to show that there is none righteous, not one, and that we must depend on the unmerited favor of God to receive forgiveness and redemption.

Paul pauses briefly, however, to explain his meaning.  Since the Galatians have fallen into carnality (living and thinking according to the flesh) Paul uses an “analogy,” one of the logical tools  used by ancient philosophers and one we need to recognize in order to interpret all kinds of texts correctly.  Briefly, an analogy is a way of explaining ideas of things using comparisons.  Here is Paul’s comparison:  “I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it” (v. 15).

This verse may easily be overlooked  or skipped over because it appears to be only a transition between topics.  It is significant, however,  not only in this Galatian context,  but as we will see in other contexts, also. 

What is Paul Saying? 

I will try to paraphrase. I believe he is saying that to this point he has been giving the Galatian believers spiritual truths and mysteries (secrets that God wants to reveal to those able to receive them).  In his frustration, however, since the Galatians have chosen to follow an unspiritual path, attempting in their own flesh to follow spiritual laws, Paul finds it necessary to speak to them using the “terms of human relations.”

The New International Version of this text says, “Let me take an example from everyday life.”  

Paul’s analogy, therefore, is a comparison between two ideas or situations, in order to explain or clarify his meaning, but he feels he must do so using common language and ordinary situations.  He cannot expect  them to understand the secrets God desires to reveal to those on the way to salvation, those who are spiritual and who may be instructed “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

 

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