I did a previous blog article on the radical nature of the Gospel Paul preached, a Gospel he received directly from Jesus, that was confirmed by the closest disciples of Jesus. I ended the article by noting that this Gospel was not primarily about cultural and societal change. Jesus didn’t come merely to transform culture and society, as the Zealots of the First Century supposed the Messiah would.
Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom into which we can be born again by receiving Jesus, by believing in his name. The paradigm shift begins here and now, in this world, giving us “the right to become children of God, … born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Though the reality of the kingdom of God begins here and now, the ultimate fruition of that new birth, that adoption as children of God, still awaits us. The Zealots didn’t understand that in the First Century. They wanted to overtake the Roman government by force and establish the reign of the Messiah then and there in the First Century. When Jesus died on the cross, not even the disciples understood what was going on. Paul understood, however, we he said:
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)
Paul expanded on these thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians when he spoke about death coming into the world through the first Adam, while resurrection from the dead came into the world through Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20-28-42-55) First is the perishable, followed by the imperishable. What is perishable doesn’t beget the imperishable. We must be born again (the ultimate paradigm shift), from natural people into spiritual people.
This paradigm shift begins in this natural life when we are born again, but the seed of that new birth is spiritual, imperishable. When the last trumpet” will sound, “the dead will be raised imperishable”. (1 Cor. 15:52) We await in this life the fruition of the ultimate paradigm shift (from the perishable to the imperishable) in which those who have been adopted as children of God are ushered into the kingdom of God with “the whole creation” following behind in the transformation from natural world to an imperishable world where there are no tears, no pain, no sorrow – only the ultimate fulfillment of all that we could possible hope for.
We won’t see the fruition of these things in this life; rather we look forward to the resurrection from the dead and our inheritance of the imperishable life that swallows death up in victory. This is where I left off in the previous blog post: Paul… the Radical Countercultural? Picking it up from there, I want to begin here with second half of the passage quoted from the letter to the Galatians in that first article.
Paul spoke to the Galatians about the”adoption as sons” for all people who believe in Jesus. He alludes to the centuries old Greco-Roman tradition of adoption of men by men – the passing on of inheritance and legacy through the male line, which was the entrenched cultural structure of a long patriarchal society. But then, Paul did the ultimate mic drop when he said:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:27-29)
In one sentence, Paul eliminated the disparity between genders. And not only that, the differences between religious, philosophical, cultural, societal and all other things that divide people from each other.
But this was no cultural revolution. The rest of the story is found in the verses that follow in Chapter 2 of the letter to the Galatians.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 2:1-7)
Again, Paul is alluding to the tradition that people knew well. Adoption didn’t usher in immediate changes for the man who was adopted. He continued through childhood “no different than a slave” until the age when his father determined he would succeed to his inheritance.
What Paul is saying here is that our adoption as children of God (men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile) has been established from the moment we believe, but the inheritance that is ours is not realized until the date set by the Father – when that “last trumpet” sounds.
The whole creation groans, waiting in expectation for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plans
Meanwhile, the whole creation groans, waiting in expectation for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plans. We have been redeemed, but we await the ultimate fulfillment of that redemption. We have been purchased, but we are not yet delivered completely from the natural condition in which we find ourselves.
So we still find injustice in the world. We live with pain and suffering. “Jews and Gentiles”, insiders and outsiders, experience life differently. Men and women still do not enjoy equal privileges. The specter of racism continues to haunt us. In Christ, we are all one, but in the world we still experience the vestiges of millennia of injustice.
A good friend and sister in Christ just sent me an email in which she spoke timely about the Year of Jubilee that was part of the law that the Israelites followed. She described it this way:
“Jubilee… 50… this year is sacred. Leviticus 26:10-11 Jubilee… Leviticus 25:9… rams horn in Hebrew it’s defined as the sabbatical year after seven cycles of seven years (49) The fiftieth year was to be a time of celebration and rejoicing for the Israelites. The rams horn was blown on the tenth day of the seventh month to start the fiftieth year of the universal redemption. It’s a time of freedom and a celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families….
“The year of the Jubilee involved a year of release from indebtedness Leviticus 25:23-38 and all bondage… all prisoners and captives were set free, all slaves were released, all debts forgiven, all property was returned to its original owners…”
The ram’s horn blown to signal the start of the Year of Jubilee may be what Paul alluded to when he talked about “the last trumpet” sounding in 1 Corinthians 15. Unlike the cycle of 50 years, though, in between which injustices inevitably crept into the lives of the people of Israel, as they inevitably do regardless of our very best efforts to do justice, the last trumpet will sound the beginning of another world – an imperishable one that we cannot even imagine – in which swords will be forever turned into plowshares, tears will never fall again and our destinies as children of the God of the universe will be forever fulfilled.
All that we see now we as if in a mirror dimly. We see shadows of what is to come. We can’t even imagine what it will be like. (1 Cor. 2:9-13)
The creation waits (as do we) “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God”. (Rom. 8:19) Presently, it is subjected to futility (Rom. 8:20); then “it will be set free from its bondage to corruption”. (Rom. 8:21) The “whole creation has been groaning” under the burden of the futility to which it is subjected, as if in the pains of childbirth. (Rom. 8:22) And not just creation, but we experience the pain of it, groaning inwardly as we sense that all is not right with the world, yet longing for it.
We have the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, a comforter from “another world”
What we have now is the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, a comforter from “another world” that we sense as well, but which lies just beyond our reach. (Rom. 8:23) We have hope that is lifted up with the resurrection of Jesus in the same body that died on the cross.
We strive for justice in this world, as we should, for it is the very character of God, but we know that we will never attain it. When that last trumpet, the ultimate ram’s horn, sounds, then we shall see face to face and know God as we are fully known. Then, at last, His kingdom will be ours for we have been adopted as sons, daughters and children of God. All that is His will be ours, and, most precious of all, we will truly know with the clarity of imperishable being what it means that God is our Father.