Sunday, December 25, 2016

Incarnation & New Creation

By Michael Hansen

Too much of Christian theology is located outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is particularly true in the realm of eschatology (the study of “last things”). If you were to go to your average Christian bookstore and ask for a good book on the “end times” or eschatology, the clerk would take you to a bookshelf that had very little to do with Jesus. These books will tell you everything you might want to know about the emergence of the modern nation of Israel in 1941 to the present day, but the story of Jesus will hardly be mentioned. Once you begin to realize that even eschatology must find its center in Jesus, much of the frilliness of modern “end times” literature can be easily discarded.

It truly is a shame that this topic is such a stumbling block for so many Christians in our day. In some circles, the mere questioning of a premillennial approach to eschatology can be deemed heretical. I’m not joking. I have a friend who was told he was being “mislead” when he simply brought up the ideas of “amillennialism” and “postmillennialism” in a Bible study when having a discussion on the book of Revelation.

What’s further is the fact that the New Testament goes through great pains to focus our understanding of eschatology in Jesus. Even the book that is so “mysterious” and about the “end times” (the book of Revelation) begins “The revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Revelation 1:1). Unless your reading of Revelation is revealing Jesus to you (the purpose of the book) you’re reading Revelation wrong.

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament points the reader to Jesus when the subjects of “new creation,” “new heavens & new earth,” or “resurrection” come up. Think about what Paul says to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ.” This is not a verse about “claiming your blessing.” No, this verse should turn our eyes to the promises of God given to Israel throughout the Old Testament. Promises of a redeemed world, promises of all the nations worshiping the God of Israel, and promises of deliverance from the bondage of sin and the devil. ALL these promises find their Yes in Christ.

These promises are eschatological promises and their fulfillments are found in Christ. The reality that these promises of eschatological glory find their fulfillment in Christ should cause us to question our illogical emphases on future, non-Christ-oriented events to shape our eschatology rather than the actual story of Jesus.

As usual, Peter Leithart can offer a very helpful perspective to us. In Leithart’s book The Four: A Survey of the Gospels, Leithart makes a profound connection between the story of the incarnation and the original story of creation in Genesis:

Whenever God gives a miracle child to an old couple, it is a sign that He is beginning something new. An old couple having their first child means a new life. But a virgin who conceives must mark the beginning of a new creation. The angel not only gives Mary the news that she will conceive and have a child, but tells her that the child will be born when the Spirit overshadows Mary (Lk. 1:35). Just as the Spirit overshadows the water at the beginning of the world, and forms the first creation, so the Spirit is going to overshadow Mary to form a new creation in her womb. Hers will be the womb of a new world. No wonder Mary sang about the overthrow of the world’s wicked rulers and the exaltation of the righteous people of God (Lk. 1:46-55). (pg. 59-60, emphasis and emboldening mine)

The authors of the Gospel were not naive, they chose their words carefully. Luke wants his readers (readers who are likely familiar with the stories of the Old Testament) to make this connection between the Spirit hovering over Mary and the Spirit hovering over the waters of the original creation, this is why he used that language. In the same way that Jesus is Israel and Jesus is the Resurrection, so too is Jesus the New Creation, the New Heavens and the New Earth. This is why Paul can say, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Eschatology must submit to the story of Scripture and follow the story as it leads us to Christ. Too often eschatology (and theology in general) has abandoned the narrative of scripture. This can only lead to confusion and ultimately away from Christ.

Food for thought.