Understanding the Christ Event
For nearly 2,000 years the nature of the Christ event has loomed on the horizon of history as an inescapable secret. Nevertheless, the intention of that event always was to disclose to human understanding God’s purpose in the world.1 In the words of Adam Ford, “The spiritual implications of this event have not yet fully dawned on us. In cosmic terms Christ’s day is only now breaking.”2
In retrospect, it now is clear that the full unity of God and man at Creation is a prophetic myth intended to clarify man’s destiny rather than man’s origin.3 In the beginning God, as Creator, acted to create the universe and, in the process, to fashion mankind (male and female) as his creature. There was a necessary distinction between Creator and creature. The Creator was dominant, and the creature was subordinate. However, early man was not conscious of his subordinate status before God. Not until the birth of language and subsequent consciousness did man become aware of his dependence, submission and separation with respect to God.4 Man became aware that, in a hierarchical or vertical system of “relatedness,” there is no equitably relational or horizontal “human” freedom and therefore no “human” responsibility for either God or man. Both parties — Creator and creature — were bound to a legal, commandable structure.
Christ — The Fulfillment and End of Religion
Because of this awareness, mankind began an age-long struggle to remove the separation between itself and God and to establish a free and intimate bond with deity. In man’s mind these efforts were designed to rebind or “religion” (Latin, re- “again” + ligare “bind”) man with God. The entire system of religious rituals, sacrifices, incantations, commandments, creeds and confessions was central to this determination to restore man’s union with deity. Centuries of wars and conflicts represented the attempt to establish, in God’s name, the hegemony of various “chosen” peoples over coveted parts of the earth. All these efforts eventually foundered and failed. Finally, about 200 years before the coming of Christ, apocalyptic was born. Apocalyptic recognized mankind’s failure to “religion” (rebind) man to God and therefore concluded that none other than God himself would have to invade the world and “religion” mankind.
Yet when the apocalyptic event did occur, it went largely unrecognized and unheralded — for God invaded the world incognito through Mary’s womb and in Bethlehem’s manger. In the incarnate Christ, God indeed came down to earth to “religion” God and man. For Jesus Christ was both “truly God” and “truly man” in one Person. Thus, the noncommandable Creator adopted the commandable creature as his own reality and recapitulated the entire history of mankind. By his incarnate life the unique, one-and-only5 God/man removed the created distance between himself and mankind. But more than this, Christ had to remove the commandable system that created the distance between God as Creator and man as creature. The legal “relatedness” between dominant God and subordinate man that bound both parties had to be abolished. Jesus Christ accomplished this by his death on Calvary, for there the distinction between God as Creator and man as creature was irrevocably and forever terminated. Christ’s death thus embraced the death of dominant God, the death of subordinate man, the death of the legal system or order, and the death of death itself. At Calvary Jesus Christ fulfilled the three-level universe of the ancient world. Suspended on the sacred mountain of Golgotha, he “religioned” heaven and earth. Descended into hell, he “religioned” earth and the nether world. All nature testified to this awesome event (Matthew 27:45, 50, 51, 54). The sun was darkened. The earth itself quaked, and rocks were shattered. The cosmic scenes woven into the fabric of the Temple veil were torn from top to bottom. Even the Roman centurion watching Jesus’ crucifixion was constrained to confess, “Truly this was the Son of God.” When with his exultant, expiring breath Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), the created system or order of dominant God and subordinate man had fulfilled its purpose. It was finished.
The Pre-Resurrection Model of Christianity
However, neither the Jerusalem apostles nor the church they founded truly discerned Christ’s purpose. From the beginning they took the pre-resurrection, dual union of God and man in Christ as their paradigm or model. In reflecting on the servant role of Jesus, they therefore assumed that Christ had come to reaffirm and restore the order of transcendent God and subordinate mankind in the ecclesiastical system of the church. In their writings the Jerusalem apostles reworked the words and deeds of Jesus Christ to make them imperatives, impositions, commands and laws for mankind. From that day to this, much of the church has persisted in viewing deity as transcendent and man as a helpless victim, a worthless worm, destined for eternal bondage in “paradise,” in “purgatory,” or in perpetual burnings.6
More recently, many in the church have recognized the futility of this orthodox position and have begun to adopt the perspectives of postmodern Gnosticism. This view also takes the pre-resurrection, dual union of God and man in Christ as its paradigm or model. However, unlike orthodoxy, postmodern Gnosticism sees Christ as a man who either achieved deity or became conscious of his own deity. Postmodern Gnosticism, also known as the New Age Movement, is rapidly infecting the church through the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism. This New Age Movement has proceeded to “reduce” mankind and the entire universe to a panentheism (God is in everything; everything is in God) or pantheism (God is everything; everything is God) in which even the rocks and rills and templed hills have god-like sensation, purpose, subjectivity, consciousness and self-evidency.7 These and other developments in the political arena testify to the impending end of the present system or world order. For this order already has been fulfilled and terminated by Jesus Christ.
The New Resurrection Reality of the Human Self
Meanwhile, with its focus on the pre-resurrection Jesus, the church largely has overlooked the transcendent significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In its ignorance the church has denigrated and distorted the resurrection of Christ or has regarded it as a myth, legend, fable, illusion or delusion. But the resurrection of Jesus is no mere parable. It is a mighty historical event of cosmic significance. While Christ died as dominant God and as subordinate man, he rose as the transcendent Human Self. The risen Christ is the true Adamic Reality (Genesis or “Alpha”8). His resurrection is the true birthday of humanity, of all embodied human selfhood. That risen, prototypical Self is equitably open, free and responsible. It is decisional, noncommandable and creative. It is the seat of all human meaning, values and virtues — of faith, hope and love. That Self exists wholly apart from and transcendent to all systems and orders of this age. It ultimately is “humanly” relational (John 15:15). It only exists with an existential “other.” It only exists as “I–Thou.”9
For this very reason Jesus Christ shared his selfhood with all mankind upon his resurrection. All mankind enjoys premonitory selfhood because of the shared, relational gift of the resurrected Christ. That gift is the foretaste of full human selfhood soon to be disclosed at the Parousia10 (Second Coming) and purposed to be enjoyed for eternity with all other human beings who have ever lived (Ephesians 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9).11
The gift of premonitory selfhood is the transcendent treasure of mankind today. The pre-resurrection Jesus was both “truly God” and “truly man.” By analogy, the pre-Parousia man today is both “truly noncommandable human self” and “truly commandable creature.” The human self transcends all present systems — religious, political, economic, social and cultural. For the human self these systems are ultimately servant. Meanwhile, insofar as we are part of the existing systems, as “non-selves” we acknowledge and conform to these systems while awaiting the full emancipation and disclosure of the resurrected self at Jesus’ imminent appearing.
To state this another way, in the time between the “now” and the “not yet” we exist in the tension of alien citizens.12 While acknowledging the forms and needed requirements of this age of system or law, we go forth in creative freedom — in faith, hope and love — to encourage our fellow human beings and to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound (Luke 4:18). As we thus respond, going forth as human selves, we fulfill the relational privilege of all selves. Just as Jesus rose as the prototypical Human Self and shared that gift of selfhood with all humanity, so we go out as human selves to share our selfhood with all humanity. This response completes the essential relationship of embodied human selfhood. This response is therefore associated with Jesus’ imminent appearing. Indeed, soon “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he his” (1 John 3:2, RSV).
- See Hans Küng, Theology for the Third Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1988). (go back)
- Adam Ford, Universe: God, Science and the Human Person (Mystic, CT: TwentyThird Publications, 1987), pp. 134, 135. (go back)
- Addendum Note: In startling Hebraic research Dr. Y. Hayut-Man of The Academy of Jerusalem has shown that the Genesis account of Creation is prophetic:
The Torah [in Genesis] opens . . . in past tense. “Bereshit Bara Elohim . . . ” (Initially created God . . . ) but immediately it adopts a present continuous tense “ . . . veRu’ah Elohim merahefet al pnei haMayim” (and the spirit of God is hovering over the face of the Deep . . . ).
And from there onwards, in all the chapters of the Humash Pentateuch — the writing is future tense, “va ’yomer Elohim . . . ’ (and God would say . . . ). It is true that no translation paid attention to this, and many generations of linguists regarded that form as “inversion” (vav haHipukh), but this is just a name that does not explain any thing. It is much more accurate to regard this letter vav (translated as “and” in English) as “vav haHibur” (the joining of times) . . .
It is therefore valid to read the entire Torah as written in a prophetic tense . . . — Yitzhak Hayut-Man, “The Book of Genesis as a Redemptive Scenario and Guide for Re-Biography,” at thehope.tripod.com/TORENOW0.htm.
- Cf. Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- The ”only begotten” of John 3:16 may be translated “one-and-only” or “unique.” (go back)
- See Georgiana M. Taylor (words: 1869); R. George Halls (music: pub. 1875), “Oh to Be Nothing”; Isaac Watts (words: 1707); Hugh Wilson (music: 1824), “Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed?”; Jonathan Edwards, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners (1734), quoted in J. Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1980), p. 346. (go back)
- See “Reflections on the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches,” Outlook (Prequel 1991.3). (go back)
- Revelation 1:8. (go back)
- See “Incarnation and Parousia — Ultimate ‘I,’ Ultimate ‘Thou,’” Outlook (Prequel 1991.6); cf. Martin Buber, I and Thou (1923) (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). (go back)
- The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” (go back)
- See “God’s Eternal Purpose,” Outlook (Prolepsis 1991.4). (go back)
- See Richard John Neuhaus, “The Ambiguities of ‘Christian America,’” Concordia Journal 17, no. 3 (July 1991): 285-295. (go back)
This article was originally published December 1991 under the Quest imprint.