The Divine Mission
The term “Christ Event” refers to the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The centrality of this event is recognized by the division of all history between the time before Christ (B.C. — before Christ) and the time after Christ (A.D. — Anno Domini). However, further recognition of the significance of the Christ event has been largely clouded.
Three Epic Periods before the Christ Event
The time before the Christ event can be divided into three epic periods:
1. Creation of the Nonliving Universe.
In the first period God, as the One-and-Only Self-Existent Being, acted to create the nonliving universe and to place that universe under his own ultimate control. God held the universe, as it were, in the palms of his hands. Through the mediation of natural law and through preordained entropy (decay, chaos and death), God placed boundary conditions on the universe (Job 38:4-11). For example, we can expect the tides to ebb and flow, the sun to rise and set, the seasons to regularly follow, the years to roll on, the sun and stars to shine, the planets to maintain their orbits. We also can expect the nonliving universe to undergo constant, even turbulent change. The universe continues to expand as it has for around 15 billion years. Galaxies like the Milky Way continue to form. Stars continue to condense, burn, explode, collapse and die. Thus, the nonliving universe, which emerged from Self-Existent Being, has limits. It also has infinite possibilities.
2. Creation and Evolution of Life.
During the second epic period before the Christ event, God in his self-existence brought forth life on planet earth. This life in all its myriad forms — microbial, plant and animal — has probably existed for some four billion years. God has granted life-forms enormous capabilities to evolve. At the same time, all living forms are under the dominion of laws, instincts and limits established and sustained by God himself. For example, the crust of the earth is the graveyard for millions of different organisms that once flourished on earth but have since disappeared.
3. Mankind and Self-Existence.
For billions of years, therefore, God placed the created order under the necessary dominion of his own self-existence and under the boundary conditions of law and death. Then, about 4,000 years ago, God fully embarked on the third epic period preceding the Christ event.1 By this time man (male and female) already had creatively emerged as the highest animal. Mankind already had acquired the use of tools, had domesticated plants and animals, and had developed the power of consciousness and of communication through language. Nevertheless, mankind remained under the dominion of divine self-existence, of law, and of preordained death. In fact, God had disclosed himself to man’s religious consciousness as mankind’s ultimate sovereign Ruler and Judge. Thus, the Old Testament Scriptures abound with the right of Deity to impose his sovereign will and to hold mankind in submission:
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury. . . .
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
— Psalm 2:4-9, R.S.V.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
— Psalm 11:6, R.S.V.
The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
— Psalm 18:13, 14, R.S.V.
When Self-Existent Deity, who controlled all Creation through law and death, revealed his nature to man, the consequences should not have been surprising. Believing itself to be the offspring of God (cf. Genesis 1:26), mankind concluded that it also must possess self-existence and the power to impose law and death. Thus, man’s awareness of self-existence about 4,000 years ago significantly promoted the imperial era. Great civilizations like Babylon and Egypt prospered. Imperial rulers, claiming to be God’s offspring, declared their own self-existence and their right to exercise unlimited sovereignty over mankind — even to bondage and death.
However, after a thousand years of dynastic rule, mankind everywhere became profoundly alarmed over the consequences of domination by self-existent gods and their self-existent imperial agents, who imposed law, bondage and death. In the Greco-Roman world of the West and the Oriental world of the East, there was a simultaneous uprising against the imperial rule of self-existent being. In the West, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle concluded that self-existence was not limited to the gods or the emperor but was possessed by all mankind in the form of self-evident reason. The philosophers further concluded that the imposition of law and death likewise was not limited but could be democratically exercised by the common man. In the East, on the other hand, founding religionists like Gautama Siddhartha (563?-483? BCE) concluded that mankind should accept “karma” — the “sum and the consequences of a person’s actions during the successive phases of his existence”2 — and ultimately discard the manifestations of self-existence. In the East the final destiny of “karma” was the nonexistence (Nirvana) from which it was believed that Self-Existent Deity itself had once emerged.3
The “Fullness of Time” Then
At this critical point in history, called the “axial period” by German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), God himself finally intervened. The “fullness of time” had come (Galatians 4:4, RSV). For mankind to claim self-existence, with the attendant right to impose law and death upon others at will, was to bring Creation itself to crisis. God himself therefore acted to assume the incarnate reality of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 1:22, 23; John 1:14). As a humble Mediterranean Jewish peasant, God accepted the dominion of self-existence, law and death, which he himself had originated (Galatians 4:1-5; Philippians 2:5-8). He fully accepted the consequences of the created order, which he himself had brought into existence. Where he had exercised self-existent dominion, he now accepted humble submission. Where he had imposed law, he accepted obedience to law. Where he had allowed or imposed death, he accepted the dominion of death. By his condescension as the Christ, God fulfilled all the demands of the original created order and thereby assured the termination of that order.
But in the Christ event God did not merely fulfill and terminate the necessities of Self-Existent Being with the accompanying boundaries of law and death. In the Christ event God also inaugurated an entirely new created order, based on “co-existent becoming,” on loving, egalitarian relationships, and on eternal co-creativity (John 15:15; 2 Timothy 2:12). In his life and ministry, Christ fulfilled law and inaugurated love (John 15:12). By his death he fulfilled death. By his resurrection he irrevocably terminated his own self-existence and inaugurated an unending life of co-existent becoming. Christ himself rose as the First Fruits of the new, collaborative, created order (1 Corinthians 15:17-23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 9:10, NIV).
Therefore, the Christ event was not simply the fleeting, parochial display of some Jewish peasant philosopher, prophet, revolutionary or liberator.4 The Christ event was not the prototype for the charismatic “spirit person.”5 The Christ event was not the release of the imprisoned God from bondage to the body.6 The Christ event was not the ransom of mankind from “original sin” and the demonic grasp of Satan. The Christ event was not the rejection of the chosen nation of Israel and the creation of the ecclesiastical community of Christianity in its place. No, contrary to traditions cultivated over the last 2,000 years, the Christ event was none of these. Rather, the Christ event initiated the transformation of the old created order, based on static self-existence, to a new and eternal created order, based on relational or co-existent becoming (Romans 6:5; Ephesians 2:6).
The “Fullness of Time” Now
Before the Christ event, God had granted mankind 2,000 years to experience the implications of self-existence and of rule through law and death. Then, in the Christ event, God demonstrated his own “repentance” (change) over self-existence and his intention to transform the entire created order to relational co-existence. God intended that mankind would shortly learn the futility of self-existent reality. Tragically, mankind did not learn that lesson. Indeed, it was not merely the Jews or the Romans, but all mankind, who clambered for the death of Christ. For all mankind coveted the prior self-existence of Christ.
When in his embodied resurrection God rose to disclose a new created order, all mankind again rose up to appropriate the old created order. Thus, for 2,000 years the monumental tragedy has been man’s imagined possession of the sovereign prerogatives of self-existence. For 2,000 years we have witnessed the tragic consequences of man’s predatory rule. For the first 1,500 years after Christ, mankind was dominated by the assumed self-existent authority of either Rome or the Church. Now, for approximately 500 years, under the guise of “humanism,” mankind has continued to assume its common self-existence, its autonomy, its common right to impose the boundaries of law and death on all others.
God took 2,000 years to disclose the results of his own self-existence with the imposition of the boundaries of law and death. Now mankind had had equal time and opportunity to manifest the folly of assuming those same attributes. In our extremity we are learning that man’s imagined autonomy and self-existence can only lead to predatory death and destruction for mankind. Likewise, man’s imagined autonomy and self-existence can only lead to the elimination of freedom and responsibility, to the erosion of meaning, value and purpose, and to the termination of identity, individuality and particularity. Despite the historic contributions and benefits of world empires, monotheistic religions and great philosophies, they have become the agents of death and annihilation.
Again we have come to the “fullness of time.” The significance of the Christ event again is being disclosed to humanity. For example, scholars now recognize that the 220-year quest for the “historical Jesus” has ended as a vain attempt to deny God’s own self-disclosure and his resurrection as the Christ.7 Furthermore, scholars now increasingly recognize the Christ event as a fundamental act of Creation. The Resurrection Summit, a conference of international scholars that convened at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, has signaled a new awakening to the cosmic significance of the Risen Christ.8 Thus, the time has come for us to participate in the renaissance of the Christ event. The time has come for us to understand its fundamental truth and to embrace the reality of the new created order, disclosed in the Person of the Risen Christ.
An Imminent Transformation
Soon — just as light breaks through the darkness and as lightning flashes and thunder echoes across the heavens — the Risen Christ again will appear (Matthew 24:27; Revelation 22:20).9 He will recreate mankind, this world and all reality into the image of his own transformed likeness (Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2). He will inaugurate the new created order of co-existent becoming (Revelation 21:1, 5).
The obscure nomad, Abraham, heralded the disclosure of God’s covenantal presence 4,000 years ago. A few humble shepherds, fishermen and marginal peasants testified to his incarnate presence 2,000 years ago. Likewise, it now is time for those who have kept the faith, who recover the faith, or who will accept the faith to arise from the dustbin of history. It is time to recognize the imminent transformation of the created order from the domination of self-existence to the interaction of co-existent, relational reality. This is the divine mission — a mission soon to be disclosed and transcendently fulfilled.
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990). (go back)
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “karma.” (go back)
- See ibid., s.v. “Nirvana”: “Nirvana [Buddhism]. The state of absolute blessedness . . . attained through the extinction of the self. [Hinduism.] A similar state . . . attained through the suppression of individual existence. [Sanskrit, from nirva, to be extinguished, be blown out.]” (go back)
- See Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God? Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1995). (go back)
- See, for example, Marcos J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994). (go back)
- See, for example, J. Deotis Roberts, “Gnosticism”: A Philosophical Introduction to Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), pp. 83-87. (go back)
- See Kenneth L. Woodward, “Rethinking the Resurrection: A New Debate about the Risen Christ,” Newsweek, 8 April 1996. (go back)
- See ibid. (go back)
- That appearance is often termed the Parousia or Second Coming. The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Second Coming, Terminology” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming#Terminology. See also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2006: “Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit” (p. 299). (go back)
This article was originally published May 1996 under the Destiny imprint.