Archive for the ‘Union with Christ’ Category
James Jordan writes of a three-layered meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan:
For 1900 years, pastors in every branch of the Church have interpreted the parable of the Good Samaritan as having a “first application” to our Lord Himself. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, who helped in the face of death when the Old Creation’s representatives (priest and Levite) were unable and unwilling to do so. The inn at which He left the man is the Church, the community of believers that has been given money and oil (the Spirit) to help converts. The broken man in the parable is the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered, “I am your Neighbor, man. Don’t you see that you are near death? You have left the holy city Jerusalem and gone down to the accursed city of Jericho. You need a Neighbor, and I am He.” A secondary point of the parable of course, is to set an example for us, who are in Christ. (Theses on Worship, 56)
Luther states that “This Samaritan of course is our Lord Jesus Christ himself.” Calvin, on the other hand, notes in his commentary that he has “no liking” for this interpretation, suggesting that it “disguise[s] its natural meaning.” To be fair, Calvin here is not arguing against Luther directly, but rather against “advocates of free will” who apparently argue from the man’s injury rather than death that he was not beyond reach of saving himself. Perhaps Calvin would not after all disagree with Luther’s and Jordan’s more straightforward application.
I side with Luther and Jordan. With Frame (tri-perspectivalism) and Poythress (symphonic theology) I don’t think that we must choose a single natural meaning and application here to the exclusion of all others. For example, we follow the very same approach in the Psalms, where we acknowledge that Jesus is the first singer of the Psalms (consider Heb. 2:11-12), and yet both the church corporate (the body of Jesus) and the individual Christian (united with Jesus) are also proper singers of the Psalms.
2 Samuel 19 tells of the return of David to Jerusalem after the defeat of Absalom. Interestingly, it is said that Judah brings David back over the Jordan river, and a number of individuals who cross over to meet David are explicitly named. To properly show their repentance and receive David back, Judah first had to repudiate their rebellion and identify with David in his exile. These river crossings are very obviously a kind of baptism, a union with David in his exile and therefore his restoration.
A wise Benjaminite (Phil. 3:5) might have preached in Gilgal that day:
Men of Judah, do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into David were baptized into his exile? We were separated therefore with him by baptism into exile, in order that, just as David was revived from the pit by the glory of Yahweh, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in an exile like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a restoration like his. We know that our old self was exiled with him in order that the rebellious nation might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer belong to rebellion. For one who has been exiled has been set free from rebellion. Now if we have been exiled with David, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that David, being revived from the pit, will never be exiled again; exile no longer has dominion over him. For the separation he endured he endured to rebellion, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to rebellion and alive to Yahweh in David.
Let not rebellion therefore reign in this nation, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to rebellion as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from exile to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For rebellion will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
As it happened, the more foolish Benjaminites Sheba and Shimei did not heed this warning.
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Heb. 13:13)
The book of Job is, first and foremost, presenting Job as a type of Jesus the suffering servant. Job is the perfect, upright man (Job 1-2), the exemplary righteous man (Ezek. 14), who speaks what is right (Job 42) as he wrestles with God seeking a resurrection-vindication.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Just as the Psalms are firstly the songs of Jesus, but become the songs of the church; Job also secondarily becomes a guide for the righteous to wrestle with God through our suffering and the suffering of our brothers. But unlike Job, our great accuser has now been cast out of heaven. More than that, while Job ascends into God’s presence only at the end of his story, we have access to God immediately and continually through Jesus in whom we have already ascended.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
More than that, as the church we reign together with him.
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)
Finally, the book of Job serves as a caution to us, a reminder that God calls his own son, and all who follow him, to temporary sufferings and deprivations of the privileges of sonship so that through our suffering he can achieve an even more glorious outcome. Here and now the redeemed do not deserve these sufferings, but just like the sufferings of Jesus, we endure them as soldiers on a mission to bring about a far greater good.
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:26-27)
If we printed red-letter Old Testaments, the pages of Leviticus would bleed redder than any of the gospels.
You cannot have King Jesus without also having his royal proclamations in the book of Leviticus.
Almost the entire book of Leviticus was dictated by Yahweh to Moses. Commentators and theologians widely agree that the appearances of Yahweh in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Jesus (consider John 1:18, 6:46 together with Exodus 33:11; consider also John 8:58). We cannot read Jesus into every single occurrence of Yahweh (Psalm 110:1 refers to the Father); but in Israel’s exodus it is even clearer than usual that Jesus was present, since some of the imagery surrounding Sinai portrays it as God’s marriage to his people.
Leviticus was and is meant to shape the consciousness, speech and life of God’s people. It is among the books that Moses commanded Israel’s kings to copy and meditate upon (Deut. 17:18-19). It is among the books that all Israel praised so highly in Psalm 119. It constitutes part of the torah-law which, if Israel obeyed, God promised to make the envy of the nations (Deut. 4:6-8, Micah 4:1-2).
In Leviticus, Jesus speaks of animal offerings, priestly service, food, leprosy, uncleanness, sex, feasts and more. Leviticus is not Jesus’s final word on these things, but it is his word, and — we must confess — a righteous word, on these things.
Jesus speaks Leviticus, but Leviticus speaks of Jesus. All of these things have a corresponding symbolic purpose relating to Jesus and his creation. And because Jesus means to transform creation and cause his people to mature into his likeness, some parts of Leviticus have a built-in obsolescence, while other parts grow intensified and transfigured. Acts 15:28-29 gives us a brief and helpful summary of what has gone and what remains. Gone are most of the laws of food and cleanness; remaining are laws concerning idolatry and sex.
God meant for forbidden foods to symbolize the Gentile nations. It would take some time to fully develop this imagery, but there are parallels visible in the law, and God makes it very explicit in Acts 10. Fifteen hundred years of practice at being strictly separate from the world have prepared God’s people to sacrificially conquer and inherit it (Rom. 4:18); and, by the Spirit, to handle the greater responsibilities of a greater unity (Eph. 2). So now that (you might say) Jesus eats all nations into his body (pace Rev. 3:16), we as the members of his body may also take unclean animals into ourselves. Just as the nations are God’s gifts to the church (consider Eph. 4:8), bacon and shrimp are God’s gifts to his people. If you reflect on the nature of maturing, the food laws’ coming to an end is not a great surprise. We know that God’s purpose in history is to grow his church from infancy to maturity (Gal. 4, Eph. 4), and infants and adults appropriately have very different diets and boundaries. Maturity brings mature food.
Sex has symbolic potency as well. It is meant to symbolize Jesus’s union with his bride, his body, his church (Eph. 5:32). Sex and marriage were designed to point to something bigger: the one and only marriage that will survive into eternity. Even strange laws like the jealousy inspection of Numbers 5 teach us how Jesus relates to his church down to this day (consider the jealousy inspections of 1 Cor. 10-11 and Rev. 2-3). From the first Pentecost at Sinai to the last Pentecost at Jerusalem, Jesus has always related to his people as husband to bride. This has enduring implications for human marriage and sex that stretch “from the beginning” (Matt. 19, Mark 10) to the end. So unlike the food laws, restrictions on sexual relations only grow more intensified in history.
Similarly, the laws of offering and sacrifice remain in the new covenant; however, they are transformed and intensified from animal sacrifice to human sacrifice in the death of Jesus. The laws of feasts remain, but are transformed into a single feast: the Lord’s supper. The feasting is intensified as well: instead of presenting ourselves only three times a year to God (Deut. 16:16), God now summons us to dine with him every week. Israel had three annual furloughs that were a great celebration and refreshment (consider the Psalms of ascent, 120-134); we have a weekly furlough from our labor, trials and suffering as we show glad faces to our king (Neh. 8:9-12).
Jesus is king of the nations and the husband of his church, but he has established separate administrations of his rule in these realms. In the church, his kingdom is tended and guarded by the judicial binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19) of baptism and excommunication. In the civil realm, the church does not carry out Jesus’s ministry of the sword, but she is called to disciple nations and kings in Jesus’s law (Matt. 28:19-20).
While it requires deep kingly wisdom to apply this law rightly, such wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 1:7, etc.) and the love of his law (Psalm 119). While we do not understand it perfectly, we confess it to be holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). As in times of old, we must allow Leviticus to shape our consciousness and speech. God’s word — all of it — is still meant to be the envy of the nations, and the church has the privilege of leading the way in treasuring and proclaiming it.
I contributed the following Advent reflection on Acts 2 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
After the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, Peter portrays God’s plan for history, and how he was accomplishing this through his son Jesus. As Christmas approaches, this helps us to remember where this baby in a manger was destined: a glorious king, seated on a throne with all things being put in increasing subjection to him, until he delivers the kingdom to the Father.
We recall that the flood was the first and last time God destroyed the earth itself; however, it was not the last time he brought an old creation to an end and established a new creation. To use prophetic and visionary language, in each of his covenants God tore down the sun, moon and stars of one fallen created order, and fashioned out of its very dust a new and better creation. Israel’s great exodus from Egypt was one such miraculous new creation. But even there our separation from God and the sting of the curse were highlighted: at Sinai, God’s glorious presence descended on a lofty mountain, Israel was forbidden to draw near, and only seventy elders could share a meal with God at a distance. Immediately afterwards, Israel fell into sin with the golden calf, and 3000 people were put to death. A newer and better creation was needed!
In his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus accomplished the last and greatest exodus from the old creation into the final new creation. In contrast with Sinai, at Pentecost God’s glorious presence descended directly on his people, all of whom are now welcome to draw near and commune with him in his own house. 3000 people were then added to God’s house: in Jesus, life, cleansing and healing are now contagious rather than death and curse. The sweep of Peter’s sermon also reminds us that Jesus’s whole life was wrapped up in this mission of “loosing the pangs of death” and of renewing all creation in himself. Not just his death but his life, obedience, teaching, prayers, healings, resurrection and ascension were all working to accomplish the condemnation and destruction of the old creation in its climactic failure, and at the very same time to prepare and begin to transfigure the old creation into the new. Even in the events of his birth we see battle lines beginning to be drawn.
And until the end, it remains a contest of loyalties, a war both without and within. Peter reminds us that we participate in this glorious new creation through identification with Jesus. Repentance breaks allegiance with the old creation and all that is both good and bad in it: we repent for our sin, and even for our attempts to deal with sin and find life apart from Jesus. Faith identifies with Jesus by continually laying hold of his sacrifice for sin and welcoming his rule over all things. Finally, baptism joins us with Jesus in an exodus from the old creation, just as Noah and later all Israel passed through the waters into a new creation.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. . . . Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We know that all Israel, from infant to adult, was baptized into Moses at the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1ff), being spiritually inducted into what we might call the “body of Moses” (in conjunction with Jude 1:9 and Zechariah 3:2), the Old Testament church; just as we are baptized into the body of Christ. They were not drowned in the waters like Pharaoh and his army, but were sprinkled (Psalm 77:17ff).
There are many other such baptisms. When Jacob and his family re-entered the land after their exile with Laban, he and all his household crossed the river Jabbok (Genesis 32). Another example is Israel’s crossing the Jordan river to enter the land; this was even connected with a circumcision (Joshua 3-5). Baptism is a sign of salvation, resurrection and even ascension (as though passing through the waters above the firmament), while circumcision is a sign of sacrifice and priesthood; these two are joined together in Jesus (the greater Joshua), so that our baptism unites us to his circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12).
We see a double baptism when Absalom attacked David. When David fled Jerusalem, attention is called to the fact that he and all his people crossed the brook Kidron (2 Samuel 15) as they went to the wilderness. Among those who were thus baptized into David’s exile-death are the Philistine convert Ittai (from the city of Gath) and “all his men and all the little ones who were with him” (v. 22). Then, on David’s return into the land, he and all who were with him crossed the Jordan river (2 Samuel 19). This passage indicates that the elders of Judah made a seemingly unnecessary but very symbolic trip across the Jordan in order to bring David back (vv. 15ff), signifying that their own restoration-resurrection depended not only on their repentance but also on their baptism into David and his exile-death and exodus-resurrection.
This is partly what is meant by the author of Hebrews in saying that we should “go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (13:13). In context, the author is saying that we are freshly joined to Jesus’s death and resurrection when, week by week in worship, we partake of Jesus’s body and blood in the Lord’s supper. But if the Lord’s supper is a weekly renewal of our union with Jesus, then baptism is our initial and definitive union with him, crossing the heavenly waters in a symbolic exile and exodus.
See also Unbelievers.
God covenanted with Noah and the world:
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” — Gen. 8:20-22
Jeremiah later gave a prophecy that seems to allude to this:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”
Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” — Jer. 31:31-37
I have suggested elsewhere that there are some subtleties here in Jeremiah that we typically overlook. For one, given its context, this passage has a dual fulfillment, fulfilled proximately and partially in the return from exile, and ultimately and fully in Jesus (Heb. 8-10). Furthermore, this passage and the quotations in Hebrews seem more interested with the question of whether God himself will bring an end to the covenant, and less interested in the question of whether particular individuals might break the covenant (a possibility which Hebrews itself countenances; e.g., Heb. 10:29).
Jeremiah’s apparent allusion to Genesis strengthens the notion that he is stressing God’s commitment not to end the covenant. Through Noah, God covenanted with the world that he would not destroy it. Through Jeremiah and now Jesus, God covenants with his people that he will establish them forever, never again leaving them a mere remnant in the earth.
Here is where this prophecy’s ultimate fulfillment in Jesus comes into the foreground. There was to be a remnant of the true Israel at the establishment of the church (Acts 15:16-17, Rom. 11:5). But Jeremiah and Hebrews give us the amazing assurance that, from Jesus’s resurrection onwards, there will never again be a mere remnant of the church. After Israel put her husband to death, the resurrected husband was united to a resurrected bride, “never to die again” (Rom. 6:9).