1. The Third Problem of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
Jesus Christ is not only our reconciliation with God but also its revelation. Our reconciliation with him is not only real but true. So Jesus Christ is not only our justification and sanctification but our vocation as well. In contrast, our sin is not only our pride and sloth but our falsehood as well. But in spite of ourselves as sinners, Jesus Christ gathers and edifies us as his community to send us out as his witnesses. And so as Christians our faith and love include our hope.
2. The Light of Life
Justification and sanctification are two aspects of reconciliation. Revelation is its third. The revelation of our reconciliation with God takes place through Jesus Christ, first, because he lives. This is what the Bible attests. We repeat this biblical attestation on the same basis that the biblical witnesses made it: by the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, the revelation of our reconciliation takes place because our living Lord Jesus Christ speaks of himself and in doing so enables us to know him as well. Finally, Jesus Christ as Son of God and Son of Man is our reconciliation with God. As the Word made flesh, he is also the revelation of this reconciliation with God. As the Word made flesh, he is also the revelation of this reconciliation to us and all human beings. His life is our reconciliation and its revelation to us. As such he is light and the light of all life. God’s glory is God’s radiant self-revelation to us in Jesus Christ.
3. Jesus is Victor
The history of Jesus Christ includes not only his acts as high priest and king but also his acts as prophet overcoming our falsehood. His relationship with the Kingdom of Darkness is not dualistic because the power of darkness must give way to him as the light. But it is not monistic either because, even as the light of life, Jesus Christ is opposed by the power of darkness. Instead, the activity of Jesus Christ is clearly superior to that of darkness even though he must combat it before inevitably and absolutely defeating it. This war from beginning to end may therefore be summarized by the confession that “Jesus is Victor.”
The Historicity of Christ’s Prophetic Work
The prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed God’s will to the people of Israel so that they could participate in it. In his own life Jesus Christ accomplished God’s will to reconcile all man with himself. We know this, first, because Jesus Christ in his prophetic work reveals himself and therefore this history to us specifically. He himself personally confronts us and in so doing overcomes the distance we would like to keep between his history and our own.
But while God has already decided graciously to justify and sanctify us, Jesus Christ in his prophetic work meets with resistance. When Jesus Christ as the light of life shines into the darkness, that darkness—the power of nothingness—resists it. The world rejects its total transformation and we ourselves insist on keeping our distance from him. But when Jesus Christ confronts us, he integrates our history into his own by challenging this resistance of the devil, the world, and the flesh with his ultimately superior answer.
Whether we realize it or not, and whether we want to or not, we are involved in this war between light and darkness and fight on one side or the other. Christians gathered and strengthened in community are those for whom the knowledge of reconciliation in Christ is primary and ignorance of this gives ground. For non-Christians this ignorance is predominant and keeps knowledge limited. Both knowledge and ignorance, promise and threat, are present among both groups. It is a matter of emphasis. And the frontier between the two constantly changes.
Finally, in the history of the prophetic work of Jesus Christ in which we participate, we do not find a static balance between light and darkness. We find a transitional history of triumphant battle which can only end in the consummation of Christ’s victory for all. To fight for the light is to enter the good fight and to do so with the unshakeable promise of victory.
The History of Christian Knowledge Established by Christ’s Prophetic Work
Jesus Christ’s prophetic work has established the history of Christian knowledge which follows it. We must start by affirming that the history of salvation which took place once and for all in Jesus Christ is distinct from the history of Christian knowledge established by it and participating in it. So we properly distinguish between the reality of reconciliation and our knowledge of it, between Jesus Christ and ourselves as Christians. But we must affirm, secondly, that the two histories exist always in a unity. Jesus Christ is always the primary acting subject and Christians, while also acting subjects, are so secondarily. Salvation history, then, is the differentiated unity of Jesus Christ the Head together with his body the Church in victory.
Third, when Jesus Christ reveals himself to us here and now, he graciously enables us to participate in the reconciliation accomplished by him for us there and then. Conversely, Christian knowledge is not primarily a matter of our own understanding which as such stands in more or less desperate need of visible verification. Instead our knowledge as Christians occurs when Jesus Christ confronts us as our living Lord and we consequently recognize him as such. For this reason, Christian knowledge stands in no need of artistic, ritualistic, or experiential verification.
The History of Christ’s Prophetic Work
There is a history, then, in which the light does shine in the darkness, in which our reconciliation with God in Christ does shine and we do affirm it. This history begins, first, with the existence of Jesus Christ himself who as the one eternal light shines brightly and in so doing speaks eloquently of God’s grace.
This history of Jesus Christ’s prophetic work is all light and peace but it does shine in the darkness of discord and in conflict with it. However, we must first affirm that this history of conflict begins with Jesus Christ lifting the sword (cf. Hebrews 4:12) and with sin, death, and the devil being put immediately on the doomed defensive. Jesus Christ opens the attack and immediately decides the outcome by announcing that he is the gracious Lord of the world and that the world lives under his lordship. In doing so he attests the truth which no lies can change or limit.
Negatively, this attack means that a whole way of being human is set aside as past and without future. God’s Word of grace tells us we need not bother justifying ourselves because we are already justified in Christ. It tells us we need not be anxious or careless because we are already sanctified in Christ. Positively, the history of the prophetic work of Jesus Christ means our advent as new creatures. The new age dawns, and our definitive future is already present, with the reconciliation of the world in Christ. Set right with God, others, and ourselves, we are free to be humble not proud, joyful not anxious, and companionable not reserved.
In the history of his prophetic work, Jesus Christ attacks the darkness which surrounds us, hides inside us, and resists his light. He attacks it to save us from it even though we first love it more than his light (John 3:19) and champion its cause instead of Christ’s. But this darkness is nothingness, chaos, the power of death. It hates God’s grace and our gratitude. It wants only an unloving God and an unloved and unloving world.
The light of grace attacks the darkness, wounding its pride, by challenging its control over a person. Its first method of resistance to the Word is to act as if God had not spoken. It denies accomplished reconciliation with calculated indifference. It wears away the new and challenging Word by continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.
To defend itself more actively, it establishes a worldview through which we may safely filter the Word. The Word is an urgent command; worldviews are global images best seen from a distant perspective. The Word confronts one with God and neighbor; worldviews place both in a broader and more benign panorama. The Word speaks of a unique event in relation to which all else must be understood; worldviews understand all particulars in terms of general principles. The Word is a summons; worldviews are doctrines. The Word offends us because it forces us to understand ourselves as it understands us; worldviews are inoffensive because they reflect our own self-understanding.
Even worse, this darkness in us may become religious—even in a Christian sense. When this happens, we are not confronted by anything conspicuously evil or false. It is just that an increasingly tedious mediocrity gathers unnoticed over all our doings as Church and Christians. The Word of God seems present, but it is so only in a thoroughly domesticated form.
In this history of his prophetic work, and against even these wiles of the power of darkness, Jesus Christ is Victor now even though his victory is not yet definitive. We will not know with certainty of this victory if we look at even the greatest material or spiritual achievements of ourselves, the Church, or humanity. But we may know this victory with certainty by looking to Jesus Christ as he speaks to us and is knowable by us as our living Lord. Jesus Christ is unconditionally superior to all forms of the resisting element in man. We may know this beyond all doubt. To begin with, he is the sovereign Word of God. Second, Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s act of reconciliation. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the act and revelation of our justification and sanctification in which we are objectively liberated from the alien lordship of the darkness within and around us. Finally, we may know beyond doubt the unconditional superiority of our living Lord Jesus Christ because his Word speaks directly to us as creatures created through it and for it in complete disregard of the resisting element in us.
4. The Promise of the Spirit
Jesus Christ not only is the light of life, and not only shines as that light, but he also shines victoriously in and through us. He does this because he freely willed to love all people. He freely sought our justification through his humiliation as the Son of God, our sanctification through his exaltation as the Son of Man, and our participation in both through his glory as the Mediator between God and man. And the most basic form of his glory, of his radiant self-revelation, of his prophetic work, is the event of his resurrection.
We learn that Jesus Christ truly is with us and for us by the power of his resurrection. For him to be personally in our midst as our living Lord is an utterly gracious and miraculous act. And as he is personally amidst us in all his sovereignty we may be utterly sure that his light does shine victoriously even for us!
But knowing that the light shines victoriously through us because Jesus Christ himself speaks immediately to us has consequences. First it means that the Jesus Christ who is risen is the same Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem and crucified outside of Jerusalem. It also means the second coming of Jesus is one event with three forms: first his resurrection appearances among his disciples; second, the impartation of the Holy Spirit to us; then finally his coming to judge the living and the dead. Jesus Christ is equally present in each of these three forms. And his second coming is eschatological in all three forms because the last days began with his crucifixion and will end only with his coming as judge.
In publicly proclaiming the reconciliation of the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God publicly imparted that reconciliation to the world and in doing so gave it a totally new and positive determination. In the Easter appearances of Jesus Christ, the disciples saw the full meaning of his life and death both as this will be known by all on the last day and as this positively determines the whole world even now. Man already is totally justified and sanctified in Christ and summoned by Christ.
This positive determination of the world in the resurrection is also universal in scope. First Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Then the tears of his disciples were wiped away as they were confronted by the victory of his life over death. The Easter revelation of the world’s salvation in Christ transformed them and in so doing propelled them into the world to tell all people that all may also open their eyes to the light of life already bathing them.
The positive determination of the world in the resurrection is not only total and universal but definitive. Easter revealed our accomplished reconciliation with God and therefore disclosed to us the joy and peace of eternal life. That is the utterly gracious determination given to us on Easter, continuing now, and enduring without change or limitation until Christ returns.
The problem for us is that this total, universal, and definitive determination of the world, this declaration and impartation of its reconciliation with God in the resurrection of Christ, seems almost completely hidden. Jesus Christ is risen. With this event the future salvation of the world did become a present reality within the world. But if the light of the covenant fulfilled did dawn on Easter morning, why did it not shine brightly everywhere immediately?
First, with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all things were made new. God can see this but we cannot. Or we can see the actual transformation of the world and ourselves only by looking at Jesus Christ but not by looking at the world or ourselves. We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Second, we must add that with the resurrection we have the return of Jesus Christ in one form but not in its final form. In him our salvation is wholly present but in ourselves and our world it is still future. Yet we may rejoice that we have the freedom by God’s grace to move from the commencement of the revelation of salvation in Christ’s resurrection to its completion in Christ’s definitive return.
Finally, our impatience with the tension between the salvation already accomplished but not yet visible must not blind us to the visible impact the revelation of our reconciliation has had through the gathering, upbuilding, and sending of the Christian community these last 2,000 years. Even so this impact, though visible, has never been without its ambiguities.
In these last days, in this time between the accomplishment of our salvation and its definitive revelation, Jesus Christ expresses his whole being and action by engaging in triumphant combat with darkness and by involving us in it. From all eternity Jesus Christ is God’s elect in whom we too with all creation are elect. Freely choosing to be with us and for us, Jesus Christ reconciled us with God so that we too could be free for God. The days remaining between his commenced and completed presence, between the resurrection and the judgment, are our golden opportunities to serve our truly gracious Lord as his grateful disciples. So the prophetic work of Jesus Christ moves from its beginning to its end and in so doing creates time and space needed for world history to continue.
It is in this present he creates that Jesus Christ shines as the light of life. And he does this through the lives of Christians. We must qualify this statement. To begin with, as Christians we co-exist with non-Christians and stand in solidarity with them as those for whom Christ is our only hope and one future. Second, our knowledge of both Jesus Christ and of ourselves as children of God is ambiguous and therefore to some degree non-Christian. Third, being a Christian means enduring the tension between the already and the not yet of salvation as well as the inwardly and outwardly difficult task of publicly witnessing to that salvation in Jesus Christ.
How does Jesus Christ come to our rescue by shining not only on us but in us? He does so through his Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the middle form in which Jesus Christ comes again. The Spirit therefore is the presence and action of Jesus Christ among us and in us between his first and final coming. Jesus Christ as the Risen One promises us the consummation of our salvation with his final coming, and in so doing he promises to be with us and for us even now as we move toward it. His coming now in the Holy Spirit is as genuine as was his first coming to his disciples on Easter and as will be his final coming as Judge. Also, Jesus Christ is active as powerfully in this second form as he was in his first and will be finally. Consequently, no matter how horrible the suffering of our day becomes, the decisive thing is that it is a day in which Jesus Christ is present and actively involving us in his prophetic work for God’s glory and the salvation of the world. And it is for the sake of non-Christians that Jesus Christ continues his prophetic work and their conversion is its temporal goal.
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.