Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.
–2 Timothy 1:8-11 (NASB)
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
–1 John 4:15-18
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine last Sunday afternoon. Toward the end of our time together, he haltingly asked me something he obviously thought would offend me. I can’t recall his exact words, but he was wondering if I realized the centrality of Jesus as the Lord and Savior of my life. I guess he thought I was getting a little too lost in Judaism or in attempting to engage my faith through a sort of “Jewish lens”.
This lead to a rather lengthy and repetitive monologue on my part and I hope I made some sort of sense. In order to organize my thoughts better, I decided to write them out and share them in a more public venue.
One of the Jewish arguments against Jesus being the Messiah, especially as conceptualized by organized Christianity and as recorded (apparently) in the New Testament, is that Jesus appears to be a tremendous departure from anything that God had done before. I don’t mean that God did something new, but that He did something incredibly different, as if he switched from “plan A” to “plan B”.
There’s no real mention of a Messiah in the Tanakh (Old Testament) particularly as Christianity understands the role, and let’s face it: Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance until the last third of the Biblical narrative. If he’s so important, why didn’t he show up sooner?
Actually, some people think he did:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
He gave him a tenth of all.
Given the mention of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7, most Christians and many in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism think that Melchizedek is the “pre-incarnate Jesus”. There are a number of other places where Christians exchange their “exegesis” of the Old Testament to “I see Jesus” in the Tanakh, in part to solve the “problem” of why Jesus didn’t put in an appearance before the end of Matthew 1.
D. Thomas Lancaster in his sermon on Melchizedek for the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series which I reviewed, does a good job at refuting the idea that Melchizedek was literally Yeshua (Jesus), but there are plenty of other occasions where some people believe Jesus “beamed” into early Biblical history like some sort of “Star Trek” character.
Frankly, I think attempting to force scripture to have Jesus show up bodily before he’s actually born actually cheapens the miracle and significance of Messiah’s birth by woman and all that he accomplished in his physical, human experience.
But we have this problem of when Jesus appears. If he’s the cornerstone, how can you build the first two-thirds of the Bible without him? Or are we missing the point?
One of our biggest problems with understanding the Bible and the centrality of the Messiah is time. By definition, we are beings who live in linear time. We are born, we live, we die. We have yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That’s how we think. It’s difficult to imagine a universe without time, and we forget that when God created everything, He created time, too.
When I was a little kid, I tried to imagine what God’s “environment” must have been like before He created everything. I pictured an old man with a big white beard and long, shaggy white hair, dressed in a robe and sitting on a golden throne floating in infinite blackness. I thought of the universe as just stars and galaxies not imagining that it’s also space and time.
It’s difficult if not impossible for a human being to even perceive a sliver of God’s point of view. What does God see when He looks at the universe? Who knows? How can God exist outside of time? If time doesn’t pass for God at all, what is that like?
In my conversation on Sunday, I used a metaphor. I said that from God’s viewpoint, all of creation must be like a painting hung on a wall. In the painting is every event that has ever occurred and will ever would occur in our universe from start to finish. It’s like everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen across the entire line of history is all occurring inside that painting simultaneously. God can take in time, the universe, and everything at a glance.
Now imagine that in the very center of the painting is a stone archway. Now imagine that all of the other stones in the stone archway are balanced against a single, critical keystone. If this keystone were removed, the entire arch would collapse into rubble. When the keystone is in place, the other stones and the archway itself are completely immovable.
Guess who the keystone is?
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
–Ephesians 2:19-22 (emph. mine)
Granted, Paul is using the cornerstone metaphor in terms of the structure of the ekklesia or assembly of Messiah, but I think it still works (see also Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, and Acts 4:11). I always wondered how you could build anything else in the redemptive plan of God across human history without first laying the cornerstone, or in the case of the previous metaphor I used, the keystone. Now I think I know, but the explanation is a little metaphysical.
Messiah is central to the plan of God because he’s always been central. He’s just not apparently central when we consider the appearance and work of Yeshua in linear time. This is also why Jewish objections to a first and second coming of Messiah and why Yeshua didn’t finish the work he started in the first advent don’t really matter. It’s because linear time doesn’t determine how and why Messiah is the lynchpin of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
If it’s possible to use the word “before” in terms of a timeless God, then even before God created the universe, He knew the consequences of creating human beings with free will would result in the universe turning out the way it did. That is, God knew that giving human beings free will would lead to our disobeying Him with the result of changing the very nature of the universe from perfect to damaged.
So when God created the universe, He also created a plan for restoring it which means the very nature and character of the Messiah is built into creation, that everything rests on Messiah’s shoulders, so to speak, and that without the Messiah (for whatever reason) the universe can never be redeemed.
I know that’s dicey language to use in relation to God since nothing is impossible for Him, but God’s “solution” to the problem of human free will and its consequences is Messiah. It’s as if God created not just all of the universe all at once (well, in six “days”), but all of human history from beginning to end, and then placed that history upon the cornerstone, which is Messiah.
No, I can’t prove any of this from scripture beyond what I’ve already quoted, but it’s the only way I can make sense of God, the role of Messiah, and the narrative of the Bible including God’s plan for redeeming His creation.
Let me know if this makes sense to you.