Friday, September 18, 2009

like a sore thumb: the history of revelation

This has nothing to do with end times.  Rather, it concerns the history of God revealing himself to man and the missiological implications which we can draw today.  

There are several key passages {Heb 1:1-2, Rom 1:18-30, Jn 1:1, 14; 17:18, Matt 21:33-41} relating to the history of revelation.  What is the process, historically and chronologically wherein God revealed himself to man.  Jesus alludes to this process in the parable of the tenants in Matt 21.  A land lord lets out his property.  He sends various representatives, whom the tenants kill.  Finally he sends his Son, thinking that they will not kill him-they do. 

Adam and Eve walked with God and they certainly taught their children about this after the fall.  In the days of Noah, there was a brief point during which the entire world {Noah and his family} knew God.  Think about being Abram, a probable moon worshiper.  For our purposes here we are going to use Abram as an “everyman.”  What is true for Abram and what followed him is also true, in whole or in part, for every man today.  The revelation of God has gone through several phases: Nature, Law, Prophets, Jesus, Body of Christ. 

If you lived between Babel and Abram’s day you would probably be looking to nature.  Scripture is clear, that God reveals himself through nature:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Ps 19:1

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  Rom 1:19-20

moses What does man do with God's revelation?  He spurns it.  Romans goes on to say that man traded worshiping the creator with worshiping the creation.  This is true historically.  In the days of Noah, his family knew the one true God.  How did they trade the worship of the living God for Idolatry?  In spite of God declaring himself to them through nature, they misunderstood and twisted revelation.

God rectified this through choosing a people and calling them out through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Primarily he revealed himself through the law.  As if the tenants misunderstood their landlord (Matt 21), he sent them another person to explain his terms.  They killed him as well.

What did the Jews do with the law?  It didn't take long for them to break it.  In fact, they were busy making and worshiping an idol while God was revealing the law to Moses! 

The story which continues through the rest of the Old Testament, is one in which they are constantly breaking God's law.  Judges describes their continued cycle of breaking the law, God's judgment, oppression, repentance, and restoration.  Not having learned their lesson, they repeat this cycle over and over again. 

This leads to the next phase of revelation: the prophets.  Hebrews 1:1 reads that in many times and in many ways God spoke to man by the prophets.  The landlord from Matthew continued to send emissaries to reason with the tenants.  So God did with man.  He sent prophets who transmitted His messages to His people.  They called the people back to God and rebuked them from the law.  They demonstrated the ways in which they had forsaken God and broken his law.  One would think that man would eventually wake up and heed what God was saying to them.  Yet they persisted.  They punished, imprisoned, and even killed the prophets.  Rather than believing and turning to God in repentance, they continued in their ways.  Just like the man in Romans 1, they continued to reject what they knew was true till they were turned over to their own darkness.  Finally, God caused his people to be taken into captivity, the temple to be destroyed, and the land to be inhabited by another.  The land represented his blessing and providence and the temple represented his presence.  He had removed his blessing and presence from them.

But, in love, he did not leave them to their own devices.  He further revealed himself through his son.  The landlord sent his son to the tenants thinking that they would surely respect his son.  Hebrews 1:2 says that in these last days he has revealed himself though his Son who is the heir of all things.  Through these phases of revelation, the message has been clarified at each point.  In this phase God sent his revelation in the form of a person.  When God chose to reveal himself to man, he put a face on it.  He spoke our language.  He understood our culture.  John 1:1 says that in the beginning was the word.  The Greek word is logos.  This word has a broader usage in the Greek world than the way John used it (and John is bridging the gap between the common Greek understanding of logos and his theological understanding of logos).  Plato used this concept and called it "forms."  These forms were eternal and transcend the created order.  These forms consist of ideas such as justice, love, beauty, and truth.  Philosophers always assumed that the logos was eternal.  John said nothing new.  His next phrase was a little more controversial, "and the logos was with God."  Many philosophers had joined the idea of an eternal logos and an eternal divinity.  Augustine actually agreed with Plato (though he comes after the days of Jn 1:1...), to an extent, in that he also affirmed that justice, truth, and beauty were all eternal.  Augustine, however, believed that they were eternal and unchanging because they were in the mind of God and God is eternal and unchanging.  John's final statement was revolutionary, "and the logos was God."  This was something that the philosophers had never thought before.  Why are truth and love eternal and unchanging?  Because God is love and truth and he is eternal and unchanging.  But logos is still very much a philosophical principle at this point.  We are at the point in the history of revelation that God is ready to roll out the next clarification and he is sending the logos himself.  But God is spirit, and we, since we misunderstood nature, the law, and even the prophets who explained the law, it was necessary for God to reveal himself in a way that could not be misunderstood [aka not in some kind of ball of ethereal philosophical logosness.]. 

"And the word became flesh and dwelt among us." 

This is the principle of incarnation.  God revealed himself in a form which was 100% human.  Our senses had become dulled (we were turned over to a reprobate mind-Romans 1) and so he came in a way which we could understand.  He spoke the local language.  You could have heard him talk and known where he was from.  He taught in local forms.  He wore local clothes; you could have looked at what he was wearing and known where he was from.  He attended the local parties, participated in their cultural festivals.  He was in every way human.  More than that, he was in every way Jewish.  All of this should be instructive to us for our stance towards culture.  There were many areas of culture which Jesus assumed.  Many of these areas do not fit our local taboos and thus we gloss over them.  For instance, the church, primarily in the South, is highly political.  They seem to overlook that Jesus stepped into an extremely corrupt political environment and said precious little concerning it.  To my KJV only brethren, in Jesus' day, there were several texts available...  he did not pick which text was best, and sometimes he just paraphrased or told stories.  Jesus was comfortable with many aspects of culture in ways which would make us uncomfortable (at the same time, he prophetically rebuked certain aspects of culture). 

Back to the story... In the parable of the landlord of the vineyard, he decides that the way to convince the tenants of his intentions is to send his son.  What do they do?  What did the Jews do?  They disbelieved; they killed him.  There is one more phase of revelation: us.  When we look at revelation historically we should expect a similar reception. Jesus says this to his followers.  He tells them that the should rejoice in the face of suffering and persecution because their fathers before them were treated in kind (Matt 5:11-12).

The next step of the story is simply you.  How did God reveal himself ultimately to man?  He put a human (Jewish) face on it.  How does God want to reach the dying world?  Airdrop Bibles and tracts?  Nope.  He sends you.  John 17:18 says that as he has been sent by his father, that he sends his followers.  He repeats this again in 20:21 "as the father sent me, even so I am sending you."  Paul affirms this message.  He says that God is reconciling all things to himself through Christ {2 Cor 5:19}.  Furthermore, we are ambassadors and God is now making his appeal through us {5:20}.  In the same way in which God did not send the logos in the form of a spirit or philosophical concept to us but put it in flesh, so also today he does not send his message through some kind of impersonal syllogism, drive by evangelism, and spiritual "scratch and sniffs" {aka tracts.}.  He wants us to be incarnational {and for the purpose of this article, not extractional}.  We know this because Paul admonishes us to follow Christ in this regard {Phil 2:5-8}.  A lot of people get messed up over "God emptied" himself.  This is because they do not understand the incarnation.  This is not emptying in the sense of loosing part of himself.  Rather it is a pouring into.  He simply poured himself into a human form and modeled the incarnation.  So to, we are to pour ourselves out-not that we are not human-and into the form of a servant following their master all the way to the cross.

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