SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of the All Things
Grace has to be present where God is present in His covenants. Because the “Seed” of Genesis 3:15 would endure a crushed heel (at the Cross), and will eventually inflict a deathblow upon the serpent, grace rests upon all of human history after the Fall until this world is presented to the Father prior to the New Creation. Grace carries the world through.
Grace did not first emerge at the Cross, but it was procured at the Cross. Calvary is the source of all the hope for the world. It represents the reason why THIS fallen world still exists. The Cross was seen from the beginning. God knew that the humans He made to reflect His own image would seek to do that image to death in His Son. Jesus would have been murdered in any era and by any people. Men would ever have done it willingly, without any push from the outside, so that they could remake themselves after their own image.
But why was Jesus crucified? Why not thrust through or shot? To ask this is not the same thing as asking why He died. Aside from the obvious need for the blood of Christ to be shed, I am not in any position to give a complete answer to that question. But surely these facts are involved in any which could be provided:
- Crucifixion was humiliating
- Crucifixion was denigrating
- Crucifixion was open and public
- Crucifixion was lingering
- Crucifixion bore all the appearance of the most abject defeat.
I could add to this that in handing over their Messiah to be killed by Gentiles, the Jewish leaders were representatives of all that fallen mankind had become. Instead of showing themselves to be God’s sanctified people, they proved that they belonged to the same ungodly “world” they outwardly despised. Think about their hypocrisy; they would feign worship God right after murdering His Son (Jn. 18:28). The Cross of Christ epitomizes human history. Being lifted up in humiliation (Jn. 12:32; cf. 3:14), becoming a spectacle to be scoffed at by men and demons, His suffering nevertheless covered the sins of humanity. Crucifixion lifted its victims up between earth and sky as curses (Gal. 3:13). But the blood shed there (better, offered up there) fits believers for the kingdom of glory to come.
The depth of sin which crucified Christ has not passed us by. We are all children of the Fall. We must take the Fall that seriously. This is what makes Calvary our only refuge. If sinners are to be finally saved it must be through the travail and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Because salvation is centered on Christ (Acts 4:12; cf. Gen. 3:15), and because the world was made for Him and is upheld by Him (Col. 1:16-17), it comes as no surprise to read that He has special rights concerning this world’s future.
In Revelation 5 we read,
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (Rev 5:1-5)
No one is found worthy, not even among the exalted sinless beings in heaven, to open the seven sealed scroll. Only the Lamb, Jesus Christ is finally found to be worthy of the task. Why?
“Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)
I bypass the question of whom the 24 elders represent (they might represent the Church). My main interest is with two truths found within these verses. Firstly, Revelation 5:1-5 make Christ the only One in creation who is qualified to open the seals of the Book. The Book is filled with calamity for the earth-dwellers, and is best seen as a prophetic overview of the time from the revealing of the antichrist till the second advent (read ch.6 and study Tony Garland’s exegesis of the chapter). None of these judgments happen until the Lamb opens the seals. Thus, their occurrence is contingent upon Christ’s timing. It is Christ who controls this history.
In the second place verses 9-10 record praise for redemption wrought by the Lamb, but they also speak of what Christ has “made them” to be in the future kingdom on earth. Therefore these kingdom blessings are tied to the redemption mediated by Christ along with the blessing of salvation. This brings up two further considerations. In the first place we must recall that the blood of Christ is New Covenant blood. So we must repeat emphatically: all redeemed sinners are saved by New covenant blood! Secondly, the mediation we have spoken of relates to His priestly office.
It is clear enough that the priestly office of Christ was inaugurated at the Cross (Heb.9:11-12) and continues with His intercessory work on behalf of the saints (Heb.4:14-16; 7:25). But Messiah is a king-priest (cf. Zech. 6:12-13), just as His precursor (Heb.7:1). The two functions can be seen in Psalm 110:1 and 4. It is very important to pay attention to the occasion when these two roles will be assumed. The NT makes it quite clear that Jesus is now functioning as our High Priest.
But Isaiah 49:8 says,
Thus says the LORD, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages – Isaiah 49:8
This is a New Covenant passage. But notice how Christ’s covenant function includes restoration of the land. As He is, like Melchizedek, a Priest-King who combines both roles, we must ask whether the two functions are coterminous.
Even though it is clear that He is our great High Priest right now, I do not believe that Jesus is presently functioning in His kingly role. Please take note of these verses from the Psalm which confers both roles on Messiah:
The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong (a) scepter (b) from Zion, saying, (c) “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies.” (d) Thy people will volunteer freely in (e) the day of Thy power… – Psalm 110:2-3
Let us link these phrases up with some of their appropriate textual cousins:
(a) “scepter” – Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17. Both references refer to a time on earth when Messiah wields the scepter of power.
(b) “”from Zion” – Psa. 2:6; Isa. 2:3; 51:1, 11; 52:6-7; 61:2-3; Mic. 4:7; Zeph. 3:14ff.; Zech. 8:3. Zion has a special place in Israel (Psa. 87:2). These and other passages connect the reign in Zion with the second advent.
(c) “rule in the midst of your enemies” – Gen. 49:8; Zech. 14:16-19. Even after Christ has set up his earthly reign there will be people who chafe under His rule. It is from these that Satan will gather an army after his release from the pit (Rev. 20:7-9).
(d) “Your people will volunteer freely” (lit. “will be freewill offerings”) – Jer. 32:40-41; Ezek. 36:24-28; Matt. 23:39. The “people” here is Israel (David would only be thinking in those terms), and their willingness relates to their being brought under the New Covenant after accepting Jesus their Messiah (Zech. 12:10).
(e) “the day of Your power” – Matt. 24:30; 2 Thess. 1:9. When tied to the previous phrase this indicates that the timing of the start of the reign of verses 2-3 is not the first but the second advent.
God’s people (Israel in the context) will offer themselves to the Lord when they know Him for Who He is – the King Messiah who rules from Jerusalem (Isa.2:1-5; 11:1-10). He doesn’t do that until He comes again. I say, therefore, that although Jesus is now the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, He is not yet reigning as a King. I know those calling themselves progressive dispensationalists use Peter’s words in Acts 2:30-36 to try to prove that Jesus assumed the throne of David right after the resurrection, when in view of the above (plus Acts 3:19-21) it seems apparent that the second advent was in Peter’s thoughts, thereby avoiding any requirement for spiritualizing the throne. Christ is not now sitting upon David’s throne (Rev. 3:21), but He shall (Matt.19:28). Jesus Christ is the only High Priest that there will ever be from the resurrection onward. All God’s elect, be they within Remnant Israel, the Church, or the redeemed Nations, have (or will have) Christ as their High Priest. They will also have Christ as their King (cf. Dan. 2:35).
Karl Barth saw the coming of Jesus from heaven to die on earth as His journey into a far country. He wrung many high and noble thoughts out of the picture, but he got the picture wrong. Jesus went into a far country from earth back into heaven. It is crucial that we see things this way round. Our hope lies in His present intercession and His soon return to rule. Jesus takes up His scepter upon his arrival back on earth, having received the kingdom from the Father (cf. Lk. 19:11-27). And He brings with Him the restorative influence of His own resurrection.
Continued next time…