Advent thoughts: December 3

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Genesis 49:10—read Genesis 49:8-12).

The book of Genesis is filled with pictures and promises about the Messiah. God’s Old Testament people knew they were waiting for a deliverer, one who would defeat their enemies and set them free from their sins. The enemies to be faced are sin and evil and death. Jesus won against these enemies by his sinless life, his sacrificial death, and his triumphant resurrection. These themes are illustrated by the obedience of Noah in building an ark, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Joseph’s rescue from death from the hand of his brothers, only to later forgive and rescue them, as well as many other depictions of the work of Jesus.

One repeated theme in Abraham’s family is that of the younger son receiving what belongs to his older brother. Isaac receives the inheritance and blessing that, by law, should have been given to Ishmael. Jacob robs his brother Esau of his birthright and his blessing. Reuben was the first-born son of Jacob, but Joseph receives the double-portion belonging to the eldest son—he has two tribes in Israel, Ephraim and Mannaseh. Judah, not Reuben, carries on the family blessing that will produce the Messiah. Even Ephraim is placed by Jacob ahead of Joseph’s older son, Manasseh. Each time the oldest son is cheated, we see a picture of God’s only-begotten Son being cheated of justice and of life itself so sinners like us can receive the rewards Jesus earned by his obedience.

Therefore, Jacob prophecies the royal family that will come from the tribe of Judah. This family began to rule in the person of David, but David was only a forerunner of the coming Messiah. Matthew opens his Gospel by tracing the family tree of Jesus from Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, and Judah, and on to David and his royal descendants. Thus, Jesus is both the son of Abraham and the son of David, with all the promise and all the authority those titles suggest.

“Until Shiloh comes” is a phrase that has puzzled translators and interpreters for centuries. “Until tribute comes to him” is found in one translation; “until it comes to whom it belongs” is another. Within the Hebrew word Shiloh is a suggestion not only of tribute, but also of rest and peace. This prophecy anticipates the coming of Jesus, the One to whom all tribute should be given, but also the Prince of Peace. Inheriting the throne of David, Jesus also says that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to” him (Matthew 28:18). He rules, not just the nation Israel, but also the entire universe. God the Father “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23. Thanks be to God! J.

Advertisements

Christ in Genesis

My writing project for 2016 was a series of studies of Christ in Genesis. I want to publish it all in one place, but now that I have time to work with it, WordPress is being uncooperative. Therefore, as one reader asked, here are links to the twenty-two pieces of the work as published.
Introduction

  1. In the Beginning
  2. In the Garden
  3. A Tale of Two Trees
  4. The Better Garment
  5. Confession and Promise
  6. Raising Cain, Raising Abel
  7. Noah, the Ark, and the Flood
  8. The Tower of Babel
  9. The Promise to Abraham
  10. Melchizedek
  11. Abraham, the Father of Faith
  12. Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn
  13. The Sacrifice
  14. The Bride
  15. Birthright and Blessing
  16. Jacob’s Ladder
  17. Wrestling with God, and Seeing the Face of God
  18. Joseph & Bros.
  19. At the Right HandAt the Right Hand
  20. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  21. “Am I in the Place of God?”

 

Christ in Genesis: In the Beginning

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Traditionally, Christians think of God the Father as the Creator—“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” (The Apostles’ Creed). Yet Genesis 1:2 tells us that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The LORD was present. The Spirit of the LORD was present. What of the Angel of the LORD? We know from the New Testament that he was also present. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3); “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). He is called the firstborn, not because he came into being in time—for the Son of God is eternal, without beginning or ending, and unchanging—but because the Father has granted him all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:19). Because “all things were created through him and for him,” we can regard creation as a gift of love which God the Father made for his Son.

John’s Gospel refers to Jesus as the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John chose the Greek word “logos,” which had a special meaning to some Roman philosophers. They thought of the “logos” as an all-pervading principle of the universe—not a god, but in some ways greater than all the Roman gods. Chinese philosophers describe the Dao in similar terms: “There was something undefined and yet complete in itself; born before heaven and earth. Silent and boundless, standing alone without change, yet pervading all without fail. It can be regarded as the Mother of the world. I do not know its name; I style it the Dao, and, in the absence of a better word, call it The Great” (Daodejing  25).

But “logos,” meaning Word, reminds us also how God created. He spoke things into being. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God is all-powerful. He cannot lie, not simply because he is too good to lie, but because everything he says happens. (Therefore, when God says, “you are forgiven,” you can be certain that you are truly forgiven.) Jesus is the Word of God, the agent through whom all things were created. Yet he is not an impersonal logos or Dao: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Creation was formless and empty when God first created it. In three days, the formless became formed. First, God said, “Let there be light,” creating both energy and matter (for, as we know, matter can be converted into energy and vice versa, as Albert Einstein first described) as well as time and space (for those cannot exist apart from energy and matter). Then he separated the waters above from the waters below, and afterward he caused dry land to rise out of the water and covered it with vegetation.

After three days creation was formed, but it was still empty. God filled the light he had created, making the sun and all the other stars, the moon, and everything else in the vastness of the universe that emits light or reflects light. Next he filled the sky with flying creatures and the waters below with swimming creatures. Finally, he filled the land with walking and crawling creatures. As a culmination of all this creation, God made the first man and the first women. Six times, while he was creating, God described his creation as “good.” When he had made the first man and the first woman, he changed his description to “very good.”

Douglas Adams wrote, “In the beginning, the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move” (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, chapter 1).  Some religious movements, such as the Gnostics, agree that the physical world is bad. Genesis says that creation is good—and that, with human beings living in it, creation is very good. Evil was not created by god, although it entered creation by distorting what is good. At its core, creation is good. Therefore, on the Day of the Lord, his creation will be restored, complete with everything that was good when God first made it. Lions and wolves and lambs and oxen are described in the new creation, and even cobras (Isaiah 11:6-9); I am sure that dogs and cats and goldfish will be there as well.

The first man and the first woman were both made in the image of God. Some people imagine this phrase to imply a recursion in which the body of Jesus was the model for Adam’s body, but then Jesus was born with such a body because he inherited it from Adam’s lineage. However, God said “let us make,” suggesting that the image of God is held by all three Persons, not just by the Son of God, the Word who became flesh. What then is the image of God? Several suggestions can be made. God is creative, and human beings also create. God is good, and human beings were created to be good. God is wise and all-knowing, and human beings are created to seek wisdom and knowledge. God is holy, and human beings also are meant to be holy.

Many adjectives describe God, including creative, good, wise, all-knowing, and holy. However, the Bible says that “God is love” (I John 4:8). God is not creation, or goodness, or knowledge, or holiness. Nor is God power or glory. He possesses all these things, but “God is love.” Love is at the very nature of God. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Had God created nothing, love would still be at the very nature of God. Therefore, human beings were created for love. We were created to love God and to love each other. We were created to do good things for the glory of God and for the good of one another (Ephesians 2:10). When Jesus became flesh and lived among us, he showed us the image of God by loving his Father perfectly and bringing glory to him. He showed us the image of God by loving the people around them and serving them for their benefit.

When God said, “Let there be light,” he knew each of us by name. He knew how we could glorify him and help each other, each with a unique set of abilities and resources and opportunities. He knew how we would fail to love, fail to glorify, and fail to help. He knew the price he would have to pay to redeem us. When God rested, while creation was still very good, he knew that his rest prefigured the Sabbath when Jesus would rest—his body in a tomb, his spirit in the hands of his Father.

Yet, knowing all these things, God decided that creation was worthwhile. He loved us enough—in spite of everything he knew about us—to create the heavens and the earth, to begin the process that would bring the Son of God into the world to suffer and die for sinners, and to move toward the new creation where once again everything will be very good. God knew about you, and he said you were worth the trouble of creation and of redemption. Therefore, God spoke the Word by whom all things were made.

Christ in Genesis

My summer writing project failed to happen this year, due to various other projects and distractions. This post introduces an occasional series of summaries of what the summer writing project would have contained.

The entire Bible, from beginning to end, is about Jesus. People read and study the Bible for other reasons, but the primary reason God gave us the Bible was to teach us about our Redeemer. Whenever we read the Bible, no matter which part of it we are reading, we should expect to encounter Jesus.

This collection of essays, “Christ in Genesis,” shows how our Redeemer can be found in the first book of the Bible. Some people read Genesis seeking only historical information about the past. The historic information it contains is accurate, but as a world history it is incomplete. Many important nations and empires are lumped together as “the nations” or encompassed as “the ends of the earth.” Some people read Genesis seeking only literature. The book of Genesis contains fine literature which can be studied in the usual way. When people say that the Bible is more than literature, they (usually) do not mean that it is less than literature. Some people read Genesis looking for moral lessons about the commands of God and the consequences of obeying or disobeying those commands. Those lessons can be found and they are useful for correcting and rebuking sinners, but even they are not the central message of Genesis. Like every part of the Bible, the book of Genesis was written that we may know Jesus and, believing in him, receive eternal life (John 20:31).

Before beginning, though, the words in the title must be defined. By “Christ,” I mean the Son of God, equal to God the Father in power and glory, wisdom and holiness–eternal, unchanging, and present everywhere in the universe. The same Christ is human, completely like every other human being, except that he never sinned. He was born at a certain time and place, he grew from a baby into a boy and then into a man, and he faced every temptation that is common to all people. He fell into the power of his enemies and was tortured and killed. The same weekend that he died, though, he rose from the dead to prove himself to be God’s Son, the world’s Redeemer, and Victor over evil in all its forms. He rules the universe today and will return on a Day known only to God, when he will judge all people and inaugurate a new and eternal world, a restoration of God’s perfect creation.

By “Genesis,” I mean the first book of the Hebrew Bible, which is also the first book of the Christian New Testament. Moses is traditionally considered to be the author of Genesis through Deuteronomy, a tradition affirmed by Jesus (Mark 12:26, for example). Originally written in Hebrew, the book of Genesis has been translated into other languages, including a number of English translations. In these essays, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This collection of essays is not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on the book of Genesis. I will not be dealing with difficult questions such as the meaning of “day” in the first chapter of Genesis. I will be skipping entire chapters which are significant to the accounts of the book of Genesis but less relevant to my chosen theme. I do not plan to address alternate theories about the authorship of Genesis or the context in which it was created.

Perhaps the most significant word in the title, though, is the word “in.” Translators and interpreters of the Bible–or of any significant texts–find that the proper understanding of prepositions is a challenging but necessary skill. When I say that Christ is in Genesis, I mean that he is present in three significant ways.

First, the promise of his coming and of his messianic mission of redemption appears several times in Genesis. A promise is clearly stated before Adam and Eve after they have confessed their sin–this promise will later be fulfilled by Christ. God makes a promise to Abraham and repeats it to Isaac and to Jacob–this promise also will be fulfilled by Christ. Jacob foresees a Redeemer and King coming from the family of Judah–this promise likewise will be fulfilled by Christ.

Christ is also present in Genesis as the eternal, unchanging, and omnipresent Son of God. Many interpreters of Genesis speak of a preincarnate Christ. They mean that Jesus was present in a human form but not as a human being, since he had not yet been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. They forget that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, at the time of his ascension Jesus filled the universe in every way (Ephesians 4:10). This means that he fills time as well as space. In other words, the human body of Jesus traveled backward in time to wrestle Jacob, to eat with Abraham, and even to form Adam’s body in the Garden of Eden. From his point of view, of course, Jesus did not travel through time, since he is present in every time and in every place. From our point of view, though, we can say that the human body of Jesus traveled through time.

John writes, “No one has ever seen God [the Father]; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). From this I conclude that every contact a person had with God as described in the Old Testament was contact with Jesus. Several books in the Old Testament mention the LORD (in Hebrew, Yahweh or Jehovah), the Angel of the LORD, and the Spirit of the LORD. As the Spirit of the LORD can easily be recognized as God the Holy Spirit, so the Angel of the LORD is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has made the LORD known to his people.

Christ is found in Genesis in a third way. Many of the events recorded in the book of Genesis depict the work that Jesus would do to redeem sinners. I am not suggesting that the events in Genesis are not historically true; I am saying that these events are also pictures of Christ. In some cases, New Testament writings connect people and events from Genesis with Christ. In other cases, Christians from ancient times or from more recent times have noticed the connections. To avoid confusion, I am not using technical terms to describe these pictures or connections. However I am convinced that these pictures and connections are helpful to believers who know how Christ fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament, and also that they were helpful to believers who lived before Christ was born and who were still expecting the promised Redeemer.

Every part of the Bible is about Jesus. This is as true of the book of Genesis as it is true of the Gospels or the Epistles of the New Testament. Readers who encounter Christ in Genesis will better understand what is said of him in the Gospels and Epistles. The marvelous way in which Scripture interprets Scripture–the more difficult portions of the Bible being explained by the clearer passages–allows Christians to see Christ in Genesis in a way that nonbelievers are unlikely to perceive.

Genesis

People who know me describe me as intelligent and educated, even scholarly (among other things). Some of them are surprised to learn that I regard the biblical book of Genesis as historically reliable and accurate. They have been told again and again that the accounts of that book have been discredited by science and archeology. They don’t understand why I will not wave a white flag of surrender whenever they confront me with what “studies have shown.”

In the near future, I will write a second post to comment upon scientific studies. Before writing that, I want first to address my reasons for regarding Genesis as a good source of information about the past. My reasoning is not the circular argument that Genesis is in the Bible and the Bible says it is from God and true, so Genesis must be true. My confidence in the Bible comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. I do not worship the Bible as such, but I follow the example of Jesus in trusting what the Bible says.

Of course Jesus is best known through the Bible, so I might not have escaped yet the accusation of circular reasoning. However “studies have shown” that the New Testament documents were created by the first and second generation of Christians, reflecting information that came from eyewitnesses of Jesus. The four gospels were delivered as oral tradition before they were written—the similarities of outline and content among Matthew, Mark, and Luke testify to this oral tradition. The source of that tradition was a group of witnesses identified as apostles, men specifically chosen by Jesus to carry his message to the world. Gross inaccuracies in the account of Jesus would have been corrected or removed from the gospels. Without demanding belief in inerrancy of Scripture or addressing every apparent discrepancy or contradiction among the gospels, one can accept their general description of the attitudes and opinions of Jesus to be reliable for historians.

Among those attitudes and opinions of Jesus are respect for the accuracy and reliability of the Hebrew Bible (called Old Testament by Christians). Jesus frequently quoted from the Torah (known also as the books of Moses), and he treated the historical information they contain as true. Because I trust Jesus, I imitate his respect for the Hebrew Bible, and I use my intelligence to comprehend the message of those books rather than to fight against their message.

Perhaps on Judgment Day Jesus will tell me and other Christians that the book of Genesis was always meant to be treated as parable and metaphor. Perhaps he will reveal that Adam and Eve were not historic figures, that there was no Garden of Eden, no world-wide flood, and no Tower of Babel. I will not be sorry at that time to learn that what I believed about those stories was false. In fact, I will delight to relearn history and science from the Master. Meanwhile, I risk trusting that they are true, not because I don’t want to use my intelligence, but because I don’t want to lose my relationship with Jesus.

Other people, who cannot accept the accounts in Genesis because of their trust in scientists and historians, use their lack of confidence in Genesis to support their rejection of the entire message of the Bible. Because they cannot believe that the world was created in six days, or that a talking snake met Eve in Eden, they say that the entire Bible is nothing but fairy tales and that God is an imaginary being. Being wrong about how long the world has existed does not matter. Being wrong about God does matter. One of the strengths of science as a discipline is the ability of scientists to keep exploring new ideas, to admit that some ideas are wrong and others are better. One of the strengths of Christian faith is the ability of Christians to remain anchored in unchanging truth even while every scholarly finding is questioned and changed.

I have high respect for scientists, historians, and archeologists. I have high respect for their findings and discoveries. I do not have respect for people who try to use those findings and discoveries as weapons against people of faith. With unintended irony, they mock people of faith who aver that scientists and historians may be wrong, while genuine scientists and historians are always open-minded toward the possibility that they may be wrong. The air of superiority worn by those who trust science to disprove faith will be overturned when they meet God face to face. Sadly, that Day it will be too late for them to change their minds. J.