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THE RATIONAL GOD
Does God Make Sense?
by John Clayton
CHAPTER 3: THE COMING OF CHRIST
One of the greatest misunderstandings that people have made and continue to make about the Bible is the transformation that came about with the coming of Christ. For God to make sense to all of mankind there is a necessity to understand how complete the break is in biblical history between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. It was such an incredible change that God comes to earth to enact it. John 1:1 – 14 spells this out by the use of a special Greek word logos. This word in the Greek “denotes the expression of thought — not the mere name of an object … the personal manifestation, not of a part of the Divine nature, but of the whole Deity.” 1 John not only says that “The [logos] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (verse 14), but he goes on to say that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (verse 17). In the transfiguration of Christ in Matthew 17 Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appear together. A bright cloud enveloped the scene indicating God's glory and presence, and a voice from within the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” In the Old Testament people were governed physically and spiritually by the Law of Moses and the Prophets (see Matthew 11:13, 22:40; Luke 16:16). The Greek word used in these references to the law is nomos meaning a law, ordinance or custom. 2 For ancient man in a primitive and violent world, the law gave order and structure. With the coming of Christ “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:18 – 19).
In the transfiguration God tells mankind to listen to Jesus, not to the endless rules and regulations which defined man in his primitive state. In Colossians 2, Paul hammers on the importance of separating the Old Law from the Law of Christ. In verses 9 and 10 we are told that “the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” 3 In verses 12 to 14 Paul explains that in the Old Law mankind was dead in his sins, but through baptism “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” 4
Not only has Jesus nailed the Old Law to his cross, but Paul goes on to challenge the early Christians not to allow themselves to be restricted by the Old Law and its regulations. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (verse 16). “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! ’ ? ” (verses 20 – 21).
In Paul's letter to the church in Galatia the same issue dominates much of his writing. He begins by expressing dismay that they have so quickly discarded the freedom they had from the Old Law (Galatians 1:6). Paul indicates that he had to chastise Peter because Peter allowed himself to become a part of forcing sections of the Old Law on the church (Galatians 2:11 – 14). In verse 16 Paul emphasizes the freedom from the Law clearly when he says we are justified “by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” In chapter 3 Paul goes on and says “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (verse 10). Paul's conclusion to the Galatian letter is to say “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).
What a tragedy it is that many denominations have missed the significance of the separation of the New and the Old Testaments. By failing to understand that the Old Law was done away with, a whole theology has been developed that seeks to restore the Old Law and Judaism. By mixing the New and the Old Testaments, the goal of the church has been diverted to political purposes. Churches have become caught up with the European Common Market, Russia, China, Arab countries, and the politics and wars these things involve. John Nelson Darby, the founder of dispensationalism, stated “The Jewish nation is never to enter the Church.” This flies in the face of much of the New Testament and the whole meaning of the gospel. It also violates Acts 10 where Peter is given a special revelation about Cornelius, a Gentile, and summarizes his understanding by saying, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34 – 36). Galatians 3:26 – 29 and Ephesians 2:11 – 22 make it crystal clear “There is neither Jew nor Greek, … for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Failing to separate the New and the Old Testaments has led to the teachings that after the “Rapture” and “Tribulation” Jesus will return and rule on David's throne for 1,000 years, reestablishing animal sacrifice, the temple, and all the rules and regulations of the Old Law. In 1980 a foundation called “The International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem” was set up to aid Israel in its conflicts with its neighbors. They have a staff of 50 workers in 80 countries and an identity with the Likud party in Israel. All of this in spite of Jesus telling his followers, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), and telling his followers to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's” (Matthew 22:21).5
God in his wisdom enacted a plan for mankind that is now able to bring man back into a personal relationship with God. The Old Testament is pictured in the Bible as a school — a mechanism to lead man to a faith that allows man to become what God calls man to be. This is stated eloquently in Galatians 3:23 – 29:
.....Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
When we examine the teachings of Jesus Christ, we see the incredible superiority of what he brought to mankind. The ultimate plan for man is seen in the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus taught and what the church was actually about in the biblical record was given to man at a time when it made sense. God is rational, and he knows when to do what. From a technological standpoint, man can now function without the food taboos and restrictions of the past. Food can be cooked in such a way that nothing would be “unclean” for man. This is stated directly in Acts 10 when Peter has a container (a large sheet) lowered to the earth with every kind of possible animal contained within it, and he is told to “Kill and eat” (verse 13). Peter responds that he has “never eaten anything impure or unclean” and he is told directly by God, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verses 15 – 16). This happens three times emphasizing the change that was taking place in God's food provisions for man. Man was no longer confined to nomadic wandering. He now could have fixed ovens and other ways of preparing food so that nothing would be forbidden. Paul said it clearly, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14) and again in Colossians 2:16, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink.”
It was also no longer necessary for the legal system to function in an “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” fashion. There were now large populations of people in cities, not strewn across miles and miles of rural, family managed properties. Christianity now separated civil rule from spiritual matters, and Christ emphasized “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's” (Matthew 22:21). The ancient system of cities of refuge and of exacting an eye for an eye was not only no longer needed, but failed to bring true peace to anyone. Paul taught that civil rule was ordained of God (Romans 13) and Christians were told to “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). This was written at a time when one of the most brutal and violent governments ever known to mankind was in power, and yet political action was not taught by the church.
It is not possible to read Matthew 5 – 7 with an open mind and not see the uniqueness of what was taught by Jesus Christ. Each of the instructions given by Jesus in chapter 5 states the old system and offers a better way:
|5:21 – 22||Do not murder.||Do not hate.|
|5:27 – 28||Do not commit adultery.||Do not think lustfully.|
|5:33 – 37||Do not break promises.||Do not make promises.|
|5:38 – 42||Eye for an eye||Do not retaliate.|
|5:43 – 48||Hate your enemy.||Love your enemy.|
Notice that the New Testament statements of Jesus deal with attitudes, not with legalistic, fixed laws with threats of physical punishment when a rule is broken. It is hate that causes murder. It is thinking in a user mentality with physical gratification as the focus of life that causes adultery and sexual abuse. It is the rash making of promises to control another person that causes those promises to be broken. It is a knee-jerk reaction to abuse of selfish interest that causes hostility. It is a failure to treat every human as a special creation of God, formed in his image, that causes hate to rule our planet instead of love. There is no room for hate if we have grown sufficiently in love.
Mankind with God's help now has the capacity to live as God wants him to live. We do not have to be ruled by hate, violence, sex, revenge, and selfishness. The problem is that traditions die hard, even among those who might have the capacity to change. Most of the opposition to Christ came from the religious establishment of his day who were unwilling to give up the old for the new. In today's world we have that same problem. Many religious people want to reestablish the legalistic system of old laws and restore the power structure of ancient kingdoms. Many if not most churches have a power structure. We use religious titles and we place great emphasis on certain roles and rules within the church. Jesus points mankind to something better to a personal relationship with God through him built on faith, love and trust. He continually reminds us that “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary, page 1241.
- Youngs, page 591.
- Italics mine.
- Italics mine.
- “Orchestrating the End” by Stephen Sizer, SCP Journal, Volume 31:4 and 32:1, 2008, page 52.
Continue to the Chapter 4: IS THE CHURCH A RATIONAL CHREATION OF GOD?
Return to the Chapter 2: MAN'S EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY IN THE WAR