HE NEVER LEFT US
BY: JOHN R. GAVAZZONI
“Preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again.” That was a description I chose many years ago, to sum up what I understood should be the main thrust of an evangelist’s ministry, and what I promised would be mine, in an introductory letter I composed to send out to a number of churches.
I had, since age sixteen, served out an internship under older mentors as a gospel singer, but on occasion, also called upon to preach. Barely out of my teens, I felt it was time to launch my own ministry. I wanted the pastors of the churches I was contacting to know that I would center my message in the essentials of the faith, and I would not be “majoring in minors,” as the saying goes.
For me, at that time, having been schooled in the conventional fundamentalist understanding of the core issues of the gospel, assuring pastors that I would be “preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again,” I felt would be sincerely portraying myself to them as standing on solid theological ground, so they would seriously consider having me for some future evangelistic series of meetings.
Now, at the time of this writing – fifty plus years later – I find myself still preaching Christ crucified and risen with all the glorious implications in that which theologians call “the Christ event,” BUT looking back in amazement at how I, and those pastors I was contacting, could consider it so very important to preach Christ coming again, when, in fact, quite clearly, according to scripture, HE NEVER LEFT.
Yep, that’s what I said: Jesus never left. Since He came into the world, sent by the Father, born of a woman, to be the Savior of the world, He has been Emmanuel (God with us). He is not the dearly, beloved, departed Lord. He has been true to His word, “Lo, I AM with you always, even to the end/consummation of the age.” Did you get that? As our Lord stood on the mount of ascension, with His disciples gathered around Him, about to be “taken up from them,” He assured them, “…I AM with you always…”
However you might understand what happened as He was taken (received) up, it cannot be understood to mean that He was leaving them. Dear ones, He never left, so from whence has come this centuries-long deluge of concern, teaching, prognostication, exhortation and fixation about Him returning? “Lo, I AM with you always, even to the consummation of the age.” Hello! Anyone out there?
Even if one interprets the Lord’s promise as primarily referring to the consummation of the age of the law, looking forward to the complete dismantling of the central elements of the Old Covenant in the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, surely it must be inferred, that if He would continue being with them in that transition, He would not absent Himself in the age of the unveiling of the New Covenant, since His indwelling presence as our life, is the very essence of that glorious relationship.
Surely, anyone instructed at all in scripture, must understand the centrality of the presence of Christ, dynamically in, and among those of the community of the faith, and latent within all men, as the very dynamic of the continuing aionian administration of God as the Spirit of Christ causes us to participate in His Person, death, resurrection and glorification.
Having established that, dare we make a difference between Him being with us in Spirit, and actually being with us, personally, when Paul sounds the note over and over again, that Christ, Himself, lives in us, that it is He, the Lord, who is “the life-giving Spirit,” and He is our life?
Connect the dots, dear ones. If we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Christ lives in us; if Christ is our life, and if the Lord is the life-giving Spirit, dare we even suggest that, in some strange sense, we should be expecting Him to return to us from somewhere “out there?” Where did we get the notion that we’ll have to depart this space-time continuum in order to “be with the Lord?” From whence came the notion that the Lord will have make an aionian re-entrance at some time in the future? The average believer simply does not appreciate, nor understand, our Lord’s complete, resolute, and irrevocable commitment to be in us, and with us, IN the aion(s),
Well, of course, the claim is made that scripture does teach the return of Christ. Possibly more than any other proof-text… one that colors the interpretation of all other passages about “the coming of the Lord,” …the commentators settle upon our Lord’s promise as conventionally mistranslated in John 14:3. Quoting from the NAS translation – which I for years preferred, and considered very reliable -: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that here I am, there you may be also.”
Well, that would seem to settle it, wouldn’t it? Isn’t it clear that Jesus spoke of going, and then coming again; of a departure and a return? No, in fact, it isn’t clear at all. Wouldn’t those words, as translated, cause one to scratch their head in bewilderment in the light of what I’ve pointed out thus far? Wouldn’t it amount to a clear-cut contradiction if His real, personal, unbroken, continuing presence is intrinsic to the aionian economy of God?
The problem is easily solved by determining, without theological bias and agenda, what the original Greek has Him actually saying. I will refer the reader to Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of this passage as thoroughly accurate and rich in meaningful nuance. You can Google Jonathan’s translation, or simply click onto the second of the two URL signatures at the bottom of this writing to access our brother’s deeply appreciated labor of love.
But for now, for the sake of brevity, I will quote from the Concordant Literal Translation of the New Testament as fundamentally accurate but not quite as probing of the Greek as Jonathan’s: “And if I should be going and making ready a place for you, I am coming again, and I will be taking you along to Myself, that where I am, you also may be.”
Did you get the difference? It is strategically important to do so. It is NOT, “And if I go… I WILL come again…” It IS, “And if I should be going… I AM coming again.” (emphasis, mine). If you do not treat scripture with careful, proper respectful examination, you can easily miss the very obvious. That is… that His going and His coming again were concurrent.
They were two aspects of one transition. In going, He was coming. By leaving them as a merely external presence, He was simultaneously coming again to them to indwell them. A simultaneous transition was about to occur His going in one mode became His coming in a new one. He reiterated the same as recorded in the sixteenth chapter, verse 7 of the same Gospel: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (NAS)
Now stay with me, dear reader. Let’s be “rightly cutting the word of truth.” The very same author, John, in his first epistle, instructed the church that we have that Helper/Advocate/Consular, and He is none other than Jesus Christ, the righteous One. Add to that, going back to John 14:18, where Jesus says, “I will not leave you bereaved, I am coming to you.’ (Concordant literal version) The coming one was, on one hand, “the Spirit of Truth,” (14:17), yet also to be identified as Christ Himself, who IS “the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” (14:6) Obviously, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ, the Truth, cannot be separated.
In going, our Lord, simultaneously sent forth Himself – as Paul wrote -“the Lord, the Spirit.” “The Helper, the Holy Spirit” (14:26), must not be understood in contradiction to the Person of Jesus Christ. There is a juxtaposition of the Holy Spirit and the Person of our Lord that conventional evangelical theology handles with extreme clumsiness.
It was primarily via Paul, that Jesus would explain Himself more clearly as He promised He would, saying that He had more to say to them but they were, at that moment, not able to bear the further revelation (16:12). He, later, speaking mostly through Paul, clearly revealed that the Spirit they had received was Himself glorified.
I cannot think of anything more cunningly deceptive, in respect to what ought to be the focus of the believer, than a teaching that has the effect of removing our Lord off to some distant heaven, when the truth is that the heaven of our Lord is the regenerated human spirit where He lives in the glory of His Father. What has been called “the Lord’s prayer,” opens with “Our Father, who art in Heaven…“ I shall never forget asking the Lord what that meant. I was at least clear that the heaven of God’s abode was not, as the gospel song says, “over the sunset mountain,” or something of that sort.
His answer to me was quick and wonderfully summary: “I dwell in the transcendence of my own glory.” Christ is the radiance of God’s glory. The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, and They are in us. Enough of this childish foolishness that would divorce the presence of Christ from the core of our humanness.
When Jesus came, born of the virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit, “the Word became flesh, and we beheld His glory…” If you would find Christ, look for Him in the humanness He shares with us. But you must look beneath the encrustation of “the outer man,” the man of the self-created, self-perceived persona. Look beyond the man of sin, to the man whom God, in making His Son to be sin for us, has made to be His righteousness.
In this installment of our series, I have chosen – much to even my own surprise – to probe the meaning of anointing, the anointing, and the Anointed One, and their relationship to the truth that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (The Anointed One) the Son of the Living God never departed from this earth following His death and resurrection, and thus, were it not for the all-encompassing sovereignty of God that makes all things serve the divine purpose – even the most flagrant of human folly, all the hullabaloo about Jesus’ return to earth would be a classic case of a stupendous waste of religious time.
To ascertain the unfolding, emerging, ever-with-us presence of our Lord, we must take a probing look at “the anointing which we have all received from the Father.” During the Old Covenant economy, kings and priests, particularly, were anointed with oil to signify their election to fill a capacity and carry out a function in that economy. Being anointed, included being equipped by the Spirit of God to carry out one’s election and commission.
The officially prescribed substance of/for the anointing was oil, though as an extension of that prescription, an ointment or salve of precious aromatic quality might also be used which, I’m sure, would be essentially a derivative of some kind of, or combination of oils.
The oil of choice, because of its prevalence in the area of the Holy Land, and because of the spiritual benefits implied by its health-inducing qualities, was, of course, the oil of the olive. Being of Italian extraction, the superiority of olive oil, over any other kind was something I, and others of Mediterranean descent, from our childhood, assumed, and quite correctly so.
The thing about oil that ought to inform us in our study is that it is the extracted essence of its source. For years, in my health-supplement regimen, I have ingested oil of oregano as a natural, fierce fighter against infections of all kinds. I could take Mediterranean-grown, genuine oregano in its dried and chopped-up form in a capsule, but the oil form is much more effective, and immediately so because it contains, most purely, the essential benefits of the oregano.
With all the religious, carnival-atmosphere hustling going on today about “the anointing,” this fundamental truth has been lost: That when God anoints one, He imparts the essence of Himself to that one in/by/as the Holy Spirit. As in the case of the anointing of Aaron as High Priest, we see the beautiful picture of the anointing being poured upon the head/Head and flowing to the whole body from there/Him. Think, of course: Christ, the Head, and His body, the church.
The essence of the administration of God is the impartation from within of the essence of God Himself in the Person of His Son, THE anointed One, and though the liturgical picture was of an external application, it was meant to be understood as a application into (life-giving) the whole, and upon (empowering) the whole man from within the Holy of Holies, which is the renewed human spirit. This began in eternity by the eternal birthing of the Son.
He received the anointing in eternity by virtue of His eternal birth. When one is born, parents have passed on to the baby the essence of themselves. When Jesus was anointed during His time on earth, that anointing came from within Him, and from there, upon Him, for His eternal identity was within Him. That most essential “thing” which was in heaven had come to earth.
The Primal Anointed One, the eternally-begotten Son of God, has been present since Adam stepped upon the scene of creation, and actually before that (but that will require later investigation in our series). Adam’s humanness (what made him what he was) was derived from within the Divine Nature, and was/is the essence of the Divine Nature of the eternal Son of God.
Adam, and we all, – as extensions of that fountainhead of humanity, as it were – are the pure, extracted essence of divinity, though, for a time, subjected to all that He, and we in Him, are not. That is the nature of the futility Paul wrote of in Romans 8: To be made to be existentially what we are not, in contradistinction to what we eternally and truly are.
The Anointed One has been mostly concealed within the Adamic race since its beginning. He has always been present with us, in us, as the essence of what we truly are. Where did you think you came from? From nothing, as conventional theology teaches? Did Jesus die for creatures constituted by nothing? Did God breathe the breath of life into something created out of nothing? That, it seems to me, is the definition of worthlessness.
Anything not having its source, and given its essence from the Spirit-substance of God, is not real. God cannot fellowship with that which is not “bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh.” When the Son of God came in the Person of Jesus Christ, He did not come from a distant some place beyond the stars, He came from within the humanity of Mary traced back to Adam, who derived His humanity from the eternal Son of God.
What a mystery! Tracing Mary’s humanity back to it’s Source, we come to the eternally-begotten Son of God. But when the fullness of the times had come for the, as yet, mostly concealed Son to be manifested, He was given His humanity through Mary. Never has there been such an individual manifestation as was seen in Jesus of Nazareth, the singular Son of God – AND there NEVER WILL BE another such SINGULAR manifestation -but all creation awaits His final manifestation in the many sons of God THROUGH Him, PARTAKING TOGETHER of His only/unique/single-begotten sonship. Our Lord is not simply someone more sensitized to His sonship, He is the one through whom all sonship proceeds. That is the divine procession: The Godhead giving birth to the only-begotten of the Father, and then through Him (out of His loins, just like His Father), He gives birth to many sons in conjugal union with His bride. But since it all started from the loins of His Father, the many sons begotten of the Son are also His brethren. Those are the children God gave Him according to the Book of Hebrews.
The fullness of the Godhead can only be found in the eternal Son, but the fullness of the Son is to be found in His brethren as proceeding from His Father’s loins through His loins. This explains why Paul defined the church as the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. The depths of all that is God in Christ unfolds in the sanctity of the humanness of Christ which He shares with us.
As I have so often gone on to explain, the church which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, is not some small minority of humanity. The church (not the institutional perversion), finally understood, is the whole of humanity, presently represented by the first-fruits believing community.
The Gentiles (all the tribes/nations/ethnic groups) are members of the same body, they are just ignorant of their corporate identity – an ignorance that goes to the very core of our lost–ness. This has been a mystery, but by definition, meant to be unveiled, and many of the Lord’s ministers can attest to the curtain being pulled aside in countless hearts in our day.
As soon as any group of men and women experience election – left to themselves without a further infusion of grace-imparted understanding – they will come in time to infer that their election qualifies them as spiritually superior to the great spiritually un-washed masses, and they block off the street of their choosing to have an elitist block party. They may allow you in, but only as you fit their qualifications.
How are we to be a peculiar and separated people? Why, isn’t it obvious! We are to be peculiarly devoid of such pathetic religious ostentation. We are to be separated from that abominably unclean thing. Jesus became flesh – the flesh of us all, yet the flesh that we received from Him in/through Adam. The eternal Son, the Christ, did not become Emmanuel, God with us, at Jesus’ birth in the manger in Bethlehem. He became Emmanuel, God with us, in Adam, and has been with us all the way since then.
As Adam, He experienced creature–hood; as Jesus, He experienced creature–hood and Deity perfectly joined together by birth. Adam was not born; he was created. Jesus was born, and His birth had as its source His eternal begotten–ness, as the womb of Mary was supernaturally raised to participate in the eternal conception of birthing of the Son of God. That is the meaning of being “born from above.” All earthly birth is an aionian manifestation of heavenly birth. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not; how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things.”
Nicodemus struggled to understand being “born from above,” much less having Jesus going on to explain that that which the Spirit births on earth, has been that which has been birthed in heaven. Nicodemus was not prepared to have his identity traced to eternity. Do you recall Jesus saying – as commonly translated – “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven?”
No, no; very misleading and clumsy translation It is rather: “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, is that which is (already) bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, is that which is (already) loosed in heaven.” Whatever is not already in heaven, can never be made to be on earth.
Let’s retrace our steps a bit in this series to help the process of understanding get the best possible foothold. At least one very pertinent, basic language element must be emphasized with sufficient force so that it will become more difficult for the reader to retreat to the comfort zone of a familiar theological paradigm.
The Greek word, “parousia,” conventionally translated as “coming,” does not essentially convey the idea of a departure from one location and arrival at another. Even Dr. Strong in his concordance gives its essential meaning as “a being near.” Given its root-meaning, the Holy Spirit’s choice in inspiring its use in the New Testament, especially as related to the subject at hand, clearly indicates that we ought not to have our focus placed upon a future event, but upon a present reality.
The problem is that when one comes across passages dealing with the “coming of the Lord,” pre-suppositions are projected upon the text, leading to a spiritual expectation-posture out of alignment with what the writer is emphasizing.
One might argue: “Well, how can there be “a being near,” without a coming, without an arrival?” If the subject had to do with a geographical repositioning, the question might be pertinent, and deserving of an answer, but we’re not dealing with a geographical repositioning of something or someone, we’re dealing with a (thoroughly biblically documented) present, immediate, repeated, and habitual Presence calling for our very focused attention. (Thank you, Jonathan Mitchell, for your very careful attention to the Greek in John 14:3, emphasizing the present, repeated (habitual) “coming” of the Lord concurrent with His going).
[As an aside, consider Paul’s revelation that “in Him Christ” all things consist (are held together/cohere). That being so, for the presence of Christ to absent itself from any portion of creation would mean that place would disintegrate. He is the glue which holds the cosmos together. He upholds all things, not from a distance, but from within the very structure of creation. And He grants His redeemed a special “presencing” from within our depths, and by us, He reveals His same – though presently latent – relationship with all mankind].
Proceeding with the rule of exegesis that calls for the obscure to bow to the explicit, we need a refinement of our understanding as just what occurred on the mount of ascension when Jesus was taken up from the midst of His gathered disciples, accompanied by the angelic question and instruction: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go.” (Acts 1:10 KJV)
Was Jesus, according to this account of His ascension, going away to some distant “heaven” to remain at a distance awaiting a future return? Or, if, as we have seen thus far in our series, He did not absent Himself from them at all, then we must place the account we’re dealing in the relatively obscure category. First of all, given that He said, according to another account of that same event, “Lo, I am with you always,” then just what happened there on the mount?
It demands, for one, a rethinking of what we understand “into heaven” to mean. A minimally mature grasp of the heaven of God’s abode frees one from the childish notion that to “get there,” one would need to be zapped a zillion light years through space. We need to contemplate the relationship of upward movement as comprehended by our physical senses, with what is going on in the Spirit. When spiritual reality is translated into what physical senses can comprehend, it is easy to misinterpret what is really going on.
During Jesus most intimate communion with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17), words of pure revelation pour out of His heart. At the center of the prayer-discourse that issued from that most intimate communion, He did not speak of journey through space to “get to heaven.” He spoke of going to the Father, AND that the Father was in Him, and He in the Father. He spoke of being given the glory which He had with the Father before the world began. Wouldn’t you say that speaks of an inner journey? And please remember that we were all in Him, and He took us with Himself into His inner glory – into the real heaven.
Now, here is something that the Holy Spirit insisted that I not miss about the ascension passage in Acts: We have assumed that when the angel said that the Lord would “so come in like manner as you have seen Him go” that the messenger meant something like expecting that someone who walks away from us around a corner will come back around that corner. No, that was not his meaning.
The manner by which the Lord left was from the midst of / in the company of His disciples. To repeat, He left from their company, and He will “so come in like manner.” He will come from their company, from their midst, for He never left there. He is the I-AM-with-you-always One, and He keeps presently, repeatedly (habitually) coming from within and among us.
The very explicit statements regarding our Lord’s present location as with/in/among us NOW, demand that we interpret comparatively obscure, and often highly symbolic passages in the light of the former. That is a basic rule of hermeneutics/exegesis. The clear and explicit must be our point and frame of reference.
For example: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “and fire,” part of that statement introduces an obscure element in John the Baptist’s declaration. Without a thorough grounding in the place of “fire” in the economy of God, the “and fire” begs for explicit reference points, such as “God is love,” and “…our God is a consuming fire;” otherwise all kinds of demonic imaginings are triggered by the obscure left to itself.
Though it is necessary at this stage of the forward movement of the Lord toward the goal of the glory-reconstitution of all things, to deal with correcting the mistranslation of the biblical text, and misinterpretation of the same, we do that as a sort of concession to the yet-in-part approach to pursuing the truth. The way we have been pursuing truth for centuries has been a way that is inferior to THE WAY.
Any way held forth as “the way to the Way” is deserving of serious skepticism. Traditional evangelicalism is particularly obsessive-compulsive about determining what “the Bible says,” and though the Lord has sovereignly incorporated this into His working, it is a primary element within a contrarian complex of God’s economy. God has given His go-ahead to this mode of pursuit, but if we’ve been given ears to hear, His go-ahead has a “yes-but” qualification.
Searching the Bible for answers regarding any matter of spiritual concern is somewhat akin to traditional western medicine dealing more with symptoms than root causes – it does keep ’em coming back, you know, and keeps the bucks flowing. So it is with our investigation of the pre-occupation with “the return of Christ.”
As I reflected on writing this fourth installment of our series, I was stirred to look beyond the problems of mistranslation and agenda-energized exegesis, to get to the root cause of the obsessive projecting of the presence of the Lord into the future to the comparative neglect of how profound is His ontologically-based presence with us – ontological in that it is the nature of His being to not be separated from His creation.
What makes us so disposed to granting “prophecy teachers” any interest at all, given that they mostly incite believers to confusion while distracting them from presently beholding the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ in the Holy of Holies of their own humanness? These prognosticators leave their followers with a giddy feeling of certainty when they’ve actually been herded into a corral of confusion. It’s today’s Christian version of selling the Brooklyn Bridge and Florida swampland to hick-town suckers.
Do you think it might be worth noting that not one of the books of our New Testament is a commentary on a book of the Old Testament? Doesn’t that set some kind of a noteworthy precedent for apostolic continuity? Certainly, in view of the Holy Writ-centeredness of the culture of that day, references were made by the writers to the established scriptures to support their message.
But normatively speaking, for one to claim to be preaching the gospel, but be found mostly engrossed in convincing folks that he knows “what the Bible says,” (and of course, including when the One who never left is coming back) is akin to reading a book about the Grand Canyon, explaining it to others gathered around to make sure they understand it and especially drawing attention to the beautiful pictures in the book, while you’re all standing at the canyon’s edge.
While certainly acknowledging that it is God who has the masses of Christians where they’re at in their confusion, this does not mean that we ought not investigate what is the nature of their abnormal disposition. Pausing at this very moment in my writing, this comparison comes to me: It’s like the traditional concept of “going to heaven.” Everyone wants to go there, but very few are in a hurry to make the transition from here to there – it’s the dying part that we don’t like.
Believers are convinced that they love the presence of the Lord, and they actually do, in some measure, try to consciously turn to His presence, but it’s that level of the unconscious that makes us double-minded. We want the protecting, comforting, affirming Jesus, but the temple-cleansing Jesus kind of puts us off. The Jesus who confronted Peter repeatedly with “loveth thou Me?” is disturbing. He confronts us with the fact that we are not really comfortable with the intimacy that He requires. So, let’s go hear someone explain to us what the Bible says about Him instead.
There’s a passion that Jesus is all about. Though He is the great Comforter, He ultimately allows no comfort-zone which is a retreat from intimacy with Him. The great Comforter, yes; the great Disturber, also, yes! Christ came to be our Way to share with Him the passion of the Father. There have been those times in all of our lives when we’ve felt that passion expressed in how fervently the Lord came to our aid in a time of great need, but we unconsciously draw back from walking on in the experience of that passion.
I have spoken and written, about the slippery religious slope that leaves folks preferring to gather together as nice people, to sing nice songs, and listen to a nice man tell them how to be nicer. Color us baby pink. We’ve been delivered from the hell-fire monster-god, only to reactively end up with the “I’m OK, you’re OK God.” Sure, I understand, you’ve been burned by religious peddlers of perverse passion, and you are determined not to go that route again. Believe me, I know about that.
That’s how the early disciples felt. Their passion about Jesus seemed stupid as they saw Him led away in apparent defeat and humiliation by His enemies. What do you do when the best of your hope is dashed to pieces? We all, like Peter, in some way, retreat to the familiar. We all “go a-fishing.”
Or we retreat from the passionate Presence by removing the immediacy of Him. The passion is still there, but we put Him, the object of our passion at a safe distance into the future. The ones who penned the following words, without a doubt felt a passion for the Lord’s presence:
“Oh, Lord Jesus, how long, how long, ever we shout the glad song, Christ returneth, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Amen.”
“When He shall come resplendent in His glory; when white-robed angels pass before my sight… Oh, to be worthy, then to stand before Him… And in that morn to walk with Him in light.”
“Over the sunset mountain, someday I’ll softly go… Into the arms of Jesus, He who has loved me so.”
“Some golden daybreak, Jesus will come. Some golden daybreak battles all won. He’ll shout the victory, break through the blue… Some golden daybreak, for me, for you.”
See, the passion for the Lord, by the brethren who wrote such words is real, but the passion has been diluted, has lost its center. It’s almost more about “when” than Him. He’s a safer Jesus out there in the future. He’s a safer Jesus to be read about in the Book. Let’s keep Him in the future, in the Book, right? That way, we can feel good about ourselves since we’re occupied with figuring out what the Book has to say ABOUT Him… Safer that way. No, that’s the kind of safety the Savior came to save us from.
The relationship of the church to creation (as defined by the apostle Paul particularly) is profound. I emphasize THAT church, in contradistinction to its institutional knock-off (if you’re not familiar with that expression, it describes a cheap imitation of the original thing).
To have even a minimal insight into the “real thing,” requires a theological restructuring of our perception of reality akin to the latest scientific inquiry into the macro and micro nature of time, space and matter. But what does that have to do with the subject of this series of articles?
It has much to do with the subject, for if Jesus’ “going away” was not a journey measurable in light years through space to a location within the cosmos – measurable in physical terms, and an event external to the church’s existence, but rather a matter of sublime, personal relationship, then His leaving and concurrent coming, demand of us to put aside childish thinking and be prepared to be confronted with that concerning which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man…”
The confrontation of revelation for me has not always come when pondering the meaning of a portion of scripture. By contrast to that more traditionally respected mode, revelation has usually been initiated by the Spirit of Truth, at least at my conscious level, with intuitive subjectivity leading to objective and cognitive structuring of understanding within a biblical context.
In other words, as often as not, it has been an experience intrinsic to “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” as opposed to an academic relationship with the Book. Though to be sure, it has always followed that the same Spirit of Truth would confirm revelatory insight with biblical support.
It was just that way for me as I, in a contemplative state of mind, sat at the little table in our family room, right beside the very large picture window where we usually have our meals. From that vantage point, we look out from our townhouse at a delightful natural setting full of various kinds of trees, plants and flowers, and the fascinating activities of many of God’s little critters, and a dozen or so species of birds intermingling with many tree and ground squirrels who I call the Lord’s acrobats.
Jan, my wife, has cultivated the fringe around our patio area so that what is within the fenced enclosure blends nicely with that just beyond. She feeds the birds and squirrels regularly so that we have our own little outdoor aviary, and squirrel-only animal park. Duke, our German Shepherd loves to bolt out the back door and give the squirrels a daily scare and let them know, that in his view of things, they’re trespassing on his territory. He does so with such ferocity that you’d think he was about to attack a menacing intruder of the human sort. I think the squirrels like to tease him by their presence and scurrying about.
That was the scene one day as I sat at that table occupied with something – can’t remember just what now – but I’m sure something very mundane like writing checks to pay bills, when I was caught up into that contemplative mood, and found myself paying more than my usual attention to the scene I’ve described above. I was enjoying that scenic blessing with more attentiveness than usual, taking it all in when I heard the whisper of the Spirit say, “You know, all that you’re seeing out there is really in you.”
Well, I’ll tell you, that was an attention-grabber. It’s not that I don’t have a little bit of a mystical bent to my mental temperament, but that intrusion into my thought processes, penetrating past and well beyond the rational sentries that guard us from out and out craziness, belonged to a special category among those Spirit-of -Truth disturbances that have periodically left me in a state of wonderment.
I have shared that experience with a few brothers and sisters in the Lord, and I can’t recall ever getting a negative reaction, but surprisingly so, even on the part of those of a scholarly bent, the response I received was always on a scale ranging from respectful and thoughtful consideration, all the way to spontaneous agreement and confirmation, as if my sharing effected a clarification of a word already in their hearts.
We know that – as properly translated – Paul asserts that “IN Him (Christ) were all things created,” not as conventionally translated “by Him.” All things were created, and continue to exist within the sphere of Christ. This was written by Paul after the Christ, as Jesus, by death, resurrection and glorification, had become the enlarged Christ of the new covenant administration of God.
The personhood-singularity of Christ as Jesus of Nazareth has been transformed into a personhood expansion whereby He has become the life and identity of many formed into the One New Man of God’s desire – the expansion, increase/growth, complement and completion by multiplication of all that the Son of God is. As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, a body is made up of many members, and, conversely, all those members are one body, but his allusion to such a simple fact was for the purpose of making the profound point that – “so also IS Christ.”
Humanity began as/in one man, Adam. And though reproduced as many individuals – without losing that individuality – consummates itself as One New Man, the man who was stripped of death’s oldness by death, to arise in newness of life as the life of the many who are One. This singular humanity “is Christ,” the Christ IN WHOM ALL THINGS EXIST.
Our physical senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste are presently not able to translate this reality to our understanding. What we see, smell, touch, hear and taste as so apparently external to us is really within us. We have much to realize yet as to the extent of our misperception of reality. To reference the theology of Paul again, he calls us – particularly the believing community, but also, by implication, the whole of humanity which shall be brought to the faith of Christ – as God’s husbandry (God’s planting, God’s tillage). You see, the picture given to us in Genesis of a garden within which God placed the first man and woman, was to be understood when once we get beyond childish perception, as a garden within us, and a garden which we ARE. We are “God’s husbandry – God’s building.”
Please, dear reader, pay special attention to the following succinct summary: The fullness of the Godhead is bodily within Christ. And He is within us, and all creation is within Him – so all creation is within us! The apostle speaks of the church which is His (Christ’s) body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” So where did Jesus go away to? He didn’t go away to anywhere external to us, but deeper and deeper, and further and further, and higher and higher into all that He is in the Father, taking us with Himself. The Christ event is within us, not external to us.
What we see as external to us is really a projection of the immensity, majesty, grandeur, beauty, varietal complexity and glory of our together-identity in Christ. Though it (creation/the natural world) at present is afflicted by elements of impurity and ugliness alien to the essential purity and beauty of the being that we have in Him, we can still see in nature about us how wonderful we are as God’s finished work in Christ.
This calls for us to rethink the nature of Christ’s ascension into heaven, and in that rethinking, given the sovereignly-imposed limitations of our in-part speaking, thinking, and understanding, we ought not be surprised to find ourselves face–to–face with a reality that cannot be fully translated to us until the Lord releases us from all the limitation and corruption of perception we presently endure. Surely, most surely, we shall come to know as He knows, to know as we are known, and that will be to know as perfect love knows, and to perceive as love perceives. To see through the eyes of love’s inclusiveness – this is the “that which is perfect” that awaits us.
HE NEVER LEFT US [John R. Gavazzoni] Nov. 2008 1