Whom the Lord Loves

1. Where the Road Forks

James Robinson, of Claremont Graduate University, edited the English version of the Nag Hammadi Library, a very important cache of texts discovered some 60 years ago in a large stone urn buried in the Egyptian sands. It contained some number of lost works, of which we previously had only the titles and rare references. Well, now we're hearing of the "Lost Gospel of Judas". There are many "Lost Writings of So-and-so," and when you first hear of them, your heart may leap at the thought of reading such secret treasures. Alas, none of them are authentic - the disciple whose name is in the title - say Thomas, or Peter - had nothing to do with the work. They make interesting reading, but very rarely offer any insight into actual Christian doctrine. They're often pious forgeries, and more frequently are the product of some heretical, most likely gnostic, sect. Well, point being Proffesor Robinson says of the "Lost Gospel of Judas" - half-jokingly - "Where would Christianity be, if there had been no Judas, and Jesus - instead of dying for our sins on the cross - had died of old age? So: Thank God for Judas? Even the most broadminded among us would call that heresy!" But heresy or not, the idea raises some interesting questions. Indeed. What if Judas had been faithful?

We are, all of us, little children, overflowing with curiosity and willfulness. And we wonder, could it be different than the way it is? What if I’d turned right instead of left, gone instead of stayed? – and I did I even have a choice? Such questions tend as much toward regret as to contentment. In any case, it shouldn’t take long before we get even more philosophical, and evidentially we get back to Adam, who invented regret. And we wonder, did he even have a choice? Was he made just so he could eventually die? There’s Eve, thinking, What's so bad about tasting that fruit? We know the answer now, what with all this death and pain everywhere all around us. But what would have happened if she, if Adam, had not fallen? What would have happened if Israel had taken Jesus up on His offer of the Kingdom? These questions are subjects of prophecy, and so predestination seems at work. And so the question arises, what of free will?

To say that God knows what will happen, and thus doesn't actually make our choices but informs us what they will be, is one way to squirm out of the paradox of prophecy. But this appeals to God in eternity and not in time. And given a question that has vexed our sensibilities since Adam stood shivering outside the gates of Eden, it surely is not idleness to return to it again.

What if the human actors in prophecy, possessing as they did free will, had made other choices? If there are no answers to such questions that don't appeal to eternity, then do we have a real choice in our lives? - and is the idea of free will anything other than a mockery? - and this “whosoever would come unto me" ... is it an offer made in good faith? - or bad? Well, that is a simply unacceptable assumption, of the God we know from the Bible. So how can we account for the fact that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world to atone for our sins (1 Cor 15:3, Gal 1:4, 1 Pet 2:24, 1 Jn 2:2), if Adam had the choice to not sin? It is simply stupid and meaningless to think that Jesus would die for the sins of mankind, if mankind had no sin. It was inevitable. To God, in eternity, outside of time, there is no 'future'. Obviously God knew sin would come, and planned for its atonement. The question, then, is how man's free will fits into God's foreknowing.

A specific case, then. Jesus said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Mt 4:17). "At hand" - here for the taking, if you would take it. To seal His offer, demonstrating just how near it was, he rode into Jerusalem seated on a colt (Zec 9:9). This fulfillment of prophecy was a clear symbolic claim to be the Messiah, and also a legal declaration. He had legal claim to the throne of King David through Joseph, true heir of Solomon son of David. His biological claim came through Mary, daughter of Heli (given as father-in-law of Joseph, Lk 3:23), descendant of Nathan son of David. He fulfilled the prophetic requirements for being the Messiah, if any had bothered to search the Temple records and test the matter.

So, what if Israel's hard heart had softened and the hypocrites had repented and the corrupt officials had seen the light and a universal cry went up from all of Israel, Hail, King Jesus, Messiah, Immanuel – blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord. What if the kingdom had been accepted.

The political climate was certainly one of expectancy. When Herod the Great died, rebels against Rome had to be put down by his successor Archelaus, and 3,000 Jews were killed. The following Pentecost, in 3 BC, further rebellion provoked more killing, and the Temple was pillaged and its cloisters burned by the legions of Rome. Eventually Varus, governor of Syria, came with 20,000 soldiers, crucified 2,000 rebels, and sold 30,000 Jews as slaves. The result was that Judea became a Roman province, and a kingdom no longer. And during this time, the yearning for Messiah grew ever stronger - political and mystical movements flourished. Such was the situation throughout Jesus' youth. What, then, if the time were right, and Jesus' offer had been accepted? What would have occurred? I’ll tell it as if it happened.

2. When the King Comes

For over three years, Jesus had wandered the countryside, teaching, preaching, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom at hand. Everywhere His message was met with gladness and repentance. The Baptist had prepared the way, and Jesus fulfilled all prophecy and gave miraculous signs, so even the blind could see who He was. He made no public claims, but everyone knew. From everywhere in the world Jews came, out of the farthest reaches of the Empire and from beyond its borders. For these years, merchants and travelers and ambassadors had spread the news, 'the Promised One has come', and it seemed every son of Israel in all the world had come to the Holy Land for this most holy of Passovers.

Emperor Tiberius Caesar – debauched, ruthless, competent – apprized of the perilous situation in Judea and knowing its troublesome history, had taken the precaution of sending reinforcements to the area. So came the might of Imperial Rome at its height, and well did Rome know the usefulness of brutality in holding an empire together. Infelicitous weather had caused delay, so the legions were still several days away when Jesus made his triumphal entry into the City of David.

On that Sunday – the day on which the lambs of Passover were always inspected for their spotlessness – the streets of Jerusalem were overflowing and the Way of Procession was strewn with palm fronds. Out came the priests from their latticed terraces, the princes from their flowered courts, the Pharisees from their halls of debate, and filled with joy and repentance they made obeisance to Him who fulfilled their fondest hopes. Humbled, their pride. Rejoicing, their hearts. When the crowds saw this, even those who doubted were convinced, and the soul of every Jew swelled in his breast.

Jesus was recognized as King, and while the crowd adored him, some zealots went of their own accord and found Herod, cowering in his palace. They dragged him from his hiding place and spilled out his blood like bad wine. Pilate called out the Guard, and lives were lost, but a single Roman garrison is simply no match for millions of ecstatic fanatics, and the contingent took refuge in the garrison, beseiged and awaiting reinforcements.

In those days before Passover, it was jubilation. Messiah had come. The approaching Roman forces held no terror, for none could stand against the Lion of Judah. But Judas, one of the Twelve – troubled by Jesus' strange remoteness and His persistent predictions of His own death – saw no preparations to meet the Roman army, and foresaw in Jesus' seeming idleness the destruction of the land. How many armies across the centuries had trampled over Judah? More and more there grew within him the certainty that this was not the King to come, and he saw only ruin ahead. So Judas came upon the scheme to save his nation from this false messiah. And who knew, perhaps the thankful nation would see him for the deliverer he was, and a grateful Rome would no doubt reward him, nobly. Telling himself that he desired only to protect Jacob from the sword of Pharaoh, Judas stole by night from the walls of Jerusalem to the encampment of the Roman.

Gaius Caesar Germanicus was the general – eighteen years old, newly appointed to command. A bizarre series of illnesses and accidents in the Imperial Family had made him the most likely candidate for succession in the emerging Augustan dynasty, and as preparation to leadership of an empire, he was given leadership of an army. He was tall, large, his sharp humor oddly clashing with his haunting eyes and gaunt face. He counted himself an expert soldier, boasting of his skill as a horseman, gladiator and dueler. No one doubted his promise – he was a leader of men, eloquent and erudite.

What are the details of Judas’ betrayal to the Roman? Something about thirty pieces of silver. Perhaps the price just suggested itself. Perhaps someone with a knowledge of Jewish law and a sense of humor thought the price of a gored slave appropriate … after all, that’s what this Hebrew pretender, this upstart messiah would soon be – a slave, gored. And the place to capture this Jesus, and so avoid the cost of wholesale slaughter? Where else but the garden he often went to for privacy. Why should a Roman general even seek to avoid butchering a rebellious people? Ah, there would be time enough for that – but how much more impressive to be hailed throughout the Empire as the man who put down a rebellion for a few pieces of silver, and rescued a besieged garrison with perhaps the death of but one usurper.

And so, by night, outside the gates where Jesus prayed, unguarded - not far from His sleeping disciples - a Roman guard approached ...

3. How the Lamb Dies

The city was strangely silent. Night had not before diminished the exultation, yet now, while the full moon shamed the stars and cast down hard shadows – now, Zion slept. Why this night did the spirit of torpor descend, upon even the friends of Jesus? God knows. But Jesus did not sleep, and when the soldiers came, He met them, and said, "I AM", and when the Romans fell back to the ground, He stood and waited.

As His disciples scattered, the soldiers took Him before Gaius, who smiled, and said whatever he said, and condemned Jesus, who stood silent before his accusers. And He was stripped, and beaten, and mocked, and led to a hilltop and crucified, so that when Jerusalem woke, she found herself surrounded, and occupied, and she found her Messiah pierced. Once she had awakened to find the Assyrian enemy dead. Now she found herself again surrounded, and Him whom she proclaimed Messiah dying. They rushed not out to save Him, for he who hangs upon a tree is cursed, and so this could not be Messiah. Some of them even reviled Him, first in their hearts, and then more boldly, coming out among the Romans to mock Him openly. Was it to win favor? – to ally themselves with the conquerors? Was it from their own hearts' conviction? God knows.

He died about the third hour – the hour the Passover lamb is slain – and I think He died with criminals, perhaps Roman, perhaps Jewish. It could be that one of them was saved. But on the third hour He died, and there were signs in the sky, and a great wind and shaking, and the occupying army was sorely afraid, so that when some Jews had the temerity to ask that the dead be buried, the request was granted, not from decency but superstitious dread.

Strange things happened after that, for weeks. Jesus' body disappeared, and the disciples made bizarre claims. As a sign of Rome's displeasure, the temple was destroyed, and the city damaged. But inexplicably the people as a whole were spared – of course many lost their lives, but even so it seemed a miracle. Those who kept faith with Jesus remembered his prophecy to flee to the hills when they saw Jerusalem surrounded, and so they suffered little loss of life. When shock of this misfortune wore off, the forbearance shown by Gaius was hailed with tremulous thankfulness. A covenant was made: seven years of peace, to be perpetually affirmed.

And no general was ever so honored as Gaius Caesar Germanicus. All the world gloried at his brilliance, and when Tiberius died shortly thereafter, and Gaius ascended to the throne, a golden age was declared. And he was worshiped. He had admired Egypt and its ways, and instituted many of the Eastern customs of oblation to the ruler – as all loyal citizens thought fitting. He treated his sister Drusilla as a wife, after the manner of god-kings. Everyone in the Empire took the name of their King onto their body – this was already the custom of the army, and loyal citizens counted it an honor and a privilege to bear his mark. When he had been emperor for three and a half years, aged twenty-one, he declared himself indeed a god, equal to Zeus. He had a device contrived by which he could create the sound of thunder, to answer the storm. He had his image set up in every temple of every deity in the empire, including Jerusalem's newly established Tabernacle, replacement of the Temple that had always remained in his thoughts.

The Jews had counted themselves lucky, but the idol in their Holy of Holies was too much, and their consequent rebellion brought about the renewed wrath of Rome. But before the fist of Rome could fall, there was plague, and famine, and blood on the moon, earthquakes and the roaring of the sea. Jacob was troubled. Armies marched, and gathered, and the Jews in the ruins of Jerusalem looked to the sky, cried out for Him who had been pierced, whom they had pierced in Judas' betrayal and their rejection, and they wept as for an only son. The teaching – of those who followed Jesus and all along had proclaimed His Second Coming – was believed. And He came again, and judged the nations and ruled His Kingdom for an age.

And so it was that the seventieth week of Daniel 9 followed straight away after the seven and sixty-two. Rather than an intervening epoch-long parenthesis called the Church Age, the Kingdom Age followed by seven years the rejection of King Jesus on the Eve of Passover....

4. Why the Father Weeps

Well. Interesting story. But let us remember that Gaius Caesar Germanicus was indeed Emperor. We commonly know him as Caligula. And he did rule for seven years, did proclaim himself a god, did know his own sister, did manufacture thunder. He established a cult devoted to the worship of his own deity, and set up his image in the temples of the Empire – he planned to install his abomination in the Temple of Jerusalem, stopped only by his providential death. The only details I have changed with regard to Caligula are that there was no 'Golden Age' and taking of his mark by all the citizens; also his actual date of succession was seven years after the crucifixion, as one born out of time; and although he got his nickname, Caligula, from his close boyhood association with the army, he was no general.

The marriage of the Lamb would not have been to Israel, since that would have God remarrying his raised dead divorced wife (Is 50:1, Jer 3:8) – and God's law forbids remarrying a wife who has taken another husband (Duet 24:4). More likely there’d be a period of 'hyper-missionary work' to the gentiles, with signs and tongues and resurrections, and transportations of the type Philip experienced with the Ethiopian eunuch. All this would serve to get the word out to every soul on the planet, and these converts could have been the Bride, the gentile Church called out in a week of years.

What of Barabbas, that moving symbol for the substitutionary nature of Christ's death? Under law, the only legal grounds for Jesus' execution was as a voluntary substitute. There was no fault found in Him, to warrant His death, so Jesus could have appealed to the law, to demand grounds for His execution. He offered himself for our sins, but specifically, typically, He offered himself for the thief and murderer Barabbas. In this retelling, I could have fabricated a choice between Jesus and some reprobate - perhaps Judas, or Herod, or Pilate - but to do so would have gone beyond what is needful. We, after all, are Barabbas.

Yes, this is fiction. No, it doesn't really matter, since it didn't happen. But then again, it does matter – such a fantasy might show that the offer of the kingdom was real, just as Adam's ability to resist temptation was real (perhaps I’ll tell that story too, sometime [oh, looks like I did, here and here]). Antiochus Epiphanies in the days of the Macabbees did set up his image in the Temple; Caligula would have; Titus might have. Titus, in actual history, was the Prince to Come (Daniel 9:26), son of the newly enthroned Emperor Vespasian who was called away from his campaign against a rebelling Judea by the death of Nero.
Titus would become Emperor himself, and it is he who fulfilled the destruction of the city and sanctuary, with an army of 100,000 men. It is interesting to note that Titus ordered that the Temple not be destroyed, perhaps so he could set up his own image in it. But against his wishes, the Temple was burned. Josephus reported that upwards of 2 million Jews were killed in the siege, while Tacitus estimated a more conservative 600,000 – no doubt each had partisan biases. In any case, the Jews were destroyed as a political people in 70 AD, amidst great tribulation – those who fled the city were crucified in such large number that wood was wanting for crosses, and mothers in besieged Jerusalem were reported to eat their babies. So horrible were conditions that Titus called God as his witness that he was not responsible – rather like Pilate washing his hands. This destruction upon Jerusalem occurred precisely forty years after Jesus was rejected, mostly likely dating from the first public denouncement of Jesus by the Elders of Israel in the first year of his three years of ministry (say, Jn 5:16, or Mt 16:21, Mk 8:31, Lk 9:22). Forty is the biblical number of judgment

In any case I am convinced that each of these, Antiochus, Caligula and Titus, were themselves set up and urged on by Satan, in his attempt to be worshipped as God. But fallen creatures, human or angelic, however brilliant opinion or perception would have them to be, are not endlessly creative. God's plan – what is seen of it – has been plagiarized, corrupted, parodied. Its truth has cast, by reflected light and stolen fire, the shadows of countless lies. And the enemy, like ourselves, is just another character in the final drama.

Human history is the story of Cain, who offered sacrifice on his own terms, and responded with wrath to righteousness. History is a gross burlesque of degradation, changing just its masks, lurching between farce and tragedy. We’re surrounded by the enemy, because we’re surrounded by flesh. We need not riffle through history or trudge across the globe or pierce the dark places of the heavenlies to search out corruption. An infant would be the most terrifying of tyrants, save for its weakness. To say human nature is corrupt is to say the world is corrupt, and this is a mere truism.

But even in our corruption, God does not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist. Nor does He offer blessings He cannot deliver. It is no blasphemy to remember what God Himself tells us, that there are indeed things He cannot do. He cannot lie (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2), or tempt or be tempted by evil (James 1:13). He cannot change (Mal 3:6). In short, He cannot deny Himself (2Tim 2:13), but must be true to His nature. He does not make false offers. God has integrity, and human words are shadows when applied to Him, but He is bound by His word.

God, eternal, unchanging, the same yesterday, today and always, knowing every sorrow of his children, feeling with them every pain – well, He knows these sorrows and feels these pains unceasingly. What choice does He have, then? In whatever God uses for time, each of its moments is filled with the presence of His own death, His own separation from his Son. We can forget. We have the palliative passage of time, which dulls the sharpest blade. We have sleep, and if you’ve had anguish you know what I mean. But God? What He feels, He feels always. He must be true to His word. He must be true to his nature – unchanging. God is the least free thing there could be. And what value lies in knowing this?

5. What the Wind Says
Whatever ultimate application God’s plan has, we live here, in this world, subject first and overwhelmingly to our own will. And when we look at the catastrophe this the world is – what with all this inevitable anguish and unavoidable death – of course we question it. What possible good can come from this nightmare? Hey God, how many dead babies are enough dead babies? If it’s so easy to get to hell, if there’s nothing pleasing to God that we in ourselves can do, if there’s no good thing in us, then what is hope? - and who hears our anguish and where is comfort to be found? So often that it’s almost always, the answer is not a still, small voice, but silence.

Questions are good. Answers are better. Where are they to be found?
We don’t contend with God and win. Jacob didn’t win when he wrestled with the Lord – he just held on. Sometimes that’s all faith is. Those who tried to trap Jesus with artful questions finally dared no longer come against Him. Why were those Galileans killed, and why did that tower fall on all those people? And who sinned, the man born blind or his parents? And what of this woman, taken in adultery? Jesus cut them short – Don't you worry about towers and tyrants, he said. Just you do what is right. Just you repent. Today's evil is enough for today. And Jacob could only cling to God, desperately – like a panicked child wrapped around his father's leg. Is there an answer in any of this?

In every human being there is emotion, dedication, sacrifice, humanity, laughter, love – but only because, like a flower that springs from a smudge of dirt in the gutter, the defaced image of the Creator can still be discerned, in even the most degraded of human souls. The Holy Spirit graces us all – at times, and up to a point – with His touch like a blowing in our ear. And all the enemy's contrivances cannot snuff that out. It is not the enemy's plan that determines our fate.

There are shadows, and artificial light. But there is truth, and glory. There is a broad and bloody trail of tears and torment stretching out from Eden all the way to here. But there are mountain peaks and morning winds and somewhere from the soul joy rises up as a revelation. The road to hell is easy, and hell has expanded its borders. But God so loved the world that He gave His son to die for us. This is what we’re told, and God weeps for it, and rejoices. And each of us, finally, somehow makes a choice. Lucifer said, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High.” Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.”

We all feel the thirst, trapped as we are in this desert place. And we have a choice, we all have the freedom to choose – to thirst again after lapping like a dog from the toilet, or to drink living waters and be filled.

Like children, we concern ourselves with fairness – but also with things that are none of our affair. Questions are good, but some questions tend not to enlightenment. Like children, our understanding is imperfect. The answer seems to be, God just says so. Obey. That’s the answer Job got, after the loss of his property, after the loss of his health, after the loss of his children. I’m God, says God. Who are you? Shut your mouth, fall on your face, and worship Me. We ask questions, but the ultimate answer, I think, is not in the least satisfying, and may be almost utterly displeasing. Obey. We don’t have a choice, about the answer. This is the predestination part. We do have a choice about believing the answer. That’s the free will.



At July 11, 2006, Blogger Jack H said...

[These comments are pasted in from their original site at FP.]


Miroslav said...

"We don’t have a choice, about the answer. This is the predestination part. We do have a choice about believing the answer. That’s the free will."

I be confused.

The answer is predestined?


Jack H said...

No. There are catagories of things in which we have no say, no power, no influence. Then there are things over which we have control. The unalterable nature of world, like the unalterable destiny of those predestined to salvation or the garbage heap, are in the first group. How we respond to what we cannot change, is in the second. It's that *children worrying about things that adults understand cannot be changed* idea. We cannot argue the mind of God, and have no business attempting it. Goes back to Jesus, saying, "Just you do what is right."

It's a formulation that requires some wisdom and humilty - got any I could have?

In case that's not clear, the answer is "Obey." Screw that, right? I'll do what I want.



Miroslav said...

ok. I'm with ya now. thanks for the clarification.

Job's answer, Jesus simple command, and the clay and the potter.

Happy Easter J. I hope it finds you well.


paul asjes
paul asjes said...

"He must be true to His word. He must be true to his nature – unchanging. God is the least free thing there could be."

how can God offer us freedom if he is not free? idk, maybe that is not it, i just keep thinking about his "God is the least free"


Jack H said...

A bad analogy: How can a RC priest marry a couple if he himself cannot be married?

Consider what freedom actually is. It's not an ability to do impossible things, but to choose between real possiblities. I could turn right, or left. I'm free to do it. It's about the ability to act on choices. Now consider God. There is a perfect choice. That's the one God must take. No choice involved at all, is there. Freedom involves the possiblity to be wrong. Not an option, for God. Seems almost crystaline of him, doesn't it. But that's us, anthropomorphizing him.

We have the choice of being less perfect, or more - less like him, or more. Because we can be wrong, we are free. But by my reckoning, "freedom" doesn't seem to be one of God's attributes.



paul asjes
paul asjes said...

well, i'm glad i'm not God, i guess.


paul asjes
paul asjes said...

oh, i was reading Hosea 11 last night and verse 11 stuck out to me, it seemed like God changed. And I was a little confused about who the speaker was.


Jack H said...

I think the key to Hos 11 is verse 9. God is both just and merciful, and there is a conflict between these two aspects. How are they resolved? The fact that there IS a conflict is what seperates God from an unchanging, cold and inexorable computer.

He is angry, here, but the right thing, the perfect thing to do in this specific, is to be merciful. You and I might make another choice. We'd be wrong. That's what God means, I think, when he says in v. 9, "For I am God, and not a man." It's not that God cannot "come with terror," but that he won't in this case, because it wouldn't be the best thing, ultimately.

You've raised a good point though, Paul. I'm reminded that God will "repent" himself, as in Dt 32;36, Ps 135:14, and Jer 26:13. I suggest the meaning here is he will "relent" in his justice, for mercy. It's the same idea as when God says he brings "evil" - the meaning is that he allows "calamity". In any case, there's no need for change, in this. It's part of a plan.



At October 11, 2007, Blogger Uriah said...

Perhaps it would be better, rather than "free" or "un-free" in relation to God and His nature to think of God as "inevitable"

At October 11, 2007, Blogger Jack H said...

For mankind there is that tension, between free-will and predestination. For God, it's predestination. Another way of saying inevitable.



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