Thursday, May 28, 2009

To See the Kingdom, See the Cross

(Continuing the discussion from yesterday)

John Chapter 3 is a key Biblical passage in my understanding of the Gospel, uniting the themes of Cross and Kingdom. In the comments below I am assuming that you, the reader, know the text. Feel free to break away and read it before continuing.

All my life I have heard the story of Nicodemus preached as an call and invitation to be born again. Preachers and evangelists routinely treat the passage as if Jesus' goal for Nicodemus was that he be born again. However, deeper perusal of and meditation on the text indicated to me that new birth was the means, not the goal. Jesus' goal for Nicodemus was that he see and enter the Kingdom of God.

In verse 14 the bronze Serpent made by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) is used as a type of Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. The Numbers story is the first time in the Bible where faith is directly connected to healing. Being "lifted up" in the Gospel of John is a synonym for the Cross. John saw the Cross not just as Jesus' humiliation, but as Jesus' exaltation. Those who look in faith at the crucified One as Israel looked in faith at the serpent are "healed" with eternal life.

Now we come to the famous "end zone" verse -John 3:16. The Greek phrase zoe aionios in verses 15 and 16, usually translated eternal life or everlasting life, literally means "life of the age." By implication, it means the quality of life of the Kingdom Age to Come. Many commentators believe that John used this phrase as a synonym for the common phrase used by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke - Synoptic meaning "to see the same"). Thus, everything the Kingdom of God means in the Synoptics, Eternal Life means in John. Everything Eternal Life means in John, the Kingdom of God means in the Synoptics. This expands the meaning of both concepts, and brings them together as one.

To summarize the chapter: If we behold the Cross of Christ in faith as Israel looked upon the bronze serpent, we can be born again, and thus see and enter the Kingdom of God and experience the life of the Age to Come, in down payment form now and in completeness in eternity. This is the Gospel - the Cross and the Kingdom as one message.

More tomorrow.