“It Is Finished”
When Jesus had received the [sour] wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. — John 19:30, NRSV.
Recent issues of Outlook have traced mankind’s age-long search for God. In this search mankind has generally assumed that we were made for God but have become separated from him through our transgression of divine law. It also has been generally assumed that, because of this transgression, we are bound to a fallen history and Creation and are subject to sin and death.
Thus, for thousands of years, mankind has sought to recapture its forfeited union with God by possessing divine law, word, spirit, power or energy. We have imagined that if we could successfully possess these divine archetypes or patterns, we could act to escape, suppress or abolish history and Creation. It has been thought that we could then return to God as free souls or spirits, thus realizing our intended divinity.
Yet, after more than 4,000 years of frustration, we still feel estranged from God. We still encounter evil and death in history and Creation.
Contrary to our delusional myths, God never designed for us to possess, fulfill or otherwise use divine law — word, spirit, power, energy — to achieve divinity. Rather, these are agencies or instrumentalities that God has used to disclose himself to us in order to manifest his presence, actions and purpose for mankind. He has used these means to restrain evil and death and to sustain history and Creation.
Thus, in the “beginning” God acted as our Creator. He acted through the agencies of “spirit,” “law,” “word” to create a human universe — a universe made specifically for us (Genesis 2:2; Psalm 33:9; John 1:1-3). Even scientists recognize the “anthropic principle,” which states that, to virtually an infinite degree, the universe was designed to accommodate living human beings like ourselves.1
Having created the universe, the world, life and mankind, God personally addressed us through our forebears — Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and many others. In so doing he purposed to enter into covenantal relationship with mankind. God presented himself as one party, and he recognized us as the “other” party. As Creator he set forth the conditions for relationship — for blessing and fulfilled destiny with himself. Yet throughout history we have repeatedly distorted God’s actions by determining to possess the covenantal stipulations or laws ourselves, exercising our own “legal” powers to achieve our full divinity.
After enduring 2,000 years of rejection and apostasy by our ancestors, God finally intervened incarnationally during the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. In reviewing this intervention, we shall repeatedly refer to decades of critical scholarship by Nicholas Thomas Wright (Canon Theologian, Westminster Abbey, London, England) and to his findings on the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Christ event.2 We also shall refer to another scholar, John Ziesler, whom Wright particularly recommends.3
Jesus and YHWH. Jesus Christ is the human manifestation of God himself — YHWH or Jehovah. Let us be clear on this point. Jesus is not another God. Jesus is not a subordinate God. Jesus is not an instrument of God. Jesus Christ is himself the One-and-Only God manifested in his own humanity. There is no other God but Jesus! If this be offensive to our historical Jesus friends, to our fundamentalistic, orthodox Trinitarian friends, or to our unorthodox Gnostic, agnostic, deistic, humanistic and other friends, we are sorry — but so be it.
Before creation . . . [God’s] self-expression could only be reflexive, towards himself . . . Now, however . . . [God] is seen in a radically new form, neither in words nor in the structure of the cosmos, but in a specific human life. The message is a real person, a genuinely human person just as the world is a real world and a prophet’s words are genuinely human words, though all are of divine origin . . . [T]he expression of God . . . is God himself in his revelation.4
. . . Jesus was conscious of a deeper vocation even than that of Messiah. Israel’s greatest hope was that YHWH, her God, would return to her in person, coming to Zion as judge and redeemer. In Jesus’ last great journey to Jerusalem, in his action in the Temple and the Upper Room, he dramatically symbolized that return. . . . He intended to enact and embody that which, in Israel’s scriptures, YHWH had said he would do in person. There could be no greater claim; yet the claim, though stupendous, only made sense within, could only be made from within, the context of the first-century Jewish world that bounded all Jesus’ thoughts and actions.5
Jesus believed he had to go the incredibly risky route of acting and speaking in such a way as to imply that he was embodying the judging and saving action of YHWH himself; Paul wrote of Jesus in such a way as to claim that Jesus was indeed the embodiment of the one God of Jewish monotheism.6
Jesus and the Old Covenant. God in his human manifestation acted as the historical Jesus, in his earthly life and ministry, to fulfill all the provisions, conditions and stipulations of the covenant of law. In doing this, Jesus accomplished more than even our ancestors determined to do. He assumed all the proposed metaphoric and archetypal symbols — such as law, word, spirit, wisdom and Shekinah. He accepted our estrangement from God (Matthew 27:46). He accomplished the longed-for apocalyptic end of the old history, the old created order, the old kingdoms, the old power structures (Colossians 2:15). And in his triumphant declaration at Golgotha, he cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30)!
Jesus and the New Covenant. In his embodied resurrection, God as Jesus Christ triumphantly manifested himself to friends and other human witnesses, thus disclosing the new and eternal covenant of love. This new covenant went beyond all imposed law, all prior words, all previous manifestations of soul, spirit, wisdom. This new covenant superseded absence with Presence. It went beyond autonomy to relationality, beyond evil to goodness, beyond death to life. It surpassed law with love.
Since love . . . exceeds the limits of the law, it leads man to the place of freedom, where there is no boundary and no limit except for the limit implied by the concept of freedom itself. Freedom, moreover, which as complete personal harmony and concord with God, mankind and the world is the opposite to individual independence, has love as its precise content and actually functions as love. Freedom and love are human functions and states with an identical content. Love is freedom. For this reason freedom does not fight the law but regards it with love; it broadens the law with love, clarifying its limits and transforming it. “Truth does not destroy types but makes them clearer.” The moral content in freedom is defined by the bonds of love.
Consequently, the law . . . is good and precious and constitutes a gift given by God to man. But love exercised in freedom is superior to the law. “Love alone, properly speaking, represents true humanity in the image of the Creator. . . . ”7-9
Jesus and the Gospel. Lest we be led astray again, the gospel proclamation is the announcement to the universe, to the world, to all of us, that God has already inaugurated the new kingdom. God as Jesus Christ — God as human — not only proposed the covenant of love. He not only set forth the covenantal provisions of love. God has already fulfilled the new covenant of love! The gospel is the proclamation of a new history, a new Creation, a new humanity already inaugurated and present.
Jesus and Our Time. Today we remain in the “not yet” (1 John 3:2), in the “times between” the First and Second Advents. Yet the final disclosure of the new covenant as a fait accompli — an accomplished fact — invites our acknowledgment, our acceptance, our joyous proclamation, our participation as witnesses to the covenantal fulfillment which has already been accomplished. This is the response of faith (Romans 1:17) to the astounding truth of the Christ event and its audacious proclamation by the apostle Paul. Tragically:
1. Neither we nor our predecessors have been ready to accept the completed work of God as Christ — of Christ as God alone.
2. We have not been ready to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the One and Only God — YHWH. Rather, we have been content to give him subordinate, accessory or agential status.
3. We have not been ready to accept the prior fulfillment of the covenant of love on behalf of all mankind. We would rather content ourselves with defining the covenant as an individual or corporate agreement that God makes with us on condition of our own obedience (with his help, of course!), our own works, our own faith, our own mission.
4. We have not been ready to accept the resurrectional reality of an apocalypse (end of history) already fulfilled, of a new history already present, of a new Creation already inaugurated. We would prefer to see these as conditional on our own faith, our own works, our own self-manifestation.
5. We would rather not accept the risen Christ as YHWH, nor God’s embodiment as ultimate reality. We would rather cling to the concept of emanational power and possession, with our own institutions — such as the church — constituting the real body of Christ.
The time has fully come to repent. Our delusional myths have been exposed. Our attempts to distort the apostolic witness have foundered. Our determined intentions to return to pagan notions of possession, domination, submission and divinization have failed. All our institutions are quivering on shifting sand. All our attempts to possess God and to divinize ourselves — through law, word, works, power structures, force and violence, spirit, reason or consciousness — are bankrupt. They are all antigods and antichrists.
The one true God has already manifested himself. The supreme God has already fulfilled the covenant of law and put it away forever, along with the old history and the old Creation. Much more, God has already fulfilled the new covenant of love. He has already inaugurated the new history and the new Creation (2 Corinthians 5:16, 17). The covenantal conditions have already been met. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord” (Revelation 11:15). After 2,000 years, surely it is now time to acknowledge him. It is time to accept him. It is time to witness the final disclosure of what he has already done. It is time, for “It is finished”!
- See Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1997), pp. 7-9. (go back)
- See Nicholas Thomas Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997). (go back)
- See John A. Ziesler, Pauline Christianity, rev. ed., the Oxford Bible Series (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1990). (go back)
- John A. Ziesler, The Jesus Question (London: Lutterworth Press, 1980), pp. 72, 73. (go back)
- Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p.180. (go back)
- Ibid., p.182. (go back)
- Cyril of Alexandria, On Romans, in Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: Orthodox Perspectives on the Nature of the Human Person (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), p.71. (go back)
- Maximos the Confessor, To Thalassios: on Various Questions, in Nellas, Deification in Christ, p.71. (go back)
- Nellas, Deification in Christ, pp. 70, 71. (go back)