A Scandalous Gospel, Part 1
The previous articles on Fudged Words and Interpretations involved controversial issues. If you’ve chosen endless torment as your position on post-mortem judgment, this next section may be difficult to bear. If you disagree with my musings on Paul vs. Jesus and John vs. Jesus, then you too may struggle with aspects of these notes going forward.
That’s okay. You’re free to believe in a doctrine of endless torment, to interpret the Gospels in the light of Paul’s teachings, or to hold to a dispensational eschatology. I would only ask you to offer that same liberty to other believers who don’t. Accusing them of heresy because they come to other conclusions on these issues is not consistent with our call to love each other. Paul said that while we’re to be “fully convinced in our own minds” over non-essential matters (Romans 14:5), we must “not judge one another” on these issues (Romans 14:13).
However, if you’re open to accepting that post-mortem judgment may, in fact, be remedial chastisement, the implications are significant for hearing Jesus’ message afresh. If you’ve grasped God’s intent to see His Kingdom will (desire) manifest on earth as it is in heaven; that is, we’re not escaping this earth, we’re called to transform it, then read on eagerly.
In this and the next article, we consider the possibility that God’s redeeming work is greater than we ever imagined. Unbelievable grace, inconceivable mercy. Dare we say, a scandalous Gospel.
This is the 14th article in our series on Messy Dogma. Our goal: to re-engage with the Message and Mission of Jesus. In this first of three parts, The Scope of Jesus Message, we look at several Scriptures that shed light on the almost unbelievable, inconceivable message of Jesus. If you’re just joining us, you’ll find it more helpful to start with the first article in the series, Year Zero: The World Jesus Invaded. You may also want to peruse the explanation and disclaimers to the series.
2271 words (c. 6 pages) = 20 minute read
Isaiah 55: 8 is a well-known verse. In it, God says,
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.”
We tend to quote this verse every time we’re confused about God. It’s a convenient and helpful catch-all phrase when we’re at a loss, but still want to acknowledge our trust in Him. However, in context, this is a remarkable passage about the mercy of God.
[God] will have mercy on [you] … For He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down … so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth … For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands…’” (Isaiah 55:7-13).
In this passage, God actually declares that the depth and extent of His mercy, His desire to abundantly pardon, is far beyond our human ability to comprehend it. And then God goes on to expresses His merciful intention to save and restore, concluding with an image of even creation metaphorically celebrating His salvation. This passage actually provokes us to smash any limits we put on God’s willingness and power to redeem all of mankind.
Is the Gospel further reaching than we thought? Is its scope broader than we ever imagined? Has Christendom at large been guilty of not believing enough? That is, have we limited God’s message of redemption?
So, let’s look at various Bible passages with new eyes and open ears to hear afresh the Gospel message.
In what is considered one of his clearest, most profound declarations of God’s Kingdom purpose, Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins … that in the dispensation of the fullness of times [God] might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Ephesians 1:7, 10).
He later referred to this as “the eternal purpose accomplished in Christ” (Ephesians 3:11); God’s age purpose, or purpose for this age.
These is a massive statement of Kingdom intent. Notice, the end game isn’t merely saving as many people as possible from a sinking ship, or a doomed creation. Rather, God is fully intent on restoring and redeeming all of creation. “All things … in heaven and … on earth.”
All of creation. The created cosmos. The universe, and all that is in it.
And this is only made possible because “in Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
Christ’s sacrifice has atoned for it all. Jesus’ victory is total.
In John’s Revelation, he saw the end in a stunning image: “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).
The word “new” (Greek: kainos) in Revelation 21:1 is the same word used to describe who we are now in Christ: “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And the phrase “had passed away” is the exact same description of our old life before Christ: “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
The Greek word used for “new” in both these verses refers to a new form or quality not to a new time or season (as the Greek word neos does). In other words, it’s not referring to something that is brand-new, never-before seen in existence; rather it refers to something reformed and restored to its original purpose.
When, as an individual, we become a new creation by His grace, we aren’t re-created completely from scratch; rather we are miraculously redeemed and restored. Surely, in the same way that we become a new (=restored) creation through the redemptive act of God, the earth itself will become a new (=restored) earth through God’s redeeming power.
In describing this incredible picture of a new heaven and new earth, John goes on to say, “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying … no more pain”—basically a list of the “former things that have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). What strikes me about these things, is that they’re merely fruit or symptoms. Death, sorrow, crying, pain.
For these things to pass away, the root cause of them must be cut out: the corrupt, diseased systems of this world must be healed. And this is exactly what Paul described: “Then comes the end, when [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). Jesus’ final act is to dispense justice to the earth, and bring all the kingdoms of this world into subjection to His loving Kingship.
No wonder this mind-boggling picture left John declaring in wide-eyed marvel: “And there shall be no more curse” (Revelation 22:3).
Christ’s victory is total and universal.
Think about all the words in the Bible that begin with the prefix “re-” meaning, “to go back.” Revive, restore, redeem, repent, regenerate, renew, refresh, refine, reconcile, rebuild, repair and resurrect are a bunch that come to mind. They all refer to God taking us and His creation back to something original.
Wow! Paul teaches that, while “creation itself was subjected to futility … and the bondage of corruption,” now the “whole creation groans” and “eagerly waits” for redemption, explaining that we are pivotal to the fulfilment of this mind-boggling purpose (Romans 8:18-22). In other words, God’s plan to redeem all of creation is not merely an esoteric, mystical theory we simply acknowledge mentally; rather, it is something we’re called to actively participate in. And it’s not merely limited to getting people to the “other side,” as awesome and beautiful and miraculous as saving grace is. God is, in Christ, redeeming the entire cosmos, and we’re invited to play our part.
2 Corinthians 5:9-21
In this passage, Paul refers to the “judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:9) before launching into an explanation of our role and purpose.
He states in verses 18 and 19,
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
This word “reconcile” is a big concept in Paul’s writings as we saw in Ephesians 1:7-10, where he used a different phrase, “gathering together in one all things,” to explain the same idea. In this passage to the Corinthians now, we read that in “reconciling the world to Himself,” God “did not impute their trespasses to them.”
What? God did not impute their trespasses to them?
To them? To who?
The word “world” definitely refers to mankind, specifically lost mankind; Paul’s context is our ministry to “men” (v. 11) and he refers to “them” (v. 19), not us.
Does this mean that, in restoring all of creation, God has forgiven the world? That He is not holding mankind guilty?
Whoa! If this is so, this would be outrageously Good News indeed, especially when Paul defines our participation as ministers of reconciliation (v. 18). That God has “committed to us the word of reconciliation” (v. 19) means our role involves reuniting mankind with a loving God who has forgiven them.
Wow! Unbelievable grace. Inconceivable mercy. A scandalous Gospel.
It’s interesting that Paul follows this passage by declaring, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). He does not mean, “Make a decision to secure salvation after you die.” That’s how we’ve re-phrased it.
Rather, Paul is declaring that the salvation Christ has secured is manifest now and this gloriously Good News ought to inspire sacrificial service in our ministry to the world (2 Corinthians 6:1-10).
1 John 2:1, 2
In teaching on forgiveness, John wrote:
He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Notice the definitive phrase John uses: “not for ours only.” He is unquestionably making an emphatic point. Using the word “propitiation” (Greek: hilasmos), which means, “atonement,” he states that Jesus’ sacrifice is not just for us who believe, but also for the whole world.
Christ’s Atonement covered the whole world?
John also then stressed: “we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son as Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). Again, he is emphatic: Jesus is the Saviour of the world!
John was evidently deeply impacted by his namesake, the Baptiser, who declared: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John taught that Jesus’ sacrifice was a complete and full pardon for all mankind. When the Lamb of God breathed His last on the altar of the cross, He declared: “It is finished” (John 19:30) … The debt is paid in full!
“It is finished.” Maybe it means what He said?
The Lamb of God paid the ultimate price to take away the sin of world … and from John’s words here, we may conclude that this is not just limited to those who’ve responded to His saving sacrifice. The Atonement covers the whole world!
Because of Christ’s completed work, mankind is restored to the Father in Him.
- Because of Christ’s completed work, I enjoy this loving reunion with the Father in this age by responding to Him in faith now.
- Because of Christ’s completed work, those who don’t know the Father now will face God’s remedial and restorative mercy in the age to come.
Only because Christ’s work is complete.
1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:18
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
…through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men” (Romans 5:18).
Wow! But wait, does all really mean all as in each and every one?
There are times in Scripture when all is used as a hyperbole; however, in these verses, does it not seem logical that Paul intended the all in the phrase “in Adam all die” to also mean all in the phrase “in Christ all shall be made alive”? That as “judgment came to all men,” the “free gift came to all men”?
Since Paul is actually seeking to contrast Adam’s negative influence with Christ’s overwhelmingly triumphant positive impact, if each and every person died “in Adam” then isn’t it reasonable to conclude that each and every one is made alive in Christ? The entire point he is labouring to make, that Christ’s victory trumps Adam’s fall, collapses if it doesn’t mean this.
The onus is on those who doubt that “all” means each and everyone in “in Christ all shall be made alive” to explain (1) the implications if it doesn’t mean each and everyone in “in Adam all die” or (2) how Paul concluded that Christ’s victory is greater than Adam’s fall if only a small minority are saved.
Also, it is worth noting that since the word shall is falling out of usage in common speech today, some may incorrectly assume that the phrase, “all shall be made alive” contains an expression of uncertainty. Of course, this is not the case. The word shall means will, and refers to a definite act. We’re to read it as follows: “in Christ all will be made alive.”
What’s the key point to ponder?
Re-read these passages in your Bible. Allow yourself to read them with new eyes. Like me, you may finish on your knees repenting for a lack of faith; praising God for His unbelievable grace and His inconceivable mercy.
Where we’re going next?
Let’s continue searching the Scriptures, shall we?