How to Study the Bible: Christianity, Theosis, and Consummation, Part 1

theword biblepage-781x1024The Second Coming of Jesus is not ever described as a new or changed covenant. Rather, the clearest and most common image is that it will be a return to Eden, except better.

For example, I highlight the more obvious allusions to Gen 1 – 3 —

(Rev 21:1-5 ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

(Rev 22:1-5 ESV) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

The comparison is richer and deeper than the highlights indicate. After all, Adam and Eve surely saw God’s face in some sense, and there was no mourning, crying, or pain in Eden.

Now, the biggest difference between Eden and the New Heavens and New Earth is that we cannot fall away once we’re with Jesus, whereas Adam and Eve obviously could, and this is so even though we’ll know far more of God and his will than they likely did. Not only do we have a far greater special revelation, but we’ll have far more intimate knowledge of God himself, as he’ll dwell among us.

Spiritual bodies

I doubt that our moral fiber will be that much improved, so far as our humanity is concerned. Rather, to me, the difference is that we’ll have spiritual (Spirit-empowered) bodies, as Paul describes in 1 Cor 15o  and we covered in this earlier post.

The key is that the Jews did not segregate mind and body the way we Greek-influenced Westerners do. We have a dualistic understanding of human nature, but the Jews saw the mind as just another part of the body.

There is no suggestion in the OT of the transmigration of the soul as an immaterial, immortal entity. Man is a unity of body and soul—terms which describe not so much two separate entities in man as the one man from different standpoints. Hence, in the description of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7, the phrase “a living soul” (KJV) is better translated as “a living being.” The thought is not that man became a “soul,” for clearly he had a body. The use of the word in the original draws attention to the vital aspect of man as “a living being.” The Hebrew view of the unity of man may help to explain why man in the OT had only a shadowy view of life after death, for it would be difficult to conceive how man could exist without a body (Pss 16:10; 49:15; 88:3–12). Where hope of an after-life exists, it is not because of the intrinsic character of the soul itself (as in Plato). It is grounded in confidence in the God who has power over death and the belief that communion with him cannot be broken even by death (Ex 3:6; 32:39; 1 Sm 2:6; Jb 19:25, 26; Pss 16:10, 11; 73:24, 25; Is 25:8; 26:19; Dn 12:2; Hos 6:1–3; 13:14).

Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1988, 1987.

Man does not possess a soul and a body, rather he is both soul and flesh, full of life and potential activity, while at the same time threatened by illness, transitoriness, and death. Soul without flesh is like a ghost without real existence, while flesh without soul is but a corpse (or, at most, the manpower of a slave).

R. Eduard Schweizer, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 1, 768.

This truth would seem to cut both ways. If God will give us a body that cannot die, due to the empowerment of the Spirit, then he will also give us a soul that will not sin, due to the same empowerment. It’s the same thing. And a body that cannot die but can sin is a contradiction in terms, as sin brings death (Rom 5:12-14).

Free will in the arms of Jesus?

Now, this raises an interesting question of free will. After all, I’ve often argued that love that is coerced is not love at all. We cannot love God unless we choose to love God, and then only if we might choose not to love God. Otherwise, it’s just not really love.

I’m no Calvinist, nor does Calvinism offer any real help here. Rather, the age-old Arminian objection remains true: love that isn’t chosen isn’t love. So how can the love of Christians after the return of Jesus be real love — since we cannot fall away after Jesus returns?

Well, because the love of the church for Jesus and God was chosen before the return of Jesus — when we had a choice. That is, the millennia during which the church has been awaiting Jesus’ return is indeed a time for God to be patient, hoping for repentance, as repentance is another way of saying choosing to love God and Jesus. It’s necessary or else the church would be made up of people who never had a choice to say “no” and so never had the choice to say “yes.”

Think of it this way. In a few days, my wife and I will have been married 40 years. I suppose that when I first met her I had the choice whether to love her or not. I don’t recall making a choice, but obviously I did. We went from acquaintances, to friends, to in love — of our own free will. It was not imposed on us. We both chose each other.

But now, four decades later, I have no choice in the matter. It’s now my nature. But that fact doesn’t make the love less real or less important. The fact that I chose her and she chose me mattered when we married and matters today even though we cannot change our minds. Well, I can’t. It probably wouldn’t be hard for her. But it’s quite impossible for me.

And that, my friends, explains why the Arminian view of free will is not contracted by an afterlife in which we cannot fall away. And it explains why we are still here waiting on Jesus. There are other reasons; but this seems to me to be an important one.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to How to Study the Bible: Christianity, Theosis, and Consummation, Part 1

  1. joshua dickey says:

    Great thoughts! As a young christian I struggled deeply with the idea of some ethereal automatonian existance… certainly not my idea of heaven, and in many ways even antagonistic to my understanding of being made in God’s image. How could could God restore us to His image by removing our free will, the very thing that makes us like Him! But then I thought about God Himself and His perfect freedom… and I realized what slaves to the flesh we are. We are mistaken when we limit free will to the choice between right and wrong. True freedom is the choice between right and right! How many righteous, gracious actions are at our fingertips even at this very moment? How many kind words, or helping hands? How many avenues of productivity? We are free to choose, even in this life! Now, imagine how many more good choices there will be (and how much more free we will be to choose them) in a new life unhampered and unenslaved by the deceptive desires of a sinful flesh! To understand sinless freedom we have but to look to our Father and Brother.

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Joshua,

    Thanks for the note. I love the line “True freedom is the choice between right and right!” Very well put.

  3. John F says:

    I think the trichotomist view of body / soul / spirit is helpful. When we see how God seeks to elevate the spiritual nature as we “put to death the deeds of the flesh”, we can see that all that will remain will be body and soul WITHOUT a fleshly nature (Romans 7).

    1 Thess 5:23-24
    Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
    NASU
    The battle is for the soul (reason and emotion); Satan normally attacking though the flesh and God reaching with an everalsting love through the spirit. Without a fleshly nature, we are free from sin or the desire to “indulge the flesh” .

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    I agree. To quote Wright —

    But what do “fleshly”…mean? ….[“Flesh”] is so problematic that it would be nice (as I have tried to do with some other technical language) to avoid it altogether, but I have found that doing so produces even worse tangles. Better to learn, once and for all, that when Paul uses the word “flesh” and other similar words he does not intend us simply to think of the “physical” world, in our normal sense, as opposed to the “non-physical.” He has other language for that. The word we translate, here and elsewhere, as “flesh” refers to people or things who share the corruptibility and mortality of the world, and, often enough and certainly here, the rebellion of the world. “Flesh” is a negative term. For Paul as a Jew the created order, the physical world, was good in itself. Only its wrong use, and its corruption and defacing, are bad. “Flesh” highlights that wrong use, that corruption and decay.

    Wright, Romans 1-8: Paul for Everyone pp 140-141.

    So it’s literally true that in the afterlife we’ll have no “fleshly nature,” because we’ll no longer be fallen and in rebellion. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have some sort of physicality — although the scriptures are quite vague on the nature of new bodies, other than to say that we’ll be like the resurrected Jesus.

    Hence, as you say, Paul can pray that Christians’ bodies “be preserved complete.” I’d not seen that passage applied this way before, but it makes sense.

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