KERUX: A JOURNAL
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ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 7, No. 2
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Our text takes us to the tomb of the risen Lord, on the first Sabbath-morning of the New Covenant. It is impossible for us to imagine a spot more radiant with light and joy than was this immediately after the resurrection. Even when thinking ourselves back into the preceding moments, while as yet to the external eye there was nothing but the darkness of death, our anticipation of what we know to be about to happen floods the scene with a twilight of supernatural splendor. The sepulchre itself has become to us prophetic of victory; we seem to hear in the expectant air the wingbeat of the descending angels, come to roll away the stone and announce to us: "The Lord is risen indeed!"
Besides this, we have learned to read the story of our Lord's life and death so as to consider the resurrection its only possible outcome, and this has to some extent dulled our sense for the startling character of what took place. We interpret the resurrection in terms of the atoning cross, and easily forget how little the disciples were as yet prepared for doing the same. And so it requires an effort on our part
to understand sympathetically the state of mind they brought to the morning of this day. Nevertheless we must try to enter into their thoughts and feelings, if for no other reason, for this, that something of the same fresh marvel and gladness that subsequently came to them may fill our hearts also. Whether we may be able to explain it or not, the Gospel tells us, that, notwithstanding the emphatic prediction by the Savior of his death and resurrection, they had but little remembrance of these words, and drew from them no practical support or comfort in the sorrow that overwhelmed them. In part this may have been due to the fact of our Lord's having only predicted and not fully explained these tremendous events. At any rate the circumstance shows that there is need of a deeper faith than that of mere acquaintance with and consent to external statements of truth, when the dread realities of life and death assail us. Dare we say that we ourselves should have proved stronger in such a trial, if over against all that mocked our hope we had been able to place no more than a dimly remembered promise? Let us thank God that, when we ourselves enter into the valley of the shadow of death, we have infinitely more than a promise to stay our hearts upon, that ours is the fulfilment of the promise, the fact of the resurrection, nay the risen Lord himself present with rod and staff beside us.
First Visitors to the Tomb
Supplementing the account of John with the statements of the other evangelists, we gain the following conception of the course of events previous to what the text relates. A small company of women went out at early dawn towards the garden, carrying the spices prepared as a last offering to honor Jesus. From among these Mary Magdalene in the eagerness of her desire to reach the place, ran forward, and discovered before the others that the stone had been rolled away. Without awaiting the arrival of her companions she hastens back to tell Peter and John what she supposed to be true: "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb." Roused from the lethargy of their grief by this startling announcement the apostles immediately went to the place, and by their own observation verified
Mary's report. John came first, but merely looked into the tomb. Peter, who followed, entered in, and beheld the linen cloths lying and the napkin that was upon the Savior's head rolled up and put by itself. Then entered in John also and saw and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture that he must rise again from the dead. Their eyes were so holden that the true explanation never occurred to them. Perplexed, but not moved from a despairing state of mind, they returned to their abode.
Mary must have followed the apostles at a distance when these came in haste to see for themselves. We find her standing without the tomb weeping. Is it not remarkable that, while both John and Peter departed, Mary remained? Although the same hopeless conclusion had forced itself upon her, yet it could not induce her to leave. In her mind it only intensified a thousand times the purpose with which she had come. How striking an illustration of the Savior's word that much forgiveness creates abounding love! But may we not believe that still something else reveals itself in this? Mary's attitude towards Jesus, more perhaps than any other disciple's, seems to have been characterized by that simple dependence which is but the consciousness of an ever present need. It was a matter of faith, as much as of love, that made her differ at this time from the others. Unmixed with further motives, the recognition of Jesus as the only refuge from sin and death filled her heart. In a measure, of course, he had been this to the others also. But while to them he stood for many other things in addition, the circumstances under which she had become attached to him made Mary's soul the mirror of saving faith pure and simple. And because she was animated by this fundamental spiritual impulse, drawing her to the Savior more irresistibly than affection or sorrow could have done, therefore she could not but continue seeking him, even though unable for the moment to do aught else than weep near his empty tomb.
In vain does Calvary proclaim that the Lord is dead, in vain does
the tomb declare that he has been buried, in vain does the absent stone suggest that they have taken him away—this threefold witness will not convince Mary that he has gone out of her life forever. And why? Because in the depth of her being there was an even more emphatic witness which would not be silenced but continued to protest that she must receive him back, since he is her Savior. Contact, communion with Christ had become to her the vital breath of her spiritual life; to admit that the conditions rendering this possible had ceased to exist would have meant for her to deny salvation itself. There is, it is true, a pathetic incongruousness between the absoluteness of this desire and the futile form in which for the moment she thought it could be satisfied. In the last analysis what was she doing but seeking a lifeless body, in order that by caring for it and feeling near it she might still the longing of a living faith? Suppose she had received what she sought, would not in the next moment the other deeper desire have reassured itself for that in him which it was absolutely beyond the power of a dead Jesus to give her? Still, however incongruous the form of expression, it was an instinct to which an outward reality could not fail to correspond. It arose out of a primary need, for which provision must exist somewhere, if redemption exists at all. Though unaware of the resurrection as a fact, she had laid hold upon the supreme principle from which its necessity flows. Once given the intimate bond of faith between a sinner and his Savior, there can be no death to such a relationship. Mary, in her simple dependence on Jesus, had risen to the point where she sought in him life and sought it ever more abundantly. To her faith he was conqueror over death long before he issued from the grave. She was in rapport with that spiritual aspect, that quickening quality of his person, of which the resurrection is the sure consequence.
Here at bottom lies the decisive issue for everyone as regards the attitude to be assumed towards this great fact. Ultimately, stripped of all accidentals, the question resolves itself into this: What means Christ for us? For what do we need him? If we have learned to know ourselves guilty sinners, destitute of all hope and life in ourselves, and if we have experienced that pardon, peace and strength came to us
from him, will it not sound like mockery in our ears, if somebody tells us that it does not matter whether Jesus rose from the dead on the third day? It is of the very essence of saving faith that it clamors for facts, facts to show that the heavens have opened, that the tide of sinful nature has been reversed, the guilt of sin expiated, the reign of death destroyed and life and immortality brought to light. And because this is the insuppressible cry of faith, what else should faith do when it sees doubt and unbelief emptying the gospel of the living Christ, what else should it do but stand outside weeping and repeating the plaint: They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him?
But although these things were in principle present in Mary's heart, she did not at that moment perceive the pledge of hope contained in them. Here grief was too profound to leave room for introspection. It even hid from her vision the objective evidence of the resurrection that lay around her. Worse than this, she turned what was intended to help her into an additional reason for unbelief. But who of us shall blame her? Have not we ourselves under as favorable circumstances made the mistake of nourishing our unbelief on what was meant to be food for our faith? Do we not all remember occasions when we stood outside the grave of our hopes weeping, and did not perceive the hand stretched out to prepare us, by the very thing we interpreted as sorrow, for a higher joy? From Mary's experience let us learn to do better. What the Lord expects from us at such seasons is not abandon ourselves to unreasoning sorrow, but trustingly to look sorrow in the face, to scan its features, to search for the help and hope which, as surely as God is our Father, must be there. In such trials there can be no comfort for us so long as we stand outside weeping. If only we will take the courage to fix our gaze deliberately upon the stern countenance of grief, and enter unafraid into the darkest recesses of our trouble, we shall find the terror gone because the Lord has been there before us, and, coming out again, has left the place transfigured, making out of it by the grace of his resurrection a house
of life, the very gate of heaven.
This was just what happened to Mary. Not forever could she stand weeping, forgetful of what went on around her. "As she wept she looked into the tomb, and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" (Jn. 20:11, 12). It was a step in the right direction that she roused herself from her inaction. Still, what strikes us as most characteristic in this statement is its implying that even the vision of angels did not sufficiently impress her to raise the question, to what the appearance of these celestial messengers might be due. Probably this was the first time she had come in direct contact with the supernatural in that particular form. The place was doubtless charged with the atmosphere of mystery and wonder angels bring with themselves when entering into our world of sense. And yet no tremor seems to have run through her, no feeling of awe to have made her draw back. A greater blindness to fact is here than that which made her miss the sign of the empty grave. What more convincing evidence of the truth of the resurrection could have been offered than the presence of these two angels, silently, reverently, majestically sitting where the body of Jesus had lain? Placed like the Cherubim on the mercy-seat, they covered between themselves the spot where the Lord had reposed and flooded it with celestial glory. It needed no voice of theirs to proclaim that here death had been swallowed up in victory. Ever since the angels descended into this tomb the symbolism of burial has been radically changed. From this moment onward every last resting place where the bodies of believers are laid is a furrow in that great harvest field of Christ whence heaven draws upward into light each seed sunk into it, whence Christ himself was raised, the first fruits of them that sleep.
Let us not overlook, however, that Mary's disregard of the angels revealed in a most striking form something good also, to wit, her intense preoccupation with the one thought of finding the Lord. For him she had been looking into the tomb. He not being there, it was empty to her view though filled with angelic glory. She would have turned aside without speaking, had not the angels of their own accord
spoken to her: "Woman, why weepest thou?" These words were meant as an expression of sympathy quite natural in beings wont to rejoice over repenting sinners. But in this question there is at the same time a note of wonder at the fact that she should be weeping at all. To the mind of the angels the resurrection was so real, so self-evident that they could scarcely understand how to her it could be otherwise. They felt, as it were, the discord between the songs of joy with which their own world was jubilant, and this sound of weeping coming out of a world of darkness and despair. "Woman, why weepest thou?" Tears would be called for indeed, hadst thou found him in the tomb, but not at a time like this, when heaven and earth unite in announcing: he is risen in glory, the King of life!
Mary's answer to the angels shows that neither their sympathy nor their wonder had succeeded in piercing her sorrow. "She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (Jn. 20:13). These are almost the identical words in which she had informed Peter and John of her discovery of the empty tomb. Still a slight change appears. To the apostles she had said "the Lord" and "we know not." To the angels it is "my Lord" and "I know not." In this is revealed once more her intense sense of proprietorship in Jesus. In that sense the angels could not have appropriated him for themselves. They might hail him as their matchless King, but to Mary he was even more than this, her Lord, her Savior, the one who had sought and saved and owned her in her sins.
Mary Encounters Jesus
Having given this answer to the angels, she turned herself backward and beheld Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. No explanation is added of the cause of this movement. It matters little. Our interest at this stage of the narrative belongs not to what Mary but to what Jesus did. On his part the encounter was surely not accidental but intended. He had witnessed her coming once and again, her weeping, her bending over the tomb, her answer to the angels, and had witnessed not only these outward acts, but also the inward conflict
by which her soul was torn. And he appears precisely at the point where his presence is required because all other voices for conveying to her the gladsome tidings have failed. He had been holding himself in readiness to become in his own person the preacher of the gospel of life and hope to Mary. There is great comfort for us in this thought that however dim our conscious faith and the sense of our salvation, on the Lord's side the fountain of grace is never closed, its connection with our souls never interrupted; provided there be the irrepressible demand for his presence, he cannot, he will not deny himself to us.
The first person to whom he showed himself alive after the resurrection was a weeping woman who had no greater claim upon him than any simple penitent sinner has. No eye except that of the angels had as yet rested upon his form. The time was as solemn and majestic as that of the first creation when light burst out of chaos and darkness. Heaven and earth were concerned in this event; it was the turning-point of the ages. Nor was this merely objectively so: Jesus felt himself the central figure in this newborn universe; he tasted the exquisite joy of one who had just entered upon an endless life in the possession of new powers and faculties such as human nature had never known before. Would it have been unnatural had he sought some quiet place to spend the opening hour of this new unexplored state in communion with the Father? Can there be any room in his mind for the humble ministry of consolation required by Mary? He answers these questions himself. Among all the voices that hailed his triumph no voice appealed to him like this voice of weeping in the garden. The first appearance of the risen Lord was given to Mary for no other reason than that she needed him first and needed him most. And what more appropriate beginning could have been set for his ministry of glory than this very act? Nothing could better convince us that in his exalted state he retains for us the same tender sympathy, the same individual affection as he showed during the days of his flesh.
It is well for us to know this because otherwise the dread impression of his majesty might tend to hinder our approach to him. Who of us has not at some time of communion with the Savior felt the
overwhelming awe that seized the seer on Patmos, so that we could not utter our prayer, until he laid his hand upon us and said: Fear not. We should be thankful then for the grace of Christ which has so arranged it that between his rising from the dead and his departure for heaven a season of forty days was interposed, a transition period, helping, as it were, the feebleness of our faith in the act of apprehending his glory. Perhaps the Lord for the same reason also intentionally placed his meeting with Mary at the threshold of his resurrection-life. Like other acts recorded in the Fourth Gospel this act rises above the momentary situation and acquires a symbolic significance, enlarging before our eyes until it reveals him in his priestly ministration conducted from the throne of glory.
Mary Talks with Jesus
However not the fact only of his showing himself to Mary, but likewise the manner of it claims our attention. When first beholding him she did not know the Lord, and even after his speech she still supposed him to be the gardener. The chief cause for this may have lain in the change which had taken place in him when the mortal put on immortality. Now behold with what exquisite tact the Lord helps her to restore the broken bond between the image her memory retained of him and that new image in which henceforth he would walk through her life and hold converse with her spirit. Even these first words: "Women why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" though in form scarcely differing from the question of the angels, go far beyond the latter in their power to reach Mary's heart. In the word "woman" with which he addresses her speaks all the majesty of one who felt himself the Son of God in power by resurrection from the dead. It is a prelude to the still more majestic, "Touch me not" spoken soon afterwards.
And yet in the words, "Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" He extends to her that heart-searching sympathy which at a single glance can read and understand the whole secret of her sorrow. He knew that such weeping results only there where one who is more than
father or mother has been taken away. And how instantaneous the effect these words produced! Though she still supposes him the gardener, she takes for granted that he at least could not have taken the body with evil intent, that he will not refuse to restore it: "Sir, if thou hast born him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away" (Jn. 20:15). A certain response to his sympathy is also shown in this, that three times she refers to Jesus as "him," deeming it unnecessary to mention his name. Thus in the way she met the gardener there was already the beginning resumption of the bond of confidence between her and the Lord. And thus Jesus found the way prepared for making himself known to her in a most intimate manner. "Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth and saith unto him, Rabboni" (Jn. 20:16). It happened all in a moment, and by a simple word, and yet in this one moment Mary's world was changed for her. She had in that instant made the transition from hopelessness because Jesus was absent, to fullness of joy because Christ was there.
We may well despair of conveying by any process of exposition the meaning of these two words. This is speech the force of which can only be felt. And it will be felt by us in proportion as we clearly remember some occasion when the Lord spake a similar word to us and drew from us a similar cry of recognition. Doubtless much of the magical effect of Jesus' word was due to the tone in which he spoke it. It was a tone calling to her remembrance the former days of closest fellowship. This was the voice that he alone could use, the same voice that had once commanded the demons to depart from her, and to which ever since she had been wont to listen for guidance and comfort. By using it he meant to assure her that whatever transformation had taken place, there could be and would be no change in the intimate, personal character of their relationship. And Mary was quick to apprehend this. The evangelist takes pains to preserve for us the word she uttered in its original Aramaic form because he would have us understand that it meant more at this moment than could be conveyed by the ordinary rendering of "Teacher" or "Master." "Rabboni" has a special untranslatable significance. It was the personal response to the personal "Mary," to all intents a proper name no less than the other.
By speaking it Mary consciously re-entered upon the possession of all that as Rabboni he had meant to her. Only one thing she had yet to learn, for teaching her which the Lord did not deem even this unique moment too joyful or sacred. In the sudden revulsion from her grief Mary would have given some external expression to the tumult within by grasping and holding him. But he restrained her saying: "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; but go unto my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God" (Jn. 20:17).
At first sight these words may seem a contrast to those immediately preceding. And yet no mistake could be greater than to suppose that the Lord's sole or chief purpose was to remind her of the restrictions which henceforth were to govern the intercourse between himself and her. His intention was much rather to show that the desire for a real communion of life would soon be met in a new and far higher way than was possible under the conditions of local earthly nearness. "Touch me not" does not mean: Touch is too close a contact to be henceforth permissible; it means: the provision for the highest, the ideal kind of touch has not been completed yet: "I am not yet ascended to my Father." His words are a denial of the privilege she craved only as to the form and moment in which she craved it; in their larger sense they are a pledge, a giving, not a withholding of himself from her. The great event of which the resurrection is the first step has not yet fulfilled itself; it requires for its completion the ascent to the Father. But when once this is accomplished then all restrictions will fall away and the desire to touch that made Mary stretch forth her hand shall be gratified to its full capacity. The thought is not different from that expressed in the earlier saying to the disciples: "Ye shall see me because I go to the Father." There is a seeing, a hearing, a touching, first made possible by Jesus' entrance into heaven and by the gift of the Spirit dependent on the entrance.
Mary Talks to the Disciples
And what he said to Mary he commissioned her to repeat to his
brethren that they also might be taught to view the event in its proper perspective. May we not fitly close our study of the text with reminding ourselves that we too are included among the brethren to whom he desired these tidings to be brought? Before this he had never called the disciples by this name as he had never until now so suggestively identified himself with them by speaking of "your Father and my Father" and "your God and my God." We are once more assured that the new life of glory, instead of taking him from us, has made us in a profounder sense his brethren and his Father our Father. Though unlike Mary and the disciples, we have not been privileged to behold him in the body, yet together with the believers of all ages we have an equal share in what is far sweeter and more precious, the touch through faith of his heavenly person for which the appearances after the resurrection were but a preparation.
Let us then not linger at the tomb, but turn our faces and stretch our hands upwards into heaven where our life is hid with him in God, and whence he shall also come again to show himself to us as he did to Mary, to make us speak the last great "Rabboni," which will spring to the lips of all the redeemed, when they meet their Savior in the early dawn of that eternal Sabbath that awaits the people of God.
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey
Evangel of the Messianic Angel*
Meredith G. Kline
"In other generations [the mystery of Christ] was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Eph. 3:5). It was, for one thing, the typological idiom used by the Old Testament prophets that kept their disclosures concerning the new covenant community from being as perspicuous as the revelation of the church given in the New Testament. This relative lack of clarity was especially the case with respect to the reception of the Gentiles as fellow-heirs, fellow members of the body, fellow partakers of the promise in Christ (Eph. 3:6). Nevertheless, as the comparison in Ephesians 3:5 implies and as Paul states explicitly in Romans 16:25, 26, this mystery of divine wisdom, hidden from human discovery (cf. Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) but unveiled by divine revelation, had already been manifested in "the scriptures of the prophets." In the concatenation of quotations in Romans 15:9-12, Paul appeals to statements in all three sections of the Old Testament canon—the law (v. 10: cf. Deut. 32:43), the prophets
(v. 12; cf. Isa. 11:10), and the writings (vv. 9 and 11; cf. Ps. 18:49 and Ps. 117:1 respectively)—to substantiate the truth that in Christ the Gentiles find acceptance along with Jews in God's kingdom.
One notable example of an Old Testament prophecy of the church is Zechariah 2:1-13 (2:5-17 in Hebrew), with its symbolic portrayal of the future inclusion of a pleroma (fulness) of the Gentiles in the true Israel of God. This third vision of Zechariah consists of imagery (2:1-5 [5-9]), which unfolds in two scenes (2:1, 2 [5, 6] and 2:3-5 [7-9]), followed by a kerygma (proclamation) section (2:6-13 [10-17]). Visions one, three, five, and seven all contain a kerygmatic oracle that makes interpretive application of the preceding imagery. This distribution underscores the structural pattern of the seven visions. For in the arrangement of them into two triads around a central fourth vision, each triad having a concentric (A.B.A) form, the visions with the imagery-kerygma format coincide with the four A-visions.1
That the oracular kerygma is an integral part of the third vision, though often disputed, is evidenced in the way the rationale given for the exhortations in 2:6-13 (10-17) in every case resumes and develops one, or both, of the themes introduced by the speaker in 2:3-5 (7-9), namely, the presence of the divine Glory and the future expansion of Jerusalem. Indeed, the kerygma is a continuation of the words of that speaker and thus the second scene of the symbolic drama (2:3-5 [7-9]) interlocks the kerygma with the imagery section.
I. Imagery—Messianic Angel: Builder of Jerusalem
A. Scenario: Sorting out the dramatis personae in vision three is a more complex matter than usual. Things fall in place, however, as we trace the identity of the main speaker, observing how it remains constant throughout the vision.
In scene one, Zechariah, entering into the vision, queries the man with the measuring line concerning the goal of his mission (v. 2a [6a]) and the latter responds (v. 2b [6b]). There is no warrant for injecting
the figure of the interpreting angel as a mediator of the response. It is the measurer who addresses Zechariah directly, and we shall find that from this point on all the first-person speeches are to be attributed (ultimately) to him.
In scene two the familiar interpreting angel makes his appearance and with him appears "another angel" (v. 3). One of these speaks, sending the second to "this young man" with an announcement, which actually furthers the account of the symbolic imagery by its picturing of the future Jerusalem (v. 4). The speaker cannot be the interpreting angel, for his role is never that of controlling the visionary action, as would be the case if he were viewed as sending the other angel to the measurer with directions of some sort (for example, to desist from his supposedly impossible task). Neither would the interpreting angel send another angel to Zechariah (if he is seen as "this young man") to perform what was his own peculiar responsibility of interpreting the visions to the prophet. Hence, the speaker in vv. 4, 5 (8, 9) is the "other angel." Further, since the results of the measuring mission which he announces would naturally be disclosed by the measurer himself, this "other angel" is, if not the measurer, at least an angel-messenger come from the measurer and speaking in his name. The measurer is thus the (ultimate) speaker in vv. 4, 5 (8, 9), his further communication here being an up-dating of his reply to Zechariah's earlier question (v. 2 ). And Zechariah is, of course, the "young man"2 to whom the interpreting angel is sent with this elaboration on the symbolic imagery and its meaning. Moreover, the ultimate speaker, the measurer, is identified as divine, for he speaks in the first person as Yahweh (v. 5 ).3 This "man" with the measuring line is then one with the "man" riding on a red horse in vision one, identified there as the Angel of the Lord.
The foregoing analysis is corroborated by the data in the kerygma section (vv. 6-13 [10-17]). The first-person-speaking of v. 5 (9) continues here and, as noted above, so do the themes of v. 5 (9). Nothing would suggest there is a change of speaker. On the contrary, the one speaking in the first person identifies himself as the messianic
Angel—the (ultimate) first person speaker in v. 5 (9). For he says that he has been sent by God (vv. 8, 9, 11 [12,13, 15]), that his mission is one of visiting divine judgment on the world powers (vv. 8, 9 [12, 13]).4 In short, the kerygma of vv. 6-13 (10-17) is a continuation of the speech of v. 5 (9) and provides confirmation of the identity of the (ultimate) speaker in v. 5 (9)—and thus of the measurer—as the Angel of the Lord.5
B. The Measurer: Supportive of our conclusion that the measurer is the divine Angel are other biblical instances of measuring as a divine activity. Possession and use of the measuring line here signifies that the "man" is not merely some subordinate surveyor gathering information but the Lord himself engaged in sovereign construction.
By the stretching out of measuring lines, perimeters were set. Zechariah 2:1, 2 (5, 6) picks up the promise of Zechariah 1:16 that a line would be stretched forth over Jerusalem as part of the process of rebuilding the city and temple.6 Like this third vision of Zechariah, Jeremiah 31 prophesies of the new covenant restoration (vv. 31-34) under the imagery of a rebuilding of Jerusalem (vv. 38-40), and the going forth of the measuring line there (v. 39) is explicitly a matter of establishing the boundaries.
As expressed in Zechariah 2:2 (6), the purpose of the measurer was "to see" (ra'ah ) its breadth and length. This might suggest that he was to ascertain the dimensions of a city already in existence (in the visionary world). If so, the situation would be analogous to that in the creation narrative. There, a sevenfold refrain states that God "saw (ra'ah) that it was good," signifying that the Maker of heaven and earth subjected the work of the day to judicial scrutiny to ensure that it accorded perfectly with the master plan, and finding, of course, that it did, he so pronounced it "good." Similarly, in Zechariah 2:2 (6), the Angel of the Lord would be seen as going to inspect the future completed Jerusalem, already beheld in his omniscient ken, and as subsequently announcing that it exhibited the vast dimensions he had specified in his architectural plans (v. 4 ).
However, the Hebrew ra'ah occasionally has the sense of choose or provide.7 Thus, in 1 Samuel 16:1, the Lord selects (ra'ah) a king from among Jesse's sons. In Genesis 22:8, God provides (ra'ah) a lamb for the altar. And in Deuteronomy 12:13, 14, Israel is commanded not to offer burnt offerings at any place they pleased (ra'ah) but at the place the Lord chose (bachar). Alternatively then, Zechariah 2:2 (6) could mean that the measurer was proceeding to the site of future Jerusalem to mark out what he had determined its dimensions should be. Similarly, in Revelation 11:1, 2, John's temple measuring is not to discover its size but to register a divine verdict. What he measures is thereby set apart unto God and under his protection; what he leaves unmeasured is thereby rejected and abandoned to profanation and desolation.
Accordingly, the role of the measurer in Zechariah's third vision is, equally with that of the rider of the red horse in the first vision, compatible with the divine dignity of the Angel of the Lord. Ezekiel 40-48 provides another extended example of a visionary appearance of the messianic Angel as a man with a measuring line (cf. esp. 40:3; 43:6; 44:2, 5). In that case, the purpose of his measuring is to reveal to the prophet his sovereign design for his temple-kingdom. In the Book of Revelation, possession of the measuring rod is attributed to Christ, and again it is an insigne of his authority over God's house.8 Thus, in Revelation 11, the one who charges John with the judicial use of the rod (vv. 1, 2) is identified as Christ when he goes on to speak of his commissioning of "my" two witnesses (v. 3). Agreeably, in Revelation 21:15, it is the angel sent to John by Christ who has the golden reed, with which he measures the new Jerusalem (the purpose here being similar to the measuring in Ezekiel 40-48).9 Measuring activity is also attributed to God in his creation of the world, his cosmic temple. We read that he stretched out the measuring line at the laying of the foundations of the earth (Job 38:5) and measured out the heavens with the span (Isa. 40:12). And according to Job 28:25 (cf. Isa. 40:12)l0 God meted out the waters and the land by measure.11
This background of divine acts of measuring performed in
execution of sovereign decree and in determination of the boundaries of God's house and city corroborates the identification of the man with the measuring line in Zechariah 2:1, 2 (5, 6) as the Angel of the Lord. He is the Word of God who was in the beginning with God, who was God, the Maker of all things, visible and invisible (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16). The measurer is the Creator-Lord, seen by Zechariah as now engaged in redemptive re-creation as the architect and almighty constructor of the new cosmos, the heavenly city, New Jerusalem.
C. Metapolis: Descending from heaven at the climax of the history of re-creation, the new Jerusalem will be the realization of the goal set for the city of God at the original creation. The garden-city in Eden already enjoyed the presence of the divine Glory on the mount of God as its heavenly cultic focus. And the kingdom mandate to fill and subdue the earth contemplated an expansion of the holy city to world-wide proportions, to the fulness of Megapolis. Then this global city was to be transformed by the Creator-Spirit into Metapolis, the beyond-city of eternity. There the Glory, no longer a local focus, would fill the cosmos, permeating the fulness of Metapolis. New Jerusalem is that Metapolis arrived at by way of redemptive re-creation. In the symbolic portrayal of it in Zechariah 2, its fulness is the theme in v. 4 (8) and its Glory-focus in v. 5 (9).
As represented in this third vision, eschatological Jerusalem would resemble an open country patchwork of settlements of men and cattle; by reason of its abounding population it would not have the bounding walls characteristic of ancient cities (v. 4 ). The outworking of this prophetic symbolism in new covenant history is expounded in the kerygma section (vv. 6, 11 [10, 15]). The roots of the imagery are ancient. They reach back to the oracle of Noah (Gen. 9:25-27).
Noah's pronouncement concerning his descendants began with his curse on Canaan (v. 25) then proceeded to his blessings on Shem (v. 26) and Japheth (v. 27). From Shem would come the covenant line, set apart to bear God's name (Hebrew, shem), the blessing bestowed in due time in God's covenant with Abraham, particularly in the first stage of the fulfillment of its promise in the old covenant kingdom of
Israel. But in the conjoined blessing on Japheth (v. 27), Noah's oracle moved beyond the ethnic particularism of the old covenant: "May God open (yapht)12 for Japheth (yephet)." What was to be opened is indicated in the following clause: "and may he [Japheth] dwell in the tents of Shem." Tent imagery was prompted by the occasion of the oracle, the event in Noah's tent (Gen. 9:21ff.). Shem and Japheth had shared in their godly act within a tent (v. 23) and they were to share the blessing of occupying the (covenant) tent. Until Christ came the covenant tents were for the most part closed to all except the Abrahamic descendants of Shem. Envisioned in Noah's oracle, however, was the day when the entrance flaps of these tents would be flung wide open to welcome the descendants of Japheth—and, indeed, all the Gentiles.
Isaiah, foreseeing this same development, when Zion's children would "inherit the Gentiles" (54:3), employed anew the tent metaphor of Japheth's blessing as he called on mother Jerusalem to make room for all these children from afar. "Enlarge the place of your tent and let them extend the curtains of your dwellings; spare not, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes" (54:2; cf. 49:18-23; 60:3-16, esp. v. 11, which asserts that Jerusalem's gates will be "continually open"). And when Noah's oracle concerning Japheth was being fulfilled in the mission of the apostle Paul to the Gentiles in the regions settled by the Japhethites, the figure of the opened entry surfaced again. The missionaries reported that God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27) and Paul declared: "a great door and effectual is opened unto me" (1 Cor. 16:9).
On this metaphor-trajectory from Noah to Paul the imagery of Zechariah 2 also finds a place. Zechariah's vision of Jerusalem so expanded that it breaks through the normal pattern of walled cities and becomes a city standing completely open was a variation on Isaiah's picture of Jerusalem as the covenant tent extended without restraint. And when the kerygma section of Zechariah 2 interprets the image of unwalled Jerusalem in terms of the future influx of Gentiles (v. 11 ), that comports with the purpose of the opening up the
covenant tent/city in Noah's oracle, in Isaiah's prophecy, and in Paul's missionary reporting.
This attainment of the destined fulness of Metapolis fulfills Noah's blessing on Shem as well as that on Japheth. For one of the covenant promises to Abraham, son of Shem, was that his seed would be multiplied past numbering (Gen. 22:17); through his messianic descendant all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18) and so he would become the father of many nations (Gen. 17:14-16).
In another way too the Jerusalem of Zechariah's third vision embodies the blessing that Japheth would find in the tents of Shem. For according to Noah's oracle, the Lord would vouchsafe to Shem his covenantal Name-Presence, and such a divine Presence is promised in Zechariah 2:5b (9b) for the future Jerusalem: Yahweh will be "the Glory in the midst of her," the cultic focus of her cultural fulness. The new Jerusalem will be paradise restored but it will be more than a simple restoration of the holy garden-city of Eden, for in it the manifestation of the Glory is not confined to a focal center. God's fiery Presence fills the eternal city to its unwalled limits (v. 5a [9a]; cf. Isa. 4:5). It is in its entirety a temple, hence has no temple within it.13 Nor does it require light of sun or moon, for the God of Glory is its everlasting light (Isa. 60:19, 20; Rev. 21:22, 23; 22:5).
Paradoxically, eschatological Jerusalem as described in Zechariah 2 is unwalled (v. 4 ), yet has a wall around it (v. 5a [9a]). By filling the city right to its distant limits, the divine Glory constitutes a wall of fire around it there at its perimeter. However, the idea is not that the city has no ordinary walls because the fiery divine wall replaces such (as though this were analogous to statements about the absence of a temple or luminaries in the heavenly Jerusalem). The absence of the customary walls (v. 4 ) is clearly accounted for by the city's overflowing population.14
Help in determining the function of the divine wall of fire around the city may come from Revelation 21, where we have another version of this symbolic scene. The great, high walls spoken of there (vv.
12-21) serve not as defence against attack (all enemies have been banished to the lake of fire; cf. Rev. 21:8), but as a boundary proclaiming the inviolable sanctity of the temple-city within and excluding all who have not been washed in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Rev. 21:27; 22:14, 15). This may also be the purpose of the divine wall in Zechariah's third vision. Protection against hostile incursions is indeed the point of God's encamping about his "house" in Zechariah 9:8. However, the fiery wall in Zechariah 2:5a is apparently part of the portrayal of New Jerusalem as a restoration of the Eden sanctuary, being in particular an allusion to the wall of fire produced by the flaming sword that turned every way to guard the access to the tree of life and maintain the sanctity of the site of God's Glory (Gen. 3:24). This imagery speaks then of the consuming holiness of the God of the temple-city and the fearful, fiery judgment that stands between the defiled sinner and entry into this realm of life.
Yet, remarkably, this city is thronged by former outcasts, as the Angel presently declares (Zech. 2:11 ). We are reminded that the Angel of the Lord who reveals this vision was himself to be pierced by the flaming sword (cf. Zech. 13:7) to open a way through the wall of fire and gain entrance for an innumerable multitude out of all nations (cf. Rev. 7:9, 14-17). The wonder of the burning bush, not consumed, meets us again here, in anticipation of Zechariah's next vision with its gospel of sovereign grace, of the brand plucked out of the fire, removal of defilement, and investment in robes of priestly glory (cf. Zechariah 3).
Seminary, S. Hamilton, Massachusetts
Westminster Theological Seminary in California, Escondido
*This study of Zechariah 2 continues the series on Zechariah's night visions begun in Kerux 5:2 (September, 1990).
lCf. my "The Structure of the Book of Zechariah," JETS 34:2 (June 1991): 187.
2Though the Hebrew na'ar can serve as a technical term for officials of various sorts, it probably alludes here simply to the prophet's youthfulness (cf. Jer. 1:6).
3If the other angel is the measurer, not just his personal spokesman, he is the Angel of the Lord. On the indefiniteness of his designation as "another angel," compare the appearance of Christ as "another strong angel" in Revelation 10:1 (cf. 14:17; 18:1, 21; 20:1).
4Unable to accept the high mystery of the Angel who describes himself as sent by Yahweh of Hosts (v. 11 ) and yet speaks as Yahweh of hosts (v. 8 ) or the reality of the presence and participation of the pre-incarnate Christ in these visionary proceedings, many commentators treat the claims to be sent by God (vv. 8, 9, 11 [12,13,15]) as parenthetical interjections by Zechariah. It is alleged that the prophet repeatedly interrupts the divine oracle he is supposedly voicing in order to boast of the future authentication of his prophetic call (cf. Deut. 18:21, 22). But the claims to be sent are thus severed from the attached statements of the purposes of this sending (viz., judgment of the nations and dwelling in Zion) which do not fit Zechariah's role.
5The first-person-speaking in v. 5 (9) cannot be explained then as simply the voice of God breaking through in the words of a spokesman, for this divine one who speaks in the first person is a sent one, the messianic Angel, and is, therefore, to be sought among those who appear in the vision.
6See our earlier discussion in Kerux 6:2 (September, 1991): 34. In vision five (counterpart to vision three in the chiastic arrangement of the visions) another line appears, a plummet, it too employed in the
7In postbiblical Hebrew, forms of ra'ah are used to express notions of approval, selection, designation.
8In Mesopotamian iconography the measuring reed and line are found as a symbol of the authority of the god. Thus, on the stele of Ur-nammu at Ur, the moon-god Nannar is seen holding these measuring insignia when approached by the king for instructions concerning the building of a ziggurat. Cf. A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament (New York, 1958), pp. 145-47.
9Cf. also Amos' picture of Yahweh with the plumb-line of judgment in his hand (7:7,8).
l0God's measuring is associated in Job 28:25 with an act of divine seeing (ra'ah) in his ordering of the world (v. 24).
11Of Marduk it is related that as he began to construct the world out of the carcass of vanquished Ti'amat he "measured the dimensions of the Apsu," the subterranean abode of Ea, preparatory to establishing the earth structure on it (Enuma Elish, IV, 143).
12The sparse evidence for the root patah does not support the translation "enlarge" but rather "open" (cf. Prov. 20:19). Patah is used instead of the common patach, "open," to obtain the pun on Japheth.
13Similarly, Zechariah 14:20, 21 envisions the elevation of the entire Jerusalem and indeed all Judah to sanctuary status. Cf. in Daniel 2:35 the new mount Zion, which fills the whole earth, and in Revelation 21:10ff. the new Jerusalem, a cosmic holy of holies.
14Likewise in vision one the stretching of the line over Jerusalem is followed by the Lord's declaration that his cities would be spread abroad by reason of great prosperity (Zech. 1:17). Again in Zechariah 10:8-10 the motif appears of the available space not able to contain God's people, divinely sown, increased, and brought back from captivity (cf. Isa. 49:20).
John 3:1-16; 7:45-53; 19:38-42
James T. Dennison, Jr.
I want to speak to you about a senior citizen—curious fellow, this—who came to Jesus one night. Out of the darkness, he came—came secretly—at night when no spying eyes could see. Out of the blackness of his own unbelief, he came—by night, Nicodemus came in John 3 to see Jesus.
Jesus, who had just stunned the crowds by driving the money changers, those well-heeled entrepreneurs, out of the temple. Jesus, who had just shocked the religious establishment—those good ol' boys of the Jewish religious bureaucracy—by claiming to be greater than the temple. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." This temple—where God and man meet; this temple where God condescends to dwell with his people; this temple where God tabernacles in the midst of his pilgrim people. Jesus says, "I AM"—"I AM where God and man meet—I am theanthrôpos—the God-man. I am the dwelling place of God with his people—I am the tabernacle of
God in the flesh—I am the Immanuel-presence in the midst of the pilgrim people of God." Since my resurrection, Jesus says, no more temple. I am the only temple you need!
And Nicodemus comes to see this One. Out of the darkness, curious Nicodemus comes to hear Jesus talk of a birth from above into the below—a new birth (even for senior citizens)—a birth of water and Spirit. With the darkness of night outside, Nicodemus listens to Jesus talk of the bronze serpent of Moses. "As Moses lifted up the serpent so shall the Son of Man be lifted up." And Nicodemus, with the black night outside, hears of faith in One lifted up from the earth—One greater than Moses—One greater than Moses' bronze standard—One who when he is suspended between earth and sky will put an end to the sting of sin and the biting-curse of death. With the darkness outside, Nicodemus listens—listens to Jesus talk of life, not death; faith, not unbelief; eternal life, not perdition and damnation.
Curious Nicodemus comes by night to see Jesus—and he listens. And in this Jesus, he begins to see that God so loved the world. Curious Nicodemus comes by night, and in this Jesus he begins to see the light!
I am speaking to you of a senior citizen. No longer a curious fellow—now, hesitant, a bit nervous and self-conscious—yet even now surprised at his own courage. Nicodemus stands to defend Jesus in John 7 before the council, in front of the Sanhedrin. Others are plotting the death of Jesus. He has healed a man on the Sabbath day; he is worthy of death for being merciful to the sick! He has made himself a blasphemer, calling God his own Father; he is worthy of death for he has made himself equal with God! He has fed thousands with bread and fish, laying claim to be the Bread out of Heaven; he is worthy of death for he says he is living bread and living drink! He has stood up in Jerusalem on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles and shouted, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. I will give him rivers of living water." Surely he is worthy of death for he claims to be greater than Moses—to be himself a fountain of living water for the pilgrim people of God. Arrest him! Put him to death!
And Nicodemus screws up his courage and rises to the defense. Curious fellow this Nicodemus. He who came to Jesus first under the cover of darkness, now stands before the Jewish council in broad daylight to speak for Jesus. To act the advocate on behalf of Jesus—to ask that Jesus have the right to due process. Nicodemus who first came to Jesus seeking light is now standing to defend the Light; this Light of the World—whoever follows this One will not walk in darkness. For Nicodemus, the darkness is disappearing in the face of the Light of the World. Those who believe in him no longer remain in the darkness.
I am speaking to you of a senior citizen who comes into the darkness—the approaching darkness of the evening on this Friday—the pitch darkness of a tomb—a sepulcher newly cut out of rock. Nicodemus comes into the darkness that hovers about a cross in John 19. Dark day this—this Black Friday. The One whom he sought by night now hangs lifeless on the tree; the One whom he defended by day now slumps from nails. The dusk is gathering. He and his friend, Joseph—Joseph of Arimathea—must take the body of Jesus from the cross and bury it before nightfall. The night—squeezing the light out of the sky—the night, inky night crowds in upon their work. These two—only these two; everyone else has fled, everyone has deserted him. How very dark it is!
These two come to attend their Lord! Nicodemus comes with myrrh and aloes—with spices for the burial of his Lord! As Mary had come with precious ointment to bathe his feet in the gift of her love, Nicodemus comes with lavish spices—hundreds of dollars worth of spices for his dead Lord. Nothing hesitant about his movements, no idle curiosity, no suggestion of timidity; the body of Jesus is lovingly wrapped, gently carried, tenderly laid in the tomb. And the stone is rolled over the mouth of the sepulcher—and Jesus is left in the darkness of the grave.
Yes, Nicodemus. I must go into the darkness, into the black hole of death. I must do this for you, Nicodemus. You came out of the darkness to find the light. Now I must go back into the darkness for
your sake and for the sake of all whom the Father has given unto me. Let not your heart be troubled, Nicodemus. I go to the cross for you. I go to be lifted up from the earth for you. I go to be accursed in your place that you may never be condemned. I go to death for you that you may never die. I come to the grave by you that by me you may never remain in the grave.
Wait for the third day, Nicodemus. Wait for that first day of the week, Nicodemus. Wait for that blessed Easter morn, Nicodemus. The sun—the sun of righteousness will rise; the light of the world will burst forth; the bright and morning star will shine. On the third day, Nicodemus, the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not be able to overcome it.
Nicodemus, out of your fervent devotion you have wrapped my body for the grave. You have wrapped your soul in that birth from above—that new birth which comes by the water flowing from my wounded side and the Spirit by which I have been raised up. Nicodemus, out of your profound love and gratitude, you have poured a treasure of spices upon my grave clothes. You have treasured this crucified Son of Man—this Bread out of Heaven—this Light of the World. Nicodemus, on the first day of the week, the darkness will disappear. Nicodemus, when I rise from the grave where you laid me, there will be no more darkness.
Dear, beloved, Nicodemus. I have gone to prepare a place for you in a city where there is no more night. For in that city, they have no need of the light of the sun—nor do they need a lamp anymore. For the Lamb is the light of that city. Yes, Nicodemus, the darkness has disappeared once and for all—it has been swallowed up in light. Come, dear, beloved, Nicodemus—come walk in the light. Come, dear, beloved, Nicodemus—walk even now in the light of the age to come.
A Response to Michael Williams
As I read Michael William's article on the eschatology of Geerhardus Vos,1 I could not help but think about the excitement Martin Luther must have felt when he read Erasmus of Rotterdam's Diatribe on Free Will. Even though Erasmus stood doctrinally opposed to Luther, the Wittenberg professor was overjoyed because here was a man who understood the issues and had put them into print. The perfect foil had been placed in Luther's hands and he wasted little time in producing his classic rebuttal, The Bondage of the Will.
Likewise, we who follow in the footsteps of Geerhardus Vos should be overjoyed. Williams questions the validity of Vos's hermeneutic in print. For biblical-theologians, Williams should play a role similar to that which Erasmus played for Luther, for he states the
issues very clearly on most points. The doctrinal conflict is before us, and like Luther, we should take advantage of an article that begs for a rebuttal.
From the outset, it is of primary importance to recognize Williams's own eschatological position. He is a Reconstructionist who sees the ultimate goal as the restoration of this world. Williams's position naturally then comes into conflict with Vos's eschatological viewpoint. Vos saw the goal as the enjoyment of communion with God forever in heaven.
This is the heart of the matter, and Williams, to his credit, clearly states the issues as often as possible. He believes Vos has erred fatally by casting his lot in another realm apart from this earth. He writes concerning the difference in the two eschatological systems: "The biblical message of eschatological renewal is annulled by a heavenly hope. The church looks for eternal life with Christ in heaven rather than for the renewal and restoration of God's own dear universe" (15).
Obviously, Williams must attempt to answer the common question raised by his previous statement: "What is so wrong with the church looking for eternal life with Christ in heaven? Isn't that what Christianity is all about?"
Vos believed so, but Williams strives to show that in Vos's theology heaven isn't a real place; rather it is a Platonic myth. Williams contends that Vos has gone astray by creating a "nature-supernature dualism" (15) which deprives Christianity of its goal in returning to a restored creation. Vos not only made this creation secondary to heaven, but he also longed with his entire being for its passing away. Therefore, Williams sees Vos as gutting salvation, which the Dordt professor associates with the restoration and renewal of this creation.
In Williams's opinion, this is the interpretive key which leads Vos's theology to doom. Vos created "a hierarchical, metaphysical principle" which corrupts his eschatological vision. Instead of focusing upon this earth, which is concrete, Vos focuses upon some abstract
notion of heaven which he has identified with God Almighty. Williams believes God's primary interest rests with this creation, while Vos has a "tendency to reductionalistically associate God with the age to come, the kingdom of God, heaven. The primary sphere of divine influence and interest is heaven" (15).
The problem with Geerhardus Vos as it becomes apparent from Williams's argumentation is that the Princeton theologian has adopted a Greek metaphysical scale of reality. Williams holds that Vos used this metaphysical outlook when he equated the earth with things temporal and heaven with things eternal. In other words, Vos's failure can largely be attributed to his adherence to a material-spiritual dichotomy in which the physical is inferior to the ideal. Williams writes that "the contemplative nature-supernature problematic thoroughly abrogates the biblical vision of salvation as the restoration and renewal of creation" (17).
Vos's theology must be denounced, according to Williams, because it in turn denounces this world. This creation, in Vos's thought, is not only evil, but also destined to pass away. Either this world or the one to come reigns. Williams believes that Vos sees the latter as reigning instead of the former. Williams comments:
Following Augustine, Vos sees any synthesizing of the temporal and transcendent to be impossible. One of the two must predominate, and that dominion must entail the absorption or eradication of the other. Vos, like Augustine, has placed his lot with the transcendent realm (17).
According to Williams, any followers of Vos's eschatology will of necessity be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. If we follow Vos's example then, that vital element of the religious life, Christian activism, would become virtually non-existent. And if Christian activism is pushed off to the side, how will the kingdom be ushered in? In short, Williams believes that Vos erred by placing his hope totally in the transcendent realm because he allowed a
nature-supernature dichotomy to dominate his thought rather than revelation.
More could be said about the particulars of Williams's argument, but it is clear from the material cited that he places his hope in the earthly realm. His very thesis shows the darkness that this creation has cast over his eyes. The biblical message is that the church looks for eternal life with Christ in heaven which is the very essence of her hope! What else is the meaning of the thirty-eighth question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which states that "at the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God for all eternity"? Full participation with God in heaven is the believer's exceedingly great reward, not a return to the garden with believers playing the roles of restored and renewed Adams and Eves.
Whether Williams will admit it or not, realizes it or not, the conflict between his theology and Vos's amounts to a conflict between the dominion of the two Adams. William holds to an eschatology ruled by the first Adam while Vos held to an eschatology ruled by the second Adam. The outworkings of these contrasting eschatologies are too numerous to cover completely in this critique, but I will try to mention some of the more obvious ones.
First, Williams errs in his attack upon Vos's so-called "nature-supernature" hermeneutic. Simply put, Vos was not corrupted by Greek metaphysical thought; rather he grasped the eschatological reign of the second Adam. At the head of this creation is the first Adam. Opposed to this creation, however, is the realm which is ruled by the second Adam. These two contrasting realms encompass all of humanity as one finds his life coming to expression in relationship to his corporate head. Those united to the first Adam are destined for destruction. Those united to the second Adam are destined for eternal life.
Ultimately, what Williams denounces as Vos's "nature-super-
nature" hermeneutic is the Bible's message of salvation. The realm of death has been defeated as Christ by his resurrection ushered in that age in which righteousness reigns. Vos viewed this age as evil because it has been corrupted by sin. Its evilness corresponds to its historical sinfulness, not its materialness. Likewise, heaven is good not because it is the realm of the non-material ideal, but rather because it is the realm of righteousness and consummation.
To Vos's credit, he anticipated such misrepresentations as Williams presents concerning the contrast of the two ages. He wrote:
The Greek philosophical pneuma, whether in its dualistic Platonic or neo-Platonic form, or in its hylozoistic Stoic form, lacks every historical significance, it is, even where it appears in contrast to an opposing element, the result of a bisection of nature, not the product of a supernatural divine activity. With Paul, both in regard to the sarx and the pneuma, the historical factor remains the controlling one. If the sphere of the sarx is evil, this is not due to its natural constitution, because it is material or sensual, but because it has historically become evil through the entrance of sin. And when Paul views the pneumatic world as the consummated world, this also is not due simply to its natural constitution as the ideal nonsensual world, but because through the Messiah it has become the finished product of God's designs for man ("The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., 116).
Williams repeatedly misidentifies Vos's two-age construction along Platonic lines as seen in his appraisal of Vos's anthropology. He writes:
As Steen has correctly summarized the anthropology of transcendental eschatology, the spiritual body of that state is "a non-fleshy, heavenly-adapted eternal body, sexless and unable to eat, 'like the angels,' that is eternal, supernatural" (17).
Vos, when commenting upon 1 Cor. 15:42-49 and the bodies that belong to the pre-eschatological and eschatological states, once again refutes Williams's objection by way of anticipation. Vos writes: "This adjective Pneumatikon expresses the quality of the body of the eschatological state. Every thought of immaterialness, or etherealness or absence of physical density ought to be kept carefully removed from the term" (The Pauline Eschatology, 166).
Williams argues continually that Vos operated out of a "nature-supernature" hermeneutic which led Vos to place his hope in a "bodiless, nonmaterial, or purely spiritual state of affairs" (18). Vos, however, had no intention of equating spiritual with nonmaterial in a Hellenistic way. Vos stated: "By the pneumatic as a synonym of the heavenly Paul does not mean heaven or spiritual in the abstract, but heaven and the spiritual as they have become in result of the process of redemption" ("The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," ibid.).
Just as Williams errs with Vos's use of the term "spirit," he also errs with Vos's use of the term "flesh." "Flesh" cannot be identified in Vos's writings as referring only to that which is material. To Vos, "flesh" is the characteristic designation of the first world-order.
Another area in William's theology that is deficient is his doctrine of union with Christ. In Williams's theology, union with Christ in the heavenly arena assumes a secondary role to our present responsibilities in this realm. In Vos's theology, union with Christ is our salvation and must take precedence over every other consideration. This is the reason why Vos's head is in the heavens—that is where his Lord is presently at the right hand of God the Father. Christ's citizenship is in heaven presently and we are joined to him.
Williams never grasps the significance of our union with Christ. Indeed, he recognizes the fact that Vos sees the believer as united to Christ and raised to the heavenlies, but to Williams that cannot constitute our salvation. Our salvation must be connected to our future life in this creation which is to be restored to its Adamic, pre-fall state.
Vos argued forcefully, however, that the second Adam did not come merely to restore in us what was lost by the first Adam, but he came to translate us to that realm of perfect fellowship which was the goal from the beginning. Vos stated: "The Reformed view fixes its gaze on something higher. It sees man not as being placed in eternal bliss from the beginning, but as being placed in such a way that he might attain to eternal bliss" ("The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., 243).
The fault in Williams's reasoning rests in his assumption that mankind's destiny had already been reached before Adam's fall into sin and that Christ has come merely to restore what was lost in Adam. Vos stood dramatically opposed to this sort of restoration. He argued: "What we inherit in the second Adam is not restricted to what we lost in the first Adam: it is much rather the full realization of what the first Adam would have achieved for us had he remained unfallen and been confirmed in his state" (ibid.).
Yes, Geerhardus Vos possessed a verticalist eschatology, but it was to his credit and not to his shame, for in it he shared the biblical vision of salvation. We who are united to Christ are raised with him to the heavenlies where we will partake of blessed personal fellowship forever. Vos understood that God's purpose from the beginning was to have man transcend this plane of existence in order to enjoy full fellowship with him. Vos argued that "God would not be satisfied, and would not allow man to be satisfied with an acquaintance based on indirection, but would crown the process of religion with the establishment of face-to-face communion, as friend holds fellowship with friend" (Biblical Theology [Eerdmans, 1948], 31).
In order to enjoy such a fellowship, Vos rightfully believed that man had to move to a state of permanent blessedness, a realm incapable of being corrupted by sin. Adam, as good as he was in a moral sense before the fall, was destined to a higher existence irrespective of sin. Concerning Adam's original state, Vos wrote:
Man had been created perfectly good in a moral sense. And yet there was a sense in which he could be raised to a still higher level of perfection. On the surface this seems to involve a contradiction. It will be removed by closely marking the aspect in regard to which the advance was contemplated. The advance was meant to be from unconfirmed to confirmed goodness and blessedness; to the confirmed state in which these possessions could no longer be lost, a state in which man could no longer sin, and hence could no longer become subject to the consequences of sin. Man's original state was a state of indefinite probation: he remained in possession of what he had, so long as he did not commit sin, but it was not a state in which the continuance of his religious and moral status could be guaranteed him. In order to assure this for him, he had to be subjected to an intensified, concentrated probation, in which, if he remained standing, the status of probation would be forever left behind. The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour (ibid., 31-32).
I know that there are many issues I did not address in Williams's article (i.e., the tension between the "now" and "not yet," etc.) but hopefully there will be other redemptive historians who can pick up where I have left off in the defense of the biblical eschatology of Geerhardus Vos.
1 Michael Williams, "Of Heaven and History: The Verticalist Eschatology of Geerhardus Vos." Pro Rege 20:3 (March 1992): 9-18.
A symphony is the composition of a single author. It is composed of a central theme or motif which is woven through several movements or stages of development. In the great classic symphonies, this central theme penetrates each movement so that the climactic finale has been anticipated in each previous movement. There is, in a sense, an intrusion of the central motif throughout the composition.
The Scriptures are unified by their composer—God himself through the Holy Spirit. They are harmonized by their central theme/motif—the incarnation of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of Sinners. The Scriptures are united by their perspective—the eschatological orientation of the people of God toward their Maker and Redeemer. Tis a heavenly symphony from beginning to end!
Mark Strom is certain that God is the composer of his word. He is
convinced that Jesus Christ is the central theme of Scripture. But Strom does not appear to have a clue about the eschatological perspective which permeates Scripture from the intrusion of the seed-of-the-woman promise (Gen. 3:15) to the descent of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2). Perhaps two out of three is not bad. But the missing eschatological element makes Strom's Opus No. 1 an 'unfinished,' if not 'tragic' symphony.
Strom attempts to trace the biblical history of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. The chapters are arranged canonically. We begin which the creation, move to the fall, the patriarchal history, the exodus and wilderness era, conquest, era of the judges, monarchy, Psalms and wisdom, prophets, New Testament gospels, epistles and Apocalypse. A concluding appendix provides dates for the period Israelite monarchy to Roman empire (800-63 B.C.).
As a survey of redemptive history for the uninitiated, the book has some merit. It is plain, straightforward and written in a somewhat folksy style. In simple outline form, it presents a retelling of the Bible story in historical/canonical sequence. Along the way, we find moments of insight. His treatment of the exodus theme is quite good (pp. 45-47) as is his brief discussion of the Pauline "flesh"/"spirit" contrast (p. 232). He has Rom. 1:3, 4 right (pp. 198-99). But apart from these moments of 'brilliance,' the treatment is dull. Why? What was it that caused this reviewer to feel he was slogging his way through 279 pages of print? Was it the impression that he was reading condensed classroom notes from seminary survey/introductory courses (n.b. the names frequently footnoted—Harvie Conn, Ray Dillard, Tremper Longman, Vern Poythress, Moises Silva—all Professors at Strom's Th.M. alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)?
I admit that I picked up Strom's volume hoping for a popular version of Geerhardus Vos's Biblical Theology. Hoping for "Vos for Everyman," I also expected a grasp of Vos's method by our author. Alas, Strom shows only the ability to copy Vos's well known diagram of New Testament eschatology (cf. p. 122, where the diagram is
credited to Vos and p. 259, where it is not). Strom shows no ability to penetrate to Vos's starting point—the priority of eschatology (p. 257 notwithstanding). Strom is consistently linear, typological, topical in his approach. He is rarely vertical, eschatological, organic. The book thus becomes obvious, superficial, bland and boring.
Each chapter concludes with "discussion questions" and "exercises." These telltale conclusions reveal our author's penchant for the topical. The final word to every chapter is an attempt to make practical and relevant the content of the previous pages. Praxis uber alles ("practice over all"). As with all moralism, Strom must manufacture applications which fit the section of Scripture he has been treating. Having presented his data, it is now time to conclude each chapter by making the data relevant/applicable.
Strom never seems to understand that the real symphony of Scripture is always the reverse of his method. The drama and vitality of the word of God draws the reader/hearer into the very life of the text—a life which is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Herein lies the music of the spheres.
Strom leaves us ultimately with a hermeneutical dualism: (1) exposition; (2) application. The two, however, are not organically related. In fact, the "discussion questions" and "exercises" often lead the reader to dismiss the preceding exposition as irrelevant to "real" Christian living. We may honestly ask: does the application even need the preceding exposition, or is that exposition merely a pretext? It is clear that the application does not need the eschatological orientation which characterizes genuine biblical theology.
Sadly, we leave this symphony disappointed. Strom's symphony is not sharp—it is, in fact, consistently flat!
—James T. Dennison, Jr.