by John Ellis
(This the manuscript for the Equipping Hour – Sunday school – class I taught this morning. Normally, before posting these manuscripts here on this blog, I rewrite it a little bit. Not this time.)
Good morning. Welcome to the last class in our series on Ecclesiology.
Normally, during our series on topics like ecclesiology we open the class with a brief devotional. We do so to make sure we’re blessed by God’s word and to help ensure that the class is rooted in the Bible – to enable us to see how our (OGC’s) understanding of these topics come from the Bible. I know that doing so helps me as a teacher keep the lesson connected to the Bible and not simply my opinions.
Today, however, we’re going to switch it up some. The text that Robert asked me to open with is Ezekiel 16. A passage Spurgeon observed that no one is qualified to teach. Robert pointed Spurgeon’s insight out to me (Robert has the gift of encouragement). Although I didn’t need Spurgeon’s wisdom to realize that my own anemic abilities crash against this horrifyingly beautiful and strange text.
After wrestling with the passage for a few days, I concluded that we are best served to insert Ezekiel 16 into the body of the lesson. So, we’re going to get to Ezekiel 16, but not quite yet.
Let me open us in prayer.
Today’s topic is Eschatological Ecclesiology. What in the world is that? Well, eschatology is the study of the final days – the end times. And ecclesiology is the study of the church. So, today we’re going to be looking at the consummation of the covenant (I will be your God and you will be my people). That refrain courses throughout the entirety of Scripture. God’s faithful pursuit of his people.
Question: How does the Bible begin?
And don’t answer like you would on a theology exam. I’m looking for an answer similar to how you’d answer if someone asked you about your favorite movie.
So, how does the Bible begin? The first two chapters, to narrow down for you what I’m looking for.
In the beginning, God created the entire cosmos. And at the heart of this stunningly complex creation, he created a special place just for his children. A garden of incomparable beauty filled with blessings. As opposed to the other so-called gods, the One True God didn’t create a world at war with humans. He created a garden, and a world, that glorified Him through blessing His children. And God called this world and garden good. A garden where God met and communed with his children. God’s cosmos is a Temple and the Garden its holy of holies.
But it wasn’t complete. It was good, but not finished. God crowned his children as his vice-regents and gave them the noble task of creating culture – to exercise dominion by reflecting their Father in and through their lives and actions. In doing so, they would enter His Rest.
And the introduction to this Story ends with a wedding. 2:23-24 – “Then the man said, ‘This at last is the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
A wedding in a garden. That’s how this Story begins.
Now, how does the Bible end? Specifically, Revelation 19-22.
For the sake of time, I’m not going to attempt to wax poetic about the ending of the Bible. So, in brief, the Bible ends with a wedding feast in a city built around a garden.
When people ask me how I know that God intended Adam and Eve to build a city, I point out that that’s exactly what the second, final Adam did. Jesus builds a city around a garden. He does what the first Adam couldn’t.
In the class on Psalms I talked a little about literary parallelism. Good literature often employs the device of parallelism. But that parallelism is often inverted.
For example, Hamlet begins with Hamlet’s father having defeated Norway. The play ends with Fortinbras, the son of the defeated (and dead) King of Norway, standing over the body of Hamlet. The play ends where it begins, but in reverse.
In the Bible, we see parallelism throughout. For example, what’s another city in the Bible that’s famous for gardens?
Yes, Babylon. A city famous for its hanging gardens.
Babylon is Satan’s perverted parallel to God’s heavenly city. This is why Babylon is so dangerous. It mimics God’s good creation. For us living in the West, surrounded by access to great wealth, comfort, entertainment, and power, we’re tempted by Babylon’s parallel lies more than most civilizations.
Another parallelism found in the Bible is the Story beginning and ending with a marriage. But the metaphor isn’t just limited to the beginning and the end.
Before diving into the metaphor of marriage, it’s important to acknowledge something. When metaphors are asked to carry more exegetical baggage than intended, bad things can happen. Weird things happen. And while the Bible’s use of the metaphor of marriage is enlightening and beautiful, it’s also been pressed into the service of oppression and hurt.
Jesus very clearly said there will be no marriages in the eschaton. This unequivocally means that our telos as image bearers is not marriage. Otherwise, Jesus and Paul failed as humans. Our telos is being conformed to the image of Jesus for God’s glory.
I say this because I want to tell our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not married that they are not less than. It shouldn’t even be a conversation; shamefully it is.
Look, the cultural mandate has been weaponized and used, often inadvertently, to heap guilt and shame on brothers and sisters in Christ. The first Adam failed. He and Eve failed to produce faithful vice-regents of God. The second, final Adam is not failing in that. The cultural mandate to multiply IS fulfilled through the Great Commission. Unmarried brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who are married but are unable to have children, are not excluded from the command to multiply. Entrance into the Kingdom requires a spiritual birth not a physical birth. As part of the Bride of Christ, you (all of us) are called to participate in the populating of the Kingdom by telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ and calling them to repentance and faith. Marriage is NOT the telos of image bearers.
We are often guilty of turning marriage into an idol and asking from it what only Jesus can provide, and in doing so we exclude brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we intend to or not.
We need to let metaphors do the job they’re intended to do and nothing more. If we don’t, as I said, bad and weird theology and ethics happen. Theologies and ethics derived from over-realized metaphors also make it difficult to allow the text to transition from one metaphor to the next. For example, we are Christ’s bride and God’s children. Push beyond those metaphors’ literary jobs and, well, bad and weird things can happen as I’m sure you can imagine.
Alright. So, the book begins and ends with a marriage in a glorious place. This Story sounds as joyously uplifting as a Hallmark Christmas movie (a severely underrated genre, by the way – don’t let the likes of Jim and Robert tell you otherwise).
A wedding to a wedding. This is obviously a breezy beach read, right?
Wrong. Unlike Hallmark Christmas movies and breezy beach reads, something horribly goes wrong between the beginning and the end. And I’m not talking about the family’s beloved bread and breakfast in Vermont is in danger of being foreclosed on. I mean horrible to the point that if the Bible was adapted for the big screen or a TV series, it would get an R or mature rating.
Several years ago, I wrote an article originally titled something like “How to Teach the Bible’s R-rated Passages to Children.” In the article, I worked through the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Well, my editor changed the title to the “Bible’s PG-13 passages.” She argued that readers would likely get mad if we claimed the Bible has R rated sections. I get her point, but I stand by my original title. The Bible does have R rated sections. Don’t believe me? Then please turn to Ezekiel 16.
Although the whole chapter is important, we won’t be reading all 63 verses. We’ll start in verse 1, and I’ll let you know when I’m skipping. Ezekiel 16:1.
16 Again the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.
6 “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.
Skip to verse 15.
15 “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. 16 You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. 17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. 18 And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. 19 Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord God. 20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? 22 And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.
Skipping to verse 35.
35 “Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whorings with your lovers, and with all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness. 38 And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. 39 And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. 42 So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things, therefore, behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head, declares the Lord God. Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations?
This is a vivid passage, almost shockingly so. It’s disturbing and difficult, and filled with various allegories that can be confusing – like Israel’s two sisters Samaria and Sodom (which I skipped). There’s no way we can unpack everything in it.
One thing we should notice is that Ezekiel 16 is a speech of judgment similar to a lawsuit. A lawsuit requires three parties: a judge, plaintiff, and defendant. Ezekiel 16 has only two parties: the plaintiff and defendant: God and Israel.
Now, I brought up the distinction between Ezekiel 16 and a lawsuit because it’s important to note that this is a personal dispute that Daniel Bock points out, “Is in keeping with the nature of the covenant relationship, and is particularly appropriate where the marriage metaphor is employed.”
And this marriage metaphor is one of the reasons why this passage can be so troubling. The husband in the metaphor – Yahweh – is obviously angry. I don’t think I need to belabor the point of why he’s angry. Ezekiel’s graphic language spells it out for us.
In that anger, though – God’s righteous anger – I want us to see his abiding grace and love. And his consistency.
At the beginning of chapter 16, God doesn’t just rescue Israel who had been abandoned to die. God adopts her. The phrase in verse 6, “Live, in your blood” was a legal declaration of adoption in the ancient Near East when the infant was facing certain death unless an outsider intervened. God intervened.
However, he didn’t just intervene to the point of saving Israel’s life. He lavishes her with gifts of clothes and jewelry. And then, he makes her his bride.
God’s grace is on full display. It reminds me of Joshua 24:13. During the covenant renewal ceremony, God makes a point to tell the Israelites, “I gave you a land on which you had not laboured and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat of the vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.”
God’s grace was on full display from the beginning of Israel’s history. He took this pitiful, wretched foundling, and transformed her into his bride – the bride of the Creator of the Universe. And how did she repay him?
She cheated on him, which is an understatement.
She whored herself out, using the gifts God gave her to make herself more attractive to those she hadn’t covenanted with.
And in His consistency, God rightfully punishes her. (Again, as a sidenote, this is why we need to be careful with over literalizing metaphors. Doing so here can result in using the Bible to justify spousal abuse.)
So, in this Story that begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding, in the middle the bride doesn’t just have an affair, she’s described by God as having whored herself out.
This means we’ve got this Story figured out, right? All this must mean that the wedding at the end of the book happens because God divorces His first bride and finds a better more faithful one. Makes sense, right?
What are we to make of it, then?
Let’s pick Ezekiel 16 back up, starting in verse 53.
“I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst.”
Skipping to verse 59.
59 “For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, 60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. 61 Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. 62 I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, 63 that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”
Restoration is promised. But it’s a restoration that Bock points out would not have made the inhabitants of Jerusalem happy. The promised restoration includes Sodom and Samaria.
Those words should remind us of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The thought that God was going to bless Sodom and Samaria would’ve been appalling to many of the Israelites remaining in Jerusalem. But it shouldn’t have been because God promised Abraham that He would bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed.
I want to pause for a point of application. It appears that we – and by “we” I mean the broader “we” of conservative evangelicalism – take more delight in pronouncing God’s judgment on the Sodom we live in than we do in holding out Jesus to them. When we get wrapped up in political cultural wars, we begin to view lost, hurting Image Bearers as the enemy. We become Jonah. We want to limit God’s blessings to the parts of the world we like that we’ve decided deserve it.
Before we get into God blessing the whole world, though, I want to stay with this marriage metaphor for just a little bit longer.
Turn to Hosea 2:16. We’ll read through verse 23.
16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
I will answer the heavens,
and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and they shall answer Jezreel,
23 and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
We all know the basic story of Hosea, right? Chapter 1:2, “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
That’s some next level immersive, experimental theatre! I mean, during my theatre career I was all about immersive, experimental theatre, but never to the point of legally marrying a prostitute to tell a prophetic story. And we know the marriage is part of Hosea’s prophetic message because verse 2 starts with “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea.”
Theologian Douglas Stuart tells us, “Hosea is not the primary audience for the lesson taught. Rather, the marriage and its children’s names are a way for Yahweh to use Hosea’s circumstances so that through them the terrible truth of Israel’s corruption and coming destruction is revealed.”
So, I think we all know the basic story of Hosea. It’s the passage in chapter 2 I want to focus on.
Starting off, the phrase “And in that day” that opens verse 16 is eschatological. It looks to the future. The question is, when? What “day” is God talking about?
Well, clues are in the text.
The removal of the religious syncretism that has incorporated Baal into the worship of God.
The restoration of a right (good) relationship with the animals.
War from the land will be abolished.
The earth will bountifully yield its fruit.
In that day, a right relationship with God, with other image bearers, and with creation will be restored.
What happened because of the Fall and the subsequent Curse?
The right (good) relationships between God and humans, humans and humans, and humans and creation were broken. Here in Hosea 2, we find the reversal of the Curse. According to Genesis 3, what brings about the reversal of the Curse?
Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman – [between Serpent-Satan and the woman] – and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
I want us to notice something else in Hosea. In the middle of the proclamations of the reversal of the Curse, the marriage metaphor is used. Verses 19-20, “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”
I will be your God and you will be my people.
Now look at verse 23, the last part. “And I will have mercy on NO MERCY, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
Douglas Stuart explains, “[This] passage has two complementary [focal points]: the reestablishment of orthodoxy and attendant agricultural abundance.” – which we’ve already hit on, it’s this next part of the quote from Stuart I want us to hear – “Both are eschatological themes in the prophets and both characterize the Pentateuchal promises of restoration in the new covenant age.”
And with that, I want us to turn our attention to the odd, seemingly contradictory phrase in verse 23 “I will say to Not My People, You are my people.”
Last week, Jim pointed out that the problem with the Old Covenant was that it included unbelievers. In contrast, the bride is pure in the New Covenant – made pure by Jesus. Think 2 Corinthians 11:1-2. This phrase at the end of Hosea 2 references this. The bride in Hosea references the church. The metaphor of marriage crosses both the Old and New Covenants, but the metaphor changes – is changed. What the metaphor in the Old looks to is revealed in the New.
Now, much of what’s taught in many non-denominational and Baptist churches has a different interpretation than that. And this is an important point because it affects how we live. So, to be fair and not strawman the position of other Christians, I’m going to read what C.I. Scofield says about this passage. This is straight from the notes in the Scofield Study Bible (my parents gave me my copy when I graduated from high school). Scofield is one of the best representatives of those who disagree with me on this point.
Scofield says, “That Israel is the wife of Jehovah (see vs. 16-23), now disowned but yet to be restored, is the clear teaching of the passages. This relationship is not to be confounded with that of the Church to Christ. In the mystery of the Divine tri-unity both are true. The N.T. speaks of the Church as a virgin espoused to one husband (2 Cor. 11:1-2); which could never be said of an adulterous wife, restored to grace. Israel is, then, to be restored and forgiven wife of Jehovah, the Church the virgin wife of the Lamb; Israel Jehovah’s earthly wife (Hosea 2:23); the Church the Lamb’s heavenly bride.”
That is the dominant belief in most non-denominational and Baptist churches. Last week, Jim asked how many of us were raised paedobaptist or credobaptist. It appeared that about half of us were raised in a credobaptist church. I suspect that most of y’all who were raised credobaptist were taught this distinction between Israel and the Church, if not explicitly then implicitly. If your church was a fan of the Left Behind series, you likely heard principles based on this.
And it matters, as I said, because it affects how we live now.
And after a bit more theology backing up my claim, we’re going to conclude by looking briefly at ethics – how then should we live?
I just read Scofield’s position. Now I’m going to read the Reformed position as articulated by theologian Brent Parker. He writes, “The NT presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel and all the OT covenants mediators, for he ushers in the promises to Israel (restoration and return from exile, the land, etc.), embodies their identity, and completes Israel’s role, calling, and vocation. All the institutions (the sacrificial system, tabernacle, temple, Sabbath, feasts, the law) identity markers, offices (prophet, priest, king), and key events of Israel find their culmination in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.”
He then adds, “The church is a new redemptive-historical reality – the heavenly, eschatological, Spirit-empowered, new covenant community, which is the new creation and new humanity in Christ. … The church does not displace Israel but is the restored, new covenant community that Israel looked forward to.”
How does Parker get there? How do I get there?
Think back to Deuteronomy 10:16 where Moses commands the people to circumcise their hearts. The problem is, though, they can’t do that. We can’t do that.
And so, I want us to go all the way back to Genesis 15.
Abraham complains to God because God hasn’t fulfilled the promise made in Genesis 12: 2-3 that, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Time had passed, and Abraham is pointing out to God that nothing that was promised can come true because he doesn’t even have an heir. So, God, in 15:4, takes Abraham outside and tells him that he’s going to give him more offspring than there are stars in the heaven. And then we have the covenant ceremony between God and Abraham.
But this covenant ceremony is different than other covenant ceremonies. Normally, the lesser of the two parties – the vassal – would pass through the sacrificed animals signifying that if he – the vassal – was unfaithful to the terms of the covenant, judgment would come down on him. Here in Genesis 15, though, God puts Abraham to sleep and then passes through the sacrificed animals.
Do y’all know what this means? Do y’all get this?
God promised to take the curse upon Himself if Abraham or his descendants were unfaithful.
Isaiah 53:4-6, “Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our inequities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
The covenantal curse fell on Jesus, because that’s what God promised He would do. God Himself took our curse so that we might be saved. It was promised all the way back in Genesis.
And so, circling back around to Hosea, Paul tells us in Galatians 3, “that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” And Paul connects that to God’s promise that through Abraham all the world will be blessed – the sisters Samaria and Sodom, those who are Not God’s people, are now God’s people.
And that’s a paradox, a mystery that’s revealed in Galatians 3:16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”
How are God’s Not People made into God’s people? By being in Christ. The Church is made up of those who were Not God’s People but have been reborn through faith in Jesus.
But hold on. What about the complete restoration promised in Hosea? The world is broken. The Curse is still in effect.
I believe we’re familiar with the already/not yet tension, right? I mean, we just heard about it from Jim. To further aid our understanding, the marriage metaphor is helpful, especially the nuance between betrothed and wedding day.
The betrothal part of the metaphor can get lost in translation for us. Our cultural understanding of betrothal – of engagement – isn’t nearly as robust as in ancient Jewish culture.
So, my brother got engaged this weekend – presumably, he texted me a picture of the ring and said he was popping the question this weekend. I haven’t heard if she said yes or not. And that’s kind of my point. The outcome of “popping the question” is up in the air, and even if she says “yes,” it’s not legally binding. The extreme of this is represented in the Julia Roberts movie Runaway Bride (it’s okay, but no Hallmark Christmas movie). In our cultural context, there’s nothing stopping either party from changing his or her mind up to the last second when the words “I do” are expected.
In contrast, betrothal in ancient Israel was binding. Marriages were arranged. Contracts had been drawn up and expectations were legally binding. Failure to follow through brought penalties. Robert pointed out to me that Jesus’ declaration that he’s going to prepare a place for his bride, the church, is believed by many theologians to be connected to the requirement that before the marriage can take place, the man has to build a house for his betrothed.
So, this is where the metaphor of marriage is helpful. While we’re – the church as Christ’s bride in the metaphor – are legally bound to the bridegroom – that’s the already. The not yet part in the metaphor is that we have yet to enjoy the full consummation of the marriage.
Think about how I talked about how parallelism in literature is often inverted. The Bible – God’s Story – opens with a marriage between the first Adam and Eve. The Bible ends with a marriage between the second, final Adam and his betrothed. What’s the inversion here? Think of the story.
The first Adam and his bride had yet to enter God’s Rest. They had to fulfill the cultural mandate (and obey God’s prohibition from eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). What has the final Adam – Jesus – done before the wedding feast in the City built around a garden?
He’s accomplished everything already for his bride – for us, the church. On that final day when our bridegroom returns, we will be ushered into God’s final rest; there will be nothing left for us to do to enter that Rest. Jesus does it all.
But in the not yet, there’s an important point we can’t miss. Remember I warned against pushing metaphors past their job. Well, while the marriage metaphor is instructive, it doesn’t give us the whole picture. The metaphor of being adopted into God’s family is important, too. Romans 8:16-17.
“16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
This is where the theological truth of our union with Christ is important. And the adoption metaphor is based in the theology of our union with Christ. Galatians 3:26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Our adoption is based on our union with Christ.
What does that mean for us in the not yet? How then should we live?
Grant Macaskill’s wonderful book Living in Union With Christ points out, “We are not simply saved by [Jesus], nor do we merely follow after him – though both of those continue to be true – but we participate in him.”
This is an important point because it affects how we live now. Christ’s Spirit isn’t merely an aid that helps us become the best version of ourselves. If you’re in Christ, you are a brand-new creation.
Macaskill points out that, “The idea of the Christian self as constituted by Jesus may be difficult for us to wrap our heads around for at least two reasons … The first is that, as moderns, we are accustomed to speaking about a ‘person’ or a ‘self’ as if it were a thing in its own right, something that can be isolated from the world around it and still have a definable or describable identity.”
While we wait for King Jesus to return, we still suffer the effects of the Curse. But we do so knowing that Christ lives in us; that we are united to Christ. And this reality changes how we live.
The Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas believes, as do I, that, “the task of the church is to be faithful to the story of God that makes intelligible the divided nature of the world.”
That’s simply a restatement of Christ’s metaphors calling us to be a light and salt in the world.
Being in Christ, as the Church, we are to live in ways that communicate who God is and that gives the unbelieving world a glimpse into the eschaton – a picture of what’s to come. Through our unity, the church is to model the shalom that comes with being in God’s rest. Through our selfless compassion and love, even to those who persecute us, we’re to reflect the actions of our King who laid aside his glory and took on a curse he didn’t deserve for our sake.
A misunderstanding of who we are, and our place in the already/not yet, produces errors like the cloistered existence of my fundamentalist youth or the calls for a Benedict Option. Or the inverse happens in the articulations and efforts of the triumphalism of Christian nationalism.
We are strangers in a strange land. This is not our home. But the church – us, not this building – is to be an oasis that provides a taste of our home. Jonathan Leeman likes to describe the church as an embassy. I like that metaphor because it pushes back on both extremes. We’re not called to huddle together, trying to keep ourselves unstained as we wait for the rapture to rescue us. We’re to courageously tell the world of our King and his Kingdom. Nor are we called to make them us – to make them look and behave like us, because that’s not possible. Attempting to do so amounts to returning to the Old Covenant and embracing its problem – that it had members who weren’t God’s people.
We are called to reflect our standing in Christ in everything we do. And we do this collectively, as the church, as the bride of Christ, as the people of God.
Christianity is not an addition to our identity. We’re not a Christian artist or Christian doctor or Christian fill-in-the-blank. We’re Christians who do fill-in-the-blank. Being in Christ is our identity, and nothing else. Everything else is our vocation and is in the realm of ethics – how we are to live.
I realize that sounds simplistic, but it’s not. It contradicts everything we’re taught by this world.
How we live matters eschatologically, because we’re to call people to enter God’s Rest with us. We’re called to invite more people to be in attendance at the wedding feast in the City built around a garden. The church – we – have an eschatological function and telos. And we can do so in the full faith that the already – the downpayment of the Holy Spirit – assures us that the not yet is ours. We’ve tasted it this morning in multiple ways through the ordinary means of grace.
There’s coming a day when all of God’s people, all of true Israel, the entire church will be gathered into that heavenly city built around a garden and enjoy the wedding feast. In the meantime, what we do here at OGC, how we live together, how we live as strangers in this world, is to point people to the greater coming reality that has been made manifest in King Jesus.
 Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah WBC ed. David Hubbard and Glenn Barker (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1987), 26.
 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 61.
 Brent E. Parker, “The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship” Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies ed. Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 44-45.
 Parker, Progressive Covenantalism, 45-47.
 Grant Macaskill, Living in Union with Christ: Paul’s Gospel and Christian Moral Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019) 2.
 Macaskill, Living in Union with Christ, 5-6.
 Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 91.