I give praise and express my gratitude this morning to the wonderful God of all wisdom, knowledge and comfort, for He is so gracious and humble to come close to anyone who is willing to ask for wisdom and to share of Himself to open their dull minds with things beyond their ability to acquire in their own weakness. I am coming to admire this amazing God more and more each day as my awareness of His pure goodness and unselfish love becomes more clear to my consciousness. Over the past few weeks and months my affections are being awakened as time and again God suddenly gives me a hug of some sort to express His affection for me in various times and places. I admit that I think I am finally starting to fall in love with Him, at least a beginning though I am far from being worthy of such attentions. But then even that idea too is part of what He has been sharing with me; that the whole notion of worthiness itself is an invention in the counterfeit system of the enemy meant to confuse us about reality and the passion of God for us. For God does not relate toward us based on any merit, reward or punishment system but rather it is completely and consistently on the basis of who He is alone – pure undiluted agape love.
I couple days ago a new friend who has been asking a number of probing questions recently about things we are learning raised some very compelling questions that involves an aspect of the atonement that has not yet become completely clear to me as of yet. She asked me how I view what took place when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and how to perceive that in the big picture that we have been exploring. That is something I too have been pondering for many years and have not yet found answers that satisfy my need for everything to make sense. Now I want to look at it in the light of the emerging glory seen in the truth about God's character. I responded that this was a vitally important issue that I was not yet ready to answer immediately but wanted time to let it soak in and listen for whatever the Spirit might bring to my awareness.
This morning as I lay in bed praying and focusing my attention on setting my own spirit in an attitude of gratitude for the day, I became aware of new thoughts emerging into my mind about subject, but not only what transpired in Gethsemane but involving the rest of those hours culminating in the death of Jesus on the cross. Some of these things that came to me this morning were so new to me that I finally realized they were not something I could have figured out by myself but were more likely the kind of revelations that come from outside my own ability. I am not claiming in any way that what I am starting to see should be taken as divine truth like from a prophet, for in no way do I claim to be anything of the kind. I am just saying that I believe God is the kind of God who is eager and waiting to reveal His truth to any honest seeker of truth who is willing to lay aside their own preconceived ideas, prejudices and especially the dark views of God that have blinded all of us and earnestly ask for heavenly perspectives. It is God who is faithful, generous and gracious and I want to soak in that and keep reminding myself and others of this more consistently.
These thoughts are not yet flushed out completely as I have had no time yet to see how well they fit with many other aspects of these subjects. But I sense that they have potential to fit far better than anything I have heard in the past which impresses me that they must be of divine origin. So let me attempt to explain them even though they are so new they are still in their infancy.
The questions that have come to my own mind and now are reinforced by my friends questions are along these lines:
- How did Jesus take onto Himself the sins of the whole world? How can we grasp this idea in practical terms, not just ethereal nebulous religious mumbo jumbo clichés?
- Jesus spoke of this intense experience as some sort of terrifying cup that He seemed to be expected to drink. Most religious observers have concluded that this 'cup' was the guilt of the sins of the whole world to be laid on Him, sins both retroactive and future. But as a human how could Jesus do this since He was limited to living in the present as a human being like the rest of us?
- This only begins to open the can of wormy questions. Legally speaking, how can it even be viable for someone to take punishment meant to be imposed on another for their crimes? This is not considered just or even possible in most judicial systems on our planet. So why have theologians insisted for so long that God's justice system operates using techniques that are generally viewed as legal fiction by humans?
- How is using legal fiction and arbitrary illogic supposed to satisfy the anger of humans over all the crimes that have been committed against themselves and for which they crave retribution?
- What is the nature and source of the supposed laws that demand death for the slightest infractions that we label as 'sin'? What does this severity say about the nature and appeal of the God we claim to worship? (Note: there is currently a movie in some theaters right now called Hellbound? that deals with this very issue. I wish I could find a place to watch it.)
- What transpired in Gethsemane that caused Jesus to suddenly feel this mysterious foreboding that threatened to crush out His very life right there before anyone had even shown up intending to prosecute Him with fabricated accusations over fictitious crimes?
- Many suppose that it was God the Father who was suddenly piling the guilt of the world upon Jesus at this point. If so, is there any explanation as to the timing of this? Why not sooner, or later?
- How is the experience of Jesus and the internal anguish that He felt during that time similar or dissimilar to what the lost will experience in the final day of Judgment?
- The implications of how the Father fits into any scenario we paint as to what happened to Jesus there in the Garden reverberates with strong implications for our perceptions of how sinners will be treated in the day of Judgment and even now. What kind of Father are we dealing with here anyway?
- If what we are observing here is punishment which by definition is arbitrary in nature, who determines the intensity and length and severity of such punishment? And was the punishment Jesus experienced really valid to get sinners off the hook who come to be 'covered by the blood of Jesus' through becoming Christians or 'getting saved'? How does that work in explainable terms? This question cannot be satisfied by religious circular reasoning for a thinking person.
- What is the connection between the external physical torture that Jesus experienced and the internal, unseen torment resulting from whatever effect was created by taking on the sins of the world? Was the external 'punishment' necessary to supplement the internal torture? Or are the two possibly disconnected completely?
- Was Jesus' suffering in the Garden caused by His fear of all the pain He was about to endure at the hands of jealous and angry humans and evil demons? Was He shuddering in fear or was something else going on?
- What was the focus and cause of the overwhelming intensity of Jesus' emotions that caused Him to literally sweat drops of blood in the anguish? Was it fear? Physical pain? Supernatural assault? And if so, from what directions?
- If Jesus took on the 'punishment' for the sins of the whole world and at the same time we teach that the lost will be punished by being tortured in literal fire, how can we say that Jesus suffered the punishment for the lost when there is no evidence of any literal fire being involved in Jesus' suffering? Or did Jesus only suffer for those who finally accept Him, whatever that means?
- Was the experience of Jesus starting in Gethsemane along the lines of temptations? Or was what was happening inside of Him along the lines of feeling punishment beginning?
- If Jesus was being tempted, exactly what was the nature and substance of these temptations? What was He being tempted to do and why? What benefit or enticement was behind any such temptations to make them appealing to Him? What were the risks involved if He gave in?
- If Jesus was starting to be punished in the Garden, why was this, where was it coming from and what would any such punishment really accomplish?
- Which system of law was operating here, the law of the Spirit of life or the law of sin and death? Or do we confuse the two in our unchallenged religious assumptions?
Clearly this raises more questions than I could ever possibly address anytime soon and can spawn even more. In processing through my own thinking on this in parallel with reviewing the letter from my good friend, I realize that there are even more potential questions that need to be added to this list. But let me try to summarize what came to my attention and at least begin there and then see later how these might begin to organize and bring together pieces that have not made sense for too long.
One of our core beliefs is that Jesus was not only human but was also divine. Many if not most Christians believe and teach that Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine. I know, that doesn't make sense in the mathematics that I was taught either and I'm not going to try to defend this illogic. I'm just saying what the theologians insist on teaching and don't want to tackle this faulty math at this point. It probably belongs in the same category and the three in one concept of the Trinity that likewise challenges our ability to embrace logically.
But this does emphasize an important point even if it is not good math, for Jesus was somehow a creature unlike any other being ever existing throughout the entire universe. And that is an extremely vital key useful for unlocking other issues later on. It also is a key for helping to unpack what is going on in the subject under consideration here as I began to sense this morning.
Part of being divine as I understand it and as most believe the Bible teaches, is that God (the kind of divine being that Christians believe in anyway), the only real God who is the source of all life and sustains all that has been created (which is everything but Himself) – this God has the capability of living outside the restrictions of time unlike the rest of us. This means that only God is not caught in the lock of having to live only in the present but can simultaneously exist anywhere in the linear notion of what we think of as time. I know, this really compels us to stretch our brain power beyond what we hardly ever think about, and some people simply can't go there without more time to get their brain loosened up. But nevertheless God has this ability and this is a key point for understanding why it was vital for a divine being to be involved in this crucial event in salvation.
The book of Hebrews points out that it would have been impossible for any other being, no matter how powerful or supernatural, to accomplish whatever it was that Jesus came to accomplish. We don't know all the reasons why this is the case, but possibly one key reason is right here. For no created being would have the ability to live outside the bounds of time and thus experience what Jesus evidently experienced during those hours leading up to His death.
Secondly, we must have a better appreciation of the truth about God's character than what most Christians, or any other religion for that matter, teach. It is only as we come to this with workable understandings of the truth about God's love, goodness, graciousness and extravagant kindness that we can even approach being able to discern what was really taking place in the events surrounding the cross. Infiltration of dark views of God promoted among all world religions confuse us and distort our perceptions about how God feels about us as well as the meanings of these events. We must make our highest priority when attempting to understand what was really going on here, the vindication of the real truth about what God is like, which was the whole reason Jesus came to this earth to start with.
If we in any way try to explain what happened in and to Jesus during these hours before His death that causes us to view God as somehow different than Jesus, then we instantly should throw out any such ideas as false and even dangerous, for Jesus made it explicitly clear that He and the Father are One. This has been a tremendous asset and protection in helping me to discern that most of the proposed explanations circulating about the cross are bogus and even damning in nature. These false insinuations are intended to paint God with the dark character traits of His enemy and to make our hearts afraid of Him. Yet that is the very opposite of why Jesus came to this earth.
Thirdly, we must begin to discern the reality that God's system of government and how heaven defines justice is very different that how we tend to think of those terms. Knowing the true definitions of the words used in the Bible and by religion is extremely necessary in order to appreciate and discover how more of the pieces of the puzzle fit together properly. This makes it complicated to even express what I am trying to convey here because if I have to keep qualifying the terms I am using it can get even lengthier than it might be otherwise. (pray for this poor Magellan) But our definitions for justice and our perceptions of the nature of law are pivotal for being able to see more clearly what was happening in Gethsemane from a new perspective.
Again, I have not by any means flushed this out comprehensively, but the clues I got this morning hold promise of helping put things together better than anything I have previously considered. So let me keep trying to consolidate my thoughts.
I have long believed that Jesus somehow was able to experience the actual feelings resulting from God's laws (I prefer to call them natural principles of reality) being violated by all those whom He came to represent as His own on this earth. So as one experiences suffering and pain to varying degrees when they violate the natural law of gravity, depending on the situation; so too we all experience natural negative consequences when we violate what we term as spiritual laws, moral laws or emotional laws. Some of these effects are obvious such as the intense agony we feel from watching the lingering suffering and death of a loved one. We also suffer terrible emotions of guilt, shame, condemnation and all sorts of other feelings that we give labels to that all result from being out of sync with natural principles designed by God that operate in the system of cause and effect.
This last phrase exposes the distinct difference between God's ways and the counterfeit system introduced by Satan. Let me give short background to explain.
As the most brilliant being in the universe and at one time serving in the capacity of being God's primary representative to every other created being, Lucifer (who is now Satan) also had the capacity to invent an imitation or alternative government that was a counterfeit of God's system. This alternative so closely mimicked and even acts like a leach on the natural principles that it imitates that it appears authentic and usable. That is exactly what he chose to do, and in doing so sin came into existence (sin being anything apart from total dependence on and trust in our gracious, life-giving Creator).
Why is this important to bring up here? Because until we understand that a counterfeit is extremely similar to the original that it imitates, we cannot appreciate the subtle but vitally important discrepancies between God's ways of dealing with sin and Satan's system of arbitrary rewards and arbitrary punishments. So here is the key point that we need to grasp. If what we are looking at here as happening to Jesus during this time starting in Gethsemane was imposed on Him, then it must be rooted in Satan's artificial system of reward and/or punishment. But if what was happening to Jesus was a natural result from violations of inherent principles designed by God that work by simple cause and effect and were not imposed or forced on Him, then this might be coming from God's direction.
I know, I have a very hard time giving short, concise answers. But short answers are the easiest to distort and discount and misunderstand, which is why I try to gather around enough supporting information before I try to get to the main point. But I will try to bring this to a quasi-conclusion somewhere here and let it simmer in our minds for awhile to observe more of the implications in this.
What I am starting to see now is that since Jesus was divine and was the only human being capable of accessing in His person every moment of time outside of and in addition to the present moments in which He was living, this could help address my lingering question of how Jesus could experience for instance, my feelings and sufferings from sin even though I was not directly present myself in real time during what happened to Jesus 2000 years ago. Since through His divinity Jesus could be anywhere at anytime without any limitations, He can truthfully say to everyone both past and present that He is with us and never leaves us at any moment.
Combine this part with His assurance that what happens to even the least important of us happens to Him, Can you begin to see that Jesus was capable in His divine nature of experiencing in His human psyche all of the negative emotional/spiritual effects that every one of us feel when we violate God's principles of life? On top of that, it might also be potentially true that Jesus may have absorbed all of the artificial punishment demanded in Satan's counterfeit system of reward and punishment. Did Jesus take all of the intended punishments generated in Satan's law of sin and death for every human being and absorb that into Himself? Did He somehow become the lightning rod so to speak in the supernatural realms to fully dissipate the power of the evil one by absorbing the full extent of all of Satan's charges against every person who has ever done anything wrong?
I am not saying this is in fact what happened; I am simply putting out proposals that deserve careful examination. If all the above are true, it may be possible that Jesus absorbed into His own psyche both all the punishment and death insisted on and imposed by Satan's illicit system of government and in addition all the real effects of all the violations in God's natural law system based on cause and effects. I'm not saying this conclusively but rather as a conjecture to be further examined carefully and prayerfully and with a humble, teachable spirit.
Just the attempt to appreciate how large a capacity would be required to absorb all of these feelings and sufferings quickly reveals to us why only God could accomplish such a feat. No created being would have anywhere near the emotional capacity to handle this level of suffering psychologically. Only the Son of God would have both the ability and the willingness to access all of this outside of time and space that would prohibit any other being from being able to do what He did. But we must be extremely cautious that in saying this we are in no way implying that it was God who was demanding this to satisfy His supposedly offended heart. It was love and not anger that sent Jesus to the cross, at least as far as heaven was concerned.
But there is even more involved here that all of that. Jesus did not only come to absorb the full effects of what sin has produced in the hearts and lives of every human being; He also came to accomplish a number of other vitally important things.
- He came to reveal the real truth about God and how God feels and acts toward sinners so that we could be attracted back into trusting this God fully.
- He came to absorb the full effects of sin in order to remove every objection raised by the counterfeit system of justice about supposed necessary punishment of sin.
- He came to expose the real truth about God's kind of justice and to vindicate His Father's reputation that has been nearly obliterated and defamed by the massive smear campaign of His arch-enemy the great liar.
- He also needed to come as a human being for a number of vitally important reasons:
- To make God fully vulnerable in flesh and blood so that both humans and demons could vent their own wrath against God in ways that could actually force Him to suffer in every respect and as much as possible as a human being could experience and even more.
- In doing so, by absorbing all the abuse and torture and shame that could be thrown at Him, He came to display the superiority of agape love in the face of the full powers of ultimate evil. This was the focal point of the battle between pure love and pure evil and it had to become clear which one was stronger to overcome the other.
- Jesus came as a human to not only take full responsibility for all of humanity's sins to 'satisfy' counterfeit law and possibly even natural law; but it was necessary that He become a Son of Man in order to fully qualify Himself to displace Satan, a non-human (wrong species), from the role of representative of our race in the heavenly courts. This was the pivotal issue that Jesus wanted to know about when He rushed off to heaven for a short visit right after His resurrection. He wanted to learn if all that He had done on earth could certify His credentials to become humanity's new Adam so that Satan could be expelled from that role in the heavenly congress.
While many of these points obviously extend far outside the parameters of the Garden of Gethsemane, what took place there in that Garden was a microcosm of everything else transpiring both on earth and in the supernatural realms. Because we don't have all the information or even the capacity to know what was taking place in the supernatural, many of the beliefs and suppositions swirling around today are filled with absurd notions and wild speculations.
- Some believe Jesus didn't really die but spent time in some other form somewhere in a literal hell full of flames of torture administered by an angry God (or sadistic devil or both) to taste the same literal flames of torture that sinners can expect to experience if they reject God's mercy.
- Some say that Jesus, again not really dead but disembodied in some spirit form, went off to have a punching match with the devil to see who could come out on top by committing the most violence to each other.
- Some even take a passage from Peter and insist that Jesus went off somewhere to find disembodied spirits of people who lived before the flood and inform them of the 'gospel' to give them yet another chance to change their minds about salvation.
But if you look carefully you will see a common dark thread woven throughout all these theories and proposals and mystical teachings: that is that they all tend to paint God as using the same methods as His enemy so common in the system represented by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The counterfeit system is that of arbitrary rewards and punishment that is founded on the principles of fear, force, shame and intimidation and selfishness.
Any teaching that relies on and embraces these counterfeit principles of law and counterfeit justice must be exposed and tossed aside so that we can move on to discover authentic truth as it is in Jesus. Jesus declared that He is the truth; and while the Scriptures can point us to Christ who is the ultimate truth, we can easily become deceived into thinking that the Scriptures themselves are the ultimate truth. But as Paul pointed out in the great love chapter, Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
Knowledge can certainly help us to come to know Jesus. Scripture can help us learn about Him and study both His teachings and life as well as the record of God's dealings with His children throughout history. God has given gifts to prophets, an ability to convey messages to the world. But those messages have always been filtered through the sinful human messengers which means that only Jesus, the express image of God, can give us an accurate revelation of the real truth about God in contrast to the prophecies that will pass away. When the perfect comes, says Paul, everything else will fade away in the brilliancy of its illumination. All of these other things are like candles to help us begin to see what is hidden in the dark and the path to freedom, but they become insignificant when contrasted to God's agape love which is like the sun in comparison. There is no use for relying on a candle to find our way around when we come to live in the brilliant light of the truth about God's agape love.
So, what was going on there in the Garden of Gethsemane that progressively intensified until it was finished on the cross? Maybe a hole was being poked by Jesus into the black veil of the enemy that had obscured humanity from even being aware that there was a universe of light outside our dark prison of fear and death. It took divinity camouflaged in a human to bore that hole into the darkness of lies about God. But as Jesus chose to pierce through the darkness of that heavy blanket of death and opened up an escape passageway for every human to pass through into real freedom and joy and light, the light begin to leak through that hole and erode the defenses of evil. Or, to switch metaphors mid-paragraph, the river of life tore down the walls, blasted through the bars and ripped apart the very foundations of the prison house of death itself to establish a new kingdom that will last forever and ever.
Now humanity has a new identity in a new Adam in the person of Jesus Christ who claims full authority on heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He can now claim this title because He earned the legitimate right to that position and wrested it away from the impostor, Satan by exposing the nature of his fraud (Luke 11:21-22; Colossians 2:15). He can now openly dispute Satan's assertions to be the Prince of this world but still respects every individual's right to choose which Prince they will embrace and which system they will choose to serve under.
If we cling to the desires of our fallen nature, we can choose to spurn the escape opening provided by Jesus enabling us to come back into a relationship of trust and love with our heavenly Father. We can continue to insist that God is more like His enemy instead of how Jesus revealed Him to be and we can cling to the lies promoted by religions everywhere saying that God is more like us than like Jesus.
Or we can push past our fears, challenge our preconceived notions and embrace the emerging light with joy drinking deeply of the water of life. We can have our spirits revived, our debts canceled, our sins obliterated and our guilt removed. But all of this is not because an angry God intent on imposing harsh punishments on lawbreakers has been appeased. Rather it is because we have come to see that God is just like Jesus, compassionate, loving, passionately eager to have us as close to Him as we will let Him. We will discover to our amazement that God never has held a grudge against us and never will but that this was a false report about Him circulated by our enemy. We will discover that God on His part never needs to forgive for there is nothing for Him to let go of to start with; that it is us who needs the cleansing from all the fears, the lies about how God feels about us and the distorted beliefs we have believed from the enemy that has kept us in fear and at a distance from Him for so long. (For more information about this reference the material on the two sides of forgiveness.)
I will say it again because the truth is so clear and compelling in this statement:
What we see in Jesus both in Gethsemane and on the cross is the exact opposite of what religion has so long insisted – that the greatest danger is of sinners falling into the hands of an angry God. Rather what we discover in Jesus is that God is so humble, so loving, so intent on exposing the lies and accusations and insinuations of Satan about Himself that He was willing to make Himself completely vulnerable in His Son so that God Himself would actually fall into the hands of angry sinners, human and demon alike, to prove conclusively once and for all eternity what God is really like and how He will react when suffering under the most intense abuse that evil can produce.
Because God never changes it will be no different when Jesus comes the second time or even when Judgment day finally occurs after the third coming of Jesus to this earth at the end of the thousand year millenium (see Revelation 20). God will always be love and nothing else. Jesus demonstrated that without exception throughout His life, His torture and finally His death on the cross. Jesus will still be the ultimate demonstration of love when He comes again exhibiting a face like that of an innocent, harmless Lamb. And even though those who have clung to false ideas about Him run in terror expecting this Lamb to wreak vengeance on them for all of their offenses, it is not God's anger that causes them to die but their own resistance to the glory of His love for them that causes such agony that they are consumed by the brightness of His coming. Let us be very careful whose testimony about God we embrace here. Remember who it is that claims that the Lamb of God is full of wrath.
At last in the final judgment it will be finally be fully exposed (the true definition of the word judgment from heaven's dictionary) that all through this wild and violent conflict between God's ways and Satan's counterfeit system that God has always been totally fair, consistently kind, perfectly just and righteous (the same word in the Hebrew language) and that He has only demonstrated agape love in every instance to deal with every situation and in every circumstance.
The central message that Jesus brought to this earth and that was picked up and emphasized by His closest disciple is this:
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. ...By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. ...We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 1:5; 4:9, 16-19)