Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hiddenness of Revelation

More from chapter five.

Christ's agency in the prophecy of the Old and New Testaments is an act of kenosis, since it means self-subjection to a promise.  As we have previously observed, the process of kenosis begins in the Old Testament with the protevanglium.  Christ is present and active in the promise in the Garden of Eden of the savior and in the condemnation of Adam and Eve.  From the beginning then the Word of God is both law and gospel.  Since every promise of God to humans after the Fall also assumes their condemnation and fallenness, every act of grace and self-donation is necessarily concealed under a corresponding act of judgment.  The self-surrendering promise of the savior accessible to hearing is then concealed under Adam and Eve's actual visible situation of exile from the Garden of Eden. 

This dissonance between sight and hearing continues and deepens in the later history of salvation.  As Paul observed regarding Abraham: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb" (Rom 4:19).  In the later history of Israel itself, the dissonance takes the form of primarily of the tension between the visible judgment of YHWH based on the Sinaitic covenant in the form of exile, with the corresponding continued audibly accessible assertion by prophets of the promise of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  This tension is simply a continuation and a deepening of the original tension between the law and the gospel proclaimed to Adam and Eve. 

With each manifestation of divine judgment, Israel entered deeper and deeper into the judgment of the exile.  In each temporal judgment, God manifests in greater and greater degrees his fidelity to his word of law against the ever increasing manifestation of human sin. With increasing judgment, Israel simultaneously received greater and greater promises of restoration from the prophets.  This is not to say (for example) that Isaiah prophesied anything that was not already implicitly present in the promise Adam and Eve, Abraham and Jacob.  Rather, the promises of redemption became more and more definite and concrete.  For example, Isaiah 53 is far more exact in its prophecy of redemption through Christ than is Genesis 3:15, but not less reflection of the same reality: ". . . you shall bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15), ". . . with his stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:5).  Nevertheless, the greater and more exact the promises, the greater the disparity between vision and the promise became, as Israel enter into the Babylonian exile and was removed from the land. 

Finally, the promise of the prophetic works of the exile (Ezekiel and Daniel) was that the end to cosmic exile was dawning and God's kingdom would finally be established (Ezek 37-48, Daniel 2, 7, 12).  As we have already noted, this took the form of ultimate eschatological resolution: eternal exile (in hell) and the promise of eternal restoration (in the kingdom of God).  All the promises of protevanglium would come true: sin would be judged, the dead would be restored to life and YHWH would return in person.  In this, a final climax of history, God’s faithfulness to his Word as law and gospel would come about. 

Jesus entered into the midst of Judaism's apocalyptic anticipation of its final restoration.[1]  He claimed within his ministry that he had come to announce and bring about the kingdom of God and the final end to exile.  Having entered into total solidarity with suffering Israel and humanity under the law, Christ represents the ultimate fulfillment of promise and therefore the climax of dissonance between hearing and vision.  Only in this manner could he end all the pretensions of humanity and establish them in true receptivity to the Word of God.  It is for this reason that he only elects the poor and the morally degenerate.  He is the mighty and righteous one hidden the midst of sin and weakness. 

The dissonance between visible manifestation and audible promise does not merely characterize Jesus' ministry among the outcastes, but is present at every stage of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  Beginning with his birth to the Virgin Mary, Jesus gives the appearance even to his earthly father of being conceived in a morally impure manner (Mt 1:19).  Nevertheless, Joseph is given a promise of Mary’s purity and Jesus’ messianic identity through the word and promise of angel in his dream.  In being baptized with those confessing their sins, he is attested by his Father’s voice from heaven that he is not a sinner (contrary to appearance), but a "beloved Son" and is given the Holy Spirit hidden in the form of a dove.  In the Transfiguration, his true identity is revealed and attested by the law and prophets (represented by Moses and Elijah), but he immediately tells those in his inner circle to “tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk 9:9).  Even faced with the direct revelation of his glory, the apostolic witness must remain veiled.  When the Transfiguration is revealed, it is made manifest like the earlier revelations with a word and witness, and therefore not an immediate vision of his glory.  Before the Sanhedrin, Jesus claims that he is himself is God, in that he claims that in being vindicated he will ultimately share in YHWH’s glory cloud and throne (Mk 14:62).[2]  He is charged in both the Synoptic (Mt 26:65, Mk 16:64) and Johannine (Jn 10:33, 19:7) with blasphemy because of his claims regarding his own divinity.  To vision, he is the greatest sinner.  Whereas Adam merely wished to be God and grasped at divinity, Jesus directly claims to be him.  Nevertheless, Jesus' appearance as a blasphemer stands in contradiction to reality, which is revealed audibly in his own self-testimony and that of the prophets.  Rather than being a human being who is exalting himself, he is God lowering himself in a kenotic act of self-donation.  Rather than being one who grasps at divinity (Phil 2:6), he is the midst his disciples as “one who serves” (Lk 22:26). 

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