Friday, February 25, 2011

A Portion Excised from an Already Too Long Essay

Christ’s first advent sweeps forward two correlated acts of God from the Last Day—resurrection and judgment.[1] Paul’s gospel orients everyone to Christ’s cross, as the display of God’s wrath against sin (Rom. 3:21-31), and his resurrection, as God’s vindication of his Son (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; 1 Tim. 3:16), both indivisibly as the advance visitation of God’s courtroom of the Great Assize at the end of the age. The gospel message does not transport humans into the future courtroom of heaven to hear God’s verdict of condemnation or justification. Rather, the gospel announces that with the coming of Christ, God has revealed the verdict of his Last Day courtroom in advance in the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son: wrath and justification. So, believers, in union with Christ in his death and resurrection, enter the new creation, ahead of time, by way of mutual crucifixion in Christ—the world to believers and believers to the world (Gal. 6:14-15). In the gospel, God announces that he has already thrust his verdict—condemned or justified—forward from the Day of Judgment, which has not yet come, into the present with the advent of his Son (cf. John 3:16-21).[2]

So, according to Paul’s gospel, each of the diverse and rich imageries he employs—whether salvation or eternal life or resurrection or justification—portrays God’s saving power in Christ as piercing the darkness of this present evil age as revealed light emanating from the Last Day back into time, featuring Christ Jesus whose crucifixion is God’s demonstration of his righteousness by subjecting him to wrath in order to judge sin in advance of the final judgment and in order that all who are in him might be justified (Rom. 3:21-31). His death is God’s judgment of sin for all who believe. His resurrection is life for the same ones (Rom. 4:25), for his resurrection is God’s justifying declaration of Jesus Christ to be the Powerful Son of God (Rom. 1:4; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 13:33), securing God’s justifying verdict for his people, already being proclaimed in the gospel in advance of the Last Day.

For Paul, justification is singular with discernible but indivisible aspects or phases, both now and not yet. He agrees with other New Testament writers that salvation, the kingdom of God, redemption, eternal life, resurrection, adoption, forgiveness of sins, justification, et al., are terms that depict two inseparable but distinguishable phases of both already and not yet. No more division exists between present and future aspects of justification than between first quarter and last quarter phases of the moon. It is the same and singular moon with distinguishable and discernible phases or aspects. Likewise, whether Paul speaks of justification now or not yet, it is the same and singular justification with distinguishable aspects, one present, the other future.

[1] See especially Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 73ff, 261ff.
[2] N. T. Wright is at his best when he makes this same argument: “The bringing of the future verdict forward into the present world is rooted, grounded, rock-bottom established on the brining of the Messiah forward into the-present, more specifically, on the extraordinary, unprecedented and unimagined fact of the resurrection itself coming forward into the present. The Messiah is not simply a figure who will emerge at the very end. Resurrection is no longer simply a last-day event in which God will raise all his people. Messiah and resurrection are middle-of-history events in which God has come to inaugurate his kingdom, his sovereign, saving rule of all creation. In and through the Messiah, God has dealt with the whole problematic fact of idolatry, sin and death and so has begun, in the Messiah’s resurrection, the new creation which is the great new Fact standing in the middle of time, space and human culture” (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009], , 215).