God’s Global Church: Community with the Risen Christ (Part 3)

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God’s Global Church: Community with the Risen Christ (Part 3)

In this final and cumulative consideration of the global reality of God’s church, we look at the climax and centerpiece of what it means to be a part of a universal family. I say cumulative because without the gift of faith and a covenantal worldview the way we perceive Jesus will be radically different, hence, the plethora of Christian denominations in the world and even subgroups and fringe ministries that are critical of the church within Adventism. While Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17 was about unity and not uniformity, our present context of global Christianity does not reflect the robust expression of biblical unity that Jesus interceded about on our behalf. There have been various attempts at creating a “mediated reality” of church unity, but it is not biblically based. Ecumenism is not biblical unity, it is an attempt to create religious harmony our of theological pluralism that ultimately ends in watered-down affirmations of the reality of God and is out of harmony with the theology and prophetic witness of Adventism.[1]

By pointing to the Risen Christ as our only source of unity, we are in effect pointing to the Giver of faith and the Creator and Sustainer of the world (hence a worldview in covenant with Him) as He reveals Himself in Scripture. Coming on the heels of the Christ-hymn (Col. 1:15–23), Paul admonishes us in Colossians 3:1 to seek those things above “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” The familiar locative statement on Jesus’ present residence points to the cosmic (global) rule of Christ. He tied in the Christian experience (“if you have been raised with Christ”) with where Jesus is. Unfortunately, many Christians only focus on Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s admonishment is just as central to Christian experience as the resurrection. In fact, Paul uses the same verb pointing to the resurrection and the Risen Christ (Gr. sunegeiromai, “to raise, be raised,” 2:12; 3:1). Consider his statements elsewhere:

“according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” Eph. 1:19–20

“even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Eph. 2:5

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Rom. 8:34 [Emphasis added]

The Global Church and the Intercession of Jesus

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been foremost in “recovering” the biblical truth of Jesus’ intercessory ministry in the context of Bible prophecy.[2] Many Christians have drawn comfort from these passages mentioned above, yet any recognition of its global impact has not been emphasized as a present reality that forms and shapes Christian theology and practice. Admittedly, because of our modern notions of individualism, patriotism, nationalism, cultural pride, etc. the profound cosmic implication of Jesus’s intercessory ministry is mainly ignored (by mainline Protestantism) or stops short of seeing the unifying power of Jesus as our High Priest (legalistic or selfish understandings of the Pre-Advent Judgment). The beautiful 3 Angels’ message of Jesus’ intercessory ministry is being replaced with the Evangelical understanding of Jesus, whose death and resurrection are the consummation of the salvation experience (one-phase atonement). Ellen White brings us back to the biblical view (two-phase atonement) as she states,

“The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. By His death He began that work which after His resurrection He ascended to complete in heaven. We must by faith enter within the veil, “whither the forerunner is for us entered.” Hebrews 6:20. There the light from the cross of Calvary is reflected. There we may gain a clearer insight into the mysteries of redemption.” (GC 489)

The global impact of the cross is that Salvation is made available to all, but only efficacious for those who surrender their hearts/lives to Jesus. The global impact of Jesus’ High Priestly ministry will impact everyone whether they surrender or not. While the Intercessory-Judgment ministry of Jesus is not meant to see who is good enough to make it to heaven, it does address the destiny of every human being in that it shows God faithful in His decision to save or not.[3] Jesus dies for each individual, yet most of the language of the Bible speaks about the corporate body’s experience of God grace (cf. 1 John 1 :1–4).

Global Unity and Communion with Christ

In these volatile times what message is there that can transcend our differences in its import, but also bring unity within apparent diversity? The mainline Protestant Christian view of Christ unfortunately has not produced the needed balm for disunity. While we can see the correlations between political affinities, worship styles (not only ethnic, but genre, cf. CCM vs. hymnal music), ministerial issues (women’s ordination), etc. and church divisions, I would argue that these are sub-issues and many times distractions to the main issue which is lack of corporate communion with the Risen Christ. This is not a theological argument as much as an existential point. The point that NT writers emphasize is that communion with the Risen Christ does bring unity. In other words, they were not just being idealistic, they were being sociologically pragmatic, theologically consistent with the Old Testament view of community, and eschatologically grounded in the remnant motif.

Ellen White again guides us in understanding the relationship between the Pentecost experience of unity stating,

“Every act, every word, must stand the test of the Judgment. Set your houses in order. Set your hearts in order. Make thorough work while Jesus is ministering in the sanctuary. When we will bring our hearts into unity with Christ, and our lives into harmony with his work, the Spirit that descended on the day of Pentecost will fall on us.” (RH 12/14/1886 “The Old Year and The New”)

Did you see the relationship between judgment, Jesus, and unity? As the mainline Protestant churches continue to turn its back on the Risen Christ who is interceding on our behalf or if we stop short of embracing the reality of His ministry as vital for our unity, all other efforts will only produce a superficial and temporary unity. When Adventist Christians see Christ’s High Priestly ministry as only a doctrine to “believe” but not its transcendent power and efficacy to draw from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue an even more potent danger exists. Doctrine can end up becoming the litmus test for “true Christian identity.” What is problematic is the assumption of one’s view representing the “right doctrine.” Community is needed after all, not as a group think for truth, but as a revealer if the “right doctrine” is of God’s Spirit and is transforming us into His image (John 16:4–15; 17:17).

Typology, Sanctuary, & Community

The book of Ezekiel is among the most quoted Old Testament books in Revelation. It spells out in typological images the eschatological antitype of the judgment of God’s people (Ezekiel 8–11) and the nations (Ezekiel 25–32; 38–39). In both these sections the Sanctuary is the pivot upon which God’s holiness is revealed (cf. 28:11–19). Since our goal is to focus on the people of God and unity, we’ll look at chps. 8–11. Below is a bird’s eye view of the chiastic structure of these chapters. The structure of chps. 8–11 are framed as a literary chiasm supported by a cadre of parallel words and themes.[4]

Chiastic Literary Structure of Ezekiel 8-11

 

 

As we can quickly notice, the abandonment of God’s covenantal presence meant disastrous results for those that were without the mark of God (9:4; cf. chps. 11–14). God’s departure (chps. 8–11) and return (chps. 40–48) to His restored Temple must be understood together as the movement of His purposes to be with His people. Because His covenantal fellowship with His people was expressed in a way that maintained His holiness in the community, the Sanctuary was necessary. All throughout Scripture God’s covenantal presence is mediated through the Temple: the physical Temple (Deut. 12:8–14; 1 Kgs. 8:22–30), the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14; Gr. skenoo, an expression of continuity with God’s ‘tenting’ in Israel[5]), and even the very structure of Revelation shows how Christ’s Priestly ministry has functioned from His ascension and will function until He comes back to receive His own.[6] So for us to be united theologically we need to allow Scripture to teach us how the Risen Christ is mediating His presence among us through the ministry He is engaged in now.

Comparing Ezekiel 8–11 with Revelation helps us see how type and antitype function as the context for our identity and corporate mission.

  1. Judgment/Vindication at the Sanctuary: Ezek. 8:3 (Jerusalem); Rev. 14:1, 15 (Heavenly Mt. Zion).
  2. Six messengers of judgment: Ezek. 9:2; Rev. 14:6, 15, 17, 18.
  3. Seal of God/Tav- Mark of the Righteous/Wicked: Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 7:3; 9:4; 14:1, 9.
  4. The wicked are killed: Ezek. 9:6–8; Rev. 14:10, 19–20.
  5. The righteous are saved: Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 14:1–5, 14–16.

The picture Revelation presents is one of a community of faith from all around the world. What Ezekiel shows us in type is the condition of many of the professed people of God who have no living connection with God’s abiding presence that is mediated through the Sanctuary. By their rebellion (and our own Heb. 6:4–6) the covenantal presence of God was made of no effect in their lives. In fact, they brought rival (idols) into God’s holy Temple (Ezek 8). In modern times, the idols show up as ideologies (political, cultural, philosophical, etc.) that replace God’s covenantal presence with our own ideas and agenda. The disparate factions in our church make it seem like a harmonious biblical picture of Christ and His people is not a reality, but God knows those who are His and in His timing, He will pull His own together and “wrap this show up” (so to speak). Ellen White makes an intriguing comment that changed the way I think about Christ and community. Please forgive the length, but context is needed. Commenting on Revelation 14, she states,

“Many who embraced the third message had not had an experience in the two former messages. Satan understood this, and his evil eye was upon them to overthrow them; but the third angel was pointing them to the most holy place, and those who had an experience in the past messages were pointing them the way to the heavenly sanctuary. Many saw the perfect chain of truth in the angels’ messages and gladly received them in their order, and followed Jesus by faith into the heavenly sanctuary. These messages were represented to me as an anchor to the people of God. Those who understand and receive them will be kept from being swept away by the many delusions of Satan.” (Early Writings, p. 256, 1858).

In Revelation (especially relevant for our present situation), conditions have not radically changed from Ezekiel’s time. The righteous exhibit the same call to faithfulness while they express sorrow for the condition of God’s people (Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 6:9–11), while the wicked engage in the same sins (idolatry, Ezek. 8:3, 14; Rev. 14:10–11; defiling God’s sanctuary, Ezek. 8:7–13; Rev. 11, cf. Dan. 8:9–12; sun [Sunday] worship, Ezek. 8:16; Rev. 14:6–10; and injustice (Ezek. 9:9; Rev. 18). What Sis. White points out is what Ezekiel and John laid out in type and antitype. The community’s relationship to God and His mediating presence through the Sanctuary radically effected their lives for good or for ill.

Theological Unity in an Age of Christian Pluralism

There are rumblings that we should play down “doctrine” and preach “Jesus only.” While this sounds great at first notice that in Ezekiel and in Revelation the dynamics of true faith are evidenced in rightly relating to God’s gracious presence that He revealed. The question remains, Are we following Jesus where He is leading us? Jeroboam I is an apt example of attemtping to worship God in a way that looks similar to the true worship (1 Kgs 12). Over the years I have heard many cliches and slogans (“it’s not what you know but Who you know,” “doctrine did not die on a cross,” etc.) that are seductively deceptive, because like Jeroboam, a bifurcation between the form (Sanctuary) and function (presence) is created. To use a cliché, I find that people are “down on what they are not up on.” Knowledge of Christ and His merciful work on our behalf creates a global connection between fellow believers that geography, color, class, and culture cannot erase. Satan will continue to use these as his methods to create division, while Jesus is asking us to follow Him in faith as He unites us through His heavenly ministry. Jeroboam was given a prophecy that a righteous Davidic king would come and tear down idolatry and bring reformation and revival (1 Kgs. 13:2–3). We too have a prophetic promise of the truely Righteous Davidic King who is tearing down walls of estrangement, antipathy and indifference among us as we surrender to Him. The “unity of the faith” Scripture speaks of is a gift, revealing a covenantal worldview, that is mediated by the Revelation of Jesus, Who in the heavenly Sanctuary is interceding for us that we may be one as He and the Father are one.

Editorial Note: This article is the last of a 3-part series on how to achieve theological unity within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To read the rest of this series click here.

God’s Global Church: The Faith of Jesus for the Whole World (Part 1)

God’s Global Church: A Community with a Covenantal Worldview (Part 2)

Read a related article on the importance of the Sanctuary in Adventism. 

Notes.

[1] https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-statements/documents/article/go/-/ecumenical-movement/

[2] See Ellen White, Christ in His Sanctuary (Nampa, ID; Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2009)

[3] See Roy Gane, “Judgment as Covenant Review,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 8/1–2 (1997): 181–194; Idem, Who’s Afraid of the Judgment?: The Good News about Christ’s Work in the Heavenly Sanctuary (Nampa, ID; Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2006).

[4] I have been blessed to be able to write a forthcoming commentary for Ezekiel through Andrews University Press, which explores many of the linguistic connections.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 929.

[6] Jon Paulien, “The Role of The Hebrew Cultus, Sanctuary, and Temple in the Plot and Structure of the Book of Revelation,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, vol. 33 no. 2 (Autumn 1995): 245–264.

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About the author

Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.

  • Daniel

    Another great article, Jerome.

    “The global impact of the cross is that Salvation is made available to all, but only efficacious for those who surrender their hearts/lives to Jesus. The global impact of Jesus’ High Priestly ministry will impact everyone whether they surrender or not. While the Intercessory-Judgment ministry of Jesus is not meant to see who is good enough to make it to heaven, it does address the destiny of every human being in that it shows God faithful in His decision to
    save or not.”:

    If I may point out: Jesus’ ministry is only effective in the hearts of believers (John 1:10-13), it cannot affect unbelievers, because this ministry is only through the indwelling Spirit of God:

    “11 I [John] indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:11, 12);

    “7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11).

    The following Scripture passages show that Christ’s High Priestly work only affects those who are called by God; who have received the Spirit of God and are being prepared for eternal life with Him (John 14:1-4):

    “1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,” (Heb. 3:1);

    “14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb. 4:14).

    The final destiny of every soul, that is, those who haven’t accepted Him, takes place when Jesus appears (Rev. 20:11-15). The “books” are the spiritual records within every soul/mind, therefore they are judged by their works. Those not found in the Book of Life, that is, in Christ Jesus, are cast into the lake of fire.

  • Daniel

    Seem to be having problems posting–will try again.

    Another great article, Jerome.

    “The global impact of the cross is that Salvation is made available to all, but only efficacious for those who surrender their hearts/lives to Jesus. The global impact of Jesus’ High Priestly ministry will impact everyone whether they surrender or not. While the Intercessory-Judgment ministry of Jesus is not meant to see who is good enough to make it to heaven, it does address the destiny of every human being in that it shows God faithful in His decision to save or not.”:

    If I may point out: Jesus’ ministry is only effective in the hearts of believers (John 1:10-13), it cannot affect unbelievers, because this ministry is only through the indwelling Spirit of God:

    “11 I [John] indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:11, 12);

    “7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11).

    The following Scripture passages show that Christ’s High Priestly work only affects those who are called by God; who have received the Spirit of God and are being prepared for eternal life with Him (John 14:1-4):

    “1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,” (Heb. 3:1);

    “14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb. 4:14).

    The final destiny of every soul, that is, those who haven’t accepted Him, takes place when Jesus appears (Rev. 20:11-15). The “books” are the spiritual records within every soul/mind, therefore they are judged by their works. Those not found in the Book of Life, that is, in Christ Jesus, are cast into the lake of fire.