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Do you believe the trajectory of the world is toward decline and destruction with God eventually abandoning nearly all of human history? You might be surprised to discover just how many people actually believe this. If you are convinced the bible teaches an apocalyptic end to all of life, then you have probably been told that the “Good News” or “Gospel” is that there is still time for you to avoid certain destruction. Most evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witness’s play this narrative like a broken record.
But is that really the Gospel?
Is it good news that God loves every single person, but is somehow planning to destroy, in a massive display of wrath, those he supposedly loves but whom can’t or won’t pick his team? Is it really an all loving God who creates the hottest Hell in order to punish for all eternity those mistakenly born in the wrong religion or those who committed sins that have not been pardoned? Is God’s love constrained by his wrath or vice-versa?
Are these narratives really aspects of the Gospel?
In this series I’ve shown that the biblical definition of the Gospel is found in Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
You may have noticed I cut off the passage mid sentence. I did this because I use the same hermeneutical process that Jesus did in Luke 4:18-19 where he proclaimed this passage was now fulfilled in the hearing of his audience and he purposely left out the vengeance of God.
Stop there for a second. The gospel, Greek word “éuengellion” is used in the New Testament where Jesus quotes this passage. It’s also found in the Septuagint (Greek translation of Hebrew scripture) in Isaiah 61. The “Gospel” or “good news” is fulfilled prior to his death. The work of the Gospel is to change poverty, bind up broken hearts, open prison doors and proclaim liberty and favor to captive people. The BIBLICAL definition of the gospel is fulfilled prior to substitutionary atonement in common, everyday ways. I’m going to spell it out as clearly as I can.
The Gospel is NOT simply….
- A book of the bible.
- “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”
- A theology lesson on substitutionary atonement.
- The promise of Heaven one day after we die.
The Gospel IS…
- A proclamation, announcement, or a call.
- A message about another Kingdom with a different set of rules.
- A paradoxical key which opens up a different kind of life (zoé), here and now, and forever.
- The power which liberates us from the fake ID’s given by institutional power.
Anything, and I mean anything, by any means, if it restores, heals, liberates or rises up, is a byproduct of the Gospel. The Gospel is not limited to spirituality or religion, it is omnipresent within every strata of life throughout all human history. “Wisdom calls from the streets” (Proverbs 8) The Gospel follows a distinct pattern or FLOW: ( life–> decline–> death–> renewal or new life). This means all of us have experienced the gospel, all of us have participated in the gospel, all of us have witnessed it’s power. It’s found in our favorite movies. It’s part of our favorite traditions. It’s something for which none of us ever tire. It has been religion, that has tried to truncate it’s power and cloister it within a box which renders it mostly impotent.
Once we can see the Gospel everywhere, in everything, calling all people through and beyond our microcosms into the greater macrocosm, let me address the cliff hanger from last week.
I’m going to ask a favor, then I’m going to start with an obscure bible passage, and then I’ll share what I’ve discovered in years of biblical study which no one, to my knowledge has ever pointed out, then you will sort our your reaction to this new perspective.
First, I’m going to ask that you NOT throw out any of your existing beliefs. I am not giving you an opposing view, or something OTHER than what you already have. I’ll be sharing a new wineskin, framework through which you can try out what you already know. Remember, wider perspectives of the TRUTH always seem wrong at first, because they are much wider than the truth we presently possess.
“the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put (omitted “that part of”) him with the unfaithful.” (Luke 12:46)
“the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put (omitted) “that part of”) him (poor translation) with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:50-51)
These are both apocalyptical parables used by Jesus as metaphors which reveal something about how humanity can solve the quandary of who is the faithful steward of life.
First a question. Have you ever known anything, living or otherwise to have some good qualities along with some bad qualities? Is this true about you? The question is rhetorical. Everything and everyone you have ever seen fits this description, whether it was someone we loved, someone we hated, or some object we possessed. This obvious bit of reality cannot be omitted.
Dixotomései -Greek word which means to cut an object into two pieces, or to severely punish. It means to divide, judge or separate one shared experience. Then comes this phrase “tò méros aùtoū“ which translates “that part of him”. Thus the most accurate translation depicts a future judgement where the faithless squanderer of life is rendered into two pieces and “that part of him” is separated and thrown out with all unbelief.
This is “stream” from which we derive our ethos of deciding people into good or bad, hell-bound or heaven-bound. All passages can be seen through this lens as the separation of the false self and the true self which is the essence of Heaven and Hell. The life or deeds done to promote pride, ego or the false self cannot withstand the light of truth and are discarded, cut off, separated, excised. (1 Cor 15:50, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5, 1 Tim 1:9, Heb 12:14, 13:4, Rev 21:8, 22:15)
Check it out. I’ll wait.
In case you think this is an isolated theme, it’s not. If we go to those parts of scripture that depict Judgement Day verdicts, this theme is repeated. Such as:
“each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion (“that part of them”) will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
This passage in Revelation is one of those verses that becomes foundational for what I am proposing to you. This translation is very weak and like you I missed what it was saying until I began reading Scripture in the original Greek and then it jumped out at me.
Here’s my translation:
“blah, blah,blah, terrible horrible examples of humanity, a few more examples to make sure everyone understands that badness has endless forms, but the main form, THE PSEUDO (the FALSE), THAT PART OF THEM will be in the lake of fire, that is the second death.”
Here again, we get a glimpse into the great day of judgment, where this “cutting in two” or separating out “that part of them” (tó méros aùtõn), the FALSE part “the Pseudo” (poorly rendered as liars) is consumed. All that will be left after the fire, is the TRUE NAME written in the book of life. That’s why there are two books. It reveals ultimate reality in contrast to the pseudo.
The book of deeds and the FALSE self/ squandered life, is not found in the book of LIFE. The FALSE self as Thomas Merton says is the only self God knows nothing about. It is burned, consumed, destroyed forever, leaving only the True Self Found in our Maker. We are not the bad things or good things we do. We ARE who our Maker has loved us to be. This is the True Self that existed in the perfect mind and wisdom of God far before the creation of the world as the Psalmist says:
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)
This true self, is perfect and cannot be lost, lest God lose his omniscience, It existed with God prior to any deed and is “RESTORED” following all deeds whether good or bad. It existed before your earthly life and will exist after it.
I could literally write another PhD Thesis on this subject and fill it with hundreds of verses which reveal this amazing truth. A truth, which I liken to an array of stars which cannot be seen in the city among the light pollution. This had eluded me when I was over-identified with my religious practice, my church, my theology, my doctrine, my proof of being right, etc.. All of it “light pollution”. It took the austerity, the dark night, and the cold, lonely desert before I could trust my awakening heart and follow it wherever it led me.
The reason I’m not a universalist is because of the final snapshot given us through John’s prophetic work on the Island of Patmos in exile. He saw a vision of the New Heaven and New Earth.
“and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:25-27)
The gates never close to all the nations. There is no deadline. There is only eternity to get over our false self and return to God. Remember I told you last week that the sin of the world was a case of mistaken identity? Well this is the outcome. If we think we are that which our favorite institution (family, friends, career, hobby, government, religion, etc…) tells us we are, then we will hold tightly to our false self, which means we live outside the Gates. It’s not that that we can’t enter, because we can at any moment, it’s that we won’t risk losing that false (pseudo) part of ourself in order to find who (whose) we really are. So outside we must remain. Not all will go in, although all freely can. This next verse amazes me.
“through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)
The Good News for the world is that we no longer have to be who our circumstances and our institutions tell us to be. We are free, liberated, to know our Maker and our true name. It’s all been paid. “It is finished.” It’s over. Time to be real. Authentic. This allows us to open our hand and release everything that entangles, besets and confuses us in life and gain True North. There is no deed, (past, present or future) which can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Every false thing will be burned and vaporize (death and hell itself-Rev. 20:14) and as a result, this becomes true, not ONE DAY, but today:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
Can you hear the voice of the “Good News” now? Can you see how everything you know finds its way into this bigger frame of view? Can you go with me unto your own self discovery? We need not concern ourselves with getting to Heaven, we need only ask if we are a welcoming throne right now for the dwelling of God. If the answer is no, then we are over-identified with our False self. Only one part of us will remain.
There is so much more I can say and countless verses which dove-tail into a clear, clean framework to understand it all. The Justice of God isn’t about retribution and getting even. (Read Matt 20:1-6) All things are made right (just) by simply restoring each and every part. This makes all things new, all things whole again, and nothing is lost. Not convinced? Here’s a collection of verses from scripture which I’ve pulled which speak to the plan of restorative justice.
Imagine what emerges when we deconstruct all of our religious pomp, our external measurements, our prideful theological power plays and bludgeoning tools, and begin rediscovering the bible from a new framework. Not from a binary, win-lose, but from a ternary, (three) trinitarian, view. Yes, we may fall out of favor from institutions that used to be able to name us, but in the end we will come to know our true name, and the ripple effect of this kind of person on the world will be incalculable. If you have questions, or would like to discuss this, please take the time to write me and lets begin a dialogue. I have yet to find a passage that doesn’t fit within this wider framework of understanding. Perhaps you have one we can discuss.
Who knows where that conversation and discovery will take us?