John (Part 27): Revelation of Messiah – OT Covenant Background
In the last discussion, we began reviewing the major covenants that drive the story from creation to Christ. The importance of this review is to, as correctly as possible, understand the perspectives of Jesus as he understands and teaches of his mission and the Pharisees who are offended at his teaching. Why do the disciples have such difficulty understanding what the Messiah has come to do? Why do the crowds wonder about him and want to crown him king but refuse to recognize that he is from God? Why do the Pharisees seethe with anger, wanting to kill him? The key is in the difference between how God has designed redemption’s plan versus how the Jews had been interpreting and teaching the OT development of God’s plan.
Last time we went through the major covenants and then started comparing Kinship Theology with Reformed Theology. We need to take a step back into our covenant review and emphasize a couple of points that may have been glossed over a bit too quickly before. First, the physical and spiritual senses associated with the covenants are not merely perspectives God happened to assign to the covenants for any unique or simplistic purpose. God made us as beings of physical and spiritual senses. Therefore, everything about us and how we interact in all our relationships will necessarily have a physical sense and a spiritual sense. Creation has both senses. The Fall has a physical side (the eating of the fruit) as well as a spiritual side (the withdrawing of trust from God as provider). The curses pronounced on Adam and Eve had both. And therefore it is no surprise that the Rescue with its covenant structure has both a physical sense and a spiritual sense to each covenant. Even looking ahead to things to come (eschatology), we see physical and spiritual sides to what will transpire.
It is not, therefore, a physical versus spiritual battle in which we engage, although some Christians sometimes make it out to be that. Dispensationalists tend to highlight the physical side of things in a rigidly literal interpretation. Others, embracing a spiritual outlook, wander off in unchecked allegorical interpretation of everything. This, I think, is where Kinship Theology helps keep a balanced hold on both the physical and spiritual aspects by forcing everything to recognize and derive from God’s purpose for creation—the everlasting lover relationship between God and his image bearers.
As an example of the Bible’s continued emphasis on the joint importance of both the physical and spiritual aspects, consider the move from soteriology (salvation) to eschatology (things to come). All people since Adam and Eve start off in a spiritually dead condition although they are physically alive. God provides revelation, and the response to his revelation affects our condition. Those who refuse acceptance remain spiritually dead. Those who embrace God’s revelation are saved in a spiritual sense. In other words, their dead spiritual condition has been resurrected to “newness of life” (Romans 6:4 KJV). Both the unsaved and the saved die physically.
When Christ returns, the saved will be resurrected physically. And it would appear that the unsaved are also resurrected physically in a sense in order to stand before God at the great white throne judgment spoken of in Revelation 20. There these unsaved, or still spiritually dead, will receive the sentence of forever after remaining in the condition of both physical and spiritual death. (Death is here not defined as inanimate or annihilism, but rather as being permanently separated from God and his truth, goodness, and beauty.) The saved, those whose names are written in the book of life, would forever remain spiritually and physically alive in relationship with God.
We understand this sequence of spiritual and physical conditions for the saved and unsaved not only by the discussion of Scripture but also by the labeling of “first resurrection” and “second death.” In Revelation 20:4 we find those in relationship with Christ “came to life.” And we’re told at the end of the next verse, “This is the first resurrection.” And this makes sense since our salvation—our spiritual renewal to life—occurs before our physical resurrection that will happen when Christ returns. For the unsaved, the “rest of the dead” who have already died physically, they also “come to life” (Rev 20:5a) only to be condemned to the lake of fire, of which we are told: “This is the second death.”
The second point that I quickly mentioned last time, but that still needs more emphasis, concerns the Noahic covenant. As I was hurrying to speak of the Abrahamic covenant and its initial development of the redemption plan, I failed to give proper stress to the important role the Noahic covenant plays in the transition from Adam’s covenant (the Covenant of Life) and the Abrahamic covenant (the Covenant of Prophecy). As we look over the first 25 chapters of the book of Genesis we notice all three of these covenants. The Adamic covenant is discussed in chapters 1 through 3. The Noahic covenant is discussed in chapters 6 through 9. And the Abrahamic covenant takes place in chapters 12 through 25. Between Adam and Noah, only 2 chapters of mostly genealogy are included. Between Noah and Abraham, just another two of mostly genealogy are presented. In other words, 21 of the first 25 chapters of Genesis relate to the covenant discussion. God seems to be emphasizing his interaction with his image bearers according to covenant purpose.
But the four other chapters of mostly genealogy are not mere filler. The genealogies presented are not meant merely to list chronology. Each section between the covenants provides purpose for the movement from one covenant to the next. Let’s begin looking at Genesis 4.
Chapter 4 begins with the births of Cain and Abel. Already in verse 2 we see them as adults. We are familiar with the story in which the first natural born human becomes a murderer. Cain appears to be interested in promoting himself and not concerned with pursuing God. And as we move into the discussion of his offspring through the rest of the chapter, we note that same attitude presented. Thus, while surely some offspring of Cain and his lineage would respond favorably to God’s revelation in creation (Romans 1:19-21), Cain seems to represent those who are not interested in pursuing God. But a transition is presented at the end of chapter 4 (verses 25-26) and the beginning of chapter 5 (verses 1-3). The discussion is about to switch from Cain’s line to that of Seth. Chapter 5 verses 1 and 2, in fact, seem to restart the chronology back at the beginning—at the creation of Adam. Adam, we are told, was made in the image of likeness of God.
**** Our discussion so far has been a necessary interruption in our study of the Gospel of John so that we can understand the covenant and redemption perspective of Christ as opposed to the Jews of his day. However, we are now going to briefly interrupt that interruption to mention something of interest that really does not bear much on our discussion in John. Please excuse the rabbit trail, but I think this is interesting.
Both here (5:1-2) and in 1:27, God mentions the creation of man, or better human, (Hebrew adam) in his likeness, speaking in the singular but immediately following it with a statement about creating them male and female. In Genesis 1:27, we simply slide by that statement with the notion that God is referring to the subsequent creation of Eve from Adam’s side. But it is a little more difficult to understand why God mentions it in Genesis 5:2 since the context appears to be relating a God-to-Adam-to-Seth connection that continues in father-to-son relationship. The contextual purpose for mentioning creating “them male and female” (emphasis added) seems almost an unnecessary interruption to the point.
Some scholars have suggested that the creation in the likeness or image of God is meant to emphasize the singular and plural aspects of the newly created adam (human). Traditionally, it has been thought that the first human created, the one later called the proper name Adam (Genesis 3:20), was a male. God then put this male human to sleep, extracted a rib, and formed another second, new, and different human, infusing her with a new spirit, and thus making a female. But this only slight connection to Adam (by means of a rib) hardly gives the connection seemingly emphasized by Scripture and brought to relational representation of Eve by Adam as would be indicated in places such as Romans 5:12-15. Perhaps the singular/plural declaration of Genesis 1:27 means a little more than we normally take for granted.
Perhaps this adam (human) God formed from the dust of the ground and breathed into the breath of life was a solitary material being of dual spirit—a 2-in-1 likeness/image of the 3-in-1 Creator. After all, God begins this discussion in 1:26 saying, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” The plural pronouns couple with the insistence on likeness may indicate that the very next verse tells us, “He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (emphasis added), then, may not have been a reference to what he would later do, but to what he had done in this creation.
This one being—this adam (human)—is called nothing but human throughout most of the detailed creation description of chapter 2. But God decides in 2:18, “It is not good for the adam (human) to be alone.” The Hebrew for “alone” may have the connotation of “solitary,” in other words, it was not good that this human creature be one. Therefore, God put the human to sleep and took from his side (mistranslated rib) the second spirit, effectively fashioning two from the one.
Notice that God woke the human, and he “brought her to the adam” (2:22). Why would he need to bring her to adam if he had just made her right there? The Hebrew here can also be understood as having her face adam. Thus, the intention is to tell us that instead of being one solitary being, God made them two to face one another.
Only now do we find these new humans created specifically and separately called male and female. The adam says: “This one, at last, is one of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman’ (female, Hebrew isha), for she was taken from (separated from) man (male, Hebrew ish).
This may sound like a crazy, far-out idea, but it has much to commend it in strengthening the understandings both that part of our image of God is our two in oneness and that as we reunite in conjugal oneness, as the very next verse emphasizes, we again image God.
After that little excursion, we will return to our subject at hand. *****
So, then, chapter 5 begins all the way back in the beginning with God creating Adam in his likeness. It is interesting that verse 3 tells us that Adam was 130 year old “when he fathered a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.” But what about Cain?? If this is, as verse 1 states, “the family records of the descendants of Adam,” and we are recounting those made in the image of Adam, would we not say that Cain was made in the image of Adam?
The answer is that the image spoken of here is certainly not form (as Adam in form was not like God the Spirit). And it was not only the attributes of conceptual intelligence, conscious morality, perceptive aesthetic, volitional faith, spiritual hope, and relational love that we have discussed elsewhere. Added to this image was the faith desire to pursue God. As Adam recognized his sin and turned back to God in repentance, he accepted by faith God’s truth, goodness, and beauty and desired to follow him. That attitude did not exist in Cain. And so it was that Adam was 130 years old before he fathered a son after his likeness in that desire to pursue God. And this son was Seth.
Looking forward through chapter 5, then, we see sons fathering sons. Are these named sons the first born of the fathers? While it is traditionally thought so, the text doesn’t say so. And, in fact, the context seems to argue against it. Seth was not the first born of Adam. But he was the first born with the desire to pursue God. Therefore, when verse 6 mentions that Enosh was the son of Seth, his mention is not to designate him as first born, but rather as the first born in his likeness—having the desire to pursue God.
Notice too that Seth fathers Enosh when he is 105 years old. Why would a person reaching sexual maturity at around 20 wait until he was 105 years old to have a child? Why would Enosh wait until he was 90, or Kenan wait until 70? Why would Jared wait until he was 162 years old, or Methuselah until he was 182! It seems much more plausible that these were not first born sons, but rather first born sons who desired to pursue God.
The last phrase of chapter 4 also gives support to this idea. We read there, “At that time people began to call on the name of Yahweh.” Does this mean that only after Enosh was born that anybody sought God? That doesn’t seem right since God’s interaction with Adam and Eve seem to suggest they returned to fellowship with him. Neither does it seem possible that this statement indicates everybody began to call upon God. The description of Cain and his line in chapter 4 argues against that.
The statement may be better understood that people began to be called by the name of Yahweh. In other words, those who had a desire to follow God naturally congregated—lived with each other in common interest and purpose. Those who did not pursue God also established their own communities. Notice in 4:17, Cain built a city. This is not an architectural or construction engineering feat. This seems to indicate that of the few people existing on earth so far, Cain gathered about him those who held the same attitude of trust in themselves and independence from God. Those apart from God would label the others as those who called on the name of Yahweh—exactly what 4:26b tells us.
Therefore, the division of chapters 4 and 5 present two opposing lines from Adam—those who trusted God and those who did not. This is the backdrop as we approach chapter 6. Notice that chapter 6 begins telling us that the sons of God noticed the beauty of the daughters of men and took whom they chose for wives. The sons of God are not some alien, other worldly invaders. They are also not angelic beings who do not procreate. If we follow the context, we see that the two groups outlined in chapters 4 and 5 are the two groups mentioned in chapter 6 who begin to lose their separate designation. As the strain of the corrupt world wears on the sons of God (those highlighted in chapter 5), priorities change. The enticement of the world engages their desires. And thus, we find a drifting away from the pursuit of God so that by the time Noah comes around, he and his family are the only ones left in that pursuit for God.
Notice what God says in 6:3. He says he will no longer plead with humankind forever. They are corrupt. God decides to limit them to 120 years. While some believe this 120 years to be a time period from this point to the flood, it seems more likely that the emphasis of the passage shows a change in God’s interaction with humankind in which he will reduce lifespan to this limit.
The long lives of the pre-flood people was a gift of God. He allowed them this life in his mercy to give them opportunity to follow him. Notice especially Cain. He was a murderer. When God told him he’d be a vagabond, Cain complained that people would want to kill him (4:14). But God doesn’t answer that that would be what he deserves. Rather, God places a mark on him for the express purpose of protecting him. Cain is a murderer; yet God still protects him as well as all the other sinners, granting them long life in his mercy, just to give opportunity for repentance and pursuit of him. And yet after all these years (almost 2000 years!) only Noah and his family are left to follow God. Thus, having shown that humankind could not return to God on their own, God both shows judgment and in the Noahic covenant offers hope of a different kind.
God reestablishes the blessing and commands in chapter 9:1-3 that he had given to the first adam (1:28-29). But then he shows a change of interaction. He will no longer mark those who sin with his protection. If someone takes the life of his brother (a clear reference to Cain), that one’s life will be required. God says that humankind will shed the blood of the wrongdoer. He does not, by this, command capital punishment. Rather, his point is that he will not, as a general point of rule, prevent the taking of life.
Prior to the flood, although God intervened in grace, the human race continued to spiral deeper in sin. After the flood, although the human race continued to spiral deeper into sin, God intervened in grace—this time in the planning to send a Messiah Savior.
The genealogy following Noah interrupts to present the Tower of Babel. Here, as opposed to his pre-flood activity of protecting life but not interfering in the spiraling sin, God intervenes to ensure the time for development of his redemptive plan.
From here we move to the Abrahamic covenant and the continued covenant review from our last discussion.