The cosmic Christ (April 26, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

The cosmic Christ

April 26, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0063}

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**


The event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not fully understood until one grasps its cosmic significance. We who are evangelical Protestant Christians rightly emphasize the personal meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ: Christ died and rose for me! Yet, the personal meaning of this event must be seen in its cosmic context.

The four Gospels are expressions of the narrative of Christ's death and resurrection. The story of Christ's passion is the longest and most detailed part of each of the Gospels. The evangelists have expanded this story to include accounts of Christ's life and ministry, but their emphasis is upon his death and resurrection. Indeed, in his own way each evangelist portrays the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as an apocalypse, the unveiling of the Final End of the present age. Christ's death is the Final Judgment, and Christ's resurrection is the Resurrection of the Dead. Of course, this present age still continues, and the Judgment and the Resurrection will occur in the End; yet the Good News is that the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world has already come to be judged in our place and to be raised for our sakes. His death and resurrection is the event in the present age that reveals God's ultimate purposes for creation.

What is narrated in the four Gospels is explicated in the writings of the apostle Paul. For example, in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul explains that we no longer know Christ "from a human point of view." His death and resurrection should be understood as more than a story about what happened to one individual in Palestine in A.D. 30. Rather, we understand that "all this is from God." Christ is the one who "died for all" and who "was raised for them." He is the efficacious sign of the "new creation": "everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" 

In the New Testament both the evangelists and the apostles proclaim the cosmic significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ's death and resurrection reveal God's purpose and promise to redeem and to restore all nature, history and human beings. We can begin to participate in this redemption and restoration by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.

God's purpose is to transform the present creation into a new creation of which the bodily resurrection of Christ is the sign. The way in which this transformation occurs is through redemptive suffering of which the passion of Christ is the sign.

Nature is unfinished. The long evolution of life over vast periods of time involving the extinction of species and individuals in order to produce higher, more complex organisms is a kind of passion play. As Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett write in "Evolution From Creation to New Creation" (Abingdon Press, 2003), the history of life involves the emergence of "new wholes" which are "greater than the sum of the parts," such as the emergence of human beings who are more than the chemical elements of which we are composed. They suggest that the "new creation" promised by God will be an entire "new whole" as "the result of what God's Spirit does to the present creation."

History is moving toward the Final Judgment. We like to say, "history will judge...," but Christ is the judge of history. In the prophecies of the Old Testament the Messiah who comes will judge the nations in the sense of establishing universal justice. In the end, the caretaker and not the destroyer, the peacemaker and not the war-lover, the humanitarian and not the oppressor will be vindicated by the One who embodied the reversal of all worldly values. There can be no progress in history without the passion of those who are willing to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Christ.

We ourselves are participants in the coming new creation. More than we can imagine, our little lives matter in God's cosmic plan, for how we live now is taken up and used by God in God's dynamic and continuing transformation of all things.


This commentary relates to Church Beliefs.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference.

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