Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Amos 9 – In another vision, the prophet sees the Lord standing by the altar asking that the building be reduced to rubble so that no one can escape. God has led not only the Jews. He has led the Philistines and the Aramaeans too. The Israelites cannot just rest on their laurels, thinking God will always be by them. But his anger will not strike all. There will be a remnant, “For now I will issue orders and shake the House of Israel among all the nations, as you shake a sieve so that not one pebble can fall on the ground. All the sinners of my people are going to perish by the sword, all those who say, ‘No misfortune will ever touch us, nor even come anywhere near us’” (9:9-10).
The book ends with a vision of restoration – possibly added on. “’The days are coming now—it is Yahweh who speaks—when harvest will follow directly after ploughing, the treading of grapes soon after sowing, when the mountains will run with new wine and the hills all flow with it. I mean to restore the fortunes of my people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them, plant vineyards and drink their wine, dig gardens and eat their produce. I will plant them in their own country, never to be rooted up again out of the land I have given them, says Yahweh, your God’” (9:13-15).
John 5:24-47 - Jesus goes on to speak more broadly of the “life” – “the eternal life” – he offers us. I will use the simplest English translation: “I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life . . . the time is coming – the time has already come – when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will come to life” (5:24-25).
Then he speaks again, this time just a little bit differently, of this life-giving power: “[T]he time is coming when all the dead will hear his voice and come out of their graves: those who have done good will rise and live, and those who have done evil will rise and be condemned” (5:28-29).
It seems on the surface as if he is speaking of two separate times – a spiritual resurrection that can happen NOW and a resurrection to judgment and separation of good and evil that will come at the end of time. It is mysterious!
The main power Jesus has in John, the power that makes him one with the Father, is his power to bring life out of death. And it is not just a promise of life after our physical death; it is a promise of a life we are not fully living NOW. We think we are living, but the natural state of man on this earth is not real life – the life God meant us to live when He created us - but merely a physical (or fleshly) semblance of life. In saying this, John is continuing to place his gospel message in the context of the Genesis narrative. In Genesis 2, the second creation narrative in the redacted text, God tells Adam, “’You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden. Nevertheless of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat, for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die’” (Gen.2:18). When Eve and Adam violate this “word” or commandment, they do not die physically – not immediately – but they do die spiritually; and this spiritual death, which we all partake in, is the death John’s gospel wrestles with. It is this death we are already in that Christ can bring us out of.
TS Eliot also put this Johannine vision into powerful words:
But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender (Eliot’s “Dry Salvages” V, 16-21)
This is the dimension where Christianity reveals its unique truth – at the crossroads of timelessness and time where the incarnation happens, where we can become joined with our eternal Father through love of His Son.
I think George Fox and early Friends understood this dimension of the gospel in a unique and powerful way. That’s why they placed such urgent emphasis upon hearing the voice of God, experiencing the judgment of Christ inwardly, and clinging to that inward presence so it would bring you into life.
Returning to the text, Jesus goes on to speak about John the Baptist. He says that John was “a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s” (5:35-36). Then Jesus speaks of ALL the signs or testimonies that have pointed to him, to Jesus. John the Baptist testified to Jesus’ coming; the works Jesus performs testify to his truth, and the ancient scriptures too testify to Jesus, but the people still do not want to believe. Jesus tells them it will not be he who accuses them of unfaithfulness. They say they believe in what Moses has taught, but Moses too has testified to Jesus and they do not SEE it (Deut. 18:15).