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The Big Bang of The New Creation – Part One

Jesus’ death on the Friday was an enactment in his own body of the Passover meal that he celebrated with his disciples the night before – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, all biblical quotes are NIV). Jesus is the New Exodus out of the oppressive rule of sin and death, through his death and resurrection, into God’s liberating reign of forgiveness and life.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection vindicated the meaning of his death, proving him to be “the Son of God in power by his resurrection” (Romans 1:4). The gospels show, particularly John’s gospel, that Jesus’ resurrection was the ‘Big Bang’ of the New Creation (my phrase. Don’t let this phrase put you off if you disagree, read it as a metaphor). Matthew’s gospel speaks of earthquakes when Jesus died and rose again, with the Temple curtain torn open and bodies of holy people coming out of the tombs. In other words, creation convulsed in anticipation of its liberation from bondage in Christ’s death and resurrection – the New Exodus of the renewal of all things. I will, however, focus this article on John’s gospel. Beside my own insights, I have drawn on N.T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God.

John’s Good News Story

John sets his themes in the prologue to his ‘theological biography’ of Jesus: Creation/New Creation (“In the beginning”, John 1:1 echoes Genesis 1:1)… in the Word/Life/Light that defeats darkness (1:3-9)… regenerating/resurrecting all who receive him (1:10-13)… God’s enfleshed Temple full of glory/grace/truth… all revealing who God is (1:14-18).

The Temple theme is the (new) creation theme. Eden was a garden cathedral where heaven and earth joined. Adam & Eve, God’s human image, were priests and kings over creation on God’s behalf. The later tabernacle and Temple were full of depictions of angels as the place of heaven on earth: God’s house where God lived in the Holy of Holies among his nation of royal priests (Exodus 19:6).  

John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) is the opening of an ‘inclusio’ that closes with Jesus’ resurrection and appearances (John 20:1-21:25). The structural centre of the gospel is chapter 11, Lazarus’ return from death. And the centre of that story is Jesus’ profound statement (John 11:25-26):

“I am The Resurrection and The Life. S/he who believes in me will live, even though s/he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”   

To sew these themes into a seamless story, like Jesus’ garment (John 19:23), John speaks of days and times: “The next day…” (1:29,35,43), “the third day” (2:1,19), “the time is coming and has now come” (5:25), “the last day” (6:39,40,44,54; 11:24), and so on. It’s his symbolic way of showing that the end, the future age, has happened in Jesus of Nazareth, especially in his death and resurrection, inaugurating the new creation the Hebrew prophets predicted.

So, John says (2:1), “On the third day” there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jewish readers would have noted the reference to the third day – beside the symbolism of the end-time marriage feast of God and his people when “the finest of wines” is brought out and does not run dry, when God will “destroy the shroud of death that enfolds all people” (Isaiah 25:6-8). John repeats and explains “the third day” in the next story (John 2:13-22), clearly referring to Jesus’ resurrection. The other gospel writers have this story (Jesus’ enactment of judgement on the Temple) at the end of his ministry, after he enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. John puts it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, referring to his body (the Temple) being destroyed (his death), which he will raise up on the third day (his resurrection).

The wedding feast is the first of seven “miraculous signs” to “show his authority” (2:18) and “reveal his glory” (2:11, God’s Shekinah returning to Israel in the Temple of Jesus’ body). Each sign points to and is a foretaste of The Big Bang of New Creation. Sign two, healing the official’s son (4:43f); three, healing the paralyzed man (5:1f); four, feeding the 5,000 (6:1f); five, healing the man born blind (9:1f). Sign six is Jesus’ defeat of death in raising Lazarus to life (11:1f) – the center of the gospel that points to its climax: a resurrection of an entirely different order (20:1f). Clearly, John’s theology of Jesus is embedded and communicated in his stories of Jesus. The signs & wonders are the enfleshed Word speaking Life and Light into the darkness of broken creation. They defeat evil, “the prince of this world” (12:31, 14:30, 16:11), bringing order out of chaos by the hovering Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2) – the new creation that regenerates and reorders all who “receive and believe him” (John 1:12).   

The signs culminate in the seventh, the number of completion and perfection: Jesus’ death & resurrection. It begins the second half of John’s good news biography of Jesus, 12:1, “Six days before the Passover Jesus arrived…” In other words, Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem is the final countdown to actual New Creation.

The Crucifixion (John 19:1-37)

On the sixth day of that final week, Friday, Jesus is crucified. On that day, early morning, Pilate twice presents Jesus to the people.

First, “Behold, the man!” (19:5). This echoes the sixth day of creation, humanity unveiled as God’s image, to rule the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). “The man” who Pilate reveals – in whom he finds no fault (19:4) – is a beaten and bloodied man, having been flogged to within an inch of death. The people are looking at the Second Adam, who represents brutalized humanity made in the image of sin and death. This man, God in human flesh, absorbs all humanity’s violence in his own body, thereby defeating the powers, “the prince of this world”, behind the chaotic darkness of broken creation. See God’s glory shining brightest in this image-bearer: Jesus is “glorified in this hour” of suffering and death (12:23).  

Then, “Behold, your king!” (19:14). This echoes Isaiah 52:13f, where God’s Servant-King is presented for all to “SEE… he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted”. These are the words Isaiah uses to describe Yahweh in his vision in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1), which John refers to as “Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). When the Jews look at Jesus presented as “your king”, they see him (ironically, their REAL King) mockingly dressed in a purple robe with a crown of thorns thrust on his beaten brow. They were “appalled at him – his appearance was do disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness – so he will sprinkle many nations, their kings will shut their mouths because of him” (Isaiah 52:14-15). Jesus not only memorized Isaiah’s prophetic songs of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, but he became their living fulfilment.

On both occasions the people respond by chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” So, they take him to Golgotha and crucify him. They put a sign on his cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. By mid-afternoon, “knowing that all was now completed… so that the scriptures be fulfilled” (19:28), Jesus cries out, “Tetalestai”, “It is finished!” (all three italicised words are the Greek root telos, “the end” – the end goal complete). He then bows his head and gives up his spirit (v.30). John immediately mentions the Sabbath (twice, v.31,32), the seventh day that begins when the sun sets that Friday.

In all of this John is saying: the work of (new) creation of “the Word made flesh”, over the six days, in the six miraculous signs, through the entire ministry of Jesus, is now completed in his seventh sign – his death on the cross. Thus, his work now finished, he surrenders his spirit to God. And bows his head, entering rest, in hope of resurrection. Jesus died in faith of God’s vindication of his mission, trusting God would raise him from the dead. Not like Lazarus’ resuscitation, who died again. Jesus believed he would be first – the “first-fruit” – in The Resurrection spoken of by the prophets (Ezekiel 37:10-12; Daniel 12:2). His Sabbath has come, he rests as God and all creation rested after the six days of work of first creation.

The King sleeps. Let all the earth be silent!

It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!  In Part Two – in three days!

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Messianic Passover Seder with Jesus

Introduction

As followers of Jesus, God’s (Jewish) Messiah, we relive the Passover meal (Pesach) with Rebbe Y’shua HaMoshiach and his disciples (see Mark 14:12-26, Matt 26:17-30, Luke 22:7-23, 1 Cor 10:15-17 cf. 11:23-26) – when he enacted the prophesied new covenant (Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 36:24-27), which he made with YHWH for all who believe through him.

This oldest of Jewish feasts, observed every year for over 35 centuries, is based on YHWH’s command to remember their deliverance (Exodus) from Egypt through blood sacrifice (Ex 13:3-10) – when the angel of death “passed over” the houses that had the blood of the lamb on the door lintels. The Pesach service was to tell the story (Haggadah, “telling”) of Israel’s miraculous deliverance by her Warrior-King YHWH. The Seder (order of service) was simple right through to Jesus’ time (27-31 ACE). It was adapted and expanded, after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 ACE, with the development of Rabbinical Judaism via the synagogue system (no more sacrificial system). To reconstruct/relive how Jesus celebrated that last Pesach is a matter of historical probability, not certainty! I will keep it simple as Y’shua and his talmudim probably did it – while mentioning post 70 ACE elements.

Biblical historical scholars say there were originally probably only four elements:

1) Passover lamb symbolized redemption – the paschal/unblemished lamb sacrificed to save us (John 1:29, 1Pet 1:19-20). It was roasted with fire, symbolizing God’s judgement.
2) Unleavened bread (matzos) symbolized the “bread of affliction” in Egypt when they left in a hurry (Deut 16:1-4). Yeast (“leaven”) was forbidden during 8 days of Pesach, symbolizing the cleansing and removal of sin (1Cor 5:6-8). Post 70 ACE the matzoh took on added meaning as the Rabbis decreed it to be a memorial of the Passover lamb.
3) Bitter herbs (maror) symbolized the hardships the Hebrews endured under Pharaoh.
4) Glasses of wine – how many is not clear – certainly the cup of sanctification and cup of redemption (also called cup of thanksgiving or blessing). The wine symbolized God’s setting them apart (sanctifying, making holy) by the blood of the lamb for their redemption/salvation.

Post 70 ACE elements that the Rabbis added to the Seder:

1) Roasted shank bone (z’roah) represents the sacrificial Passover lamb.
2) Sweet fruit mixture (charoset) made of apple, cinnamon, nuts, honey & wine, used to offset the sharpness of the bitter herbs – God’s sweet redemption is near in our bitter oppression. It also represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in building Pharaoh’s cities.
3) Roasted egg (beitzah) and salt water: the brown egg traditionally symbolized mourning for Jews, reminding them of the Temple sacrifice (chagigah) for sin, which was lost – so they dip the egg in salt water (the tears of sadness) and eat it. Y’shuah’s death was “the once and for all” sacrifice for sin, which put an end to the sacrificial system, so we now shed tears of joy! And the egg in this context represents new life, new creation: the Lamb of God’s resurrection!
4) Green vegetables (karpas) as in parsley, was to recall the hyssop used by the Hebrews to mark the doorposts with the blood of the lamb (Ex 12:22). It is also dipped into the bowl of salt water (the tears of Israel) in their trust of God for the promise of new life (green).
5) Bitter root (chazeret) as in romaine lettuce, reinforced the bitter herbs, a reminder of the enslavement in Egypt – bitter to the root of one’s being – which God delivers us from.
6) Four wine glasses: 1st Sanctification, 2nd Rejoicing, 3rd Redemption, 4th Praise. A possible 5th Cup of Elijah – still debated! The Rabbi’s say Elijah will settle it when he comes!

THE SEDER AS JESUS might have celebrated it as per historical evidence:

  1. Lighting of two Candles (safely assumed… light of creation, light of Torah)

  2. Cup of Sanctification: Luke 22:17-18

  3. Washing of hands (or later, 6.): was it here that Jesus washed their feet? John 13:2f

  4. Sing the Hallel: Psalms 113 & 114 (Psalms 113-118 were sung at Passover, Mark 14:26)
  5. Second Cup of Rejoicing at which the Exodus story was retold by asking questions as to why that night was different, recalling the 10 plagues/miracles and pass-over deliverance (there’s no New Testament record of all this, but we can safely assume it)
  6. Washing of hands for the meal being served: did Jesus now wash their feet? John 13
  7. The Blessing for the unleavened bread, breaking and sharing it: Mark 14:22. Jesus dramatically said it was his body given/broken for us – in his life (John 6:35) and more so in his death on the cross. Imagine the impact this had on his disciples?
  8. Eating the meal: the paschal lamb, matzoh and bitter herbs (“sop”? see John 13:26)

  9. Third cup of Redemption (Thanksgiving): Mark 14:23-25, Luke 22:20, Matt 26:27-29, 1 Cor 10:16. Jesus said this cup, this “fruit of the vine”, was his blood of the new covenant (the B’rit Hadasah) poured out for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, giving us his (eternal) life, his Spirit. This was powerful and dramatic – Messianic! It brought to the minds of the disciples texts like Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 36:24-27, Lev 17:11, “the life of the flesh is in the blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (see Heb 9:22)
  10. Sing the Hallel, then they departed: Mark 14:26, Singing Psalm 115-118
  11. (Fourth Cup of Praise: no record of Jesus doing this, but it is traditionally blessed and taken after the final Hallel and then it’s followed with…

  12. (The Final blessing: no record of this but assumed, probably the Aaronic Blessing?)
  13. They went to the Garden of Gethsemane as they sang and walked deep in thought
     

THE POST 70 ACE SEDER as it has developed over the centuries to our present time

  1. Lighting of Candles (Hadlakat Ha-Ner): the mother of the home (or father)
  2. First Cup of Sanctification (Kiddush): the father/leader prays the prayer & all drink
  3. Washing of hands (Urchatz): for cleansing to begin the ceremony meal

  4. The Hallel: Sing Psalms 113 and 114
  5. First Serving – eating of Karpas: green vegetable dipped in salt water
  6. Breaking the Middle Matzoh (Yachatz): The three-part matzoh tash (pouch) with three sheets of matzoh is lifted up, also called echad (unity). It symbolizes Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or unity of worship in ancient Israel: Priests, Levites and Congregation. Yeshuah’s talmudim say it represents God as Father, Son, and Spirit. The middle piece (Son) is broken in half. One half is replaced and the other half (called the afikomen) is hidden while the children close their eyes – later to be found by them. This is “the bread of affliction”
  7. The Four Questions (Ma Nishtanah) and the Passover Story (Maggid & Haggadah):
    A child asks “
    the why” is this night different to all other nights:
    Why on all other nights do we eat bread with leaven, but on this night we eat only unleavened bread?
    Why on all other nights do we eat of all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
    Why on all other nights do we not dip herbs at all, but on this night we dip them twice? Why on all other nights do we eat in the normal way, but on this night we eat with special ceremony?
    The leader
    then explains each of the answers and the story (haggadah) of the Exodus.

  8. Second Cup of Rejoicing: remembering the 10 plagues that came upon Egypt, each with a drip of wine on a plate – the cup of God’s wrath and of our rejoicing! This cup is not drunk.
  9. The Seder Meal and it’s symbolism:
    • The paschal lamb and it’s meaning:
    • The matzoh and its blessing:
    • The bitter herbs and its blessing:
    • The ‘Hillel sandwich’: combine the matzoh and bitter herbs and eat it – together with the lamb and the charoset (sweet mixture). See John 13:26.
    • Eat egg dipped in salt water: it’s customary to begin the meal with this

  10. The Grace after the meal: Prayer of Thanksgiving

  11. Finding and eating the Afikomen: it means “that which comes after” or “that which makes complete.” The Rabbis say it the substitute for the actual Passover lamb not sacrificed because there’s no Temple. Everyone eats a bit of it. Some say this is the bread that Jesus gave to his disciples calling it his body given for them, but there’s no historical evidence for this – probably a post 70 ACE Rabbinical development.

  12. Third Cup of Redemption: remembering the blood of the lamb put on the doorposts of the houses that bought them redemption. This is the cup that Jesus used when he said it was his blood of the new covenant (B’rit Hadasah) for our redemption.
  13. (Pour the Cup of Elijah – and the door is opened): not to drink the cup, but to see if he comes! I have this in brackets as some Jewish traditions do this, but others not.
  14. The Hallel: Sing Psalms 114 to 118

  15. Fourth Cup of Praise to end the service and the final blessing:

  16. The Conclusion – the Nirtzah – and “Next Year in Jerusalem”
    L’shanah Ha-Ba-ah b’Y’rushalayim