The coming of Jesus confronts the most important beliefs of God’s people. It was true for the Jews, and it will likely be the same for Christians.
Advent is a term used to speak about the coming of Jesus, which we now understand has two occurrences. The first happened about 2000 years ago, when the Creator God came to earth as a human baby, as celebrated during Christmas. The second advent is prophesied to happen sometime yet in the future.
When God shatters human history with his own bodily presence, many things happen, but one of the most dramatic, and frankly disturbing truths, is that he confronts what his people believe about him, and what they believe about their own connection to him.
Those two beliefs form the most important doctrines: What we believe about God and what we believe about ourselves in relation to God.
Jesus’ first advent shocked the Jews at the deepest level of their religious belief. God declared to Moses that there was one God. That was the most important belief held by the Jews. No other belief was as big a deal as the understanding that there was only one God.
Pagan religions often taught that spirit gods could have god/man sons—like Achilles and Hercules—but not in Judaism. None of the Israelites, those known as the People of God, allowed for such a revelation.
When Jesus came in his first advent, he declared himself to be both human and the Son of God. His preaching appeared to have more in common on this issue with pagan religions than with what they thought the Bible taught about the one true God. Jews were confronted at their most important belief, Commandment #1 out of the Ten, and the vast majority, simply could not accept such a disturbing claim. The idea, that this one God must be accepted in more than one person, was simply unacceptable to most believers at that time.
The second most important belief to a Jew was in how they viewed themselves as the people of God. They were Abraham’s descendants and therefore they firmly believed that they were promised and guaranteed salvation. Nothing could shake their confidence that they couldn’t lose.
The first advent of Jesus shocked believers by revealing that God’s promise didn’t actually mean what they thought it meant. The promised seed of Abraham was a reference to Jesus, not specifically to the physical race of people. Thus, only those who accepted Jesus as Lord, Savior, and the incarnate one God, would be accepted as those promised eternal salvation.
The foundation of Jewish faith rested on how they interpreted the Mosaic Law. Their rejection was not because the Law was misleading, but because they were unwilling to accept God’s own revelation regarding what his scriptural words meant. They were self-deceived, thinking they belonged to God, but by insisting on holding onto their own explanations, they have been rejected as God’s people.
Christians had best take warning, because the second Advent will be aimed at them.
Again, there are two beliefs that are most important to Christian theology: how we explain the nature of God, and how we explain our own salvation. Both are likely to be confronted once again when Jesus returns in all his glory to draw his faithful to himself. Scripture declares that at that time, many will say “Lord, Lord”, but Jesus will reject them.
Regarding the nature of God, orthodox Christian theology, and that which most professing Christians hold as the most significant explanation about God, is defined under the label of the Trinity. Like the Jews who rightly accepted that there is only one God, so many Christians accept that God represents himself as one God through the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And, like the Jews who were confronted by Jesus, so Christians will likely have to grapple with the eventual revelation that the Bible doesn’t actually define God as a trinity. That doctrine, as helpful as it may be, must be held cautiously, so that believers remain open to accepting the revelation of Jesus, that we currently are told we can only see “like through a glass darkly”, and again, what we can currently “see in part”.
If Christians hold onto their human-explained doctrines and traditional teachings, without remaining sensitive to the shocking advent of Jesus, they may well fall into the same self-deception as the Jews. How God explains himself is far more important than how we may try to define him.
On the second most important belief, that of our view of personal salvation, Christians should take to heart the same warning given to the Jews: “Do not say, but we are Abraham’s children, because God can raise up rocks to provide children for Abraham”. The wording may be different, but the claim of guaranteed salvation is identical. Orthodox Christianity teaches that if a person claims faith in Jesus, then they are guaranteed salvation no matter what—it is what is often labeled as “faith alone” or “once saved always saved”.
Thinking you are saved, does not make God obligated to save you. Remember, the Jews had God’s word too, but they didn’t interpret it correctly. As the Spirit declares to Christians, “do not merely listen to the word, but be doers, so that you will not be self-deceived”. According to Scripture, it is entirely possible for Christians to claim a personal guarantee of salvation, but end up being cast away with the goats.
The foundation of Christian teaching is established on how believers interpret the parables, passages, and ideas recorded in New and Old Testament Scripture.
“When he comes, we shall see him as he is”
When you see him as he is, what will you do with your previous ideas about him and about yourself? The Jews put their traditions, explanations, and expectations ahead of Scripture and ahead of Jesus’ revelation, to their own horrific loss. Are you prepared to be shocked by God?
Like those early disciples who were confronted by Jesus’ requirement to eat his flesh and drink his blood, when the vast majority of followers left in disgust, the faithful responded: “where else could we go. You have the words of truth.” Is that submissiveness of faith-without-full-understanding in your heart?
At the coming Advent of Christ, will you accept his revelation of himself and how he chooses to extend salvation, or will you insist on holding to your own traditional explanations of doctrines taught in your church? Even more importantly, can you hear what the Spirit is teaching now, and prepare yourself to measure every belief, and especially the core foundational doctrines, to what Scripture actually says, rather than to how people have historically tried to explain and limit it?
Expect Jesus to shock, and to test your faith in accepting him, as he reveals truth more clearly in the days ahead.
Come Lord Jesus come…and give your faithful people the ears to hear and the heart to submit to your revelation!