The Self-Revelation of the Messiah (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 31)

NOTE: This is part 31 of the “Refiner’s Fire” series, now available as a book from Amazon and other retailers. To read it on the blog, go to the Matthew series and scroll down for the “Refiner’s Fire” section at the bottom.

In the saga of Jesus’s self-revelation as the Messiah, there are four distinct stages. Each one is needed to tell the story.

The first stage is the crucifixion. The second is the resurrection. In the third, ascension, Jesus revealed the mystery of the Davidic throne in the kingdom of God. Rather than taking the throne of earthly Israel, he ascended into heaven on the clouds, just as Daniel witnessed: as the Son of Man, Jesus “came with the clouds of heaven” and was seated at the right hand of God in the heavens.

But no one saw that last part. The disciples saw Jesus go up in a cloud and were told by two angels that he would return in the same way, but they did not see the heavenly coronation take place. They simply knew, from the prophecies of the Old Testament and from Jesus’s parting words—“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” —that it was coming. So Mark’s gospel ends with the words, “Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”

But once again, God does not ask anyone to believe without reason. So this fourth, invisible stage of Jesus’s Messianic ministry also had a particular earthly event associated with it. This event—the sign on earth that all these things had taken place in heaven—was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s disciples.

This fourth element in the story is important for two reasons. First, as I said above, it was the sign that Jesus had in fact been taken into heaven, given all authority, and seated at the right hand of the Father—events that no one on earth actually witnessed once Jesus had disappeared “in a cloud.” When the Spirit was poured out on the early church in Acts 2, they understood it to be the sign that Jesus was Lord—that he had been enthroned in heaven. That’s why Peter preached to his fellow residents of Jerusalem, who so recently had called for Jesus’s crucifixion:

God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this. Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says:

The Lord declared to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand
until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah! (Acts 2:32–36, quoting Psalm 110:1)

But the Holy Spirit was not only a sign of Jesus’s heavenly kingship. The Spirit’s coming was also an important piece of the story in its own right—a pivotal piece of the mysterious plan God had set in motion when he first created the world.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the Jerusalem believers, they went out in the street and preached the gospel in at least fifteen different languages, only one or two of which they knew. Other dramatic signs also accompanied the event. According to Acts 2:2–3, the sound of a violent wind filled the house where they were meeting, and visible tongues of fire appeared over each one of their heads.

At least some of this must have been audible and visible to the people of Jerusalem as well, because it opened a door for Peter to explain it to them. Along with his claim that it was Jesus who had poured out the Spirit from heaven and that Jesus therefore must be seated in heaven, exercising authority over the earth, Peter also said the event was a fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecy regarding God’s dwelling with humanity:

But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

And it will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out My Spirit
on My male and female slaves in those days,
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:14–18)

Rather than a random event or simply a sign of something else, the coming of the Holy Spirit was the final piece of the puzzle. If you recall, God had promised to make a new covenant with his people in which he would dwell in them and with them. He had promised to fill his future temple with glory. But where in the past, the glory of God had accompanied God’s entry into the buildings or tents constructed for him—often manifested as fire or cloud—now fire and wind came and rested on human beings.

Where in the past the Holy Spirit had filled the temple in Jerusalem, now the Holy Spirit filled individuals. Where in the past God had confused the languages of humanity in order to divide them, now he miraculously provided understanding in order to unite them. The holy ones, Daniel said, would receive the kingdom.

In this moment, they did.

Choosing to Know and Choosing to Love

Biblical faith, I said earlier in this book, is not a feeling or force we arouse within ourselves. It is always a response to a word or an event that is external to us. As Christians, we are not being asked to feel a certain way about God or about ourselves. We are being asked to accept that God has acted in history, and that his actions mean what he says they mean.

Dallas Willard points out that when it comes to the content of our faith, there are a handful of knowable facts. Creation and the resurrection both fall into this category. Creation is the only truly rational way to explain what we are doing here. The resurrection is one of the best attested events of the ancient world and one of the most impactful—in real, quantifiable terms, totally external to our subjective experience of faith. And it is creation and resurrection more than anything that give our faith legs to stand on.

We have now found a firm basis for knowing that there is a vast nonphysical being underlying—perhaps also interpenetrating—the reality of the physical universe. We have pointed out that, although this is a knowable fact, no one has to know it. There are many people who do not know it. Either through neglect or resolve, they can refuse to seek out or attend to the considerations that would naturally lead to their knowing that there is a reality other than the physical world, one of magnificent proportions and intriguing character. The fact that some or many people do not know this or even deny it has of itself no bearing whatsoever upon whether it is knowable or whether some or many others do in fact know it. (Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. New York: HarperOne, 2009. 117)

But we can know it. And if we can accept creation as a given, then we can take another step toward Christian faith, realizing that it is not, in and of itself, unreasonable. On the other hand, we could never arrive at Christianity through reason alone.

Aristotle, thinking through the nature of reality in Ancient Greece and positing the existence of a First Cause, certainly did not come up with Jesus Christ. This is because Christianity isn’t based on a philosophical construct alone; it’s not just a thought. If God is truly outside of the created universe, then we can only know him if he reveals himself. Christianity is based on something that happened in history, on something that occurred within our material world that revealed God by his own choice and action. That something was the resurrection.

And again, this is also the basis for believing that Christianity is the path, the exclusive way to God, and not just one option among many. Jesus made exclusive claims: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” If the Creator God resurrected Jesus, he validated those exclusive claims. No other religion can make a similar claim.

Ultimately, once we have settled the basis for Christian belief in our hearts and minds, we have a choice to make. This is so because there are also things we cannot know in the sense that we can’t measure them or prove them through logic or science or historical evidence—things we simply do have to “take on faith.” And interestingly, these things are almost always relational. We can’t measure love; we can’t catch integrity in a test tube. I suppose we can measure the effects of these things, but even then we have to take underlying motives and heart postures and the other’s desire for relationship on faith. We have to choose to believe and to trust what the other tells us—what they speak and demonstrate, through action, of their inner nature.

These faith-based, relational things, it turns out, are what matter most to us as human beings. And we are designed and able to believe, even to know, these things. Despite our lack of complete knowledge, despite the fact that we could be wrong, every day hundreds of thousands of people vow their lives to one another in marriage. Every day friends choose to trust one another and to let one another deeper into their hearts and lives. Every day parents do their best by their children, and every day children tell their parents “Mama, I love you.” “I love you, Daddy.” This is the world we live in. It’s a world where plenty of things can be measured, proven, nailed down by reason and evidence; and yet it’s a world where everything that truly matters stands or falls by faith alone.

“We are saved by grace through faith,” Paul wrote many years ago. As Luther styled it, “Grace alone by faith alone.” It’s a powerful formula but a simple one. Grace = the self-extension of God toward us, like a father bending to hold out his hand to a child. And faith = the only way we are capable of reciprocally relating to anyone.

This is all that Paul is telling us, really: that God is calling us into a relationship with himself, and that in this relationship is our salvation.

The choice we make when we put our faith in God-in-Christ, then, is not the choice to know everything with absolute certainty, nor is it a choice to know nothing at all except by “blind faith.” It’s a choice to enter into a relationship, just as fraught as any other relationship we enter, except with the assurance that the Other in this relationship claims to be absolutely loving, perfect, and good, and that he has given plenty of evidence to back that up—not in our paltry lifetimes merely, but for thousands of years to billions of people, among whom you and I happen to be just one.

To be continued …


This is Part 189 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash




2 responses to “The Self-Revelation of the Messiah (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 31)”

  1. […] Part 189: The Self-Revelation of the Messiah (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 31) (Matthew 11:1-19) […]

  2. Bill Tuck Jr Avatar

    I have Friends who do not accept the fact that all called followers of Jesus Christ can only reach God The Father Thru Him. And if they want to be a part of this They can only get there thru Jesus Christ. I always tell people my only way to God is thru Jesus Christ Atonment. I really Enjoyed this Great Post!! I had to go to my Bible and re-read John 17. I’m so Happy that Father God gave me to Jesus. John 17: 9-10. This goes for carnal Christians as well. I ask God to guide me to the lost sheep of His Kingdom. We if possible don’t want anyone to miss this Blessed Life.

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