Five Things We Must Understand (But Often Don't) about the New Testament (5)
5. Between D-Day and V-Day
Knowing what time it is when reading the Bible is essential. The biblical story unfolds in six chapters:
-Covenant with Israel (Gen.12-Mal.4)
-Covenant with Church (Acts-Rev.20)
More accurately, the relation of these six chapters flow like this:
Christ Covenant with Church Consummation
Covenant with Israel
As you can see, each chapter occupies a unique place in this timeline. The historical conditions, the form in which Israel exists, its relation to Christ, and its place and role in God’s plan to reclaim and restore humanity and creation to his creational intent are chief factors in reading each section of scripture rightly. As these factors change and morph into something different the things God’s people are called to do and the way they act change too. What is appropriate at one stage in the story will not be at later stages. The parade example here are the so-called Holy Wars God commands Israel to undertake upon entering Canaan (Joshua). Whatever other problems these stories present, what seems clear is that this kind of warfare is commanded by God and enacted only in a tiny slice of the whole story. Once established in the land, they cease and are never commanded again by God. When Christ gives us the fullest revelation of God and calls his followers to enact his own nonviolent approach to mission we can be assured that God will never again enact such thing. In fact, if we read carefully, the Holy War paradigm itself undergoes a transformation in the light of Christ to the spread of his people throughout the world armed only with what Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador aptly called the “violence of love.”
These principles are crucial in particular to understanding the situation of the church and the struggle of believers in their chapter of the biblical story. Why, after Christ’s victory at the cross and in his resurrection over the powers and evil spiritual forces, do God’s people still struggle and a difficult time following Jesus? Why not more signs of victory and overcoming in our lives?
The answer lies in realizing we live in the fifth chapter of the story, the Covenant with the Church. This chapter is that it takes place between Christ’s resurrection and his return. The war, as we have seen, has been won by Christ. It’s outcome is not in doubt. Jesus is victor! (Barth). He is enthroned on heaven exercising his rule over the powers of death, evil, and destruction and the powers that rebelled against him. Yet the struggle persists. Not all recognizes or bow to the inevitability of Christ’s triumph. They fight on in desperate resistance hoping to inflict as much harm as they can before they are destroyed (1Pet.5:8).
New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann in the aftermath of WW II used a feature of that war to explain the situation of the church in this fifth chapter of the biblical story. In Christ and Time he notes that every war has a battle that turns out to be a turning point after which the outcome is no longer in doubt. In the European theater of WWII the invasion and victory at Normandy was that battle. D-Day as we have come to call it. The war in that theater was effectively decided.
Yet battles raged on for almost another year after D-Day. The fighting was fierce and losses were sustained by the Allied forces as they moved on rooting out pockets of Nazi resistance and liberating cities, towns, and villages the Nazi’s occupied. It was not until V-Day, Victory Day, when peace treaties were signed and the Nazi’s surrendered that hostilities ceased. Then the Allies’ celebrations began.
Cullmann saw the church existing between the D-Day of Christ’s resurrection when the war was in effect decided and his return to fully and finally establish God’s kingdom, our V-Day. The church lives in-between these times. Its task is to implement and extend the fruits of Christ’s victory as the body of Christ in this as-yet-not-fully-redeemed-world. Battles with the enemy continue. We must remain battle-ready and on full alert. It is said a wild beast in its death throes is at its most dangerous striking out in all directions at whomever they can reach (see 1 Pet. Reference above).
The Jews thought history would unfold linearly:
The present evil age----------------------------the Day of the Lord--------------the new age------------
Christianity complexifies this understanding:
The Resurrection Christ’s Return
-----------the New Age-----------------Full Establishment of God’s Kingdom- Overlap of the two ages
The old evil age-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The church lives and carries out its mission in this time of the overlap of the two ages. The old age is defeated, decaying, and passing away. The new age is dawning, spreading the light of Christ’s victory wherever it goes. Conflict between the two ages is intrinsic to the church’s existence. Time for rest and celebration comes later at Christ’s return.
The struggle of the church faces in carrying out its mission in this situation is on three fronts:
-the world: the unruly powers continue to disrupt and disorder the creation and seduce believers into buying into their seductions and inducements or both a corporate and personal level (which can’t really be separated).
-the devil: Satanic opposition continues even in defeat (it matters little here whether we believe the devil is a personal being, a master fallen angel, or impersonal forces and powers arrayed against God as long as we recognize an organized center of resistance to God by evil in the universe).
-the flesh: not our bodies or material existence but the part of us that resists living under God’s rule and continues to fight against it even as believers, see Rom.7:14ff).
This triad of resistance to God meets us at every turn, in every walk, and at every moment of our lives. Everywhere is the front lines of this ongoing implementation and augmentation of Christ’s victory. And we must never forget that Jesus’ resurrection validates his cross-centered life as God’s own life. Therefore, even, or especially, our deaths in this struggle are not defeats but in actual truth the way the victory of Christ is implemented and extended. Peter Leithart is right: “We share in Christ's dying so that we can share in His abundant life and glory. When we share in Christ's death, we become a world-changing force. Courageous witness shatters old worlds and lays the foundation for new ones. It's through the cross that God's city renews the cities of men” (Leithart fb 5.31.19).
So why is life as a Christian often a difficult struggle? Because we live between our D-Day (Christ’s resurrection) and V-Day (Christ’s return) and are charged with implementing and extending the reality of Christ’s victory in a not-yet-fully-redeemed-world. Some call this living between the “already” of Christ’s victory and the “not yet” of his return to full establish God’s kingdom. Another way is to say we live from the indicative of what Christ has done for us and can thus fulfill the imperative of his call for us to take his gospel to the nations whatever the cost. But however we choose to put it, life in and with Christ is engagement in a struggle throughout our lives. If we do not get this and expect a simpler or less difficult “victorious” life (perfectionism, a prosperity gospel, ever-increasing peace and serenity) we fail to understand what this “Christian” thing is really all about and cannot but misread the Bible.