You are here: 產品介紹 講道文章 The Mind of God and The Destiny of Man

The Mind of God and The Destiny of Man

E-mail 列印 PDF

Dr Gerald Bray
It is a commonplace among students of religion that Israel stands out in the ancient world as a uniquely monotheistic* society that resisted the allure of the surrounding polytheistic cultures and eventually, in the form of Christianity, triumphed over them. But equally significant is the fact that Israel also had an awareness of human history and its importance that was without parallel. For the most part, pagan societies had a cyclical view of time that was governed by the sun and the seasons. Even if change could be measured over time, it was mostly perceived as a decline from a primitive ideal, which would probably end in a conflagration, out of which a new world would emerge and the cycle would begin all over again......
The Mind of God and The Destiny of Man


Dr Gerald Bray

Human history and Israelite religion

It is a commonplace among students of religion that Israel stands out in the ancient world as a uniquely monotheistic* society that resisted the allure of the surrounding polytheistic cultures and eventually, in the form of Christianity, triumphed over them. But equally significant is the fact that Israel also had an awareness of human history and its importance that was without parallel. For the most part, pagan societies had a cyclical view of time that was governed by the sun and the seasons. Even if change could be measured over time, it was mostly perceived as a decline from a primitive ideal, which would probably end in a conflagration, out of which a new world would emerge and the cycle would begin all over again.

In sharp contrast to this, Israel had what was at least implicitly a linear view of time. God had created the world in the distant past and had eventually chosen Abraham to be the ancestor of a new nation. The descendants of Abraham were promised a glorious future that would take them out of obscurity in Mesopotamia* and out of slavery in Egypt, eventually installing them in the land of Canaan, which would be their inheritance for ever. As the Old Testament tells it, this scenario unfolded more or less according to plan until the time of David and Solomon, after which things started to go wrong. The decline of the Davidic kingdom was slow and uneven, but it was never successfully reversed. The people were taken into exile, back to the land from which Abraham had originally come, and for a time it mist have seemed that it was all over. God was not finished with Israel though, and after two generations the people were allowed to return to their homeland, rebuild the temple and establish a kind of state that survived until the Romans finally destroyed it in AD 70. This Jewish state was only independent for about a century before the coming of the Romans in 63 BC, but as long as some semblance of it existed there was a hope that God would intervene and fulfil the promises made to the patriarchs so long before.

This was the situation when Jesus was born. We have no way of knowing how many Israelites were seriously expecting the ancient prophecies to be fulfilled in their lifetime, or even at all, but there is no doubt that the New Testament writers interpreted the birth of Jesus in this context. Matthew stressed the fulfilment of prophecy, not only in general terms but also in specific details, like the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem and Joseph’s move to Nazareth. Luke also portrayed the event in the same terms, though the Old Testament passages to which he appealed were intriguingly different. There was no collusion between the two writers and so we must assume that their shared theme of prophetic fulfilment was fundamental to the teaching of Jesus and the message his disciples subsequently proclaimed.
In making the claim that the ancient prophecies were being fulfilled in front of their eyes, the early Christians were tapping into a recognised strand of Israelite religion, but they were doing so in an unexpected way. Those who hoped for a restoration of the Davidic monarchy pictured it in almost entirely secular terms. An anointed hero, the Messiah, would arise and deliver the people from foreign rule. He would then set up an empire of his own and the Jews would finally come into their inheritance. What was not clear, and what even those who looked for the coming of a Messiah could not explain, was what would happen then. Would the new David start another dynasty, that might go the same way as the original one had done? Would time somehow come to an end? What would happen to the generations of faithful Jews who had kept the flame alive over the centuries – would they be raised from the dead, or was there (as the Sadducees* insisted) no resurrection and therefore no eternal future at all?

Nobody knew the answers to questions like these, which on the whole were never asked, and this has remained a problem for Judaism* ever since. For centuries there was a latent hope that the people would return to Palestine and restore an independent Jewish state, and of course that hope has been realized in our own time. But what this means is unclear. Jews once again have a national homeland *, but can anything more be said about it than that? The irony is that those Jews who most fervently await the coming of the Messiah are also the ones who refuse to recognise the state of Israel, precisely because it is not the eschatological kingdom of their dreams. It is a secular country that pays lip-service to religion as part of its historic identity but has no eschatological* vision of its destiny – its main preoccupation is simple survival. It is certainly possible to question the accuracy of their assessment of the state of Israel’s prospects, but it should not surprise us that serious discussion of Israel’s long-term significance should be a Christian, rather than a Jewish interest, even though it is the latter who are most directly concerned. The reason for this is that Christianity is inherently eschatological in a way that Judaism is not, and therefore Christians have to ask the question. Perhaps God’s promises to his ancient people will not be fulfilled in or by the present-day state of Israel, but that he has a plan for the Jews that will be fulfilled is something that no Christian can doubt. Israel has been set aside, said the Apostle Paul, in order for the elect gentiles to be brought into the fold, but once that has happened, the blindness that has fallen on the Jews will be removed and they will receive what they have all along been promised. We do not know when or how that will happen, but we believe that it will and that when it does, human history will come to an end.

The Christian message

Jesus and his followers taught that he was the promised Messiah, but not in the sense that most people imagined. He was the son of David, but greater than Solomon because his kingdom was not of this world. Instead, it was when he died to this world that he was crowned King of the Jews, an irony that indicated what sort of authority he would claim. It would not be as the human son of David but as the divine Son of God that he would reign, seated at the right hand of his Father and governing until he should return in judgment. At that point his present mediatorial role would cease, his kingdom would be handed over to the Father and God would be ‘all in all’, as the Apostle Paul expressed it.
The New Testament writers were all convinced that they were living in the end times, and they interpreted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s plans for his people. The Old Testament was reinterpreted as a partial revelation of this, but now that Christ had come the whole story fell into place. In Israel there had been prophets who were also priests, like Habakkuk, and prophets who were also kings, like David. There was even a priest-king, Melchizedek, though (significantly) he was not an Israelite. But it was only Jesus who rolled all three of these offices into one. Furthermore, whereas the prophets had received a word from God and proclaimed it to the people, Jesus was the Word and he proclaimed himself. Whereas the priests had offered sacrifices for themselves as well as for the people, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice – priest and victim were one. Finally, whereas the kings had ruled over a kingdom that was frequently rebellious and eventually lost, Jesus was the king whose kingdom was his body, to which all those who belonged to him were united. In that sense, the destiny of Israel had been fulfilled and there was nowhere else to go. Prophecy might continue to exist but it would no longer have an eschatological function. Priestly sacrifices were transformed into a thanksgiving memorial because what they signified had been accomplished. And finally, all secular government was relativised and confined to its proper sphere. Kingdoms and nations would rise and fall, but this would no longer matter because the rulers of this world, many of whom saw themselves as deities, had been dethroned. Reality, in other words, had moved from time to eternity, from earth to heaven and what we see around us must be judged in that light.

The implications of this are nowhere more clearly seen than in the book of Revelation, which has been consistently misinterpreted and misunderstood throughout Christian history. One of the great achievements of modern Biblical scholarship has been the rediscovery of apocalyptic* as a literary genre*. This has enabled us to escape the tendency to read Revelation as predictive prophecy, a kind of history for the future, and see it for what it is – a view of earth from heaven. In his magnificent vision, John lifts us out of our everyday lives and helps us to see what the mind and purposes of God are. We are shown the cosmic battle between good and evil that will end, as it can only end, with the victory of the Lamb, the creation of a new cosmos and the reconciliation of God and man in the bridal feast of eternal union and love. It is pointless to ask when all this will happen and absurd to try to connect it with particular human events. Generations have tried this, only to find that time moves on, the circumstances that produced their analysis have faded from view and the whole scenario has to be recast in a different time and place. It is sobering to reflect that all kinds of people have been labelled the Antichrist – Nero, Alaric the Goth, Muhammad, Frederick II, the pope, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin – with no one of them holding the title for long. As rulers of this world all of them can claim to be antichrists but none can do so to the exclusion of the others.

The truth is that all human life is now under the judgment of God and that judgment will be revealed in the hand of Christ. Whether we shall live to see it return to earth or die and meet it in heaven hardly matters – either way, we shall be faced with it and have to answer when the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. The message of the Gospel is repent and be saved. Do not wait until tomorrow, because today is the day of salvation, the day of God’s eternal rest from his labours, the day of the triumph of the Lamb who was slain from before the foundation of the world. Time and space are wrapped up in him. There is no ‘before’ and no ‘after’, only union with Christ or separation from him. What we call history is merely detail, a revelation in the context of the old creation of what has been fulfilled in the new and merely awaits its final unveiling.

The Christian hope

The key moment when we pass from one dimension of reality to another is not to be located in the crucifixion or resurrection of Jesus, important though they are, but in his ascension. The ascension is the last event recorded in the Gospels and the first in the Acts of the Apostles – it is the hinge on which both the old and the new turn. In his ascension, Christ took captivity captive. His body and the sacrifice for our sins that were engraved on it went up to heaven, where he pleads with the Father for our salvation. In his ascension he entered into his kingdom, receiving the glory that had been his from all eternity. Finally, as a result of his ascension, he sent his Holy Spirit to earth on the day of Pentecost, pouring him out on those whom he has chosen and establishing his church, which in its earthly form became and remains his chief witness here on earth. I say ‘the church in its earthly form’ because of course it has never been confined to this world. Even on the day of Pentecost, there were believers going back to the time of Abraham who had been waiting for that day and who then became the church triumphant in heaven, ready to receive us into the glory that was finally theirs.

For the Christian, life on earth is a pilgrimage, an exile from his or her true home. We do not belong here, but have been sent on a mission for the time being. We may think that we have been born into this secular environment, but that is an illusion. In reality, we were chosen from before the beginning of the world and appointed to the task that God has prepared for us during our time of service in the church militant. Why are we here? Why now? None of us knows. We cannot say that life was better in the middle ages - people who imagine themselves being transported back to those times always think that they would have been King Arthur or Lady Guinevere*, never the downtrodden peasants who were the ancestors of most of us. And what of the future? Do we envy our great-grandchildren who will be able to jet around in their private spacecraft even as they pay off the debt mountain that we are determined to saddle them with? We cannot answer such questions. What we know is that the God who spoke through the prophets and apostles speaks to us and will speak to whoever comes after us, and that his message will remain the same. He must know that we cannot communicate across the generations, but we know that he is in touch with us all simultaneously. How that can be so is a mystery beyond our comprehension, but that it is so is certain. I know this not just because I have been told about it but because I have experienced it in my own life as you have experienced it in yours. At this level we are all one in Christ Jesus, whether our earthly sojourn is reckoned as past, present and future from the world’s standpoint.

What we as Christians know from experience is incomprehensible to the world around us. Jesus had to confront his disciples on this point. Then as now, there were people who stored up treasure on earth, hoping that it would offer them security for the future. There were people with ambition, who wanted to make a name for themselves that would resound through the generations and keep their memory alive. Ancient Roman religion was based on that principle – it was essentially an ancestor cult that required people to produce children so that they would gain some sort of immortality by being remembered after their deaths. It was a delusion of course, since nobody remembers them or their children now. Yet anyone engaged in fundraising for a Christian institution knows that people are more likely to write out a cheque for something that will have their name on it – a curious kind of vanity for someone whose home is supposedly in heaven, but one that we ignore at our peril.




早期的基督徒要聲稱舊約預言成全在他們眼前,就得聯上以色列宗教裡大家熟悉的某些事,但是他們卻用了出人意料地的方法。當時那些嚮往恢復大衛國度的人幾乎都有完全世俗化的願景。所謂“彌賽亞”,這一位被抹膏油的英雄,將要崛起並且拯救猶太人脫離外族的統治。然後建立彌賽亞帝國,而猶太人也終於進入應許之地。但是不明朗的是,就連那些仰望彌賽亞來臨的人也沒有清楚解釋以後要發生什麼事。新的大衛王是否會另外建立王朝? 是否又像以前的大衛王朝一樣衰落? 時間是不是將會結束? 一代一代忠心又虔誠而且維持了幾個世紀火熱的信仰的猶太人會不會從死裡復活? 還是 – 就如「撒都該」教派的人所認定的 – 根本沒有所謂的“復活”,換句話說就是沒有永恆的未來呢?

類似這些問題,沒有人有答案。基本上沒有人去考慮這些問題,而且繼續困擾著當代的猶太教。幾百年來,有一些人有個心願,就是猶太人再一次回到巴勒斯坦,重建獨立的猶太國家,顯然這在我們的時代已經實現了。但是它的意義何在呢? 猶太人再次擁有了祖國,除此外還有別的可言嗎? 最諷刺的就是,那些狂熱地盼望彌賽亞來臨的猶太人,同時拒絕承認現今的以色列國,就是因為今天的「以色列」國並不符合他們夢想中的“末世國度”。「以色列」只不過是一個因為歷史上的認同而對猶太教施以口惠的世俗的國家,對於它本身的命運却完全沒有末世的願景,僅只關心國家的生存與否而已。至於對以色列國所作的評估的正確性我們可以去質疑,雖然猶太人直接與「以色列」有關,但是我們不會覺得奇怪,要審慎的來討論「以色列」這個國家深遠的重要性應該是基督徒,而不是猶太人。原因是基督教本質上就是末世宗教,而猶太教卻不是,因此基督徒必須去討論這些問題。上帝對祂所揀選的猶太民族所作的應許,未必藉由當今的「以色列」國來成全,也未必成全在「以色列」這個國家之中,但是上帝對猶太人計劃的成全,是基督徒不可以懷疑的。使徒保羅說過,以色列暫時被擱置,為的是上帝要接納蒙揀選的外邦人,但是當外邦的數目添滿之後,猶太人的愚昧必定完全離開,猶太人終會得到上帝所應許他們的一切。我們並不知道會在什麼時候以什麼方式發生,但是我們深信這些事必定會發生,而且發生了以後,人類的歷史就要結束了。






這一切的引申在啟示錄清晰可見。啟示錄是在基督教歷史中常常被誤會且誤解的一卷書。現代聖經學其中一個偉大的成就,就是重新發現「末世啟示」這種文學,從而讓我們脫離把啟示錄看作是預測未來的那種傾向。啟示錄並非是未來的歷史記載,而是從「天上」看到「地上」已經發生的一切的描述。約翰宏偉的異象之中,把我們從日常生活中提昇出來,幫助我們明白上帝對於人類的心意和祂的目的。我們可以看見宇宙中正邪之爭戰必要結束,羔羊必要得勝,上帝必要創造新天新地,而神與人必在愛和連結的婚宴上永遠和好。我們問不上這些事情是要何時發生,要把地上所發生的事件與啟示錄連結也顯得荒謬無稽。世世代代都有人曾經嘗試着去這樣做,卻發現事過境遷之後,這些分析也就不再適合,而且又會按著新的情況有新的一套說法。我們回顧歷史就會使我們清醒,歷世歷代各色各樣的人都被掛上敵基督的標籤:凱薩尼祿、哥特王亞拉里克、穆罕默德、腓特烈二世、歷代教皇、拿破崙、希特拉、史達林 ─ 然而沒有一人可以持久霸位。作為世界的統治者,他們都可被稱為敵基督,但是也不能獨自佔位。




基督徒可以從現實的層面進入新的天地,關鍵不在於耶穌的受死或是耶穌的復活,雖然二者都非常重要。關鍵是「耶穌的昇天」。福音書的末了和使徒行傳一開始都記載了「耶穌昇天」。這是「新」與「舊」的轉折點! 「耶穌昇天」,祂擄了仇敵,帶著為我們贖罪有釘痕和創傷的身體昇到天上,在那裡祂向天父上帝為我們的得救代求。

「耶穌昇天」進入祂的國度,承受祂在永恆中已經有的「榮耀」。「耶穌昇天」,祂在五旬節賜下了祂的聖靈,傾倒在祂選召的人身上,建立祂的教會,在地上為耶穌基督作見證。我說「地上的教會」因為教會從來就沒有被限制只存在在這個世界。 就在「五旬節」當天,也有從亞伯拉罕的時代就在等候這一天來到的信徒在天上為教會的得勝歡呼,並且準備迎接我們進入屬於上帝的榮耀之中。活在世上對基督徒而言是「天路歷程」,是你我離開真正家園的一段日子。我們不屬於這個世界,是為了完成使命而暫時被差來。 我們以為自己被生來這個世界,其實却不是這樣。上帝在創造世界以先已經選派我們來到這個世界在教會爭戰中完成祂預備我們要完成的使命。我們在地上的目的是什麼呢? 為什麼就是現在呢? 沒有人知道。我們不可以說中世紀比現在好 – 那些幻想自己回到從前的人總以為自己會成為亞瑟王或是Lady Guinevere,從來不會認為我們的祖先很可能就是那些受盡壓榨的農奴。至於未來呢? 我們會嫉妒我們的子孫們乘著他們的私人太空梭飛來飛去? 甚至他們居然能夠把我們打定主意要留給他們其重如山的債務還清了? 我們答不上這些問題。我們知道的是藉著先知和使徒向我們說話的上帝會用永不改變的信息繼續向在我們以後要來的人說話。



現在有些人積存「地上的財寶」,希望那些財富可以保障他們的未來。有些人有野心,要為自己留名萬世。古羅馬宗教就是以這個原則 – 多有子孫可以在他們死後繼續記念他們。當然這是一種妄想,因為再也沒有人記念他們和他們的子孫了! 任何參與基督教機構募款的人都知道許多人只要因為有自己的名字參與其中就會開一張支票,這對那些自己的家應該在天上的人來說,也是另一種古怪的虛浮,我們稍不注意,就有危險了!感謝上帝,在耶穌基督裡,基督徒有天上的盼望。