Posts Tagged ‘angel of death’

Emmanuel, the name of Jesus which means “God with us.” Growing up, I thought this was a very comforting thing: God has become a human being, tabernacled with us, become one of us so that we could be one with him. All of this is true.

Then I learned the context of the name. It comes from Isaiah, and prophecies the judgment of Israel. The “sign of Emmanuel” was the birth of a child, which heralded judgment and death. The birth of Christ is the sign of the coming judgment of God. Yet at the same time it is still salvation for his followers.

I tried to rationalize this, and in human terms it made some sense: he spares his own followers, right? He’s here for us, not for them. Models of penal substitution affirmed this approach: Jesus was killed in my place, so that I don’t have to die. The Passover also captures it: the judgment will pass over my house, the angel of death will not see me. All of this is also true, in a sense.

Bonhoeffer’s approach in Discipleship is new to me, but I love it. He reminds me that I still die along with the rest of humanity. The coming of Emmanuel still means judgment and death, and nobody is exempt. We all are judged, and die. But the type of death that we die matters.

In baptism, we die with Christ. In Christ, God became a human being in order to identify with human beings; in baptism, we die with Christ in order to identify with Christ. Everyone dies, at least in a figurative sense, when confronted with Christ: this is judgment. And yet Christ rises again. If we die with Christ, we are identified with Christ, and thus we rise with Christ. Far from being exempt from judgment, we experience it in death, but because we experience that judgment with Christ, we also experience forgiveness and resurrection with Christ.

Simple, sinful humanity – what Paul called “the old man” – will die. By virtue of being human, in that sense, everyone will die. When God became human in Christ, he created a new type of humanity. The way to this type of humanity is death with Christ, death away from sin: as our old humanity dies under the judgment of God in Christ, our identification with Christ in this makes us a new human being.

In this sense, salvation is available for everyone: Christ took on the humanity of all the world, and in identifying with humanity took on all of its weakness and brokenness and sin. Christ identifies with absolutely everyone. But not everyone identifies with Christ, and takes on that new humanity on the other side of this spiritual death. Most people just die in this judgment, without identifying with Christ, and thus they continue to physically live as dead people.

I love this approach because it underlines that Christ is for everyone, that he identifies with everyone, that some people aren’t his secret favourites who are somehow exempt from judgment. We’re all judged equally, and all die. It also doesn’t blame God for the fact that not everyone receives the spiritual resurrection and life that follows after this judgment, yet at the same time it doesn’t make this out to be a human work that I can accomplish. Yes, I am responsible for following Christ to death, but in so doing I am not achieving my own salvation – that has already been achieved. Resurrection is the result of being made into a new type of humanity, and this is something that Christ has accomplished; I only choose to die with him rather than on my own. I choose to live with him, following after [nachfolge] him, but this is only possible because I have identified with him in death (through baptism), and this itself is only possible because he has identified with me. Christ initiates it all, and accomplishes it all, but I still need to follow after him.

May Emmanuel, the One who saves through judgment, lead you on to new life.


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