Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Intention of Jesus

A rough draft of a paper I wrote answering the question, "What was the intention of Jesus?"

What did Jesus intend to accomplish in his first-century earthly ministry?

This paper holds that the intention of Jesus’ first century earthly ministry was nothing less than to restore life. Admittedly, a two-word answer for such an open ended and weighty question may seem a bit simplistic and incomplete. Throughout all four Gospels, Jesus makes numerous claims as to his intentions; and many of them are quite different. How can we boil the intentions of Jesus down to just two words? However, as this paper will show, when all of what Jesus did and said in his first century earthly ministry is taken and understood collectively, it rightly fits under the over arching intention to restore life.  This can be seen in the grand narrative of Scripture, as well as in Jesus’ own words and actions.
                  Before we examine Jesus’ words and actions, it is first fitting to define our terms. In saying that Jesus intended to “restore”, I am proposing that Jesus came to reclaim or bring back a certain something to an originally intended condition. In other words, Jesus’ aim is to bring things back to the way they are supposed to be. He is reclaiming what has been lost. In this instance, the certain something is “life”.  Therefore, Jesus came to reclaim or bring back life to its intended, God given condition and purpose.
                  To further understand Jesus intentions to “restore life”, we must go back and ask ourselves what were God’s original intention s for life, and what happened? The creation account in Genesis captures several significant features that help us to understand what true “life” is. Primarily, humans were created to be God’s image bearers (Genesis 1:27). This tells us several things. First, it lays out the Creator-creature distinction. Humans are not God. Rather, for our benefit, we (as God’s creatures) were created to live under God’s righteous and loving reign. As God’s image bearers, “life” consists of several roles and relationships; the most central being our vertical relationship with our God. Humans were created to know and be known by their Heavenly Creator. We were made to be worshippers of the one True and Living God. In addition, under God’s reign “life” is meant to consist of thriving and unbroken relationships with others. Our last role is one of steward. As God’s image bearers, “life” consists of having dominion over and stewarding God’s glorious creation (Genesis 2:15). Therefore, “life” as God originally intended it to be consists of three relationships. First and most importantly, we were meant to live under God’s righteous and loving reign wherein we know God and are known by him in an unhindered fashion. Further, this vertical relationship was meant to define our horizontal relationships with God’s creation, both among other image bearers (humans) and also among His creation.  To describe the condition wherein these three image-bearing relationships are harmoniously thriving under God’s reign, the Old Testament used the word ‘shalom’. Human beings were meant to live in ‘shalom’ where there is a deep contentment, peace, and wholeness.
                  Yet, as the story goes, this “life” which was the intended condition for God’s creation was lost when Adam and Eve fell. The result was utter brokenness existing in all three of our image bearing relationships. Rather than living under God’s righteous rule and reign, humans choose to live under their own self-autonomy. Because of this, all facets of life are broken; nothing exists as it’s meant to. Strife dominates our relationships with others, false gods control the affections of our hearts, sickness and death rule our physical bodies, and stewarding creation is strenuous. In essence, as we rebel against God’s eternal, righteous, loving rule and reign over our hearts, shalom is lost; all of life is broken.
                   It is into this context that Jesus must be introduced. Throughout the ages, there was an expectation among God’s people that one day He would send someone to restore this righteous and loving reign among his people, thus restoring life. Jesus was this Messiah. Although God’s ethnic people (the Jews) often had a misunderstanding of what God’s Messiah would actually accomplish, it is clear as we look at the grand narrative of the Old Testament that Jesus in fact is the Messiah who would “restore life”.
                  Viewing Jesus through this lens, it is possible to make sense of his actions as well as the numerous claims he makes regarding his intentions. For example, Jesus’ central message in his earthly ministry was the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). In essence, Jesus was declaring that He came to reclaim God’s rule and reign over His creation.  In doing so, Jesus invites human beings to come under his loving authority, in order that their image bearing may be restored to the fullness for which it was created.  Jesus’ came to earth preaching repentance, since in order to enter God’s Kingdom, we must first relinquish our self-autonomy. Along with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, Jesus demonstrated his authority both in his teachings and actions. His teachings were in direct contrast to our misconceptions of what “life” is supposed to be and were often aimed at rewiring the ways in which the Fall had distorted our worldviews. His actions often consisted of physical healings and casting out demons, which not only demonstrated his authority over the physical laws and evil powers, but also goes to show the breadth and depth of restoration Jesus aimed at accomplishing. Jesus’ intentions weren’t solely aimed at forgiving sins, or merely teaching people some good life lessons. Rather, Jesus’ intentions were to holistically restore all of life. His intentions were to reverse all the facets of the Fall and to bring the loving rule of God into all areas of life. Jesus came to bring back a total sense of image bearing shalom.
                  This brings us to the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry. We have seen that Jesus’ came to reclaim God’s rule and reign in the hearts of men to once again bring them into a right relationship with Him. He came proclaiming this good news of the Kingdom, teaching, and healing every disease and affliction (Matthew 4:23). His ministry was holistic, and intended to reverse the multi faceted effects of the Fall. But, how did Jesus do this? The pinnacle of Jesus’ earthly ministry was indeed his death and resurrection, by which he accomplished His intentions to restore life. Jesus knew his entire life was ultimately leading up to the time when we would die as a ransom (Matthew 20:28) and then rise (Mark 8:31). In order to restore life, Jesus had to die a substitutionary death in our place wherein he would absorb the full weight of the Fall. He took upon himself the separation and brokenness that existed between us and our Creator. Further, Jesus resurrected from the grave, thus conquering the power of Sin. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we are effectively able to have new life. His death and resurrection are the ultimate remedy to the multi faceted curse of the Fall. In his earthly ministry, Jesus’ intentions were to come that we may have life (John 10:10). He came to reclaim what was lost  (Luke 19:10) and restore what was broken. In his life, Jesus proclaimed this good news of God’s Kingdom and demonstrated it in word and deed. However, the ultimate way Jesus accomplished his intention to restore life, was through his substitutionary death and life giving resurrection. 

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