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Was Jesus Born Again?
by Don Preston
I wrote this article originally in 1993, but have edited, enlarged and revised it here.
Our title may shock the reader at first glance because normally the term "born again" connotes the spiritual renewal of a sinful life. But this article does not imply in any way that Jesus was in need of such a renewal. We do wish to deal with the Biblical concept of the two births of Jesus as they relate to Covenant Worlds. Jesus was born twice; physically, then spiritually. Both births were into specific Covenant Worlds.I wrote this article originally in 1993, but have edited, enlarged and revised it here.
Our title may shock the reader at first glance because normally the term "born again" connotes the spiritual renewal of a sinful life. But this article does not imply in any way that Jesus was in need of such a renewal. We do wish to deal with the Biblical concept of the two births of Jesus as they relate to Covenant Worlds. Jesus was born twice; physically, then spiritually. Both births were into specific Covenant Worlds.THE LIMITATIONS OF JESUS' FIRST BIRTH
Jesus was most assuredly born in the flesh of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1, Luke 2). As marvelous as that fact is, there were certain limitations inherent in the first birth of Jesus. These limitations were not accidental or coincidental; they were foreordained. These restrictions were foundational for the greater work of the Messiah. Let us explore these limitations.
BORN TO ISRAEL
Great emphasis is often placed on the "physicalness" of the virgin birth to the oversight of the Covenant relationship, or the covenant world, of that physical birth. We are in no way seeking to mitigate the uniqueness of the incarnation. We are seeking rather to place it in the Biblical framework. Jesus was born into the Old Covenant world of Israel! He was "born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians. 4:4). He appeared in the last days of that Old World (Hebrews 1:1f; 9:26). Jesus was not born into the world of the Gentiles. He did not minister to the Gentiles, (with some notable exceptions that foreshadowed the Gentile mission), nor was he sent to the Gentiles. Jesus was, "not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). This is not to suggest the Gentile salvation was not envisioned within the work of Jesus for as Messiah his salvation would extend to all the world (Isaiah 49:6f). But Gentile salvation would be accomplished when and only when the promises to Israel were accomplished (Romans 15:8f).
Christ came into his own--the world of Israel (John 1:10-11). He never traveled outside the confines of the land of Israel. This limitation of the first birth of Jesus is very often overlooked because of the emphasis placed on the "universal" kingdom of Christ. But we should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus, "was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Romans 15:8). During his personal ministry Jesus sent his disciples on different "limited commissions" (Matthew 10; Luke 10), emphatically instructing them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). Salvation, said Jesus, "is of the Jews"( John 4:22), that is, salvation to the world could only come when Israel's Messiah had fulfilled "all the law and the prophets." Thus, Jesus' first birth was limited in regard to the world into which he was born; the Old Covenant World of Israel.
THE LIMITATION OF SERVICE
Being born into the Old Covenant world of Israel had a definite restricting element in regard to Jesus' work as Messiah. The Messiah was to be king and priest on his throne (Zechariah 6:12-13). Jesus was of the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7:14). As a physical Israelite Jesus could never be the priest foretold by Zechariah, Psalms, etc because, "if he were on earth he should not be priest, seeing there are priests that offer gifts according to the law” (Hebrews. 8:5). Jesus' earthly ministry prohibited him from fulfilling the prophecies of the priestly function of the Messiah because his fleshly birth placed him outside the sanction of that Old Covenant in regard to priesthood!
Does this not have profound implications for the millennial view that insists Jesus came to be a king, (thus a priest), on earth? Israel's law forbad the Messiah being a priest because the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah (Isaiah. 11:1). Yet millennialism says Jesus would have been king on earth, (and will be yet under the restored Old Covenant system), had he not been rejected. This is clearly false in the light of Hebrews 8:5. Jesus could never be a priest on earth under the Old Covenant, therefore Jesus could never be a king on earth! The physical birth of Jesus therefore definitely had limiting factors in regard to his Messianic mission.
THE HIDDENNESS OF HIS FIRST BIRTH
Much has been written about the "Messianic Secret' propounded by Wrede and others.1 While we reject much of what is written about this, it is undoubtedly true that Jesus was not recognized by Israel as her Messiah. John says Jesus came to his own and his own "knew him not," 1:10. Several times Jesus warned his audience, (even demons!), not to make him known (Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16f; 17:9, etc). Why? Because there were two aspects of the work of Messiah, one hidden, one his revelation in glory.
Edersheim says there was even among the Jews an expectation of, "a temporary obscuration of the Messiah."2 Just how widely this idea was held we cannot tell. What we do know is that the Jews thought they knew Jesus when in truth they did not know him at all (Mark 6:1f; John 7:27).3 They thought they knew exactly what was to be done by Messiah, but in fact, did not understand God’s plan at all.
This reality is driven home in Luke 24. Thinking that Jesus was truly dead, the disciples, not recognizing the resurrected Lord, told him, in abject depression “We thought it was he that was to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They did not recognize that the Cross was the pathway to the Crown! They, like modern dispensationalists, saw the Cross as a defeat of Israel’s kingdom plans. And for this, Jesus castigated their ignorance of the prophetic scriptures (Luke 24:25f).
Wright and an increasing number of scholars and students recognize that while what Jesus did was not what the Jews expected, nonetheless, what he did was exactly what God planned. Wright comments about Paul’s message, “One of the central tensions in Paul’s thought, giving it again and again its creative edge is the clash between the fact that God always intended what has in fact happened, and the fact that not even the most devout Israelite had dreamed that it would happen like this.”4 Likewise, Kee, commenting on Acts 3:19f says, “Neither the Jewish nor the Roman leaders were aware of the divine plan and its cosmic consequences that their humanly despicable plot to destroy Jesus would achieve.”5
Jesus' humble physical birth and ministry fulfilled the "hidden" aspect of the Messianic prophecies. Isaiah said God's elect One would not break a bruised reed nor extinguish a smoking flax (Isaiah 42:1-4). These are pictures of humility, gentility, etc.; not the images of glorification, and conquering might!
Jesus' first birth then, by purpose and prophecy, placed certain limitations on Jesus. These limitations were "step one" if you please, that would lead inexorably (Acts 2:22-24), to the revelation of the Messiah.
JESUS' SECOND BIRTH
Clealy, Jesus could not completely fulfill the Messianic prophecies in his physical ministry. He could not be a priest, therefore he could not be a king on earth. But was Jesus born again into a realm/sphere where he could fulfill those prophecies? The answer is yes.
In Acts 13:27f Paul preached about Jesus and his resurrection. In that resurrection, the apostle said, "God hath fulfilled this for us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, Today I have begotten You.’” You will note that the Father, speaking of the Son's resurrection says, "This Day’ I have begotten You.” The resurrection of Jesus was his second birth! In Romans 1:3-4 Paul contrasts the "births" of Jesus. He was "born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (my emphasis) Clearly, Jesus' resurrection was another "birth;" a birth directly contrasted with his physical birth into the Old Covenant World of Israel. Let us note two things especially noteworthy about this "birth."
The prophecy cited by Paul in Acts and Hebrews is Psalms 2:7. That prophecy chronicles man’s attempts to thwart God's plan to enthrone the Messiah as King. Psalms 2:1-3 speaks of the rejection of Messiah. In Acts 4:25f Peter applies those verses to Jesus' death at the hands of, "Herod and Pilate." Jehovah's response to these actions was to laugh at man's rebellion--God would not be thwarted!6 In Psalms 2:6 He said, "Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion;" (v.7) then declares, "I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” The "second birth" of Jesus is inextricably linked with his enthronement on the holy hill Zion. (Needless to say, Jesus was not enthroned on the literal Mt. Zion!) This comports perfectly with what the Hebrew writer says also about the priesthood of Jesus.
In Hebrews 5:5f the writer cites Psalms 2:7 in regard to Christ's entry into the priesthood. Just as Psalms 2 depicted the enthronement of Messiah after his rejection, and since that enthronement is linked by Paul with the resurrection, it follows that Christ's priesthood is also so linked. Just as Christ's physical birth placed him in the Old Covenant World where he could not serve as Priest and King his second birth placed him in a New Covenant World where he could, (and does!), serve as High Priest!
The Hebrew writer tells us, “Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). Christ's resurrection unto enthronement and priesthood was a birth into the heavenly realm where he can serve as king and priest. The Mosaic limitation of Christ's physical birth is not applicable in the heavenly realm.
Jesus was "put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit," (NASV, I Peter 3:18). As William Bell observes "in the flesh" and "in the spirit" of I Pet. 3:18 are both locatives and, "refer to the realm or sphere in which the actions ‘put to death’ and ‘made alive’ occurred."7 Michaels concurs insisting that Christ resurrected "not as a spirit," but in a new sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation. ...Jesus is set free to complete a mission of utmost importance for the readers of the epistle."8 Jesus' resurrection situated him in a new realm of existence--his world, the world above. What cannot be missed, but, lamentably is missed by our dispensational friends, is that Christ’s heavenly priesthood and kingship (thus his kingdom), was, all along, the goal and purpose of the O. T. prophecies. This is demonstrated by a couple of key texts in Hebrews.
CHRIST AS MINISTER OVER THE TRUE TABERNACLE
One of the things that Hebrews makes abundantly clear is that the Old Covenant cultus was “a shadow of good things about to come” (Hebrews 10:1-3). That means that the Old Covenant world itself, epitomized by the Temple, priesthood, sacrifices, etc. was only typical, anticipatory, and a shadow of the ultimate realities that Messiah was to bring. This singular fact is a major Achilles Heels of the modern dispensational world. Millennialism insists that Israel was and remains God’s determinative purpose. This is patently contradictory to the message of Hebrews. Notice Hebrews 8:1-2: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.” Notice also Hebrews 9: 23-24: “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
The writer’s emphasis on Christ’s service as High Priest, in the heavenly realm, as taking place in the “true tabernacle” and his statement that the Mosaic institutes were mere “copies of the things in the heavens” has incredible significance. For brevity, we can only list a few of the more significant implications of the writer’s emphasis on Christ’s heavenly service as “true.”
1.) The contrast is not between true and false, but between shadow versus reality. It is the contrast between mere anticipatory prophecy and fulfilled prophecy!
2.) Christ’s spiritual and heavenly service was what was anticipated, i.e. foretold, by the foreshadowing of the Old Covenant. Now, if Christ’s service in the heavenly, true tabernacle is the fulfillment of what the old system foreshadowed, it is clearly false to claim, as do the millennialists, that the church, as the temple of God, was no where predicted in the O. T.! And if Christ was serving in the true temple in the first century, how could any other temple be the true temple? The writer of Hebrews knew nothing of a “truer, more perfect temple” beyond the one in which Jesus was already serving as priest!
3.) The writer’s emphasis on Christ sitting “at the right hand of the majesty on high” echoes Psalms 110, one of the most cited Messianic kingdom prophecies. Messiah was to serve as king and priest seated at the right hand! So, for the writer of Hebrews to claim that Jesus was seated at the right hand of the majesty, this meant he was on the throne,9 as promised, and he was serving as priest. But, he was not serving as priest over some interim, unknown, un-anticipated, un-predicted second rate temple! He was, and is, serving as priest in the true tabernacle! He was serving in “the true tabernacle” and this can only mean that he was serving in the temple foretold, and anticipated by the prophets of old. Well did Paul say “the end of the ages has come upon us” (1 Corinthians 10:11), meaning literally “the goal of the previous ages has arrived!”10
4.) Zechariah 6:12-13 said that the Messiah king would rule as both king and priest on his throne. Hebrews 8:1-2, in asserting that Jesus was already at the right hand of the majesty on high, and serving as priest, brings the three key constituent elements of Zechariah together in one verse! This tells us that since Jesus’ service as king and priest was a present reality, in the true tabernacle, in other words the predicted Messianic temple, that the kingdom was very much present–thought admittedly awaiting its consummate victory (Hebrews 12:25-28), when Hebrews was written!
5.) The writer’s emphasis on the “true tabernacle,” and statement that the old temple was only a shadow, falsifies any idea of a restored literal temple! If the earthly Solomonic temple, with all of its resplendent glory was a mere shadow and copy of the true temple in which Jesus was then serving, how could it ever be argued that any other physical, earthly temple could surpass the true, heavenly tabernacle? Jesus himself– as Zechariah said Messiah would– was constructing the spiritual temple over which he was ministering (John 14– “I go away to prepare a place...”), and that “place” was the spiritual world and spiritual temple that spanned heaven and earth (cf. Ephesians 3:14f). When completed, the New Jerusalem, as the completed and perfected New Temple, would come down from heaven, and the cry would go forth, “the tabernacle of God is with man” (Revelation 21:1-4).
The bottom line is that Hebrews 8:1f posits Christ’s priestly function outside the realm of an earthly, physical liturgy and cultus. His service, though for the church on earth, was not an earthly priesthood, nor could it be. His service was true, not foreshadowing. It was spiritual, in the true tabernacle that God pitched, and not man. In this new world Jesus could fulfill the Old Covenant prophecies that he could not fulfill in "the days of his flesh" or in the flesh. These prophecies included those about the revelation and glorification of Christ in his New World.
THE REVELATION OF THE SON OF MAN
Even though Christ ascended to his world, into the realm where he could be king and priest, there was still a time of "obscuration." Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world with the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14; 28:18f). While that message of Christ as the Messiah was accepted by “myriads” (Acts 21:20), it is nonetheless true that there continued to be a hiddenness concerning Christ.
Paul said the early church, along with all “creation” was anxiously longing for "the manifestation (apocalupsis) of the Sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19).11 In Colossians 3:1f the apostle said the brethren had died and their life was "hidden in Christ." The church was at that time in a state of “death” and “hiddenness” that would be abolished at the appearing (phaneroo) of Christ. John said, “the world knows us not, because it knew him not, now are we sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, (phaneroo) we shall be like him (I John 3:1-2). Notice the inextricable and organic unity between Christ and his body, the church. As the apostles wrote, the church shared in the hiddenness that characterized the personal ministry of Jesus. But the time was soon coming when that obscurity would be swept away, and Christ and his body would be revealed! Notice a brief list of passages that predicted the revelation/manifestation of Christ and his body.
1.) Matthew 24:29f--In the events of the fall of Jerusalem the sign of the Son of Man in heaven would appear. As many scholars have noted12 this means that the fall of Jerusalem would be the final sign that Christ is truly the Son of God. Need we observe that Jesus said that revelation would be in his generation, Mat. 24:34?
2.) Luke 17:31f--Jesus told of the "day when the Son of Man is revealed" (apocalupsis), as the time when it would be imperative to flee and not turn back. This hardly fits an “end of time” scenario.
3.) I Corinthians 1:4-8--Paul assured the Corinthians they would possess the charismata until the “coming (apocalupsis) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are the Corinthians still alive? If not the Lord has been revealed!
4.) 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10--The apostle promised the saints at Thessalonica that they would receive relief (anesis) from persecution, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed (apocalupsis) from heaven.” This would be the time when he would be “glorified.” Have the Thessalonians not yet received relief from persecution? If the Thessalonians are dead, if Paul did not lie, if Jesus did not fail, then Christ was revealed!13
5.) I Timothy 6:15-16- Paul told the young preacher to hold fast the commandments "until the appearing (epiphaneias) of the Lord. This epiphany would reveal, "who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Paul did not tell Timothy to be faithful until he died; he told him to be faithful until the Lord appeared. This is an emphatic time indicator of the imminence of the parousia.
6.) I Peter 1:3-13--Peter spoke of the salvation that was coming at the revelation (apocalupsis) of the Lord “in a little while” after they had suffered being persecuted. (Remember the Messianic Woes?) Peter's sense of imminence in regard to the revelation is undeniable (1 Peter 4:5, 7, 17).
7.) Revelation 3:9f-Jesus promised the Christians at Philadelphia that he would make those who claimed to be Jews but were not to come and acknowledge the "sonship" of the church. Here is the manifestation of the Sons of God and it would be at the soon coming of the Lord (v. 11)!
These, (and many more!), verses demonstrate the unity between the hiddenness of Christ and his body, the church. They also give an unmistakable temporal framework for the revealing of Christ and his body--that first century generation, and specifically the time of the fall of Jerusalem.
The time of the fall of Jerusalem was when the universal scope of Jesus' second birth was fully revealed. Christ did not cease the work initiated by his resurrection, i.e. his kingship and priesthood, in A.D. 70, his place and prominence was fully revealed then! Christ and the New World he entered through his resurrection, that was proclaimed after his ascension, and hidden until his coming was gloriously, fully, irrefutably, revealed when Christ swept away the world of his first birth.
Christ was born again in his resurrection from the dead. That “rebirth” into his new world removed all the limitations imposed by his first birth. In his New World Christ ministers not just to Jews, but to any and all men who accept him (Galatians, 3:26-29). In his world Christ is a "high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec", because the Old World to which he died was taken away. Christ's Priesthood and Kingship were once and for all "revealed" in power and glory at his coming at the end of the Old World in A.D. 70 (Matthew 24:30-31).
Christ's resurrection is the power whereby we today can enter that New Creation (Romans 6:1f), and participate in the life that is in him. Not only was Christ revealed, but the life that is in him was revealed as well. Nicodemus could not know the Messiah through the flesh, but had to be "born again" (John 3:3-5). Christ is not to be known "after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16f), after the Old Covenant world of his incarnation. To know Christ today we must be "born again" from the world of sin into the world of life and light perfected and revealed by our Lord.
1. For just a small sampling of some of the literature on the Messianic Secret," see T. Alec Burkill, "The Injunctions to Silence in St. Mark's Gospel, Theologische Zeitschrift, Basel F. Reinhardt, ed., 1956, pp. 586-604; William Sanday, (in response to Wrede) "The Injunctions of Silence in the Gospels" Journal of Theological Studies, London, 1903-4, pp. 321-329; Joseph B. Tyson, "The Blindness of the Disciples in Mark," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 80, 1961, pp. 261-268, etc.
2. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, MacDonald, Bk. II. chapt. XI, p. 267.
3. For a study of the fact that Jesus was not known in his ministry, see the following John 1:26; 8:19; Acts 3:17f; 13:27; I Cor. 2:6ff; I John 3:1, as just the briefest examples.
4. N. T. Wright Paul, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2005)54
5. Howard Clark Kee, To Every Nation Under Heaven, (Harrisburg, Penn., Trinity Press, 1997).
6. The fact that God would not be thwarted in his intent to enthrone Messiah as planned completely undermines the millennial posit that Jesus came to establish the kingdom but failed and returned to heaven until he could accomplish what he failed to do the first time. God accomplished his purpose in spite of the Jewish rejection! See Luke 10:10-11-Jesus told his disciples that when the message of the kingdom was rejected they were to say "nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come near;" that "nevertheless" is firmly grounded in Psalms 2 and states that the Jewish rejection did not, and could not, delay the coming of the kingdom!
7. William Bell, Eschatology in the Book of Galatians, p. 9. The book is currently sold out.
8. J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco, Texas, Word Publishers, 1988) 205.
9. There is of course, the already-but-not-yet aspect of Jesus’ enthronement. According to Acts 2, Jesus had received the promise made through the Spirit to David, to sit Messiah on the throne (Acts 2:29-36). Yet, according to the prophecies, he was to rule “until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalms 110:4). That rule was to be “in the midst of thine enemies.” One way to look at it is to see that the time between Pentecost (enthronement/coronation), and his parousia, as the time of the consolidation of his authority and reign. It was during this time that he was putting his enemies down. But, his consummate victory was near (Romans 16:20), and at that time, his rule, with the Father would be perfected and united. There would be no abdication of his sovereignty as some suggest, but rather, a time when Christ would establish his authority and sit down with the Father in his throne (Revelation 22:3).
10. See my article on 1 Corinthians 10:11 on this site. Paul’s emphatic declaration that what was happening in the first century was in fact the goal of all previous ages is devastating to the millennial paradigm, or to any futurist paradigm for that matter!
11. Those who so adamantly condemn advocates of Covenant Eschatology say we detract from the Cross and imply that Christians were "bastards" from Pentecost to A.D. 70 if the manifestation of the Sons of God did not take place until then. Yet these same detractors say that Romans 8 has not yet been fulfilled, and will not be until the "end of time." But if it detracts from the Cross to say Romans 8 was not fulfilled until A.D. 70, and implies Christians were not true children until then, what does it imply to say Romans 8 has not been fulfilled after the passing of 2000 years?!?
12. See David Chilton's Paradise Restored, (100); Roy Deaver's, Premillennialism: Matthew Chapters 24-25 Do Not Teach It, Available from the Getwell church of Christ, Memphis, Tenn., for just two examples.
13. See my In Flaming Fire (Ardmore, Ok, JaDon Productionsllc, 2005), for a full discussion of 2 Thessalonians 1. This work proves beyond doubt that Paul was not predicting an earth burning, time ending coming of Christ. The book is available here on my site.