In my last article in this Christmas series, I looked at a more well-known aspect of Christmas – the humility of Jesus. But today I want to take an extended post to tackle probably one of the most neglected, misunderstood, and misrepresented facets of Christ’s first coming in light of the grand narrative of redemption. Jesus took on flesh to display the LORD as a zealous, jealous judge that will use the least severe means necessary to divide the thoughts and intents of men’s hearts. His jealousy is not only reserved for a dramatic act at the end of the age (which I have addressed a little bit elsewhere on this blog), but was also expressed in a significant, substantial, and necessary way at His first coming.
The surpassing glory of the Incarnation is that God expresses Himself fully in the person of Christ (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Yahweh has never changed, and thus there is no difference between the LORD in the Old Testament and the person of Christ in the New Testament. In the Incarnation, the same zealous, jealous Bridegroom heart of the LORD seen in the Old Testament was now wrapped up in the tiny chest of a human baby. The Father who disciplines those He loves had not changed His heart inwardly, but was now merely outwardly perceived as a small helpless Child (Philippians 2:6-7). He would be destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel (Luke 2:34). The Mighty One of Jacob had personally entered the stage of history as a human and was coming near to His beloved people Israel to openly reveal the thoughts and intents of their hearts.
When we rid ourselves of our unbiblical misconception of “the nice hopeful guy up in the sky that will never do anything to make me uncomfortable because He took the full brunt of God’s judgment” and examine the scriptures more closely, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus’ first coming was for something much more than forgiveness. Under the unction of the Holy Spirit, Mary prophesied that her newborn Jesus would one day put down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the lowly (Luke 1:52). Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul also, and the division that Jesus would bring would cause the true intents of men’s hearts to be revealed (Luke 2:35). The theme of judgment and division can be clearly seen in these passages (through the “put down the mighty from their thrones” and “sword will pierce” language). The way in which Jesus came for judgment in His first coming (and how He will do the same at His second coming) has been vastly underestimated by the modern church, and without the full biblical context of Jesus’ first coming we end up in deception about the character of God as a jealous judge that longs for the voluntary affection of humanity.
Jesus Himself said that the purpose of His coming in the flesh was to bring fire to the earth:
““I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”
(Luke 12:49, 51 NKJV)
Though the fire Jesus spoke of was not “already kindled”, His fervent desire for broken humanity wished that it was (and indeed it will be when He returns)! In a following verse, Jesus said that He came to bring division to the earth, not peace. Jesus’ words are confusing or offensive to the modern-day Christian because we have forgotten how things began and what God is working towards. Though glorious in and of itself, there is something greater on God’s mind than just forgiveness of the sins of men. The story of redemption and restoration does not end with a forgiven, “blessed”, and comfortable human race with God dwelling off “in Heaven” with death, suffering, and demons still rampant. The LORD wants to dwell with us on the Earth as it was in the beginning and has been reminding all men of that for centuries through His covenantal relationship with the descendants of Abraham and the nation of Israel. He has appointed a Day in which He will judge the entire world in righteousness by Jesus, the Man whom He has ordained (Acts 17:31), where the judgment He began at His first coming will culminate. Only with this foundational understanding can we begin to see why the Babe lying in the dirty feeding trough came displaying the glory of God as the “Divider” and the Judge at His first coming.
John the Baptist is the first one to speak directly to the people about why Jesus came and what He would do. As the forerunner of Isaiah 40 and the one bringing the “good news” about the visitation of the LORD, scripture records John speaking more about the Coming One bringing division and judgment rather than forgiveness and peace. Why? When Yahweh, the God of covenant, personally enters the stage of man’s history in His chosen land of Israel there can be no neutrality in the hearts of men.
“Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.””
(Luke 3:7-9, 15-17 NKJV)
John’s ministry was to prepare the people for the division and judgment that Christ would bring. His methodology was utterly shocking to a Jew of his day. He was sent to the nation of Israel to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Baptism was actually the rite administered to someone who had converted to Judaism, indicating that their defilement had been removed and their participation in the covenant was sure. John was essentially calling Jews to be baptized into their own faith. Through his trumpet call, the Lord would expose the heart of those who were actually part of God’s people and those who were not. Though ethnicity was thought to be the defining factor in one inheriting the promises of God to Abraham, John’s ministry re-centered inheritance around a response to the Person and message of Jesus. Ones who would not respond rightly to Him would be sifted like chaff from wheat and thrown into unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17; Isaiah 66:14-16; Isaiah 66:24). John also said that the ax was already was laid to the root of the tree and those who did not respond rightly to Jesus would be cut off (John 3:9; Isaiah 6:11-13). Though their choices would not be externally evident until the “time of the harvest”, the time for judgment had come and the window of decision for Israel had drawn nigh. The Baby born in lowliness would be the very sword that cuts through villages, cities, and hearts, causing a great line of division to be slashed through Israel.
Because every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning who God is, Jesus purpose in bringing division and pronouncing judgment reveals who God is as a jealous judge. His jealousy always works to remove the opposition within our hearts towards Him, because His heart yearns for all of our heart. His meekness, humility, kindness, and love is not in opposition to His jealousy in any way. His judgment is part of His glory, perfectly crafted and displayed to bring us into the depths of love and adoration. It is not a subject we should neglect because it makes us uncomfortable or uneasy. In fact, the message of the judgment of God for Israel at Christ’s first coming is supposed to have the same divisive effect on our hearts as it did for the first century Jew. Will we see our God in this way? Will we respond to His message to embrace humility, meekness, and a cross-centered lifestyle as He did? A heart genuinely seeking the LORD and hungering for revelation of Jesus will be thrilled beyond measure when Jesus is seen as judge, both in His first and second comings.
The incarnation should cause us to marvel, but it also should cause us to decide. Are we going to pledge our loyalty and our lives to that weak, helpless, crying Babe? Even just one true glimpse of His power, wisdom, meekness, or humility should cause us to do just that. Does this revelation of Jesus fill you with worship and gratitude or are you offended at Him? There is true fellowship to be had and so much love to be found in approaching Christ as the jealous Judge. I want to find this fellowship! As you ponder the birth and life of Jesus this Advent and Christmas, may the glory of God as a jealous judge pierce your heart, set you free from offense, and cause you to commit your ways to Him in a fresh way.