(2/2) The Rise of Spirit Warriors on the Christian Right: The Secrets Of The Cross

[*The things I write here simply reflect hermeneutic curiosity, and are not intended to endorse any religion.]

So, last time I was talking a bit about Isaiah 6:5 and the idea of seeing God in all his glory and holiness makes conspicuous our sinfulness and inspires our repentance.  The Gospel of John specifically references the account of God’s glory in Isaiah 6.  So, in what are regarded as our most literal translations we read:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV (2016)

  • And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah 6:5

New American Standard Bible

5 Then I said, “Woe to me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of armies.”

We see similar sentiments expressed in Philippians:

Philippians 3:8

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

  • 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

In Isaiah 6, At seeing the LORD, he is acutely aware of his sinfulness. But then one of the Seraphim removes a coal from the altar and touches the Prophet’s mouth, and proclaims,

“Behold, this has touched your lips;

Your iniquity is taken away,

And your sin purged.”

The prophet’s actual sin was dealt with, not with any sacrifice, but with fire taken from the very altar in Heaven.

  • (1) When Isaiah saw the angels, in all their holy humility, obedience, and praise to God, he realized not only that he was unlike the Lord GOD, he was also unlike the angels. They could cry out Holy, holy, holy and praise God so beautifully, but he could not because he was a man of unclean lips. “I am a man of unclean lips; I cannot say, Holy, holy, holy! which the seraphs exclaim. They are holy; I am not so: they see God and live; I have seen him, and must die, because I am unholy.” (Clarke)
  • (2) When Isaiah saw the LORD, he knew what kind of man he was. As poorly as he compared to the seraphim, that was nothing in relation to how he compared to the LORD. This vision (or actual experience) of the throne of God did not immediately make Isaiah feel good. The more clearly he saw the LORD, the more clearly he saw how bad his state was.  Isaiah’s deep sense of depravity is consistent with the experience of other godly men in the presence of the LORD. Job (Job 42:5-6), Daniel (Daniel 10:15-17), Peter (Luke 5:8) and John (Revelation 1:17) each had similar experiences. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/isaiah-6

The new updated MOISÉS SILVA translation of the Septuagint version of Isaiah that the New Testament writers would have been familiar with reads:

5And I said: “O wretched that I am! I am stunned;
for being a man and having unclean lips, I live
among a people having unclean lips, and I have
seen the King, the Lord Sabaoth, with my eyes!”

This obviously stresses that Isaiah is claiming authoritativeness in judging his negativity and that of his people since he has seen the standard for righteousness and holiness, God, to compare with. This lowly state is what Matthew also identifies: blessed are the poor in spirit. Isaiah is saying he is diagnosing his people and himself, and he has seen the ultimate standard!

The other side of the translation coin wants to stress the point that even the sinful can experience the glory and holiness of the lord, and so for instance the NRSVUE translates:

Isaiah 6:5

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

5 And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Regarding the lips, it is through the lips that the heart manifests itself (Matthew 12:34). 

We know this transformation in the idea of being Born Again from John 3.

Why is being born again needed?  One commenter points out:

  • The apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (NKJV). To the Romans he wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sinners are spiritually “dead”; when they receive spiritual life through faith in Christ, the Bible likens it to a rebirth. Only those who are born again have their sins forgiven and have a relationship with God. See https://www.gotquestions.org/born-again.html

The Bible teaches that the sacrifice of Jesus impels us towards sanctification, inspiring us to reflect God’s love to others (2 Cor. 5:14, Rom. 8:35-39).

  • The motivating power of His sacrifice is seen on the cross. Jesus’ obedience to God and His petition that God would forgive those who crucified Him moved one of the criminals on the cross beside him to believe (Luke 23:39-43; Mark 15:39).  Likewise, Paul argues that the death of Christ not only provides the way of salvation, but also provides the supreme demonstration of love (Rom. 5:8). For this reason, he called the church to imitate Jesus’ love and compassion and adopt an attitude of unselfish concern for others (Eph. 5:1-2; Phil. 2:3-8).  Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 12:2). The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others (2 Cor. 5:14). See https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/following-the-steps-of-the-crucified-one/

Contrary to the interpretation of Hyper-Grace Christianity, Grace is not a license to sin, but becoming more aware of your sin and convicted by it.  See video below (time 16:53-18:12). 

Davis comments:

  • It is easy for God to show to us our guilt: a vision to Isaiah; an opening of the eyes to our first parents; a thunder-storm witnessing to God’s power in nature recalling pious Job to a proper attitude toward God; an earthquake shock at Philippi awakening the jailer to his sinful, lost condition; a still, small voice to Elijah; a parable to David; an overlooked truth to Nicodemus; a glimpse of the past life to the woman at Sychar. Verily it is but a thin veil that hides the sinfulness of our hearts from our eyes if hidden it be. The breath of God sweeps it away. ISAIAH 6:5–7: HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE VISION OF THE KING IN HIS HOLINESS? By Prof. John D. Davis, Ph.D.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments

  • 5. Isaiah is overwhelmed with the sense of his own unworthiness; he feels himself cut off by a spiritual defect from participation in the solemn mystery which he, alone of mortals, has been privileged to behold; his eyes have seen, but his lips are impure.

Similarly, MacLaren’s Expositions says:

I. If we see God we shall see our sin.

  • There came on the prophet, as in a flash, the two convictions, one which he learned from the song of the seraphs, ringing in music through the Temple, and one which rose up, like an answering note from the voice of conscience within. They sang ‘Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty.’ And what was the response to that, in the prophet’s heart?-’I am unclean.’ Each major note has a corresponding minor, and the triumphant doxology of the seraph wakes in the hearer’s conscience the lowly confession of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God. It was not joy that sprang in Isaiah’s heart when he saw the throned King, and heard the proclamation of His name. It was not reverence merely that bowed his head in the dust, but it was the awakened consciousness, ‘Thou art holy; and now that I understand, in some measure, what Thy holiness means, I look on myself and I say, “unclean! unclean!”‘

Isaiah responded in humility, realizing his utter lostness, his sin separating him from the pure holiness he stood before. And, scripture says Isaiah didn’t only admit his guilt, but that of his entire nation.  We can see John responding to this with the true meaning of the cross in the Gospel of John, where we push beyond the surface meaning of what the Romans did  to Jesus:

Jesus’s mom:

John 12 cites Isaiah’s depiction of the glory of god in Isaiah 6.  We see a distinction between the glory of God who inspires repentance because of his holiness with the glory of the secret meaning of the cross of Jesus: Jesus who inspires repentance with his unjust death and abandonment by the disciples in Mark and Luke. For instance, regarding Luke, Ehrman comments regarding the secret meaning of the cross:

  • It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins.

John takes this one step further with his own secret meaning of the cross. 

The gospels invite us to press beyond the literal meaning to the hidden meaning (eg Mark 4:11).  From the cross in John, we have Jesus’s words to the beloved disciple and his mother:

John 19:26-27

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

  • 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

So, this strikes us as odd, because custom would be for Jesus’s family to care for the mother.  So there may be something going on here. What it seems to mean is the one most like Jesus, the beloved disciple, would care for Jesus’s mother because it would be like Mary still having Jesus.  Thus, we have Jesus on the cross, and the pain of Mary watching, not just the son of God, but her beloved son, horrifically dying – and how Jesus gave up having a loving family life to pursue his suicide mission.

Who among us, in our harshest suffering, would be more concerned for our mother than ourself?  This is the glory of God from Isaiah 6 that is meant to convict us of our sinfulness and inspire us being born again.  Thus, we see that, even in His suffering, Jesus looked upon His mother with compassion and sought to care for her well-being and provision.  . As the oldest son, the care of His mother (a widow) would have fallen to Jesus.  It is precisely in this that we see the overabundance of glory from Isaiah 6 that convicts us of our sin nature.

John 1:29

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

The Lamb of God

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Not goat – passover lamb.  We saw in previous posts how a pure goat and scapegoat can take away sin, but how about a passover lamb?  How does the death of Jesus address corporate sin, like the enslavement of the Jews by the Egyptians?

NB Isaiah Imagery

Paul says Jesus was of the seed of David.  Carrier interprets this to mean Jesus was created by the sperm of David, but Isaiah’s idea of the messiah is that he is to be formed in a woman’s womb (Isaiah 49:5), so Carrier’s idea doesn’t really work.