Month 7:29, Week 4:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year 5935:200 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 26 October 2011
Universal Graded Salvation
The Testimony of Gregory of Nyssa
Continued from Part 5
Shabbat Shalom kol beit Yisra'el! May the Shegal haShabbat (Sabbath Queen, Shibi'i haQodesh, 7th Ruach) come to every lev (heart) that welcomes Her today in the Name of Yah'shua our Messiah (Jesus Christ).
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah (Christ) all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Messiah (Christ) the bikkurim (firstfruits), afterward those who are Messiah's (Christ's) at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to Elohim (God) the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all toqef (authority) and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For 'He has put all things under His feet.' But when He says 'all things are put under Him,' it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that Elohim (God) may be all in all...If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!' Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.' Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of Elohim (God). I speak this to your shame. But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?' Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain -- perhaps wheat or some other grain. But Elohim (God) gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" (1 Cor.15:21-28,31-44, NKJV).
Today's passage is familiar to you because I have expounded on it before. But like so much scripture, there are always multiple layers of emet (truth) waiting to be exposed and integrated. If we are to mine the deep ores of emet (truth) deeply buried in such revelatory passages then we must be willing to put aside our preconceived theological prejudices and allow the emet (truth) to speak for itself. We must apporach it like a little child, first and foremost to discern what the lev (heart) of this apostle is saying. What is the wave of spiritual esh fire on which the apostle is riding? What is the deeply passionate and earnest content of the words? What is the overall message?
We know, of course, that the general theme here is the resurrection and we know - because we have already discussed it in depth - that the apostle is reminding us that there are three different resurrection glories depending upon the choices we make in respect to Yahweh's Son and Yahweh's Torah. Let us get beneath the theological emet (truth) of these things and to the longing that is in Paul's lev (heart) - the hope and expectation of his soul. Read it through again and again asking for a revelation of the deep yearning of his lev (heart) that is welling up as the passage unfolds as the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit takes him deeper and deeper into Yahweh's own Lev (Heart).
The great theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who was Bishop of that city of Cappadocia in the 4th Century AD and had a deep knowledge of the Hebrew festivals, wrote a magnificent sermon on our passage today. In it he said:
What is remarkable about this universalist Greek Bishop was that his ideas ran completely contrary to the emerging Catholic dogma of his day. You only have to compare his writings with those of a contemporary, Tertullian, so see that the former was consumed by ahavah (love) and the latter by hate. Had Gregory not been so respected and highly regarded he would almost certainly have been deposed. Instead, Catholic writers then and later did their utmost to expunge his universalist teachings by claiming that he meant 'smething else'. The re-writing of history is an old game, of course, and all the institutions of man have engaged in it. And so it was that Germanus, Archboshop of Constantinople (713-730 AD) published a book against Universal Reconciliation. As a result of this piece of propaganda and the fudging over of Gregory's true position, he was retained as one of the four great Doctors of the Greek Church, which in 787 AD earned him the title, 'Father of Fathers' while covering up his true beliefs.
"I begin by asking what is the truth that the divine apostle (Paul) intends to convey in this passage? It is this. In due course evil will pass over into non-existence; it will disappear utterly from the realm of existence. Divine and uncompounded goodness will encompass itself within every rational nature: no single being created by God (Elohim) will fail to achieve the kingdom of Elohim (God). The evil that is now present in everything will be consumed like a base metal melted by the purifying flame."
Gregory understood not only that evil will be expunged from the universe at some distant point in time but that all men and women would be found in the Kingdom of Elohim (God). He did not take it any further than that for he nowhere discusses the three glories that Paul goes on to describe in the same passage. His interest, it would seem, was not so much in the details but in the lev (heart) of Elohim (God) whose business is a complete restoration of the Universe the way it was, that is, without the presence of evil.
Obviously the post-resurrection Universe is going to be different from the one that existed before the Fall. And just as the Garden of Edem will once again be restored for those of the highest degree of glory, so it cannot be exactly the same as it was. The solitary pair will be an assembly of 144,000 firstborn families and the universe will be divided up into multiple degrees of glory based on the choices mankind made in his mortal probation. So, yes, some things will be as they were in the beginning, but other things will have changed.
Gregory understood the meaning of the Festival of Firstfruits or Yom haBikkurim as Paul applied it to Yah'shua (Jesus) in today's passage. Undisturbed by the 17 centuries of evolving doctrine and dogma in Europe and America that would later appear, the Capadocian Bishop saw things a lot clearer than most today. He further writes:
We are all familiar with the discourse in Romans whereby we are described as being grafted into Messiah (and therefore Israel, for Messiah is King of Israel) but let us quickly rehearse it:
"In our mortal and perishable nature, says Paul, there has appeared the pure and uncompounded divinity of the Only-Begotten. Human nature as a whole has thus received an admixture of the divine. The manhood of Christ (Messiah) is a kind of first-fruits (bikkurim) of this common man, and by it humanity as a whole has been grafted onto divinity".
There are two things I want to mention in connection with this passage, one old and familiar, and one new and unfamiliar. First, Yahweh is both good and severe. He is severe against those who rebell and fall away. He doesn't just shake His head and say, 'Tut, tut, you naughty boy' and go off. He severs them completely from Him so that they whither away and die. He leaves them to themselves to see if they will see the folly of their ways, repent, and ask to be grafted back in again, or whether they will pursue a hell-bound road in the stubbornness of their hearts. We need to always rememer this, for:
"For if the firstfruit (bikkur) is set-apart (holy), the lump is also set-apart (holy); and if the root is set-apart (holy), so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.' Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by emunah (faith). Do not be haughty, but fear. For if Elohim (God) did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of Elohim (God): on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for Elohim (God) is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved" (Rom.11:16-26, NKJV).
His anger is every bit as intense as His ahavah (love) but being divine, there is always ahavah (love) behind it. And as Isaiah remarked:
"Elohim (God) is a just judge, and Elohim (God) is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps.7:11, NKJV).
This you already knew, though maybe our flesh has persuaded us to progressively forget it. But we need to be reminded again. Yahweh is both good and severe. Only by understanding this will we understand what He does why He does it.
"'There is no shalom (peace),' says my Elohim (God), 'for the wicked'" (Isa.57:21, NKJV).
But this is not the main thing I want to talk about today. Gregory of Nyssa said, you will recall: "humanity as a whole has been grafted on to divinity". And of course this is true. If we are grafted into Yah'shua (Jesus) by emunah (faith) and we obey the mitzvot (commandments), then obviously we are grafted into divinity, and divinity is flowing into us. And we know that what connects us directly to Messiah, and therefore to the Father, is the indwelling Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). This is the sap of the vine that is made by combining the fluids from the root which come from the ground of being which is Elohim (God), "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Elohimhead (Godhead, divinity) bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power" (Col.2:9-10, NKJV). In other words, until that divinity is within us - which is not by birthright, nor by works, but by emunah or actively trusting - we are by no means complete. We were designed to contain divinity, just as the mortal body of Yah'shua (Jesus) was. What a thought! Can you understand why the human spirit is so big compared to the dimensions of the physical body? It is because what it must contain, to be saved, is so big!
Now this does not make us divinity. It does not make us gods (elohim) as the false religions of Mormonism, Jewish kabbalism, and occultism teach (even though some will become judges/elohim). We are always human. We are only saved because of what or Who is in us - by virtue of what we are connected to. This is what divine of holy echad marriage is. We become the only authentic Israel by virtue of our intimate connection to the King of Israel, our Messiah. Gregory of Nyssa continues:
Behind Yah'shua (Jesus) follows a great multitude of men and women, some closer to the bikkurim (firstfruits, Yah'shua/Jesus) by virtue of their separation from evil, and some further away by virtue of the evil and death they have not expunged because they chose to cling on to sin. Thus the resurrection sequence is strung out depending on the choices we have made - whether we trusted in Messiah, whether we obeyed the mitzvot (commandments) and whether we decided to do our own thing and follow our own will. Thus, Gregory concludes, there is "an ordered structure of persons who are returning to the good (tov). Then when the advance of the good has reached the furthest extremity of evil, evil will thereby abolished".
"Evil was totally abolished in Him who "knew no sin", as the prophet says, "neither was any guile found in His mouth" (Is.53:9). Along with sin was abolished in Him also the death which follows from it (for death has no other origin than sin). So the abolition of evil and the dissolution of death began with Him. From this there followed a kind of sequentially ordered pattern (tavnith).
"In a pattern (tavnith) of this kind some members are further away from the prime member (Yah'shua/Jesus), in accordance with their declension from the good (tov); others are found to be closer to it - each in accordance with its own deserts and powers. So in this case: we begin with the human element in Christ (Messiah). As the recipients of divinity within Himself, this man became the firstfruits (bikkurim) of our nature. He also became the firstfruits (bikkurim) of those who slept and first-begotten from the dead, lossing the pangs of death.
"This Man, who was wholly separated from sin, who has destroyed the power of death in Himself and overthrown its rule, authority (toqef) and might, comes first. After him comes a man like Paul who imitated Christ (Messiah) to the full in his separation from evil; a person of that kind will follow behind the firstfruits (bikkurim) at the advent (second coming)."
How very true! This is the hope that we have, Yahweh's ultimate goal, when everyone has finally seen the light of emet (truth) and is then apportioned rewards based on their choices. Death will be abolished from every being - this is the inevitable conclusion that Gregory derives from Paul's words. The divine goal is that the divine chayim (life) should permeate everything and abolish death, running more strongly nearest to where the branches are grafted in, and running more feeebly in the extremities where there are branches (third resurrection) grafted onto other branches (second resurrection) grafted onto the primary branches (first resurrection) which are grafted directly into the vine. Gregory concludes:
There really is no other way to interpet Paul except in terms of Universal Reconciliation, is there?
"Now when every evil authority and rule has been abolished from among us and no [dark] passion dominates our nature any longer, it follows inevitably that with no other master over us, everything will be subjected to the power which is over all. Subjection to God (Elohim) is total separation from evil.
"When we are all free of evil in imitation of the firstfruits (bikkurim), then the whole mass of our nature will be comingled with the firstfruits (bikkurim) and we shall become completely one body which accepts the lordship of the good and of that alone. So that the whole body of our human nature will be comingled with the divine and uncompounded nature; and therein will be achieved in us what is called the subjection to the Son - for the subjection which is established in His body is being rightly ascribed to Him who makes this grace of subjection effective in us".
If Yahweh is going to be "all in all" it means that He is going to be in every single human being that was created in the end. How is He able to be in all? Because evil is no longer present. Since no unclean thing can exist in the presence of Yahweh in any degree, then it follows that there will be no unclean person in the whole of creation after the Cosmic Jubilee. Yahweh is "all in all" when no trace of evil is to be found in anything any longer. As Gregory puts it:
"Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that Elohim (God) may be all in all" (1 Cor.15:28, NKJV).
Whether this "in all" includes the devil and his demonic angels or not, I have not come to any certain conclusion about. Origen belived that they would complete the punishment due them (which, if true, must be many thousands of orders of magnitude greater than anything suffered by unsaved mankind in hell). Origen believed that 'hell' was a kind of pergatory (a place of purging) in which all sinners, whether men or angels, will be finally cleansed from their guilt and restored to shalom (peace) with Yahweh. Interestingly, Basil, who believed in eternal punishment, stated that most ordinary believers believed there was a time limit imposed on punishment, and that included his learned blood brother, Gregory of Nyssa as well as his close friend, Gregory of Nazianus.
"So either He will not be "in all" and some evil will be left in things, or, if we are to believe that He is "in all", then that belief declares that there will be no evil. For God (Elohim) cannot be in what is evil".
Ambrose of Milano (Milan), who was a student of Origen's work, though not a universalist, concluded that the descriptions of hell given in the B'rit Chadashah Scriptures (New Testament) were to be understood as metaphors. Thus there is no literal gnashing of bodily teeth, nor any perpetual fire of material flames, nor a material worm that never dies - rather, they are mere vivid figures of the torments of a conscience which has awakened too late .
This accords with my own view, that the fires of hell are, in fact, a purgatory or refining fire that exactly fits the purpose of the Brazen Laver in the courtyard of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Catholics are therefore partly right in claiming the existence of Purgatory but wrong in separating it from Hell itself (which they believe to be eternal), and wrong for believing the prayers of the saints are able to assist those trapped there get out - only Yahweh's sovereign act at the Cosmic Jubilee can do that. For a full exposition of this important subject, see my detailed three part series, The Fire of Yahweh.
We cannot conclude this study today without looking at one last matter. If all are saved, not all are obviously saved equally. Not all are in the heavenly Mishkan (Tabernacle), in the two places where Yahweh and Yah'shua (Jesus) live, respectively (the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place). All may be in the Kingdom or Domain of Yahweh-Elohim but some are farther from the centre than others, as Gregory of Nyssa explained.
What this means is that there are three different marriage estates in the eternities, that reflect our own allegorical relationship to Messiah as Bridegroom, depending on the resurrection we have received. Is there any evidence from the Torah that such categories exist? There is, for there were Shegal (Queen) wives, Ishshah (full) wives, and pilegesh (concubine) wives under the Old Covenant, to remind us of the final divisions in the eternities. Many things stated in the Old Testament therefore begin to make better sense, for nothing is accidental. Even those wives who were captured from pagan nations and forcibly married to Israelites represent something, namely, those souls plucked from hell at the Cosmic Jubilee to be saved in the third resurrection. For will anyone have a 'choice' to be rescued from hell? Will we be asked whether we want to be? No, it will simply be done by Yahweh as an act of grace in His Soverign will. And I guanantee not a single soul will be ungrateful to be plucked out without being asked.
I have much more to say about this subject but that must await another time. Have a blessed sabbath!
Continued in Part 7
 Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke, 7:205ff.
 Dr. Stephen E. Jones, Creation's Jubilee (God's Kingdom Ministries, Fridley, Minnesota: 1991)
Comments from Readers
"I would like to 'pick your brain' and hear your take on certain subjects related to universal graded salvation:
I believe in this scenario, yet I see how it would be helpful to be able to address these things more head-on than simply saying: "Who are you, O man, to talk back to your Creator?" (Romans 9:20)
1. You may remember my statement on the "unforgivable sin": it says those guilty of
this trespass will not see forgiveness in this age, nor in the next, which I interpeted as referring to this age, the pre-millennial, and the next age, the millennial, thus excluding the post-millennial age, indicating it as a time when
this sin may be forgiven. What's your perspective on this matter?
Lev's Response: I agree, since these are both 'aeons' or fixed periods of time. It would seem to be the only logical conclusion. But at what 'point' the Cosmic Jubilee kicks in after "the age/aeon to come", and the prisoners are released to inherit their graded rewards, I really don't know. There may even be another dimension to this whole question that we currently know nothing about, and may never know.
2. I'm guessing this question is intertwined with the previous one, as some of these subjects are likely guilty of the "unforgivable sin" --- How do you understand universal salvation in relation to the following subjects:
Lev's Response: I have never said much on these because I really don't know if Scripture gives or hints at specific answers. Antichrist, being human rather than angelic, would presumably occupy a separate category to the other three (since he is human), nephilim are 'neither here nor there' (assuming their 'spirits' are actually demons?), and Satan and demons are angelic by category. There are those who believe all of these will eventually be saved (since - in 'absolutist univeralism' - presumably Yahweh would not be satisfied with the loss of any creature, human or angelic, that He made) and those who do not (who presumably believe they are either tortured for ever or are obliterated). I have no concrete position on this as I haven't minutely analysed the theology of this yet.
3. How would you understand the relation between the inevitability of universal salvation and free will?
Lev's Response: That philosophical question depends what the free will is for. Those who exercise free will on earth choose salvation on earth and in every aeon thereafter. They have also chosen, indirectly and without necessarily being aware of the consequences of their choice, to dwell with Yahweh in His presence, whereas those who chose to believe but be lawless, or chose not to believe or obey at all, have chosen lesser glories away from Yahweh's presence. The question as you ask it poses some problems for those who believe in non-graded universal salvation, for indeed what then would be the point of free choice other than for immediate relief from sin vs. delayed relief. In that scenario there would be no ultimate justice and indeed no possibility of rewards either since the result would be a kind of 'Marxist' Universe where salvation and rewards are redistributed equally by force. Then the different choices of the two thieves on the cross (for example) would have no ultimate benefit to the one who chose to trust Yah'shua other than to give him immediate rather than delayed relief. I see this, in many ways, to be as much a character slurr on the Creator as the belief in eternal torment, the one version of Elohim being a sadist and the other a kind of Marxist hippie. I find those kinds of 'inevitabilities' quite horrifying.
4. It makes sense to me that if people will not be convinced rhetorically, they should, or must, be convinced through other means. If we assume there is a hell, and also universal salvation, then we must assume God uses hell as the "other means."
Now, we know that people undergoing torture will confess and agree to most anything. Is this a problem as regards the genuineness of conversion?
Lev's Response: The 'torture' is not of the kind that one human might inflict on another but of sin and error being confronted by the full truth and not being able to make the choice which everyone confronted with such knowledge would unhesitantingly make that would lead to instant redemption, since that has already been denied in the time frame in which it was offered. The problem for the souls in hell is that the emet/truth is undeniable but they are lacking in the means to be cleansed of sin and guilt. Whether this realisation is 'instant' or has to be burned through layer-upon-layer of denial I cannot say. Do we, for example, assume that demons are present to obfuscate the truth or not, or are they merely there to 'torture'? Or are they there at all? Never having seen hell, as some have, I don't feel qualified to comment on that.
Lev's Response: Well, we can only go on the data that we have, and it isn't that much, most of it being inference from Torah patterns. There are plenty of people who have had 'experiences' of hell, most of which I think are suspect and are quite likely demonic counterfeits. In some respects, the proponents of 'soul-sleeping' have an easy option out of these complexities as they don't believe anyone is conscious after death or that hell is a literal place. I'm not even sure Yahweh wants us to know the details but to keep it simple for an uncomplicated witness. Certainly, for the purposes of addressing this question more head-on to those investigating the possibility of it, a philosophical approach as detailed in Q.#1 would, I think, have some merit, for the bottom line is the character and personality of Elohim.
As I see it, looking at the broad implications of extant theology and philosophy in orthodox Christianity and Messianim, the choices are stark: Is the Elohim we believe in (1) a sadist (orthodox eternal damnation), (2) a lawless ultra-grace-without-justice hippie type (ungraded universal salvation), or (3) a perfect balance between love/grace and justice (universal graded salvation)? This is what it ultimately boils down to for me.
A footnote question of my own - of the two false positions (as I believe them to be), which is the more dangerous? The first which scares honest people away from the Kingdom (whilst scaring others in), or the second which would make people lax and careless about salvation, tempting them to postpone their repentance?
Looking forward to hearing your take on things" (CK, Norway, 7 November 2012).
"In my opinion, the first one, because fear is demonic and Grace is always greater than justice, forever and ever" (SW, Germany, 8 November 2012).
"Excellent - will share!" (AK, Australia, 9 November 2012).