WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH? PART SIX
In recent years a theological perspective called Trinitarian Theology has become increasingly popular. This approach was advanced by the German Theologian Karl Barth and has since been taken up by a growing number of theologians. This theology not only teaches God is a Trinity but teaches that all scriptural teaching and Christian doctrine must be filtered through the Trinity in order to be properly understood. This perspective sees everything, including all humanity, centered in the Trinity. God is seen as a mutual indwelling of Father, Son and Spirit and it is in this mutual indwelling relationship that humanity participates because of what the Son accomplished as the human Jesus.
This theology teaches the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has facilitated unconditional reconciliation with the Father for all humanity. Therefore, this theology teaches universal reconciliation. Many of the same scriptures I have previously discussed as evidence for universal salvation are used by Trinitarian Theologians to give evidence to universal reconciliation.
Universal reconciliation is the belief that all humans who have ever lived and will live are in actual fact redeemed through the Christ event. The phrase “objective reconciliation” is used to denote the independent reality of reconciliation for all of humanity. In addition to the scriptures I have already discussed in relation to the concept of universal salvation, here are some additional scriptures Trinitarian Theologians will often use to support universal reconciliation:
Colossians 1:19-20: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
John 12:32: But I, (Jesus) when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
Hebrews 2:9: But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
John 1:29: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
It would appear from our discussion so far that Trinitarian Theologians, in teaching universal reconciliation, are teaching universal salvation. This, however, is denied by Trinitarian Theologians. Trinitarian Theologians distinguish between objective and subjective reconciliation. Objective reconciliation teaches all humanity has indeed been reconciled to God. We died, resurrected and ascended to the Father with and through Christ. Reconciliation with the Father is a done deal for all of humanity because of the Christ event. Nothing we humans do or don’t do can change this.
Subjective reconciliation is our personal recognition of this objective reconciliation. Unless and until we recognize this objective reconciliation, we can’t experience its benefits. Coming to recognize our already established reconciliation with God is what allows us to live forever with God in the heavenly realm and also experience a quality life while still a physical human. We therefore have the ability to exercise free will in choosing to accept or reject our established reconciliation with God.
Under this perspective, we don’t accept Christ as Savior in order to be saved. God does not give us salvation in exchange for our faith and repentance. Salvation is our being made a new creation because of what Christ did and not because of anything we do. All humanity is reconciled to God because all humanity is included in Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Our ability to experience this reconciliation, however, is predicated on our subjective, personal choice of accepting this new identity in Christ. Failure to accept this identity bars us from participating in the mutual indwelling relationship that is the Trinity. This approach allows for some to fail in subjectively recognizing and accepting their reconciliation with God and therefore being consigned to eternal separation from God. The nature of this separation is not spelled out.
Problems with Trinitarian Theology:
The foundation of Trinitarian Theology is the belief God is a tri-unity of Father, Son and Spirit. God is seen as One Being in three distinct persons. This doctrine of God is very problematical. For an in-depth and comprehensive examination of the doctrine of the Trinity, please read my twenty-four part series on this website entitled, “The God Of Jesus.”
The second problem is one of congruity. Trinitarian Theology postulates that all humans are already reconciled to God because of the Christ event. To be reconciled to God is to have ones sins forgiven which is to be saved from the death penalty. If the death penalty is removed, it follows that life is granted in its place. Therefore, to be reconciled to God equates with receiving salvation.
When Trinitarian Theology teaches all humans are reconciled to God, it appears to be the same as saying all humans are saved. There is no category called the unreconciled which is to say there is no category called the unsaved. Therefore, reconciliation/salvation would appear to be a done deal. If this is the case, a subjective, personal acceptance of this reconciled/saved position is superfluous. If reconciliation is an accomplished reality for the human race, the human race has been granted eternal life and accepting it or not accepting it has no bearing on its reality.
To postulate there must be a subjective reconciliation in order for the objective reconciliation to be experienced is an oxymoron. As of this writing, I am 69 years old. This is an objective reality. It remains an objective reality whether I subjectively accept it or not. It could be argued that there are perks connected with being 69, such as senior discounts, and in order to take advantage of such perks I must subjectively recognize the objective reality of being 69 years old and then choose whether I want to take advantage of the perks. This is a true, but the objective reality is still that I am 69 and my acceptance or non-acceptance of this reality doesn’t change it. I cannot choose not to be 69. I can only choose to accept or reject the perks of being 69.
Under Trinitarian Theology I can’t choose to be reconciled to God. It has already occurred through the Christ event. Can I choose to reject the perks of this reconciliation? Such a question appears to be meaningless. Reconciliation with God includes the perks. It includes eternal life in the presence of God because or what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
As discussed in part four of this series, there is no scriptural reason to believe we humans will have to deal with the temptations to sin associated with physical life after death of the physical body. When knowledge of the entire panorama of the human experience is factored in, it will eliminate any reason not to choose Christ and the way of the Father. This is why every knee will bow before God and will do so in a voluntary manner. Humans will no longer resist the will of God. Humans will no longer be tempted to sin. Free choice will become incorporated into a predisposition to love God and do His will. Reconciliation with God will define our choices.
If the human race is automatically reconciled to God through the Christ event, all humans will ultimately have to experience it. It is an objective reality that can’t be avoided once we pass from this physical life. We may not subjectively come to perceive this objective reality as mortal humans, but upon physical death we will automatically experience this objective reality.
While I believe free will remains, all humans will chose God because our automatic reconciliation to the Father facilitated by the Christ event requires this. We can't reject reconciliation because God has determined all humanity is in fact reconciled and therefore God will see to it that all humanity chooses to accept reconciliation. It’s a done deal. You could call this hyper Calvinism where all of humanity is the elect of God. Therefore, the Trinitarian Theology position of universal reconciliation becomes a position of universal salvation if we want to maintain consistency in this theology.
While Trinitarian Theology, as presently taught, is on the right track in postulating universal reconciliation, it falls short because it allows for God’s will to be thwarted in allowing for some to reject what has already been granted. While subjective nonrecognition of our reconciliation with God can and does take place while still a physical human, the objective reality of this reconciliation takes over after we physically die. At physical death, subjective acceptance of objective reality will become automatic. If this is not the case, God will not have reconciled all humans to Himself. It is apparent from the many scriptures that bear on this subject that it is God’s will that all humanity is saved and this will of the sovereign God will be accomplished. God does not only hope all will be saved but has willed that all indeed are saved. Therefore, Trinitarian Theology, in postulating universal reconciliation, is actually postulating universal salvation.
Although I disagree with Trinitarian Theology as to their assertion that all humanity participates in the mutual indwelling of a Trinitarian God, I do see all of humanity participating in a relationship with the Father and the Son through the Spirit of God. As delineated in my multipart series discussing the nature of the Father, Son and Spirit, it is apparent there is one Supreme, Almighty God who is the Father, the YHWH Elohim of the Hebrew scriptures and the God and Father of Jesus as seen in the Greek scriptures. Jesus is the begotten Son of the one and only God through whom this God has reconciled all of humanity to Himself. The scriptures clearly show Jesus as being the first born from the dead showing He was not immortal as the human Son of God but was granted immortality by the Father and elevated to the Fathers right hand and granted great authority, glory and power.
Because of what Jesus accomplished as the anointed of the Father, humanity is subsequently granted immortality through Jesus and thereby reconciled to the Father. This reconciliation facilitates participating in relationship with the Father and the Son. This participation is facilitated by sharing in the same Spirit that is shared by the Father and the Son. As discussed in my essays on the Trinity, the Spirit of God is not a person of a Trinitarian God but is the power and cognitive function common to the Father and the Son and common to us as participants in the relationship that exists between Father and Son. Obviously we will never have the level of power and cognitive function as the Father and the Son but we will be given such attributes commensurate with God’s will for us. Even the Son does not have the level of power and cognitive function as the Father as scripture clearly shows the Son is subservient to the Father in His glorified state.
The scriptures I have cited in support of universal salvation and the scriptures cited by Trinitarian Theologians in support of universal reconciliation clearly show God has reconciled the human race to Himself. Therefore all scriptural passages dealing with punishment for sin must be seen as temporal punishment and not in anyway everlasting or of a permanent nature. Most punishment passages in the Greek scriptures can be identified with the first century judgement upon Israel facilitated by the war with Rome. The eschatological statements found throughout the NT narrative, including the Revelation, can be seen fulfilled in the first century Parousia of Christ as discussed in depth in my series on the return of Christ and my series on the Revelation. I will offer just one example here as to how a NT passage dealing with judgement, punishment and the return of Christ should be seen as pertaining to first century events.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-4: Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
Paul said very straightforwardly, “But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). Paul is not talking to us in the twenty-first century. He is talking to first century Christians who are being told that the day of the Lord would not surprise them like a thief. How could this day not surprise the Thessalonian Christians like a thief if they are all dead in their graves and this event was to first take place thousands of years into the future? Paul is obviously telling these Christians that because they live in the light of the truth, they will see the day of Christ approaching while others will not. They would escape the coming destruction while others would not. Paul made it very clear to the Thessalonians that they would be protected from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:8-10: The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
This coming wrath is the same coming wrath prophesied by Christ and all the Apostles. This is the wrath to come that John the Baptist spoke about. This is the wrath Paul speaks of as noted in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. This was a wrath of Divine judgement upon Israel for not recognizing Christ as the promised Messiah and its persecution of the developing Christian Church. Jesus Christ made it very plain as to what was coming upon Jerusalem and why.
Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
The time of God’s coming to them was in the first century. God came to Israel through His agent Jesus Christ but most of Israel rejected Christ and compounded their error by persecuting the developing Church. Because of this they were about to experience the judgement of God just as they had at various times in the past when God used foreign armies to judge them. What Jesus said would happen, happened. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem, they built an embankment around it to prevent escape and crucified all who tried to escape. Christ, on his way to being crucified, gave warning to those following Him as to the coming destruction.
Luke 23:27-30. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, `Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then "`they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '
This warning was directed to first century residents of Jerusalem who would experience a soon to occur devastation of their city and their way of life. Jesus Christ came in judgement against Israel through the vehicle of the Roman armies and their allies in the great war of A.D. 66 to 73. History shows this war impacted the entire Mediterranean area and many of the cities of Asia and Asia Minor. This war directly resulted in the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and brought to final termination the Old Covenant system.
It is absurd to conclude the women Jesus was addressing on His way to the cross were being warned about an event that wasn’t going to take place for two thousand years and counting. It is ludicrous to conclude that the Thessalonian Christians addressed by Paul were really being told they would have to wait for thousands of years for Christ to rescue them from the coming wrath when that wrath was something about to occur. If the coming wrath was thousands of years into the future, they would not have to be rescued from it as they would be in their graves or in heaven depending on your understanding of the fate of the dead. If one is simply willing to read the scriptures in context and use some common sense, it eliminates many absurdities.
The coming wrath was tied to the failure of first century Israel to respond to the message Christ brought to them and their severe persecution of the developing Church throughout the Roman Empire. Jesus had instructed in the Olivet Discourse to flee Jerusalem when it was being surrounded by armies. The Church historian Eusebius, writing around 325 A.D., records that the Christian community at Jerusalem fled to Pella across the Jordan in advance of the coming judgement upon first century Israel (Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3).
A careful reading of the NT narrative will reveal that most of the judgement language dealing with weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into the fire, perishing, being thrown into Gehenna, etc, pertains to this first century destruction and has nothing to do with the eternal fate of the unrighteous. The Olivet Discourse, the various eschatological statements made by Christ and the Apostles and the warning message to seven Churches existing in the first century as found in the Revelation, all pertain to the prophesied judgement upon first century Israel. There are prophecies in Daniel and Malachi and other OT documents that speak of this destruction as well.
The eternal fate of we humans is not in the judgement/punishment passages of the scriptures but in the redemptive passages where it is established that the will of God is that all humanity be reconciled to Him. That is the reason for the Christ event. Christ didn’t go through the agony of the crucifixion to save the relatively few individuals who supposedly were predestined to receive salvation or the relatively few who happen to recognize the significance of His sacrifice and choose to place faith in His sacrifice. The Son of God was/is the Father’s agent to facilitate reconciliation and salvation for all of humanity as the scriptures we have discussed in this series should clearly show.