Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monogenēs

Having just returned from a quick trip to Minnesota to see Daniel, I was reminded of quote from Enzo Ferrari.

I truly believe that when a man tells a woman that he loves her he means that he desires her. The only true love can be a father's love for his son.

While I disagree with Ferrari's extremism (I truly love my wife and daughters) I understand how his sentiments arise. Ferrari's emotions toward his son were ancient and instinctive. A man's love for his only son is special.

I was explaining to Lisa the other day the Old Testament concept of eternal life. Embedded within the pages of the Old Testament, the expectation of eternal life was coupled to progeny – independent of the resurrection of the dead. God promised Abraham, ". . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." Genesis 17:19 (NIV) Likewise, God's promise to David states,

I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
"I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations
."

Psalm 89:3-4 (NIV)

In the Old Testament spiritual economy, eternal life and eternal consciousness were not intertwined. A father lived on through his son, and the son's identity reflected his father. Solomon, in a dream, spoke to God, saying, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day . . ." 1 Kings 3:6 (NIV) Solomon understood that he was the beneficiary of God's promise to David.

The relationship of unity between a father and his son was emphasized by Jesus' own teaching. Jesus declared in John 10:30, "The Father and I are one." When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus replied, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." These expressions of relationship were well understood by the Jews; however, not many received the message that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

The power of a father's love for his son is encapsulated in the concept of monogenēs. The offspring extends his father's life. This was particularly true regarding the monogenēs. Monogenēs is frequently translated from the Greek as, "only begotten" or "only son." According to Hebrews 11:17, Abraham's monogenēs was Isaac. Nevertheless, Abraham also fathered Ishmael and another son by Hagar, six sons by Keturah (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah), and the innumerable "sons of his concubines" according to Genesis 25:6. Isaac wasn't special because he was the only son of Abraham. Isaac was special because he was the chosen son of Abraham. Isaac was Abraham's monogenēs. Isaac encapsulated all the hope of God's eternal promise to Abraham.

When Enzo Ferrari spoke of a father's love for his son, he understood it to be special. Though he did not express it in Biblical terms, he understood the concept of monogenēs. A father's love for his monogenēs transcends all capacity of words to express.

When the Apostle John speaks of Jesus being the monogenēs of the Father, he leverages this expression to convey the closeness between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The fact that Jesus was the monogenēs of the Father does not mean that he was a created being. According to John and the writer of Hebrews, the Christ was indeed the Creator (John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2). Just as in Abraham and Isaac's case, the word monogenēs expresses a special relationship, but does not literally mean only offspring. The Son of God pre-existed the incarnation of Jesus. At the incarnation the nature of the Son of God became also the Son of Man. Jesus Christ embodies both the Creator and the Creation. As such, Jesus special relationship to the Father was strongly expressed as monogenēs in the writings of the Apostle John.

Paul expressed the relationship between Christ and the Father a little differently, saying, "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." Colossians 2:9 (NIV) Jesus Christ was God in human form. John predicates his Gospel on this same assertion.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God;
his name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light,
so that through him all men might believe.
He himself was not the light;
he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who received him,
to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God —
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband's will,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the [Monogenēs],
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (NIV)

Why did he who was most special to the Father become a man and dwell among men? The Apostle John writes, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10 (NIV) The Father loved us so much that he would send his Monogenēs to suffer and die as the propitiation of our sins. If a father's love for his monogenēs, is the supreme love, as Enzo Ferrari declared it to be, how great is God's love for man?

Where Adam and Adam's race failed in faithfulness and obedience to God, God sent his monogenēs, a very part of Himself, to become the propitiation for our sins. Whereas Adam had been disobedient to God, Christ . . .

. . . became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

Not coincidentally, God's promises to Abraham and David, converge in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul explains that by faith in Jesus Christ we become partakers in God's promise to Abraham, "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. [Abraham] is the father of us all." Galatians 4:16 (NIV). Not only was Jesus Christ the seed of Abraham as promised in Genesis and recounted in Galatians 3, Jesus was also the rightful heir of David's throne.

In the Old Testament, the concept of eternal life dealt with progeny, in the New Testament, eternal life is sharing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the two concepts of eternal life converge. Jesus, the man was a descendant of Abraham and of David. Promises to the Patriarchs are fulfilled in Christ. Nevertheless, as children of faith, we share in Christ's death and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews demonstrates the better promise we have in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 recounts how the believers of the Old Testament walked by faith. Nevertheless, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV) John closes the Book of Revelation with a quotation from Jesus,

"Behold, I am coming soon!
My reward is with me,
and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the First and the Last,
the Beginning and the End.
"Blessed are those who wash their robes,
that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts,
the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters
and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."


The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"
And let him who hears say, "Come!"
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
and whoever wishes,
let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:12-17 (NIV)


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