No, That’s Not Christianity: Part 3
It’s a recurring theme in heroic fantasy, and in comic books in particular: he is an unassuming nobody, apt to be dismissed and ignored, as there is nothing appealing about him, no great talent or charisma or attractiveness to set him apart as deserving of any attention, much less as someone on whom to place any great hope or faith. But, unbeknownst to his peers, his family, the girl he loves unrequitedly, and everyone else predisposed to overlook or reject him – including, no less, himself – he alone is worthy to draw the sword from the stone, to sit in the Siege Perilous, to lift the enchanted hammer, to hold aloft the mystical talisman and to utter the sacred words that will summon the lightning – the power from on high by which the lowly and marginalized Everyman is reborn, empowered and glorified as the Hero.
Billy Batson of DC Comics’ “Shazam!/Captain Marvel”-fame is among the most conspicuous examples of this template, along with his imitators in Marvel Comics’ “Thor” and Adam/He-Man from “Masters of the Universe,” but there are repetitions and echoes of it in various other iterations. The basic pattern is of a frail mortal transfigured into godhood due to some hidden, previously undiscovered virtue – typically, but not necessarily always, in sudden, dramatic fashion by means of lightning or some other display of blazing light and fireworks to signify a dispensation of awesome supernatural power. And, often, it is at the moment of greatest need – to effect, perhaps, a resurrection from the dead, figurative or literal.
The aforementioned are some of the more mainstream commercial examples of the trope, but they are recapitulations of an ancient pattern, and it’s one that has echoed throughout our fantasies and heroic narratives for millennia. It’s something we fantasize about, something that continues to resonate within us, tapping into our deepest yearnings, and so we keep returning to it in our stories in one variation after another.
Despite its ubiquity, and just like the unaware supporting characters who ignore the pre-transformation everyman in those stories, we are inclined to dismiss this motif as nothing but the stuff of puerile escapism, since we find it predominantly in children’s cartoons and superhero comics. But, for us no less than them, that is a mistake born of misplaced values and faulty assumptions.
I couldn’t say whether these stories are the “good dreams” mentioned by C.S. Lewis by which God gives glimpses of divine truths to humanity, or if they are deliberate or unconscious imitations, or some mixture thereof.
What I can say is this:
That lightning of rebirth that transforms the mortal and mundane into a god … ?
For those of us who declare with our mouths that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, that is our inheritance. It is God’s promise to us. That is the hope Jesus came to deliver to us, which he purchased for us with his blood and pledged to us by his resurrection.
Most of us don’t recognize it, though. It’s too foreign to our common paradigm of what Christianity is. It is a concept that has been stolen from us, buried and hidden behind walls of confusion, distracting dogma and centuries’ worth of institutionalized error.
As discussed in the first installment to this series, we have a concept of what the Bible teaches that would be unrecognizable to the biblical writers themselves, because we don’t actually read the Bible, much less teach and implement it in our churches. Consequently, we don’t easily recognize God’s promises as they are, and we often gloss them over when we do find them in Scripture. And, as discussed in the second installment, collectively, we have an epistemology that undermines our understanding, confidence and commitment to what we do apprehend, which turns us from the genuine gospel to the “broad path” and “wide gate” of popular religion (and, this installment won’t penetrate quite like it should if you haven’t read those two first, which is why they’re conveniently linked above).
As we read and understand the Bible on its own terms, and actually believe it, we find that it presents a concept of relating to God that is every bit as dramatic, powerful and transformative as any wish-fulfillment fantasy or superhero origin story we find in fiction.
But accessing it requires, first, an understanding that is withheld by our popular conception of Christianity, as well as a level of commitment and motivation denied by the same, which includes a level of collective cooperation that is antithetical to our common understanding of what “church” is for.
Reframing the Narrative
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “resurrection” is the short explanation, but it isn’t widely understood what all is meant by that term, and there is widespread, deeply entrenched confusion about what it does mean.
Contrary to popular misconception, it does not mean, merely, “life after death.” It includes that, yes, but that doesn’t begin to cover it. And, it absolutely does not mean “life after death” in the sense commonly understood – that of “getting into heaven” as a disembodied spirit or soul.
No, by that term, we are promised nothing less than immortality and godhood itself, on this very earth.
This will, of course, scandalize many churchgoers, who will immediately dismiss this out of hand as “pagan” and therefore beyond the pale of orthodox Christian belief: there is only one God, and glory belongs to Him alone, and any deviation or differentiation from this central truth must be immediately rejected and anathematized before it can be given any hearing whatsoever, according to common institutional Christian thinking.
Those observations are, of course, basically correct, but the applications are not, because, as we have discussed, they arise from a misguided narrative that is entirely foreign to the Bible.
A brief overview of the actual biblical narrative is in order.
Some of this – much of it, actually – might strain credulity at first, since it’s so foreign to the belief systems and philosophical outlooks most of us take for granted, even as Christians. But, I propose that we set questions of “true” or “false” aside for the time being and concentrate solely on what the Bible actually and positively teaches, and then we can decide if it explains the world we live in better or worse than the positions we now hold.
In the Old Testament, we find repeated mention of these divine beings who are referred to variously as “the sons of God” or “the gods” (in Hebrew, the “bene Elohim” and “elohim,” respectively) among other terms and descriptions.
Their first mention is in Genesis 6, where they are described as lusting after mortal women and by them fathering a race of demigods and titans, the Nephilim. This episode is expanded upon in 1 Enoch (chapters 1-36, specifically), according to which (and corroborated by various passages of Scripture), the sons of God were set over humanity as “watchers,” but 200 of them rebelled when they descended upon Mount Hermon and swore a pact to trade forbidden knowledge with mankind in exchange for sexual access to their daughters, and thereby became a source of deepening corruption to fallen humanity, precipitating the Flood. According to the New Testament writers, they were condemned and imprisoned in darkness until the Day of Judgment for having “left their proper station.” But, their legacy of corruption and the curse of their offspring, the demonic “Rephaim,” are recurring elements throughout the biblical narrative.
Set against the backdrop of other literature from the ancient Near East, such as the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh, this is understood by scholars to be a polemic against the Babylonians, according to whom, divine beings known as “apkallus” gave the secrets of magic, warfare, seduction and other esoteric knowledge to humans, and it was to this advantage that the historical Babylonians attributed their ascendancy as an empire during the period of the Jews’ captivity. (This is all explained in the paper, “On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” by Amar Annus, among other literature.)
In other words, what the Babylonians celebrated as the basis for their successful conquest and subjugation of the known world, the biblical writers condemned as a corrupting influence upon mankind.
As the biblical narrative continued, sometime after the Flood, humanity collectively defied God’s reiterated command to “be fruitful and increase in number, multiply on the earth and increase upon it” by gathering to settle in one place, where they attempted to build a tower to heaven. If we likewise consider the Tower of Babel episode within the cultural and historic context of the ancient Near East, their objective was not, as is commonly supposed by modern lay readers, to create a way for humans to get into heaven, but the opposite: to create a sacred space to receive visitors from heaven. The Tower is acknowledged by modern scholars to have been a ziggurat, which was a sort of man-made sacred mountain meant to serve as a meeting point between heaven and earth, upon which the gods were believed to descend. The name “Babylon” means “Gate of the Gods,” and it was called that because the city, in its various iterations over the centuries, was always centered upon a ziggurat. The city was conceived of as an embassy of sorts for the gods to come to earth.
The implication appears to be that Nimrod and his followers, in building the Tower, were attempting to repeat (pre)history: they wanted the Watchers/apkallus to return. The very same corruption that moved God to grieve over the wickedness of humanity, and for which He wiped out human civilization, they wanted to reinstate.
To sum up human history so far: in the Garden of Eden and in the time just before the Flood, humanity was corrupted at the enticement of these supernatural beings, first by the Serpent, then by the Watchers. In this third rebellion at Babylon, humans ran headlong into it, initiating the corruption themselves by inviting the Watchers to return.
God’s response was to disinherit humanity, giving them over to the rule of those lesser gods whose favor they sought. As Dr. Michael Heiser explains, this was a definitive example of the pattern described by Paul in Romans 1, according to which, because of our rejection and rebellion against Him, God gave humanity over to our sinful desires and shameful lusts. Understood in the context of what came before, because they rejected God in order to seek the favor of the Watchers, God gave humanity over to their dominion. It was both a punishment as well as an acquiescence to their own misguided desires (which is what God’s punishments typically amount to throughout the Bible: simply reaping what is sown, including the final punishment of the wicked in what is commonly referred to as “Hell.”).
The “sons of God” who rule over humanity are referred to throughout the Bible as “the Assembly of the Gods” and “the Divine Council,” over which God Himself presides.
All of this – the narrative of Genesis 1-11 – is the prologue that set the stage for the birth of God’s chosen nation of Israel, which began with God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12, through whom “all peoples of the earth will be blessed.”
This is summarized in Deuteronomy 32:7-9, which, in its earliest version, reads:
“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders, and they will explain to you.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He divided all mankind,
He set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.
For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance.”
So, the gods – the sons of God – were appointed by God to rule over the nations of the world, under His supervision, while God called out Abraham to be the progenitor of a special nation whom God set apart for Himself and through whom He planned to ultimately reconcile the rest of the nations of the world to Himself.
At some unspecified point, though, the Divine Council went the way of the antediluvian Watchers and became corrupt, according to Psalm 82. The psalmist narrates God addressing the Divine Council, affirming them as “gods” and “sons of God,” but condemning them to die like mortals for their unjust rule and their neglect to protect the vulnerable and uphold the needy against oppression and evil, and the psalmist concludes by asserting God’s ultimate sovereignty over the nations.
This is known as the “Divine Council worldview,” and it has been popularized in recent years by the aforementioned Dr. Heiser, predominantly through his books “The Unseen Realm” and “Reversing Hermon,” as well as his Naked Bible podcast and various other publications and lectures, all of which I cannot recommend highly enough.
The Biblical View of the Human Condition
This is the state of affairs that defines the status quo of the biblical worldview and sets up the conflicts to be resolved through the course of the rest of the biblical narrative: humanity at-large is ruled over by “the gods” and is subject to their wicked rule, which compounds the suffering of humans and the conflicts between nations, and it redefines false religion and idolatry as worse even than sins committed by humans, but also as the chains that keep humanity enslaved to these dark forces, and to our own base natures.
And, once you’re aware of this as a dominant plot feature of the prologue of Genesis, the rest of the biblical narrative just explodes with deeper and richer meaning, because this subtext is woven throughout, and without that background, we tend to gloss over major features of what we read and wind up confused and denominationally divided over much of it.
Some of the more conspicuous among innumerable examples of this subtext would be passages like Luke 4:5-7, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and Daniel 10, which make reference to supernatural beings, i.e. the Watchers, as the powers behind nations, with titles like “the Prince of Persia” and “the Prince of Greece” who are engaged in ongoing cosmic warfare against those who are still loyal to God, such as Israel’s “prince,” the archangel Michael, over the fate of humanity, with significant, real-world stakes for the nations and peoples under their dominion.
The obvious question this raises, of course, is: Why would God allow this state of affairs to continue? He is sovereign and all-powerful, and He has already decreed the death sentence against the Divine Council and could smite them into oblivion with an effortless shrug.
So why doesn’t He? Why didn’t He do that thousands of years ago, before any of this was written down in the first place?
He doesn’t do that because He loves mankind, and – along with being infinitely powerful – He is also absolute in His justice, as well as His resolve.
His resolve in creating humans in His own image and likeness includes us being free moral agents. That means we have free will, and that God honors and holds us to our choices, with all of the consequences thereof. He gives us the freedom to sow as we choose, and whatever grows from it is rightfully and deservedly ours.
Humans, collectively, chose to go after other gods, and so we are rightfully under their dominion. And, even if we don’t take Genesis 1-11 as literal, factual history (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t or should, I’m just addressing those who reject it as such), even if it isn’t attributable to that single incident in that particular time and place, the outcome is the same: regardless of whether we’re talking about ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks or Norsemen or early settlers of the Indus Valley or pre-Columbus Americans, humanity has indeed collectively given the loyalty and devotion that rightfully belongs to the one true God to other gods, worshiping created beings, personified forces of nature and man-made images.
Indeed, Mesoamerican pyramids are basically identical to ancient Near Eastern ziggurats, in both function and general architecture, which demonstrates – at the very least – that the sinful proclivities seen in Genesis 1-11 are common to humanity, and could even suggest that the Watchers’ transgressions were not limited to the ancient Near East.
And, prior to that, however we take the Garden of Eden story – literally, metaphorically, archetypally, psychologically, hyperbolically, mythologically, proto-historically or whatever – we chose to rebel against Him by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, whatever it is that means or represents (something we’ll explore more thoroughly in Part 2). The outcome is likewise the same: our default internal disposition is hostile and estranged from our true Creator, and we are thereby cut off from Ultimate Reality and enslaved to our appetites and instincts.
As previously mentioned, God has pronounced a sentence of death upon these supernatural rulers, but humanity is under the same sentence. So, God cannot justly apply that sentence to the gods without also applying it to mortals.
This is why humanity had to be ransomed.
Having paid the ransom with his own blood, Jesus has taken back authority over the nations. As the Son of Man whose dominion will never end, he is the One who will carry out the sentence of death against the gods.
But, it is still an authority that has been delegated through the gods, under whose dominion humanity remains, for now. Christ has authority over them, but they still have authority over us. To carry out the sentence against them would justly include applying that sentence to all who remain under their dominion. Humanity – individually, nationally, collectively – must choose the dominion of Christ in order to come out from under the authority of the gods, and to receive forgiveness of sins and be spared the ultimate penalty.
This is why Jesus sent the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” and to “turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.”
Until that time, though, we are at war with the gods, and we are in enemy-occupied territory. These are “the rulers, the authorities, the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” mentioned by Paul. We typically think of the Devil and his angels as being in hell, but no – they still rule over us from heaven. This is their world – hence Jesus calling the Devil “the prince of this world” and Paul calling him “the god of this age.”
Their objective is not, as some might suppose, to try to ultimately dethrone God or anything like that to achieve some kind of final victory in which they avert their fate or secure their dominion over humanity. No, their objective is to hold off their fate as long as possible by maintaining the status quo, which they do by making war upon God’s instrument for winning back the nations – that is, the Church – by keeping us distracted and indolent and impotent as best they can (more on this to follow). And, as long as they do that, they are winning. But, they know that their sentence is inevitable and ultimately unavoidable.
That is what the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us from.
Yes, we all (or most of us) still die, but it is promised that we will come through the other side.
But, the sentence of death is not merely reversed by our eventual resurrection.
As we read the New Testament and consider what it is Jesus has saved us to, there are hints and allusions, but ultimately, we are told, mere language is inadequate to communicate it: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
We find Paul repeatedly speaking of the destiny of believers as something that defies description, and so can only be truly apprehended spiritually, supernaturally, by revelation from God: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe,” he wrote.
Our ultimate destiny defies easy description, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concrete parameters that should give us some idea – and it is most definitely not an afterlife as disembodied spirits in some other world.
We know, first and foremost, that we will be raised, as Jesus was. His resurrection is the proof and promise of our own.
After his own resurrection, along with being immortal, Jesus could appear and disappear at will – he could appear suddenly inside a locked room, and leave just as he came. This was not because he was immaterial – because he lacked physical substance, like a phantom, and so passed through walls. It was because he was beyond mere physical substance – he wasn’t less than flesh and blood, but more than flesh and blood. He didn’t lack physicality; he was at least physical. His existence transcended the three spatial dimensions of our present existence, so that appearing in a locked room was as simple for him as it would be for us, as three-dimensional beings, to get from point A to point B in Flatland without traversing the territory in between. We often fantasize about being able to fly, but to Jesus, flying would have been as pedestrian as crawling on all fours would be to Superman.
And, we are told in Scripture that, in being raised as he was, we will be like him.
Also, we are repeatedly told that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” As in, we will inherit what Christ inherits.
What’s more, the Scripture reads that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”
There it is again – “the sons of God,” but in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament, the “sons of God” were the gods, the Watchers who ruled – and still rule – over fallen humanity.
But in the New Testament, the “sons of God” refers to us, to believers, to redeemed human beings.
As heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, we read, we will “reign with him.”
When Paul rebuked the believers in Corinth for bringing lawsuits against each other instead of settling their disputes internally, he said, “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? … Do you not know that we will judge angels?”
Humanity is presently ruled over by “the gods,” but we will one day rule over them. We will be exalted to greater status than beings who are repeatedly referred to in Scripture – without qualification, exaggeration or irony – as “gods.”
We will become the new gods.
These are beings of immense, unfathomable power. Whenever benevolent angels appeared to humans, typically, their first words were, “Do not be afraid …” The prophet Daniel described the messenger he encountered as a figure blazing in glory and so awesome to behold that he was reduced to a catatonic state in his presence, while others fled in abject terror.
Consider the vision John of Patmos had of one such being:
“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars … He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.”
Reasonable people can disagree and debate over whether this description was intended as literal or figurative, but “For what is it figurative?” is the question that should interest us here.
If that is the measure of the power and glory of one of these divine beings, and we will replace them as the gods of this world, what will the new “sons of God” become when we are revealed?
So, when we are promised “resurrection” as our inheritance, that is what is meant: we will become gods.
And, the straightforward teaching of the Bible is that we will rule on this earth. There isn’t a single word in all of Scripture about leaving this earth and residing in heaven:
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
That is the promise, the endpoint, the destiny to which all genuine Christians are called, which can only be rightly understood within the narrative of what the Bible actually teaches: nothing less than godhood itself, on this earth.
Just knowing and accepting the narrative isn’t enough, though. It is a promise Jesus Christ holds out to all of humanity, and it has practical application here, now, in this age of history.
But, it is a promise with conditions, and we are not meeting them, which we’ll discuss in Part 2.