We have all heard of Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” but I fancy few have considered the fact that Christian’s pilgrimage to the celestial city was pioneered by the journey of Jesus.
As John in particular makes clear Jesus’ journey or odyssey began when he left his Father’s side in heaven (John 1:1-2) to become incarnate or made flesh in the womb of his earthly mother Mary. In the graphic words of Charles Wesley he who was God was contracted to a span.
Recapitulating Adamic Life
To the extent that he was born of woman who herself stemmed from Adam, Jesus as man began in the ground like Adam and was truly flesh which stemmed from the earth (Gen. 2:7). Thus as a true human being, a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he gestated for nine months (cf. Luke 1:36) before his birth in Bethlehem (cf. Ps. 139:13-16).
Apart from his circumcision on the eighth day, his presentation in the temple, his blessing by Simeon and Anna and the fulfilment of the legal requirements associated with his early development, we know little of Jesus’ early years. Matthew gives us one important piece of information omitted by Luke about his stay in Egypt which recapitulated that of his forebears. This happened during the latter part of Herod’s paranoid and violent reign (Mt. 2:13-18). After Herod’s death and the family’s consequent return to Judea from Egypt, for fear of Archelaus they left Galilee and lived in Nazareth (Mt. 2:19-23). The only information we are given about Jesus’ otherwise uneventful early life relates to his normal human development and eventual bar mitzvah when he became like all Jewish boys a son of the commandment (Luke 2:40-52). And we infer, though we are not specifically told, that Jesus kept the law without breaking it. Despite the fact that this was unique even world-shattering, law keeping unlike law breaking is scarcely newsworthy, so it was not until he was baptized that Jesus aroused public attention.
The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus’ baptism was deeply significant not simply because it brought to an end his stint under the law. It was not that baptism as such was unheard of. After all, his cousin John the Baptist who was his forerunner or precursor practised a widespread baptism of repentance. While this in itself may have been extremely offensive to those who regarded themselves as righteous (cf. Mark 11:27-33), the fact that Jesus submitted to John in baptism was perplexing even to John himself, who having already announced Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), according to Matthew apparently regarded Jesus as not needing to repent (Mt. 3:14). However, when Jesus indicated that his baptism related not to repentance but to the fulfillment of all righteousness (3:15) or perfection (19:21), John agreed to play his part.
It is at this point, however, that the question as to what was involved is prompted. The answer can only be gained from the rest of the Bible. First, it is necessary to note that Jesus was the second Adam, the replacement of the one who had so conspicuously failed through sin to gain the life he was promised (Gen. 2:17). So since righteousness is the indispensable prerequisite of life (Lev. 18:5, etc.), Jesus as the Son of God had to achieve it by obedience to the commandments (cf. Rom. 6:16). His success in doing this is made plain by his Father who publicly announced that he was well pleased with him and poured out his Spirit on him at his baptism (even though its human agent was John). In other words, Jesus as flesh was born again by the Spirit (John 3:6) proving that the inference made above regarding his sinless life under the law is correct. Jesus’ baptism was clearly archetypal and was meant to serve as a paradigm or template for all subsequent Christian baptisms which should occur only when personal righteousness is achieved through faith in Christ. The order of salvation is of basic importance.
Pioneering or ‘Precapitulating’ the Regenerate Life
Jesus’ regenerate life as the acknowledged son or Son of God required his reaching perfection (Mt. 19:21) which the law could not provide (Heb. 7:19). It thus began with his being driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. His temptations in effect recapitulated those of his exodus forebears, but whereas they had wilted under pressure, he as the true Israel, or vine out of Egypt, triumphed (cf. Ps. 80:8). Needless to say, trials and temptations were to characterise his entire life as he wrestled with the world, the flesh and the devil. As the author of Hebrews expresses it, he was tempted at all points just as we are (4:15), but the fact that he remained without sin indicated that as the one who epitomized the kingdom or rule of God he had invaded the devil’s territory. The stronger man was in the process of vanquishing the strong man (Mt. 12:28f.).
Once he had been launched on his regenerate life as God’s Son, Jesus, in contrast with all those who had gone before him (Rom.3:12), went about doing good (Acts 10:38, cf. John 5:30; Eph. 2:10). And as the Sermon on the Mount made clear, the standard set was higher than that of the written law (cf. Mt. 5:20). When John the Baptist in prison entertained doubts about his messiahship, Jesus sent others to tell him that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22 ESV). In anticipation of his eventual exodus or departure (cf. Luke 9:31,51; John 13:1), he had gathered together twelve disciples and begun their training. Unlike John the Baptist the greatest prophet of the old covenant, he performed miracles or signs thereby establishing his credentials as the One sent by God (John 10:25,37f.; 15:24, etc.). In order to do his work he found it unnecessary to travel beyond Palestine (cf. Mt. 15:24).
Jesus made it plain that his preoccupation was not to do his own but his Father’s will (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29, cf. Heb. 10:7) and to finish the work assigned to him (John 17:4). That work was supremely to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10), and this eventually necessitated his setting his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) away from which he maintained that it was impossible for a prophet to perish (Luke 13:33). In due course after being falsely accused by the Jewish authorities, he died a horrible death on a cross in the jurisdiction of Rome. It seemed that with his burial he had finished his course (Luke 13:32) like the prophets (Heb. 12:1) including John the Baptist before him (Acts 13:25) and Paul after him (Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:7). But this was not strictly so. Though his work was in essence finished (John 19:30), because his death was vicarious it was necessary for him to be raised from the dead (Acts 2:23f.) and eventually to go to Galilee ahead of his disciples (Mt. 28:7,10,16). And it was from Bethany that he ascended into and was glorified in heaven (Luke 24:50f.; Acts 1:12) from where he poured out the Spirit (John 7:39) to apply his work. Thus, having been made lower than the angels for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9), he had run his race (Heb. 12:2) completed his pilgrimage and blazed a trail into the eternal kingdom of God (cf. 2 Pet. 1:11; 2 Tim. 4:18; Col. 1:13). (Cf. my Following Jesus.)
Early in his ministry Jesus had stressed the fact that he who had descended would ascend (John 3:13; 6:62, cf. Eph. 4:9f.) and it was at his ascension that his journey ended as he had promised. Like Bunyan’s allegorical pilgrim Christian who later followed in his steps he had reached his Father’s house (John 14:2f.) and/or the celestial city (Heb. 11:10,16; 12:22; 13:14).
Finally, it is necessary to emphasise that Jesus’ journey was completed in two stages (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). First, as first Adamic or natural man he reached perfection or maturity both in the flesh and under the law ultimately gaining favour with God and man (Luke 2:52). Since he remained without sin, his unblemished natural life was completed or climaxed by his new birth in accordance with the promise (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). Second, as the last Adam or spiritual man who as the acknowledged Son was by definition born from above, he brought the kingdom or rule of God to earth, invaded the devil’s domain and achieved perfection by fulfilling all righteousness. After his vicarious death and resurrection, his path to perfection climaxed in his ascension and glorification (cf. John 20:17). Thus Jesus completed his journey by recovering as man the glory he had with his Father before the world began (John 17:24). Rightly did he as man take his seat at God’s right hand.
So Jesus’ pilgrimage was complete. He had journeyed from ground to glory and fulfilled the original divine intention regarding man. He who descended had ascended and in so doing he had blazed a trail for all other pilgrims who succeeded him to enter the presence of God as his children (Eph. 1:3-10). This is the goal of man made in the image of God (Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18, cf. 2 Pet. 1:11). (On 2 Peter 1:11 see especially Green, pp.84ff.) Truly can it be said that he who had come into the world to bring his fellows to glory had successfully and uniquely paved their way (John 14:6; Heb. 2:9-18).
Some would argue that though Jesus had passed through and was exalted above the heavens (Heb. 4:14; 7:26) and had poured out the Holy Spirit to apply his work (John 7:39; Acts 2), he still had to return to earth in person (and according to some even in the flesh) to consummate his work. But this is to misunderstand the nature of his second advent. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear, first, that his work was finished (John 4:34; 17:4; 19:30); second, that his return would not be to deal with sin (Heb. 9:28); third, that he would never again return to earth which would have necessitated yet another transformation (cf. Acts 13:34; Heb. 4:14; 7:26), and, fourth, that he would return in his own glory and that of his Father (Luke 9:26, cf. John 17:5,24) in order to rescue his own and destroy both his enemies and their habitat (Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12) as at Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29. See further my articles The End of the World and The Destruction of the Material Creation, etc.).
E.M.B. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, rev. ed., Leicester/Grand Rapids, 1987.