Humans are beings of two natures, much like a coin. On one side, we bear the Image of God and are called to represent him within his Creation. We have it in us to be stewards of Righteousness, out of which true Justice flows into the world. On the flip side we bear the Image of the Beast—creatures of the world, driven by basic selfish desires that sow the seeds of Evil into Creation. From the very beginning Humans have always been at war with their dual natures as they exercise the spark of divinity that God gifted to us—the Power of Choice.
In our studies of Sin and Righteousness we have learned a great deal about choices. We learned that Sin is choosing to do wrong, and that Righteousness is choosing to do what you know is right. Humans from every time-period, place, and culture have struggled with these choices. Whether you call it battles of Karma or Conscience, we fight them every day. Unfortunately choices have consequences, and we’ve also seen how ancient cultures, biblical or otherwise, believed that Justice ultimately belongs within the divine courtroom. And just like earthly court cases, the offender sits in the middle of a prosecutor and a defender—the Accuser and the Advocate.
It is a familiar image, Jesus standing before the Throne of Judgement declaring us “not guilty,” but there is so much more to it. It isn’t just a useful tool for evangelism, it’s the very foundation of the Gospel, and if you look closely, you can see the brush strokes of a picture being painted from the very beginning of Scripture.
The Court is in Session
The first part of the Book of Genesis (chapters 1-11) tells the story of God’s good Creation falling into a state of sinfulness and evil beyond repair. With Knowledge of Good and Evil, Humanity became accountable for their actions, and Sin crouched at the door whenever the flipped coin landed on the Beast. Even wiping the slate clean and hitting the “do-over” button with the Great Flood didn’t fix the problem. It would always be there.
In essence, Chapter 12 of Genesis is the true First Chapter of the Bible; everything before it is just a prologue that barely ever gets mentioned again in the Old Testament. This first chapter begins the story of how God would ultimately fix the problem of Sin, and it starts with a man named Abram. We learn that God called Abram’s family out of Ur, in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), to make a covenant with him. God promised to make Abram prosper in the land of Canaan and Abram’s faith in God’s promises made him righteous in the eyes of the Divine Court (Genesis 15:6). Soon after the Covenant is finalized with the ritual of circumcision, and Abram becomes Abraham, God appeared again, this time in a physical body and in the company of two servants (angels). However, God’s business was not with Abraham and his promises, but with Justice. What unfolds in chapters 18 and 19 is a tale of the Divine Court, in which Sin and Righteousness are debated before the Great Judge. Yet, the trial does not take place in Heaven, it unfolds on Earth, and the Advocate for Righteousness is a human being—Abraham.
Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
(Genesis 18:16-21, ESV)
We aren’t told the details of this “outcry” or who brought the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah to God’s attention, but if you’ve read my previous study of Satan you can definitely hear the voice of the Accuser making his case against the cities.
After the two emissary angels leave and make their way to Sodom, Abraham stands before God and pleads the case of the city. Abraham’s heart goes out to the righteous people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he doesn’t want to see the innocent (which included his nephew, Lot, and his family) destroyed alongside the wicked. Being a God of Justice, Yahweh agrees to hear Abraham’s pleas and the two engage in a bartering-like debate over divine punishment. Each time, God agrees not to destroy the cities if he can find righteous people in them, and each time Abraham (who probably knows just how wicked these cities are) whittles the total number down, eventually reaching just 10 people. God agrees to Abraham’s terms and waits to hear the report of his emissaries. Unfortunately, not even that small amount of righteous people can be found and God must dispense his divine Justice. As a favor to Abraham, and because his nephew tried his best to defend the two emissaries and show them hospitality, Lot is rescued from the destruction.
Even though Abraham’s case was not strong enough to save Sodom and Gomorrah, the father of many nations stood in the shoes of the Advocate and pleaded for the Righteous. In Genesis 18:19 we hear God’s inner monologue (a rare treat in the Bible) and get a glimpse of his plan to fix Humanity’s sin problem. Abraham’s children were to bless the entire world by teaching the Way of Yahweh and by filling it with Justice and Righteousness.
A Stiff-Necked Legacy
Four centuries passed by, and as Abraham’s descendants multiplied, the Promise passed first to Isaac, and then to Jacob, whom God gave the name Israel (“Struggles with God”). The sons of Jacob fathered the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Children of the Promise continued to prosper and multiply even as they sojourned in the land of Egypt. As we know, the Egyptian rulers didn’t look too kindly on Israel’s increasing power and prosperity and enslaved them. The Book of Exodus tells the story of God’s great act of deliverance in which he defeats all the powers of the Egyptian gods and the Pharaoh, frees his people from bondage, establishes (renews) the Covenant, and gives Israel the Law—the Great Code of Righteousness.
Unfortunately, even Abraham’s descendants, the Children of the Promise, chose Sin over Righteousness. Before the ink was even dry, Israel broke the Covenant by worshiping the golden calf in the shadow of God’s holy mountain. This time it wasn’t just a wicked city sinning against its own people, it was God’s chosen people sinning against him, and right to his face (the Accuser didn’t even need to show up). Let’s just say God was in no mood to have a pleasant discussion about Sin and Righteousness this time. He was ready to completely wipe out Israel, and if another human Advocate hadn’t stepped in to plead their case, he would have.
And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
(Exodus 32:9-14, ESV)
Like Abraham before him, Moses stepped in to plead the case of the Righteous, and God gave Israel a reprieve while the former Prince of Egypt went down to see what had happened. When Moses descended from the mountain to see the truth for himself, his anger burned hot against the people he had just defended before the face of God, and one might almost think Moses regretted speaking on their behalf. After he destroys the tablets of the Covenant (which the Israelites had just proved mattered nothing to them) he “kills” the golden god and makes its worshipers literally drink the sins of their abominations before the zealous Levites put 3000 Israelites to the sword. (it seems like a harsh punishment, but it’s a whole lot better than God wiping out the entirety of Israel) Afterwards, Israel’s Advocate has to make his closing arguments.
The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
(Exodus 32:30-34, ESV)
Even though Moses’ anger had burned hot enough to put 3000 of his own people to the sword, his love for them inspired him to put his own life and salvation on the line to atone for their great sin. In a very cryptic response, even though he allows the people to live, God seemingly rejects Moses’ atonement on behalf of Israel and refuses to forgive their sin. He gives them new tablets of the Law and a new covenant to uphold, but they still broke the first, horribly, and divine Justice required a retribution that would take many centuries to be completely realized. Israel’s sin only continued to fester and grow until God considered them more evil than the most wicked of pagan nations. In the end, God marched at the head of the armies of Assyria and Babylon, and allowed Israel’s cities, and Temple, to be destroyed before sending them into Exile. Most of Israel would never return to the land promised to Abraham’s children.
A Promise Fulfilled
In the midst of the horrors of Exile, God continued to bring the remnant of Israel comfort through the words of the Prophets. He promised to reestablish his people and declared that they would have a new Temple and a new covenant better than the first one that their forefathers continually broke. In a vision of the prophet Zechariah (dated by the author to 519BC), the Divine Court is assembled and Israel’s sin (represented by the High Priest Joshua) is debated by Satan, the Accuser himself, and Joshua’s defender—the Angel of Yahweh, an enigmatic figure in the Hebrew Bible who is and isn’t Yahweh at the same time (e.g., the voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush).
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”… “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
(Zechariah 3:1-4; 8-10, ESV)
As the New Testament unfolds, we discover the identity of the Branch—the righteous descendant of David who would inherit the Kingdom (whose name also happens to be Joshua, coincidentally) We read how he became the Great Advocate, who, like Moses before him, atoned for the sins of his people with his own life.
As we read in Romans 7, the Law has no power to save and only brings more Knowledge of Sin, and with it, more opportunities to do evil and deserve Death. It’s a passage that leaves the reader with a feeling of hopelessness and despair. How can anyone ever be righteous when the Divine Court seems to be against us? Thank God for Romans 8.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
(Romans 8:1-4, ESV)
Unlike Moses, whose righteousness could never atone, Jesus was able to ultimately satisfy Divine Justice, once and for all. By being the only Righteous Seed of Abraham to uphold the entire Law and keep to the Holy Covenant, the promised Davidic King, and the Son of God, Jesus was able to inherit the Promise of Abraham, fulfill the entirety of the Law, and give any and all who are baptized into his death and resurrection a portion of his inheritance, thereby freeing all Transgressors and Lawbreakers, from Creation until the End of Time, from the divine penalties which the Accuser has the power to cry out for. A beautiful illustration of this can be found in the Book of Revelation. After the Messiah ascends to the heavenly throne, Satan (who probably realizes he’s about to lose all of his power and authority) and his angels (legal staff?) wage a futile war. After they are all thrown out of the Divine Court for good we read,
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
(Revelation 12:10-11, ESV)
I praise God for the Great Advocate, Jesus Christ. The Law has no power over my fate and the Accuser can’t use it, or any form of self-righteous legalism that we have replaced it with, to condemn me before the Court. I am free to live the life God intended for me from before Creation, that of a Prince of the Kingdom of God.
And Happy Easter.