Christ: The Fulfiller of All Things

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all human spirituality and longing. For He is the completion of all things for all people, as St. Paul proclaims, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). That is how Paul is able to “become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). He is not compromising the Gospel but seeing its fulfillment among all nations. Again, we read in Ephesians, “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10).

Because our Lord is the fulfillment of all things, He is the Messiah and Savior of all people (cf. Rom. 1:16), the universal fulfillment of the hope of mankind. Therefore, in the end, all people will gather before our Lord’s throne in worship, as the Apostle John witnessed, “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9ff).

While a study of Christ’s fulfillment in all things to all nations could easily become quite broad, I want to focus on four areas in this article. I think these four areas are pertinent to today’s audience because other Christian sects often provide the wrong answers to some of these issues:

  1. His sacrifice upon the cross was the ultimate human sacrifice
  2. His cross as the answer to our deepest despair and sufferings
  3. His resurrection as the hope for a hopeless world
  4. His enthronement in the heavens as the fulfillment of all political longings

1. The Answer to Human Sacrifice

For millennia, humanity had an existential despair. Bad things happen in the world, which means the gods must be angry. Yet it seemed little could be done to appease them. Human sacrifice became an answer to improve the current state of affairs. There are countless examples such as the Mayans here in the Americas and numerous pagan tribes throughout Europe. Even in the Old Testament, we see terrible glimpses of child sacrifice. A case could be made that God gave Moses the Law – with its prescribed sacrificial system – largely to curb human sacrifice.

When humans sacrifice each other – or even offer themselves – they offer the greatest sacrifice possible. Nothing in this world is more precious than human life. Yet the continual sacrifices over thousands of years show that humanity offering its best to the gods still lacked sufficiency. These offerings also lacked universality and permanency. After all, how do you know if that one man, woman, or child was sufficient? Perhaps the gods want more; they most certainly will later. But when? Or maybe some gods are appeased but others further away are not.

Christianity offers the solution to this innate desire to offer the ultimate, most precious sacrifice possible. God, in His love, offers Himself, His incarnate Son, to die in the most humiliating and painful way. It is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the scapegoat to release all scapegoats. For who can offer something to God that is greater than God’s own Son?

In this sense, those who teach the various Western atonement theories (such as Penal Substitutionary Atonement and others), are both grasping at something true while missing the ultimate point. They are right that there is a need for a human sacrifice for all sin. For them, God rejects our multitude of sacrifices because none of them are good enough for Him. He wants blood but we are unable to offer something sufficiently pleasing. So, He sends His Son to die in our place.

But such an atonement theory has it backwards. The Son is offered to God by God, this is true. Yet it is not for His sake but ours. We humans needed to know there is one Sacrifice that has been made for all time, which was sufficient, permanent, and universal. The Son of God lifted upon the cross fulfilled all those things. But God has no need or desire for blood. What sort of appeasement can be offered to a Being who is unchangeable, who has no needs, and who cannot be moved? [1] We needed the relief that comes from knowing that the “price” has been paid once and for all.

Christ’s ultimate sacrifice frees us to emulate Him, to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1) through virtuous living while we experience the complete transformation of our minds.

[1] Much more could be said on the unchangeable nature of God. He is not moved by passion or want or need. Even the language in the Bible that speaks of either the “wrath” or “joy” of God is using human language to describe the relationship between God and man due to our thoughts, words, and deeds. If God constantly changed due to our virtues or sins, He would be in a constant state of flux with the billions of people that are alive right now. This theology of a God that is often moved or changed by us seems more pagan than Christian.

2. The Answer to Suffering and Despair

While Christ died for us and in place of us, various Protestant atonement theories take this idea too far, as we see when those beliefs are brought to their logical conclusion in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” Essentially it teaches that God suffered so you do not have to. Additionally, the rapture idea became popular because it reinforces this belief that Christians need not suffer, not even persecutions from the Antichrist. But such ideas are a radical departure from the teaching that the ultimate human Sacrifice was made for us by the Son of God, as I outline above.

If anything, Christ promises us plenty of suffering in this life. After all, “He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23). To His followers, He promises persecutions (Matt. 10:16-26 and Mark 10:29-30). To Timothy, the divinely inspired Paul writes, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1 Tim. 3:12). What Christianity does, however, is redeem our sufferings. It gives godly suffering hope and meaning as we see in St. Paul, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). To the Romans he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Our sufferings are added to the Lord’s suffering, and it will be turned into glory in the age to come.

In this way, the cross and death of Christ fulfill the ancient despair of humanity due to our seemingly pointless sufferings. No one chooses to be born, and much of the suffering we incur in life is out of our control. Yet Christ offers an answer to these things in His cross and death.

Additionally, Christ felt our deepest despair of loneliness and separation from God. One of His disciples betrayed Him, selling His life to power-hungry and greedy leaders. Then all His closest friends abandoned Him. Therefore, He knows firsthand betrayal and abandonment by those closest to us. At the pinnacle of this inner turmoil, the Son of God – in a mysterious and inexplicable way – allows Himself in His humanity to feel complete separation from God. He cries out the deepest words of despair a human can utter, quoting the Prophet David, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Ps. 22:1, Matt. 27:46) Everyone had left Him hanging there naked, bleeding, and dying – even God. The horror and injustice of the scene are indescribable. Yet God chose this so that He could enter into the deepest human despair and redeem it.

Therefore, those who suffer in a godly way enter the sufferings of Christ Himself and commune in His grace. They find that He is the answer to their questions of suffering and despair.

3. The Answer to Death

Death was the common enemy of mankind. No matter how rich or powerful you became, you were subject to death like anyone else. For most pagans, there was no glorious hope awaiting the soul after death. Either we would be caught in a never-ending cycle of reincarnation or we would find ourselves in the shadowy underworld of Hades. The Hebrew people for many centuries were no different with their teaching on Sheol. [2]

Christ’s resurrection changed all that. As we sing during Orthodox Easter (Pascha), “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” And at another time we sing, “The dominion of death can no longer hold men captive, for Christ descended, shattering and destroying its powers! Hell is bound, while the prophets rejoice and cry: The Savior has come to those in faith! Enter, you faithful, into the Resurrection!” (Octoechos, Kontakion for Sunday in the 7th Tone).

This answer to death provides another reason we needed God to die for us as the ultimate Sacrifice – because only He was powerful enough to enter the shadowy underworld, conquer it, and release the captives. Two thousand years of Christianity have made us take this great hope for granted. But it was revolutionary at the birth of Christianity and continues to be so for those made alive in Christ. We now have hope for ourselves and for departed loved ones.

Also, this provides proof of the importance of the human body – which is often downplayed or ignored by other Christian sects and religions. Christ resurrected with a glorified human body; He did not simply have a “spiritual resurrection” but truly raised Himself from the dead.

[2] In later centuries, there arose the belief among the Jews in a bodily resurrection, but even this was hotly debated by the time of Christ, as we see in His interactions with the Sadducees. However, this belief was divinely inspired as God prepared His people to receive the news of Christ’s resurrection.

4. The Answer to Righteous Leadership

As children, we looked to our parents to protect and nurture us. As we mature, the expectation for protection and nurturing are transferred to the government. This transferal, however, disappoints us. The government makes many promises and fulfills hardly any. It abuses and takes advantage of its citizens. For millennia, humans have been surrounded by injustice with little or nothing that can be done about it.

But Christianity brings fulfillment to our innate desire for a righteous king to rule this earth. Countless stories have been written throughout the ages about the return of a righteous king who sets everything aright. The reason this archetypal story resonates with us (consider, for example, the success of Tolkien’s Return of the King even in our modern times) is because it is presenting a pattern of reality that points to Him who formed reality.

When standing before Pilate, Christ was asked, “’Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say’” (Matt. 27:11). In an unconscious prophetic move, Pilate had a sign inscribed upon the cross of Christ proclaiming Him as king. This sign was in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (Luke 23:38), foretelling Christ’s universal kingship. It also showed that no matter how hard someone fights against Christ, He is the archetype of reality and cannot be defeated.

The Apostles would soon recognize the lordship of Christ – not just over the Jews but its universality over all mankind. St. Peter said, “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him…Jesus Christ – He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:35-36). St. Paul refers to Him as “the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1) and calls him “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). And John emphasizes Christ’s kingship over all humanity in Revelation (cf. Rev. 11:15, 19:15-17, 17:14).

The Church suffered political persecution from its earliest days due to its recognition that Jesus Christ is the universal king. As early as the Acts of the Apostles, we see a Christian named Jason getting into trouble with the local authorities, “Jason has harbored them [Paul and his companions], and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

“There is another king,” and He is not simply a king but the King. This King was enthroned in the heavens at His glorious Ascension, seated at the right hand of God the Father, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

If we pay any attention to the news today, we will inevitably waste much time and heartache on the words, decisions, and policies of ungodly rulers. In the past two or three decades, elections in America have only become worse and more divisive. As American society has fallen further away from God, there remains old shadows of religious ideas in our collective subconscious. But these ideas get redirected to political leaders. Therefore, at every election cycle, we hear promises of prosperity if one side wins but certainty of collapse and doom if the other side wins. Essentially, either paradise or hell await us depending on the election results. By framing the elections in such eschatological language, our government is unconsciously taking the place of Christ and becoming – in some sense – antichrist (anti in Greek means “in place of”).

While the acceptance of Christ as our King does not demand complete political apathy, we must always think and act with the primacy of Christ’s kingship in mind. We are mere sojourners in this land (cf. 1 Peter 2:11), passing through on our way to a more permanent kingdom. Our true citizenship is in heaven, not America or any other place, as St. Paul proclaims, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

As our focus on the heavenly kingdom increases, our perception of reality will change. We will no longer look to political leaders as heroes, saviors, or archvillains. Instead, we know that there is one Savior, Jesus Christ, and the heroes are the saints who are transformed by Him. Also, the true villains are Satan, the demons, and our owns sins that separate us from God. If we focus on repentance and drawing close to God, we can begin to enter the Kingdom in this life while becoming a healing presence to those around us, knowing that we “are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). Our promised kingdom is unshakable and permanent. It is not yet seen in its fullness, but we grasp hints of it in prayer, the scriptures, and the Divine Liturgy.

The injustice of this world will not have the last word, but Christ will come back to rule and judge the nations. Everything will be subjected to Him (Eph. 1:22), and if we have been faithful, we will co-reign with Him (cf. 2 Tim. 2:12, Rev. 5:10).

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