Christ came to not only provide the spotless sacrifice for the sins of the individual and thus restore man's severed relationship with God, but also to establish a new humanity – a new kingdom.
Governed by the principles of restorative justice that God originally established at creation, this kingdom would be, in effect, offering humanity a restored relationship with Christ that would prompt action in the lives of His people to alleviate the suffering found in a broken world.
Over the next two articles, I'm going to delve deeper into this idea of restorative justice and what it means for us as the body of Christ today.
God's Original Intention
Key to this concept of both 'vertical' and 'sideways' redemption is the Hebrew concept of shalom. Used as a word to encapsulate God's original intention for humanity shalom describes a perfect equilibrium and peace in all relationships of life (Marshall, C 2005, The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible's Teaching on Justice, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, p.13.).
Established and integrated into creation, God's original intention for humanity was experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as they lived in a community of unbroken justice and peace. In the compilation The Justice Project, Peter Heltzel describes this state of shalom as 'the presence of justice in all aspects of human life (McLaren, Padilla & Seeber (eds.) 2009, The Justice Project, Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, p.45.), providing the theological foundation for right relationships between humankind, creation and the Creator.
This perfect condition and state became the ideal towards which God's people, the Israelites, would strive throughout their history as a nation. In Isaiah 32 verses 16-18, the prophet describes a kingdom in which this shalom would dwell:
"The Lord's justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest." (TNIV)
Consequently, this state of shalom became the motivation for the laws that God gave to the Israelites in the founding of their nation – inexplicably intertwining the communal concepts of justice and peace. In essence, shalom is the ideal state of flourishing existence in one's relationships with God, with the community, and with oneself (Marshall, p.13) - a state that was enjoyed in the Garden of Eden for all too short a time.
What Went Wrong?
From this ideal state of peace and justice, humankind's deliberate choice to sin severed this shalom, thus severing relationships with both God and fellow humankind. The history of God's people detailed in the Old Testament displays the effects of this fallen state, as they try and fail to restore complete justice and righteousness. Brother murders brother, inheritances are stolen and families are enslaved.
Before long, any intentions for, or even belief in, a righteous and just society were lost in the cries of helplessness of an oppressed people under the hand of the Egyptians. Hearing the cries of the oppressed, God called and led His people out from their captivity and unjust oppression to become a holy nation unto himself.
This nation was to be characterised by justice and righteousness, so that in all levels of society, and in every area of life, the nation of Israel would be an example of shalom to the world, not only in their relationships with each other, but also in their relationship with their Creator.
With an established law and social convention undergirded by shalom, Israel's history, though marred by constant deviation, charted a course of redemption in which God sought to restore true and restorative justice to the world. Justice and righteousness became the benchmark with which God's people were to be measured.
Unfortunately, this benchmark was never truly achievable because of humankind's individual sin nature. Even in the nation of Israel, corruption, false worship, and greed were the causes of many injustices. A truly revolutionary solution was necessary if both vertical and horizontal relationships were ever to be truly restored and a new community of justice and peace established.
The Advent of Jesus
As revealed to many of the Old Testament prophets, God was going to send a servant that would re-establish the kingdom of justice and righteousness on the earth, and in the process restore shalom in an unprecedented way.
This servant was the expected Messiah - the Saviour of the Israelite nation. According to the prophets of the Old Testament, the Messiah would be a king in David's line and would establish a new covenant of everlasting peace (Ezekiel 37 verses 26-27). With this new covenant and in this new kingdom, the Messiah would restore shalom (Haggai 2 verse 9), and gather the people of Israel to an everlasting nation of peace and righteousness.
During the height of this Messianic expectation, Jesus Christ was born by unexpected and humble means. His teaching and ministry was also unexpected, yet he claimed to be the Messiah. Calling the people of Israel in profoundly new way, Jesus began showing the Israelites what it meant to be God's people in his Kingdom: turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and not resisting those who want to take advantage of them.
It was a new expression of God's justice – one that required the action of His people to operate in a grace that was yet to come in Christ's death and resurrection. Ultimately, the Creator of shalom was now proactively and even sacrificially restoring that which humankind had severed.
Next month, I'll be looking at the consummation of this radical transformation through the resurrection of Christ, and what that means for us as the body of Christ today.
Blaine Packer is studying a Bachelor of Cross-cultural Ministry at Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Launceston, Tasmania.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html