Bowing the Heavens – 2

In Born of the Spirit, Peter J. Leithart writes:

Alan Kerr (The Temple of Jesus’ Body: The Temple Theme in the Gospel of John (Library of New Testament Studies), 71) offers this comment on Jesus’ statement that Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit before entering the kingdom: “It is almost universally accepted that Spirit here refers to the Spirit of God. But at this stage in the Gospel there was no Spirit (7:39), because Jesus was not yet glorified. It is not until Jesus is risen and appears to the disciples and breathes on them and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ that the Spirit is given (20:22). So from the point of view of Johannine timing what Jesus says to Nicodemus should only be realized in a post-resurrection setting. Properly speaking he can only be reborn from above when Jesus is glorified.”

This obviously affects the use of John 3:5 as a proof text for the doctrine of regeneration.

Is this support for the ‘giving of the Spirit’ in paedobaptism?

Read Bowing the Heavens.

Firstly, we must make a distinction between the Spirit “coming upon” people and “indwelling” people. The world is sacrificial in nature. The process of sacrifice is a recapitulation of Genesis 1. The process begun in the physical Creation (Genesis 1) is repeated in the social Creation (Genesis 2) and then the spiritual (ethical) Creation (Genesis 3). Flesh is cut, the Spirit comes down (upon it) and the flesh is transformed into a smoky (spiritual) body, a one-and-many.

When Jesus breathed on His disciples, they didn’t receive the Holy Spirit. That happened at Pentecost. All they received was His physical breath (as did Adam in Genesis 2). But the physical breath was a “liturgical” promise of spiritual, that is, ethical breath. Adam would not only have life, but “abundant life,” that is, life in the Spirit, life that reproduces not only the form of God in flesh, but the filling of God, making men of one mind with God and with one another. Only one this threefold process was complete would Adam be a “living sacrifice.”

So, generation (flesh) and regeneration (fire and smoke) are part of the same process, but they are not the same events in that process. With that sacrificial process in mind (flesh, fire smoke), we can get down to business.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This is a reference to God’s cloud, the one Jesus was taken into just before He sent the Spirit. Jesus was taken up in the flesh (take note hyperpreterists), He sent the fire of the Spirit, and His disciples, the true Jews, became a cloud of fragrant smoke (note that the Judaizers are describes as a ravenous cloud of sulphur in the Revelation).

Nicodemus speaks of a second earthly (earthy?) birth. Christ says the second birth is from above. Water and Spirit refers to His baptism, at which Jesus was the same as all John’s previous clients according to the flesh (just like Samuel working his way through all Jesse’s sons before the Lord chose David. See A King Among Sons). What was different about David (“Beloved”) and the Beloved Son? Not the flesh.

Jesus turned John’s “waters below” baptism into a “waters above” baptism, which is exactly what the first Elijah did on Mount Carmel. [1] The baptism of John was the water Elijah tipped over the altar. Physically it was the same as the altar of Baal, only wetter — until the Spirit descended and heaven met earth. Then it became prophetic. Elijah “bowed the heavens” — calling them down so that God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven. As in the days of Noah, the waters below came up and the waters above came down, and washed the Altar-Land clean. The end came with a flood and the wicked were washed away.

Elijah’s twelve-stone altar, like Jesus’ body, was the holy mountain in miniature, a representative of all Israel. Because it was a faithful reproduction, God honored it and reproduced it at full-size. What Elijah did as “liturgy,” God then performed in reality.

Then the whole mountain became Elijah’s altar, and the blood of the priests of Baal was the blood in the brook at its base. The singular descent of the Spirit turned God’s people into fiery chariots. Elijah “bowed the heavens”, which is what John did at Jesus’ baptism. Eyes were opened, men were suddenly in the heavenly court, and the truth was exposed. Jesus was vindicated from heaven. Unlike John’s earthly model, Jesus’ “waters above” baptism designates us as representatives upon the crystal sea, the place of vindicated elders who eat and drink with God on the mountain and come down as flaming swords.

John 3 is certainly a reference to Pentecost. Even though the events had not yet taken place, every event in the Old Testament prefigured what was about to take place at the centre of history: the descent of the fire upon all flesh. Some men would be smoke. Others would be ashes. Jesus is talking about every individual becoming a glory cloud, a chariot, a mysterious prophet motivated by unseen things, marching to God’s drum — a miniature of the whole New Covenant prophetic body.

So, regarding regeneration, it’s not either/or. The process of regeneration begins with santified (set apart) flesh on the altar, but the “watershed” moment is the descent of the fire.

What was the result of this fire? Seeing the kingdom of God. To “see” the kingdom is to “perceive” or “discern” it — like the prophet opening the eyes of his servant to the spiritual war behind the flesh and blood.

And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”

Being “born again” makes one a spiritual warrior. The fire that came upon now indwells, and God’s people become His body. This means Baal and the other flesh-cutters are goners, as they were in AD70.

Even at its best, paedobaptism could only ever be a baptism of John, and that was only for the twelve stone Altar, for repentant Jews awaiting the Spirit, like Nicodemus. The sacrificial body was washed and placed on the altar. But it wasn’t alive.

As a corollary to this, once the body was transformed by fire, there was no going back, no apostasy possible. There are certainly pretenders to regeneration, but over time the saints get a whiff of sulphur and have to drag them back to the Altar and the knife of the Gospel.

[1] Interestingly, for Israel, the Nile was the “waters below” and the rain of Canaan, the “waters above.” Now that Herod had slain infants, the Jordan was a new “waters below.”

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