Christianity 201

December 3, 2021

Jesus Has Appeared in New York City

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Does Jesus continue to drop in to our larger story today, just as he did in the Christmas narrative?

Some would say yes, and I remember as a much younger person opening my Toronto newspaper and seeing a full page advertisement — which appeared in dozens of papers in North America on the same day — announcing that Jesus had returned and is walking among us.

At the time, I was too young to take an interest in finding out more about whoever had sponsored the ads — and how they had funded them — but I do remember the experience, and probably you’ve seen or heard similar things where people attest that Jesus has already returned.

So what about that?

Let me say for those of you reading this online, that the title of today’s piece is admittedly click-bait. Sorry about that. But if you came out of curiosity or hoping it to be true, let’s briefly indulge the possibility.

When we speak of Jesus, we are referring to the earthly name — a form of Joshua — we are speaking of the incarnate or if you will enfleshed 33 years of life of the second part of the community of God that we define as Father, Son and Spirit.

But many Evangelicals believe that there are appearances of Jesus (to use the name more broadly) in the Old Testament. We wrote about this in January, 2016 in an article titled Jesus Was No Stranger to Our World.

…earlier, we have examples which theologians and scholars call Christophanies, where what the writers termed “…an angel of the Lord appeared…” actually represents a visitation of the pre-incarnate Christ. Remember, since these are Old Testament narratives, the writers of those accounts had no context in which to frame what they were seeing in those terms. In a world where surrounding nations had many gods, our Trinitarian concept of the Godhead would have been confusing or even counter-productive to the idea that God is one. (However, it should be noted that they had an understanding of the Spirit, but not the same as a New Testament believer would frame it.)

If you look the word up on Wikipedia* you will read this:

A Christophany is an appearance or non-physical manifestation of Christ.

[click the link for a long list of possible Christophanies.]

But Paul the apostle believed that Jesus did just that, post-incarnation, post-resurrection with himself on the Damascus road:

CEB.I Cor.15.3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.

Wait, what? “He appeared to me?” Let’s look at that:

NIV.Acts.9.3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’

The scripture is very clear on this; clear on whom Saul/Paul saw.

So can we make the leap and say that the possibility of Jesus appearing in London or Tokyo or New York City is a distinct possibility?

Not so fast.

I think first of all we all know that this how cults get started. I won’t press that further here, but the documentation is out there. People claim a direct contact with an appearance of Jesus. As a post-Charismatic believer, I still believe in the idea of signs and wonders, but I think we need to be extra careful, while also allowing that God is still always at work and always revealing himself to his creation in a huge number of ways.

But I think there are some other reasons to be cautious:

First, Jesus has appeared fully, in flesh in Bethlehem, growing up in Nazareth, ministering in the region of Bethany, and finally heading to Jerusalem. His ministry was seen firsthand by literally thousands and thousands of people.

Second, we now have the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit, which once rested on select prophets and leaders now abides within everyone who names the name of Christ as Savior and Lord.

Third, we now have the written logos, the word of God in printed form. Now, I want to be careful with this one, because this is the same argument used by cessationists to say that we no longer need miracles, healings, words of knowledge, words of prophecy, etc., because we have the Bible. I just think that taken together with the other arguments, we could see why the type of appearance touted in the newspaper advertisement I mentioned is not as urgently needed.

Most important however, I believe the scripture itself promises that, apart from any “drop in” appearances which for sake of argument I’ll allow as possible, none of these can constitute the “return of Christ” or “the second coming.”

Jesus says as much in Luke 17. The Message renders this passage:

20-21 Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.”

22-24 He went on to say to his disciples, “The days are coming when you are going to be desperately homesick for just a glimpse of one of the days of the Son of Man, and you won’t see a thing. And they’ll say to you, ‘Look over there!’ or, ‘Look here!’ Don’t fall for any of that nonsense. The arrival of the Son of Man is not something you go out to see. He simply comes.

24-25 “You know how the whole sky lights up from a single flash of lightning? That’s how it will be on the Day of the Son of Man...

We also hear something similar from two angels at the time of Christ’s ascension. (These “angel of the Lord” appearances are not post-resurrection appearances of Christ, because he is also still there, rising in the sky. Plus there are two angels, not one.) In Acts 1 (NLT) we read,

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Finally, in terms of dealing with reports of Jesus showing up in your hometown or mine, I think we can learn much from the wisdom of our spiritual communities and our church leaders, all of whom would tell us we have good reason to be skeptical.

Here’s Luke 17 again, this time from the NIV:

23 People will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them.

*I quoted this exactly as it appeared, but as a general rule, if you’re teaching or leading people, it’s better not to use Wikipedia as a source. Today, I would probably quote Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary, where it links to the broader term Theophany, which is less specific than Christophany. To get to resources like this, use

I want to again link to the piece I mentioned from 2016 about Christophanies, as well as a 2017 article specifically about Melchizedek, and one from 2018 about Jacob wrestling with God.

January 31, 2014

When God is on Your Side

Joshua 5:13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lordhave for his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 6:2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days…

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!…

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.

Joshua 5:13-15 describes an encounter Joshua has prior to the taking of Jericho in chapter 6, some of which I excerpted above as well. I’ve heard this story before, but didn’t really think about verse 14 until yesterday. Such is the richness and depth of scripture that we can return to familiar passages and see things in a different light.

Joshua wants to know if the one he encounters is on his side or not. Fair question. But he is told “neither,” the one he meets self-describes as “captain of the Lord’s hosts.”

I thought this was interesting in light of the American Christian climate where God is sometimes assumed to be Republican, and not Democrat; or in light of this weekend’s climate to the American football season where people supporting both teams are asking God to help them win. Is God for Washington or Denver? (At this point, I was tempted to write, ‘I guess we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out,’ but in fact, the win proves nothing so theologically profound.)

Theologians and lay-people disagree as to whether or not this scene describes a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of Christ himself. But if that is the case, why is the answer phrased the way it is? One pastor offers an answer to that (see esp. pp. 2 and 3) which serves to solidify the idea that Christ is the one to whom Joshua is speaking. The sword is also a clue to this identity. Another author offers that the appearance, title, instructions and Joshua’s reaction solidify the view that this is a theophany or Christophany.

But back to praying for political parties and sports teams, our focus today is also on the neutrality of Joshua’s visitor. While what is said clearly implies that neither side is favored, we know from the rest of the story that God is on Joshua’s side. So what does the comment mean?  The Reformation Study Bible offers this:

The commander of the Lord’s army encourages Joshua, but He is not under Joshua’s command. God is bound neither to destroy all Canaanites nor to deliver all Israelites, as is powerfully illustrated in the subsequent chapters in the experiences of Rahab (6:25) and Achan (ch. 7). See note 6:17, 18. (emphasis added)

God is on our side, but once assured of that, we can’t control or manipulate God. (This is part of the main thesis of Skye Jethani’s book With.)

Related reading:

*I found this checking to see if we’ve used the song, The God of Angel Armies, by Chris Tomlin here, which we have. But it fits so well, I’m repeating it today: