Many people in the church today simply assume that all humanity is one large family, with God as its Father. They take offense at the thought that maybe some people are not God’s children.
Do they realize that they are taking offense at Jesus himself? Oh well. Religious people have always found Jesus offensive.
The brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God! What an inspiring concept! The masculine “man” in that statement amply demonstrates how long the idea has inspired Western European and American Society. Inspirational to be sure. But true?
As far as I can tell, the entire phrase dates from the latter part of the 19th century, but its roots are older than that.
The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” (1786). The first verse addresses Joy as a bright spark of divinity and concludes, “All men become brothers under the sway of your gentle wings.”
Coincidentally, the Universalist Church of America dates back the 1780s. It emerged from some of the smaller Christian traditions: Anabaptists, Moravians, and Quakers, as well as pietist strains of larger denominations.
Universalists believe that God’s love is irresistibly strong. Therefore everyone without exception will be reconciled with God. On this view, hell and damnation are impossible, because the punishment for sin cannot be everlasting.
This long chapter finds Jesus in the midst of a shouting match, although in my imagination of the scene, he doesn’t shout back at his adversaries but maintains a calm that was as infuriating as his words.
It contradicts more than one false teaching that’s popular in recent decades. Take a look at John 8:18, 24, 28 in a translation such as KJV or NASB that marks the words that translators had to add for the sake of readability.
Jesus says, “I am he” in each of those verses, but in the last two, he is in italics. It’s not in the Greek. It is exactly the same phrase as the Greek translation of God’s self revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14: “Tell them I AM sent you.”
In other words, Jesus took a name that pious Jews feared to pronounce lest they take it in vain and applied it to himself. The argument culminated in John 8:58, where he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews knew exactly what he meant by that time. He said as explicitly as possible that he was God. So they decided to stone him to death.
If you hear anyone say that Jesus never claimed to be God, know that they are entirely ignorant of what the Bible says about the matter.
So what did God, in the form of the man Jesus, have to say about universal brotherhood?
Beginning in John 8:31, it becomes clear that he was speaking to Jews who had believed in him. That is, he was speaking with those who had followed him until his teachings became offensive. In John 6:66, they stopped following. Some obviously turned on him.
He made the often quoted promise that if they would remain in his word, they would know the truth, and the truth would set them free.
They thought they were free already, being Abraham’s offspring.
After some discussion, including the fact that anyone who sins is a slave to sin, Jesus said that if they were children of Abraham, then they should act like Abraham. Instead, he told them, “You are doing the deeds of your father.”
So they responded, “We are not sons of fornication.” (The story of the virgin birth must have been well known, but as little believed as it is today.) “We have one Father, even God.”
Again, Jesus pointed out quite firmly and explicitly that they were wrong about that. God had sent him into the world. If they knew God, they would recognize the one he sent. If they loved God they would love the one he sent.
Instead, they were shouting at him, cursing at him, condemning him, and calling for his death. They had nothing to do with God at all. So Jesus pounded home the point in 8:44:
“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.”
Oh, in case anyone is wondering how God could have sent God into the world and how the man claiming to be God also claimed that God was his Father, stop and think about it for a while.
God is infinite. A human is finite. God can become a man by filling a man from his infinity. There’s a lot left over! Infinity minus one equals infinity.
One human race, two spiritual fathers
And here’s what God the Son said about the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.
- Not all people are children of God.
- Children of God love God and all his works.
- Some people are children of the devil.
- The devil is a liar and deceives anyone who will listen.
- Implicitly, he deceives his children so that they cannot recognize the things of God.
- Therefore the children of the devil hate the things of God.
- And especially, the children of the devil hate the Son of God.
I’m not cherry picking scriptures. Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples at one time that everyone who was not for them was against them. And at another time that everyone who was not against them was for them.
In his vision of the final judgment in Matthew 25, he divided all of mankind into two parts. No one sits on the fence. No one is neutral. Everyone ultimately either loves Jesus or hates him. Not a single human being can tell the difference, but God knows.
Under the law of Moses, which pious Jews revere to this day, any disobedience breaks the law and cuts the sinner off from all of the promised blessings. And in fact, everyone sins.
In other words, everyone starts out as a child of the devil. According to Leviticus 26:40-42, there is no provision under the Mosaic covenant for receiving back sinners who repent, but they can appeal to the earlier covenant with Abraham.
According to the New Testament, anyone can become a child of God by adoption. That is the essence of grace. God will take children of the devil and adopt them as his own. In doing so, he deprives the devil of all parental rights. The transfer is complete.
It’s not God’s will that any should perish, but everyone starts out as a child of the devil, and it’s the will of some to stay that way.
Their punishment is eternal. The New Testament affirms that reality over and over in multiple ways.
Are you offended by that? Stop and pray about it. It’s none of your business who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That is, unless you’re considering yourself.
Is your Father God? Or is your father the devil?
Interfaith unity. Source unknown
Satan before the Lord. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.
Jesus Separating the Sheep from the Goats. Source unknown