Chaos and Conflict
2. Jesus and chaos

The parallels between the creation account in Genesis one and the prologue to John’s Gospel have often been observed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1 – 5). The Word was present at creation to confront the chaos darkness and speak light into being. Yet John goes much further than the Genesis account by saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).

“Flesh” here is not a neutral term; it represents the weakness and inability of human life since the Fall[1]. It means that in Christ God took the chaotic state of humanity into himself. The original pattern of the defeat of chaos forces by Spirit – Word in the cloud of glory becomes more evident from the time of Jesus baptism. “And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” (John 1:32). The glory of the Spirit which hovered over creation’s formless beginning, sheltered Israel by pillar and cloud at the Exodus and provided her protection through the terrible wilderness, now permanently abides on Jesus.

The Spirit then takes the Word (Jesus) forward in the glory cloud to overthrow the arch agent of chaos, Satan, in the wilderness[2]. The rest of Christ’s ministry is an account of how emptiness and chaos is destroyed and life and order restored to God’s creation. This is not only clear with respect to Jesus confrontations with demons and illness[3] but extends to the whole sphere of nature.

The picture of the wind and the waves stirred up and threatening the lives of Jesus and his disciples in the boat reminds us of the raging chaotic forces of the primeval ocean[4]. This is confirmed when we observe that Jesus “rebukes” the inanimate elements using the same language of his encounter with evil spirits (Mark 1:25; 4:39). We are expressly told that the wind and waves subsided at Jesus’, “he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” This is a close parallel to Psalm 107:28 – 29, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Jesus exhibits God- like power in repulsing the hostile forces of chaos[5].

It is however as Jesus moves closer to the cross that this theme intensifies, it is central to the meaning of the Transfiguration. “As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure (Greek, exodus), which he was about to accomplish atJerusalem… a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”” (Luke9:29 – 31, 34 – 35).

The exodus at the centre of this event is the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven. By these saving actions he will fulfill all the deliverance motifs of the Old Testament. For this purpose the Incarnate Word is surrounded by the glory cloud of the Spirit and speaks forth the Father. The intimacy of the Transfiguration foreshadows something far beyond anything previously possible in salvation, a new creation.

Chaos and Cross[6]

The coming of Jesus in the love of the Father incited the deepest rebellion of men and evil spirits against the plan of God that ever broke out in history[7]. The previous human attempts to kill him (Luke4:29; John10:31) and the assault of evil powers (Luke 4:1 – 13) come to their complete climax in the cross. Here the forces of sin and Satan extend themselves to the maximum degree.

The theme of chaos surrounds the cross. Satan entered into Judas after the Last Supper, “And it was night” (John13:27, 30). Even more significant is Jesus’ comment at the point of his arrest, ““but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”” (Luke 22:53)Each of the first three Gospels make mention of a darkness covering the earth in the three hours before Jesus death. “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark15:33-34).

This terrible scene is the climax of the divine conflict with the forces of destruction, it involves nothing less than the immersion of the Son of God into the full range of the powers (Satan, sin, death) of chaos that have threatened the order of God’s creation and human life from the beginning. Instead of glory there is blackness, instead of a word from God there is an atmosphere of abandonment, instead of the communion of the Spirit only aloneness. In order to finally destroy evil God must fully take it into himself through the flesh of his Son[8]. Evil’s exposure to the fullness of the holy wrath of God expressed at the cross brings about the annihilation of the power of sin, Satan and death[9].

Glorified Chaos

The resurrection and ascension of the Word made flesh means that fallen humanity as the vehicle of the chaos powers has been fully glorified. In Jesus, humanity has been taken into the perfect harmony of God[10]. The resurrection is a movement from perishable to imperishable, dishonour to honour, weakness to power (1 Cor 15:42 – 43). Jesus has “destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24). The raising of Jesus signals the visible dissolution of all destructive forces. This is why it is the central preaching point of the New Testament[11]. Even if all this is majestically true of the resurrection, the fullness of Jesus uniting of humanity with the order of God is accomplished in the ascension.

Luke describes the ascension, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:11). All the familiar elements of God’s means of defeating chaos are present in this scene: the Word of God (Jesus own presence), the glory cloud and, a little earlier, the Spirit’s power, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8)[12].

From the perspective of Hebrews, Jesus has “passed through the heavens” (4:14) taking his humanity into a place “not of this creation” (9:11). He now ministers at the right hand of God[13] from a realm far beyond all chaos powers (Eph1:20- 22). This too is the exalted position of the church.

[1] “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63)

[2] Matthew 4:1 – 11. This conflict recapitulates Israel’s desert journey and advances the purposes of God beyond it. Where the original Exodus generation perished through unbelief, Jesus emerges triumphant.

[3] Luke13:10 – 17 is one episode that brings these realities together.

[4] See references in the section on the Old Testament above.

[5] The disciples are awe struck concerning Jesus identity, “Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him!” (Matt8:27; Mark4:41 cf. Luke 8:25).

[6] Much of this is drawn from Dominic Rudman, The Crucifixion as Chaoskampf: A New Reading of the Passion Narrative in the Synoptic Gospels, BSW, Vol. 84 (2003) 102-107 (BSW = Biblical Studies on the Web), published at

[7] Psalm 2 speaks of the rage of the nations against God’s Anointed. This is repeatedly applied to Jesus in the New Testament, e.g. Acts 4:25 – 28;Rev 19:19.

[8] E.g. “He who knew no sin became sin” (2 Cor5:21).

[9] E.g. “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3); “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb2:14).

[10] Generally expressed in scripture in terms of the oneness of God e.g. Deut 6:4; John10:30;17:20 -26. The latter passage is particularly illuminating in that it sees oneness as a participation in glory.

[11] If it is not our central preaching point we are surely deceived by evil powers.

[12] Since the subject of verse 7 is Jesus kingdom restoration it is pain he is the giver of the Spirit.

[13] Fulfilling the prophetic picture of Daniel7:13 -14. Compare Mark 14:62 as a present reality.

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