Our title may shock the reader at first glance because normally the term "born again" connotes the spiritual renewal of a sinful life. But this article does not imply in any way that Jesus was in need of such a renewal. We do wish to deal with the Biblical concept of the two births of Jesus as they relate to Covenant Worlds. Jesus was born twice; physically, then spiritually. Both births were into specific Covenant Worlds.
The Limitations of Jesus; First Birth
Jesus was most assuredly born in the flesh of the virgin Mary, Matthew 1, Luke 2. As marvelous as that fact is, there were certain limitations inherent in the first birth of Jesus. These limitations were not accidental or coincidental; they were foreordained. These restrictions were foundational for the greater work of the Messiah. Let us explore these limitations.
Born to Israel
Great emphasis is often placed on the "physicalness" of the virgin birth to the oversight of the Covenant relationship of that physical birth. We are in no way seeking to mitigate the uniqueness of the incarnation; we are seeking rather to place it in the Biblical framework. Jesus was born into the Old Covenant world of Israel! He was "born of a woman, born under the law" Gal. 4:4. He appeared in the last days of that Old World, Heb. 1:1f; 9:26. Jesus was not born into the world of the Gentiles; he did not minister to the Gentiles, [with some notable exceptions that foreshadowed the Gentile mission]; nor was he sent to the Gentiles. Jesus was "not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" Matthew 15:24. This is not to suggest the Gentile salvation was not envisioned within the work of Jesus for as Messiah his salvation would extend to all the world, Isa. 49:6ff. But Gentile salvation would be accomplished when and only when the promises to Israel were accomplished, Rom. 15:8ff.
Christ came into his own — the world of Israel, John 1:10-11. He never traveled outside the confines of the land of Israel. This limitation of the first birth of Jesus is very often overlooked because of the emphasis placed on the "universal" kingdom of Christ. But we should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus "was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" Rom. 15:8. During his personal ministry Jesus sent his disciples on different "limited commissions," Mat. 10; Luke 10, emphatically instructing them "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" Mat. 10:5-6. Salvation, said Jesus, "is of the Jews" John 4:22; that is, salvation to the world could only come when Israel’s Messiah had fulfilled "all the law and the prophets." Thus, Jesus’ first birth was limited in regard to the world into which he was born; the Old Covenant World of Israel.
The Limitation of Service
Being born into the Old Covenant world of Israel had a definite restricting element in regard to Jesus’ work as Messiah. The Messiah was to be king and priest on his throne, Zechariah 6:12-13. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, Heb. 7:14. As a physical Israelite Jesus could never be the priest foretold by Zechariah, Psalms, etc because "if he were on earth he should not be priest, seeing there are priests that offer gifts according to the law," Heb. 8:5. Jesus’ earthly ministry prohibited him from fulfilling the prophecies of the priestly function of the Messiah because his fleshly birth placed him outside the sanction of that Old Covenant in regard to priesthood!
Does this not have profound implications for the millennial view that insists Jesus came to be a king, thus a priest, on earth? Israel’s law forbad the Messiah being a priest because the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah, Isa. 11:1. Yet millennialism says Jesus would have been king on earth, (and will be yet under the restored Old Covenant system), had he not been rejected. This is clearly false in the light of Hebrews 8:5. Jesus could never be a priest on earth under the Old Covenant, therefore Jesus could never be a king on earth. The physical birth of Jesus therefore definitely had limiting factors in regard to his Messianic mission.
The Hiddenness of His First Birth
Much has been written about the "Messianic Secret" propounded by Wrede and others. While we reject much of what is written about this, it is undoubtedly true that Jesus was not recognized by Israel as her Messiah. John says Jesus came to his own and his own "knew him not," 1:10. Several times Jesus warned his audience, even demons, not to make him known, (Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16f; 17:9, etc). Why? Because there were two aspects of the work of Messiah, one hidden, one his revelation in glory.
Edersheim says there was even among the Jews an expectation of "a temporary obscuration of the Messiah." Just how widely this idea was held we cannot tell. What we do know is that the Jews thought they knew Jesus when in truth they did not know him at all, Mark 6:1ff; Jhn 7:27.
Jesus’ humble physical birth and ministry fulfilled the "hidden" aspect of the Messianic prophecy. Isaiah said God’s elect One would not break a bruised reed nor extinguish a smoking flax, Isa. 42:1-4. These are pictures of humility, gentility, etc.; not the images of glorification, and conquering might.
Jesus’ first birth then, by purpose and prophecy, placed certain limitations on Jesus. These limitations were "step one" if you please, that would lead inexorably, (Acts 2:22-24), to the revelation of the Messiah.
Jesus’ Second Birth
Clealy, Jesus could not completely fulfill the Messianic prophecies in his physical ministry. He could not be a priest, therefore he could not be a king on earth. But was Jesus born again into a realm/sphere where he could fulfill those prophecies? The answer is yes.
In Acts 13:27ff Paul preached about Jesus and his resurrection. In that resurrection, the apostle said, "God hath fulfilled this for us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, Today I have begotten You.’" You will please note that the Father, speaking of the Son’s resurrection says "This Day" I have begotten You. The resurrection of Jesus was his second birth! In Romans 1:3-4 Paul contrasts the "births" of Jesus. He was "born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Clearly, Jesus’ resurrection was another "birth;" a birth directly contrasted with his physical birth into the Old Covenant World of Israel. Let us note two things especially noteworthy about this "birth."
The prophecy cited by Paul in Acts and Hebrews is Psalms 2:7. That prophecy chronicles mans attempts to thwart God’s plan to enthrone the Messiah as King. Psalms 2:1-3 speaks of the rejection of Messiah; Acts 4:25ff applies those verses to Jesus’ death at the hands of "Herod and Pilate." Jehovah’s response to these actions was to laugh at man’s rebellion–God would not be thwarted! In Psalms 2:6 He said "Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion;" verse 7 then declares "I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’" The "second birth" of Jesus is inextricably linked with his enthronement on the holy hill Zion. (Needless to say, Jesus was not enthroned on the literal Mt. Zion.) This comports perfectly with what the Hebrew writer says also about the priesthood of Jesus.
In Hebrews 5:5ff the writer cites Psalms 2:7 in regard to Christ’s entry into the priesthood. Just as Psa
lms 2 depicted the enthronement of Messiah after his rejection, and since that enthronement is linked by Paul with the resurrection, it follows that Christ’s priesthood is also so linked. Just as Christ’s physical birth placed him in the Old Covenant World where he could not serve as Priest and King his second birth placed him in a New Covenant World where he could (and does), serve as High Priest!
The Hebrew writer tells us "Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us," 9:24. Christ’s resurrection unto enthronement and priesthood was a birth into the heavenly realm where he can serve as king and priest. The Mosaic limitation of Christ’s physical birth is not applicable in the heavenly realm.
Jesus was "put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit," [NASV], I Peter 3:18. As William Bell observes "in the flesh" and "in the spirit" of I Pet. 3:18 are both locatives and "refer to the realm or sphere in which the actions ‘put to death’ and ‘made alive’ occurred." Michaels concurs insisting that Christ resurrected "not as a spirit" but in a new sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation. …Jesus is set free to complete a mission of utmost importance for the readers of the epistle." Jesus’ resurrection situated him in a new realm of existence — his world, the world above. In this New World Jesus could fulfill the Old Covenant prophecies that he could not fulfill in "the days of his flesh." These prophecies included those about the revelation and glorification of Christ in his New World.
The Revelation of the Son of Man
Even though Christ ascended to his world, into the realm where he could be king and priest, there was still a time of "obscuration." Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world with the gospel of the kingdom, Mat. 24:14; 28:18ff. While that message of Christ as the Messiah was accepted by "myriads," Acts 21:20, it is nonetheless true that there continued to be a hiddenness concerning Christ.
Paul said the early church, along with all "creation" was anxiously longing for "the manifestation (apocalupsis) of the Sons of God," Rom. 8:18-19. In Colossians 3:1ff the apostle said the brethren had died and their life was "hidden in Christ." The church was at that time in a state of "death" and "hiddenness" that would be abolished at the appearing [phaneroo] of Christ. John said "the world knows us not, because it knew him not, now are we sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, (phaneroo) we shall be like him," I John 3:1-2. Notice the inextricable and organic unity between Christ and his body, the church. As the apostles wrote, the church shared in the hiddenness that characterized the personal ministry of Jesus. But the time was soon coming when that obscurity would be swept away, and Christ and his body would be revealed. Notice a brief list of passages that predicted the revelation/manifestation of Christ and his body.
- Matthew 24:29ff — In the events of the fall of Jerusalem the sign of the Son of Man in heaven would appear. As many scholars have noted this means that the fall of Jerusalem would be the final sign that Christ is truly the Son of God. Need we observe that Jesus said that revelation would be in his generation, Mat. 24:34?
- Luke 17:31ff — Jesus told of the "day when the Son of Man is revealed" (apocalupsis), as the time when it would be imperative to flee and not turn back. This hardly fits an "end of time" scenario.
- I Corinthians 1:4-8 — Paul assured the Corinthians they would possess the charismata until the "coming (apocalupsis) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are the Corinthians still alive? If not the Lord has been revealed.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 — The apostle promised the saints at Thessalonica that they would receive relief (anesis) from persecution "when the Lord Jesus is revealed (apocalupsis) from heaven." This would be the time when he would be "glorified." Have the Thessalonicans not yet received relief from persecution? If the Thessalonians are dead, if Paul did not lie, if Jesus did not fail, then Christ was revealed!
- I Tim. 6:15-16 — Paul told the young preacher to hold fast the commandments "until the appearing [epiphaneias] of the Lord. This epiphany would reveal "who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords." Paul did not tell Timothy to be faithful until he died; he told him to be faithful until the Lord appeared. This is an emphatic time indicator of the imminence of the parousia.
- I Peter 1:3-13 — Peter spoke of the salvation that was coming at the revelation [apocalupsis] of the Lord "in a little while" after they had suffered being persecuted. [Remember the Messianic Woes?] Peter’s sense of imminence in regard to the revelation is undeniable, 1 Peter 4:5, 7, 17.
- Rev. 3:9f — Jesus promised the Christians at Philadelphia that he would make those who claimed to be Jews but were not to come and acknowledge the "sonship" of the church. Here is the manifestation of the Sons of God and it would be at the soon coming of the Lord, vs. 11
These, and many more, verses demonstrate the unity between the hiddenness of Christ and his body, the church. They also give an an unmistakable temporal framework for the revealing of Christ and his body — that first century generation, and specifically the time of the fall of Jerusalem.
The time of the fall of Jerusalem was when the universal scope of Jesus’ second birth was fully revealed. Christ did not cease the work initiated by his resurrection, i.e. his kingship and priesthood, in A.D. 70, his place and prominence was fully revealed then! Christ and the New World he entered through his resurrection, that was proclaimed after his ascension, and hidden until his coming was gloriously, fully, irrefutably, revealed when Christ swept away the world of his first birth.
Christ was born again in his resurrection from the dead. That rebirth into his new world removed all the limitations imposed by his first birth. In his New World Christ ministers not just to Jews, but to Jew and Gentile, Galatians, 3:26-29. In his world Christ is a "high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec" because the Old World to which he died was taken away. And Christ’s Priesthood and Kingship were once and for all "revealed" in power and glory at his coming at the end of the Old World in A.D. 70, Mat. 24:30-31.
Christ’s resurrection is the power whereby we today can enter that New Creation, Romans 6:1ff, and participate in the life that is in him. Not only was Christ revealed but the life that is in him was revealed as well. Nicodemus could not know the Messiah through the flesh but had to be "born again," John 3:3-5. Christ is not known "after the flesh," 2 Cor. 5:16f, after the Old Covenant world of his incarnation. To know Christ today we must be "born again" from the world of sin into the world of life and light perfected and revealed by our Lord.