While traveling across country to Phoenix to meet with my son for some backpacking, I came across a sign in South Dakota that said, “Christ died for our sins”. This got me thinking, is that really the reason Christ died for us? If so, then there should be a change our status, but we’re still sinners, nothing has changed. If that’s the reason he came then it was a useless mission. There should be some marked difference between then and now, something permanent and lasting, something only the son of God could do.
The Catholic Church tells us that through baptism the stain of original sin Is removed. In Matthew 38 Christ gives the command, “go forth and baptize all nations, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Is this the reason he came? It was necessary for Christ to deliver the doctrine of the Trinity, the Old Testament contains everything needed to understand it, but until Christ came no one had put it altogether. So, yes, it was necessary for him to come teach us about the Trinity, and command us to baptize in their name. And, it is doubtful that the Trinitarian doctrine would have held much sway until after Christ rose from the dead. So, this is surely one part of his mission. But the fact that every person born is still stained with the Catholic Church’s concept of original sin, and that it can only removed through Baptism, hasn’t changed man. The unbaptised man is still what he was before Christ’s death and resurrection – stained with Original Sin.
There must be something more. Something so far reaching and permanent, something affecting every person who was born and died since Christ came. Only something this remarkable could have prompted the immortal Son of God to leave the heavens, take on human form, suffer, die, and rise again. And here is where the Eastern Church differs in teaching from all others.
According to the Eastern Church’s teaching, Christ came to restore the union with God that was lost through Adam’s sin, to restore us to what we were meant to be – one with God in heaven. Now, through Christ’s death, man (after death) once again regains the unity with God in heaven. To fully understand this, and to validate it through Scripture, we must understand two words, and one action.
The two words are Sheol and Gehenna. Sadly, most English translations use the same word (hell) for both words, but there is a difference. Gehenna is the abode of the damned, and is what we understand as hell – the place where the souls of the damned abide for all eternity. Sheol, in contrast, was where those not damned (more on that in another post) were consigned to await the coming of the Christ.
Now the action. In Matthew 27:52 he relates how, after Jesus’ crucifixion, many of those who had died arose and walked the streets. These were the first born of the dead, released from Sheol to appear, as Christ said they would (Luke 16:31), as proof of his teachings. Now we too, as the Church teaches, will also participate in the afterlife as Christ promised (assuming we are found worthy). This is the one thing that only the Son of God could have done, and the only permanent change to mankind, available to all, and which cannot be taken away or undone.
So, next time someone tells you that Christ died for your sins, tell them, “No, he died so that we may be united with him in heaven.”
Glory to Jesus Christ,
The Modern Theologian