In recent days I’ve been re-studying Hebrews, re-reading my notes from 29 years ago and 14 years ago, the two times I did full-blown studies of the book, as well as the additional comments sprinkled in from further read-throughs and evaluations, and of course adding more thoughts from my current vantage point.
Reading Hebrews again has given me the courage I need to face one of the bastions of fundamental and evangelical Christianity that I’ve been wanting to face off with for a while. At first I didn’t know that this picture had larger implications, but I have since learned that it does.
It is . . .
The Courtroom is without a doubt a massive part of the architecture of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. It looms in front of us, with its enormous podium where God (the Father) sits, perhaps with a large white wig and definitely with a large gavel to bang in the name of Justice. Distant. Fearsome.
In front of Him stands God (the Son) ready to passionately plead the case of the already-condemned prisoner off to the side.
In The Courtroom scenario, God (the Father) is ready to send the condemned prisoner to a just punishment, but the condemned prisoner is sorry, but God (the Father) demands just punishment for sins committed, so God (the Son) intervenes with the ultimate intervention: Himself. He lets the Father know that He, the Son, has taken or will take the punishment instead so that Justice can be served.
God (the Father) agrees that this fulfills Justice, God (the Son) receives the just punishment, and the penitent prisoner is released.
The Courtroom is used so ubiquitously to explain salvation that challenging it is almost tantamount to heresy.
And of course, for many years, I didn’t. It was part of the warp and woof of my thinking.
But then—and only because of the Bible, not because of any other books I was reading—I began to wonder about it. See, the problem is that The Courtroom isn’t in the Bible. And that bothered me.
It had already been bothering me that God the Father and God the Son were being so split up in this scenario that I would hear people refer to them as “God” and “Jesus” as if Jesus weren’t God. That troubled me a good bit.
But the Lack of Courtroom in the Bible began to disturb me on its own.
Fact is, The Courtroom isn’t even a remotely Biblical concept. After all, courtrooms such as that which is presented in The Courtroom came along hundreds of years after Bible times.
A few years ago I asked on my Facebook page for anyone who could to give me Scriptural reference that would support The Courtroom. I pondered the Scriptures that were offered, and I considered. None of them actually supported the judge-and-attorney style courtroom presented in The Courtroom.
The Courtrooms in Scripture
There are three perhaps-pertinent courtrooms presented in the Scriptures. That is, I’ve heard of at least one of them being used to represent our salvation. All of them are about Jesus.
— Jesus appeared before the High Priest in the Jewish court. The high priest condemned Him as a blasphemer.
— Jesus appeared before Herod in Herod’s court. Herod mocked Him and allowed his soldiers to mock and abuse Him.
— Jesus appeared before Pilate in Pilate’s court. This, in my experience, is the one that has been used to support The Courtroom metaphor. Jesus, we are told, took the punishment for Barrabas, and we are all Barrabas, we’re told, so by extension we can see that He took the punishment for us.
This means, in The Courtroom scenario, Pilate would represent God the Father, wanting above all to do Justice? No, it’s very clear from the text that he only wanted to appease the crowd.
And did Jesus offer Himself in place of Barrabas? No, it was the frenzied mob who called for that.
And was Barrabas sorry for his sins, an essential ingredient of The Courtroom metaphor? There is no indication. No, nowhere. Could Jesus really have substituted for Barrabas if Barrabas wasn’t even sorry? How does that follow through with the way salvation is represented to us?
Though this one has been used in sermons to reinforce The Courtroom, it falls apart upon even slight examination.
So, back to my initial observation: there is no Courtroom presentation in the Scriptures, in the way The Courtroom is presented today.
The alternative to The Courtroom
What I HAVE found in the Scriptures, over and over, through and through, is the Temple/Tabernacle Sacrificial System. Without doubt, and very clearly, our Lord Jesus is presented as both the Great High Priest and the sacrificial lamb.
And here I am studying Hebrews again.
I see it every which way I turn. There He is, being our Great High Priest. There He is, being the sacrifice. There He is, tearing the veil. There He is, in the Holy of Holies. Inviting us to join Him there, in relationship with the Father.
There is so much, so much available for us in Jesus Christ, my brothers and sisters. He has already given us the metaphor He wants us to use, and He invites us to explore it to its fullest.
THIS is the picture of our salvation that the Lord wants us to focus on. I will say it boldly: The Courtroom falls short in almost every way and is not what the Lord has chosen as the appropriate representation of His great salvation.
As it turns out, I was seeing these problems and writing about them before I put them all together as all being related to The Courtroom.
Where I’ve addressed these issues in the past
In 2017 I wrote the post “Jesus as Intercessor: Barely Restraining God’s Wrath?” – observing problems with The Courtroom, but not yet realizing that I needed to completely walk away from it. In The Courtroom, Jesus is never freed from His job of “pleading our case” like a lawyer (because God the Father must be either very forgetful or overflowing with rage). This is not how He is presented in the Scriptures.
In The Courtroom, God the Father continues to present as an angry Judge. This is not who He is in the Scriptures.
The Courtroom is all about getting or not getting what I deserve. That isn’t where the Scriptures focus.
In The Courtroom, our “justification” is simply a legal declaration based on Christ’s righteousness. This is not what the Scriptures teach us.
In The Courtroom, even though we are no longer condemned, we are left unchanged. This is not what is presented in the Scriptures.
As I’ve written about several times, these teachings and others like them conspire to bring about a Christian life that for many is fraught with discouragement, so different from what Jesus promised.
I invite you
I invite you to walk away from The Courtroom and explore The Temple. Not as an add-on to The Courtroom, but as its complete substitute.
And, to be clear, this is not because I want to try to return to a form of worship that tries to resemble that of the Old Testament. (If you’ve read my statement of faith, you know that I stand by the teachings of the Bible that the New Covenant is far better than the Old and the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New, specifically through the Lord Jesus Christ.)
But rather, because the symbols presented in the New Covenant—found in the New Testament Scriptures—are from The Temple rather than The Courtroom.
I think you’ll find, as I have, that this new exploration is life-transforming.
I understand that walking away from The Courtroom puts me at odds with a number of those in the Christian faith. But I’m used to that sort of thing by now, and I know it’s worth it.
Because we, the redeemed in Jesus Christ, never belonged in The Courtroom. We have always belonged in The Temple.
Lord willing, this is the first in a series I hope to write over the coming weeks.
Addendum: Someone asked me about the Last Day judgments, the Judgment Seat of Christ and separating the sheep from the goats. “In the jumble of teaching that swirls in my head, the present courtroom is done in preparation for the final courtroom to ensure good behavior today and ultimate destination later.”
Yes, this should have been included in this article, so here it is now.
In John 5:22 Jesus told His followers that the Father does not judge but has appointed all judgment to the Son. In the Last Day judgments, the Son is judging, and the Father is completely unified with the Son, having handed over all judgment to Him.
Also, that judgment is not a way to explain salvation but is about final judgment. This is a very different scenario from the way The Courtroom is presented to us as an explanation of salvation.
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