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The Destiny of Human Sex and Gender

Sunday, 15 October 2017  | Jennifer Cox and John Yates


A worldly Western Church has lost its way and no longer has a vision of her God-appointed destiny. This is particularly manifest when it comes to understanding the nature of gender. The thesis of this paper is that the purpose and reality of human gender and sex can only be comprehended from the perspective of the End, a perfected state already realised in the exalted humanity of Jesus.

Rejecting all such absolute reference points, modern western culture postulates that gender is fluid, with drastic consequences. Some, feeling they are in the wrong body, resort to hormonal treatment and invasive surgery to look like the opposite sex to that of their birth. Our society delights in such power of will. Media coverage of intersex individuals has been used to ‘prove’ the idea that gender is fluid and that gender identity is solely a matter of personal choice. More broadly, we are told that anyone should be able to marry someone of their own sex, without prejudice. So many of these demands are driven by deep inner pain, an anguish that must be viewed through the all-compassionate eyes of Christ. Whilst it is not the place of Christians to ‘judge outsiders’, we must show due concern for the common good of society and especially the influence that such passions are having upon the thinking of the Church (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Cultural values around gender identity are progressively being assimilated into the Church. The numbers of influential Evangelicals changing their minds and teaching that same-sex marriage is compatible with Scripture continues to swell and is a surprise to us all. Many other sincere Christians are becoming confused and fearful of being labelled ‘homophobic’ or ‘transphobic’.

Male and Female and Human Destiny

Assuming that the biblical material is clear, and that God made two distinct sexes, male and female, why have believers accommodated their thinking to the culture? Numerous factors are at work here: biblical illiteracy, pressure on pastors to preach ‘relevant’ sermons, a loss of understanding of holiness, and a watered down gospel that dilutes conviction about the lordship of Jesus Christ. More foundationally, however, these are all symptoms of a Church where eschatology, the presence of the End in the present (Heb. 6:5), is dead. Many contemporary believers simply have no witness of what they are destined to become.

What then is the End goal of the Christian life and the final destiny of the Church? The book of Revelation is especially instructive here. In various unrestricted pictorial ways, Revelation testifies to the present action of God in the world and its relation to the future that he has prepared for his Church (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-10). Two types of humanity are symbolised in Revelation: ‘those who dwell on earth’ (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 14:6), which is a cipher for unbelievers; and ‘those who dwell in heaven’ (12:12; 13:6), representing the followers of Christ. Participation in the heavenly world’s perspective on reality is shared exclusively with the saints on earth (1:1; 22:6). Those who do not know Christ are completely oblivious to the destiny God has prepared for his people, a destiny that focuses on two very different kinds of Women.

The systems of this world are symbolised by the Great Prostitute ‘who corrupted the earth with her immorality’. Although she has long ruled the earth, God finally judges her (19:2) to make way for the manifestation of the other Woman, the Bride of the Lamb. On the occasion of this wedding, all creation breaks loose with unhindered praise (19:5-9). Overwhelmed by the beauty and glory of what he sees, the apostle John begins to worship the angelic revealer of the vision. But he is rebuked with words that speak deeply to our need for clarity today: ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev. 19:10). Given the setting for this utterance, we are being told that the essence and climax of all biblical prophecy has to do with a wedding between the Bridegroom - Christ and the Bride - Church. If Christians do not look at the present earthly scene through the eschatological (End) lens of this final marriage, we will inevitably be confused about gender and marriage. Unless we are seeing in the Spirit (Rev. 1:10), we will either submit to contemporary cultural pressures or mount a rear guard action that moralises the essentially spiritual and relational dimensions of matrimony. Against all normal modes of understanding, the place to see in the Spirit is a place of brokenness.

Paradoxically, but in complete coherence with the life of Christ (Isa. 53:2), the visions of the final beautification of Church contained in Revelation were given to a tiny, weak and persecuted body, whose place in the great Empire of Rome seemed completely insignificant. The Western Church, in its pretensions to social significance, cannot see the glorious heavenly vistas that truly belong to the persecuted people of God (Eph. 3:12). Jesus, however, sees us in the light of his sacrifice. With his eyes filled by the reality of the End, Christ sees his Church-Bride as ‘without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’ (Eph. 5:27). As the victorious Lamb, his blood testifies in heaven of just how beautiful his Bride is in his sight (Heb. 10:23; Rev. 5:6). Tragically, much of comfortable Western Christianity is spiritually blind to these transcendent heavenly truths because it desires to be attractive and relevant to the wider world (Rev. 3:17-18).

The destiny of God’s chosen people, pathetic as they are in worldly terms (1 Cor. 1:26-28), is to be invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. Revelation culminates with ecstatic images of this truly climactic event:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev 21:1-4)

We see from these images that it is glorious marital bliss, devoid of all suffering, that will fill the universe forever. How little it is grasped today that marriage is an indispensible key to understanding the whole of the Scriptures. The Bible, indeed human reality itself, concludes as it starts; it is bookended by marriage.

The Testimony of Marriage

Adam and Eve were not simply an earthly couple brought together by a social contract; they are types of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). The two God-created human sexes that are male and female exist in order to point us towards our eternal destiny. Their supernaturally arranged union, carried out by God (Gen 2:21-24), involved a prophetic and anticipatory participation in the End-time union of Christ and the Church. They did not consciously know such great truths, as the vast majority of married couples do not, but God always knew what he was up to. We must not think, however, that the divine design for marriage is only about a set of ideas.

Marriage in the design of God is more than a metaphor or symbol of his relationship with his people, whether humanity in Eden, Israel under the old covenant or the Church (e.g. Isa. 54:5-8; Jer. 3:14, 20; 2 Cor. 11:2). Every marriage has an inherent relation and prophetic End-goal connection to God’s eternal plan to be wedded to his people. Most marriages will never participate in their true End goal, but the essential covenantal character of matrimony as such exists in the divine purpose to testify about the marriage of Christ. Just as the stars continue to speak of God’s glory (Ps. 19:1-6), even if men and women do not acknowledge it, so too marriages, whether understood or not, continue to testify by their very existence to the final marriage that sums up the reason for creation. These insights should inform us about the boundaries of gender and marriage.

If gender and its meaning are fluid and definable merely by human choice, then the biblical understanding of marriage is completely evacuated. Human deconstruction and reconstruction, whether considered at a conceptual or material level, cannot undo the very ground of either the original or new creation. The Lord has from the beginning enabled love between the two sexes he willed to create; but he cannot be constrained to enable love between what we will to legislate or manipulate (Rev. 4:11). The warning of Jesus, ‘he who created them from the beginning made them male and female ... What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’, applies to any attempt to redefine marriage (Matt. 19:6). It is dangerous to make a mockery of God-ordained human destiny.

Look to Our Heavenly Bridegroom

The solution to our confusions about marriage is simple, even if it is more than logical. It is to allow the Holy Spirit to dynamically reinsert us into the love story of creation and new creation. Just as a bride and bridegroom on their wedding day have eyes only for one another, so too the Church must have eyes for no one but Jesus. Let us again be a people who long exclusively for his appearing (2 Tim 4:8). It is time to end all our earthly dalliances. When our eyes are off ourselves and back on Jesus, then we can understand who we are and what we have been created for. Then we can see our destiny. This will require a repentance from loving worldly ways of thinking and living (1 John 2:15). As we turn to Christ, the solidity of gender and marriage will be confirmed in our midst by God’s own glorious presence. As the Church-Bride lives uncompromisingly as a different kind of human being from the Harlot-Babylon, so she knows irresistibly her marital status before the Lord, and testifies to this without fear or favour. She already images before a perishing world - for even the best marriages down here end - the destiny of all things (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal 6:15).

The current discussions about gender and same-sex marriage are heavy with prophetic and eschatological significance. Their importance means that the Church must not in any way compromise with the world, but press in to closer union with her Groom, growing into ‘the image of the heavenly man [Jesus]’ (1 Cor. 15:49). Whatever the passing fashions and decisions of the culture may be, we are a betrothed people with a form of humanity unalterably tied to Christ’s heavenly perfection. In the End we will be at the great wedding supper of the Lamb, eternally in union with him, as it was planned from the beginning. This perfect union of Bride and Groom, Church and Jesus, depends upon and is the ultimate expression of the one basic differentiation within humanity, male and female. Through this distinction in love we will glorify God forever.

As Revelation ends with a conjoint cry, ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come"’ (Rev 22:16), may this be our prayer. A prayer for the revelation of Jesus our great Groom in whom we have deliverance from all the trials and temptations of this world.

Jennifer Cox is an adjunct lecturer in systematic theology at Tabor College (Perth campus) and the author of Autism, Humanity and Personhood: A Christ-Centred Theological Anthropology (2017), Jesus the Disabled God (2017), Intersex in Christ: Ambiguous Biology and the Gospel (coming in 2018) and Spiritual Gifts: A Christ-Centered Perspective (also coming in 2018).

John Yates is an ordained Anglican minister and chair of the Evangelical Alliance Foundation.

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