The text for this week:
8bwho layeth down his life according to the flesh and taketh it again by the power of the spirit that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. 9Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men. And they that believe in him shall be saved.
I feel like this section really connects with 7-8b thematically, and would encourage continued discussion on Deidre’s insightful post as I think it will further the work on this section as well. To this end, my post this week is mostly a series of questions aimed at furthering discussion.
The action of “layeth” in “layeth down his life” gives us a Christ who is in control, who masters his movements, presents his gift, who willingly dies. (Is there another way to read this? I’m missing it if there is.) Why does Lehi qualify or clarify this description with “according to the flesh”? Is there any sense of “accord” here as agreement? That is, in agreement with or in obedience to the laws governing the flesh? Is this emphasis on death as a physical, embodied experience significant?
“and taketh it again”: I think the more expected phrase here would be “and taketh it up again”, but clearly there is no “up” in play. Why? I’m reading this as a way of emphasizing both Christ’s power and right—he is strong enough to take; taking, grasping, holding is his right as the firstborn (in taking his life-as-flesh again he takes his inheritance). The word “again” implies a repetition of a previous action—are we to understand Christ’s original incarnation as a taking? Also, clearly this again is misleading: Christ does not take again the same flesh, but rather perfected, celestial flesh. It’s a repetition with a difference. But what if it isn’t? What if the “again” is not misleading? Could the point be not the difference of the resurrected flesh (it’s escape from death) but rather its sameness? (i.e., this body is not something foreign, but rather familiar, in fact, the same?)
Is it significant that Lehi presents the resurrection in a binary pair of actions?
“by the power of the spirit”: what is this power? What does this phrase mean? Whose spirit? His? The Holy Ghost? How can a spirit have power to physically grasp (take)? If we read this as Christ’s spirit, does this change our understanding of our own spirits in any way? Do our spirits effect physical change in our world / lives?
“that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise”: Why the sudden introduction of the conditional here (“may” and “should”)? Why not just “that he brings to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first to rise”?
“Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God”: the sacrificial language here is clear. But we normally think about Christ’s sacrifice as linked with the imagery of the sacrificial lamb, or perhaps the scape goat—in other words, animal sacrifice. I think it’s interesting that after this careful, logical traversing of the atonement Lehi deliberately aligns the sacrifice not with animal, but rather vegetation. He is Abel’s offering, not Cain’s. And again, the question of word choice: why “unto” God? It’s easy to read this description quickly with Christ as God’s firstborn, first full fruit from God himself, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. So in what sense is he the first fruit if it’s not paternal?
It’s worth looking at Jacob 4:11 here too: “Wherefore, beloved, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, that ye may obtain a resurrection according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first fruits of Christ unto God.”
How is firstfruits used differently here? If Christ is the firstfruits unto God, and we are the firstfruits of Christ, what, exactly, does that mean? Why the difference?
“inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men”: Does this “inasmuch” qualify Christ’s sacrifice? It seems to say that the sacrifice is effective/effected only on the condition that it be available to everyone. Why this qualification? What does this tell us about the nature of sacrifice? Of atonement? “Intercession”—how is this word used here? Does it align with a more judicial, law-oriented sense of the term? Or does it evoke the intimacy of a personal plea? (Or, of course, both?) How does it provide further evidence for the discussion regarding opposition that Lehi is gearing up for?
“And they that believe in him shall be saved.” This is a fairly straightforward, declarative statement after many sentences flavored by clauses and conditions. Perhaps Lehi does this to provide contrast? That is, that while the mechanics of the sacrifice and atonement are themselves necessarily murky at best, the mechanics of salvation itself appear much simpler: belief. Perhaps this contrast clarifies grace? Perhaps it calls the attention of his listening sons?