Anyway, this piece involves figural interpretation, typologies, and a rich biblical theology. In retrospect, I think this is a gem and am surprised at myself. I think I stumbled onto somethings which I am now only beginning to understand. Anyway, I've left it mostly unedited. Enjoy.
This story begins right after Adam and Eve have been cast from Eden and kept from the Tree of Life but given a promise of returning one day. This promise spoke of a coming son, a human no less, who would upend the Enemy, the Liar, the Snake in the Garden. Who this son would be, no one knew. Eve was so excited over this prophecy that she believed her first-born son was indeed the Christ.:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Yet this man was not the Christ, Cain was the first murderer:
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
He burned with envy as his brother who offered the first of his flock and the best of his profession received acceptance where his offering was rejected. Even as the Lord speaks to him as a man, warning him of the danger that awaits, that his evil desire will birth sin (as James talks about in his letter). Yet there Cain, the would-be messiah is in fact anti-Christ. He says with almost a sneer that drips off the page, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
So Cain is exiled and bears a mark that will prevent his mere murder. He is to bear this as an outside to all others in the Human race. He goes and builds his own city (the first ever it would seem) and continues life. And yet, when his own kin commits his same crime, he calls upon this mark and demands not just 7 times vengeance but 77 times vengeance. 7 times 7 is an idiom in Hebrew to connote infinity. So thus this cycle of retributive violence begins:
Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.
Doesn’t some of this sound familiar? Jesus, the true Christ, taught not 7 times forgiveness but 77 times forgiveness. He bears the mark as He is led outside the city. He calls down forgiveness on those murdering Him. As the author of Hebrews says it: “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel”. In this Jesus is undoing all the curse that Humanity has brought upon itself!
While Eve still had high hopes soon (she even thought Seth was the christ, see Genesis 4:25), Jesus manifests them, not only for her slain son but her murderous son. Jesus goes and builds a new city and sets a new mark. Forgiveness is to be the sign of a New World, not vengeance. In Christ Jesus, God was reconciling the world. In christ Cain, the world went asunder as he brought vengeance through his sin. Christ Jesus succeeded in overcoming sin and death where the First Man Adam failed and invited these into the world and negating God’s love. However this same King also brought peace where the first ‘christ’ failed; where the first king, the first city-builder, brought injustice and violence.
This is a wonderful sign that Forgiveness is the curse turned to blessing, that the Lord is always at work to destroy the power of sin. It is the Lord’s business to recreate what was destroyed, to resurrect what was dead. Adam’s line and Cain’s curse brought an endless cycle of killing, hatred and violence but Christ’s life and blessing brings something new. The way being human was truly meant to be.
Following Christ is not about, as Bonhoeffer put it, being Homo Religiosus. Following Christ does not just make a man more pious, or someone who believes in some propositional truths that others do not adhere to. Christ’s teaching was not moral reform, it was a revolution. It was resurrection. Christ was not a good way, or a better way or even the best way. It is the only way. Christ was not just a better man or the best man, He is the True Man. Following Him is to learn to be truly Human, to be given a new heart and a recreation, being conformed in death and life into the Christ Jesus. Formerly we were under the rule of Cain, now we’re under the rule of Christ.
This all leads to the sad history of the Christian church. Not the universal and invisible reality of all believers. No, not even some of the underground forms that were true expressions of Christ’s followers and people. I’m talking about State-powered churches, churches that have drunk the wine of Babylon, been seduced by power, and have made a mockery of the Gospel. They synthesize into structures of power and become nothing more than a religious sacred-space for an Empire instead of being the citizens of a New City.
Specifically from history, the Emperor Justinian comes to mind. This man was praised by his mouthpieces in the Empire as a just and fair ruler. He ruled the Empire with an iron-fist but, more importantly, he dominated the Church.
While according to his sycophants he was worthy of the epithet ‘The Great’, a brave historian by the name of Procopius dared to write the truth. While much of it seems slanderous, Justinian is revealed as a man driven by a lust for greed, murder and money. This man who ruled the Church! This man, who thought himself very pious, had any before him refer to him as Master and they as Slave! He built the Hagia Sophia, wrote hymns and theological documents, but this man who acted as Christ’s Vicar was more akin, as Procopius calls him, to the Lord of Flies. He is only cultivating death in the halls of power. His court was thoroughly corrupted with flatterers, greedy, vain and ambitious men who seek nothing but riches and glory. Whether or not this Imperial government functioned is irrelevant (though, it was a total disaster and brought decline), this man claimed to represent Christ.
This is what the path to this sort of power brings forth. Justinian, and many others, have tried to reign as a christ from their very own little Jerusalem. Be it Popes in Rome or Emperors in Constantinople, both try and usurp the reign of Jesus. Instead of turning to the True Christ, they return to Cain and rule by his mark. They reject forgiveness and turn towards vengeance. They try to sit on the throne of Jerusalem, they come bursting through the gates on their white horses of conquest. I don’t care whether Justinian vigorously argued for the decision made at the Council of Chalcedon (regarding the nature of Christ’s divinity and humanity). This man was thoroughly anti-Christ. It’s like a usurper besieging the True King’s Castle while trying to sort out that same King’s genealogy as a panegyric. For those with eyes to see, it is clear that the latter task is a trivial formality to the traitorous reality of the former action. He’s trying to take the throne!
Yet, an Empire is not made by an Emperor alone. Though the man has a legitimate monopoly on violence (as all states attempt to do), there are those who go along and cheer-lead for the expansion of the Empire. In the days of the Byzantine Empire, it was those who promoted that the Roman Empire was the equivalent to the realm of Christianity. What was good for “Rome” (the Byzantine Empire considered itself Roman but had little real control over Italy by the 6th century) was good for the Church. The identity of the Church was fused to the State.
Now a days, we have a much more subtle attempt at this. American culture and conquest is received as a crusade. We even had a president who phrased it this way. Oh no, not a theocracy but for democracy and the American Way. Right? Yet for some, American-Christianity has become just that, a fusion and syncretic desecration of God’s Holy Kingdom. It is returning to Cain. Christo-Americanism has declared America, not Jesus, to be the Christ. That we are the new Israel. Yes, this sort of crude portrayal is only in the darkest corners of the Internet and independent book-stores. Yet functionally it is so. We see men like Rick Perry trying to lead the prayer of the nation in a political stunt to show his pious credentials. We see someone like Sarah Palin being anointed and prayed over as she sought her political ambitions [NB. The current election ought to make this point even more apparent, particularly Falwell Jr., Paula White, David Jeremiah et al. backing Donald Trump and getting him to engage in weird Evangelical-Charismania practices--CP]. These people and their handlers are not totally stupid, they actually believe this and people actually are inspired by this. This country is filled with Sacralist heresy.
Why do people turn to rule as Cain did? Why do we go and continue on the succession of violence, conquest and death? It is humanity’s way until the glorious appearing of our Savior. We were all dead until His light shined through, broke our chains, and set us free to follow. Any who call on the name of Christ, do not be deceived by mere names. Many still are looking for a christ or believe they found the christ somewhere else. Jesus is the Christ, He is undoing the Curse by Forgiveness. Peace, Joy and Righteousness: these are the way He has called us to. Don’t find solace in any city that seeks to be a Jerusalem, either America or Byzantium. Cain is not the christ, nor are any who follow in his wake.
Jesus is Lord. While the cities of man exist and we dwell in them, there is none who represents the reign of God. Only Jesus is King of the New Jerusalem, our city. The churches that belong to Him are congregations of His people in exile, pilgrim-people waiting for His glorious return while working to spread the Kingdom and promote justice in the land. Call men to the True Man, the True King, not to those who try and usurp. They try and make man into their particular image, their Homo Romanus or Homo Americanus, which gives some moral reform that is sprinkled with nationalized christianity. Jesus brings us resurrection into true life.