“The theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism” – Moltmann on the Gentile centurion and Jesus’ Easter appearances

There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24)

Detail from Rubens, Christ on the Cross

I recently got the chance to finally read Jürgen Moltmann’s theological classic The Crucified God. I’ll post more on that later. Below is an excerpt where Moltmann contemplates the confession of the Gentile centurion, who stood in front of Jesus as he died: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) and how that relates to Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2015)

“The confession of faith does not come from a pious disciple of Jesus, nor even from a Jew, who might have some understanding, but from the Gentile, Roman centurion who was presumably in charge of the execution squad. Whereas only the disciples who had fled had a part in the Easter appearances, and they shared with the Jews a certain common context in which to set Jesus’ ‘resurrection from the dead’ when they began to preach, according to Mark the passion and the cross of Jesus is directed immediately towards the Gentiles. If the Easter appearances were only perceived in the utmost privacy by the disciples, and if the message of the resurrection was at first understandable only in the realm of Israelite apocalyptic traditions, this happened publicly through the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, it even happened outside the gate of the city of Jerusalem with its temple, and therefore outside the boundary of Israel, on Golgotha, and outside the ‘hedge of Israel’, i.e., its legal tradition. It happened, in fact, on the boundary of human society, where it does not matter whether a person is Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian, master or servant, man or woman, because death is unaware of all these distinctions. So the crucified one does not recognize these distinctions either. If his death is proclaimed and acknowledged as the death of the Son of God ‘for many’, as by that centurion, then in this death God’s Son has died for all, and the proclamation of his death is for all the world. It must undermine, remove and destroy the things which mark men out as elect and non-elect, educated and uneducated, those with possessions and those without, the free and the enslaved. The Gentile-Christian proclamation concerns all men, because confronted with the cross all men, whatever the differences between them and whatever they may assert about each other, ‘are sinners and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). ‘Here there is no distinction’ (Rom. 3:23a). Gentile-Christian proclamation must therefore essentially be the proclamation of the crucified Christ, i.e. the word of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). The proclamation of the cross is ‘Christianity for all the world’ (Blumhardt), and may not erect any new distinctions between men, say between Christians and non-Christians, the pious and the godless. Its first recognition leads to self-knowledge: to the knowledge that one is a sinner in solidarity with all men under the power of corruption. Therefore the theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism. There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). As the crucified one, the risen Christ is there ‘for all’. In the cross of the Son of God, in his abandonment by God, the ‘crucified’ God is the human God of all godless men and those who have been abandoned by God.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God 2015, pp. 279-280)