We continue with Greg Schliesmann’s third installment from his series critiquing Zane Hodges’s The Hydra’s Other Head: Theological Legalism.
Jesus Never Invited the Lost to Believe in His Death?
With another sweeping claim Hodges says, “in offering eternal life, Jesus Himself never invited anyone at all to believe in...” Hodges then lists eight truths, none of which are part of the saving message according to Hodges. Those truths include “His death on the cross for our sins” and “His bodily resurrection.”
However, most Bible students can immediately think of verses in the Gospel of John in which Jesus connected believing in His death with the offer eternal life. For example:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:14-15).With John 3:14-15 in mind, one author described salvation as a matter of “looking to Christ and his cross alone”; “trust completely in what Christ has done for us in dying for all our sins” (1John 2:2; John 1:29); “...look to the cross and find peace by believing,” “trust completely in Christ and what He did on the cross;” and claimed “any system of doctrine that forbids us to find complete peace by simply looking to God’s Son, who was lifted up for us on the cross, can by no means claim to be the true Gospel.”
So what? That author was Zane Hodges in the postscript of The Gospel Under Siege. How could Hodges offer John 3:14-15 as the support of such statements and then claim “in offering eternal life, Jesus Himself never invited anyone at all to believe in” His death on the cross?
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, How can this Man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day ,” (John 6:51-54).How does this passage fit with Hodges claim that “in offering eternal life, Jesus Himself never invited anyone at all to believe in” His death on the cross?
In offering eternal life in this passage, Christ did not describe it being found simply in the letters J-E-S-U-S or the “promise.” Rather, he spoke of “life” being found in the “bread” of His “flesh” (6:51). Likewise, the requirement “drink His blood” illustrates an appropriation of his death, not belief in the mere promise of life apart from His death.
Advocates of Hodges’s position will deny these rather obvious observations by pointing out people were saved during Jesus’ earthly ministry without understanding or believing the picture Christ illustrated in this passage. While that is true, it is still essential to interpret this passage.
Crossless Gospel advocates fail to deal with the proleptic nature of this statement. In other words, Christ spoke in anticipation of His death and resurrection to a general audience that was neither saved nor yet prepared to believe in Him (cf. 6:15, 26, 36). It was impossible to meet His condition to “drink my blood” before His blood was actually offered. Neither Jesus’ general audience nor His disciples understood His words at the time (6:52, 60). However, Christ knew the unsaved audience would generally be alive just months later when He fulfilled His part of the illustration by actually dying on the cross. Once the blood and flesh were given, it would then be incumbent upon them to meet the requirement that Christ set forth in the illustration with the words “eat my flesh...drink my blood.” It would be incumbent in the sense that their eternal destiny depended upon it (v. 53, 54). It is very significant that John uniquely included this and other proleptic statements in his Gospel.
Yet Hodges contends, “Theological legalism maintains that the saving message has ‘changed’ since the cross...Yet the ‘theological provisos’ required by theological legalism are absent from the Fourth Gospel....” One would have thought that Hodges would have dealt with such passages as John 3:14-14 and 6:51-54 before making that claim. But if Hodges interpreted this passage in a way that upheld any real meaning in Christ’s words, he could never claim, “in offering eternal life, Jesus Himself never invited anyone at all to believe in” His death.
It is also notable that the Apostle John, writing on this side of the cross, first appealed directly to His readers to “believe” in connection with and upon describing the death (19:35) and resurrection of Jesus (20:29-31).
Finally, Jesus Christ now invites the lost to believe in His death for our sins. Jesus Christ Himself preaches through the ministry of the Gospel:
“...and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near,” (Ephesians 2:17).
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2Cor. 5:20-21 ).
 Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, pp. 147-150.
Greg Schliesmann’s critique of Hodges’s polarizing Hydra’s Head article will be continued.