In this graduation season, it is good to reflect on the huge transition we’ve already made, and on the even greater one to come.
It’s late spring, and it’s graduation season here in North America. Students are congratulated, honored for completing some level of education, encouraged as they go on to the next step—whether that’s additional school or heading into employment, the adult world, supporting themselves.
We don’t encounter much in the way of formal schooling in the Bible. Paul mentions being “educated at the feet of Gamaliel”, an important Torah scholar in Jerusalem. There were rabbis (which means teachers), and they had disciples (which means students).
The Greco-Roman world, in which our New Testament is set, did have formal education, including universities, but there’s only slight reference to it. Paul advances a brief parable that the Law was a paidagogos to bring us to Christ.
We’ve graduated from Law to faith
This is the origin of the English word “pedagogue”, a teacher—but in Greek it doesn’t actually mean a teacher. It’s the role of a servant whose duty was to take a child to school. Paul goes on to refer to a sort of graduation—saying we are no longer under a paidagogos. We’ve graduated from Law to faith, he says. (Galatians 3:24-25)
There’s nothing in scripture about any formal celebration of graduating from one level to another. But (you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you?) there’s plenty of teaching about advancing to a new level, spiritually.
Let’s start with Jesus. There was clearly an advancement when he was 12, and stayed in Jerusalem after Passover to converse with the scholars in the Temple. (Luke 2:42-49) There was no such thing as a bar mitzvah at this time (that didn’t come till the Middle Ages). But clearly Jesus was taking a step up here, and it seems he was welcomed into the discussions among the rabbis. They recognized that he had graduated from childhood to adult-level studies.
There is, actually, a formal advancement to a new stage for Jesus. At his baptism, around 30 years old, he underwent a tremendous life transition. God pronounced Himself well pleased with His Son—all exams passed! No diploma, but an anointing of the Holy Spirit. And quite clearly a commission to begin his life’s work as Messiah, leaving behind his previous life in the building trades. (Matthew 3:16-17, John 1:29-41)
We might ask if there’s anything similar in our lives, and of course there is.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Our baptism is a graduation, a formal demarcation between our life previously, and a whole new life. We go from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ”. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
And there’s another, even greater graduation yet to come for us. The next verse in Romans 6 refers to it:
It is also in the 1 Corinthians passage (verses 19-23). The great graduation will involve a physical transformation (verses 35-53). It is to this we aspire, with dedication and total commitment.
In this graduation season, it is good to reflect on the huge transition we’ve already made, and on the even greater one to come. As Paul says in the next verse in Philippians, “Let those of us who are mature think this way.” Looking forward to the combination commencement speech and diploma: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord!”