Friday, July 26, 2019
The Exaltation of the Son of Man
1. The Second Problem of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
In the first part of the doctrine of reconciliation, we looked at the atonement from the top down, at Jesus Christ the Lord as servant, at the God who humbled himself to reconcile us with himself. We will now look at that same doctrine from a second point of view, reflecting on the atonement from the bottom up, on Jesus Christ the servant as Lord, on the person exalted and therefore reconciled by God.
Special note must be made that our discussion of justification and now sanctification are based on Christology. We are grounding it in the being and action of Jesus Christ in his humiliation as the Son of God and exaltation as the Son of Man. It is in Christ that our movement from below to above is achieved. It is in the mirror of his exaltation that we will see ourselves reflected as slothful and miserable sinners and not just proud and fallen ones. It is also in him that we learn of our sanctification for service to God and others, our edification as his Church, and finally the Christian meaning of love.
2. The Homecoming of the Son of Man
The Word became flesh. If we emphasize the Word became flesh, we focus on the Son of God going into the far country in solidarity with human creatureliness and even sinfulness. If we emphasize the Word became flesh, we focus on the Son of Man returning home to a rightly ordered relationship with God, with others, and within himself. The one atonement in Jesus Christ includes both the movement out and the movement home. Having first emphasized that Jesus is fully God, we will now emphasize that Jesus Christ is fully human.
The Divine Election of Grace as the Basis of the Exaltation of Man in Christ
In Jesus Christ, God confronts us with his eternal will. He confronts us with his will as determined before creation but fulfilled in time. The true humanity of Jesus Christ is the revelation in time of the goal of God’s will before all time. From all eternity God in his Son freely chose in love to be for man and freely chose man to be for him. From all eternity the Son of God chose humiliation for himself and exaltation for the Son of Man so that even sinful man could participate in God’s own eternal life. From all eternity the Son of God graciously elected the Son of Man, and consequently the one whole Jesus Christ, and therefore all human beings in union with Jesus Christ. All past, present, and future actions of God in time relate directly or indirectly to this purpose.
The Incarnation as the Historical Fulfillment of Man’s Exaltation
God created, sustained, and ruled Heaven and Earth which existed on the basis of him but in distinction from him. Then something utterly new happened. God himself, without ceasing to be God, became a human creature. We may best describe this free act of God’s love by saying that God took our human way of being into unity with his own divine way of being. In this God showed his radical mercy toward us: he willed not only to be Lord of the covenant but also to be faithful partner of the covenant despite our faithlessness. We will now reflect on the existence of Jesus Christ from four separate viewpoints.
First, in Jesus Christ, God the Son became man.
This is an act of God’s grace and therefore wholly unmerited by us. When the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, he exalted our human way of being by taking it, in all its limitation and even corruption, into unity with his own divine way of being.
Second, in Jesus Christ, the existence of God the Son became the existence of a human being.
In Jesus Christ, we do not have God the Son existing side by side with Jesus the man. In Jesus Christ we do not have God the Son existing as part of Jesus the man; for example, as the spirit or mind or soul of Jesus. No, in Jesus Christ we have the existence of only God the Son. But we have God the Son in his full divinity existing as a human being.
Third, in Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity were united.
Divinity is the nature which Jesus Christ shares as the Son of God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Humanity is the nature which Jesus Christ shares as the Son of Man with all human beings. In Jesus Christ we have the existence of the Son of God as a human being and therefore the uniting of two natures which otherwise by definition cannot be united. This is a confession we can only make in the obedience of faith. We make it only because Jesus Christ confronts us as who he is. In doing so, he frees our reason from other norms which would otherwise prohibit this confession.
God the Son, while maintaining his divinity, assumed humanity and in doing so united both in the man Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus Christ, then, the Son of God participates in human nature. And in Jesus Christ the Son of Man participates in divine nature. There is, then, a reciprocal participation initiated by the Son of God in gracious humility and shared by the Son of Man in grateful exaltation.
In the one Jesus Christ the two natures of divinity and humanity are united but not by becoming identical or mixed. We therefore must not confuse them. If we do, this would mean that God had lost his divinity and changed himself into a human being, or that man had lost its humanity and become divine, or that Jesus Christ was half-divine and half-human, a demi-god or superman. But none of these three options conforms with the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ. With the New Testament we rightly affirm that Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father before all time yet also born of the Virgin Mary during the reign of Caesar Augustus. We rightly affirm that the union and mutual participation of divine and human nature takes place in Jesus Christ without mixture. This is the mystery of the Incarnation.
Taking care not to confuse the two natures, we must also be careful not to separate them. The two, though distinct, remain united. There is no element of God the Son’s divinity which shies from participation in human nature, and there is no element of humanity which is excluded from participating in God the Son’s divine nature.
Fourth, and in conclusion, Jesus Christ is wholly divine and wholly human without separation or confusion.
Divinity is proper to God the Son, while humanity is something he adopts and assumes. So his divinity participates in his humanity, and his humanity does participate in his divinity, but not in the same way. His divinity adopted his humanity while his humanity was adopted by his divinity. This means the determination by his divinity of his humanity is irreversible. This is the first differentiation we must note.
A second differentiation follows from this. In this unity of divinity and humanity, humanity did not become divinity. Jesus Christ as Son of God took humanity to himself and gave it existence and in so doing became Son of Man. However, there was no Son of Man taking divinity to himself. In his humiliation the Son of God became human, but in his exaltation the Son of Man did not become divine. The Son of God wholly gives, the Son of Man wholly receives, and in receiving the Son of Man is not divinized or deified but is set in perfect relationship with God. In the unity of the divine and the human, in the twofold determination by the divine of the human and of the human by the divine, the divine always rules and reveals and the human always serves and witnesses.
Again, from a slightly different viewpoint, the first differentiation, the determination by the Son of God and of the Son of Man, means that everything God is as God he is not only for himself but for man as well. It means the fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). Deity without diminishment takes concrete form in Jesus Christ. In this way the form of the divinity of the Son of God is determined freely in love in its assumption of humanity in Jesus Christ.
Again the second determination, that of the human by the divine, is based irreversibly on this first one. God became man, and because he did so, this man Jesus Christ is God. This does not mean that the humanity of this man is deified but that it is determined in its own way by the divinity which took form in it. It is humanity determined wholly by God’s grace. As such it is humanity determined as thankfulness and therefore sinless humanity. When the Son of God assumed our corrupted nature, he took upon himself our sin and guilt but added no corruption of his own. In this way he contradicted our self-contradiction. Tempted as we are, Jesus Christ never abandoned his thankfulness to God and therefore never sinned. In Jesus Christ evil finally failed as the improper determination of our human nature. This actual freedom from the power of sin is the exaltation of our humanity in Christ. So our exaltation in Jesus Christ is still hidden, is yet to be revealed, but already is definitely real.
The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ as the Revelation of Man’s Exaltation
Jesus Christ revealed himself as humble Lord and exalted Servant, reconciling man with God, during his life and in his death. However, his humiliation as Son of God and exaltation as Son of Man were not completed until he died on the cross. Only with his work completely finished could the supreme humiliation and exaltation of that work be fully revealed through his resurrection and ascension. His being raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand are the event of revelation upon which is based the knowledge of all people—past, present, and future—that Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh for God’s glory and our salvation.
3. Jesus Christ the Royal Man
We rightly speak of the “kingly office” of Jesus Christ because he proclaimed, started, and even was the Kingdom of God. Both Testaments refer to God as Lord. The New Testament makes clear that Jesus Christ is this Lord.
The Gospel Witness to the Distinctiveness of Jesus Christ as the Royal Man
As the one truly royal person, the proclaimer and presence of the Kingdom of God on Earth, Jesus Christ was distinctive. To begin with, Jesus Christ had a certain presence. He astonished all whom he encountered. Second, the astonishing presence of Jesus Christ always demanded decision. His presence demanded the new dedication of one’s life to him or one’s radical separation from him. Either way he was present as the Judge revealing what really did lurk in the heart of each. Third, Jesus Christ made so unique an impression as to be unforgettable. This is because, when he stood among others, he did so as their Lord. Whether he chose to speak or to keep quiet, he did so as the one in supreme command. Finally, the Gospels were written as testimonies to Jesus Christ who remains present in all his distinctiveness. He is still the one in supreme command who even now graciously frees us through the biblical witnesses to thankfully obey him like those witnesses.
Jesus Christ the Royal Man as the Image of God
Jesus Christ was and remains the image of God (Colossians 1:15). So, like God, Jesus Christ was despised by the world. For this reason the Son of Man bore witness to the humiliation of the Son of God in all its gory detail. Second, consistent with this, Jesus Christ ignored the powerful. God is a loser in the eyes of the world, so Jesus identified himself with others likewise considered losers.
Third, as the image of God with this being and attitude, Jesus Christ was conspicuously radical in relation to society and culture. In his royal freedom Jesus Christ simply bothered everybody all the time. Like God he accorded society and culture only provisional significance. He provisionally accepted the Temple, family, the Law, and other political, economic, and religious authorities and relationships. Yet he also manifested his ultimate superiority to, and royal freedom from, these arrangements. He declared himself greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6), declared loyalty to him more important than loyalty to family, freely healed on the Sabbath, etc. In this way, we do not know Jesus Christ as Lord if we do not acknowledge his absolute freedom from and opposition to our world of sin.
Finally, as God’s image, Jesus reflects God’s Yes to man despite our No to God. Jesus Christ is the royal man because in him alone God confronts us and saves us with his purifying mercy. He alone brings self-giving salvation and saving mercy to all us sinners in our misery. He does this because he sees we are sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). He steps into the breach as the good shepherd (Psalm 23) who gives his life for his sheep (John 10:11). We are blessed, then, when and because Jesus determines and pronounces us so. The poor are blessed, not because poverty is virtuous, and despite the misery of poverty, because it is the poor to whom Jesus preaches the Gospel (Matthew 11:5). The suffering of persecution is not pleasant, but Jesus summons the persecuted to exceeding gladness because they have been blessed with the freedom to live as witnesses to him. We are truly blessed in life and in death because the irreversible salvation and life and joy of God’s Kingdom have come to us in Jesus Christ.
The Life of Jesus Christ
The distinctiveness of Jesus Christ and his likeness to God became real in his life. By looking at the history of his life as attested in the Gospels, we may witness more clearly to the actuality of both his distinctiveness and his divine likeness in our own lives.
To begin with, the distinctiveness and divine likeness of Jesus Christ were characterized primarily by his very concrete yet always comprehensive Word. Jesus Christ spoke with human words. Yet his words revealed their power as the Word of God by establishing the canonical Gospels to the exclusion of all others as our normative witnesses to him. His Word revealed its power by gathering and strengthening the New Testament community as his own. And in hearing his Word of reconciliation, that community knew it had to and did go and proclaim that good news of Jesus Christ to the world. For he spoke, and it came to be;/ he commanded, and it stood firm (Psalm 33:9, English Standard Version, here and following).
The second impressive aspect of the life of Jesus Christ was his activity. The concrete speaking of Jesus Christ was the primary aspect of his life. Yet we must not separate his Word from his activity. His Word was always active and he was always active in his Word. The miraculous Word he proclaimed came to pass and the miracles he did served as signs of all he was and proclaimed. While we might compare the miracles of Jesus with the wonders performed by others, the Gospels do not do so. According to the Word of Jesus Christ attested in the Gospels, the absolutely new and miraculous event taking place with his presence and through his Word and in his acts is the Kingdom of God. What is utterly distinctive about his acts is that they alone manifest the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5).
The miracles of Jesus Christ all reveal the unlimited power, the freedom, of God alone. In all the miracles of Jesus Christ, and in his alone, the light of God’s kingdom shined in our world of darkness. This light is what distinguishes the kingdom of God and its miracles from all else. In the miracles of Jesus Christ, and in his alone, the light of God’s kingdom shined on people who were suffering. Second, this light shined almost exclusively on people suffering physically in the shadow of death. It was not the righteous to whom Jesus turned but those who suffered even as sinners. Third, the miracles of Jesus revealed God’s power, his unlimited freedom, to be the faithful covenantal partner with people who had specifically forsaken him. Fourth, the miracles of Jesus revealed a God who is for us and therefore opposed to the nothingness that seeks to destroy us and the sin that opens the door to it. In the miracles of Jesus, God demonstrates the triumphant power of his omnipotent mercy over the apparently supreme power of death. Finally, in the miracles of Jesus, and in his alone, we see the light of God’s grace. He does not help people because they are good but because they hurt and it is his good pleasure to help them.
A relationship exists between the miracles of Jesus and the faith of those for whom he acted in this way. Faith the size of a mustard seed (Luke 17:6) is faith which, though obviously not of heroic quality, is nonetheless of a certain quality. With this faith, the disciples themselves later proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom not only with miraculous words but with miraculous acts as well. This is the faith which two blind men who, when asked, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” by Jesus replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28). It is a faith so lacking in outward appearance that Jesus made a definite demand for its affirmation. Yet it is also a faith to which a miracle may be brought in response. The two blind men in their misery cried out to Jesus as the Son of David, and therefore as the King of Israel, for mercy. Their faith was their belief that Jesus, and in him the God of Israel, had come to them and had done so with the omnipotent mercy necessary to overcome their otherwise inescapable misery.
So the faith of these sufferers, sufficient to move mountains, great enough to do the otherwise impossible, is their knowledge of and trust in the gracious Lord of Israel who first revealed himself as the one who had come to deliver his people from all their affliction and so also could save them from their blindness. Objectively these two blind men belonged to Jesus Christ before subjectively responding to him in faith. This precedence of the objective lordship of Christ to the subjective response of faith is made even clearer in the healing of the blind man described in John 9. There the healing precedes the confession of faith it irresistibly calls forth. First Jesus Christ as Lord turns to us before we can and do turn in faith to him.
So miracle leads to faith. Jesus says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38). The powerfully merciful acts of Jesus were his powerful call to faith in God’s grace. Jesus did not do them to prove he was the Son of God. He did them because he was the Son of God graciously responding to the misery of man.
And faith leads to miracle. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) says Jesus to a woman who has just bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36f.) Her faith is her knowledge of, trust in, and obedience to Jesus as Savior of the world and so her Savior too. So faith has its origin in Jesus, is obedient to Jesus, and leads to Jesus. Faith is our work, our active response, to this one source, center, and goal. By faith we participate in the salvation that is ours in Christ and summon others to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is their living Lord and Savior as well. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do…” (John 14:12). In doing so we move from Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus, and proclaim the good news to others that they too may do the same by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In summary, Jesus Christ has set us free from the power of death for obedience to God as his partners. In faith we participate in that freedom as God’s partners. Faith is the human counterpart to divine grace.
The Cross in the Life of Christ
Our reflections on the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ as the royal man would be fatally flawed if we did not now reflect on his coronation at the cross. His crucifixion by man and abandonment by God form the glorious climax of his life. This secret of his life, while revealed in his resurrection, nonetheless characterized his whole life. First, Jesus was ready throughout his life to embrace the cross he knew awaited him in Jerusalem at the end of his life. His acceptance of John’s baptism, in solidarity with sinners, was his first step on this path. As the Son of Man he came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). At the Last Supper he offered the disciples his own body and blood. He even knowingly gave Judas a part of his work. Second, God ordained and Jesus affirmed being delivered up to death by Israel. Jesus Christ came proclaiming, doing, and being the Kingdom of God. Representing the world, Israel either had to abandon its claim as that kingdom to Jesus or crucify him. Third, the cross of Jesus Christ also characterizes our lives as his disciples. But it need not do so as a menacing presence if we remember that it is the sign of our reconciliation with God accomplished by Jesus Christ.
4. The Direction of the Son
The direction of the Son is the meaning or even the power of his existence for us. Jesus Christ is Lord. His power as Lord is not a potential power waiting for us to make it real. It is an effective power established once and for all in his resurrection and already flowing from him to us.
By sinning we contradicted our own good nature as created by God. But the powerful lordship and lordly power of Jesus Christ have proven to be even stronger, setting us in freedom for God in contradiction to ourselves as sinners seeking autonomy from God. Because he is already with us and for us, the old is gone and the new has come. Jesus Christ has set us free. Now we may live freely. But will we do it?
In our consideration of this question, we must not shift our focus away from Jesus Christ to ourselves. While it is a question of our actual freedom, that freedom comes from, conforms with, and leads to Jesus Christ our Lord. In living free we reflect his freedom. This is because, as Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ is our representative. As such he is our justification. In him we stand righteous before God. But as our representative Jesus Christ is also our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). In him we also stand holy before God as those turned toward God. Objectively all people are in Christ. Subjectively, Christians realize that they are members of his body while non-Christians provisionally remain outside of it.
To reflect the freedom of Jesus Christ in our own lives, to participate in the freedom that comes from, conforms with, and points to Jesus Christ through his lordly power, we need to understand how the cross of Jesus Christ was the goal of his life and the beginning of ours. To begin with, the death of Jesus Christ was his goal and our beginning because God is love. Love is unconditional self-giving. At the cross, Jesus Christ as both Son of God and Son of Man wholly gave himself for our sake. The cross was the goal of his life and the start of ours, second, because his free obedience to the Father to the bitter end liberated us from sin and death. Third, the lordship and kingdom of Jesus Christ were not thwarted by death but fully realized because fully maintained through death. The resurrection revealed that even death itself had no power over Jesus Christ because his life was the mighty act of God’s omnipotent mercy.
The resurrection was the revelation with power of the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and of ours in him, that took place at the cross. It was the revelation with power of Christ’s lordship, of Christ’s freedom in relation even to death, and of our freedom in him through this power. And as the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this power differs absolutely from all else we call power. This power is the power of faith, love, and hope; of truth, freedom, and joy. Most comprehensively it is the power of eternal life. The power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ plants the good seed of indestructible fellowship with God in our lives even now. This power, then, is the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to see ourselves in Christ, to witness to others of Christ, and to enable them to see themselves in Christ through our witness. For these reasons the Church and Christians cannot trust and commit themselves too much to the Spirit, but only suffer by hiding from it behind institutions and personalities.
This Spirit is holy. He is holy, first, because he is the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself (Philippians 1:19). Jesus Christ faced death by the power of the Holy Spirit and by this same power was revealed as victor over death by being raised from death forever. Second, the Spirit is holy because Jesus Christ is the only one who can and does send this Spirit to us so that we too may reflect his humiliation and exaltation and so live in a way that corresponds to his own life. Third, the Spirit is holy because he bears witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and leads the Church and Christians to do the same. Finally, the Spirit is holy because the people in whom he works know Jesus Christ as their Lord and live by this determination. Those who know Jesus Christ in this way and so are Christians are divided not ultimately but provisionally from non-Christians who do not.
We know Jesus Christ as Lord, and live by this determination, because he exercises his powerful lordship and lordly power in our lives by giving us direction. To receive his Spirit is to receive this direction. To be a Christian is to have one’s daily existence determined by this direction and we cease being Christians the day and any day our direction is determined by anything else.
The direction given to us by Jesus Christ our Lord is first of all indicative. The Holy Spirit does not negotiate with us, promising us various benefits which we may take or leave. The Holy Spirit places us in the very definite freedom which is ours only in Christ and from there indicates to us the one direction in which we may continue to advance in freedom. Yet even as Christians we constantly contradict our turning toward God as it has occurred in Christ. For this reason the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of truth, both corrects and instructs us according to the law of grace, of freedom, of our existence as truly human beings.
This direction is also critical. In Jesus Christ we have been set free to be free. From Jesus Christ as our point of departure, the Holy Spirit indicates always the one particular possibility of thinking, speaking, and doing that for us at that moment would mean freedom. Of course, in a complete lack of freedom, we may choose from among the many enticing forms of nothingness destroyed by Jesus Christ. So the Holy Spirit continues his work in us. He separates in us the new creation we are called and enabled to be from the old creation already set aside by Jesus Christ which nonetheless continues to move within us. In this work the Holy Spirit nags us relentlessly. With every hour he affirms the new and negates the old. We have been justified and sanctified in Christ. The Holy Spirit presses us to act like it.
Finally, the direction given to us by our Lord is instructive. The Holy Spirit is our lordly Instructor and instructive Lord who reveals to us what God’s will for us is here and now. He shows us in all detail the one direction in which we may advance in freedom. We either concretely obey him or disobey him.
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.