A Cornerstone Chosen and Precious: The Connection Between Election and Mission in 1 Peter 2:4-10

1 Peter 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

[The following interpretation of 1 Peter 2:4-10 which explicates the connection between election and mission, and thus sheds light on the nature of election itself, is excerpted from C.G. Seed, The missional nature of divine-human communion: Thomas F. Torrance and the Chinese church (Unpublished PhD thesis, May 2016), 99-103.]

[T]he theological emphasis of 1 Pet 2:6 is that those who believe in Christ should never be ashamed. Indeed, if God himself has appointed Christ as the “chosen” and “precious” cornerstone promised in the Old Testament Scriptures, then belief in him will bring value and preciousness to the believers as well. This is picked up again in 1 Pet 2:9 where the blessings of the covenant people of God are applied to those who believe in Christ using the epithets of Exod 19:5-6.

However, at this stage the author brings into play, using Psa 118:22, the contrasting state of those who do not believe that Christ is God‟s appointed “cornerstone” (2:7). The fact remains that whether Christ is accepted or not (2:7b), he remains the “cornerstone”. When he is not received by faith, then the author shows from Isa 8:14 that the act of rejection of Christ will bring appointed judgement on unbelievers, leaving them in the state of spiritual darkness in which they have lived since the Fall (2:9). The reason for athis is disobedience to the word of God, previously designated as the “good news” of Jesus Christ, God’s salvation (1:25).

Thus, the question of acceptance or rejection of God’s chosen cornerstone is at the heart of the argument of 1 Pet 2:4-12. Indeed, the question of a right response to God’s word is one that concerns Isa 28 and the question of a right response to God’s salvation is one that also concerns Psa 118. The choice is one of either building through faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ, God‟s “chosen and precious” one, or rejecting him through a response of disbelief (2:7). This marks the crucial dividing line between those who receive the blessings of God through Christ and those who remain outside the blessings of his grace….

However, being in communion with God through Christ is not an end in itself…. The purpose of the “honour” afforded to the people of the covenant is to proclaim God’s praise. The source for this theology is again Isa 43:20-21 where the Lord delivers his chosen people “that they might declare my praise”…. The purpose for which God has brought people into communion with himself through Christ is for them to make known to others both what he has done for them in his Son (cf. 1:3-9) as well as who his is in his holiness (1:15-16).

Thus, the proclamation of the marvellous character and deeds of God is declared to be the purpose of the salvation which the believers have received, giving their witness a missional purpose … because the context of the passage in Isa 43 is one in which the Lord declares to Israel that “you are my witnesses” (Is 43:10, 12) among the nations. Although Israel failed in this task, Christ as the “servant” (Isa 43:10) bears perfect witness to the world. The only fitting response of the people of God to its calling, election and blessing through union with Christ is one of praise. However, as praise is exercised in the face of the nations, by its very nature, it draws people to Christ….

The missional nature of divine-human communion has been seen in this text in several ways. Firstly, divine-human communion is a result of a response to God’s word as revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, commonly referred to as the gospel. Those who, by his mercy (1:3; 2:10), believe and are born into a “living hope” have put their trust in the one chosen by God to be the “cornerstone”. As a result, they receive the “honour” accorded to the Old Testament people of God, which the author designates in terms of an elaboration of and teaching on the “programmatic” declaration of YHWH in Exod 19:5-6. This includes being built as “living stones” into the spiritual temple that is the church of Christ, becoming a “holy priesthood” offering sacrifices pleasing to him in Jesus Christ, becoming a “chosen race” in him, a “holy nation”, God’s own possession which is in fact the covenant people of God (“God‟s people”)….

On the contrary, those who do not obey or believe the word proclaimed about Christ the “cornerstone” remain in the spiritual darkness, which is their natural state. Their rejection of God‟s means of salvation, which is Christ the cornerstone (and by implication his people), is evidence of their natural or destined state of judgement. However, not all is lost. Those who are in communion with God through Christ, by the Spirit, have been saved to proclaim his character and his acts of salvation in the exodus and return from exile. As they declare what God has done, their message reaches out to those still in darkness and opposition to God‟s “chosen and precious” one. Moreover, as they live out their lives as a “holy priesthood” their holy conduct will bring glory to God among those who reject his way of salvation and lead them to praise him in the eschatological future, perhaps leading them to receive his mercy too.

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Psalm 3: From God’s Holy Hill (Psalm of the Day, 5/365)

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O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lordand he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LordSave me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lordyour blessing be on your people! Selah

In reflecting on Psalms 1-2, we discovered that the interpretive key for the psalms, especially those of David, is that they are ultimately the songs and prayers of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. Whatever comfort or encouragement we may personally find in the psalms, we must always keep central this all-important fact.

Psalm 3 begins by describing the setting in which the king of Psalm 2 — the anointed one, the Christ — finds himself: surrounded by numerous foes who mock him because the victory of their plots against him seems sure. Their taunt that “there is no salvation for him in God” anticipates what Christ’s adversaries will say as they look upon his crucifixion in Matthew 27:43: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.”

Yet despite the overwhelming foes arrayed against him, the king is able to lay down and sleep — the most vulnerable position thinkable! — because of his confident faith in God’s protection, presence, and power to answer his prayer. The Lord will indeed answer from his “holy hill”, the very hill upon which he has firmly established his Christ (Ps. 2:6). Paradoxically, that holy hill will be revealed as a hill of death, a hill of crucifixion, and it will be upon a rugged cross planted there that Christ will ascend to claim his throne and inaugurate his kingdom.

The cross will not be the end, however, as Christ prays for deliverance, which inescapably will involve judgment. Indeed, Scripture everywhere testifies that salvation is only ever through judgment. The good news is that Christ has endured that judgment for the sake of all his enemies, yet those who continue to oppose him will be struck down by teeth-smashing blows.

Yet the final word of this psalm is not judgment but salvation. The king is the representative of his people, and so his salvation means their salvation. It was for this reason that Christ endured the hostility of his foes, that in his deliverance we might gain his blessing. Included in his blessing is this: that we can take upon our lips Christ’s words in Psalm 3 (as well as in all the other psalms) and use his prayer as our own. As for the king, so for his people. It is thus through the mouth of Christ that we are given to pray to his Father.

Psalm 2:7-12: The reign of Christ (Psalm of the Day, 4/365)

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7 I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

Act 3: Christ speaks. The Word of the Lord is here recounted by Christ himself. According to Paul, this decree was fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement in heaven (Acts 13:33). This “generation” of Christ does not have to do with his coming into existence, but with his coming into possession of a universal reign.

Confirming this are the subsequent words of the Lord which grant to Christ “every power … in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). Whether they want to or not, the very nations which opposed him will become subject to him. The imagery of the rod of iron that smashes earthen pots in pieces conveys the idea of decisive judgment in response to the rebellion of the nations. In terms of the whole sweep of the biblical narrative, however, this judgment ultimately serves to fulfill God’s redemptive purpose to bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3, 49:10). The final goal of judgment is to put the world into order, and to this end it must sweep away all that contributes to disorder.

Incredibly, Christ will grant his saints to participate in his authority over the earth at the time of his return (Ps. 149:6-9; Rev. 2:26-27; 19:15). Meantime, those who are seated with Christ on his heavenly throne in virtue of their union with him can intercede on behalf of the nations, asking God to make them Christ’s inheritance in salvation (Eph. 2:6).

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Act 4: The worshipper speaks. With his final exhortations, the psalmist challenges our concept of worship. Remembering that this psalm, like all the psalms, is a song to be used in worship, we must conclude that worship such as this has teeth, playing a vital role in the spiritual warfare to which the church is called. This is worship that commands what it proclaims — worldwide submission of every creature in heaven and earth to Jesus Christ — and that warns of the judgment which will fall upon those who stubbornly refuse to do so.

At the same time, this is worship that announces the joyful message of salvation: he who judges is also our refuge from judgment. Far from being contrary to his love, God’s judgment revealed in Christ is a manifestation of his love. The wrath of God is the form that his love assumes when its loving purpose is threatened by sin. Judgment is God’s refusal to accept the refusal of humanity. He judges because he loves, and he loves by means of his judgment.

To a Lord such as this, the right response is twofold: rejoice with trembling! Paradoxical though it may seem, this is the only possible response. The fact that Christ is the only righteous man means that the rest of us are all unrighteous and deserving of judgment. Ma this fact also means that whoever takes refuge in him will be justified, shielded in the shadow of his own perfect righteousness.

Psalm 2:1-6: Why do the nations rage? (Psalm of the Day, 3/365)

As the second half of the entry point into the psalms, Psalm 2 indicates that the rest of the psalter is not to be interpreted simply as the words of God to his people or the words of the people in response to God, but primarily as the words of the One who embodies both: Jesus Christ. It shows this by recounting a cosmic drama that unfolds through a series of four acts.

1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

Act 1: The nations speak. In contrast to the righteous who, according to Psalm 1:2-3, meditate on God’s Word (and thus prosper even in times of want), the nations “meditate” on vain things and are thus doomed to failure. Inasmuch as it is the “nations” and “peoples” that do this, we must conclude, as Psalm 14:2-3 will declare, that there is no one truly righteous, not even one. This casts new light on the interpretation of the righteous man of Psalm 1: ultimately there is only one.

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

Here we see both the vain things that the peoples meditate (represented by their kings and rulers) and those against whom they do so. They seek to mount a rebellion against Yahweh and his “Messiah” — his Christ — viewing their authority as bondage. Indeed, this rebellion recapitulates the entire history of humanity ever since the first sin committed in Eden. But such rebellious meditation is vain because no one can stand against God and his Christ. Even at the culmination of human rebellion when Christ seemed defeated, when “there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27), even then the rebellious world did not triumph.

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

Act 2: Yahweh speaks. From the perspective of God in heaven, the self-vaunted plots of the peoples are ludicrous. God cannot be mocked; rather it is he who will mock those who attempt to do so! Though often derided, those who belong to Christ need never be ashamed (cf. Rom. 1:16-18), for the deriders themselves are those whom God holds in derision!

5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

The vain rage of the nations is further exposed in this: though they refuse to “meditate” on God’s Word (Ps. 1:2), they will hear it nonetheless, and they will have no choice but to bow in submission under its judgment. Those who try to rebel against God’s Word will nevertheless be terrified by it when it comes to them no longer as a promise of salvation (v.12) but of wrath. In one way or another, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

Sola Scriptura According to Scripture, pt. 2: The Book of Revelation and the Authority of the Written Word

This is the second in a two-part series on sola Scriptura according to Scripture. It is not intended to be an exhaustive study. Rather, it is simply meant to demonstrate that Scripture does indeed teach sola Scriptura, even if that specific phrase is not used. In part one, I discussed the fact that, in the final analysis, Christian truth is simply Jesus Christ, his very person: “I am … the truth” (John 14:6). Therefore, however one interprets the role of the church as a “pillar and buttress of the truth” in 1 Timothy 3:15, it cannot be concluded that the church is the foundation of the truth in an ultimate sense, that is, as the foundation of Jesus Christ himself. All authority on heaven and earth belong to Jesus Christ, and thus any authority possessed by the church can only ever be a delegated, subordinate authority.

The question that I would like to address in this post is the following: how does this fact (which should be readily admitted by all) relate to the doctrine of sola Scriptura? While there are various passages in Scripture to which we could turn, one stands out to me as making this connection crystal clear: Revelation 1-3. We can start by observing how the risen Christ (in conjunction with the Father) is clearly presented in chapter 1 as the supremely authoritative source of the revelation that John must write and send to the churches in Asia. The point, in fact, is this: John is commanded to write what Jesus reveals (1:10-11). The words of revelation that Christ speaks to John are thus also words of command to which John must submit. By his own admission, John is simply called to “bear witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2). It is only 19 DORE REV 01 9 JOHN ON PATMOSafter hearing this word of command that John turns to see the One who spoke it, indicating that Christ’s word — the “sharp two-edged sword” (1:16) — sounds forth with the authority of Christ’s person, even when he is heard but not seen. The order of authority is unmistakably clear: Christ commands, John obeys.

The second observation to make is that Christ commands John to “write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches” (1:10-11). That is, Christ orders that his divinely authoritative revelation, given to John in visionary sight and sound, be converted and fixed into written form. It is thus the written word — as opposed to some kind of apostolic succession — which Christ chooses to be the unique vehicle for delivering his words to the churches. Christ himself will not appear to the churches as he has to John, and John will remain on the island of Patmos. For this reason, the book that John writes will serve as Christ’s sovereignly appointed means for exercising his supreme authority — represented by his unique position vis-à-vis the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands — in and over his church.

The book that John writes, therefore, is not “just a book” like any other, subject to the whims and fancies of whoever happens to read it. Rather, it is as John’s book is “read aloud” (1:3) in the context of the gathered local congregations in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea that Jesus himself speaks, warns, promises, and admonishes. This is precisely what John Calvin asserted when he described Scripture as “the voice of God speaking in person”. The words of Revelation, and by extension those in all of Scripture, are not simply inert blots of ink on a page; they are God’s uniquely chosen medium for personally addressing his church every time that they are read. Whereas the oral delivery of apostolic revelation was limited by both space (the apostles could only be in one place at a time) and time (here represented by the last living apostle’s exile to Patmos), that same revelation, in fixed written form, could be read, re-read, studied, copied, widely disseminated, and checked for accuracy in generation after generation. Although written in the past, John’s book, when read even today, can be said to be “what the Spirit says to the churches” in present tense (2:11)!

Third, it is important to observe in chapters 2 and 3 that Christ’s words, as delivered to the churches by means of John’s book, are guaranteed to be efficacious. To paraphrase Isaiah 55, the words of Christ — even though communicated solely in written form — will not return void but will fulfill the purpose for which they are sent irrespective of the reception that they receive. Even if John’s book should be misinterpreted or abused by the churches, the message which it conveys will assuredly come to pass. We can see this, for instance, in what Jesus says to the church in Pergamum in 2:15-16: “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Now let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that after these words are read in the church of Pergamum, the Nicolaitan party succeeds in convincing the rest of the congregation that the heretical teaching of which Christ speaks is not actually what they themselves hold. By reinterpreting Christ’s reference to “the teaching of Balaam” in 2:14 in terms of Balaam’s assertion that “What the Lord speaks, that I will speak” (Num. 24:13), they argue that their teaching is in fact fully consistent with the Word of God (i.e. “We only speak what the Lord speaks!”), and they console the church that it is not really tolerating anything heretical.

Now should we conclude that Christ would not, in such circumstances, keep his promise to war against the church in Pergamum with the sword of his mouth simply because the church has misinterpreted the words written in John’s book? Would the fulfillment of this promised judgment depend on it first being rightly understood by the church? I think the answer is obvious: by no means! Christ is not slave to the church’s interpretation, and he will accomplish the words that he commanded to be written regardless of how they are understood. From this example, we can see that John’s book is unlike any other book, for its efficacy does not ultimately depend on whether or not it is interpreted correctly; Christ is the one who speaks through the book as it is read, and he will see to it that the words thus spoken will be fulfilled now matter how they are interpreted. We could even say that Christ would still fulfill the words written in John’s book even if the church of Pergamum were to fail to read them at all! On a universal scale, we read at the end of Revelation (22:20) that “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.'” Should no one anywhere ever read the book of Revelation, it would have no impact whatsoever on the complete fulfillment of what is written in it!

The fourth aspect to be observed in these initial chapters is that they are intended to be heard and interpreted by the entire church, not just by a limited group of authorized interpreters. As noted earlier, John’s book was to be “read aloud” in the churches, and blessing was promised to those “who hear and who keep what is written in it” (1:3). Moreover, the letters themselves testify that Christ addresses the whole church directly in that, for example, he threatens judgment against those in the church of Thyatira who followed the seduction of “Jezebel” (2:20, 22) but then encourages “the rest of you in Thyatira who do not hold this teaching” to “hold fast what you have” (2:24-25). Though transmitted through John to the “angel”, the fact remains that Jesus himself addresses the whole church directly by means of his written word, and he expects those whom he addresses to understand correctly and respond appropriately.

Fifth and finally, we must note (what should be!) a fairly obvious point: to the majority of the churches specifically named in Revelation 1-3, Christ is presented as not so much in or of the churches but against them. With the exception of Smyrna and Philadelphia, the words which Christ commands John to write do not merely confirm the churches as Christ’s body or visible representative on earth, commending them for their unbroken faithfulness to and succession from Christ himself and his apostles. The majority of the designated churches are in some measure threatened with decisive judgment. Thus says Jesus to the church in Sardis: “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (3:3, emphasis added).

Here we do not see a unity between Christ and his church that excludes any differentiation or subordination on the part of the latter to the former. As closely as Christ may identify himself with his church, he is also the unrivaled, transcendent Lord who reserves the exclusive right and authority to judge, or even remove, his church when it falls into sin or error. The church can never simply assume or assert that it is faithful and true; indeed, the churches in Revelation that are most confident, such as the one in Laodicea, are those that are most rebuked! And the absolutely crucial point is this: Christ asserts his exclusive rights and authority over his church simply by means of the words written by John in a book! Thus we read: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:… ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent'” (2:1, 5).

To summarize then: Jesus Christ is not only the Lamb of God slain for his church, he is also the sovereign King and Lord in, over, and sometimes even against his church. In his risen and ascended state, he now exercises his unrivaled authority by means of his word to which even his apostles like John must utterly submit. Inasmuch as he is withdrawn from our view in heaven, his divinely appointed means for speaking to his church is the book which he commanded to be written. This book is unlike any other book in that its power and efficacy do not depend on the interpretive skills (or lack thereof) of those who read it. As this book is read, it is Christ’s own voice, by means of his Spirit, that sounds forth “like the roar of many waters” (1:15). Even though this book may be subject to misinterpretation or abuse, the One whose words it contains will make sure that they do not return to him void. He will certainly accomplish what is written, whether or not it is always and everywhere understood correctly. Thus, this book, even when circulated among the churches and read in the absence of the original apostles (either dead or exiled on Patmos), is the unique medium of Christ’s ever-continuing and present communication to his church, not only to commend and comfort but also to correct and, if necessary, condemn. This is why the book — the inspired Scriptures — possesses an absolutely unique authority to which the churches must submit and with which they dare not tamper (22:18-19). As then, so now: the authority of Scripture is, quite simply, the authority of Christ himself, and he will suffer no rival. Hence, it seems clear from Revelation that Scripture does, in fact, teach sola Scriptura, and perhaps not insignificantly in the final book that closes out the canon.

“In Loving Communion With Our Misery”: H.R. Mackintosh on the Cross as the Passion of God in Christ

[T]he Christian is intuitively aware that the vicarious love revealed in Jesus’ cross is the love of God. It is He that in Christ gives us “rest by His sorrow and life by His death.” It is He that stands beside us and receives our trespass, in its awful gravity for His mind and ours, upon Himself. Unless this were so, unless the passion to which we lift our eyes at Calvary were a Divine passion, through which we have sight of a grief that troubles even the Eternal Blessedness, it would simply mean nothing for religion. It could not affect the relation of man to God.

On the other hand, just because as we confront Jesus, living and dying, we become conscious of the Divine sacrifice poured forth in Him, we are irresistibly impelled to form one view of His person rather than another. Something of the pathos and sublimity of that word stirs and subdues the mind: “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered 81cb1a3420eb29a1756667775004c438Him up for us all.” Narrow and poor as human terms are, we must needs employ them to formulate the certainty of faith that in the sufferings of Christ for our sake God suffered; that for us the Father hid His face from the Son, withdrew His hand, permitted the desolation, left Him to His foes. The impression we receive at the cross is unintelligible save as in Jesus we behold very God “in loving communion with our misery.”

Again, the condemnation of sin visible in the life and death of Jesus is a condemnation uttered by God Himself. Not by a divinely commissioned prophet only, or other inspired deputy, but by God. We have a living sense of this as we are face to face with Jesus. There looks on us from His eyes the holiness with which evil cannot dwell. Never was sin so exposed, and, by exposure, reprobated, doomed, and sentenced as by our Lord’s demeanour. In His dealings with the sinful, and with the consequences of sin, this Man is one with God; and what awes the beholder in the cross is not the meeting of sin and a good man, but the meeting of sin with the Eternal. If as true man Christ felt the horror and curse of moral evil, He also in unity with God felt and judged its guilt.

And if, in spite of that judgment and condemnation, He goes to death for sinners, He thereby exemplifies in a supreme measure the moral truth that only He can forgive sin who expiates it. This judgment, then, of which Jesus is the personal manifestation, is a Divine judgment; at the same time, it is pronounced through the medium of perfect manhood. It comes from the lips of one who Himself had battled with temptation and had conquered in the power of God. Once more, the atonement raises great Christological questions by forcing us to ask how the obedience of Jesus avails for us, the guilty. It has always been a baffling problem: How can the suffering of one person benefit, or savingly embrace and comprehend, any other?…

[I]f Jesus Christ were one more human individual merely, as separate from men as we are from our fellows, the difficulty just noted would be insoluble, alike in logic and in morality. But if with St. Paul and St. John we decline to conceive Christ as one isolated person, and the Christian as another, then the representative act of sacrifice on His part is quite another thing, and the death that He died for all may have the significance which the death of all would itself have. Union, between Christ and men, that is, just because it is a union, has two sides. His self-identification with us implies consequences both for Him and us. As the representative or central person—none the less truly individual, as we shall see —He stands in a momentous kinship to men; and this universality of relation forms one vital condition of His power to make atonement.

It is surely the false step in many theories of atonement that they first abstract the Christian from Christ—severing them as two mutually impervious personalities—and then find it hard, naturally, to put them back into such a oneness that what Christ did and is fundamentally modifies our relation to God…. Not only so; it is precisely as we recognise the true Godhead of Christ that we are able to repel successfully one of the gravest moral difficulties which the doctrine of atonement has created. This is the difficulty men feel when they point to the impossible ideas of “an enraged Father, a victimised Son, the unrighteous punishment of the innocent, the unrighteous reward of the guilty.” As against certain forms of theory we need not question the justice of the charge. But it is at least obvious that the mistake of suggesting a kind of antagonism between the Father and the Son attaches more naturally to a view of Christ which denies, than to one which asserts, His deity. If Christ were but one more good man, there might be reason in the argument that redeeming love originated in man, not in God, and that by the urgency and passion of His sacrifice Christ had induced an otherwise implacable God to show mercy. But this antagonism we cannot suspect if we are sure that in Christ God Himself has bowed down to bless us. If the required atonement has been provided by God, out of His own life, it is meaningless to speak any more of His implacability.

H.R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 330-333.

The Blood of God: Understanding the Atonement as a Work of the Trinity (A Reflection for Good Friday)

On this Good Friday, I would like to offer a reflection from Adam Johnson on the way in which we must understand the atonement accomplished in the crucifixion of Jesus as not merely a work of the Son, or of the Son over against the Father and the Spirit, but as a work of the Trinity as a whole. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that Christ was merely passive in bearing the wrath of the Father while the Father was the active one, pouring out his wrath on Christ. As we will see below, it is this kind of thinking that gives rise to such crass caricatures of the atonement as some kind of “divine child abuse”. The problem stems from an understanding of the atonement that stretches the doctrine of appropriations beyond its breaking point and runs roughshod over the important theological principle that opera ad extra sunt indivisa, that the persons of the Trinity are always, as in their divine essence, undivided in all of their works. I know this may sound overly esoteric, but its vital importance is underscored by Johnson when he writes (with reference to Karl Barth):

[W]e find the doctrine of God’s triunity energizing Barth’s account of the doctrine of reconciliation. For instance, the doctrine of appropriations enables Barth to attribute acts or qualities to specific persons of the Trinity, such as the wrath of the Father that is poured out upon the Son. Scripture permits, even forces, Barth to make such differentiations, speaking ‘in terms of [them] … with great seriousness, i.e., in such a way that we are in no position to remove them without exegetical wresting’ (CD I/1, 372). Along these lines, Barth writes that Jesus was obedient in choosing ‘to suffer the wrath of God in His own body and the fire of His love in His own soul’ (CD IV/1, 95), and affirms with the Heidelberg Catechism that ‘during the whole time of His life on earth Jesus … bore the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race’ (CD IV/1, 165). Even more boldly, he specifies that ‘God’ in such cases refers to the Father: the Son of God made flesh ‘stands under the wrath and judgment of God … He concedes that the Father is right in trinity-cruifixionthe will and action which leads Him to the cross’ and ‘the suffering of children chastised by their Father’ he there experienced (CD IV/1, 175).

The doctrine of appropriations never stands on its own, though: we must dialectically relate any conclusions made on these grounds to the rule opera ad extra sunt indivisa, such that we do not conclude that the Father’s wrath of itself distinguishes the Father from the Son. Such a conclusion collapses into tritheism (and a non-Trinitarian understanding of the divine perfections), ultimately undermining the possibility of both revelation and atonement. To the contrary, Barth affirms the oneness of God’s acts and perfections. Just after the passage last quoted, Barth writes:

In Him God has entered in, breaking into that circulus vitiosus of the human plight, making His own not only the guilt of man but also his rejection and condemnation, giving Himself to bear the divinely righteous consequences of human sin, not merely affirming the divine sentence on man, but allowing it to be fulfilled on Himself. (CD IV/1, 175)

He thus demonstrates the necessary dialectical tension between the doctrine and rule we have been examining, affirming the work of Christ simply as a work of the one God. And nowhere is Barth’s commitment to the outworking of this dialectic more evident than in his account of Christ’s passion in the life of God, his modified affirmation of Patripassianism, the consideration of which brings us to our governing interest in the relationship between the doctrines of the Trinity and atonement.

This event of God’s giving of Himself in which the ‘divine sentence on man’ is ‘fulfilled on Himself’ is a Trinitarian event in which the sentence and judgement of the Father is fulfilled on the incarnate Son: in Jesus’ suffering and death. The imminent danger is that we too rigidly distinguish the Father and Son in this event, breaking apart the unity of God’s being. Eschewing this danger, Barth writes:

It is not at all the case that God has no part in the suffering of Jesus Christ even in His mode of being as the Father. No, there is a particular veri in the teaching of the early Patripassians. This is that primarily it is God the Father who suffers in the offering and sending of His Son, in His abasement … [He suffers] in the humiliation of His Son with a depth with which it never was or will be suffered by any man—apart from the One who is His Son … The fatherly fellow-suffering of God is the mystery, the basis, of the humiliation of His Son. (CD IV/2, 357; KD, 399)

Elsewhere, he adds:

With the eternal Son the eternal Father has also to bear what falls on the Son … In Jesus Christ God Himself, the God who is the one true God, the Father with the Son in the unity of the Spirit, has suffered what it befell this man to suffer to the bitter end … It is of this fellow-suffering of God Himself borne on earth and also in heaven to the greater glory of God and the supreme salvation of man; it is of the God who has not evaded, and on the very grounds of His deity could not evade, this suffering with and for the world, that the crucified man Jesus Christ speaks … He speaks … [of] the peace the price of which He Himself willed to pay and did pay in the person of this man, and therefore in the person of His own Son, and therefore in His fatherly heart. (CD IV/3.1, 414–15; KD, 478)

While Barth does not mention the ‘rule’ or ‘doctrine’ with which we are here concerned, they lie just below the surface, manifest in the dialectic of God Himself on the one hand and the incarnate Son and the Father on the other. The doctrine of appropriations affirms that we can and must distinguish between the Father and the incarnate Son, such that only the Son is incarnate and suffers death and abandonment of the Father. On the other hand, the rule opera ad extra sunt indivisa demands that we step back, dwelling on the fact that Christ’s passion is the work of the one God, such that ‘the death of Jesus Christ in God-abandonment, precisely as a human experience, is understood by him to be an event in God’s own life’, the life of the one God. This explains why, as Berthold Klappert notes, Barth is more inclined to speak of the suffering of God (theopaschitisch) than the New Testament emphasis on the suffering of Christ (hyiopaschitisch), interpreting the prevailing New Testament witness in light of the theopaschite statement in 2 Cor. 5:19. For this reason Barth refers to the ‘fellow-suffering of God Himself’ and subsequently distinguishes that suffering according to the various ‘ways of God’s being’, such that the Father, in fact, suffers with the Son in his ‘fatherly heart’ precisely by giving him up to this suffering.

According to Barth, as long as the Church properly balances the doctrine of appropriations and the rule opera ad extra, it has the right and responsibility to use provisional and temporary distinctions and appropriations (such as ‘the wrath of the Father’) in its theological discourse. This conclusion has a double edge in relation to current discussions. First, it forces critiques of the doctrine of the atonement based on a putatively fatal distinction between the Father and Son (typically referred to as a form of divine child abuse) to a greater depth of analysis, such that they must examine the arguments not only for appropriations (which, as we have seen, are one-sided even when warranted), but also for the balancing presence of the rule opera ad extra sunt indivisa. Likewise, this conclusion demands that proponents of traditional forms of the atonement be wary of concluding or giving unnecessary grounds for others to conclude that such appropriations finally and absolutely distinguish the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[1]

Now some of this might seem like theological hair-splitting, but I am convinced that it is absolutely essential. At stake is nothing less than the certainty that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and that the God redeemed his church “with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Statements like these can sound shocking, and they should. God on the cross? God’s own blood? How could such a thing be possible? And yet it is the heart of the Christian gospel: had God not been in Christ in the fullness of his Trinitarian being reconciling the world to himself, then Good Friday would ultimately have no meaning for us. Countless people were crucified on Roman crosses; so what would make the execution of one more Jew from Nazareth any different? Or, even if Jesus were the Son of God in the flesh but in a manner separate from the Father, then how could we ever know that what he did on the cross opens a window into the very heart of the Father’s infinite love? Apart from implying a heretical tritheism, inserting a wedge between the Son and the Father in the atonement makes it seem as though the latter was merely inflicting wrath on the former and only gave approval of that sacrifice after seeing Christ’s perfect obedience.

But surely this is not good news; this tells us of a wrathful God hidden and obscured behind the back of the crucified Son. Certainly there is a pouring out of wrath, but as Johnson emphasizes, it is a pouring out of wrath that falls within the trinitarian life of God himself. That is to say, the pouring out of divine wrath on the cross was, in fact, the greatest manifestation of the divine love, for it involved nothing less than God himself taking upon our lost and damned condition and extinguishing the flames of judgment against our sin.The cross is not the Father against the Son, but the Father with the Son (and the Spirit!) against sin. Surely this could never be called “divine child abuse”! It can only be called what it is: the incomprehensible and boundless love of God for us sinners, so vast and deep that it will stop at nothing, not even at death, to rescue and reconcile us. This indeed ample reason to rejoice this Good Friday!

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[1] Adam J. Johnson, God’s Being in Reconciliation: The Theological Basis of the Unity and Diversity of the Atonement in the Theology of Karl Barth (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp.80-83.

The Final Judgment (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 20)

Revelation 20:1-3, 11-15

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while…. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, xhe was thrown into the lake of fire.

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(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.139-41. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

As long as the time of our life in this world is devoured by the dragon of evil and guilt, time has no meaning for us. It returns upon itself in empty circularity and futility, unable to arrive at its true goal, unable to reach the fulness of life. But when the Kingdom of God invades our sin-infested time in Jesus Christ, the circularity of time is broken. That is why Jesus Christ is called Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and that is why, in order to describe what happens when God’s perfect time breaks into the midst of our time, the Apocalypse uses a definite span of years. For the things concerning Jesus Christ have an end, a fulfilment. Now that Jesus Christ has come into our world all things move towards a climax, which will be the day of harvest both of good and evil. That is why the apocalyptic expression “thousand years” speaks of Satan being loosed again, for God insists on bringing all the work of evil to a head. Then the head of the serpent will be destroyed, and all its slimy body of sin and evil, which it had trailed throughout human history, shall be burned with everlasting fire….

On that day the books will be opened, the book of our past, the book of destiny, the book of life. Mysterious as it may appear, these are not really different from the heavily sealed book which was seen in the visions of the fifth and sixth chapters. The last judgments are all bound up with the judgments that even now shake the earth, though they mark the fulfilment and their end. As at the opening of that heavily sealed in the hand of God there were calamities and woes and plagues upon the earth, so here there are woes and calamities and judgments for all who have allowed themselves to be seduced by Satan and who have not taken refuge in the sacrifice for the sins of the world….

That is what St. John calls the second death — a terrible and a ghastly truth. But we dare not shut our eyes to it, although no one likes to talk about it or preach about it. However much there may be which we cannot understand about that mystery of iniquity and its judgment, it is quite clear from the Word of God that those who die in their sins do not pass out into nothingness and forgetfulness. There is time beyond death, time for the damned as well. And it is because there is such a thing as time beyond, that hell is so terrible. It is time that has denied itself fulfilment in Christ, and time therefore which has a dreary lastingness about it, for it can only double back upon itself forever in sulky, sullen memory of past sins…. Hell is God’s judgment upon those who ultimately choose evil, but even hell itself comes under the judgment of God. That is to us the ultimate inexplicability of evil, but St. John makes it perfectly clear that the holy love of God is against hell.

And what about those who have been sealed with the blood of Christ and whose sins have been covered?… Just because Christ has invaded time, that day will mean for the believer the fulfilment of all his faith and hope in the crucified and risen Jesus. The things concerning Jesus do have their fulfilment. Therefore that will be the day when the Church of the faithful shall be filled with all the fulness of God according to the power that works within her. If on that day we have Christ alive in our heart, then the book of destiny will be the book of life, for us. Christ the Lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world is He to whom all judgment is committed. In Christ, the day of judgment is the day of vindication, the day when those who have witnessed the good confession before the Pontius Pilates of this world will be enthroned with Christ in the judgment of all evil. As they have shared the reproach of Christ in His judgment by the world, so they will share with Christ in his judgment of the world…. Then let the devil shout himself hoarse in his accusations against us at the bar of judgment! The Christian has a cry that conquers the world, the word of his testimony and the blood of the Lamb. “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again!” It is the power of the resurrection that prevails.

The Word of God Victorious (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 19)

Revelation 19:9, 11-16

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.126-131. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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We must understand this chapter from the contrast implied throughout between the Babylonian whoredom or harlotry and the marriage of the Lamb. It is the contrast between the Church that has remained faithful and true to the Word of God in the midst of the seductions of the world, and the false Babylonian church that has adulterated the Word of God with the word of man…. The fact is that as long as the Church is in this present world it is menaced by the image of the beast. She cannot help but have a tainted worldly form for she belongs to this world and is formed and fashioned by its culture and civilization and history. But she belongs to the City of God and is supremely the Church from above, and as such she must ever repent in dust and ashes, She must ever be prepared to place her worldly form on the altar of the Cross…. Therefore the true life of the Church in this world must always be the life of ferment and conversion and revolution and renewal and reformation…. Outwardly it is quite impossible to separate the true from the false, but God knows who are His and who are prepared for the marriage of the Lamb. It is in the moment of crisis, at the coming of the Bridegroom, that the secrets are revealed….

Then St. John tells us he saw Heaven opened and he beheld a white horse and its rider — the symbol of truth in embattled and victorious might and triumph. In contrast to anti-Christ, the counterfeit rider and his white horse of an earlier vision, this one is called “Faithful and True.” At last the shams of time and all the deceptions of Babylon are ruthlessly exposed. This is the final truth of human history. “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God” (19:12-13).

What is the meaning of this unknowable name?… In old Semitic thought to know a person’s name meant in some sense to have power over him, to be able to control him. But the Word of God reserves the mystery and power of its own name. It cannot be controlled or manipulated to serve other ends. The Word of God empowers itself, enacts itself, for the Word of God and the Power of God are one. No man can fulfil the Word of God, or enact its promise in the course of history. No church has control over the Word of God so as to be able to maneuver its fulfilment in the world. That is what the false church thinks it can do, that it can organize the Kingdom on earth, that it can wed temporal and spiritual power, and master the universe as the vicar of vice-regent of Almighty God.

But at last the Word of God comes forth as a sharp sword to discover the lies and hypocrisies of men and to smite the power of the earth in their mingling of false religion and beastly power. At last the Word enacts its own fulfilment, manifesting its power and revealing its name, King of kings and Lord of lords. And behold, that name is written upon the vesture that bears the mark of Calvary, and all the world is given to know that Christ Crucified is indeed Power of God. It is inevitably a day of judgment when God joins His power to His Word, and so, though this is the marriage supper of the Lamb with its song and rejoicing, it is also a day when the Kingdom of God is violent and the armies of heaven are completely victorious.

We live between the times, between the First Advent and the Second Advent, between the Word of Forgiveness and the Word of Judgment, between the Last Supper and the Marriage Supper, for that final day has not yet come. Meantime the wedding is being prepared and the invitations are being sent out by the messengers of God. They are out upon the highways and the byways of the earth compelling people to come in. It is so terribly urgent that they must do all they can to persuade men, knowing the terror of the Lord, and under the constraint of the invincible love of Christ.

Fallen is Babylon the Great! (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 17-18)

Revelation 17:1-6; 18:1-3, 19-20

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls…carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.… After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”…“Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.120-2. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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There is no doubt as we read these strange chapters of the Book of Revelation, with their visions of monstrous and abominable creatures, that we shudder in our souls, and well we might! But let us look at the facts squarely. Look out abroad upon the world…and see the monstrosities of evil, unbelievable wickedness, and bloodshed. Then look again at the monstrous creatures of the Apocalypse, drunk with the blood of the people. Are they not much the same?…[T]hat is true of all the world today behind the economic strangle hold of world affairs. Behind all its commerce and trade, vast and wonderful as they are, there is traffic in the souls of men. The God Mammon even employs religion in its commercial enterprises. Behind many seemingly Christian enterprises there lies the darkest monster of all, the solidarity of human guilt, the dragon of unbowed pride. It is by pride that we turn the glory of Almighty God into the image of sinful man and what is even worse, the image of the beast. Man has been made in the image of God, but when the image of God in man is prostituted to human pride, man produces a monstrous evil and the mark of the beast is on him. Look at the beastly way in which the world crucified Jesus — that was done by religious pride.

If the Word of the Gospel discovered the secrets of the human heart so that men were offended at Him and resented Him and finally crucified Him because in their pride they were cut to the quick, then that is true of human history on a vast scale. The pressure of the everlasting Gospel evokes the organized and final opposition of collective human pride and Babylonian egoism. Surely that is the crisis of our times, the emergence amongst the nations of the image of the beast. At first it is only the scaffolding of a vast structure erected upon the pillars of social goods and western morality but before we know where we are, power is given unto this image. It thunders in arrogant pride and as many as will not do homage to it are sacrificed. It is the Babylonian captivity. But listen to the Book of Revelation, for pride cometh before a fall. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! Babylon the great is fallen!” In the apocalyptic calendar it will disappear overnight like a huge stone cast into the midst of the sea. In one hour is her judgment come! Then shall the world weep and lament — all who were made rich by her costly merchandise, all who lived deliciously with her, all who were intoxicated with the wine of her culture, and all who trafficked in the souls of men. Then shall the redeemed rejoice, and all the holy apostles and prophets, for Babylon shall be found no more at all…

Such is the judgment of God upon the defiant pride and culture of man that tries to storm the way back into Utopia, into the Garden of Eden. That way is barred by an angel with a flaming sword. But there is a way, through the Garden of Gethsemane and through the Garden of Arimathea. It is the way of the Lamb. “I am the door,” He says. “He that entereth not by the door … but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).