We had a training session a couple of weeks ago where we were asked to think about what the most important roles Jesus has in God’s plan.
I ended up feeling like most of the topics could be helpfully expounded under two headings:
A. Christ the Image of God
B. Christ the Mediator of a New Covenant
I want to stress at this point that this arrangement is by no means “Doctrine” – it’s not the teaching of the church! There may well be some horrible errors that may come out of this arrangement of the topics.
That said, I think it’s worth presenting, because:
1. It could be pedagogically helpful in our culture to sidestep some of the ontological debates about the Person of Christ by tying up his human and divine aspects under the same headings
2. This arrangement emphasises links with the doctrines of Creation and New Creation (in Heading A) and Salvation (in Heading B), and the links between those doctrines.
3. Applications to the doctrines of humanity and Christian life are more obvious – we are the image of God, washed by Christ’s blood.
Of the two headings above, it is Christ as the Image of God that will be more controversial, since the second heading corresponds pretty well with the traditional heading of Priest in the Prophet/Priest/King triad.
Let me expand what is under each heading.
A. Christ the Image of God
- The Son of God
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1)
In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things … He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1).
- Revelation of God
In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1).
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14)
- Creator and Sustainer
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb 1)
- Better Adam
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. (Gen 1)
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit… Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15)
By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5)
Christ being a better Adam – a perfect humanity – implies the next two points.
- Perfect King and Judge
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen 1).
While the first Adam failed to rule creation and so disobeyed, the second Adam obeyed and received all rule and authority, being enthroned in his resurrection:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps 2)
“Behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him (Dan 7)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1)
- Goal for the Christian Life
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8)
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3)
All these points combine to produce our final point, that Christ as the image of God is worthy of all praise and honour.
- Object of Worship
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4)
He is the radiance of the glory of God …
“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb 1)
The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21)
More briefly, our second heading – Christ as the Mediator of a New Covenant. While there are links between the headings, I’m not sure that this aspect of Christ’s work can be described as an aspect of Christ as the image of God.
B. Christ the Mediator of a New Covenant
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9)
- Propitiatory Sacrifice
Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Rom 3)
- Priest of the New Covenant
When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb 9)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4)
- Object of Worship
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5)
Though there are links between the two topics (a mediatorial office is in some respects a prophetic or revalatory office), I am encouraged that two of the key passages on Christ seem to distinguish the ideas in these two headings, but discuss them in close proximity:
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Heb 1)
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1)
In both these passages, Christ’s pre-eminance and God-likeness are discussed in terms of his image, before discussing his mediatorial work as he reconciles us to God through the cross. This also seems to be the broad pattern in Hebrews, with chapters 1-2 establishing Christ as the supreme image of God, and the rest of the book examining the signficance of Christ’s redeeming work.
So this arrangement of ideas appears to be Biblical. Before I get too excited, what are the problems with it?
A couple of thoughts:
- To my mind the distinction between image and Son is pretty blurred, and there may be good reasons for preferring sonship as a heading.
- I haven’t got an obvious place to put the theme of Christ as defeater of Satan (aka Christus Victor).
Before you respond, why not read over some of those verses again, and offer praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!