Saturday, April 21, 2012

Femininity, Masculinity, and the Trinity


Below are two questions that arose during IBC's 'Man Night.' Since these two questions are related, lets consider them together.
1. We are told that we are created in the image of God – “man (sic) and female He created them.” Which part of the Trinity is masculine? Which part of the Trinity is feminine? Should a man have both qualities? Should a female?
2. In what ways should a husband treat his wife as his equal? In what ways should he not?
Let's take that first question first. There are no 'parts' to the Trinity that are masculine and feminine. Humanity's masculinity and femininity corresponds in a finite, creaturely way to aspects of the infinite, uncreated Creator (qualities like strength and beauty - cf. Ps. 96.6). We cannot simply read our gender observations back into God. 1.) He is unutterably transcendent, which necessitates our keeping in mind an illimitably vast Creator/creature distinction. 2.) However, he has graciously revealed himself to us in his creation, in the Bible (which authoritatively interprets our observations of the creation), and especially (and ultimately, c.f. Heb. 1.1ff) in sending his Son to become a creature without ceasing to be God. Therefore the only legitimate way of using gender language to speak of God is to do so by depending wholly on his revelation of himself. We must rely on Biblical inspiration, not intuition or inference; on special revelation, not speculation.
There are plenty of places where the Bible refers to God with gender language. It even refers to him with feminine metaphors. It's possible that God's name, El Shaddai, refers to the nurturing care of a breastfeeding mother. King David referred to his relationship with God "like a weaned child with its mother" (Ps. 131.2). Jesus even compared himself to a hen gathering Jerusalem's kids under her wings (Lk. 13.34).
But God is not a woman. Nor is he a man (Ps. 50.21; Hos. 11.9), even though the majority of the language God uses of himself is masculine. So what are we to make of the fact that God refers to himself in both masculine and feminine terms? I think it helps to note that gendered language for God is both symbolic and human. It's symbolic in the sense that it stands for something about God. Each gender symbolizes or images God in a different way. Men and women are gendered image-bearers of God (Gen. 1.26-27). Each gendered person is the image of God in his or her own God-given right, but he or she images God differently than the other and does so best in loving fellowship with the other.
So this language is symbolic, but we must bear in mind that it is also human. It's Almighty God graciously communicating to us lowly creatures. To borrow John Calvin's verbiage, it is God 'lisping' to us in our own baby talk, using categories we understand in order to show us that which 'surpasses knowledge' (Eph. 3.19). God is like a strong man and cares for his children like a nurturing mother. Or, more accurately, we should put that the other way round. God isn't like them, they are in some way like him.
We do best not to adhere too strongly to any particular metaphor or image of God. If we choose a favorite symbol for him we may end up worshiping an image rather than the true God. But insofar as the Bible gives us leave to think of God as strong like a warrior or an impenetrable refuge, or as beautiful as a fountain or a breath-taking sunrise, we should treat them as merely helpful gifts and turn and thank the Giver, who is in no way limited even to the sum total of Biblical metaphors multiplied by infinity. He is not limited by the metaphors, rather, he is so amazingly gracious that he uses even our pitiful words to enlighten us with himself. He is so great that he cares enough to use our imperfect words to point us to himself, to shine millions of colorful rays into our dark minds to help us see him who is unseen.
These metaphors tell us true things about God, but God is not like these things. Let me try to show you what I'm saying. The Grand Canyon bears witness to God's grandeur. But God is not like the Grand Canyon. Rather, he is the definition of grandeur, and he dug that little hole in the ground so that we his creatures might praise him - because it really is grand to us! So masculinity and femininity bear witness to aspects in their Creator. But, strictly speaking, God is not like a man or like a woman. He created us so that each sex would be like a mirror, tilted 45 degrees that reflects his light in distinct but equally valuable shades. We should make use of all the Biblical images for God that we can, employing them in our fight against sin so that we trust in his power and believe the truth of all the glorious promises summed up in Christ over against the fake beauty of temptation's allurements. So we should cherish him through both the feminine and masculine language.
But I do not believe that this permits us to think of God as either he or she. We really need to be careful about playing fast and loose with our theology. Ideas have consequences. And Ideas about God have the greatest consequences. We cannot rightly pray to 'Our [Mother] which art in heaven...' That would be to stray from the verdant fields of Biblical revelation. Even though God can use feminine imagery to describe himself, the consistent way that he directly refers to himself is in masculine terms. None of the Biblical writers refer to him as she or her, and so, neither should we. (Whether we know exactly why this is the case is beside the point. For if we prefer to think of God according to the spirit of this overly inclusive age rather than letting the Bible shape our thoughts, we will be found worshiping a 21st century god and not the Biblical, living and holy One. So we would do well to take seriously the Apostle Paul's insistence 'not to go beyond what is written,' 1 Cor. 4.6.)
I hope this helps us think about using human gender language for God. And as far as whether a man or woman should have both qualities, the answer is yes and no. Men should not act like women (cf. Deut. 22.5), but men should still be in touch with their emotions and have relationships that they take pains to nurture (1 Thes. 2.7).
Now on to question number 2: In what ways should a husband treat his wife as his equal? In what ways should he not?
For this question we need help from both the OT and the NT. The apostle Peter refers to the wife as 'the weaker vessel' (1Pet. 3.7). But he doesn't say that we should belittle them accordingly, rather, he says that husbands should 'honor' them accordingly. It's like he's saying, 'Women aren't made like you roughnecks. They must be handled with care like fine china.' But this doesn't mean they're more valuable than us. We are both equal in value as God's precious images (Gen. 1.26-27). When we say that men and women are different, we do not mean to imply by that statement that one gender is better than the other. Although distinct in gender and functions, we are equal in worth as God's images.
We are equal, but we are different. Sara is strong in areas where I am weak, and vice versa. Just the physical structure of our different bodies testifies to things one gender can do that the other cannot. Since the Bible is so in touch with the reality of our differences, it commands that we relate with one another according to those distinctions. So in the church, men can take the responsibility as elders (1Tim. 3.1ff) but women cannot (1Tim. 2.12). In marriage, the buck stops with the men not the women to be the head, and so, wives are commanded to submit to their husbands and husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph. 5.22-33).
This headship language is really helpful in understanding both our differences and our equality, because it doesn't terminate in its usefulness in the marriage relationship. It is crucial to accept in order to have a consistent and clear vision of God and salvation. The first head of humanity, Adam, failed miserably at his responsibility and alienated the entire human race after him from the life of God. But God the Father sent God the Son to become the last Adam. He became the head of a new humanity through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. He is the faithful husband who has claimed all our debt as his own and given to us all of his riches as our own (even his own relationship with God the Father!). As our head, Jesus represents us before God. So everything he is and does and has is reckoned by God as what we are and do and have!
Let's go deeper and we'll discover even more buried treasure here. 1 Corinthians 11.3 says, 'I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.' So headship doesn't refer to something in marriage or salvation only; it actually refers to something in the Trinity! The Father is the head of the Son. 
So if you think that headship makes some sort of inequality in marriage, let the headship within the Trinity correct your assumption. The Father is not more important than the Son, even though the Father sends and the Son gladly submits (cf. Jn. 5.19ff). They are equal even though they're different (Jn. 5.18). Therefore husband and wife are equal even though they're different.
We can draw the above conclusion because interpersonal human relationships are meant to reflect interpersonal divine relationships. We see this applied not only to marriage, but also to other relationships in Ephesians. The last descriptor Paul uses for a church that is filled with the Spirit is, 'submitting to one another.' He then gives examples of what this submission looks like: Wives submit to husbands (Eph. 5.22). Children obey their parents (Eph. 6.1). Slaves obey their masters (Eph. 6.5). The ESV says this submission is to be done 'out of reverence for Christ' (Eph. 5.21). Christ is worthy of all reverence, but I think we can see what Paul is actually saying here better with a more literal translation. This submission is to be done, literally, 'in the fear of Christ.'
What is 'the fear of Christ' that submission is to be done in? Let's define that phrase to get the answer. 'Christ' here is to be taken as the subject, not the object. He is the one fearing, not the one being feared in this phrase. So you could say that submission is to be done in his fear. But what is this fear? It is what the Bible calls 'the fear of the Lord.' Here then, submission is to be done in Christ's fear of God. It is not a servile fear that shrinks back from God (Exod. 20.20). It's a familial fear, the good kind of awe we are to have of God. It includes things like admiration, reverence, respect, and even submission, like that which a son reserves for his father, or, as the case may be here, like what God the Son has for God the Father.
So let me try to bring this all together and clarify what I'm asserting here. The submission of a Christian wife for her husband is nothing less than a participation in and reflection of God the Son's relationship with God the Father. One more look at Ephesians should support this. In Eph. 5.18 Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit. The submission we've been looking at is a descriptor of this in Eph. 5.21. But before that, in Eph. 5.20, Paul says the Spirit-filled church is one that's 'giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.' To summarize, then: Filled with the Spirit, everything is about relating to the Father in the name of his Son (cf. Eph. 2.18). All our human interactions reflect this Father/Son relationship one way or another. In some relationships, we lead and send; in others we submit and are sent. The Son submits in everything to his Father in holy reverence or fear, but that does not mean he's in any way inferior to God. They are equal in divinity. Likewise, a wife who submits to her husband is in no way inferior to him. They are equals.
We are different, but we are equal. And that equality is very important to assert, especially for its theological ramifications. Humans are not genders who have God's image; we are image-bearers who have different genders. Our basic identity as humans is not man or woman. Our basic definition is that we have each been equally created in the image of God.

For more info on the things above, check out the things below: 
http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-14-No-1/Rob-Bell-s-Feminine-Images-for-God It seems a little reactionary but, it might be a good place to begin thinking about such things. cbmw.org has better stuff than this, so I encourage you to take a look at it.

For an amazing treatment of how the main stuff of the Bible has to do with our participation in God the Son's relationship with God the Father, check out Donald Fairbairn's book: Life in the Trinity. (If you just want to borrow it, I can lend you my Kindle eBook. I think you can borrow it for 15ish days, and you don't even need a Kindle to do so. Let me know!) He also has some fantastic lectures on theology here. And I just found out that he's started blogging! Yes! I love his stuff because it's so essential, and he writes in such a clear and nontechnical way.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Depth for the Present

Responding to Nietzsche's idealizing of youthful ignorance as, "Not yet having a past to disown," Miroslav Volf writes...

"Complete immersion in the present might produce happiness - that is, if our present circumstances were happy ones - but our lives would be shallow, not to mention downright dangerous. Imagine chasing a stray ball across a busy highway without looking for oncoming cars because you 'blissfully' ignore your knowledge about automobile accidents and fail to consider your mortality! Assuming we could survive, however, our lives would lose depth and richness for lack of memory and hope to bring the past and future into the present. For the way we experience time is similar to the way we hear a sound from a good stringed instrument. When we hear a sound from a good cello, for example, we don't hear a tone produced only by the base length of the string - co-present in that sound are tones from the string's half-length, fourth-length, eighth-length, etc. This is how a stringed instrument produces a complex tone. It is similar with the music of our lives. At any given time, we do not hear only the simple, solitary tone of the present; rather in that present resonate many sounds of past actualities and future possibilities. This is how our present acquires depth." ("The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World," pp. 72-73)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Charles Spurgeon on the carrot



“Once upon a time in an old kingdom, there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot in his garden. Now this man loved his sovereign, so he came and presented the carrot to the king, saying, ‘This is the best carrot my garden will ever grow. Receive it as a token of my love.’ Now the king discerned his heart of love and devotion and saw that he wanted nothing in return. This moved the king and he then gave the gardener far more land than he currently had for his garden, so the man went home rejoicing.
Now a nobleman at court overheard this conversation. He thought to himself, “If that is the response the lord makes to such a small gift, what will he give in response to a great one?" So the next day he brought the king a fine horse, saying, ‘This is the best horse my stables will ever grow. Receive it as a token of my love.’ But the King discerned the nobleman’s heart, and in response he just received the horse and dismissed the giver. When the king saw the look of confusion on his face, he said, ‘The gardener’s gift was a gift, indeed, out of love, but you are just trying to make a profit. He gave me the carrot, but you gave yourself the horse.” Now do you see what this teaches? If you know God offers you his salvation freely, and that there is nothing to do but to accept the perfect righteousness of his Son, then you can feed the hungry and clothe the naked just for the love of God and for the love of people. But if you think you are getting salvation in return for these deeds, then it is yourselves you are feeding, yourselves you are clothing.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Calvin on Union with Christ

"...that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts-in short, that mystical union-are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body-in short, because he deigns to make us one with him."

Institutes 3.11.10.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It is Finished


This morning I read a bit of the Washington Post article that showed Arizona State University wouldn't give Obama an honorary degree. In response, Obama said, "I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life," Obama said in a commencement speech Wednesday. With a smile he added: "First of all, (first lady) Michelle (Obama) concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home."

Let's pray for our president. I can't imagine the pressure he must feel to perform well. We've all got our lists, but his must be huge. The gospel would help him tremendously. Pray that he would believe it.

Jesus did all the work to make you acceptable before God, President Obama. And on the cross, he cried out, "It is finished!" You may feel the pressure to make yourself acceptable in the eyes of men, with their lists of things to do. God's list is never-ending. Yet Christ has checked off everything on the list. He has made full atonement for sins. He has ushered in everlasting righteousness. Repent of your trying to atone for your own sins, and believe in what he has done. Repent of basing your right-standing before God on your own good works, and trust in Christ's perfect work. Repent of your self-righteousness and look to Christ alone. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Father Treasures Jesus Above All

Christ as the Glory of God

Introduction and Thesis

Jesus, God’s Son, "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" (Hebrews 1:3a).[1] In what ways does the Bible talk about Christ as the glory of God? I suggest that God glories in Jesus because he is God’s radiant glory. The Father delights in his Son over all things, because since he is God he is greater than and over all things. (So I will have to argue against the idea of God’s impassibility, since I am saying that God is passionate about Jesus.) This means God cherishes most what is most worthy of cherishing – himself. God is God-centered. He is theocentric and therefore Christocentric. And this can only be true because Christ is fully divine. I will argue that the chief end of God in creation, providence, and salvation is to make known the radiance of his glory—which is his Son—in which he has taken infinite pleasure before the foundation of the cosmos. (I will be primarily talking about the way God the Father glorifies God the Son, for since I am limited in time and ability, I cannot traverse much further than the glory of one person of the Godhead. I wish I could elaborate more on how, for example the Son and Spirit glorify the Father. But I must restrain myself for the sake of crystallizing the work at hand.)

The Triune God and The Divine Man who Reveals Him

If one wants to know God, he or she must look at Jesus, His Son, because he is the perfect revelation of God. Gerald Bray says that “the nature of God is most clearly manifested in one particular person of the Trinity [God the Son], who thus provides the reference point for integrating the other two persons into the overall system.”[2] God is trinity and the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is one of the Godhead’s fully divine persons. Jesus is the concept that the Father has had of himself from all eternity. Jesus has existed as long as God has been aware of himself. Daniel P. Fuller says,

The self he beheld had to be totally separate from himself as the knowing subject. According to Jonathan Edwards, “If God beholds himself so as thence to have delight and joy in himself he must become his own Object.” God accomplished this absolutely necessary work for his being God by begetting Jesus Christ, his only Son.[3]

And Jesus reveals God the Father perfectly because he is divine. Psalm 89 mentions God’s covenant with David that “His offspring shall endure forever…” (v. 36). It says that this ruler, this anointed one, this Messiah will live “forever,” which alludes to his eternity and therefore to his divinity. That David recognized the divinity of this promised one is apparent in Psalm 45, where he addresses the coming Messiah as “God” (v. 6). Walter C. Kaiser Jr., referring to that, says that this fact “forever close[s] off the possibility of equating this royal person with an earthly king…Most importantly, he is a divine ruler.”[4] And the author of Hebrews, quoting this Psalm, makes clear that this divine Messiah is Jesus (Hebrews 2:8). Isaiah also prophesied of the Messiah’s divinity. He said he would be “a child” born with the title, “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). Only a divine man can perfectly reveal divinity for men.

Paul called Jesus “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4; see also Colossians 1:15). Jesus himself said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b). The verse which began this paper shows this. If one wants his or her eyes enlightened by God’s brilliant panorama, one need only look to Jesus, for “he is the radiance of the glory of God.” And there is One whose heart (please pardon my anthropomorphism) has been bursting with joy throughout endless ages at the sight of his own nature being “most clearly manifested,” namely, God the Father.

The God who Delights in Himself

But is it possible for an immutable, transcendent God to have joy or grief over something? Some early Christians responded with a negative answer, arguing for God’s “impassibility.” God’s impassibility is

The characteristic, usually associated with God, of being unaffected by earthly, temporal circumstances, particularly the experience of suffering and its effects. Many contemporary theologians reject the idea of divine impassibility, suggesting that it reflects Greek philosophical, rather than biblical, concerns. However, the Bible clearly teaches that God cannot be swayed in any way to be unfaithful to what God has promised. Still, it is seemingly impossible to associate pure impassibility with God in light of the fact that Jesus Christ, as the fullest manifestation of God, experienced suffering on the cross.[5]

God the Son, of his truly free will, chose to enter into our suffering on the cross. And he did it “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). It is indeed possible for the unchanging, illimitable God to both grieve and rejoice. God has affections, as the author of Hebrews quoted God saying to God the Son, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Hebrews 1:9). Love, hate, and happiness are all emotions in the heart of God. And his heart is most thrilled by the strength and beauty of himself which he sees in his Son, who is “the fullest manifestation of God.”

Both at Jesus’ baptism and at his transfiguration, God the Father could not help but declare his delight in his Son. “This is my beloved Son,” he exclaimed, “with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:16 & 17:5b). What was it at these two events that elicited such joyful announcements from God? At Jesus’ baptism, the Lord consecrated himself for the work he had come to accomplish on the cross. His immersion in water symbolized the fact that he was on a course to be plunged into the depths of sin and evil and suffering and death and God’s wrath on the cross. And when John lifted him from the dark stream, it was a foreshadowing of Christ being raised to the light of new life after having been buried for three days. Jesus was going to do it. He was perfectly surrendered and committed to the Father’s will. And the Father loved it because his will was being perfectly obeyed, being glorified, being shown to be the best of all possible wills. God loved that God’s will was being glorified because God loves God above all. God is God-centered.

What was it that excited God so much at Christ’s transfiguration? The answer is quite obvious. Mark records that Jesus’ “clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). Matthew says that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). Jesus was glorified! “He shone with the glory of God, the same glory that had appeared in the burning bush and in the pillar of cloud and fire, the same glory that had shone for a brief time from the face of Moses.”[6] Luke makes explicit that “they saw his glory” (Luke 9:32). Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain so that he could divulge to them some of his effulgence. Just this glimpse was enough to terrify them (Mark 9:6). But this vision had a different affect on God. This revelation of Christ’s glory excited God, because this glorious vista shined with God’s own glory. God’s glory delights God more than anything else because God is utterly theocentric.

Jesus Christ is God. So he is the perfect display of the Father’s glory. And therefore God the Father loves him with infinite delight. God loves God illimitably. Is this really what the Bible affirms? A look at some passages which assert this will be helpful. In Genesis, Moses recorded that God created mankind “in his own image” (Genesis 1:26-27). So already God is putting the spotlight on himself by having his ultimate creation bear his own image and likeness. Next, he sees fit to charge Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (v. 28). He wants his image all over the world! Only then, when he has created everything and set his image-bearing, vice-regents over the world to reign and multiply, does Moses record that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God was impressed over the work of his own hands that served to multiply images of himself to spread reflections of his own glory. God makes explicit that this is what he had in mind in Isaiah 43:6-7, saying, “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Not only does he create, but God also redeems people out of regard for himself: He says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). And David prays, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). Paul even goes so far as to say that everything God does is for his own glory, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). All this is to show that God is passionate for God.

But someone may object that this seems like vanity in God. Any person who cannot take his eyes off his own reflection is a megalomaniac. What is one to think of someone who copies images of himself to spread over the entire world? It would seem as if he has delusions of grandeur. Any finite sinner becoming obsessed over his own image would indeed be someone who has deluded himself. He would be deceiving himself into thinking that he is worth all of his attention. But a limited creature only has limited worth. An infinite Creator, however, does indeed have infinite worth. So for God to think that his reflection, his image, his glory is worth all of his attention is not vanity; it is appropriate. In fact if God were to consider anything other than himself and his own glory to be infinitely valuable he would be an idolater. It is only right, therefore, for God to esteem most what is most worthy of esteem, namely the radiance of his own glory, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The Father Glorifies the Son in Everything He Does

So I would like to argue that everything God does is to ultimately show what is supremely “true…honorable…just…pure…lovely…commendable” excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), namely, Jesus Christ. In creation, providence, and redemption, the Father’s chief aim is to magnify the majesty of Christ, for the accomplishment of this greatest of all goals is the greatest of all his pleasures.

Infinite wisdom must, in creating, propose to itself the most comprehensive and the most valuable of ends,—the end most worthy of God, and the end most fruitful in good. Only in the light of the end proposed can we properly judge of God’s work, or of God’s character as revealed therein.[7]

Strong seems to stand on the shoulders of Jonathan Edwards, who said,

[T]he whole universe, in all its actings, proceedings, revolutions, and entire series of events, should proceed with a view to God, as the supreme and last end; that every wheel, in all its rotations, should move with a constant invariable regard to him as the ultimate end of all; as perfectly and uniformly as if the whole system were animated and directed by one common soul.[8]

God created the universe to glorify himself. That much has already been settled above. More specifically, God the Father created the cosmos through the agency of the Son for the glory of the Son. Paul says that Jesus 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” (Colossians 1:15-16). The universe is a book whose author is the hero. The world is a theater whose builder and architect is the feature presentation.

God upholds the universe to glorify himself, that is to say, the Father sustains the universe through the Son for the sake of the Son. Paul goes on to say that Jesus is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). The author of Hebrews says that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is sovereign over all! Yet Paul also says that it is the Father who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). So who is in control? Jesus or the Father? It is unnecessary and unhelpful to choose which person of the trinity is sovereign. Each person of God is fully divine and therefore fully sovereign. God is sovereign over all, for Paul said that “from him and through him and to him are all things.” What may be helpful, however, is to assert that the Son is the divine agent of the Father’s sovereignty. Jesus said that his Father had given him “All authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). John said, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). And one of those things that the Father gave into his hands was the authority to judge (John 5:22). He gave it to him for this reason: “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (v. 23). What is true for judgment is true for all the other things that the Father has entrusted to his Son—the Father has given him universal supremacy and sovereignty over all so that “all may honor the Son.”

Not only is creation and providence for the glory of Jesus, but so is the accomplishment and application of redemption. Jesus accomplished redemption through his death and resurrection. Throughout the book of John, Jesus refers to the hour of his death. His death for sins accomplished redemption for elect sinners. But it was not just for people, it was for God. It was for the glory of God in Christ. Nevertheless, it was not Jesus who sought to glorify Jesus—this was not his role (his is to glorify his Father). This role of glorifying God the Son belongs to the Father and the Spirit. Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me…” (John 8:54), and referring to the Spirit he said, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). When Jesus approached his hour to make propitiation for his people’s sins, he said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). This is the work he came to do, to die on a cross to make full atonement for sinners. Through this accomplishment of redemption the Father and Spirit glorified the Son. The world was created and sustained as a stage set for God’s glory to be showcased most magnificently in the person and work of his Son’s death and resurrection.

God loves the glory of his Son in his resurrection. Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). It is true, as Walvoord and Zuck have stated, commenting on the above verse, that “The Father has a special love for Jesus because of His sacrificial obedience to the will of God.”[9] But John’s train of thought does not stop at Christ’s death. It goes on to Christ taking his life “up again.” So what did the Father cherish so much about Christ rising from the grave? A look at Paul’s epistle to the Romans may help us understand this. He said that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). No mere man could come back to life after having been dead for three days. So Jesus’ resurrection served as a royal declaration that essentially said, “This man who died now lives because he truly is the divine Son of God!” And God the Father loves the pure divinity on display in this declaration. And in this was the Father glorified.

The Father was put on display when his Son was put on display. Jesus said, before his crucifixion, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31), and “Whatever you ask in my name, this will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). And he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (17:1 & 5). So when Jesus is glorified, the Father is glorified. And this glorification has added nothing to the glory he had already been sharing with the Father and Spirit before times eternal.

This brings up something important. To say that God works for his own glory does not mean that he becomes any greater or more glorious than he has always been. That would mean God really was not glorious in the first place, for something that can improve itself must have had some defect to begin with. The glorious God is immutable. He is perfect. So his working to glorify himself cannot mean that he becomes better or prettier. He is the best of all possible beings. He cannot get any better. “God cannot be faulted with a disposition or conduct that contradict[s] the truth of who he is. This truth is that he is infinitely glorious and worthy of all honor and thanks (Rom 1:21). God is totally devoted to uphold and display this truth in all his actions.”[10] When the Father glorifies the Son, he works to make his worth and excellency known and cherished. As Piper said above, God works “to uphold and display” and not to improve his infinite worth. For that would be impossible, as Thomas Watson once noted. He said that people “cannot add to [God’s] glory, but they may exalt it; they cannot raise him in heaven, but they may raise him in the esteem of others here.”[11]

Jesus is glorified in the application of his accomplished feat of redemption. His finished work is applied to individuals and to the cosmos. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for chosen sinners, God is just to summon, regenerate, impart faith and repentance to, justify, adopt, sanctify, and glorify them. And Paul shows that this work of redeeming lost humanity serves to fashion a plethora of mirror images of Jesus.

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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29-30).

God will one day finally and fully redeem all those whom he has chosen. He will glorify myriads of people, conforming them “to the image of his Son.” This will be a glorious sight that the Father will love to see. Concerning this, John Murray says, “There will be a perfect coincidence of the revelation of the Father’s glory, of the revelation of the glory of Christ, and of the liberty of the glory of the children of God. The glorification of the elect will coincide with the final act of the Father in the exaltation and glorification of the Son.”[12]

And since Christ as a divine man redeems man, who is God’s vice-regent who rules God’s creation, ergo, God as a man, redeeming man, will restore all things over which man was given authority in Christ. God will glorify Jesus by renewing the cosmos through his resurrection. It was created and has begun to be recreated through Christ. For what does it mean when Paul calls Jesus, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”? (Colossians 1:18). It is quite likely that he had in mind the same thing John did when he called Jesus, “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead” (Revelation 1:5). So what does John mean by ascribing to Jesus this lofty title? He develops it in the subsequent context. He says that Jesus is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14). G.K. Beale offers invaluable insight into this with his commentary. He says,

“Firstborn” refers to the high, privileged position that Christ has as a result of the resurrection from the dead… Christ has gained such a sovereign position over the cosmos, not in the sense that he is recognized as the first-created being of all creation or as the origin of creation, but in the sense that he is the inaugurator of the new creation by means of his resurrection, as [Revelation] 3:14 explains…[13]

Even N.T. Wright affirms this. He says, “The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign… He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.”[14] God has begun to recreate the universe, starting with Christ’s body. Not to put it too crassly, but to get the point across, someone has that that when Christ emerged from the grave as “the firstborn from the dead,” the head of the baby of God’s new creation popped out of the old creation’s womb. When Christ returns, he will finish making all things new, and the new baby will be fully born (Revelation 21:5). God’s new creation broke in to the old creation at Christ’s resurrection. Why? By returning to Paul’s words in Colossians we find the answer. Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

Conclusion

Jesus is “preeminent” in God’s sight and esteem because he is the divine image of God who perfectly radiates God’s glory. The Father cherishes “the radiance of his glory” that he sees in his divine Son so much that everything he does is aimed at letting Christ be known and enjoyed and praised as supreme. God glories in Jesus because he is God’s glory. He exults in his own resplendent perfections shining in his Son in their work of creation, providence, and redemption. All that God does is to bring himself glory through Jesus Christ. For he is God’s Son, the One in whom the Father is infinitely, eternally, and immutably pleased.



[1] All Scripture quotations come from The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God. New York: InterVarsity P, 1993. 197.

[3] Fuller, Daniel P. The Unity of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. 117.

[4] Kaiser, Jr., Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995. 128.

[5] Grenz, S., Guretzki, D., & Nordling, C. F. (1999). Pocket dictionary of theological terms (64). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[6] Sproul, R. (2000, c1993). Vol. Book two: Before the face of God: Book two: A daily guide for living from the Gospel of Luke. Includes indexes. (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Before the Face of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.

[7] Strong, A. H. (2004). Systematic theology. "[This] …work is a revision and enlargement of [his] 'Systematic Theology,' first published in 1886."--Pref. (397). Bellingham, Wa.: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] Edwards, Jonathan, and Sereno E. Dwight. "A Dissertation Concerning The End for Which God Created the World." The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 1. New York: Hendrickson, Incorporated, 1998. 98.

[9] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:310). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[10] Piper, John. The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993. 95-96.

[11] "Thomas Watson on Man's Chief End from Body of Divinity." FiveSolas.com. 24 Oct. 2008 .

[12] Murray, John. REDEMPTION Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955. 177.

[13] Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999. 191.

[14] Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Vol. 3. New York: Fortress P, 2003. 731.