Reconciliation in Jesus, the vicarious human

A key concept in understanding our emerging Trinitarian theological vision is the vicarious (representative) role that Jesus fills in the reconciliation of God and humankind.

In The Mediation of Christ Tom Torrance writes of Jesus' incarnation as the means "in which God has drawn so near to man and drawn man so near to himself...that they are perfectly at one" (p. 29a). Jesus is "Emmanuel, 'God with Us"...the mediator between God and man...both God and man in one incarnate Person, in whom and through whom and in the form of whom divine reconciliation is finally accomplished" (p. 29b). In Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, we find "a bond of union and communion between man and God...which can never be undone" (p. 30b).

As vicarious (representative) human, Jesus stands in the place of all humanity. This is a key concept of which Torrance writes: "The incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator...it is the alienated *mind* of man that God...laid hold of in Jesus Christ in order to redeem it and effect reconciliation deep within the rational center of human being" (p. 39b).

Torrance then points out that this reconciliation accomplished by and in Christ, is not merely a legal transaction, but a relational transformation within the person of the unique God-man, Jesus. This view is indeed different than the view embraced by much of Western Christianity, which tends to see the atonement "almost exclusively in terms of external forensic relations...[as a] judicial transaction in the transference of the penalty for sin from the sinner to the sin-bearer. In the biblical and early patristic tradition, however...the Incarnation and the atonement are internally linked, for atoning expiation and propitiation are worked out in the ontological depths of human being and existence into which the Son of God penetrates as the Son of Mary....Thus atoning reconciliation began to be actualized with the conception and birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary when he identified himself with our fallen and estranged humanity...a movement which Jesus fulfilled throughout the whole course of his sinless life as the obedient Servant of the Lord, in which he subjected what he took from us to the ultimate judgment of God's holy love and brought the healing and redeeming power of God to bear directly upon it in himself. From his birth to his death and resurrection on our behalf he sanctified what he assumed through his own self-consecration as incarnate Son to the Father, and in sanctifying it brought the divine judgment to bear directly upon our human nature both in the holy life he lived and in the holy death he died in atoning and reconciling sacrifice before God. That was a vicarious activity which was brought to it triumphant fulfillment and which received that verdict of the Father's complete approval in the resurrection of Jesus as God's beloved Son from the dead and in the rebirth of our humanity in him" (p. 41).

In Jesus' incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the entire human race has been (already) reconciled back to God. Does everyone know this? No. Does everyone live accordingly, no. Are there terrible consequences in living as though this truth is not true? Indeed. And as Jesus says: "you will know the truth [his teaching of who he is as one with the Father and with all humanity] and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)

May God work in and through us all to help more and more people repent (change their thinking) and believe this truth, placing their trust (faith) fully in the God who has saved them, so that they too may experience the new life that is theirs in the humanity that has been reconciled to God in Jesus.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this good quote from Torrance.

    I especially like the part where you say the atonement has to be seen not merely as a legal transaction, but a relational transformation.

    We haven't talked much about the atonement yet on this blog but the Triune life of God that Jesus reveals to us helps us see that the atonement is not a legal event where the Father flogs and executes Jesus for our sins instead of flogging and executing us.

    The Father does not desire justice while the Son desires mercy. If we have seen the Son we have seen the Father(John 14:9,)and they both (together with the Holy Spirit) desire mercy (Matt. 9:13.)

    The atoning work of Jesus on the cross is the same work he accomplishes by his entire incarnation (birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension.) It is the work that Torrance describes in this quote, the vicarious man in whom our human nature is circumcised (Col. 2:11,) the law against us is canceled (Co. 2:14) and Jesus is victorious over Satan, sin, and death (Col. 2:15.)

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  2. Amen, brothers. Sadly, some feel that we can overemphasize Jesus' role.
    Bottom-line: How big is Jesus? We are only now beginning to see! Colossians 2:2-3
    My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

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  3. Thanks for quoting from one of my favorite writers and writings, and one book I highly recommend to pastors for getting a better grasp of basic Christianity as revealed in Jesus Christ! I cannot recommend a book more highly at this point in our journey in WCG EXCEPT Baxter Kruger's books. He literally takes Torrance insight and makes it even more clear and accessible. Same things in different words. Thomas Torrance said of Baxter, "You have articulated everything I have been trying to say in all of my writings, only better!" :-)

    I read this book and more clearly understood our journey through the Old Covenant thinking and transition into New Covenant thinking in the WCG, and it put many of the puzzling questions I have always had about Jesus, His atonement, and His cross, into proper perspective.

    From Torrance I see more clearly how the punishment of Christ was Jesus literally taking on the insane wrath and punishment we dealt out in our darkness and ignorance (we mercilessly whacked on our best friend!), rather than Jesus taking on His Father's wrath and punishment (what an insane thought!)

    I also learned how alien our notions of atonement are, and how, in fact, we actually preach Christ "solving" our problems without really solving our problems!! After all, if God doesn't reach us in our total darkness, where we are actually at, then He hasn't REALLY reached us!! So how in the world did I preach that a Holy God couldn't get anywhere near sin?? Sheesh!! Perish the thought!! He not only got near it, He wholly got rid of it!

    I learned from this book that we can take ALMOST any subject we have learned about Christ and Christianity, and see that we have been saying it exactly opposite of what the Truth really is!!! How embarrassing, and yet, how liberating and freeing!!! It is worth the struggle!

    If you don't read anything else in this book, at least read Chapter 4, and it will be of much help to you I'm sure! There is no getting past the embarrassment you will experience, so as you turn colors just keep on reading, repenting and receive Jesus as He is, and your embarrassment will be turned to GREAT JOY!! :-)

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful nugget from a treasured book Ted!

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