Jesus: the one and the many

This post continues a review of James B. (JB) Torrance's book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." For additional posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4567.

Be Not Afraid by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with artist's permission)
In chapter two, JB points out the encouraging truth that Jesus Christ knows all about us: "He has been through it all---through suffering and death and separation." In Jesus we are blessed to have a High Priest fully able (and willing) "to carry us through all we face into resurrection life" (p. 44).


How thankful we can be that Jesus, our High Priest, "is touched with a feeling of our infirmities, interceding for us, opening our hearts by the Spirit" (p. 45). When we are unable to pray (rightly or at all), we need not fret, for Jesus prays for us. When we suffer, we need not add fear to our struggle, for Jesus hears our groans and intercedes for us, just as he did for Peter in his many struggles with fear, doubt and misunderstandings (Luke 22:31-32).

Our loving Father in heaven has graciously given us Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw us to himself in worship. Yet, as JB notes, it's all too common for Christian teaching and preaching to...
...throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instruction as to what to do and how to do it [instead of directing people] to the gospel of grace---to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar...of grace, the grammar of our pastoral work. (p. 45) 
To rightly understand prayer and all other aspects of our worship of God, it's vital to understand the New Testament teaching concerning Christ's mediatorial priesthood---the reality that "we have someone who stands in for us to do for us and in us what we try to do and fail to do---someone who lives forever to intercede for us (Heb 6:20; 7:25-28; 8:1-6) and who gives us the gift of the Spirit to share in his intercessions" (p. 46).

Noting that The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as "an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ," J.B. points out that we pray "in the name of Christ" because of what Christ has done and is doing in our name (that is, on our behalf). In several ways we see this mediatorial role of Christ foreshadowed in the actions of Israel's High Priest in the Temple of the Day of Atonement:
  1. Jesus comes to us from the Father to be our one High Priest as both God and human. As human, he is "bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, in solidarity with all humanity." As one of us he offers to the Father "that worship, that obedience, that life of love in unbroken intimate communion" that we are unable to offer due to our fallenness. 
  2. Jesus "consecrates himself for this ministry of leading us into the presence of the Father"---we see this in Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17:19. Jesus, we are told, is "the one for the many" (Heb 2:11 ASV) and his life of prayer is fundamental to his self-consecration on our behalf. 
  3. Jesus offers himself on our behalf in death, "saying amen in our humanity to the just judgments of God" against sin. In doing so, "he does not appease an angry God to condition him into being gracious, but in perfect acknowledgement of the holy love of the Father for a sinful world, seals God's covenant purpose for all humanity by his blood."
  4. Jesus enters heaven (the holy of holies) on our behalf, there to intercede for us (John 20:17).
  5. Jesus returns to us from heaven, by the gift of the Spirit, to both bring us his peace (John 20:19) and to share with us his apostolic mission to the world (Heb 3:1) "as a royal priesthood with the word of forgiveness" (p. 48-49).
In these ways, we see Jesus, the One (our High Priest and Mediator) acting on behalf of the many (all humanity). As JB notes, only Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is able to fill this dual mediatorial role, for he, uniquely, is both God and man. Consider these stunning implications: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, our humanity was born again in and with him. When Jesus was baptized by the Spirit, suffered, died, rose again and ascended, all humanity was included in his "representative vicarious humanity." And now, in heaven, Jesus, fully divine and still fully human... 
...presents us in himself to the Father as God's dear children, and our righteousness is hid with Christ in God---ready to be revealed at the last day.... Because Jesus has lived our life, offered himself through the eternal Spirit without spot to the Father in our name and on our behalf, as the one for the many, God accepts us in him. We are accepted in the beloved son---immaculate in him, and only in him---"[holy] whole and blameless in his sight" (Eph 1:4). (p. 50)
All of this wondrous truth, this awe-inspiring, earth-shattering reality, is behind what it means when we pray "in the name of Christ." JB elaborates:
Because of what [Christ] has done and is doing for us in our name, we worship the Father in Christ as well as through Christ.... Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant, the one in whom God draws near to humanity in covenant love and the one in whom we draw near to God through the Spirit. In worship we offer ourselves to the Father "in the name of Christ" because he has already in our name made the one true offering to the Father, the offering by which he has sanctified for all time those who come to God by him (Heb 10:10, 14), and because he ever lives to intercede for us in our name. The covenant between God and humanity is consecrated in his person. (p. 50)  
It's vital to understand this reality that Jesus truly is the new covenant---"the one and the many." This is no mere concept or principle. Jesus is not merely an "ideal embodiment of humanity." No, there is an "absolute uniqueness to the person of Christ," as JB notes:
[Jesus] is deeply concerned for every single one of the many to bring every single one into personal union with himself, to share his personal union with the Father.... Thus in Jesus Christ "the one and the many" means at once the one for the many, the one who stands in for the many, the many represented personally in the one, the one who comes by the Spirit to each one of the many whom he loves and knows by name.... (pp. 51-2)   
Glory to God!

Because of who Jesus is (fully God and fully human), and because of what this God-man did (and continues to do) on our behalf, as our representative and substitute (through his vicarious humanity), Jesus fulfills God's purposes of love and obedience and worship for all humankind. JB comments:
What was lost in the one man ("in Adam")---communion with God---is restored and fulfilled for each one of us in Christ ("the last Adam"), and held out for us by the Spirit in the Lord's Supper [note here the importance of the sacraments]. This, of course, is the Pauline doctrine of Romans 5 and Ephesians 1---that God's great purpose is that "he might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10 NKJV). 
This concept of recapitulation [emphasized by Irenaeus], of the fulfillment of God's purposes for humanity in and through the inclusive and vicarious humanity of Christ, received fuller elaboration by Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and the Cappadocian divines in their statement that "the unasssumed is the unredeemed".... [Jesus] assumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again for us, our humanity is healed in him, in his person. We are not just healed through Christ, because of the work of Christ, but in and through Christ. Person and work must not be separated. (pp. 52-53, italics added)
We'll stop here and pick up more next time concerning the essential reality that Jesus is "the one and the many." Stay tuned!