Torrance’s Incarnation 2.1: The incarnation and the old Israel

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

To sum up what we’ve already read, we must know Jesus in his God/man duality. He is the Word and his being (word) and teaching are identical with his saving work.

If the incarnation was God’s plan for a certain point of history, we should be able to see signs of preparation for the incarnation within history.

The Old Israel Background

The story begins in Eden where humanity sinned. That sin ruptured fellowship between God and humanity, between humans and themselves, between humans and each other, and even between humans and the land. Even in that first sin-story, however, there is hope. God predicted that the seed of woman would bruise the serpent’s head.

We can be reconciled to God via two routes which are exemplified by the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Cain offered the fruit of his labour while Abel echoed God’s path of animal sacrifice (God sacrificed animals to provide clothes for Adam and Eve).

The history of Israel continues to prepare the way for Jesus. Israel’s complicated history provided the tools whereby humanity could properly understand Jesus. With Israel, God chose “the most stubborn and stiff-necked people under the sun” (41) to demonstrate that he works with those who are unworthy of his love.

When Jesus finally arrived, many saw who he was precisely because of Israel’s history. Others willfully blinded themselves because he wasn’t the Messiah they had hoped for.

The New Testament perspective – the Christian doctrine of Israel

It’s easier to see God’s plan of salvation from a New Testament perspective. We see that the Old and New Testaments are a unified whole. (It’s not as if God decided to wipe the slate clean and start something completely different in Jesus.) In hindsight we see how God’s covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai gave them a way to follow, a truth to live, and a life with God which were fulfilled in Jesus, the way, truth, and life. In hindsight we see how the roles of prophet, priest, and king are fulfilled in one Messiah.

Israel’s history was filled with suffering. They rebelled against God and were punished. This suffering came to a climax in the idea of a suffering servant (see Isaiah). God’s giving of himself to Israel served to intensify their rebellion, since holy love and sin cannot coexist. Jesus embodied the suffering of Israel and the punishment of God to the ultimate degree.

There’s an ironic movement in God’s salvation. The more particular it becomes (from Israel to Jesus), the more universal it also becomes. Israel’s determination to be an ethnos (nation), when they were called to be God’s laos (people) is a resistance to the particular salvation of God which became universal in Jesus.

We’re reaching the most difficult mystery now: “Israel could only fulfil the gracious purpose of God by rejecting Christ and condemning him to a sinner’s death” (53). In this way, God exposed the “infinite guilt” (53) in man’s heart which then allowed it to be exorcised. The very rejection of God provided the way for God to move in grace. Israel’s role was unique and there remains “a special place for Israel as a people” (56) within the one church of Christ.

Some Reflections

It belongs to the nature of sin to divide, to create disorder, to disrupt, to destroy fellowship. (38)

I love fortuitous coincidences. I’m in the middle of a four week preaching series called Alienation. This Sunday I’m speaking on how sin has destroyed our relationship with each other. Adam Blames Eve and God, Eve blames the Serpent, and on it goes. This line from Torrance jumped out at me. Is there anything more characteristic of sin than its power to destroy fellowship?

There are two possible ways [to be reconciled to God]. The way of Cain in which man offers of the fruits of personal labour to God, the way of man from man to God. … The way of Abel is one in which God provides the sacrifice, the sacrifice of another. (40)

The sacrifices of Cain and Abel have long confused me. I couldn’t understand why God rejected Cain’s offering of produce. He merely offered the fruit of his labour. The standard reason why God rejected Cain’s produce was that only the shedding of blood pleases God. That’s never held weight with me since we’re only one generation from the Garden at this point. Sinai had not yet happened, so how could Abel know any better?

Torrance’s comment on the sacrifice was an epiphany to me. Cain gave a sacrifice representing his own sweat—he tried to please God. Abel echoed the sacrifice of animals which God previously did in the garden when he made clothes for Adam and Even. Abel, in this reading, echoes God while Cain merely tries to please him out of his own resources.

The more God gave himself to this people, the more he forced it to be what it was in its sin and self-will, to be in truth what it actually was, a rebel. The very self-giving of God in holy love not only revealed Israel’s sin, but intensified it: it intensified the enmity between Israel and Yahweh. (48)

This ironic movement (that God’s holy love intensifies sin) has me reconsidering my own life. Especially as Pentecostals, we pray for more of God—we want to experience more of who He is. This comment on Israel reminds me of the equal need to repent and stand in need of grace.

How can we express this, for human words are too inadequate here? (53)

Torrance wrote this when considering how Israel’s rebellion was necessary in God’s plan. While he didn’t mention it, the conundrum reminds me of Judas. Someone had to betray Jesus—it was part of the plan—but woe to him who did! It comforts me that there are times when even the most erudite theologian recognizes the limits of human language and even understanding.

← 1.4: The biblical witness to Jesus Christ
2.1: The incarnation and the new Israel →

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