Torrance’s Incarnation 4.1: The One and the Many – the Mediator

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationIn chapter four, Torrance discusses the “continuous union” (103) of Jesus. Here we move on from the event of the incarnation and look at his life. This falls under the category of enhypostasia, because we stress that “the humanity of Jesus had real existence in the person of the eternal son” (103).

a) The union of God and man in the person of Christ

The union of God and man which began in the incarnation continues through various stages. At 12 years old, we see Jesus passing from childhood to adult responsibility in the temple. Then, at 30 years old (the age when a man might enter the priesthood), Jesus begins his active ministry. The union is finalized at the cross and resurrection where the battle within the Christ reaches its climax.

Since Jesus is both God and man, he does more than communicate God—give gives himself to us. Jesus does more than teach things about God; he communicates himself as God. Therefore, the work of atonement is present in the life of Jesus. Who Jesus is and what he does is identical. John’s gospel makes this plain. Jesus doesn’t just teach about the way, he is the way. Jesus doesn’t merely teach the truth, he is the truth. Jesus does more than bring life, he is life.

b) The election of Christ – the one for the many

God chose Israel to be the one nation through whom his plan would be accomplished. In Jesus we see the continuation of this theme—rather than one nation, it’s one representative of one nation.

In this union between God and man, God binds himself to sinful men and women. This necessitates judgment. Election ironically intensifies the problem of sin by rendering sinners unable to hide and elude grace—although some people irrationally resist.

c) Substitution – Christ in our place

When the Son of God takes on human flesh, he stands in our place. This places him under law and judgment—for us. What the rest of sinful humanity deserves is actualized in Jesus Christ. The cross is the final visible event where Jesus suffers our fate, but this condemnation of sin in the flesh has been building throughout his life. “The more he entered into man to gather human life into oneness with God, the more intensely he took this conflict into his own heart” (112).

Sinful humanity does more than merely hide behind Jesus Christ’s righteousness—we are pulled from our “self-imprisonment” (113) and made to face our compassionate God.

Some Reflections

In Christ, what God communicates to man is not something, but his very self. (107)

“Word” in Hebrew—dabar—can refer to both word and event. When you consider Jesus Christ as the Word of God, it’s fitting that the Word of God Himself is an event. He does more than speak, he communicates himself. This is the sort of idea worth meditating on!

From beginning to end there is not a murmur upon his lips, not a shadow over his gladness, not a stain upon his serenity. If his agony is unspeakable, his life of joy and peace in the midst of it all is unbroken and inexpressible. (111)

I struggle with this idea. According to Luke, “being in an agony [Jesus] prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:44 ESV). That doesn’t sound like “unbroken” “joy and peace.” Torrance obviously knew this verse, and is claiming that Jesus’ “joy and peace” somehow transcended his suffering. I still can’t reconcile this with his God-forsaken cry from the cross.

In him there now takes place what ought to take place in us, the condemnation of sin in the flesh. (112)

The penal substitution theory of atonement has taken a beating lately. The idea that God would punish his Son instead of his creation smacks of divine child abuse or at least a farce of a legal process. Torrance’s elegant sentence reminds us that there is an ontological reality behind our metaphors.

← 3.2: The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth
4.2: The Life and Faithfulness of the Son Towards the Father →

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