Torrance’s Incarnation 5: The Mystery of Christ

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationJesus kept his messianic secret until the end of his ministry, so as not to be he be severely misunderstood. At the end, in the resurrection, the mystery was revealed. The New Testament writers reflect this mystery, especially in the glorified vision of Christ in Revelation. Paul proclaimed this mystery, too. He understood that the mystery of Christ existed from all eternity.

1) The mystery of Christ: mystērion, prothesis, koinōnia

The mystery of Christ is nothing less than Jesus Christ: God made flesh. Jesus revealed this mystery to his disciples, however imperfectly they understood it at first. This mystery was proclaimed by the apostles’ teaching.

The mystery concerns the purpose (prothesis) of God. Prothesis has two basic senses. It refers to the eternal purpose of God in bringing about Jesus Christ. It also refers to the setting-forth of Jesus. In this second sense, the word has “liturgical significance” (169). The mystery of Christ is continually set forth through word and sacrament.

Koinōnia also has two senses. It refers to our “participation through the Spirit in Jesus Christ” (171). It also refers to the fellowship of the church. In the church, we participate in the mystery of Christ. This is why the church is critical to our participation in the mystery of Christ. This mystery of Christ in fellowship is not only inserted into our knowledge as something we understand, but into our very being. “In a profound sense, atonement is the insertion of the union into the very being of our alienated and fallen humanity” (173).

2) The mystery of Christ and the holy Trinity

“What God is in Jesus Christ in relation to man, he is antecedently and eternally in himself” (175). We can examine the relationship between the mystery of Christ and the Trinity in two categories: pre-existence and election.

When Jesus prays “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5 KJV), he directly refers to his pre-existence. If Jesus is the Son of God for us, then he must also be the Son of God for God. He is the eternal Son. This is not to say that Jesus’ humanity is eternal—that union began within human history. However, his humanity was “assumed into oneness with the eternal Son” (177).

The mystery of Jesus Christ was set forth by God in his election of the Son. This eternal election of the Son was revealed in human history. Even so, the election was not a singular event, but an eternal purpose.

Some Reflections

In its fullest and deepest sense, mystērion refers to the union of God and man eternally purposed in God, but now revealed and set forth in Jesus Christ as true God and true man in one person: a union which creates room for itself in the midst of our estranged humanity and through fellowship or communion gathers people, men and women and children, into one body with Jesus Christ. (164)

Quotes like this are what makes Torrance so powerful to read. Reread that quote. Think about it a bit. God’s eternal purpose: the God-man union in Jesus Christ “makes room” within our failing humanity and draws us to himself. What a stunning way to visualize what God has done in Jesus.

There is no participation vertically in the mystery of Christ except through horizontal fellowship in the mystery, but there is no horizontal fellowship except by joint participation vertically through the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Christ who is true God and true man. (172)

Despite being a pastor, this is a truth I discovered later in life. As a person who loves solitude, I used to long for an isolated relationship with Christ. I’ve learned that there is no relationship with Christ without relationship to his church. I’ve learned to love how those two relationships relate to each other. Derek Webb said it well in his song, The Church: “You cannot care for me with no regard for her. If you love me you will love the church.”

The humanity of Jesus was assumed into oneness with the eternal Son and shares eternally in the glory of the only begotten Son of God which he had before the world was created. (177)

What an incredible move for God! When Jesus assumed our humanity, it was assumed eternally. God loved us so much that he assumed our creatureliness in his own divinity, eternally.

← 4.3: The Life and Faithfulness of the Son Towards Man
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