Atonement Theory and Sacrifice

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Peter Leithart, in his recently released theological magnum opus, Delivered from the Elements of the World, says at the beginning of his book that any theology of the cross must make sense or be connected to the Levitical cultic sacrifices (among other things of course. Leithart mentions 5 criteria for a proper theology of atonement: evangelical, Levitical, Pauline, inevitable or necessary, and fruitful).

Leithart says this about Levitical atonement theology: “a successful atonement theology treats Jesus’ death (at least) as a sacrifice, and it must be able to show that Jesus’ sacrifice fulfills Levitical ritual in historical events” (p 20).

The connection of the cross to sacrifice is of course apparent in NT letters such as Hebrews and the gospel narratives. But how exactly does the death of Christ “work” as a sacrifice? Peter Leithart takes up much of this book to bring to clarity the sacrificial death of Christ. First, he explains the purpose of the Levitical sacrifices:

[The] sacrificial system was designed to bring Israel near so that divine Husband and human Bride could feast together at the house of Yahweh. Yahweh accommodated himself to the post-Edenic, fleshly situation of Israel. Israelites themselves did not approach Yahweh but drew near through animal mediators, animals whose flesh was destroyed so that they could be transfigured and ascend, as the worshipper could not, in Yahweh’s presence. Israelite priests ate in the holy place but only under controlled conditions; Israelites could eat and drink and rejoice before the Lord, but only at a distance from his fiery presence. Israelites could not go past the cherubic swords and live. Israelites could not become fire to join themselves to Yahweh’s fire. But they could send animals past the cherubic swords, and Yahweh accepted the animals in place of the worshipers and Yahweh’s fire “consumed” the flesh of animals so that their flesh was turned to smoke and fire, “divinized” into union with Yahweh (p 138)

To make this explanation simple: the sacrifices were a sacramental means to accomplishing union with God. Israel offered these sacrifices, because they themselves were unable to ascend to God; they killed and burned the offerings as an act of repentance and vicarious self-giving, hoping the smoke could ascend to God and be accepted in their stead. This sacramental union was finalized when the priests ate the sacrifice “in the presence of the Lord”, which symbolized table fellowship with Yahweh.

Peter Leithart’s explanation of OT sacrificial theology represents a Thomistic sentiment. Sacrifices were seen by Aquinas as vicarious offerings of the self through the animal offerings for the purpose of creating union of God and man. The point of the sacrifices were “giving up” part of yourself to God; something valuable, something representative. This is why Israel offered animals, because they were comparable to income during those times. Even more, they gave the first born without spot and blemish. This was the most valuable animal. To give an animal like that was to give up part of your own income and wealth, and thus it was seen as a vicarious act of self-giving.

Moving on the cross, Leithart points out that the cross is seen by NT writers as fulfilling and finalizing OT sacrifices because while the OT sacrifices were vicarious, Christ’s was personal and actual. He didn’t offer to God a goat or bull, hoping that God would accept those in their place; rather, Christ offered himself in totality to God. Leithart says this:

[Christ] fulfilled the sacrificial system because he did what all sacrifices signified…  Jesus did this in fact when he offered himself, passing through death into union with God like an animal sacrifice. (p 159)

So he fulfilled what all other sacrifices wished to fulfill: the offering of the total self to God. In fact, this is the point of the resurrection: it was simply smoke that rose to God; rather, God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and rose him up and seated him at his right hand. Sacramental union has been definitively accomplished in the person of Jesus.

But Leithar acknowledges: Jesus ” was not the first martyr to give his life to the God of Israel” (p 159). So what made his sacrifice different from all the other martyrs of the faith of Israel? Leithart answers:

The answer is, his identity and life. Jesus was the “son of God” in the Old Testament sense: he was Israel’s King, Israel embodied in a single person, and so his death, like the death of every king of Israel, was on behalf of his people. When he passed through death toward transfiguration, Israel went with him. More, Jesus was Israel’s king and Israel High King in one person, both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He poured out his blood, the life of his flesh, as Yahweh incarnate, and so his passage through death was Yahweh’s own passion, God’s own passage through human. Besides, Jesus’ entire life made his martyrdom unique. Heroic as they were, no other martyrs had lived a life of complete obedience to Torah. None had fully realized all that Torah required. Like every sacrificial animal, Jesus offered himself “without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14) (pp 159-160)

Jesus’ sacrifice was unique because Jesus was representative of Israel; and, borrowing from Saint Anselm, Jesus was man and God, which made his death utterly and infinitely more valuable than any other death of a human being. But even more than that, Jesus’ sacrifice was pure and without blemish. Because Jesus obeyed the Torah in full, he offered himself a pure oblation, innocent one, perfectly loving and just. God took delight in that and raised him up, and consequently, all Israel in him.

Aquinas said in his Summa Theologia that the value in Christ’s self-offering was not so much his suffering (although this doesn’t discount the need for vicarious suffering), but rather in the infinite perfect love with which he suffered. The entire point of the sacrifices was the give the self to God entirely: this is just what Christ did in the cross by dying in perfect love. And that infinite love was sufficient for the remission of all the world’s sin!

 

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Being a Two-Testament Church

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I’m taking a class at Reformed Theology Seminary this Spring on the church and sacraments.

One discussion that always comes up when discussing the nature of the church is how the New Testament church relates to the Old Testament. Or put another way, in what way does the Israel of the OT relate to the church of the NT? Is there inherent unity between the testaments, as in, is God making one people throughout the Bible? Or, is there a break, a separation, which distinguishes the people of the OT from the people of the NT?

There is a diverse series of stances on this question, ranging from what is called dispensationalism all the way to common Reformational covenant theology. Dispensationalism answers the question of the church and the OT by essentially explaining that there are two peoples of God, Israel and the church. While they intersect, the church and Israel are two separate redemptive programs in God’s plan for the world.

Reformed theology, in contrast, boasts itself in being a two-testament church; meaning, there is an inherent unity between the Israel of the OT and the church of the NT. And while there are certainly things which distinguish the two testaments (the Christ-event no less), there is in principle one church which bridges the gap of the two testaments.

In attempt to prove the Reformation understanding of the church, professor Scott Swain listed several metaphors that describe the people of God throughout both testaments. In doing so, he hoped to show that the people of God or the church was one organism in both testaments, though brought to new fulness in the NT.

For instance, one metaphor found all throughout the Bible is the picture of God’s people as a building. This metaphor is found in both Ephesians and Corinthians. Also, Jesus himself famously alludes to the church as a building when he promises to Peter in Matthew 16: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”.

In alluding to the church as a building, Jesus, Paul et al, were not creating a new metaphor, but actually drawing from the prophets, who often referred to Israel as a building, or a temple, which could be broken down or built up depending on covenant faithfulness.

For instance, in Jeremiah 1:10, God threatens to “break down” Israel for their covenant unfaithfulness. In another text, Jeremiah 24:6, God promises that although Israel will been torn down for their sin, he “will build them up” again.

Another metaphor which is found in both testaments is the metaphor of God’s people as a plant, or vineyard, or tree. Both Jesus as Paul refer to the church in botanical terms: Jesus refers to the church as a vineyard, which requires faithful workers. In Mark 12, Jesus warns the Pharisees that he will replace unfaithful vineyard workers with faithful ones (implying a new regime in the apostles). Jesus compares himself to a vine onto which believers are grafted; if any do not bear fruit, the Father will prune them and throw into the fire. Or Paul, for instance, in Romans 11, refers to the church as an olive tree, which God will prune and graft in order to bring forth fruit.

Again, this is not a new metaphor. It is found all throughout the prophets. Isaiah 6 refers to Israel as a dead stump which God will bring to life again. Jeremiah 12 compares Israel’s leaders to unfaithful vineyard workers who will be punished for their sin.

There are other metaphors, but the point here is that the church is not a new program. The metaphors and themes bleed across testaments. And the point the NT writers wanted to make was that Israel found her final fulfillment in the church. The church is not a new program, but a renewed covenant people. Israel was a broken down building, a dead plant, because of their unfaithfulness; and yet God promised to renew covenant with her; to rebuild, to replant, to breathe life into his people. Christ came to do that very thing. He did not come to create a new people, but to assume the covenantal responsibility of Israel, bear her curses, and fulfill God’s purposes for the world he had from the beginning. For this, the church must be thought of as two-testament.

The Church Visible and Invisible

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A common distinctive of Protestant ecclesiology is to distinguish between the invisible and visible church. What this distinction is meant to communicate is that within any church gathering, there will be a varied assortment of people: some will be true believers; but others will be unbelievers, professing believers, hypocrites, etc. What we see, what is visible, is a bunch of baptized professing Christians. However the reality is that only a segment are truly regenerate, united to Christ, part of Christ’s body. But this group is not perceptible to the eyes; ergo, the invisible church verses the visible. We cannot see who’s who.

Many do not like this distinction between visible and invisible because it creates an impression what’s really important is the invisible, spiritual body of believers. The visible, ecclesial, hierarchical, sacramental, is really irrelevant to the Christian life. What really matters is the heart, that I love Jesus. Another issue brought up is that this theology creates a sort of disdain for the sacraments. “Well I know he was baptized, but until I see fruit I’m still not sure he’s the real deal!”

Douglas Wilson, while understanding the distinction, proposes that we designate another term for this reality. He suggests calling it the “historical church” verses the “eschatological church”. There are those who are in the church now in history, verses those true believers who will be in the church in eternity. What this does get away from the anti-establishment anti-sacramental stuff. And while at times I understand and even like his suggestion, I still think the visible/invisible distinction is important. And actually, that distinction is there in the scriptures.

Turretin explains the distinction from scripture in his Elenctic Theology, volume 3:

It is one thing to be in the church by a visible communion and to use the same profession and the same sacraments; another to be of the internal and invisible communion of the church and to be bound together by the same bond of faith and Spirit. I grant that [unbelievers] are in the church in the former sense, but I deny that they are in the latter. Christ denies it “Ye are of your father the devil! (Jn 8:44); “Ye are not of my sheep” (Jn 10:26). John denies it, “They were not of us” (1 Jn 2:19). And as “all are not Israel, who are of Israel (Rom 9:6), i.e., they who will spring from Israel according to the flesh still are not the true Israel according to the Spirit, to whom the promises are made; thus neither are all who are in the church of the church (pp 21)

Turretin first brings out the Pharisees. The Pharisees, for all intents and purposes were part of God’s people Israel: they participated in the sacraments, sacrifices, worship, they taught and led; and yet Christ calls them children of the devil. They were in Israel but not truly Israel. Paul’s distinction of the two types of Israel from Romans 9 is also telling: there were those who were part of Israel by birth but not by faith, and so they were members merely externally. The point here is that there are those who are in the visible assembly only; but they do not have true faith, and so they are not part of the church truly. They have merely the external membership which does not save.

Paul accounts for this when he says in Romans 2:28-29

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God

Paul says that a true member of the church is one who is circumcised of the heart, not just the flesh. That is not to say that he degrades the sacramental aspects of church life. He says in Romans 3:1 that to be externally circumcised is of benefit “in every way”. We don’t want to do away with the visible aspects of church practice. The point here is to say that it’s possible to participate in church life without actually having a heart change. This means that your membership is only skin deep. It hasn’t reached the recesses which matter the most. This is the reality: true church membership is that membership which participates in both the invisible and visible aspects of church life. It receives the sacraments and experiences spiritually what they convey.

His Blood Be Upon Us

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In Matthew 27, Matthew accounts the harrowing story of the Jews’ rejection and handing-over of Jesus to the Roman authorities. Pilate, convinced of Jesus’ innocence, said to the Jewish people: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves” (v. 24). In a rather brash response, “all the people answered”, saying, “His blood be on us and upon our children” (v. 25).

His blood be on us and our children? This verse is shocking to say the least. What does it mean? Unfortunately, many have used it as an opportunity for anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jewish people. Not least because “all the people”, literlly “all of Israel” and her proceeding generations, called Jesus’ blood on herself. What could Matthew mean to communicate by this verse?

It is first good to consider what Joseph Ratzinger said of this verse in his Jesus of Nazareth: namely, that the blood of Christ “speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation” (p 187). What Ratzinger means to say is that the blood of Jesus “cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:7); it washes, it makes new. It doesn’t condemn or call for vengeance. From this point of view, rather than condemning themselves, the Jews rather ironically and unknowingly invited the cleansing blood of Christ upon themselves. In this way then, Israel was unwittingly offering an atoning sacrifice — the true atoning sacrifice — to God on their own behalf! They were offering the Lamb of God!

Taken a level deeper, this account of the Jews “swearing blood upon themselves” brings to mind something significant from the Exodus account. In Exodus 24, after Israel’s redemption from Egypt,  Moses was commanded by God to make several sacrifices; and after making the sacrifices, Moses was then told to throw half the blood “against the altar” and half “on the people” (v. 7-8). What this did was signify a “blood bond” between God and the people. The sacrifice atoned for sin, and the blood thrown on the people signified that Israel had become God’s “kin”; God’s own son.

What it seems Matthew is doing in chapter 27 is rather ironically recreating this Exodus blood-bond: the people, in calling Christ’s blood upon themselves, unknowingly signified Christ as the sacrifice which would in turn create a new covenant-bond between God and Israel. 

In this way then, Matthew is communicating in his own creative way, that Christ was redeeming and reconstituting a new Israel in himself, by his sacrifice. The old covenant Israel apostatized; but Christ as the true Lamb, redeemed and returned Israel to God as his own “kin” in and through himself!

Born Under the Law

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One of the most profound truths of the gospel, is that Christ not only took the penalty of our law-breaking, but he also fulfilled the law on our behalf during his life on this earth.

Christ himself said as much in Matthew 3:15, that he came to “fulfill all righteousness”. Christ said this just before he was baptized. John the baptist, rightfully noticed that Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, because he was perfectly righteous. Yet, Jesus didn’t do it for himself — he did it to fulfill a righteousness that we did not have. Paul also expounds on this fact. He says in Galatians 4:4 that Jesus came at God’s predetermined time, and he was “born of a woman, [and] born under the law“. This is a profound verse. As God the Son, Jesus was the very revelation of the law. His very character helped shape the very giving of the Mosaic Law. As such, this means that Jesus was not forcibly subject to the Mosaic Law, as humans are. Mankind is part of God’s creation, being created in his image; and therefore we are held accountable to reflect his character and righteousness through obedience to him. However, Jesus is already the very radiance of the Father (Heb 1:3), being the second person of the Trinity, and therefore already contains the righteousness demanded in the law. So Jesus never had to submit to the law. Instead, Jesus willingly, voluntarily, humbly, subjected himself in the incarnation to full obedience to the Law.

And Jesus didn’t do it for no reason, or for show. Jesus subjected himself to the Law, in order that he might “redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:5). In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the law’s demands on behalf of sinful men, that they might be counted righteous. He took the full weight of the burden of the commandments, not for himself, but for us. And all that we might be delivered from the curse of the law (Gal 3:10-14). Jesus was perfectly obedient, as a disciple of the law, that we might be counted as righteous disciples of the law. As Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that we might become “the righteousness of God” in him.

Martin Luther says of Galatians 4,

Christ, a divine and human person, begotten of God without beginning and born of the virgin at the appointed time, came not to make a law, but to feel and suffer the extreme terrors of the law and to overcome it, so that he might completely abolish it. He was not a teacher of the law but an obedient disciple of the law, so that by his obedience he might redeem those who were under the law. He was the one acted upon, and not an agent, in respect to the law. He bore its condemnation and delivered us from its curse.

Luther makes a helpful distinction here that many misunderstand. While Jesus did teach the law, this was not his main purpose in the incarnation. In other words, Jesus was not just “a good moral teacher”, as many say. Jesus himself denied this claim. His main mission was to deliver those who were under the law. And he did this by obeying its demands perfectly, and by dying under its curse — this was all done for us. Luther finishes his section on this verse, saying, “to teach the law and to perform miracles are particular benefits of Christ, [but are] not his main reason for coming into the world”. Christ came to to deliver us from condemnation, and he did it through representative obedience and vicarious death.

Phillip Ryken expounds on this principle further, saying,

[Christ] was born “under the law”. By his birth he was required to keep the whole Torah, which he did with total perfection. Jesus kept the whole law for his people. He was circumcised on the eighth day, as the law required. He never broke even one of the Ten Commandments. He followed the biblical pattern of worship. He went to Jerusalem to keep the feasts. He celebrated Passover. He did everything the law required.

Jesus even died under the law. For God’s Son, coming under the law included accepting the death penalty his people deserved for breaking it. This is what Paul explained in chapter 3[:13], when he said, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for  us”. When Christ came under the law, he also came under its curse. He not only kept the whole law for his people, but also suffered the punishment due to their sins.

Oddly, many believe that Jesus was opposed to religion. This isn’t really true. Grace and religion (earning God’s love through strict obedience) may be opposed. But this is only because Christ was the perfect law obeyer. He was the perfect Jew. He was the one in whom God was “well pleased” (Mt 3:17). And because of that, we are under grace. Because by virtue of faith in Christ, we receive his perfect obedience and death to the law, thereby being redeemed from the curse of the law.

Why Christians Need the Old Testament

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I mentioned in my preceding post that Christians need the scriptures for encouragement, growth, and spiritual fruit, because of the very fact that the scriptures reveal God’s saving purposes for mankind. Martin Luther went so far to say that the Word of God is itself a lengthened telling of the gospel.

In this post, I want to consider just exactly how the Old Testament tells this gospel-story.

And what I want to propose is that the Old Testament is just as much about the gospel than the New. And because of this, the entire biblical narrative is concerned and centered on Jesus — and, as I said in my last post, this is why we need the scriptures, Old Testament too!

So then, how does the Old Testament bear witness to the gospel?

If read carefully, and in context, it should become clear that the Old Testament is concerned with the gospel as much as the New; it just communicates it in different ways. Vaughan Roberts says (source),

[Many] have debated for years whether or not it is possible to point to a unifying theme that binds the whole Bible together…Any unifying theme that is used to help us to see how the Bible fits together must arise from scripture itself…and it must be broad enough to allow each part to make its own distinct contribution. The theme of the kingdom of God satisfies both requirements…

[God’s kingdom can be defined as] “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule” …[Scripture throughout presents] God longing  for human beings to enjoy an intimate relationship with him in his presence. As he is a perfect, holy God, that is possible only as we submit to his loving rule and do not sin.

What Roberts wants to communicate here is that the Old Testament may not mention the word “gospel”, but the concepts of the gospel are there. Roberts proposes that it’s easier to present “kingdom” as a unifying principle that presents the same gospel-truths, both across the Old and New Testament. I agree with him. I think that the beginning chapters of Genesis present God’s people under his rule and blessing, submitting in humility to him — they present God’s kingdom in perfect form. And Revelation 21, at the very end of the Bible, presents it that way too: God’s people under God’s rule and blessing. This is God’s goal a presented throughout the entire Bible, from beginning to end. However, we find that Adam’s sin (and ours too) corrupted and ruined this kingdom relationship. And for that, all have fallen short and deserve God’s condemnation (Rom 3:23).

God’s response, however, was not to destroy us, but to provide a means for humanity to be in blessed fellowship with him once more. Roberts says well, “[God] is certainly not defeated by the fall”; because in Genesis 3:15, we are told that God promises to restore his kingdom relationship through a Seed (a child) who would come from Eve and undue the effects of our sin, ultimately restoring creation to its original state. How will this happen? Through Jesus. This Seed is Christ, and God will use him to restore his fallen creation. Even in the first few chapters of the Bible, Jesus comes into the picture.

And this is the theme of the Old Testament, which finds fulfillment in the New: God will provide someone who will rescue humanity from their sin. The Old Testament presents God’s preparation for this great rescue.

God begins this rescue-plan by calling Abraham from his land, and giving him a promise. God promises to Abraham that through his Seed (recall Genesis 3:15?) he will bless the world. Roberts rightly says, “the covenant with Abraham is a promise of the kingdom of God…It is a promise to reverse the effects of the fall”. Paul would eventually explain that although Isaac was Abraham’s immediate “seed”, Christ is the final Seed who would bless the nations (Gal 3:16).

Then, after God established this promise, he created a nation called Israel whereby he would reveal this Seed, and set a context for redemption. Many may ask exactly why God dealt with this nation Israel before Christ’s coming? John Piper aptly answers this (source):

Israel’s history is not just about Israel. It’s about “every mouth” and “the whole world.” This was not a 2,000-year detour. God was writing a lesson book for the nations. It’s not an accident that our Bible has the Old Testament in it…Because in God’s wisdom he knew that the nations of the world would grasp the nature of Christ and his work better against the backdrop of Israel’s 2,000 year history of law and grace, faith and failure, sacrifice and atonement, wisdom and prophecy, mercy and judgment.

What Piper here is explaining is that God established Israel’s kingdom in order to teach both Israel, and the observing nations about their need for redemption. God wanted to communicate to all peoples that they could not save themselves. And God needed years of history in order to accomplish this. Paul tells us that the sacrifices, the Law, the priesthood, the temple, everything, was given in order to be a tutor to explain our state in sin, and our need forgiveness and holiness. Paul says that the Mosaic Law “was added because of transgressions…until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made…The [Law] has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:19-22). So, God used Israel and the Mosaic Law as a training station to teach the nations how one is to be saved; namely through an atoning Savior who would die for the sins of others.

In this way, the Old Testament presented the promise of a Savior, and also presented our need for him. And in the New Testament, Christ became the embodiment and fulfillment of that promised. As Paul says, the Old Testament was “a mere shadow of what was to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:17). God is a great strategist, and this is how he accomplished this great redemption.

So when we read the Old Testament, we are reading God’s promises. God is “getting ready” to present Christ. And he is doing it by revealing through Israel what he will look like, and accomplish.

In this way, the Old Testament is just as much about the gospel than the New. For this reason, we should read, treasure, enjoy, and consume God’s Word on every page.

What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church?

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What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church? This concept of Jesus being over the church is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, both implicitly and explicitly. In Colossians 1, Paul calls Jesus the head of the body, the beginning, and the first born from the dead, with the end result of him being preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). Jesus is the head, becoming the center of all things concerning God and his church. Paul mentions Christ’s headship in Ephesians 5 as well; and he compares Christ’s headship over the church to a husbands relationship to his wife, telling us that Christ’s headship is one of nourishment and sanctification toward his church; similarly, husbands should care for and nourish their own wives (Eph 5:23-29). But what is Paul trying to convey here?

When Paul speaks of headship, he is talking primarily about representation.

Biblically, what we must understand is that God deals with people by way of representatives. Whatever happens to that representative happens to those under him. This principle goes throughout the entire history of the scriptures.

For instance, when God created Adam, he gave him certain responsibilities. Adam was to cultivate the garden that God had given him, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). To Adam alone was given this responsibility — and Eve was given as a helper to assist him in accomplishing his God-given tasks. Also, God prohibited Adam from certain things. He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). If he were to eat of it, he would surely die. Of course, we find that Adam and his wife did eat of the tree. But it’s interesting just how God punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience. First, God holds Adam alone responsible, not Eve (Gen 3:9-10). Second, because of Adam’s failure, God punishes all of humanity, not just the pair. Paul later picks up on this concept, and tells us that we are sinful because of one man’s sin (Rom 5:12). What this indicates is that Adam was a God-ordained representative for all humanity. If he would have been obedient, we would have all benefitted. But because he chose to disobey, we all fell into sin.

From Adam and on, the principle of headship as representation can be traced from Old Testament to New. God chose Noah as the head of a new humanity (Gen 6-9), Abraham as the head of a new nation Israel (Gen 12-22), Moses as the head of the Mosaic Economy (Exod 19-20), and David as God’s eternal kingly dynasty (2 Sam 7). What is especially interesting when reading about the institution of the Mosaic Law, we find that the people of Israel waited at the bottom of Mount Sinai as Moses went and spoke before God on their behalf (Exod 19:1-3). And God interacted with the people of Israel through Moses alone. In that sense, Israel went in Moses into God’s presence. Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, telling us that Israel was baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2). What an interesting way to articulate the concept!

And when we arrive at the New Testament, we find out that all of these representative heads were merely pointing to the true cosmic representative, Christ. Matthew describes Christ becoming the true Moses who teaches God’s people from the mountain (Mt 5-7). Matthew also presents Christ as the true Israel, God’s true righteous servant (Mt 2:13-4). Paul calls Christ the last Adam, making him the head of a new humanity (1 Cor 15:22). He also calls Christ the true seed of Abraham who blesses the nations through his life and death (Gal 3:16). And, Luke presents Jesus as the true Davidic king whose kingdom will last forever (Lk 1:32-33). In this way, Jesus is the ultimate head who realizes all of God’s redemptive purposes. He realizes Adam’s mission, Israel’s purpose, and David’s kingship. In this way, Jesus is the fountain of all things.

So when we call Christ our head, what we mean is that he represents us before God. This is why Paul can say of himself: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). If we are in Christ, this means that the death that Jesus died to sin, we also died. It means that the life he now has is our life (Col 3:1). It means that his reign is our reign (1 Cor 3:21). If Christ is your head, you are hidden in him, seated at the right hand of God, clothed in his righteousness, dead to sin, and alive to God (Rom 6, Col 3:1-4).

Christ is our representative. This is what headship means. In Christ, what happens to Jesus happens to you! This is why Paul tells us that Christ’s headship means that he is preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). It is what Paul means when he tells us that our chosenness is in Jesus (Eph 1:3-10). We have been chosen in Christ before the ages began. And the result is that Christ is our representative, and all things are be summed up in Him alone (Eph 1:10).

**For further discussion on this, you can read a post on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament here