IV. The glorified Christ in the letters of Paul (Chapter 6-10)
6. The form of this world is passing away
"But this I say, brethren, the time is constricted. For the rest, that they who have wives, be as not having any: and they that weep, as not weeping; and they that rejoice, as not rejoicing; and they that buy, as not possessing; and they that use the world, as not disposing of it as their own; for the fashion of this world passes. (1 Cor 7:29-31)
Maybe it is not obvious why we took this position. It deals with what happens on earth (relationships, mourning, joy, buying, possessing and ownership). But the last sentence makes us sit up and take notice: "For the form of this world is passing away". It shows us an "extraterrestrial" perspective with which earthly things are viewed. It is the perspective from heaven, where the Christ is.
This also explains the introductory statement: "Time is short". It is short because the work of redemption has been accomplished and Christ is already glorified. Now He will come again soon. This time - from His Exaltation to His return - is "short"! everything else then follows from this. It changes our perspective completely. The earthly things are still there, but no longer have the same weight. As William Kelly once said about those who adopt the attitude of 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, "They hold everything except Christ with a slack hand".
7. The second man
"But that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual: the first man out of the earth, made of dust; the second man, out of heaven." (1 Cor 15:46,47).
At this point we look into the open heaven and see Christ there as the "second man". It has once been said - very appropriately, I believe - that God's action with human beings can actually be described in a summarizing way by his action with two men, the "first man" and the "second man":
- For about 4000 years the first man was at the center. He was tested in every conceivable way - and failed completely.
- Since then, God has made the second man, Christ, the centre. Now He draws people to Him and connects them with Him.
The following reflections should clarify this.
Who was the "first man"?
First of all, Adam was the "first man": "So it is also written: The first man, Adam, became a living soul"" (1 Cor 15:45), that is, the historical personality, the man created by God according to Genesis 1 and 2.
The New Testament also uses the expression generically, i.e. to designate a genus or class: "The first man is of the earth, of dust. This was especially true of Adam, but in a broader sense it is true of all men, all descendants of Adam. People are considered to have been taken from the dust and will "return to the dust" (cf. Ps 90:3). All men (with one exception) who have lived since Adam are of the "first man" type.
Who is the "second man"?
The one exception is Christ. He is the "second man", not taken from dust, but from heaven: "The first man is of the earth, of dust; the second man is of heaven" (1 Cor 15:47).
In one sense, Christ was the second man, from heaven, since his incarnation. But He is only called that after His Resurrection and Ascension. Only then had God given Him the place of honour at His right hand. Now it is no longer the "first man" who is the center of events and attention, but the second man. God refers to Him whom He has made "Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). This means that the "second man" in the actual sense means Christ, who is at the right hand of God after the work of redemption has been accomplished.
The first man was put to the test - for 4000 years!
God tested the first man in the course of the household in every possible way: through a commandment, through conscience, through an appointed government, through the special favour of the vocation and through a law that meticulously prescribed what was to be done and what was to be left. For this purpose He had given a priesthood, appointed kings and sent prophets. The result: The (first) man under responsibility has always failed and failed again and again, in all households (epochs). The failure culminated in the rejection of Christ. The following statements show quite vividly how completely the first man failed:
- Man has crucified "the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8). That is, they have given him the place of the greatest shame and disgrace, to whom all glory belongs, the one in whom "all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily" (Col 2:9).
- Man has rejected the promised Messiah, the King, - the only one who could bring peace, prosperity, and justice. Only the judgment of God can bring this about (Mt 21:33-46).
- Man has rejected the Son, the full revelation of the Father. This sin eclipses everything else: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had no sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin" (Jn 15:22, cf. v. 24).
This was the summit of folly, rebellion and wickedness. Now God no longer tests the first man. He begins the new creation. Christ, as the Risen One, is the beginning of this new creation: "who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18). And everyone who believes in Him also already belongs to this new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
A New Centre
The risen Christ, exalted to the right hand of God, is now the new centre. As the second man, he is the centre of attention, no longer the first man. What does this mean for God's action with people on earth? Instead of testing them further, He connects believers with the second person: "Such as he made of dust, such also those made of dust; and such as the heavenly one, such also the heavenly ones. And as we have borne the image of the one made of dust, we will bear also the image of the heavenly one" (1 Cor 15:48,49).
The first man is set aside (God still saves individual people, of course, but God has found the first man as such guilty and incorrigible). The trial of the first man as such is over. It is noticeable that the text explicitly points out that it is a sequence (not parallel processes): "The spiritual was not first, but the natural, then the spiritual" (v. 46). The next verse then shows that with the "natural" the first man is meant and with the "spiritual" the second man: "The first man is of the earth, of dust; the second man is of heaven".
This sequence of testing of the first man (at the fall of Israel) and the exaltation of the second man is aptly presented in Matthew 21 and 22. In chapter 21 the vine-growers reject the Son and are judged. In chapter 22, God's answer follows: "The kingdom of heaven has become like a king who arranged a wedding feast for his son" (v.2). He honours and exalts his Son.
The second man is the new centre. God points, so to speak, to Him as the man of His counsel (cf. Is 46:11) and the first man has been set aside completely through Him.
Heaven opened to men
Through Him, it becomes true that people can be in glory. First, this happened in Him, because He Himself went into glory as a man. Then He created a place for "a man in Christ" in the third heaven! This has not always been so. Psalm 115 says: "But our God is in the heavens... The heavens are the heavens of Jehovah, but the earth has he given to the children of men." (v.16). This is how it has always been: God in the heavens and men on the earth. But Christ came to earth to open up the heavens - for people! And He has not only opened it up, He has already taken it in!
In Him, the second man, "man in heaven" has become true.
"But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).
This passage is central to our whole theme: the vision of the glorified Christ and the effects of it. The result is tremendous: to be transformed "in the same image from glory to glory". It is the culmination of the third chapter of this letter and it is worthwhile to follow the preceding train of thought.
The chapter is based on contrasts. Paul shows a chain of contrasts, a contradiction of law and grace:
- The ministry based on the law was a ministry of death and damnation.
- The ministry that was based on grace (like Paul's) was a ministry of the Spirit, a ministry of justice and glory.
When Moses went up the mountain (for the second time) and received new tables of the Law, his face shone. Moses put a covering on his face because the Israelites could not bear the glory (although it was only a weak glory: a reflection on the face of the mediator, and in addition the reflection of a small and temporary glory). Even that was too much for them.
But the ministry of grace (the "New Covenant ministry", verse 6) leads us to look at the much greater glory in the face of Christ, and that is:
- with face uncovered
- without fear.
How is that possible? Why without fear? Because we see the glory in the face of him who once suffered for us! We see the "glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Any other way of being exposed to the glory of God should make us fear. But it is:
- The face of Him who suffered for us: Here we read the grace. This takes away the fear and lets us enjoy the glory of God.
- The face of Him who is now in glory. The atonement is accomplished. He did not say like Moses: "And now I will go up to Jehovah: perhaps I shall make atonement for your sin" (Ex 32:30), but He Himself made atonement and then ascended into heaven.
This contemplation of the glory of God in the face of Christ does not remain without effects, but "we will be changed". A transformation takes place. This is not a theoretical or mystical thing, but very practical. The more we contemplate His glory, the more it will affect our affections and then our way of thinking. This will change our behavior in practical life. Something will become visible of the love of Christ, of his humility, his perseverance, of intercession (even for enemies), of the things that have characterized his life.
This is exactly what we see with Stephen: in Acts 7 he is in circumstances which are more likely than any other to rob him of his Christian character, i.e. to tempt him to behave un-Christian like. But this does not happen. On the contrary, he shows quite clearly the character traits of the Lord Jesus. He has nothing on earth, the Spirit occupies him with the glorified Christ (and is free to do so, he does not need to fight to make room for Him - Stephen was "full of the Holy Spirit") and this gives him strength to live as Christ did.
The view of the glorified Christ changes. Others will notice it - we ourselves are not concerned with it (if we think our "face shines", we are already too busy with ourselves). The face of Moses shone, but he was the only one in the camp who did not know about it!
9. God's Righteousness in Him
"Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
This verse does not explicitly say that we are looking at Christ in heaven - but it describes something we see when we see Him there. This view shows the connection between the "high" and the "low" (Eph 3:18). On the one hand, we see the height to which Christ has been brought, and ourselves "in him". On the other side, we look down into the abyss of the "depth" where He came on the cross, in the three hours of darkness.
At first it is said that Christ knew no sin. The man who now sits at the right hand of God lived on earth. He was completely human, but also completely pure. He did not know sin. John tells us that there was no sin in Him (1 John 3:5) and Peter - who is more practical - reports that He did not commit sin (1 Pet 2:22).
The incomprehensible thing is that this pure and holy man (Lk 1:35) was made by God precisely into what He did not know, and therefore had no relationship with it: sin. Nothing was stranger to Him, nothing was further from Him - than sin. What does it mean that He was made into sin?
It is true that the Lord Jesus became the sin offering. Hebrews 10 speaks of sacrifices for sin. There the basic text only says "[that] for sin (peri hamartia)" (v. 6.8). Therefore, some have understood the expression "made for sin" to mean that He was "made a sin offering". This is of course also true. But here in 2 Corinthians 5:21 the preposition peri (for, because of, around ...) is missing. The thought of the sin offering, which had to be burnt to ashes outside the camp, is already touching. But the expression "made into sin" continues. Sin is the principle of rebellion, self-will and rebellion against God: "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). This principle underlies sin (sinful deeds). On the cross Christ was made sin, i.e. sin as an evil principle was passed onto Him. We will probably never come to an end with this subject - neither with the depth to which Christ came, nor with the grace that was granted through it, nor with the love that was demonstrated through it.
But then we see the result: "that we might become God's righteousness in him". This formulation is also unique in the Bible. There are several passages that speak of the righteousness of God, but we never otherwise read that we "become" God's righteousness. Here are some passages about the righteousness of God. It shows itself:
- In the Gospel: "For the righteousness of God is revealed in it" (Rom 1:17; cf. 3:21, 22)
- In God's judgment on sins: "But if our unrighteousness commend God’s righteousness, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who inflicts wrath? I speak according to man. Far be the thought: since how shall God judge the world?" (Rom 3:5,6).
- In that God, in the Old Testament times, "let the sins of the believers go away" - in view of the work of redemption that Christ would do (Rom 3:25).
- In that today, God justifies him who believes in Jesus Christ: " so that he should be just, and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus." (Rom 3:26).
- In that He has exalted Christ after the work is done, and has taken him up into heaven: "of righteousness, because I go away to my Father, and you behold me no longer" (John 16:10).
But only here, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, do we read that we "become" God's righteousness. We are, so to speak, "exhibits" by which one can see God's justice, for He has rightly judged sin and then righteously exalted Christ to His right hand and then righteously (because we believe in Him) united us to Christ without judging us - for He has already judged sin against Christ.
We reach the limits of our comprehension in this verse. Not only does He say (which would also be true) that Christ bore our sins and we were justified, but He speaks twice about someone becoming or being made into something:
- Christ was made into what was totally alien to Him: sin.
- We have become that which was totally foreign to us- the righteousness of God - in Christ.
This view into heaven also has a practical effect. When we look at what happened to Christ on the cross and what we have become as a result of it, we see something of the price, value and outcome of His work. And then we see a world that is not yet reconciled with God, and we have the "ministry of reconciliation" and the "word of reconciliation". The more we think about this (and have this look into heaven), we will "pray in Christ's stead: be reconciled with God!" (V. 18-20).
10 The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me
"I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, I, but Christ lives in me; but in that I now live in flesh, I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me." (Gal 2:20).
Again, this passage does not explicitly speak of an open heaven, but it does refer to an important aspect of the glory of Him whom we see at the right hand of God in heaven. This aspect should touch the heart of every believer.
When we as Christians (with spiritual eyes) look up to heaven, we see something that warms our hearts, namely Christ as:
- The Son of God
- The One who loved us - each one of us personally: who loved me.
The Lord Jesus is none other than the Son of God, not only as a man, but also from eternity. Only He could reveal the heart of the Father. He was the object of the Father's love, even before the universe was created (Jn 17:24). We see Him as a glorified man, but He is none other than the Son of God, the "only begotten of the Father”, the absolute unique One (Jn 1:14).
And every believer may know: "This Son of God has loved me". It is a great fact that God has loved the world (Jn 3,16 - there it is the divine love "agape") and that his love for humanity has appeared (Tit 3,4 - here it is love that finds favor: In "philanthropia" there is "phileo") But beyond this we know that we are loved by Christ. The Son of God personally loved everyone who would believe so much, that He gave Himself for Him. This reality exceeds what is shown in the parable of the merchant (Mt 13:43) in many ways:
- The merchant saw the value of the pearl, the assembly, as a whole. Christ did so too, but for Him each one was so precious that He gave Himself for him or her.
- The merchant was a business man, probably also a specialist in his trade, but Christ is the Son of God.
- The merchant gave all that he had. The Son of God gave himself.
This thought ("the Son of God loved me so much") so impressed John Nelson Darby (he must have been a young man then, in his twenties or so) that he gave up his - very promising - career as a lawyer, despite all the trouble and incomprehension he received for it in his family and environment. He chose a life of tireless service to his Lord, but he was motivated by this thought: "When I see the Son of God and his incomprehensible love, I cannot help but owe Him this answer.
With most believers the answer will not - and should not - take this form (to give up one's profession), but with every believer there can and should be an answer - a resonance to the love of the Son of God.
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