Friday, 22 September 2006

Theology for beginners (15): Ascent

Summary: God’s deity in Jesus is the event of salvation, in which our humanness is raised up into fellowship with God.

We have seen that, in the death of Jesus, God’s deity descends to us as our salvation. But that is not the end of the story. For the man Jesus is raised up by God. And in this raising, in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we too are raised into fellowship with God.

Our salvation, then, consists both in this descent and this ascent – in the humiliation of God and the exaltation of our humanity. Both these events take place in the history of Jesus – or rather, Jesus is this twofold event of divine humiliation and human exaltation. This event, this movement in which God is lowered and we are lifted – this is our salvation.

The dead man Jesus is raised into fellowship with God. His human life is transformed and translated into the new life of God’s future. Just as Jesus has dedicated himself wholly to the will of God, so now God expresses his unqualified acceptance of Jesus. Jesus becomes the first fully human person – the first human being to arrive at the true goal of created humanity. In his resurrection from the dead, Jesus is lifted into the future, into the final goal that has awaited creation right from the beginning. Above all, this means that the man Jesus is raised into perfect fellowship with God. He is gathered up into the life of God’s coming kingdom – the kingdom for which we humans were created.

In all this, the man Jesus stands in our place. Just as God had descended into the depths to take our place, so too this particular human being is lifted into fellowship with God on our behalf and in union with us. In the raising of Jesus, we too are raised. The exaltation of Jesus is the exaltation of our humanity: along with the crucified Jesus, we are lifted from our darkness and are led towards the future life of God’s kingdom. This is our salvation.

Salvation means wholeness. It means that my entire life is held together as a unified whole. It means perfect harmony and completion. And this is exactly what takes place in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. My own humanness – so fragile and fragmented and scarred – is now completed and made whole.

Beforehand, my life was like a story with no conclusion – there was no proper end that could bring unity and wholeness to my life. But the man Jesus is raised into the life of the future, so that he himself appears as the true goal of my life-story. And so now, in him, my life-story is completed and unified at last. The fragments are picked up and pieced together – and, like a stained glass window, even the fragmentation of my life now contributes to the beauty of the whole. My life is transformed by the risen man Jesus into a new life, a life that is whole and complete for the first time – a life whose wholeness lies solely in the risen Jesus himself!

This, then, is the event of salvation. In the death of Jesus, God descends to us and meets us as the God who is our friend – and in the resurrection of Jesus, our humanness is lifted into the healing life of God’s future, so that we are completed and made whole.

This is our salvation: God descends to us, and we are raised up to God! God becomes like us, so that we can become like him! And these two movements of descent and ascent are simply two aspects of exactly the same event: the event of God’s deity in the humanity of Jesus. That is our salvation: “Immanuel,” God with us, now and forever, in the crucified and risen Jesus!

Further reading

  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 7 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), pp. 239-317.
  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958).
  • Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), pp. 56-69.
  • Berkhof, Hendrikus. Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 307-319.
  • Kasper, Walter. Jesus the Christ (London: Burns & Oates, 1976), pp. 197-225.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), pp. 365-97.
  • Torrance, T. F. The Mediation of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).

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