This article focuses on Jesus Christ as the second Adam, our new creation in Christ, and our renewal in the image of Christ.

Source: Leven voor Gods aangezicht (Kok Kampen). 6 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

Christ, the Second Adam

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 and in Colossians 1:15 Christ is literally called the image of God. Paul expresses in both texts the visibility and the radiance of God’s glory in and through the glory of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ words and action it becomes evident and tangible how glorious he is. That explains why Paul proclaims to the church at Corinth that the gospel is full of this glory and that it drives away all darkness. Colossians 1:15 deals with him who has freed us from the power of darkness, the Son of God’s love. He is the image of the invisible God. Pop writes, “In this visible image of himself the invisible God shows who he is, and how he lives and acts.”

Christ’s incarnation, his atoning work and his exaltation make God’s intention visible to us. The expression used for Christ as the “image of God” points us back to what is said in Genesis 1:26f about Adam. Christ is the second Adam.

The connection between the two Pauline texts and Genesis 1:26f clearly shows from the context in which Paul speaks about Christ as the image of God.

Genesis 1:3 is quoted in 2 Corinthians 4:6. In addition there is frequent mention of “glory” in 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4, 6. This word is linked both by the Jews and by Paul himself (see 1 Cor. 11:7; Rom. 1:23; 3:23; 8:29) to Genesis 1:26f.

As far as Colossians 1:15 is concerned, this word appears in a hymn that speaks elaborately about creation. Words such as “Beginning” and “Firstborn” (Col. 1:15, 18) are also found in late-Jewish doctrine concerning Adam. We are not saying too much when we classify Colossians 1:15-20 as a “Christological interpretation of Genesis 1” (J. Jervell).

Paul counterpoints Christ against Adam. Adam was God’s image as created man. Christ is the image of God as the Son (see Heb. 1:3f). He, the unique Son of God, makes God known (see John 1:18; 14:9). “The sum is this — that God in himself, that is, in his naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that he is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold him as in a mirror” (Calvin, Commentary on Colossians 1:15).

Professor J. Kamphuis correctly points out that in his office as Mediator, Christ is the image of God: just as God endowed Adam physically and spiritually to be his image, to shine forth God’s glory, so too with the second Adam. The first Adam has fallen. The second Adam, Christ, fulfills the calling of the first, and realizes God’s aim for the creation of man.

In other places we also encounter Paul’s connections between the first and the second Adam. In Romans 5:12-21 Paul contrasts the dark background of Adam’s transgression and the consequences of it for all of mankind, with the unique and all-surpassing work of salvation through Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:21-22). While Adam, according to 1 Corinthians15:45f, portrayed the image of God as the man formed from the earth (see Gen. 2:7), so the believers will portray the image of the heavenly, i.e., the risen Christ.

It is also important to pay attention to the manner in which Paul speaks of the incarnation and humiliation of Christ, in Philippians 2:6f. While the first Adam tried, in an unjust manner, to appropriate for himself the being-like-God (see Gen. 3:5), Christ did not regard this being-equal-to-God, which he shared as a privilege, as the basis for which he could have refused to go the way of the humiliation on the cross. Over against the disobedience of the first man, Paul pictures the obedience of the second Adam, Christ.

As we turn to the Gospels, our first reference is to Luke 3:21-4:13. Jesus Christ, the obedient Son who in his baptism identifies himself with sinners, represents the new humanity — as testified also by the genealogy that Luke provides, going back to Adam. Whereas the first man succumbed to the temptation and rebelled against his Creator, Christ stood firm. He goes the way of the Word, is obedient to his Father’s will, and based on his completed work he has the power to reopen paradise, which had been closed (see Luke 23:43).

It deserves special attention here to explore further the self-designation “Son of Man”, which we encounter almost exclusively as Christ’s own words in the Gospels. This name underlines the unique significance of Christ, his special mission as Messiah. It expresses primarily his greatness. But the way of the Son of Man goes through the depths of the humiliation. With the use of the name “Son of Man” the Gospel writers also accentuate this serving obedience of Jesus toward his Father.

The background for this name is found primarily in Daniel 7. Over against the brute force of the kingdoms of the world, symbolized by four beasts (!) stands the Kingdom of the Son of Man, the Judge and King of the world of the end times, representing the holy people of the Most High.

Besides this, the name may also be reminiscent of Psalm 8:4-5. It is remarkable that these words are quoted in Hebrews 2:6-9 in a Christological reference, and are also interpreted in a messianic way in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22. Christ’s exaltation as the last Adam is represented with words from Psalm 8, speaking of man’s high position.

Some scholars also note a connection with the oft-recurring term “son of man” in Ezekiel, as an indication of the independent position of the prophet.

In the New Testament it is characteristic to note the manner in which a connection is made between, on the one hand, the suffering and death of the Son of Man, and on the other hand the expression used concerning the Servant of the LORD.

In this designation “Son of Man” we find expressed both Jesus’ authority and his obedience, both his greatness and his humility. Also the fourth Gospel, which proclaims as no other the greatness of Christ as the Son of God, testifies at the same time of his “true humanity” (see John 4:6; 11:35). Attention is drawn specifically to Pilate’s words in the account of Jesus’ suffering: “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Even if it is not the intent to use this verse as the crown witness for the foundation of the anthropology on the Christology, as practiced by Barth, the correctness of Barth’s intriguing explanation of this text is such that this word contains more than an expression of pity. Whatever Pilate may have meant, his exclamation contains a message that far exceeds the motives of a Roman governor and his political power struggle. Jesus stands before Pilate as the man-in-our-place, condemned for our guilt to death on the cross. Based on the coherence between John 19:5 and 19:14 we may say: In this suffering of Jesus we see what has become of our humanity, and our task to govern (Gen. 1:28). The scepter has become like a reed, the crown has become a crown of thorns, the mantle is some “splendid clothing” used to mock him. The “grandeur” of man has turned into “misère”: a caricature-king, defrocked and mocked, worthy of his condemnation.

Jesus, the new Adam, accepts this. He needs to be exalted on the cross (see John 3:14), but this road to Golgotha is the way to glory and the grandeur of the new Man who rises on Easter morning, and who becomes pronounced in the sunrise of a new day of creation. And as the last Adam, the risen One, he endows his followers with his Spirit, as John writes in John 20:22 in words that remind us of Genesis 2:7.

In this way the Scriptures proclaim to us Jesus Christ, God’s Son in human flesh, the second Adam, the Son of Man. He is not presented to us as the ideal Übermensch (Superman), or as the summit of truth and beauty. Every humanistic idealism flounders on the gospel. For the Son of Man is the one who came as the suffering servant of God to seek and to save the lost. He puts himself beside and among the poor, the rejected, those who experienced injustice, the tax collectors and sinners. In contrast to the rich and those who exercise power based on brute force and blind power interests, the Son of Man establishes his kingdom on the power of his sacrifice and the resulting atonement. In this way he reunites people who have become estranged from God and from each other, and gives them new life before God’s face. As Luther said, “God has become man to make true men of those who had become proud and unhappy gods.”

A New Creation in Christ🔗

The restoration of our humanity, this renewed existence, is the fruit of Christ’s work of salvation. When we are in Christ we may share in a new life of peace, salvation and justice. It is especially Paul’s letters that teach us that our humanity is determined either by our connectedness to Adam, or through our belonging to Christ. All who are in Adam are subject to death and live under the threat of judgment. Over against this we find new existence in Christ.

We find the expression “in Christ” or “in the Lord” mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters. In the first place it denotes the connectedness to him, a relationship that is based on his redemptive work. Being “in Christ” implies that our life is fully involved in what has taken place with Christ: in his death, his resurrection and glorification (see 2 Cor. 5:14f).

These words also express a relationship of ownership. Whoever lives “in Christ” no longer belongs to himself, but belongs with body and soul to his Saviour and Lord. When we compare Romans 8:1 with verse 9, it shows us that being “in Christ” and “in the Spirit” are two aspects of the same reality of salvation. The Spirit provides no different life than the life in Christ Jesus. What he has gained by his death on the cross and by his resurrection, is now also granted to us by the Spirit.

As new people therefore, we possess this new existence not in ourselves, but only because we have been transferred from the old age, marked by sin and death, into the new age, brought about by Christ’s resurrection. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The rabbis called someone who had passed into Judaism a “proselyte”, i.e., a new creation, a new man. Paul applies this to the transition worked through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The new man is not simply the result of an inner evolution, or a reactionary process, but fruit of an inherent good seed in man. The new man is fruit of God’s regenerating work. “New” here expresses the wonderful, altogether-different nature of the eschatological time of salvation. Man has become in Christ such a new person that he cannot be compared to the man he once used to be. Yet it is the same person. “But there is no identity of the quality; from ‘carnal’ he becomes ‘spiritual’; from a sinner he becomes a saint; from an enemy, a child of God; from being doomed to death to one destined for an eternal life; from a slave lost to the power of God’s free son.” Ref?

This rich reality of salvation, this great decision that has come into our life in Christ, is not something that comes to us automatically, but it comes in the way of baptism and faith.

Baptism is founded in Christ’s work of salvation and it establishes us in relation to this historic event. It is a sign and seal of the great turnaround that came about through the death and resurrection of Christ. Besides this historic aspect there is also the aspect of the order of salvation: baptism is directed at faith, and the renewal of life given through this faith through which in an existential manner we are involved in this new reality as a reality-for-us. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). This “consideration” is not just some theoretical framework, but a “religious conviction” (H.N. Ridderbos), that finds solid ground in Christ.

The meaning of baptism as immersion into the death and the resurrection with Christ into a new life comes to expression in many places of the NT (see Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3f; 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:11-12; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21). In the early church baptism was often administered on Easter evenings. Ancient Christian baptisteries with their mosaics show us in various ways the meaning of baptism and the connection to Easter. The snow-white baptism outfit (the white baptism dress still serves as a memory!) directs us to Adam in paradise. “A person is taken up into the body of a new person. Adam receives the dress of paradise back, and may find himself with the new Adam among his people” (P.A. van Stempvoort).

The reformed confessions and the classical liturgical form for baptism continue the baptismal instruction of the early church fathers and of the early baptismal liturgy. It is especially the so-called prayer relating to the flood that shows the connections in the flood, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and our baptism as being incorporated into Christ’s death and resurrection.

In this way Christ’s work of salvation is aimed at restoring those who have fallen away from God, and to ensure they reach their destination. That is nothing less than a miracle, thanks to God’s grace that is as radical as is sin. This biblical speaking about man as a sinner, who yet receives grace and is being renewed, exceeds the dilemma of an optimistic or pessimistic anthropology. The biblical language is of a different order. In this way it becomes fruitful to address each other as people from the viewpoint of our destiny, as people who are sinners and yet being re-established through Christ; people whose lives are governed by the message of “and yet”. This idea of being a new man is meaningfully expressed in the phrase “man of God” (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:17), an expression that speaks of the close relationship of the believer with God, chosen and saved by him, and placed in his service. “Man can receive no higher name than that he belongs to God, and that this qualifies him” (H.N. Ridderbos). And the aim of the ministry of the Word is that man will respond to this high calling and gift.

Renewal in the Image of Christ🔗

What has been identified for us as the “new creation” can also be described in terms of renewal in the image of Christ. Through Christ, who is God’s image, man can again become an image of God in conformity to Christ. This renewal is defined as a matter of the future. In the resurrection of the dead, at the return of Christ, all believers will arrive fully at their new destination. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49; see Rom. 8:23, 29). But the renewal in the image of Christ is not only an eschatological reality, something that belongs to the future. This glory is received here and now already, through the Spirit who is the guarantee of this great future (see Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:13f).

E. Schlink is of the opinion that a believer as a justified person is only an image of God presently, not as the one who still is sinning, still in the flesh, subjected to death, and not yet raised in a new body. “The believing one is image of God” — this sentence is as much an eschatological judgment as it is the justification of the believing sinner. It is a ‘synthetic judgment’ by which he is promised what he is not.”

But in this manner the sanctification and renewal are as it were “absorbed” by the justification as the liberating judgment of God, and it does not do justice to the reality of the Spirit’s work.

Also in regard to the renewal in the image of God there is the tension of the “already” and the “not yet” in the various New Testament expressions. Thanks to the work of the Spirit there is mention of a “present” of the future. There are signs of the restoration of this image of God in the life of people whom God redeemed, justified and liberated. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 it is said that the believers are already involved, here and now, in the process of transformation, and that they are changing from one degree of glory to another, through the Lord who is the Spirit. The future is beginning already! What was anticipated in the Jewish apocalyptic as a matter of a great future, is happening already in the life of the Christian under the Spirit’s regimen.

Colossians 3:10 also speaks about the renewal after the image of God as a reality in the present. This renewal is both a gift and a task. There is mention of “putting on” on the new man (imagery derived from putting on one’s clothes, see Gal. 3:27), who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator. In these words once again we see a throwback to Genesis 1:26-27. This restoration of God’s image finds its expression in the knowledge of God’s salvation and of God’s will. The connection of Colossians 3:10 highlights what this means in practice: it is a definite break with all that goes against God and that clashes with his intentions with peoples’ lives (see Col. 3:5-9). Positively it means a life in love, peace, toleration and gratitude to the honour of God (Col. 3:12-17). The renewal in God’s image  — which even though it is partial it is still a present reality thanks to the Spirit — encompasses life in the full harmony of the creature with his Creator, such that he or she will begin to reciprocate and respond to what God intended with our life: the glorification of his Name (see Eph. 4:17-32). Paul describes this renewal elsewhere by saying that Christ is living in us, and that he is formed in us (see Gal. 2:20; 4:19).

In this way the Spirit leads us to being truly man, and so he endows us with what we have in Christ. That is the special office of the Spirit: the Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, because he dwells in our hearts (Belgic Conf., Art. 9). The Holy Spirit “regenerates us and makes us to be new creatures. Accordingly, whatever gifts are offered us in Christ; we receive by the agency of the Spirit” (Catechism of Geneva, answer 91).

In this regard, various different parties have emphasized how the Spirit fully involves man in this work of renewal. The Spirit does not de-personalize, but he enables man to participate actively in God’s work. He makes us “heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heid. Cat, LD 1); he “frames our minds to the desires which are requisite in prayer” (Geneva Cat., 244). The faith that the Holy Spirit works in us is not “an empty faith but of what Scripture calls faith expressing itself through love. This faith induces man to apply himself to those works which God has commanded in his Word” (Belgic Conf., Art. 24). In this manner the reformers aimed to do justice to Paul’s word: “[continue to] work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

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