When I first came to faith I was taught to define the atonement as “at-one-ment” because through the atonement we are one with God. Soon, I was taught to move on in my understanding by developing an elaborate doctrine of atonement. I was then able to choose the right “theory” of atonement.
I now know that we cannot understand atonement by definitions and theories. We must rather focus fully on Jesus himself as the atonement. Even then, we do not really grasp the atonement because it is mystery just as Jesus himself is mystery. But we can never even begin to understand the atonement by focusing on concepts rather than Jesus himself as atonement.
The atonement is truth that we are to understand, but it is the truth of this unique person who is himself the truth of our oneness with God. Jesus is the true God moving faithfully towards us in history to make our tragic cause his own. Simultaneously, he is also the true man moving faithfully towards God on behalf of us all. In this movement oneness with God “happens”.
This same Jesus comes to us personally by his Spirit revealing who he is as the truth of oneness. We cannot know the truth by any other way. For truth is this unique person who is the actual oneness of God and humanity. Only as he opens to us who he is in living encounter do we know the truth of oneness with God. Then Jesus, the truth, lives in us and we live in the truth. That is the only way we understand something of the mystery of “at-one-ment”.
Jesus said, “I am in my Father”. That means Jesus belongs to the Father as the one who indwells the Father. Jesus also said to us, “you are in me, and I am in you”. That means we belong to Jesus and to his Father in living union by his Spirit.
But can we also say that God belongs to us? God can never belong to us in the sense that we “possess” him. Nevertheless, God does belong to us simply because he has given himself to us. God’s eternal decision is that we would belong to him and he would belong to us. And Jesus is that eternal decision of mutual belonging made actual among us in history. Can we look at God actually becoming one of us and then doubt that he has given himself to us?
God wasn’t forced to give himself to us in this way. He freely decided to be God this way and no other. He is Lord of his own being and he freely decided to give himself to us in mutual belonging. And in that belonging we find deep rest of soul.
But we so easily disrupt our soul rest by making too much of our own decision. We may even make my own decision all important. And we cannot find deep rest in our own shaky decision. We must rather live fully in God’s decision. In Christ, God has disclosed himself as the one who has decided to bind himself to us in mutual belonging-totally.
So let’s continually focus on Jesus as he reveals God’s eternal decision of belonging. Focussing on that decision we shall find deep rest for our souls.
As we follow the Jesus story, we soon notice that he is burdened with the natural griefs and pains of humanity. What distresses him even more, however, is the fact that humanity is engulfed in an abyss of darkness too deep to ever escape – a pit of bottomless evil power. Indeed he actually invaded this dark realm to rescue humanity from the grip of evil. He did so by becoming human to live and move in our frailty.
That does not mean a reduction of his power, but rather the expression of his power within human weakness even unto death. In his single act of total self-giving on the cross he brings to an end the old age of sin and death under which all humanity was held in bondage. He also disarmed all the forces of evil that hold humanity under oppression. Yes, it was in sheer weakness that he powerfully demolished all his enemies and ours.
We do not learn what “omnipotence” is by magnifying human power and saying that’s what the Almighty is like. We rather learn what divine power is as we look at this power expressed in the weakness of the God-Man on the cross. There God demonstrates his own distinctive kind of power. For the cross is not only the revelation of God’s love, but also his power. And as we gaze on this wondrous cross we see that God’s power is the very opposite of what we could or would ever imagine. For through this astonishing act of power in weakness God rescues us from all that enslaved us revealing that he loves us more than we can ever say.
Jesus is the Father’s servant-son who has come in the power of the Spirit to reclaim us for the kingdom of God. In him the power of God’s reign assaults the whole realm of evil in order to set us free for God. And yet he comes among us as the Lord who serves in meekness and lowliness. As the lowly servant, he invades the realm of darkness and overcomes by humbly submitting to the violence of the violent. He storms his way in meekness into the very centre of evil in order to liberate us from the powers of darkness.
The climax of Jesus’ triumph over the dark powers that rule over us is the cross. There the holy servant-son becomes sin to do away with sin. He surrenders to the powers and authorities in order to disarm them, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. By his death, he broke the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil. And so death itself could not stand against him, for the servant-son dies to bring about the death of death.
That is the great triumph of the one who is now risen as Lord over all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And in his name, we now give joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
The dying and rising of Christ brings the present evil age to an end replacing it with a new one. We did not do anything at all to make this happen. Nevertheless, when Jesus was crucified, we were crucified with him. Christ died for us and we died with him. When God raised Jesus to newness of life, as the new man, we were raised with him. Furthermore, when God exalted Jesus to his right hand we were exalted with him. Now our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
Our knowledge of the new man, and of who we are as the new humanity in him, is unveiled to us in living encounter with Jesus. Only as the Spirit of Christ opens to us the mystery of Christ do we know anything of this newness. For the new humanity is hidden in Jesus, the new man, who is hidden in God.
As those who now know the new man, we share in his mission of making known the truth that is hidden in Jesus. We do so, as the one who is hidden unveils himself in and through us as his living body. We live in him and he lives in us as his own body in which he is all and in all. And as he lives in and through us we share in his ongoing mission of unveiling the hidden mystery of Christ to the world. That is his gift to us until the day when he is revealed to the whole world, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory.
The risen Christ is the new man. In him the new humanity comes into existence according to God’s eternal purpose. God’s intention was always to create this unique human in whom all other humans would share in his communion with the Father in the Spirit. Adam was a mere type of this true man, a shadow. Before Adam was made, God chose his own Son to be the true man in whom his purpose for humanity would be accomplished.
In the outworking of this purpose Jesus is the turning of the ages. His dying brought an end to the old Adamic age under the power of sin and death. His rising brought into existence a new age of freedom and life in God. That means a radical shift in the human situation. The old has gone; the new has come.
By the Spirit, we now share in the joy and freedom of the new humanity together. And in doing so we openly and confidently bear witness to the reality of the new humanity that came into existence when Jesus was raised to newness of life.
We cannot pride ourselves in this newness because we found it exclusively in him. And only when he found us in pure grace. So we never forget for a single moment that we are new humanity only in union with that true man who is different from us. We are also aware that our knowledge and experience of new humanity will continually grow only as we are focussed entirely on this one. We, therefore, do not look aside to any other.
When Jesus was crucified the powers of the old age came to an end. Sin and death were crucified through his cross. The “god of this age” was overthrown. When Jesus rose from death the new creation arrived in him as new man.
These are not images of mere repair or gradual improvement within a broadly stable situation. The dying and rising of Jesus mark a radical break with what has gone before: its overturning, its revolution, its displacement. The old has gone; the new has come.
We do not hope that we might be made new one day. We are already new persons in Christ for he is the new man in whom we and all things are already made new. This alteration in the human situation has already taken place. We do not have to create the new situation. It has already come. This is what we know for sure because of the new man who is now with God for us.
Of course, this is not how we and all things now appear. Around us we see human life alienated from God. Within us we detect all sorts of chaotic confusion, corruption and uncertainty. Because of this, we so easily say that our true life hidden with Christ is unreal. Maybe it is just a nice idea. No! Christ is real. Our new life in him is real. He is the new man and we are the new humanity in him. All the stuff that goes on within us and around us is simply contradiction of the reality. And as God’s Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts we see beyond appearance to what is actual with God.
In Adam (the old man) humanity is ruined and far from God. For in union with Adam we all exist in the old order under the reign of sin and death. What is needed is a new beginning. And Jesus is that new beginning.
In Jesus’ death on the cross the old order was crucified. In his rising from death, as the new man, a new creation begins. The old order has passed away; all things have become new. For through Jesus’ death the old Adamic order of sin and death comes to an end. And in his resurrection the new order of righteousness and life begins. Jesus rises as the new man and in him we rise as the new humanity within an entirely new creation.
The Spirit of Christ brings this new man to us in living encounter and our faith in him is born. In faith, we now know that we have been crucified with Christ so that we no longer live in the old order. Our old life is dead. In faith, we now know that we live in Christ as he lives in us within the new order. Our new life (which is our real life) is with Christ in God. He is our life.
Since, then, we have been raised with Christ, we set our hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For we have died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God. And we eagerly await the day when Christ, who is our life, appears, for then we also will appear with him in glory.
In Jesus we see our humanity as God intended it to be, for he is the true human. He was continually turned towards God as the one he called Father. He lived in the fullness of who God is with and for him. In this true human who was always with God and for God we see what we were made for. But right at the start of our history we rejected God’s purpose for us. And we continually rejected his purpose all through our history. We have turned from God and from our true humanity. We have lost our way.
Immanuel is God stepping into our history to find us. And being found we find God in him. Finding God we find our true selves. For Immanuel is our true self in God. In him we are now with God. We are as with God as we ever can be for now our lives are hidden with Christ in God. As those who belong to Immanuel, we are now living within the communal love we were created for.
We can never boast in ourselves as we share in this true human life with God because we have found it only in Immanuel. And we find it in him only because he has found us. In Immanuel God is with us. And in him we are with God just as God intended.
Before the world was made, God decided to be with us in communion and that is why he created. He did not create and then say, “I think I would like to have these humans in communion”. No! God is communion. He created us with the purpose of including within his own communal life those who are not God. And that is the purpose he pursued in time bringing it all to fulfilment in Immanuel, God with us.
Immanuel is the one man in whom the many will find communion with the Father in the Spirit. Not because God owes it to us. Not in virtue of any quality or capacity we have in ourselves. We are completely without claim or ability for this. It is all actual in Immanuel and in him alone apart from anything in us.
We turned away from God missing our destiny, treading underfoot our dignity, losing the gift of fellowship with him. Nevertheless, God himself intervened as man. Not just for man but as man. He is with us as one of us to bring us back to all God intends for us – His eternal purpose of union and communion in Christ by the Spirit.
God does not ignore what we have done to ruin ourselves. Nor does he simply hide from sight our tragedy. He gives himself to us in Immanuel to close the gulf for which we are responsible. “God with us” means more than God along side us helping us to do what God intends for us. It rather means God himself, at his own cost, and also on his own initiative, fulfilling his own eternal purpose for us.