The Eternal Marks of the Risen Savior

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, behold, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
–John 20:24-29

The above passage from John’s Gospel displays a number of remarkable features, each of which could ably serve as a  launching point for an entire book of doctrinal study:

  • In the first place, there is Jesus’ immeasurable compassion in returning to the disciples specifically to redeem the faith of one of them–and he a shamefully stubborn doubter, no less.  
  • There is the clear demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience, having known the demands and indeed the exact words of Thomas while bodily absent.  
  • There is the immense theological significance of Jesus’ continuing to have a truly human nature and form even after His resurrection.  
  • There is the incarnational paradox evident in Thomas’ response to seeing Jesus’ physical body: “My Lord and my God.”  
  • There is even a direct reference to John’s readers in the historical words of Jesus, as He calls them blessed who have believed on the basis of His apostles’ witness without requiring to see the risen Christ.

Again, any of these facets of the text could amply fill a dozen blog posts, but there is one other element that specifically caught my eye today.  (Behold, visual puns!)  While it may not seem like much at first glance, it is absolutely astounding that Jesus’ glorified resurrection body forever retains the marks of His crucifixion.  Taken together, the descriptions we have in the Scriptures of the post-resurrection human body (cf. Rom 8:21-25; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5:1-5; etc.) indicate a perfect wholeness, an ideal beauty, and a functional perfection.  The word Paul uses over and over in 1 Corinthians 15 is phthartos (a mouthful even for native Greek speakers, I reckon), which can be rendered either imperishable or incorruptible.  The teaching is clear: When our bodies are transformed into their everlasting, glorified forms at the dawn of the new heavens and new earth, they will be without blemish or defect, a stainless reflection of our finally-stainless hearts.

Such will be the blessed estate of all who belong to Jesus by faith–but not, it seems, of Jesus Himself.  In the irony of ironies, the Lord will bear the physical marks of His execution forevermore.  Why should this be?  It seems altogether unfitting for Jesus’ eternal body to have any defects–let alone to be the only body with defects.  That’s shameful and backward!

Well…

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
–Philippians 2:5-11

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
     “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
          and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
–1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In God’s economy, the way up is the way down.  The Philippians passage above confirms for us that Jesus’ exaltation is in fact a result of His humiliation on the cross.  Ultimately, there is nothing more glorifying to God than the redemption of His people, as appointed by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.  Thus, Jesus retains the marks of His crucifixion on His resurrected body, as a permanent sign of that eternally efficacious sacrifice which purchased and purifies His heavenly bride.  Because of Jesus’ character and work, the marks of the nails and spear are neither a blemish nor defect; indeed, they are the richest testaments to His perfect wholeness, ideal beauty, and absolute perfection as our Savior and Lord.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Amen.

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The Church as God’s Temple 3: One Holy Catholic Dwelling

Ephesians 2:19-22

Our final passage for consideration is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in keeping with his exalted tone and transcendent topics elsewhere in the letter, Paul’s treatment of God’s people as God’s temple is at its most extensive and sublime here.  Following his famous blessing of Christ in chapter 1 and his equally famous exposition of salvation by grace through faith in the beginning of chapter 2, Paul begins to trumpet the glorious inclusion of the Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s plan of redemption.  By his blood, Christ has “made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body….  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:14-16, 18).[1]  From here Paul rapidly crescendos through three relations, with each surpassing the former in intimacy and privilege:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22, emphasis added).

It is clear that Paul employs dual senses of the Greek word oikos (household/house) as a way to transition from the family description to the temple description,[2] but is it clear that the temple is meant to be understood as greater?  Besides its position at the end and its relatively lengthy elaboration, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sees ample evidence of this: “The family, after all, is a collection of individuals, whereas when you come to a building… there is a truer merging of the parts….  [T]he child has access to the father, but the child is still outside the father.  But here the idea presented is God dwelling within us, taking up His abode within us.”[3]

Obviously, a comparison of 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and Ephesians 2:19-22 reveals that the designation of the temple’s “foundation” and the structural role of Christ differ between the two letters.  Though some critics may be tempted to cite such differences as evidence of the non-Pauline authorship of Ephesians, this stance is altogether too narrow-minded in its assumption that Paul could not or would not adapt the metaphorical physical elements in order to emphasize different facets of the true spiritual reality in different contexts.  In fact, given our previous examination of Paul’s dual identification of the “foundation” in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, we can readily accept such an explanation.  In the same way that Paul laid a foundation for the Corinthians in a true, secondary sense, so the apostles and the prophets (and, by logical extension, the deposit of gospel doctrines which they proclaim) act as the foundation for the church in a true, secondary sense.[4,5]  What then is Paul’s purpose in shifting Christ out of the foundation role here?  Paul’s capital emphasis on unity in this passage leads him to designate Christ the cornerstone, that specific part of the foundation which joins the walls of the structure both to the foundation and to one another.[6]  The shape, angle, and direction of every other piece of the building is ultimately determined to be correct or incorrect by its relation to the cornerstone.[7]  Since all believers (both Jew and Greek) are rightly oriented toward Christ through the same means (salvation by grace through faith), it follows that every believer fits harmoniously into the structure and is thus united to one another through Christ.

In an unexpected linguistic turn, Paul indicates the living nature of the new covenant temple in stating that it “grows” (Eph 2:21)—a term clearly borrowed from the realm of organic development.  In so doing, Paul mixes the imagery of the temple with the imagery of his favorite church metaphor, the body of Christ.  Since the temple can develop ‘organically’ in this passage, we are not surprised to find the body developing ‘architecturally’ later in Ephesians 4:12 (“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”).[8]  To conclude his discourse on unity in the temple, Paul returns to the more familiar ‘building’ language in appropriating the statements just made about the universal church to the local church in Ephesus: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).  Thus the local church/temple is a manifestation of the one universal church/temple, growing toward completion by the addition of individual believers and by cooperation with one another in right relation to Christ.

Conclusion: God’s Presence Has Consequences

Like so many other elements of God’s kingdom during the overlapping of the ages, the eschatological temple of God prophesied in the Old Testament has arrived and, at the same time, is not yet complete.  Paul’s conception of the local and universal church as the temple of God is not merely a thought experiment or a helpful illustration; God has indeed come and made his dwelling among his people by the Holy Spirit, who is building his temple (cf. Eph 2:21-22) and directing his people to build (cf. 1 Cor 3:10).  The glory of the divine presence is neither a vanished antiquity of the old covenant nor a distant prospect of the final consummation; it is a present reality.[9]  Because of this divine presence, the church is holy, set apart for God (cf. 1 Cor 3:17); as Hodge writes, “It belongs to him, is consecrated to his use, and can neither be appropriated by anyone else nor used for anything outside his service without causing it to be profaned.…  It is his house, in which he alone has any authority.”[10]  As an inevitable consequence of this consecration, the church is called to the task of sanctification—of “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Furthermore, the presence of God is a powerfully unifying presence.  Every believer united to Christ is established on the one and only foundation, aligned with the one and only cornerstone, and therefore also united to all other believers in one structure.[11]

What is our proper response to this magnificent truth?  Let us look to Paul once more:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5).

The presence of the living God among us—his dwelling, his living temple—cannot be any less than the single most defining and controlling factor in determining our identity and directing our activity, in this world and unto eternity.

Amen.


[1] “[The ‘dividing wall’] may be an allusion to the barricade which in Jerusalem separated the court of the Gentiles from the temple proper, and on which there was an inscription threatening death to any non-Jew who tried to pass it:  ‘No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure.  Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.’”  William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1967), 133.

[2] Ibid.,141.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation (Studies in Ephesians chapter 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1976), 336, 338.  Emphasis original.

[4] “Not at all in themselves or because of any intrinsic merit were they entitled to this distinction, but as divinely appointed witnesses and ambassadors who were constantly pointing away from themselves, to Christ….  A parallel would be the fact that Jesus called himself ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12), but he also called his disciples ‘the light of the world’ (Matt 5:14).”  Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 50, 147.  Emphasis original.

[5] Much ink has been spilt debating the identity of the “prophets” Paul mentions here as New-Testament-era, Old-Testament-era, or both; since the issue is ultimately tertiary to Paul’s main point in the passage, we will not entertain specific arguments here.  Cf. Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 142; and Charles Hodge, Ephesians (ed. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 95.

[6] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 749.

[7] Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 143.

[8] Ridderbos, Paul, 431.

[9] Bryan Chapell, Ephesians (ed. Richard D. Phillips and Philip Graham Ryken; Reformed Expository Commentary; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing Company, 2009), 132.

[10] Hodge, Ephesians, 97.

[11] “When holiness is the main characteristic, the unity looks after itself.”  Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, 344.

Soli Deo Gloria in the Bible

In our last post, we spent some time defining the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria as rediscovered by the Reformers.  Of course, the doctrinal formulations of even the wisest or most pious Christian must be rejected if they do not find their basis in the teachings of Scripture.  What follows is a brief survey of biblical texts which demonstrate and undergird the bold claim made by Soli Deo Gloria: that God’s foremost motivation and intention in every work is His own glory alone.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
                                    –Psalm 19:1-2 [1]

To begin, this well-known psalm sets forth the basic principle that God’s glory is reflected in His creation.  It is important to note that the glory on display in creation is not “creation’s glory” in the sense of belonging to or originating from it.  Says Bavinck, “In the created word there is a faint reflection [by comparison] of the inexpressible glory and majesty that God possesses….  It is not beautiful by itself but by participation in a higher, absolute beauty.”[2]  John M. Frame similarly describes the created world as “his finite glory-light.”[3]

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
     for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say,
     “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
     he does all that he pleases.
formattingissodifficult–Psalm 115:1-3

In this later passage, the psalmist indicates a concern that all glory be given to God, since He alone is worthy of it.  Secondly, the psalmist asserts that the Lord “does all that he pleases”—which is to say, that everything He does He is pleased to do, and nothing He is displeased to do will He do.  These two facts of God’s sole worthiness of glory and His working all things in accordance with His pleasure lay much of the foundation for the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria, which is indeed a most natural harmony of these two facts.

“I am the LORD; that is my name;
     my glory I give to no other,
     nor my praise to carved idols.”
                                    –Isa 42:8

In this first text from Isaiah, God speaks directly to the issue of His glory and could hardly be any clearer.  It is not to be claimed by anyone but Himself.  God invokes His personal name YHWH as a means of reminding the people what glory is: a perfect emanation of His divine being.  Thus it would be perverse and unfitting for any created being—much less a false idol—to claim glory for itself.

“Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.”
                                    –Isa 43:6b-7

As a development of the thought in Psalm 19 above, the Lord specifically identifies his creation of humanity as being to the end of His glory.  This naturally bears implications for man’s understanding of his identity and role in creation; those who understand that their creation was ultimately purposed for God’s glory rather than for their own pleasure will certainly live their lives differently than those who do not.  (Note, however, that the principal purpose being His glory does not preclude man’s pleasure as a proximate end, as will be discussed in the following section.)

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
     I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another.”
                                    –Isa 48:9-11

Just a few chapters later, the Lord reiterates almost verbatim his proscription of glory being given to another from chapter 42.  Additionally, this passage makes use of parallel phrasing and repetition in order to emphasize the prominence of God’s actions “for his own sake.”  Especially noteworthy is the double phrase (“for my own sake, for my own sake”), which is a typical Hebrew means of indicating special veracity, importance, or intensity of purpose.  Though it would not be incorrect for God to describe His divine refinement of the people as being intended for their benefit or occasioned out of His covenant love for them, the emphatic insistence on His reputation, praise, and glory indicates this latter thrust of His intentions to be paramount over the former.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
                                                                                           –John 17:1-6

With the movement into the New Testament, God’s revelation of His self-glorification progresses through the introduction of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and thus the Trinitarian nature of God.  In His high priestly prayer, Christ clearly indicates a mutual glorification between Himself and the Father—a glorification which, given both the unity and the distinctiveness of the two, is simultaneously self-directed and outwardly directed.  In the words of Piper, “Since the Son is the image of God and the radiance of God and the form of God, equal with God, and indeed is God, therefore God’s delight in the Son is delight in himself.  The original, the primal, the deepest, the foundational joy of God is the joy he has in his own perfections as he sees them reflected in the glory of his Son.”[4]  Notice also that this passage strongly attests the principle of glorification as a manifestation or revelation; Christ’s work on earth was to make the Father known, and the Father’s glorification of the Son involved unveiling the splendor and fullness of Christ’s deity by the resurrection.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
            “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                 or who has been his counselor?”
            “Or who has given a gift to him
                 that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.
                                                                                       –Rom 11:33-36

As a way of concluding his extended theological treatment in the first portion of Romans, Paul’s awe at God’s incredible work of salvation gushes forth in the form of a beautiful doxology.  After extolling God’s magnificent wisdom and divine transcendence, Paul’s concluding thoughts in the passage constitute one of the strongest biblical proofs for the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria.  The fact that all things are “from him” (as the Creator and Giver of life) and “through him” (as the sovereign Orchestrator and Provider) naturally entails that all things are also “to him”—that is, purposed ultimately for Himself, His pleasure, and His glory.  God is the most pertinent factor in the existence of creation at every point along the way, from generation to continuation to consummation.  He Himself is the center around which He has set the whole universe to revolve, and at the root of every good work in history is the sovereign self-glorifying hand of God.  It is by virtue of His goodness that the divine agenda of self-glorification prominently includes the provision of immeasurable benefits to His creatures.  In this regard, there are two additional passages worth examining.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved….  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
                                                                              –Eph 1:3-6, 11-14 [5]

Here, as Paul speaks in exalted language about salvation through Christ—with its past, present, and future aspects (those being election, adoption, and inheritance respectively)—he identifies the praise of God’s glory (or His “glorious grace” in the case of verse six) as the end to which all these are directed.  Certainly, the blessings of salvation are inestimably valuable as ends themselves; nevertheless, even these point beyond themselves toward the one great and ultimate end of God’s glory.  If therefore such sublime ends are yet subordinated to the glory of God, what other possible end remains to challenge its priority?

Have this attitude among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
                                                                                            –Phil 2:5-11

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides an opportunity to review the doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria while at the same time presenting one unforeseen twist to the divine method of self-glorification.  Once again, it could not possibly be argued that Christ’s salvific work was undertaken and accomplished apart from the purpose of blessing His elect.  However, Paul’s emphasis in the passage does not rest ultimately on the benefit of salvation for humans but on the glory of salvation to God the Father and the Son.  Shockingly, in what must be the greatest and most mysterious cosmic irony of all time, Christ “emptied himself”[6] and “humbled himself” in order to bring glory to the Father through perfect obedience as a human being.  (It should be noted that His application of divine wisdom in doing so was itself glorifying to Christ.[7])  On top of that, Paul affords his readers a vision of the end of the age, when God’s purpose of His glory will finally and completely invade the visible world.  The Father will exalt the Son in full, visible splendor; the Son will reciprocate in glorifying the Father; and all of creation will fulfill its ultimate end of acknowledging and revering the radiant glory of the Godhead.

Amen.


[1] All Scripture citations taken from the ESV.

[2] Bavinck, God and Creation, 254.

[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2002), 593.

[4] Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1991), 38.

[5] Emphasis added.

[6] This is a literal translation of the Greek verb in verse seven, which ESV translates made himself nothing.

[7] John Owen, The Glory of Christ (ed. Hervey Mockford; London: Evangelical Press, 1987), 26-29.