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  /  Resources   /  Jesus’ Exclusive Connection to Human Nature

Jesus' Exclusive Connection to Human Nature with Jeannine Graham

Gary Deddo: Welcome once again. (Jeannine Graham: Thank you.) It’s great to have you here. I know another area of interest that you’ve written about is what’s called “the one and the many.” You wrote a journal article on this, especially James Torrance’s understanding of the one and the many. But I never heard much about that when I was growing up. Tell us what your interest was. Why talk about Jesus as the one for the many? Jeannine Graham: Well, in my upbringing I never heard that either. It wasn’t until […]

Gary Deddo: Welcome once again. (Jeannine Graham: Thank you.) It’s great to have you here. I know another area of interest that you’ve written about is what’s called “the one and the many.” You wrote a journal article on this, especially James Torrance’s understanding of the one and the many. But I never heard much about that when I was growing up. Tell us what your interest was. Why talk about Jesus as the one for the many?

Jeannine Graham: Well, in my upbringing I never heard that either. It wasn’t until I studied with Torrance that that novel concept came. But it was related to the representation-substitution thing that I talked about earlier. He gave me a category, I guess, a lens by which to look at the Scriptures. You can see that running through numerous places. One place is when God establishes a covenant with Abraham.

When I’ve taught Bible survey, I usually ask my students a question after we talk about the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. And then things get wrecked up in Genesis 3 and all hell breaks loose and alienation abounds. And I say, “Okay. For 30 seconds, this is your chance to be God: how would you fix the situation? Go.” So they talk to their neighbor and come up with all sorts of solutions. Most of them have these mega instantaneous, by fiat, God changes things just like that. But then somehow that sacrifice is freewill, and so we’ve got to work that in, and they never come up with a biblical solution. I said, “Those are interesting, that’s not the choice that God made.”

God begins to fix the solution one person at a time. One person. He identifies Abraham. He gives these promises to Abraham: “I’m going to bless you. I’m going to bless those who bless you. I’m going to make your name great. I’m going to give you many descendants.” Abraham has all these promises and then God says, “I want you to pack up go to this place I’ll give you.” He doesn’t have an itinerary. He doesn’t know where God is going to lead him. It would have been an interesting conversation with Sarai. “Where are we going?” “I don’t know.” “Why are we going?” “I don’t know, but God told us so.”

That becomes the beginning of the covenant relationship. Through this one person, he’s going to begin to build a people, who become the people of Israel. God chooses this people, insignificant people. He could have chosen any group, but chooses this people to be the vehicle, the vessel, through whom God is going to work his covenant purposes out – to eventually gather all nations to himself. He’s not going to opt for the fiat solution. He’s going to sidle up to these people, to enter into a relationship with these people, and through their history, the world will see something at the heart of who God is, and something of the desperate need of human nature – the human condition. What a great privilege for Israel to be that vessel—but it’s also a great responsibility to try to live up to that covenant partnership, to be that faithful covenant partner.

Meanwhile then, in their history, there are “one and the many” instances – the Levites are one of the 12 tribes. The 11 tribes are given land. But the Levites are not given lands because they’re to be interspersed with all of the tribes to be kind of the worship coordinators of the tribe. They have a special mission as the one to bless and benefit the many.

After God delivers Israel from Egypt, there’s a sacrifice that God institutes – by which God is going to redeem the firstborn sons of Israel. The last plague that forced the hand of Pharaoh to “let my people go” and let the Exodus happen was the killing of the firstborn – except that the children of Israel were protected. The Angel of Death passed over their houses, protecting their firstborn. But the sacrifice was to redeem the firstborn, on whom God had a claim. And the firstborn are representing the many people of Israel.

Probably the one that stands out the best, the most vivid to me, was one that Torrance mentions constantly in his writings and teachings. On the Day of Atonement, on one day of the year (around October or so), the Old Testament high priest is going to act on behalf of the many – the people of Israel. He washes himself, a special cleansing, to cleanse himself from his own sin, because he’s a human sinner as well. He puts on certain special vestments. He sets himself apart. He sanctifies himself to do this act on behalf of the people.

Then the people come symbolically with their collective, year-long collection of sins and there’s two sacrificial animals. He lays his hands on one and banishes it, with the weight of the sins of the people laid on that animal. He’s identifying with the righteousness of God. We are guilty; God is right to judge us. We lay our sins symbolically on this animal and he is led into the wilderness to take the sins of the people away. The other animal is slain, and the blood is collected and taken into the Holy of Holies.

Up to this point, the high priest is acting on behalf of all the people. He is the one representative, acting on behalf of the many. He goes in with this blood sacrifice before the Holy of Holies pleading with God to remember his covenant relationship, to forgive the people, to restore them to right relationship. When he comes out of the Holy of Holies, now he’s representing God to the people. Before, he was representing the people to God. Now, he’s representing God to the people with a blessing of peace, the assurance of restoration. That covenant relationship has been renewed. They don’t have to drag their accumulated guilt from year to year. It’s like that ball and chain is cut and they have a new start. It says (I think in Hebrews 6), all Israel entered into the Holy of Holies… (well, not literally, or there wouldn’t be a place for them). They enter, in the person of their representative. And the people of God got that. This double representative relationship was patently obvious. That was at the heart of their sacrificial life, their worship life.

What Torrance did for me, besides highlighting that for me, was to say, Jesus is talked about as the High Priest, especially in the book of Hebrews, but also in John 17. In the high priestly prayer before he’s arrested, Jesus prays to his Father. He says, I sanctify myself. I set myself apart, just like the high priest of old set himself apart, he sanctifies himself. He has no need to atone for his own sins because he’s lived a sinless life. The high priest in the Old Testament would wear a vestment that had 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, signifying his solidarity with Israel. Jesus is representing humanity. He is going to be led to the cross. At that time he is both the high priest and the sacrificial victim all in one, fulfilling the covenant promises and taking the penalty, the judgment of sin upon himself. All of that is happening in the cross.

Then, before he leaves to ascend to heaven, he gives the blessing of peace to his disciples – the relationship is restored, and he breathed on them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit becomes the empowerment for them to carry on his ministry. He will continue his ministry, his continuing priesthood. He doesn’t hang up his priestly vestments when he goes to heaven. He doesn’t even divest himself of his humanity. He continues his humanity in its glorified state after resurrection. He’s still in heaven representing us and his priesthood still continues. But now he’s present to us in a different sort of way through the Holy Spirit.

GD: So the idea of one for the many, which I don’t think many hear about, is biblical. It’s represented at many different places throughout and it finds its fulfillment in Christ, so he ends up being the one for the many…

JG: And in the New Testament: Romans 6, when he died, we died. That’s one for the many. When he was baptized, we were baptized. We share in the one baptism of Jesus – that started in the waters of Jordan and culminates on the cross. He took our place, identifying with us and in solidarity with us. And when he died, Paul says, we’re included in that.

GD: Other interesting things that I think are related to this: maybe you could talk a little about Jesus being, sometimes the terminology is the “federal head of humanity” and also – Pauline language – Jesus being the new Adam. How does that fit in?

JG: Well, in my book, which you could get for the low, low price of $90, I play around with four different terminologies, and the second one speaks to that. But the first one I’d say, and it has to do with the one and the many – I used the word exclusive. He is THE one for the many. He’s not just one among many prophets. He’s not just one guru who had a little more clear God-consciousness than the rest of us; he was a man ahead of his time. He was not just our moral exemplar and great moral teacher we try to emulate. He is THE prophet, THE teacher, THE priest, exclusively.

Because of his exclusive identity as fully God and fully human, that exclusivity enables him to be the all-inclusive one. It’s because of his unique identity he is able to do the second point – exclusivity, the one for the many inclusivity. The many in the one. He is able to do that uniquely. No other person… I can’t climb inside your humanity, you know, there are barriers.

Two things tip me off in this direction: One is the language I find in Romans 5:12-21. Paul uses an Adam/Christ parallelism and he says, just as Adam, through his act of disobedience, brought condemnation and judgment and death, so another man (and we hear that referred to as second Adam in various ways; clearly a second Adam would jive with that)…. Another man through his (not only one act) whole life of obedience and faithfulness brought justification and life.

You constantly see this: just as Adam started the ball rolling in a disastrous legacy (where the bottom line is that we’re imprisoned in sin and can’t help ourselves – as the descendants of that legacy), Jesus, in a way, reboots humanity. He takes upon himself our flesh and takes it through every stage of human existence doing right where the first Adam did wrong, obeying where the first Adam and Eve personally did wrong. Trusting with all his heart where Adam and Eve were trusting themselves and deviating from God’s plan.

In a way (to use T.F. Torrance’s language), God’s been bending our rebellious wills back to himself. Not just in a fiat – snap of the finger sort of way – but by living through our humanity from day to day, moment to moment, responding to the Father with faithfulness, that’s the faithful human covenant response that I talked about previously. And in so doing he is re-wiring, he is re-creating our humanity. That process culminates on the cross. It doesn’t begin with the cross. Again, highlighting the significance of Jesus’ whole life. That’s the Adam/Christ parallelism in Romans 5.

The other part takes us back to who is Jesus. When I read John 1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning… and through him all things came into being.” Through this Word… (We don’t know yet – it seems like maybe it’s a verbal word, until we get to verse 14 and we realize the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Oh, that’s the Son of God who becomes incarnate as Jesus. So, we’re not just talking about a verbal word.) This is the Word through whom all things came into being. That same idea is in Colossians 1, it’s in Hebrews 1, it’s replete.

The Creator Word, when he takes upon himself our flesh, he can connect with us, he has a connection with our being because it’s through him our being came into existence. Our ontological existence (the fancy terminology) is linked to our Creator. (You can’t do that for me; I can’t do that for you.) The Creator/Word becomes flesh and so he already has this capability of affecting, transforming, impacting your humanity, my humanity. The Creator/Word alone can re-create.

That’s the hard part that my students struggle with, because they’re not used to thinking of Jesus… (They’re used to thinking of Jesus as an individual. He’s an individual, you’re an individual and a great individual. He does great things.) But to think that he is the head of humanity, the Creator/Word that is connected, that my humanity is included in him, he bound himself to my humanity, that’s a challenge. But that’s what I hear in Scripture.

GD: That’s a unique and surprising connection of Christ, the one for the many… it’s surprising.

JG: And the many in the one. That’s the second inclusive, in the one. Maybe this is a chance to talk about the “in Christ”?

GD: Sure.

JG: Indulge me. I get excited about this because this whole thing is not theoretical to me. This makes all the difference in how I look at the Christian life and I used to try to live a Christian life through my own efforts. I wouldn’t confess to that at that time. That would be works righteousness, how dare I. But when I look back I think, yeah, I was stuck in that route. That’s what sent me to Scotland, because I always had the feeling that God was disappointed in me. Somehow I wasn’t measuring up. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t jumping high enough, I wasn’t running fast enough. I wasn’t fill-in-the-blank enough to measure up to God’s acceptable standards, so I tried harder. If you buy into that recipe, that’s what you’re left with – it’s just trying, trying harder, which will be exhausting after a while.

When I went to Scotland I thought “I hope there’s better news that he has to tell me, that would get me off of that treadmill.” Christ is representative substitution, the one from the many, was liberating me, severing me from that tie. But also it put me on a new trajectory. And I read Ephesians 1. This is where it just jumped into stark focus. I won’t read the whole chapter but…

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realm with every spiritual blessing in Christ. [in Christ] 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world, to be holy and acceptable in his sight. 5In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8which he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times had reached their fulfillment—to bring unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in him when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

Lights went on. Where is this salvation? Is not just something Jesus kind of accomplished and then he retires and here’s this accomplishment that he did, that we tap into. This is so plain to me. The salvation is in him. It’s nowhere else than in him. It’s God doing surgery on the human life by taking humanity to himself and fixing it from within. As Calvin says, if we’re not united to Jesus, we can’t benefit from salvation. We have to be united with him. So, it’s been wrought, this new nature, this recreated nature for us, has been wrought in the person of Jesus. You can’t separate the person and the work.

We need to be united with Jesus, which happens by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit awakens us to faith. This is for you and unites us with Jesus. So now, we participate in this new life in Christ. That’s how I hear Paul saying in Galatians 2:20: “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Sounds like we’re kicked to the curb. “No longer I who live but Christ.” And then he goes, “and the life that I live…” oops, we’re still in the picture. The life I now live is lived on a totally different basis. “I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus becomes the source of our new life.

Paul says it elsewhere: “Christ in us, the hope of glory” [Col. 1:27]. I never quite saw that. Because so much of the teaching that abounds, that I partook of was, Jesus did something. And it’s not integrally related to him… he was the doer of it. But now it’s done, it’s like this package over here and we somehow need to unpack it and make it ours and apply it to ourselves and all that kind of stuff. No. The Christian life is day-to-day participating in union with him by faith. It’s the joy of participating in his life, his accomplishments. So, inclusive.

Preclusive: the many are displaced by the one; we are divested of our illusion that we operate according to an independent source apart from our true source. No. God created us and, like it or not, we can’t cut ourselves off from that source. That is our source. What Jesus wants to do is divest us of our pseudo-self, the illusion that we can pull it off, that we are our own source, that we can sever ourselves from our Creator.

And then on the last, to finish the last four… exclusive, the one for the many. Inclusive, the many in the one. Preclusive, the many displaced by the one. Conclusive, the one for the many. We are re-humanized. We are re-energized, re-personalized. Jesus’ response for us doesn’t mean that we don’t respond. It means he enables us, he frees us from our imprisonment to sin. Paul talks about (Galatians 3:22 says), we’re imprisoned in sin. Ephesians 2 even gets more stark: We are dead. If we are dead in sin, we can’t enliven ourselves. Jesus comes to enliven us and enable us to offer our response to God in joyful gratitude, because it all doesn’t hinge on us. That’s the participation part, the enablement of the Holy Spirit to let Jesus’ life be lived in us.

GD: Wonderful. You gave us a big picture, a rich and deep picture of Jesus as the one for the many. It’s no wonder you wanted to write about that and teach about it. Thanks for sharing about it with us now.

JG: Thank you.

About Jeannine Graham

Jeannine Graham is Associate Professor of Religious Studies, George Fox University, in Newburg, OR. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen, under the direction of Professor James B. Torrance.