February / March 2018 - Vol. 96
                  of light on cross
The Redeemer Who Died

by Steve Clark

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them 
- 2 Corinthians 5:19

The main section of the Book of Revelation begins with a vision. John sees an open door in heaven and is summoned by a heavenly voice to come and see “what must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1). No sooner had the voice spoken than he found himself in heaven. God was seated on his throne, presiding over his court. God, in other words, appeared to John as the ruler of the universe, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He was in the process of determining what would happen to human history. 

In God’s right hand John sees a scroll, which contains the divine decrees for the future. Once the scroll would be opened, God’s purpose would be achieved, evil would be destroyed, and the great and blessed consummation would arrive. John’s vision, however, comes at a dramatic and somewhat distressing moment. The time is at hand for the concluding act to begin, but something is missing. The angel calls out the great summons: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and open its seals? Let him stand forth and be the blessed instrument of the consummation.” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth comes forward as worthy to open the scroll.

John begins to weep. He fears that human history will not achieve the purpose for which God created it, that the present evils will continue. Then one of the rulers in heaven speaks to John. “Weep not,” he says. Someone has just conquered, the one who was prophesied as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9–10) and as the Root or Branch of David (Isaiah 11:1,10) – the messianic King of Israel. Because he has conquered, he can open the scroll. As it turns out, John is present when the one who is worthy arrives in heaven –  he who died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and was ready to receive “dominion and glory and kingdom” (Daniel 7:14) from the eternal Lord of the universe, the Lord God Almighty.

The one who stands forth is an extraordinary personage, a lion who is a lamb. This is symbolic language that shows the paradox of a man of great and regal power, a king and high priest, standing before the throne of God – yet appearing at the same time as a sacrificial victim. Moreover, although he is a human figure, John can see in him divine power and divine omniscience as expressed in the symbols of the seven horns and seven eyes.

Only one was found worthy, our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the one who could open the scroll. He is the one who can bring human history to its decreed consummation, who can establish the kingdom of God, and who can bring to earth the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God, filled with God’s glory and blessing (Revelation 21–22).

Why was Christ worthy? 
Christ was worthy because of what he did, shedding his blood and paying the price of redemption. But he was also worthy because of who he was. He was not just an ordinary man. Christ was worthy because he was special.

I was once employed in a shipping room. Various attempts had been made to improve efficiency – to no avail. One day the president of the company unexpectedly appeared. From then on the shipping room was different.

Another time I was in New York City seeing a friend off on an ocean liner to Europe. My friend’s uncle had driven us. The area around the dock was crowded, with no parking spaces anywhere nearby, except within a cordoned-off area. My friend’s uncle happened to be a priest, and an Irish policeman noticed our efforts to find a place, caught sight of my friend’s uncle (and his collar), lifted the chain, and waved us to an empty space while nodding respectfully to the priest.

I recently read an article describing a well-known television talk show. The article explained how the person being interviewed was asserting the evils of abortion. Normally, no one would have been allowed onto that particular program to make such remarks. The guest on the show, however, was Mother Teresa. Her charitable work in Calcutta gave her an access and moral authority that opened up even that show to her.

“It all depends on who you are.” The saying is true in many ways, some good, some bad, but the principle involved is an important one for our redemption. Not just anyone could be the Redeemer. It would have done no good for the Jewish High Priest or the Roman Emperor to notice that the human race needed redemption and to ask for volunteers. No one else in the land of Israel or in the Roman Empire – indeed no one else in all of human history – could have done what Jesus did. Only the one who held a special position could be the Redeemer.

John’s vision in Revelation 5 shows us who the Redeemer was and had to be. He was the prophesied king, the one who was from the royal dynasty of Israel but who was to rule all the nations of the earth as their rightful Lord. He was also the priest who was himself a sacrifice, able to make the offering that could purchase human beings for God. He was human, but had divine power and omniscience and could be worshiped as the Son of God (Revelation 5:13). Only such a person could be the Redeemer.

The New Adam: A Representative 
The question before us is: Who must someone be in order to die for the sins of others and have that death make any difference? Christ’s position as the new Adam gives us a first answer. He held a special position in the human race and that position allowed his death to have an effect that no one else’s could have. He acted as the representative of the human race – in a unique way.

A representative is someone who can act on behalf of others. Sometimes, a representative only represents an individual. A widow might give her son or daughter “the power of attorney” to act on her behalf and take care of her interests. A businessman might have an agent in another country to dispose of his assets in that country.

Agents also represent groups of people. In English–speaking countries, it is common to say that people who are affected by some governmental action should be represented in the deliberations that decide on that action. “No taxation without representation,” to use the historic phrase. They therefore are represented by someone in Parliament or Congress. Such representatives have some freedom of action, but they should genuinely represent the interests of those on whose behalf they are sent.

Representatives also function to symbolically represent groups of people. In the twentieth century, it became common to find the body of an unknown soldier who had died in war and to bury him with great honor in the “tomb of the unknown soldier.” He was chosen to be the symbolic representative of all such soldiers, chosen precisely because the only thing known about him was that he was a soldier who had given his life in war.

There is, however, a significantly different kind of representation: corporate or authoritative representation. The head of some corporate body, and only he, can represent it when it acts. If two warring nations decide to make peace, the presidents or their designated delegates sign the treaty. Average citizens off the streets, even citizens in high standing, would not be authorized to sign. They would not hold a position allowing them to represent the nation as a corporate entity.

Likewise, if one nation wanted to warn another nation that war was imminent unless something changed, the message would not be delivered to just any citizen of the other nation. Once again, the president would seek to communicate that message to the head of the other nation, or at least an appropriate official, in the expectation that the head of state would lead that nation in its response. Only an authorized leader can represent the nation as a corporate entity.

In a similar way, if a nation loses a war and has to pay reparations, the head of the nation – either personally or through a delegate – is responsible to see that it happens. He might not be the one who began the war. He might not even have taken part in the war in any active way. He might even have become the head after the defeat because he was opposed to the war from beginning to end. But if he is the head of the nation, he is responsible for the body he is the head of. He is therefore responsible for the fulfillment of the treaty obligations by that nation. Someone, in other words, can be morally or legally responsible as a representative for something he is not morally or legally responsible for as an individual. Christ was such a representative – of the human race, or at least the redeemed human race. But Christ’s representative role was unique and unrepeatable in human history. Perhaps the easiest way to understand it is to understand what it means to say he is the new Adam.

Christ and Adam 
The phrase “new Adam” comes from Paul, at least in the sense that he is the earliest one we know of who used it and that his writings are the source of later writings that use the phrase. The idea almost certainly does not stem from Paul.  But the clearest and most explicit presentation of the idea in scripture is found in Paul.

Paul makes several references to Christ’s relationship to Adam. The most extended presentation is found in Romans 5, where Adam is described as “a type of the one who was to come” (v. 14), a type of Christ. Paul says of the two of them in Romans 5:17–19: 

If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace…reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ…Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.
The same connection is made in First Corinthians 15:21–22: 

As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  

In the same chapter, Christ is called “the last Adam” (v. 45), in contrast to the first Adam.

To see Adam as a type or foreshadowing of Christ indicates an important correspondence between the two in God’s plan for human history. In certain respects, the position that Adam held and Christ now holds are the same. Adam prefigured or foreshadowed Christ as the head of the human race, the source of its life.

By calling Christ “the last” Adam, Paul probably means that Christ is the Adam for the ending period of human history, when he brings into existence a new human race as the fulfillment of God’s plan. A more common title among Christians is “new Adam,” indicating that Christ brings that newness of spiritual life that is the mark of the new covenant (Rom 7:6). Either way, Christ is a new beginning, the personal source of a new humanity that fulfills the purpose for which God originally created the human race.

Adam is a type of Christ, but in a somewhat different way than someone like David is. Christ fulfills David’s role of king of Israel by ruling in a “fuller”, that is, a spiritually more effective, way. Although Christ fulfills the same role as Adam, in certain respects he reversed what Adam did. Both Adam and Christ were appointed to establish the human race. Adam was appointed to begin it, Christ to renew it. Adam, however, brought condemnation; Christ brought acquittal or justification. Adam brought death through his fall. Christ brought true and unending life through his rising.

 Nonetheless Christ did not totally reverse what Adam did. He became a son of Adam and took on the humanity Adam began. He reversed the fall of Adam not by annihilating human nature or transforming it into something completely different, but by restoring human nature and bringing it to a new level of life.

A Corporate Effect 
The position of the first Adam reveals some important truths about that of the new Adam. The texts comparing the two indicate that the chief reason to see Christ as the new Adam lies in the way Christ passes on the results of his actions and his own life to his spiritual descendants. Just as by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam performed an action that changed the human race, so by giving himself on the cross, Christ performed an action that also changed the race. Just as Adam’s action affected the way all his descendants lived because as their father he passed on his life to them, so Christ’s action affected all his spiritual descendants, because he too passed on his life.

Behind the effect of Adam’s and Christ’s actions is what could be called the family principle, which explains why the action of ancestors can have moral effects on their descendants. The modern mentality makes it more difficult for us to recognize the family principle than it seems to have been for earlier people, including the recipients of Paul’s letters. Our individualistic orientation often leads us to overlook corporate effects, especially corporate moral effects. 

In Adam we see the family principle magnified. As the first father, he simply was the human race at one point. What happened to Adam happened to the whole race. Subsequently, the same was true of Adam and Eve together. As we have seen, none of the various views of “original sin” among orthodox Christians completely eliminates the corporate aspect of the result of the first sin. Since the fall, the human race as a whole has been in a state of “separation” from God (Isaiah 59:2). Corporately, it has failed to comply with the commandments of its sovereign. As a result, it has suffered the bad consequences of its condition, including the loss of that full life that God intended for it. According to the beginning of Genesis, this condition is the result of the family principle and of the actions of the first two parents of the whole human race.

The family principle is similarly magnified in Christ and allows him to merit (deserve, earn, pay for) redemption for us. As the head of the new human race, Christ functions like Adam. He shares his relationship to God, his Father, with his spiritual descendants. He also passes on his life to that new human race and determines much of what the life of its members is like. 

Christ is, however, the new Adam. “New” indicates that there are some important respects in which Christ’s effect on Christians is unlike Adam’s effect on the human race as a whole. It is not only unlike Adam’s in the fact that the effects of his actions reverse that of Adam’s. It is also unlike Adam’s in the fact that the operation of the family principle or principle of corporate solidarity is itself strengthened in Christ, not lessened. 

This increase in the effect due to the family principle is indicated by the section of First Corinthians 15 that talks about Christ as the new Adam. Paul is explaining how a corruptible human nature can be raised from the dead after decaying in the tomb:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life–giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:45–50). 

In this passage, Paul tells us that the new Adam is a heavenly man, not just an earthly man. He is, in other words, a human being, but a special one. He also tells us that this heavenly human being is not just a living being like other human beings, but a life–giving spirit. In both ways Paul is possibly referring to what we would describe as Christ’s incarnate nature. More probably he is talking about the transfigured, glorified humanity that resulted from the resurrection. Either way, the human Jesus of Nazareth has a heavenly aspect, a “spiritualized” humanity. That humanity is the source of a new human life, one that changes us so that we look more like God and can live eternally.

The heavenly human being, who is Christ, imparts the new life to us directly. We receive spiritual life from the “life-giving spirit”. We are given the heavenly image from the “man of heaven”. We are not, in other words, connected to Christ the way we are connected to Adam. We are only connected to Adam through generations of intermediaries. We are connected to Christ directly. We become Christians through a personal union with him. We can even be said to be one spirit with Christ and corporately one flesh with him (1 Corinthians 6:16–17). We are his body, members of him (1 Corinthians 12:27). 

To describe Christ as the new Adam indicates the importance of what Christ is doing. He is not just improving the human race. He is not just creating a grouping of human beings that will do better than others. He is creating the grouping that can fulfill the purpose for which God created the human race in the first place, because they know his will and have been delivered from the bondage of sin. They are the new human race not in the sense that there are no other human beings, but in the sense that they are part of the human race as it is becoming what God made it to be.

The Representative of the Race
Christ’s position as the new head of the human race provides an important perspective in understanding why his death could count for us. He acted on our behalf in his death, as well as in his resurrection and ascension. He was representing the human race which would come into existence as a result of what he was doing, the race which would be his body, and which was already being drawn together through the calling and formation of his disciples. In considering his death and resurrection, we sometimes miss the fact that Christ acted as a corporate representative and not just as a righteous or godly individual.

Christ can represent the human race because of who he is. As the new Adam, he is the head of the human race. He is the one whom God appointed to be the ruler of the human race, and even now he functions as the King or Lord of those who accept him for who he is. Consequently, Christ has the authority to relate to God the Father on behalf of the human race. In turn, he also represents God to the human race insofar as God relates to the human race through the head of that race. Finally, he leads the corporate response to God of those who accept him.

 Christ died “for us,” therefore, not only in the sense that his death was for our benefit, but also in the sense that he died “on our behalf” as our representative. As Paul put it, “One has died for all, therefore all have died,” (2 Corinthians 5:14) because that one could act on behalf of all as the head of those who were united to him. The effects of his death can therefore become our own once we become members of his body and “live for him” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

[This article is excerpted from the book Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, copyright © 1992 by Stephen B. Clark, published by Servant Books.] 
Steve Clark is past president of the Sword of the Spirit and founder of The Servants of the Word.

Praise for Steve Clark's most recent book,

The Old Testament in the Light of the New

book cover
                                  for The Old Testament in the Light of
                                  the New
“Steve Clark’s The Old Testament in the Light of the New is a welcome and well-done contribution to the Church’s ancient tradition of understanding what in the Old Testament anticipated and prefigured what is only fully realized in the New. This work helps us more clearly understand everything written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and the Psalms, precisely in the light of Christ.”
– DONALD CARDINAL WUERL Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

“There are few subjects more important for Christians today than how to understand the Old Testament, for it is widely recognized that it is impossible to understand the New Testament without proper knowledge of the Old. This book is an enlightened and accessible guide to Jesus’ Bible, and therefore a crucial source for understanding Jesus himself.”
– GERALD R. MCDERMOTT Chair in Anglican Divinity,
Beeson Divinity School

“Throughout the liturgical year, we are challenged to understand and present how the Old and New Testament readings fit together, not merely in the minds of those who compiled the Lectionary, but rather, in ‘the mystery hidden from ages’ but now revealed in Christ: God’s plan of salvation. Stephen Clark helps us to see in Scripture how this plan unfolded and how we are part of it.”
– MOST REVEREND WILLIAM E. LORI Archbishop of Baltimore

“A Lutheran reading Clark’s book will come away from this Thanksgiving Table not just stuffed with biblical knowledge and satisfied that his every Lutheran itch has been scratched (e.g., law-gospel distinction, Christocentric-incarnational anti-gnostic content, the tensions arising from the theology of the Cross dialectic, and all this in a full course meal of biblical theology) but rather, better equipped and energized to follow Jesus into the world, making authentic disciples of all nations.”
– TED JUNGKUNTZ Professor of Theology (retired), Valparaiso University

“One of the chief challenges of a contemporary reader of the Bible is to discern through
vast medley of books and authors one single story. Stephen Clark offers a framework that will equip the attentive reader to discover the threads of the plot that drives the narrative of our salvation.”
– MOST REVEREND MICHAEL BYRNES Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana in U.S. Territory of Guam

“Without the Scriptures which Jesus opened to his disciples, the message which he conveyed and embodied would be incomprehensible. Clark leads his readers on a journey like that which was taken by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; we can all benefit by walking that road with him.”
– MARK S. KINZER President Emeritus of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute

“Stephen Clark admirably demonstrates the integral unity found between the Old and New Testaments, a unity found within the person and work of Jesus. Theologians, students and seminarians, pastors, and the laity will all benefit from Clark’s book not only by obtaining a proper understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, but also by deepening their faith in Jesus who inhabits both and is the truth that gives life to both.”
– THOMAS G. WEINANDY, Capuchin College, Washington DC
 Dominican House of Studies and the Gregorian University

“Stephen Clark has done careful, scholarly work for many years. His new book is no exception. Many Christians are perplexed about how to understand the relevance of the Old Testament to the Christian life. While the first half of the book is accessible to the general reader, the second part is included for those interested in its scholarly underpinnings. Stephen Clark has made a useful and ecumenically sensitive contribution to understanding this important issue.”
– RALPH MARTIN, S.T.D. Sacred Heart Major Seminary Consultor to the Pontifical Council
 for Promoting the New Evangelization President, Renewal Ministries

The Old Testament in the Light of the New: The Stages of God's Plan, Chapter One, 2017 by Stephen B. Clark, and published by Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, Ohio USA
> See other articles by Steve Clark in Living Bulwark archives
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