The ministry of Jesus Christ toward God on our behalf, that is, the manward-Godward movement of incarnational redemption, can be better understood by taking our “initial cue” from God’s relationship with Old Testament Israel, particularly in regard to the “reciprocity” which God patiently and lovingly worked out in covenant relationship with his chosen people. While a covenant is generally thought to involve two parties, there is an all-important “middle term” between the polarities of the covenant. This is the “covenanted way of response” God provided his people, “a divinely provided sacrifice replacing the best that the human partner may think he can offer,” as in the paradigmatic example of the offering God provided in place of Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son (cf. Gen 22:13, 14). In establishing the covenant at Sinai, God knew that Israel would not be able to fulfil its side of the covenant relationship by walking before him as a holy and obedient people, nor could sinful Israel draw near to God in appropriate worship. Hence, as an act of sheer grace, God freely provided the people a covenanted way of responding to him, a “vicarious” way in which the covenant might be fulfilled in their midst and on their behalf, so that Israel could come before God forgiven and sanctified in covenant partnership with him and fulfil their priestly mission to the world (Torrance, 1992:73, 74).
The Covenanted Way of Response
In the general pattern of the cultic liturgy, God had made it clear to the people of Israel that they were not to appear before him with offerings they had devised themselves. In contrast to pagan worship, there were to be no offerings embodying their own self-expression or representing their own natural desires: no unprescribed oblations, no “strange fire,” no rituals of their own invention were to be introduced into Israel’s worship of God. Instead, God graciously provided the people a covenanted way of response, a divinely prepared pattern of liturgy and worship, designed to testify to the fact that only God can expiate guilt, forgive sin, and bring about propitiation between himself and his people. This cultic liturgy, including the liturgical ordinances, sacrifices, offerings and oblations, and even the priesthood itself, constituted the “vicarious way of covenant response in faith, obedience and worship which God had freely provided Israel out of his steadfast love” (Torrance, 1992:74, 75).
God intended the covenanted way of response he provided for Israel to be worked into the hearts and minds of the people as a liturgical witness to God’s revealing and reconciling purpose. Over time, the covenanted way of response was worked into the flesh and blood existence of Israel, so that it might control the whole pattern of its priestly mission in history. The mediatorial and priestly roles of Moses and Aaron, as well as the notions of guilt-bearer and sacrifice, were gradually conflated, appearing in the Isaianic prophecies as the “servant of the Lord,” the “hypostatized actualisation” within the flesh and blood existence of Israel of the divinely provided covenant way of response set forth in the cultic liturgy. A messianic role was attributed to the servant of the Lord in which “mediator and sacrifice, priest and victim were combined in a form that was at once representative and substitutionary, corporate and individual, in its fulfilment.” In the Isaianic prophecies, Israel, the servant of the Lord, and the “Redeemer,” the “Holy One of Israel” were conflated and brought together, as though the prophet wanted to say that “the real servant of the Lord is the Lord himself,” the divine Redeemer who has bound himself in covenant kinship with Israel, taking upon himself Israel’s affliction in order to make it his own (Torrance, 1992:75, 76).
The Fulfilment of the Covenanted Way of Response
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the historical incarnation of this prophetic vision (cf. Torrance, 1971:158). In him, the prophesied servant of the Lord and the promised Redeemer come together, as he bears away the iniquities, transgressions, and guilt not only of Israel, but of the whole world. Torrance regards the identity of servant and Redeemer as “the essence of the Gospel.” As the incarnate Son of the Father, Jesus Christ came to fulfil all righteousness as both priest and victim. Through his one self-offering in atonement for sin, he mediated a new covenant of universal range, wherein humanity is presented to the Father as redeemed, sanctified, and perfected forever in Jesus. As Torrance notes, “Jesus Christ constitutes in his own self-consecrated humanity the fulfilment of the vicarious way of human response to God promised under the old covenant, but now on the ground of his atoning self-sacrifice once for all offered this is a vicarious way of response which is available for all mankind (Torrance, 1992:75-77).
As Torrance (1992:77) argues, this is surely how we are to understand the twofold ministry of Jesus Christ, from God to man and from man to God. Jesus Christ himself fulfils the covenant from both sides. In regard to the Old Testament commands, “I shall be your God and you shall be my people,” “I am holy, be you holy,” and “I will be your Father and you will be my son,” Jesus Christ is both the covenant-making God and the one true Israelite, who, as the obedient and faithful servant, fulfils both polarities of the covenant. Our immediate concern in upcoming posts is the “manward-Godward” movement of the covenant, that is, the fulfilment of the covenant in the body and blood of Christ, “from the side of human beings toward God the Father as the divinely provided counterpart to God’s unconditional self-giving to mankind.”
Calvin, J. 2008. Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by H. Beveridge). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1,059 pp.
Dawson, G.S. 2007b. Far as the Curse is Found: The Significance of Christ’s Assuming a Fallen Human Nature in the Torrance Theology. In G. Dawson, ed. An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour. London: T & T Clark. Ch. 3.
Kettler, C.D. 2005. The God Who Believes: Faith, Doubt, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. 205 pp.
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Torrance, T.F. 1971. God and Rationality. London: OUP. 216 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1986b. Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 39, pp. 461-482.
Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1993. The Atonement. The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order. In N. Cameron, ed. Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House. Chapter 8.
Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.