Friday, October 05, 2007

All the Promises of God II


The Son of Man and the Dominion Mandate

Adam, whose name is the generic term for man or mankind, was made in God’s image. While there has been much discussion among Christians regarding what the image of God encompasses, a significant part of the answer is given along with the original statement itself.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28)

Integral with the statement that God made man in His image is the so called “dominion mandate” – the command for man to take dominion over creation. Man was God’s vicegerent or prime minister on earth. Because he was made in God’s image, he was supposed to work with and govern creation for God.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
and the son of man that You give attention to him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
and You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen –
even the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea
that pass through the paths of the seas. (Ps. 8:3-8)

Adam/man was truly king of the world. All things were put under his feet – things from the sea, land, and air. He was put on the earth by God to rule creation, but this was not to be done in just any fashion that he could conceive of. Man’s kingship was never ultimate or autonomous; his authority was derivative of God’s ultimate authority. He was God’s representative to the rest of creation and the supreme reflection of His glory. He was therefore tasked to work with creation according to God’s instruction in order to bring even more glory to God. Adam was the first to be tasked with this role, and his progeny would inherit this role as well. As Psalm 8 indicates using the poetic devise of parallelism, the phrase “son of man” is equivalent to “man.” This same usage can be seen elsewhere.

God is not a man, that He should lie,
nor a son of man, that He should repent. (Num. 23:19 cf. Job 25:6; Ps. 80:17; Is. 51:12; Jer. 49:33)

The son of man is man himself – the creature that was allowed to share in the rule of the Creator. A big part of this task was man’s responsibility to care for and guard the garden – the sanctuary where God would walk with man (Gen. 2:15, the Hebrew verb translated “keep” in the NKJV and “take care of” in the NIV is better described as guard duty). This was the holy house and mountain of God (Ezek. 28:13, 14), so God’s vicegerent had a special duty to cultivate and protect it. Adam was also supposed to protect those under his charge, and this originally meant Eve. All of this can be described as Adam’s covenant headship. The creation or Adamic covenant consisted in the fact that God created Adam/man in His image to rule and govern His creation. Adam was creation’s covenant head – its representative before God. He was given the tree of life, a sacramental meal to sustain him while he served God by working with creation. The only thing he could not do was eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This tree (Gen. 2:16, 17), from which Adam was not to eat, represented the kingly ability of mature judicial discernment. This is clear from the Bible’s other uses of the phraseology of discerning between good and evil. For when Solomon first became king, even though he was a grown man, he did not think that he was ready in and of himself for such a responsibility. He considered himself “a little child” who did not know “how to go out or come in” (I Kin. 3:7). He therefore prayed that God would give him “an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (I Kin. 3:9) He was already an adult, but he prayed that God would give him the ability to discern between good and evil. This is the difficult task of a king, and it is a high honor for a king to be good at such a task (II Sam. 14:17). This ability is not something that is found in the immature, but those who would be leaders should mature and grow into it.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb. 5:12-14)

This is why children do not initially have “the knowledge of good and evil” (Deut. 1:39). But notice as well that adults can lack this skill. For the author of Hebrews, at least some of his readers had been Christians for a while but had failed to develop their understanding of the “word of righteousness.” Thus, they needed to mature in the word before their consciences and theological/moral reasoning skills were such that they could discern between good and evil – before they could be teachers with responsibility over others. Therefore, this ability to discern has nothing to do with a supposed “age of accountability.” Biblically, the age of accountability is conception since all people are morally responsible and (outside of Jesus) guilty before God regardless of age (I Kin. 8:46; Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Rom. 5:12-14; Eph. 2:1-3). But the kingly task of discerning between good and evil is a high art requiring much wisdom. All children and many adults lack this ability. Such a skill must be learned through many years of studying God’s word and applying it to the day to day situations of life.

We therefore see that while Adam had the status of lord, this had not been worked out in practice. This was in fact the task that was given to him. Adam would have eventually received the knowledge of good and evil, but it would come through a maturation process. He was tasked to “work out his creation,” so to speak (cf. Phil. 2:12). This was the process by which he was to grow from glory to glory. Man was certainly created in glory, but by gradually and progressively taking dominion over creation, he would have brought even more glory to God and he would have fully matured into the kingly task of discerning between good and evil.

But as we know, Adam failed to be faithful to his covenant responsibilities. He abdicated his role as covenant head of creation and of his family, and he let a serpent-beast into the garden to attack his bride (Gen. 3:1-6). Adam was in the garden with his wife the whole time, but he provided no protection for the garden or the bride. Adam, we may say, was the world’s first true empirical scientist. God had given him a simple command accompanied by a threat. If Adam ate from this one tree, he would die. But then Satan came along and presented a counter claim. Not only would Adam not die, he would become like God. The course that Adam should have taken isn’t hard to understand. Covenantal faithfulness requires that all thoughts, even thoughts about the thinking and knowledge gathering process, should be subjected to God (cf. II Cor. 10:3-5). God’s word is true because it is His ultimately authoritative word. It is the final standard by which all other words and claims are to be measured. But Adam did not operate according to this standard. Instead, he tried to approach the situation as a “neutral,” objective scientist. God presented a claim and Satan presented a counter-claim. According to the assumptions of “neutral” empiricism, the way to determine the truth was to eat the fruit and observe the consequences. Perhaps Adam wasn’t brave enough for that, for it was his wife who became the guinea pig. Who was telling the truth? Who knows? The best bet is to assume that God’s word and Satan’s word are competing hypotheses that needed to be empirically tested. Eve “saw” that the fruit was good, and this “evidence” weighted more heavily than the word of God that she would have received from her husband. So she ate and Adam watched.

In failing to trust God’s word, Adam therefore became unfaithful to his covenant position and responsibilities. He did not simply fail to obey a seemingly trivial command, he failed to represent God. He failed to act like the covenantal head of creation, and as a result, the whole world and all of humanity fell with him. Adam was thrust out of the beautiful garden (which was subsequently destroyed by the flood) and into a cursed word full of hard labor, thorns, pain, and death (Gen. 3:16-19). The whole world and all of Adam’s heirs had in fact been cursed because of Adam. He was creation’s covenantal lord and representative, and his curse was its curse. “Cursed is the ground for your sake” (Gen. 3:17). He was the covenantal representative for all of humanity, and as an early American schoolbook put it, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” (cf. Rom. 5:12-14) God’s representatives would still be responsible for taking dominion over creation to the glory of God (Gen. 9:1-3), but sin would continue to render the full and consistent implementation of this task impossible.

One biblical picture of the consequences of sin is the role reversal that is sometimes seen with respect to the relationship between man and beast. Man is supposed to exercise godly dominion over “the beasts of the field,” but man’s abdication of his responsibilities often shows up here. A common biblical picture of God’s judgment involves the dominion of beast over man. Moses had power over the insects and beasts and used them to bring judgment on Egypt (Ex. 8; 9; 10). Before the Israelites entered the holy land, God told them that their faithfulness would be met with help from the beasts. God would send the hornets to drive out the inhabitants of the land (Ex. 24:27, 28 cf. Josh. 24:11, 12). Elijah was fed by the ravens while he was hiding from Ahab (I Kin. 17:1-6). When God’s people were faithful, the beasts worked for them.

Rebellion, however, met with a different response. If and when Israel was unfaithful to her Lord, one of the curses of the covenant was that God would cause the people to be defeated by their enemies. Their carcasses would then be “food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away.” (Deut. 28:26) This threatened curse became a reality when God used Babylon to judge the Southern Kingdom (Ps. 79:1, 2; Jer. 7:32-34). Unfaithful Israel became food for the beasts, and except for a relatively brief period of time, she continued to be under the dominion of a beast-Empire. Daniel’s vision of the four beasts showed what Israel’s lot would be like for many years to come (Dan. 7:1-8). The first beast – the lion – was Babylon. This beast was subsequently conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire – the bear. The leopard represented the Greek Empire which took dominion when Alexander the Great swept through the Near East and conquered it. The forth beast was the Roman Empire. All of the beasts had dominion over God’s people and it was the Roman beast that ruled over God’s people at the time of Jesus’ incarnation. Finally, just as the great meal of blessing at the end of Revelation is the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9), so also God’s judgment takes the form of a great feast of the birds (Rev. 19:17-21). In short, the beasts tended to be a blessing to the faithful. The hierarchy of creation was preserved so that man had godly dominion over the animals. But rebellion is often punished with a reversal of roles. The beasts rise up and are used by God to rule, trample, and devour the wicked.

There is another aspect of Adam’s fall that should be pointed out here. It is here that we see the self-contradiction and irony of Adam’s rebellion. Adam abdicated his responsibility as lord and protector of creation. He failed to keep the serpent-beast out of the garden, and following that, he just sat around and watched as the beast attacked his wife. In so doing, he stumbled blindly into the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:22). And ever since then, men have greedily grasped at this kingly office when it did not belong to them or when they were not mature enough to properly administer it. Adam’s abdication of authority led to fallen man’s desire to grab for authority and use it in a self-serving and oppressive manner (cf. Jesus’ description of pagan rulers, Matt. 20:25-28).

Because of Adam's failure to be a true man who would faithfully bear God’s image, a new man – a new “adam” – was needed. When God determined to destroy the world via the flood, God brought Noah forward as this new Adam. For after the waters of the flood receded, Noah was to take up where Adam left off. “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand.” (Gen. 9:1, 2) Here we see that Adam’s responsibility as ruler of the world is re-issued to Noah and his sons. God destroyed the old world with the flood. He then created a new world and gave it a new Adam charged with its governance. But as we know, this was not the end of the story. Noah was a new Adam, but he hardly accomplished all that Adam was to accomplish.

This new man would need to accurately represent God by fulfilling the role of servant-lord. He would also need to take upon himself the effects of Adam's disobedience so that humanity would once again image God in the proper way. And in God's providence, He promised just such a new man to humanity after Adam rebelled. This new man would be the seed of the woman – a true “son of man” – and he would crush the head of the serpent-beast (Gen. 3:15).

Many years later, the prophet Daniel had a vision in which the new man would fulfill the role that had been originally given to Adam. Daniel’s vision included the four beast-empires which had dominion over the earth (Dan. 7:1-8). This, as we have seen, was a major perversion of the creation order. Man was supposed to take dominion over the earth, but because of sin, he had abdicated this role and become ineffectual in it. As a result, beasts were taking dominion. But Daniel also recorded that something dramatic would occur. “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn [of the fourth beast] was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away…” (Dan. 7:12).

These beasts were usurpers. Like the serpent-beast in the garden, they tried to wrest authority over the creation away from man. It is true that the rule of the beasts was God-ordained. Babylon, for example, was the beast that God had sent to punish Judah. At the time of Jesus’ first advent, Israel was under Rome’s dominion due to her unfaithfulness. And in general, rule by beasts was the fitting punishment for man’s failure to worship the true God and obey His word. Nevertheless, this was an “unnatural state.” Apart from sin’s distorting effects, man should have been in charge of the beasts. So these beasts held an “unnatural” position born from a perversion of the creation order. Because of the sin of God’s people, this rebellion worked for a time. The beasts ruled as long as the people failed to live up to their assigned role (which is first of all to be worshippers of the true God and second to be His prime ministers for creation). But the new man would come and accomplish what the first man and subsequent men did not and could not accomplish.

I was watching in the night visions,
and behold, one like the son of man,
coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
and they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and His kingdom the one
which shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13, 14)

Psalm 8 describes man’s original role as one of dominion over creation, but sin would keep him from properly fulfilling this description. The beasts of the field took over for a time, but “one like the son of man” would set things right. As previously mentioned, the phrase “son of man” is used as a synonym for and emphasis of the humanness of man. According to Daniel’s vision, the true “son of man” would bring humanity back to its proper role.

Several centuries later, this second Adam arrived during the dominion of Rome, Daniel’s forth beast. Like the first Adam, this second Adam had an encounter with the serpent-beast (Matt. 4:1-11). But unlike the first Adam, the second was completely faithful both to God and to man's true role. Jesus did not abuse his authority and neither did He abdicate His responsibility. Instead, He fought off the attack of the serpent-beast in the wilderness. Since Adam got man kicked out of the garden, the new Adam had to start where man was – in a wilderness. Unlike Adam the empiricist, the new Adam began with full trust in God’s word. Because of this, He took dominion over the serpent-beast (e.g., binding the “strong man” – Matt. 12:22-29) and his underling-beasts (e.g., casting out demons) during His ministry and especially at the cross (cf. Col. 2:13-15). And instead of failing to protect His bride, He did the opposite. He died for His bride, the Church (Eph. 5:22-32), thus providing the perfect example of the kind of servant-leadership that Adam should have displayed for his bride. As a result,

[God] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:20-23)

Jesus humbly served God and man, and He thereby took dominion over creation (Phil. 2:5-11). As the true man, He also took upon Himself the consequences of Adam’s sin.

For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying:

“What is man that You are mindful of him,
or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
and set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:5-9 quoting Ps. 8:4-6)

The true son of man not only remained faithful where Adam had not, He also suffered death in order to rectify the mess made by Adam.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly... For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life…. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned… And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:6, 10, 12, 16-19)

Because of this sacrifice, Jesus was able to bring others with Him into the new creation. Through the resurrection, He became the firstfruits of a new humanity.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have died. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” (I Cor. 15:20-27)

There are three important Old Testament references in this passage. The first reference is to Genesis 3 and the failure of the first Adam. Death came because of the disobedience of the first man. The second reference is a quotation from Psalm 8 (“You have put all things under his feet”) describing the role that Adam should have fulfilled. The third reference is to Psalm 110 where the Messiah was to

Sit at My right hand [i.e., reign],
till I make Your enemies Your footstool. (Ps. 110:1)

The second Adam is therefore in the process of cleaning up the mess made by the first Adam. He received the status that His predecessor squandered and He will carry out the process by which all of creation will be subjected to His rule. He has a royal title to all things now, and the actual subjugation of the created order will progress through history until all parts and aspects of creation have been explicitly placed under His rule.

While it is certainly true that Jesus as God already had dominion and lordship over His creation, there is clearly a new aspect to His rule that is highlighted by the concept of Jesus as the firstfruits. The newness of the situation is precisely this. Jesus became man, and through faithfulness to God and true servant-leadership, a man has now accomplished what man was originally supposed to do. Thus, a faithful man has now received the status of lord that Adam lost, and He has begun the kingly process of taking dominion that fallen man always grasps for but always fails to obtain. And by this, He opened the way for a new humanity to join Him.

And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (I Cor. 15:45-49)

Jesus is the new Adam, and those in Him also constitute a new man and a new creation. He is the new man, and because He fulfills the role that man was always meant to fill, those who are in Him share in His role. Just as He began to set the created order aright by taking dominion over Daniel’s beasts and crushing the head of the serpent-beast (Gen. 3:15), so also His representatives were given authority over the beasts (Luke 10:17-19). In fact, Paul told the Roman Christians that “the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). Jesus’ authority and mission become their authority and mission. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:18, 19). This is the Church’s dominion mandate: spread the gospel of the kingdom of God to all the nations. Jesus has all authority, and His people therefore have a “legal title” as it were to all things (Rom. 8:32; I Cor. 3:21, 22). Jesus is “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2), and the sons of God are therefore “joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16, 17). They will, in fact, judge both the world and angels (I Cor. 6:1-3).

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