[407] Although vicarious atonement as the acquisition of salvation in its totality cannot therefore be expanded to include all persons individually, this is not to say that it has no significance for those who are lost. Between the church and the world there is, at this point, not just separation and contrast. It is not the case that Christ has acquired everything for the former and nothing for the latter. In rejecting universalism one may not forget that Christ’s merit has its limits even for the church and its value and meaning for the world. In the first place, it must be remembered, after all, that though Christ as such is indeed the Re-creator, he is not the Creator of all things. Just as the Son follows the Father, so re-creation presupposes creation, grace presupposes nature, and regeneration presupposes birth. Not included in Christ’s merits, strictly speaking, is the fact that the elect are born and live, that they receive food, shelter, clothing, and an assortment of natural benefits. One can say that God would no longer have allowed the world and humankind to exist had he not had another and higher purpose for it. Common grace is indeed subservient to special grace, and along with salvation God also grants the elect many other, natural, blessings (Matt. 6:33; Rom. 8:28, 32; 1 Tim. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:3). Still it is wrong, with the Herrnhuter and Pietists, to erase the boundaries between nature and grace, creation and redemption, and to put Christ in the Father’s place on the throne of the universe. Even election and the covenant of grace, presupposing as they do the objects of the one and the participants of the other, were not acquired by Christ but precede his merits. With his creation the Father lays the groundwork for the work of re-creation and leads toward it. With his work, on the other hand, the Son goes back deeply–as far as sin reaches–into the work of creation. Still the two works are distinct and In the second place, Christ did not, for each of his own, acquire the same thing.

There is diversity among believers before they come to the faith, difference in gender, age, class, rank, character, gifts, and so on, and also in the measure and degree of wickedness and corruption. And when they come to the faith, there is diversity in the grace given them. Grace is given to each according to the measure Christ has bestowed (Rom. l2:3; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 3:7; 4:7). The natural diversity among people, though cleansed by grace, is not erased. By the diversity of spiritual gifts, it is even increased, for the body of Christ consists of many members in order that it may be one organism, God’s own creation and masterpiece.

Third, though the church is not of the world it is nevertheless in it. It lives and moves squarely within that world and is connected with it in numerous different ways. Believers are brought in from the [whole] human race, and, conversely, there is much chaff among the wheat; there are branches on the vine that bear no fruit and must be eradicated. When Christ went to stand in the place of his own, therefore, he had to assume the flesh and blood that is common to all people. By his incarnation, he honored the whole human race; according to the flesh, he is the brother of all the members of the human family. And also his work has value for all, even for those who have not believed and will never believe in him. For though it is true that Christ did not, strictly speaking, acquire the natural life by his suffering and death, yet the human race was spared on account of the fact that Christ would come to save it. Christ is not the head of all human beings, not the prophet, priest, and king of everyone, for he is the head of the church and has been anointed king over Zion. Yet all human beings owe a great deal to Christ. The light shines in the darkness and illumines every person coming into the world. The world was made through him and remains so, though it did not recognize him. Also as the Christ, he gives to unbelievers many benefits: the call of the gospel, the warning to repent, historical faith, a virtuous life, a variety of gifts and powers, offices and ministries within the church, such as, for example, even the office of an apostle in the case of Judas. "Without Jesus Christ the world would not exist, for it would necessarily either be destroyed or be a hell" (Pascal). Even hanging from the cross, he still prays for forgiveness for the appalling sin being committed by the Jews at that very moment.

Fourth, Christ’s work even extends to the world of irrational creatures. One cannot, with Origen, say that Christ suffered somewhat for them and merited something for them. But when Christ was made to be sin and bore the sin of the world, he also nullified sin with all its consequences. The liberation of the created world from the bondage of decay, the glorification of creation, the renewal of heaven and earth-all this is the fruit of the cross of Christ (Rom. 8: 19f£).

Fifth, also the angels in heaven derive profit and advantage from the work of Christ. There is not sufficient ground for the assertion that Christ won for them perseverance and glory, though many theologians, appealing to Job 4: 18; 15:15; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 5:21; Hebrews 12:22-23, taught as much. Angels, of course, do not need Christ for themselves as Reconciler and Savior; they are essentially different from humans, who alone are made in the image of God. If Christ would have had to acquire "grace" and "glory" for them, this would lead one to think that the Son of God would have had to assume a human nature or, better, an angelic nature even if humanity had not fallen. Still, simply to deny that Christ merited something for the angels does less than justice to Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20. It is clearly stated, after all, that God reconciled all things (τα παντα), that is, not only people or angels, but all created things, the whole creation, the world, the universe, more fully described as "all things either on earth or in heaven," that God reconciled that whole creation by Christ, not to itself, but to himself, bringing all things together and into unity in him. The doctrine of the restitution of all things is not supported in these texts. It is repudiated throughout Scripture and has only now and then found defenders in the Christian church. If this doctrine is ruled out, then these two texts can only be understood to mean that, according to Paul’s understanding, the demons and the wicked will someday be sent to hell and that the whole creation will be restored in the new heaven and the new earth with its inhabitants. Now this creation as a whole, conceived organically, was brought by sin into a position of hostility against God and internally torn apart and devastated. Implied here is not that the good angels, personally and individually, needed reconciliation, nor that Christ had to suffer and die for irrational creatures. Basic to these passages, however, is the premise that sin modified and disturbed the relation of all creatures to God and to one another.

And that, as we know, is indeed the case. Sin has made the human world into an object of God’s wrath and divided and destroyed it internally. The relation of the angels to God was changed, not only inasmuch as many of them became apostate but also because the good angels formed only a part of the entire number of spirits who had served God. Augustine and others were of the opinion that this breach struck in the world of angels was healed by the elect of the human race, and that this constituted the meaning of Christ’s atonement for humankind. This view is not acceptable. Humans are generically distinct from angels, and there is no ground in Scripture for equating the number of the elect with that of the fallen angels. Still, it is true that the fall of so many angels must have profoundly disturbed the organism of the angelic world. As an army is totally thrown into disarray and rendered incapable of fighting when many officers and men leave the ranks and join the enemy, so also the world of angels as an army of God was shattered and made useless for the service of God. It lost its head, its organization. And now it gets this back in the person of the Son, and the Son not only according to his divine nature but also according to his human nature. For not merely the relation to God but also that to the human world was disturbed by sin. It is Christ, therefore, who as Lord oft he angels and as head of the church puts both angels and humans in the right relation to God and so to each other. By his cross he restored the organism of creation, both in heaven and on earth, and these two also again in conjunction. The inanimate and irrational components of creation, in other words, heaven and earth itself, are not excluded from this process. This is already Simply impossible inasmuch as the relation of the angels to heaven and that of humans to the earth, so far from being mechanical, is organic. With the fall of angels and humans, heaven and earth themselves sank to a level beneath their original state. The whole creation has been groaning and is experiencing the pains of childbirth. "The whole creation as it were collectively produces a colossal symphony of sighs" (Philippi). All the members of that creation groan and experience pain, collectively, in relation to one another (Rom. 8:22). Accordingly, as in the old covenant, the tabernacle and all its liturgical implements were sprinkled with blood (Exod. 24:3-8; Heb. 9:21), so Christ by his cross reconciled all things and acquired a new heaven and a new earth. The whole creation as one day it will stand perfect-without spot or wrinkle-in God’s presence is the work of Christ, the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Heb. 12:22-28).

[408] Now if this is the grand project assigned by the Father to Christ, namely, to be a Savior in the full sense of the word and to carry out the entire work of re-creation, one immediately senses that to this end the state of exaltation is as necessary as the state of humiliation. It must be a poor idea of Christ’s person and work that is held by those who believe they can abandon the resurrection, the ascension, and the seating at the right hand of God without injury to faith and life and are content with the historical image of Jesus, which, like that of other great men, lives on and exerts influence in history. On the other hand, it is understandable that those who view Jesus as no more than a particularly pious person and his work as nothing other than a religious-ethical reformation consider the entire state of exaltation worthless for the Christian life and deny and oppose the facts of the resurrection and ascension. Scripture, however, proceeds from a very different idea. It is the crucified but also the resurrected and exalted Christ whom the apostles proclaim. From that vantage point of the exaltation of Christ, they view and describe his earthly life, suffering, and death. For the work he now carries out as the exalted mediator, he laid the foundations in his cross. In his battle with sin, the world, and Satan, the cross has been his only weapon. By the cross he triumphed in the sphere of justice over all powers that are hostile to God. But in the state of exaltation, consequently, he has also been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given him, and to perfect the entire kingdom of God. On the basis of the one, perfect sacrifice made on the cross, he now–in keeping with the will of the Father–distributes all his benefits. Those benefits are not the physical or magical after effect of his earthly life and death; the history of the kingdom of God is not an evolutionistic process. It is the living and exalted Christ, seated at the right hand of God, who deliberately and with authority distributes all these benefits, gathers his elect, overcomes his enemies, and directs the history of the world toward the day of his parousia. He is still consistently at work in heaven as the mediator. He not only was but still is our chief prophet, our only high priest, and our eternal king. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

There is, of course, an enormous difference between the work Christ did in his humiliation and what he accomplishes in his exaltation. Just as after the resurrection, his person appeared in another form, so also his work assumed another form. He is now no longer a servant but Lord and Ruler, and his work is now no longer a sacrifice of obedience, but the conduct of royal dominion until he has gathered all his own and put all his enemies under his feet. Nevertheless, his mediatorial work is continued in heaven. Christ did not ascend to heaven in order to enjoy a quiet vacation at the right hand of God, for, like the Father, he always works (John 5:17). He went to heaven to prepare a place for his own there and to fill them here on earth with the fullness that he acquired by his perfect obedience. What he received as a reward for his labor for himself and what he received for his own cannot be separated. He is all and in all (Col. 3:11). The pleroma (fullness) that dwells in Christ must also dwell in the church. It is being filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19; Col. 2:2, 10). It is God whose fullness fills Christ (Col. 1:19), and it is Christ whose fullness in turn fills the church (Eph. l :23). The church can therefore be described as his pleroma, that which he perfects and gradually, from within himself, fills with himself (Eph. 4: 10), and is therefore itself being filled by degrees. As the church does not exist apart from Christ, so Christ does not exist without the church. He is "the head over all things" (Eph. 1 :22; Col. 1: 18), and the church is the body (σωμα) formed from him and from him receives its growth (Eph. 4:1 6; Col. 2:1 9), thus growing to maturity "to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4: 13). The union between Christ and the church is as close as that between the vine and the branches, between bridegroom and bride, husband and wife, cornerstone and building. Together with him it can be called the one Christ (1 Cor: 12:12). It is to perfect the church that he is exalted to the Father’s right hand. Just as through his suffering and death Christ was exalted in his resurrection and ascension to be head of the church, so now the church has to be formed into the body of Christ. The work of the Mediator is one grand, mighty, divine work that began in eternity and will only be completed in eternity. But in the moment of the resurrection, it was divided into two parts. Then it was suffering; now it is entering into glory. T hen it was a descent to the nethermost parts of the earth; now it is an ascent on high. But the two are equally necessary to the work of salvation. In both states it is the same Christ, the same Mediator, the same Prophet, Priest, and King.

Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Backer Academic, 2004), 3:470-475. [Footnotes not included; italics original; and underlining mine.]

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