For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ESV
When Christians speak of being a new creation they often understand it in terms of their past being erased or their sins being forgiven. Some go so far as to say that it means we have now become new supermen. What Paul was talking about was his relationship with the Corinthians and what drives his ministry to them. As much as Jesus’ death was for everyone so was his resurrection for every human being. This meant how Paul evaluated human life and purpose had been radically changed by the love the Messiah exhibited both in his death and resurrection. He had to think of the Messiah in a new paradigm. Those who live for the Christ had to be understood in an entirely new framework of existence. Here Paul looked to the Scriptures and realised that what had happened was the new creation that the prophets had spoken of. In fact, the famous verse 17 alludes to Isaiah 43:18-19. This goes to show new creation language is not new or only peculiar to Paul. This affords us the opportunity to properly learn what the Bible means by a new creation. Isaiah 43 deals with the restoration of Israel. What is interesting is that Paul has had to re-evaluate the Scriptures because of the Messiah’s resurrection in terms of an entirely new creation and not just the redemption of Israel. Before we can further examine the role of Christ and the nature of the new order we have to first assume an old creation.
Genesis as a book of origins is very important in understanding the biblical worldview. It does not only chronicle the ordering of the cosmos. It tells us the origins of our present condition and introduces the chief actors in the biblical metanarrative. An often overlooked account in the first book of Moses is the origin of nations, particularly Jews and Gentiles. The Genesis account is filled with many such binaries. For example the heavens and the earth, night and day, sea and dry land, God himself and man, male and female, good and evil, husband and wife, life and death.
When John in his Apocalypse described seeing the New Heavens and Earth it was recognizable yet somehow different. As Paul hinted in 2 Corinthians 5 the resurrection is the inauguration of the new creation. All the gospel accounts of the resurrection differ in some respects. Jesus was familiar yet he was very different. He was the same but the reality of his being had been profoundly altered. The great mystery of the Bible is that it teases a mysterious, entirely new reality.
Since the new creation is recognizable it does not mean God is throwing away the old world but he is rather re-creating it. God declared through his prophet Isaiah that he is doing a new thing. God is at work reconstructing reality itself. The binaries that characterized the old creation are being redefined in a new and exciting ways. In the new creation there are basically three things that happen to the co-existing counter parts in created space. Either there is merger, abolition or destruction (M.A.D.) Merger is the union of two binaries two former a new reality. Abolition is where one part of the pair is rendered obsolete so it is absent from the new creation. Destruction is one half of the binary is completely discarded from the new creation. In these three scenarios at least one part of the binary continues. To help understand these redefinitions we need to look at man.
Mankind is the pinnacle of the old creation summing up the praises of God as his image bearer. In fact, the created order is for mankind since God does not need anything at all. This means the purpose of man and the creation are inextricably linked. If the nature and purpose of humans is altered then it means the creation itself has to conform. When Adam failed in his God-given purpose there were cosmic repercussions. Paul says the whole creation was subject to futility but not willingly (Romans 8:20.) Where the old genesis climaxed with man, the new genesis begins with him. Since a change in the creation requires a change in humanity, the new creation is launched by a fundamental change in humanity i.e. the resurrection of the Son of God.
The resurrected Messiah was a new kind of humanity. Paul explores this new man in Ephesians 2. Remember one of the fundamental binaries of Genesis was Jew and Gentile. Israel was the people of God to the exclusion of everyone else. Jesus’ death and resurrection took away that distinction which was entrenched in the Law of Moses. Paul reckons that because of the Messiah both groups could come as they are and be collectively known as the people of God. This new all-inclusive community he called the Church.
If I understand the New Testament correctly it is Jesus himself who pioneered the concept of the Church. The term had been used before in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was very popular at the time, to refer to the congregation or assembly of Israel. Jesus took the term and applied it in a different sense which was centred on him.
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17-19 ESV
I believe Jesus’ worldview consisted of the Kingdom of God. The centre piece of this divine kingdom project was the Church. By appropriating scriptural language concerning Israel for himself he basically was saying that he superseded Israel. He is greater than David, Moses and even Abraham himself. In my post the Jewish Bible I explained that Abraham is seen as the successor to Adam. Jesus therefore saw himself as even greater than Adam. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 describes him in Adamic terms. He then can be seen as the archetype of the new race of humanity called the Church. The Church is the group of people that participate in the humanity of Jesus.
The baptism of John is crucial to understanding the humanity of Jesus, even more so than the nativity accounts. It is at the Jordan where he is publically displayed as the human in whom God has taken residence in the Spirit. John declared to Israel that Jesus was the one who baptised in the Spirit. Since God lived in him, Jesus baptizing you in the Spirit, that is, allowing you to participate in God by the Spirit, meant you shared in his humanity. You too became a living temple of God with Jesus. Paul describes the Church in 1 Corinthians 12 as the people who are members of the body of Christ by sharing in his Spirit. The very Spirit that makes him divine makes him truly human.
The humanity of Jesus is that he is the dwelling place of YHWH, God literally appearing in the flesh, the true imago Dei in the fullest possible sense (John 1:14; Colossians 1:15, 19; 1 Timothy 3:16.) Adam was the first son of God in the Scriptures but he failed (Luke 3:38.) His mission was carried on through Abraham to Israel and then to David, since the king represents his kingdom. The Messiah, the heir of David, was to fulfil the divine mandate to have dominion over the earth.
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! … May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! – Psalm 72:1, 8 ESV
When Jesus was raised from the dead he said all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18.) A new creation in Christ means everything in God’s created order, both things in heaven and on earth, being subject to the sovereign authority of the risen Lord. Being in Christ means being under his complete authority.
The resurrection of Jesus causes us to rethink what it means to be human. The sequence of our lives no longer ends in death but rather continues through the resurrection. Now the significance of our lives definitely extends beyond the grave. What the Gospel teaches us is if death is the common experience of all humans, a single human being raised never to die again, means bodily resurrection is the common fate of all humanity (Acts 17:30-31.) Those who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus over their lives have to be appraised in terms of the new order. The Church is the new race of people who participate in the humanity of the Christ by having the same Spirit that dwells in Jesus, and raised him up, residing in them too (1 Peter 2:9-10.) Those who live for the Lord are the first samples of this mysterious new creation and they have a guarantee in the Spirit of God a resurrection like Jesus’ (Romans 8:10, 23.) This is what it means to be a new creature in Christ.