For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
"Experiencing Church" Now...
As It Was In The Beginning
By Rodrigo Abarca
An Eternal Purpose
When opening our Bible to the first chapter of Genesis, we find an account of Creation where God appears as the main character and man appears as the final result of God's creative work. In the first moment, comets, oceans, continents, woodlands, prairies and animals surge at the simple command of God's voice. However, almost at the end of His creative work, the action experiences an important turn of events. At that precise moment, God turns His words upon Himself and in the intimate council of Deity, way before all time and place, finally gives expression to the motive by which He wanted to create all things, which is also His eternal purpose: "Let us make man to our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). In this mysterious phrase is enclosed all the secret of the visible Creation (1).
Until now, all has been created by the sole mediation of His Word, but what was about to happen was going to involve God in His totality: Father, Son and Holy Spirit will participate equally in this task, which will also be His masterpiece. You could say that everything else was an introduction, a preamble to what was about to come.
From there we pick up the expression "let us" which shows us how the fullness of the Divine Being is engaged in this task and gives us an insight into how important is what is about to begin.
The meaning of the image
Traditionally Christian Theology has interpreted the image of God as those qualities that make man a free being, rational, self conscious and capable of having fellowship with God. So Adam, the first man, must have expressed the image of God from the moment of his creation. For a brief time however, because very soon it would be damaged by sin.
In this perspective, each person that is born in this world carries within a trace of that original image, although diminished and impoverished because of the sin that lives within that person. Salvation, therefore, would allow that likeness to be restored in those that receive it.
However, although partially true, such interpretation fails to show the more ample sense of the Divine Plan. Way back, in the timeless halls of eternity past, God conceived a vast and profound purpose, born in His love: to create for Himself a Race of Beings that would participate in His very own uncreated life and carry with them His Divine Image in the created world.
The apostle Paul expressed it in this way: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His Will" (Ephesians 1:4-5). And also, "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
This is the synthesis of His purpose, defined by three main matters: Firstly, as it has been said, His is a purpose of eternal love, preceding the foundation of the world. Secondly, such purpose does not refer to mere individuals, but to a far more ample and articulate reality, which is, a family of many children. Thirdly, and most important, that all would be brought to be by and for His Son, Jesus Christ. In which way? Giving Himself through the Son, and thus expanding His Life to a race of created clay beings to elevate them from their condition of small creatures of clay to the stature of beloved sons, capable of knowing Him and, at the same time, to express Him in all the visible orb. In summary, children that carry with them the image of their Father, God Himself.
What glory is gathered here! Because not even the angels, which are so much greater in strength and power, were chosen for such a lofty goal (1 Peter 1:12). "God created man in His image" is what we read in Genesis without any further explanation on the matter. The New Testament, however, reveals to us that the image of God is Jesus Christ and with that it shows us the goal of Father God:
"Who is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).
"Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person" (Hebrews 1:3).
"Christ, Who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4b).
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (John 1:18).
"He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
In the above texts at least two important facts are presented to us: the first is that God Himself is invisible; the second, that Jesus Christ has made Him visible.
In biblical language invisible means unknown, hidden, and inaccessible. God declared to Moses that no man could see His face and continue living (Exodus 33:20). His image or visible aspect was inaccessible to men and this matter, more than any other, expressed our true condition before Him. Why? Because, as we have seen, God created man to express His image on the earth.
Let us explore this point in greater depth. According to Colossians, Christ is the image of the invisible God. Here "the image" seems to be like something opposite to what is invisible, which is equivalent to saying that Jesus Christ in His incarnation is the visible expression of the invisible God. This same idea is present in the previously quoted passage of John, where we are told that the Son has made God known, Who nobody since the beginning, had ever seen.
From that statement we understand that from Adam until the Lord's incarnation, the true identity of God was kept hidden to all men, which the immense tragedy of the entire human race in stark evidence, created to express an image that it would never come to know.
However, with the coming of Christ, that identity finally came to be revealed, because He is the full and definitive revelation of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:1-4). And with that, His eternal purpose was finally manifested because Christ is that image to which man was to be conformed at the beginning.
All of the above permits us to assume that in Genesis, when we are told that God created man in His image, He is referring more to a project fulfilled in the Divinity, where God's "works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Hebrews 4:3b). And that happened before any work could have been finished in the realm of human time and human history, because the happenings that followed show us how man totally deviated from that high objective.
This latter statement can be clearly appreciated from the beginning of chapter two of the afore-mentioned book. Whereas in the first chapter the creation of man appears as a finished act: "so God created man in His own image" where the verb created appears in the past tense; in the following chapter the record seems to begin again. This difference of focus is due to the fact that in the first chapter He shows us the history of man from the perspective of the eternal purpose of God, where the Fall and sin have no place, until the culmination of the seventh day, when God rests from all His work. The second chapter, meanwhile, shows us history just as it really happened, including sin and man's disobedience.
In this way, we find that, in the concrete development of history, God takes the red clay of earth with his hands and like a patient, expert potter, gives Himself to the task of molding the vessel of His purposes. Who could express the love with which He gave Himself to this work? Psalm 139 and a passage of the book of Job remind us a little of this. Adam, was knit with bones and nerves deep in the earth, curdled like milk, brought forth like a cheese. The vivid language of Scripture seeks, precisely, to emphasize the intimate and personal character of the creation of the first man.
When at last Adam was finished, God came close up to the face of the clay statue of the first man and breathed His Divine breath into its nostrils. In that precise instant, life came in, every fiber in that body shook, subjugating it to a higher principle that unified its existence. Adam opened his eyes and stood before God, scared and happy at the same time; a fragile and beautiful vessel, destined for a glorious, although yet unknown purpose. Adam's body, mind, will and emotions remained awake and vigilant under the direction of his spirit. He was self conscious, and even much more, he was conscious of the presence of His Creator.
Nevertheless, in spite of all his magnificent gifts, he still did not possess the image of God. He was merely a clay vessel, void of content. The work of God was still incomplete, because His Son was not yet revealed.
To achieve that, God immediately planted a garden and placed His new creature there, caused him to fall into a profound sleep and out of Adam's flesh He formed a woman, co-equal to him in call and purpose, so that she would be his adequate helper (Genesis 1:27). Now the man, Adam and Eve, were ready to accede to the Divine purpose.
To that end, God had planted the tree of life in the middle of the garden. This tree represented Christ, ordained to be the center of the human life (John tells us that the Word was the life destined to be the light of men (John 1:4). If Adam and Eve would eat of its fruit, then that eternal and uncreated life that was with God from the beginning, would come to abide in them and their descendants for ever, converting them in true children of God. And in that way, Christ would become the head and the life of a heavenly race, created to begin with Adam and his descendants. Through that life, this race would carry with them the image of God. Only then would the work of God be finished.
The intromission of sin
That was what should have happened; however, that was not what actually occurred. We know that old story too well.
There was another tree in the garden and very near there, a serpent was stalking. God had expressly forbidden to eat of the fruit of that particular tree. Why was that? Well, because that was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and represented the terrible possibility of existing away from God and His Will, separated from His eternal desire.
Moreover, it was there to reveal a profound truth: God desires children that are like Him, and that is, capable of loving with the love with which He loves. That is why He granted them the gift of being identities different to Himself. His children were not to be mere extensions of His personality; programmed robots that would move without a will of their own. Very much on the contrary, they would have their own being and their own will.
Nevertheless, His gift had a condition, even more, a demand necessary to God's own nature. God's gift could only subsist while it was surrendered to the Divine life and will. Otherwise, the gift would be lost. That is the basic condition of every creature. It can only exist if it stays united to its original source. In man, such a union had to be expressed in the most elevated way, like God Himself: a perfect love union, because He wanted Adam to willingly participate of God's very Divine life. That is why the other tree and its prohibition were there: "thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17).
The warning was clear, direct and simple. But, a very long time before, in regions inaccessible to Adam and his wife, another being had faced a similar prohibition and had chosen the way of rebellion, only to discover that where God is absent there only remains a vacuum and despair. Once he had been a great angel, beautiful and wise. But in a vain intent of being his own owner and coveting to usurp God Himself in His most high throne, he fell into an unfathomable depth of eternal death and perdition, dragging along with himself many of his fellow angels. Now, any trace of beauty, goodness and truth are gone forever from him. Inside him now only remain, churning restlessly, an infinite perversity and hatred against His Maker, Who once had been the very source of all his wisdom and beauty. But that darkened being, blind to everything that is not himself, has chosen to place himself out of reach of Divine mercy. And there he is trying to hurt, kill and destroy the work of God.
But, for the moment, it is not necessary to talk any further about him. The world is young and does not yet have a name in the language of men. He is only a serpent that whispers soft words into the ear of the first woman: "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1).
Herein you have the beginning of every temptation, and, also, the deepest root of sin: the serpent installs in the heart of Eve a doubt about God and His true motives, which means, a mortal distrust. His strategy consists in disfiguring God in human imagination, presenting God as an arbitrary antagonist, in whom one cannot trust, much less obey,
But the woman replies that those were not the words of God, since His commandment was that they should not exclusively eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that is in the middle of the garden, nor touch it. A good answer... but, one moment, please. Was that exactly what God had said? Isn't there something added on in her reply? Certainly so. Eve has added two foreign elements: the first, the location of the tree; the second, the prohibition of touching it.
An attentive reading of the record of Scripture, finds that in the middle of the Garden was the tree of life, but regarding the location of the other tree nothing is said (Genesis 2:9). However, the words of the serpent have begun to hit the target, because the conscience of the woman has suffered a strange distortion. Slowly, the forbidden tree has become the center of her attention. And the second element added by the woman strengthens this picture even more: "neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die". This last statement had not come out of the mouth of God, but Eve was beginning to see things from the satanic perspective: God is here to impede and to forbid, and now His Divine figure looms as an immense obstacle between her and her desires.
The serpent sees its opportunity and applies its final blow: "Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).
The dart has been thrown to penetrate the very depth of her heart. It seemed to her that God had lied. He only wants to block them (she reasoned) from obtaining for themselves the same kind of life, position, and liberty that He has. But, if they eat that fruit, they will be the same as He, they will become their own gods, owners of their own destiny. They will have power to shape their lives to their own liking and they will never need anyone to tell them what they ought to do (this is the terrible offer of sin and its deception).
Eve, therefore, ate of the fruit and then gave it to her husband to eat also. Nevertheless, even then the damage could have been avoided, but Adam willfully opted to eat that fruit and thus, precipitated the tragedy. The serpent had won the first battle and now man with all his descendants belonged to it. They had become slaves of sin and therefore the serpent, far superior in strength and ability, could dominate them according to its will.
That was the real motive that its deceiving words were hiding. Certainly, God would not any more govern the life of man and His place would be usurped by Satan. The empire of death had begun and no human could now predict the day he would die.
After this, in all probability the serpent sat in its recently inaugurated throne of darkness and thought that its victory was final. Man, was now a captive of sin, was guilty of death, and His Creator would never break the law that He Himself had established. However, thanks to God, the serpent had never been so mistaken.
An unnecessary accident
It has been pointed out before that the Divine purpose regarding man precedes creation itself ("He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). The serpent, therefore, had completely erred in its calculations. It's plan was to place an unsurpassable chasm between God and men, introducing its own seed of rebellion and sin into them, thus converting them into enemies of their own Creator. However, God in His wisdom had already foreseen that possibility and His love had prepared a way to escape.
Nevertheless, we need to understand the meaning of that escape route well. It was not part of His original purpose expressed in Genesis chapter one, because man was not created for sin.
In this sense, the Fall has to be considered as an unnecessary accident, a destructive lesion that salvation comes to repair. However, if you ask what is the purpose of God, many Christians quickly respond: the salvation of man. In the same way and from that same perspective, the work of God in this age would basically consist in rescuing the lost. For these children of God, salvation has become the central matter of their Christian experience. But, although no doubt it does have an incalculable value to our eyes, all things considered, it is not the most important thing. Salvation satisfies a need of man, but, as we have seen before, man Himself was created to satisfy a "need" of God, that will only become satisfied when He obtains a man made to His image and likeness.
Sin had opened a lengthy parenthesis in the development of the Divine plan, but was not able to impede its fulfillment, because God provided a perfect work of repair that completely destroyed sin and all its results on the fallen human race.
In the Scriptural perspective, salvation is seen as a recovery of what was lost, a finding of what was misplaced, a return to the right path to what had deviated from the normal course. The loss should never have happened; but, since it did, restoration became necessary. And in this same sense, the work of salvation has as its end rescuing us and returning us to God's original plan, bringing us back to our eternal vocation.
When Adam chose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he chose in the same act to develop a life that was independent of God as well as detached from God's purpose for man. The serpent persuaded him to take the destiny of his own life into his own hands, without consulting anyone else but himself. In that way Adam became free to decide all by himself between good and evil, without any regard to what God established about the matter.
The root and the nucleus of sin is found in this fundamental attitude: an obstinate arrogance that seeks to live an existence separate from God.
But such a choice brought death upon Adam, a definitive manifestation of the magnitude of his deception and his lost state since there cannot be any true life where God has been excluded. In abandoning God, man also separated himself from the source of his life to become, from that point on, a mere shadow of what he could have been; an unfinished project in constant danger of becoming eternally lost. All his moral and intellectual faculties are now a mere rough outline, not the real picture of what he should have been. Or, as the apostle Paul says to us, a simple clay vessel, although destined to receive a priceless treasure. All his glory is that treasure within. But if he loses it, then the vessel is useless.
That is why the salvation that God has given us through the faith in Jesus Christ is so great, because only He could close the immense chasm that our sin opened between us and His glory.
However, for the first couple all this still remains a mystery. Only the words spoken to the serpent allow us to see hope. In a distant future, the seed that would put an end to Satan's kingdom of darkness and death would come from the woman (Genesis 3:15). The seed of the woman? Yes, indeed, and from that moment all of God's dealings with man will progressively bring him to that seed.
But who or what is that seed? The answer to that question brings us unequivocally to the heart of the Divine purpose. To reach it, we have to approach the very edge of that unfathomable chasm that is God's Will, and there, in the very center of everything, we shall find what we seek to understand.
The mystery of His Will
The apostle Paul declares in his letter to the Ephesians that now, in the economy of the fulfillment of times, God has granted to us to know the mystery of His Will (Ephesians 1:9). At the beginning of the epistle, Paul briefly reveals to us what His eternal purpose for man consists of, and then he continues explaining the central theme of all His work: that such a purpose has as its grand finale: "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in One all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him" (Ephesians 1:10).
That is, that Christ would be the beginning and the end of everything that has been created. He is the absolute pivotal point that unites and gathers under His command the sum total of things visible and invisible. He is the final summit that recapitulates in Himself the totality of the Divine work.
This is the magnificent outline of His eternal will and nothing can be superior to that grand purpose. From eternity to eternity this is the central motive that rules and subordinates all Divine acts.
Because God has purposed to gather the totality of all created things under the command of Christ: from atoms to cherubim; from daisies to galaxies, from amoebas to elephants. All forms of animal and vegetal life, from the smallest to the greatest, and even all the powers of darkness will be submitted by the Father to be under the authority of His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord. Finally everything will be full of Christ, according to the supreme objective by which He created all things.
Christ is the One who God has established as the beginning and the end of all His work in the history of creation. The apostle John tells us that "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3), whereas Paul affirms: "For by Him were all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him" (Colossians 1:16).
Nevertheless, it is well to ask ourselves; how will God make everything have Christ as its center and supreme goal? The answer to that fundamental question is found in His purpose for man and we can summarize it in this way: God's eternal will is that His Son would obtain the preeminent place that He has granted to Him, to be the Head of His Body which is the Church, just as the apostle Paul tells us: "And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23); and also: "And He is the Head of the Body, the Church... that in all things He might have the preeminence" Colossians 1:18.
Both texts emphatically demonstrate what we just stated, which is, that the Divine objective of giving Christ the absolute preeminence over all things will be accomplished through the Church.
And at this point a new question pops up; what is that which we call church? We have met it previously although it did not yet have a name: Church is that Man destined to express from within the image of God as Genesis told us about. Church is also that heavenly race that God decided to obtain from eternity past, so that His Son would come to be the center and head of all created things. The man of Genesis chapter one should not be considered, then, as an individual, but as a corporate man that has Christ as its Head (Ephesians 2:15-16).
The church exists by Christ and for Christ. She is His Bride and Wife, created to be converted into His able helper, and thus to fulfill the objective of Father God, as flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone (Ephesians 5:29-32).
Taken out of Christ, like Eve was taken out of Adam (Genesis 1:21-24), the church is Christ Himself, although expressed in a different way, since in the mystery of the will of God she was conceived to be His perfect counterpart. A woman that, as Eve in the side of Adam, remained hidden since eternity past in the depth of God in Christ, waiting to be manifested in the fullness of times. Because, as Jesus Christ is the perfect expression of Father God, likewise the church is the perfect expression of Christ.
Can we now understand how preeminent and central the Lord Jesus Christ is in the work of God? And, for the same reason, how important the Church is in the eyes of God? When God's Spirit opens our eyes to see this essential fact, we shall begin to understand how superficial and useless all the efforts we perform in any other sense are, because only that which is related to His eternal will in Jesus Christ has any value before God. Nothing that is less than that could ever please His heart.
Only in this context is it possible to understand the words of the Lord Jesus: "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). Beyond the redemption effected on the cross, whose end was to recover what was lost, Jesus Christ came to fulfill a mission, the roots of which are deeply rooted in eternity past. His life, death and resurrection not only had as their end to obtain our salvation (so precious to our eyes) but also constitute and give life -His own life- to that glorious reality that contains it and expresses it in fullness: the church which is His Body: "and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).
For this reason, it is possible to state with all certainty that nothing can express the fullness of Christ on this earth (His power, character, will and authority) except the Church which is His Body and His betrothed. And this fundamental fact forces us to consider the nature of this heavenly bride in depth, as well as her practical expression on earth. So as to do that, it is necessary to begin with what is most basic and essential.
(1) Truly, as can be seen in the latter part of this chapter, the last purpose of God has Jesus Christ as its center, for whom all things were created. In this book it is assumed that "the man" to which the first chapter of Genesis is referring is absolutely not a particular individual, but a new corporate man, by which we mean Christ and the church. In the mind of God, "Let us make man in our image" refers to the decisive act of giving His Son a wife, to be His perfect expression in the invisible and visible orb, the supreme goal of all the divine creation.
1 An Eternal Purpose
2 Divine Life Before Time
3 The Work of the Holy Spirit
4. Who is Sufficient?
5 The Foundation of the Apostles
6 The Meaning of Ekklesia
7 The Community of the Kingdom
8 A Chapter on What is Most Essential
Translated from Spanish into English by Fred Malir