K:JNWTS 31/2 (December 2016): 21-29

The Babe in the Manger Anticipates Resurrection Life

Luke 1:46-55, 67-79

Scott F. Sanborn

When we celebrate the birth of Christ, do we only celebrate his incarnation or do we also celebrate his death and resurrection? In considering this question, we need to consider the redemptive historical and cosmic significance of Christís conception. The incarnation of the person of the Son of God brought the coming of the kingdom. At the same time, we might note that God had always brought new things in redemptive history through greater acts of redemption. Here we think of the exodus preceding both the giving of the law and the tabernacle and the conquest of Canaan preceding the blessed possession of the land. Thus, we might ask, what aspects of Christís work are revealed in the kingdom brought with his incarnation? Did the kingdomóbrought to the shepherds that first nightódepend only on his work of incarnation alone, or did it also depend on his future death and resurrection?

This question is raised for us when we contemplate Luke 1:46-55 and 67-79. Each of these texts teach that Christís conception brought redemption. The coming of the kingdom follows the pattern of Godís previous acts of redemption. God has performed a new act of redemption that brings the kingdom with Christís conception. Indeed, Mary magnified the Lord, saying that God had already ďdone mighty deedsĒ of mercy through the conception of Christ (1:51, 49-54). Her claim, that God has ďbrought down rulers . . . and has exalted the humbleĒ (1:52), suggests that the kingdom has come, for it reflects a theme in 1 Samuel announcing the coming of the kingdom (1 Sam. 2:7-8). Mary concludes, noting that this was in fulfillment of the promises to Abraham (1:55). This brings us to Zacharias, who prophesied, indicating that God had already begun to fulfill his promises to Abraham (1:73). ďHe has visited us and accomplished redemption for his peopleĒ (1:68). In other words, while Zachariasís prophecy (1:67-79) looks to the future, it also shows us that God has already brought salvation through the virginís conception. The kingdom came in Christís conception because Christ came with his redemptive reward.

And Christís redemptive reward cannot be conceived apart from his death and resurrection. Why is this the case? Some might claim that the obedience of the unborn Jesus and his sufferings in the womb were sufficient to bring the redemption that brought the kingdom. However this is highly improbable. Admittedly, we must affirm that Christ was not conceived in sin. Also, the fact that John the Baptist leaped in his motherís womb (Lk. 1:44) may indicate that the unborn are in a position to positively engage in the worship of God. Thus, we might say that the unborn Jesus kept the law to the extent that it was possible for him to do so in that environment. And he also suffered for us in the womb.

Nevertheless, as an unborn, he was not in a position to redeem infants, children, and adults; for he was not in an environment where he could obey the law to the extent required of infants, children and adults. Neither had he developed to the point where he could do this. In order to keep the law for us all, it was necessary for him to be ďtempted in all things as weĒ (Heb. 4:15). Apart from this we could not have confidence to receive his mercy (Heb. 4:16). As Irenaeus said, Christ had to be an infant to redeem infants, a child to redeem children, and an adult to redeem adults. Apart from his positive obedience to the law for all his seed, Christ could not bring the eschatological reward that Adam failed to attain.

Christ also had to bear the wrath of God for the unborn, infants, children, and adults. Thus it was appropriate for him to live through each of these states. And it was also appropriate for him to suffer death at the point when most people are held most accountableói.e., in adulthood, because God pours out his wrath most fully on those who reject the greatest light. Assuming that the same light is given to a child and an adult, the adult (with greater capacities of apprehension) receives the greatest wrath for rejecting it. In order to die for us all, Christ (in reference to his human nature) had to bear the wrath of God to the greatest degree possible for any human being to receive it. Thus it was appropriate for Christ to die on the cross when he was an adult in his full capacities. In this way, he could bear Godís wrath for allóthe unborn, infants, children, and adults.

When Zacharias praises God for bringing redemption, he praises God that he has brought redemption for himself (an adult) and for all Godís people. Thus, he suggests that Christís incarnation has brought a redemption that could only come with Christís adult obedience, death and resurrection. In this way, Zachariasís praise suggests that when Christ came, he brought the redemptive fruits of his future life, death, and resurrection.†

Was Each of Christís Individual Acts Infinitely Sufficient for Salvation?

Again, it might be thought that since Christ was God, any suffering he underwent possessed infinite value, even in the womb or in infancy. However, if it is held that the infant Jesusí sufferings were alone sufficient extensively and intensively to satisfy Godís infinite wrath for sinners, there was no necessity of Christís death and separation from the face of his Father for our salvation. Yet the Scriptures teach that there was such a necessity. Not that God had to love and save us in the first placeóhe could have left us in our sins. However, having freely loved us, Godís saving love for sinnerís compelled him to sacrifice his son on the cross (Jn. 3:16-17). This implies that there was no other way for us to be saved. If there had been, Godís love would not have necessitated so great a sacrifice. On the contrary, if any suffering the infant Jesus underwent possessed sufficient infinite value all by itself, it would have been possible for God to take this cup of death from his Son (Mk. 14:35-36) even before he died. God would have rescued Christ from death even before his resurrectionówhen in fact his prayers were answered (Heb. 5:7-10). But Christís death was necessary for our salvation. Therefore, the sufferings of Christ in his infancy were not sufficient for our redemption apart from their connection to the whole of his full adult life, death and resurrection.

How are we to make sense of this? For it would seem that any suffering experienced by the infant Jesus would have infinite value since he was the God-man. As God, he was infinite and eternal, and his infinite nature should presumably give infinite value to any suffering he experienced. And does not infinite value extend both intensively and extensively? If it extends intensively, why does he need to experience any more suffering than a pin prick for our salvation? That is, why does not a pin prick (which is not an infinite decree of suffering in itself) take on the legal significance of infinite suffering when borne by an infinite being?

Perhaps one might respond to this by saying, since the wages of our sins is death (Rom. 6:23), Christ must also die if he is to save us from death. But at first glance this seems to beg the question. Yes, for us infinite suffering (intensively) amounts to physical death and eternal damnation. But if any suffering for him possesses infinite value intensively, why does not a pin prick for him have an infinite value (intensively)? And if it does, why does it not satisfy our experience of intensively infinite wrath[1], even though for us this infinite punishment involves something different? That is, even though our infinite punishment involves hell, why should it not be satisfied by his infinite punishment contained in a pin prick?

Infinite Wrath Meets Christís Infinite Nature in his Death

The answer to this seems to be that there is more to the story than the infinite nature of Christ, though this is essential. There must be an intersection of Godís infinite wrath with Christís infinite nature to satisfy eternal wrath. Since Christ is eternal God, he had the capacity to bear eternal wrath. But he only bore this infinite wrath when God poured it out on him on the cross. It was only then that he cried ďMy God, my God, why have you forsaken meĒ (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). As such, the apostles emphasized that ďhe bore our sins in his body on the crossĒ (1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18). That is, God did not pour that infinite wrath out on him at every point of his life prior to his death. No doubt, Christ experienced Godís wrath legally at every point of his suffering life (Isa. 53:4; Mt. 8:17), but this suffering did not entail the full outpouring of Godís infinite wrath until Christís death. Similarly, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against sinners throughout their lives (Rom. 1:18ff), but this wrath does not represent the full outpouring of Godís wrath against sinners until death, especially in the second death. Thus, it is not sufficient to consider the infinite nature of Christ all by itself and claim that this infinite nature gives infinite satisfactory efficacy to any suffering Christ experienced, even a pin prick. We must also consider the degree of wrath unleashed upon Christ, and that degree was not infinite until his death. Only when the infinite degree of wrath meets the infinite nature of Christ is Godís wrath satisfied eternally. In this way, Christís death and separation from the Father was essential for our salvation. A pin prick or any degree of suffering he actually experienced in his infancy would not do.

Apart from bearing Godís eternal wrath in his death, none of Christís sufferings on earth were of themselves sufficient for our eternal redemption. It was only with the completion of his life in death that he ďobtained eternal redemptionĒ (Heb. 9:12). Only then did he say ďit is finishedĒ (Jn. 19:30). Thus, the fact that Christ brought redemption in his conception and birth indicates that he brought with himself the merits of his future life, death, and resurrection. In Christís incarnation, he possessed the end from the beginning. He laid hold of his future resurrection lifeólavishing it on his people and so bringing the kingdom.

Christís Infinite Nature and His Active Obedience: Are We Right About his Suffering?

However, one might wonder whether our conclusion above can adequately account for the significance of Christís sufferings on earth (short of his death) since they are interrelated with his truly human obedience to the lawówhich obedience had infinite significance because of his infinite divine nature. Christís active obedience consisted not merely in acts but also in his continuous heartfelt faith in Godís promises[2] together with love for God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength (Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). This involved his active obedience to the Fatherís will as revealed in the law of God, which entailed for him the carrying out of his Messianic commission (Jn. 6:38-39; 4:34). Thus, in loving God and his neighbor with all his heart (according to the law), he was called to obey the law so that we might receive the eschatological reward Adam failed to attain. And the only way this goal could be attained after the fall was through his sufferings and death. Thus, he was called to actively pursue that calling which involved Messianic suffering on our behalf, the passive reception of which is known as his passive obedience. Again, Christís active obedience had eternal significance because it was performed by his infinite divine person. So would not his corresponding sufferings have eternal significance at that time?

In light of this, we might ask if Christís suffering during his public ministry (short of his death and resurrection) was sufficient grounds for his miraculous deeds after all. Beginning with the baptism of Jesus, the kingdom of God advanced with power (Mt. 11:12), including miraculous deeds and the salvation of souls. This advancement of the kingdom with Jesusí ministry was connected to the greater suffering that Christ endured with the onset and continuation of his early public ministry. His suffering was greater than the suffering he endured in childhood and young adulthood. Jesus was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1; Lk. 4:2), endured the unbelief of his closest disciples (Mk. 6:52; 8:17) and was resisted by evil men (Lk. 4:28-29; Mt. 12:14-15; Jn. 8:59). His miraculous deeds were also a transference of the sinnerís maladies to himself in exchange for his healing life (Mt. 8:3, 17; 20:34; Lk. 22:51). At each stage of Christís public ministry his sufferings were efficacious in bringing the kingdom more fully, healing the sick, raising the dead, and bringing forth words of life.

Focusing on Matthew 8:16-17, we find that Jesusí miracles resulted from the fact that ďhe himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseasesĒ. This suggests that Christís miraculous work involved a transfer of the sinnerís infirmities to Christ at that time. That is, he bore those infirmities at the time he healed the sick. (See how the fever is transferred legally from Peterís mother to Jesus when he ďtouched her handĒ, Mt. 8:14-15.) And since the evangelist applies this to all Godís people (our infirmities), this may suggest that at the time of these miracles he bore the infirmities of all Godís people. This would undoubtedly require his infinite nature as God. If so, his infinite nature did satisfy Godís infinite wrath (at least extensively) during his early public ministry. Further, those miraculous deeds were a foretaste of Godís final eschatological salvation. In this sense, it was also necessary for his sufferings to have infinite value (intensively) at that time. But how does this fit with what we have said above, that only when the infinite wrath of God is poured out on Christ on the cross does Christís infinite nature satisfy eternal wrath? It seems that this was already taking place during his public ministry. And if it was taking place during his public ministry, why did Christ have to suffer anything more than a pin prick during that ministry, with no impending future death.

The Hypostatic Union and Christís Sufferings

We believe the answer here is that no aspect of Christís sufferings (any more than his obedience to the law) can be seen in abstraction from his completed obedience, death and resurrection. Because Christ was God immovable, during his early public ministry his future task was sure to be accomplished. This was true even while he experienced real temptations in his human nature (Heb. 4:15). His Godhood thereby guaranteed the future outcome of his death and resurrection. Looking ahead (horizontally), it guaranteed the future outpouring and satisfaction of Godís infinite wrath upon Christ on the cross. And it is this same Godhood whose infinite nature would satisfy Godís infinite wrath (vertically). The horizontal and the vertical converge in the infinite person of Christ, who is outside of time. Thus, they could be intimately related to one another in redemptive history.

To flesh this out a bit, we may say that the infinite Christ, who is outside of time in his divine nature saw both his death and resurrection and his early public ministry as eternally present to himself. And he saw these things, not as abstracted from himself, but as intimately united to himself in the hypostatic union. That is, his early public ministry and his death and resurrection were intimately united to one another since each was intimately united to the eternal Christ, who is outside of time (vertically). As such, both these things (his early public ministry and his death and resurrection) could be organically related to one another in the continuum of redemptive history (horizontally). In other words, as the alpha and the omega, Christ laid hold of the end from the beginning because of the eternity of his own divine person. That is, the person of Christ (outside of time) was the one who accomplished all the acts of our redemption from the point of view of the singularity of eternity. This same one who possessed within himself the accomplishment of all these acts in that singularity exerted his saving power in the accomplishment of each individual act.

Christís Early Sufferings Laid Hold of His Completed Work

May we then say that insofar as the eternal Christ suffered during his early public ministry, he laid hold of the infinite efficacy of his future death and resurrection? In his early sufferings, he possessed the end from the beginning because of their organic connection to the whole?

We believe we can properly affirm this as long as we take into account the fact that the obedience of Christ was not dependent on the future obedience of Christ in some circular fashion. That is, Christís future obedience was not the first cause of which his earlier obedience during his initial public ministry was the second cause. This would make Christís early obedience dependent on his future saving work. This would be a circular absurdity since that future saving work would itself be partially dependent on his early obedience. Early obedience dependent on future obedience, which itself is dependent on early obedience is a circular absurdity. It would also destroy Christís parallel with the first Adam as our meritorious federal head. For then Christís future obedience would be the meritorious grounds of his earlier obedience, as if that early obedience was given him by grace.

Thus, Christís early obedience was not dependent on his future saving work. Instead, every act of Christís saving obedience came immediately from his divine person as the first cause at the very instance he performed each act of obedience. We are simply suggesting that the full efficacy of that obedience was dependent organically on the completion of the whole. Thus, the efficacy of Christís future death and resurrection intruded itself backwards in the efficacious work he performed during his early public ministry. In other words, Christís obedience during his early public ministry was the means of dispensing the efficacy of his future death and resurrection. In this way, he laid hold of the end from the beginning.

At the same time, we must also affirm that each of Christís acts of obedience contributed toward his completed obedience as a whole. That is, each of his acts of obedience (as a ground) contributed toward the overall efficacy of his completed life, death and resurrection.

Christís Death and Resurrection Brings the Future Age

We have made our point with Christís sufferings. Christís early sufferings (from conception to early public ministry) cannot be abstracted from the whole. As a result, the baby Jesus brought the benefits of his death and resurrection with him in his conception and birth. Can this same point be reinforced by the resurrection of Christ? Before considering this question, let us reflect for a moment on the relationship of Christís death to his resurrection. This will help us consider the nature of the resurrection when we deal with this question. Christís resurrection occurred when death could no longer hold him because his sufferings had fully satisfied the wages of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18). Thus, God declared him righteous (2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 4:25[3]) since he was no longer legally condemned for sin (Rom. 8:3-4). Having satisfied eternal wrath, Godís wrath could no longer be justly charged against him (Rom. 6:9). God does not engage in double indemnity. [4] That sentence of death had been destroyed forever, which meant for him eternal life (Rom. 6:9; 5:17; Heb. 7:25). He entered eternal life above in his resurrection.

This connection between his death and resurrection is fully implied in 2 Cor. 5:21 and its context. ďHe made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.Ē Since we become the righteousness of God in him, he himself is the righteousness of God. According to this chapter this is grounded in the fact that he not only died but also ďrose again on their behalfĒ (2 Cor. 5:15). As a result, we no longer know Christ according to this age (the flesh) but according to the new creation (of Isa. 66:22). This is confirmed by the fact that those in Christ become a new creation in him (2 Cor. 5:17), which implies that he is a new creation in his resurrection.

Christís resurrection was for him the breaking into history of the future eschatological judgment, the resurrection of the dead and the eternal city to come. He possessed the eschatological future in his own resurrection life, for he had passed through the eternal/eschatological wrath of God in his death and been vindicated/justified in his resurrection. The judgment has passed for him as one who has entered heaven in resurrection life. And he now possesses the Jerusalem (Isa. 66:10, 20) which will endure forever (Isa. 66:22-24). This is the Jerusalem above, which is therefore our Mother in him (Gal. 4:26). He now possesses the age when ďthe eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstoppedĒ and ďthe lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joyĒ (Isa. 35:5-6, NASB), and the dead would be raised (Isa. 26:19), for he possesses a resurrection body in which there is no more lameness, blindness or death. As such, this Christís heavenly kingdom is now semi-realized for us who are in Christ. We are both raised with him and sojourners in his world.

What of the miracles Christ performed during his earthly ministry, were they not a foretaste of the eternal city to come and thus of Christís own resurrection life? For Christ healed the blind in anticipation of the age in which there would be no more blindness. In this way, his miracles of healing the lame, deaf and dumb anticipated the age when there would be no more lame, deaf or dumb. He stated this himself when he referred to Isaiah 35:5-6 (the passage we have quoted above) as being fulfilled in his earthly ministry (Mt. 11:5; Lk. 7:22). He raised the dead as a foretaste of the age of resurrection life (Mt. 11:5; Jn. 11:23-26). All of this is intimately related to Christís own resurrection, for Christís resurrection is the ground of the future eschatological resurrection from the dead (Jn. 14:19; Rom. 8:11). As a result, the eschatological future broke into the midst of history (provisionally, 1 Cor. 10:11) in Christís resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:32-34).† ďThe holy and sure blessings of DavidĒ given to Christ in his resurrection (Acts 13:34) are the fulfillment of Isaiah 55:3, in which the seed of David receives an everlasting covenant and kingdom (55:12-13).

Christ Laid Hold of His Resurrection before the Time

In light of this, we can revisit our previous question: was Christís suffering (short of his death and resurrection) fully sufficient of itself to be the ground of his miraculous saving deeds? No, since those miraculous deeds were a provisional display of Christís future resurrection life in the present physical arena. Therefore, they were dependent on that future resurrection and its saving power. They laid hold of Christís future resurrection before the time. And just as it was with the visible display of his saving work, so it was in the work of salvation in the souls of those he addressed. Christís death and resurrection were essential to the eternal life he granted to various people during his earthly ministry.

Christís mighty deeds were foretastes of the future resurrection. As such, they were dependent on the completion of his whole workóhis obedient life, death and resurrection. Thus, Christís sufferings prior to his death were finally effectual for this eschatological life because he would complete his test, bear our eternal wrath on the cross and be raised from the dead. In this way, we can see that Christ administered the end from the beginning in all things. He dispensed the benefits of his future death and resurrection before their final accomplishment. Christís future resurrection life intruded into every aspect of his work on earth. And so it was when the Son of God took on flesh. The babe in the manger brought to earth benefits flowing from his future saving deeds. He laid hold of the benefits of his death and resurrection even in his very conception. The baby Jesus, through the efficacy of his future death and resurrection, brought the kingdom of God and its saving acts when he was born. Glory be to God! (Lk. 2:14)

Conclusion

If Christís miraculous work anticipated the resurrection, one might ask, how could he who possessed resurrection life before the time die at all? That is, how could a babe, whose incarnation anticipated unending life ever die? We think an answer to this can be found in recognizing the similarity between Christís incarnation and the OT acts of God. The OT mighty acts included such things as the exodus (Ex. 14:21-30), the crossing of the Jordan (Josh. 3:14-17), the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:20) and the miraculous deeds of the prophets Elijah (1 Kg. 17:17-22) and Elisha (2 Kg. 4:32-35). These OT acts also participated in Christís resurrection in a way that still allowed them to look forward to greater acts of redemption in the future. That is, they participated in the future resurrection life without being a complete and full expression of that life. Instead, they were an incomplete (but nonetheless real) anticipation of the future resurrection life. That is why Christís resurrection was only anticipated in them; objectively considered they fell short of its final accomplishment. It still awaited the future.

This was also true of Christís incarnation. In his conception, Christ brought the fruits of his resurrection in a manner appropriate to his incarnation, a manner that allowed room for the future progress of the kingdom in his future ministryóone that left room for his testing, death and irreversible resurrection yet to come. The incarnation anticipated the resurrection.

The coming of Christís person brought the Kingdom but not in isolation from his crowning workóhis final death and resurrection. Perhaps that is one reason Matthew brings the two into such close union (Matt. 1:23 with 28:20)óin both is the Emmanuel presence of God. Praise God, he has bound himself most intimately to us by becoming one of us in his Son. And he has bound himself intimately to Christ in his resurrectionóso that in Christ, he might enter into the same glorious union with us. Let our hearts rejoice in the sweetness of this union with the babe in the manger and his resurrection life. He has brought the end from the beginning even now. Both embody the future Emmanuel presence of God. God with us in incarnation anticipates God with us in resurrection life. Come celebrate the birth of Christ; oh, celebrate his resurrection. We, bound to the babe; we, bound to the resurrected body. The heart of the one above in the heart of the other. He who is present with us nowóbrings us to him who is eternal.


[1] Insofar as a creature can bear it, that is, imperfectly in eternal punishment, not in its full and absolute infinite nature, which is impossible for a finite creature to do.

[2] We do not mean here trust in Godís promises of redemptive grace for himself, of which he had no need. Instead, we mean that he trusted in the promises of God given to the Messiah as the second Adam. This involved Christ trusting that God would be faithful to his promises of salvation to his people through his own work of redemption in his life, death and resurrection. As part of this, he trusted that God would raise him from the dead at the completion of his task. If he endured ďfor the joy set before himĒ (Heb. 12:2), he must have believed in the joy set before him.

[3] In Christís resurrection, we were justified because of our union with him who was justified in his resurrection.

[4] Those who believe that God can justly eternally condemn some of Christís sheep for whom he died (Jn. 10:11, 15, 26) should just as logically believe that he can justly place Christ under his wrath again for those same sins. (Both are double indemnity.)† However, Christ can never undergo divine wrath again (Rom. 6:9) because he has satisfied it and been justified eternally in his resurrection. This can never be reversed and so Christís sheep shall never perish (Jn. 10:28).