Is this an important question? Absolutely. Who is in Christ completely kicks Western theology out of its box and reorients it back to biblical-early church constructs affirmed by even the church fathers. But it is more important than breaking out of some ivory tower theological prison. It sets our personal experience and our "knowing God" back to the simplicity of the gospel of grace.
A few months ago I was using my daughters bathroom and I thought I would irritate her slightly (as any good dad would do) by taking the horse painting over her toilet and making it off center with one end slightly higher than the other since she studies interior design. For a week she said nothing... until I realized that as a woman she never stands in front of it. Lol!
I understand that right now you may not be seeing exactly what I'm seeing because you aren't standing in the same perspective. But I hope that you, as the reader, will be humble enough to read carefully with an open heart.
So the question is, "who was in Christ?" By that we mean, are you "in Christ" when you believe and become a follower of Jesus, or was all humanity in Christ on the cross? The implications are staggering because if you get "in Christ" when you believe, it means that believing is the cause of God's forgiveness, salvation and righteousness to you rather than the work of Christ himself. Worse, it could mean that you must change ALL your behavior to line up with God to get "in".
Who was in Abraham?
An author at https://enjoyroyalty.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/in-christ/ wrote this insight on his blog titled, "In Christ" about how the author of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the New Covenant (Melchizedek) to the inferiority of the Law (Levi):
He tells us in Hebrews chapter 7 that one day Abraham, returning from the battle of the kings (Genesis 14), offered a tithe of his spoils to Melchizedek and received from him a blessing.
Abraham did so. Levi is therefore of less account than Melchizedek.
Because the fact that Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek. But if that is true, then Jacob also `in Abraham’ (*in the body of Abraham not yet born. It was Isaac before Jacob*) offered to Melchizedek, which in turn means that Levi `in Abraham’ offered to Melchizedek.
It is evident that the lesser offers to the greater (Hebrews 7:7).
So Levi's [Law covenant-priesthood] is less in standing than Melchizedek, and therefore the priesthood of Aaron is inferior to that of the Lord Jesus. Levi at the time of the battle of the kings was NOT yet even thought of. Yet he was “in the loins of his father” Abraham, and, “so to say, through Abraham”, he offered (Hebrews 7:9,10).
That means that in this biblical-cultural illustration it was Levi who was being represented by Abraham because Levi was a direct physical descendant. Do you see that? So too, as we will see, we were all in Christ so that generations later every person was represented by him in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Certainly we can see that Jesus as the Son of God is greater than Abraham right?
Who Was In Adam?
So let's not stop with Abraham. Go farther back to Adam himself. Isn't everyone in Adam? The illustration in Genesis was that even Eve was in Adam, coming from his side. It was to make the point of who was in Adam. Adam itself mean man or mankind!
But what you need to know is that no one has been in Adam since the death of Jesus Christ. Would you agree that Jesus as the Son of Man(kind) is greater than Adam?
As I wrote in my article "Spiritual Myth-Busters: Separation from God?, the overall message of Romans 5 is a comparison between what Adam did, and how it affected humanity, and what Jesus Christ did and how it affected humanity. It is not a comparison between you and each one of them. It affects us but it isn't directly about us.
How many people were in Adam? Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin..." All were in Adam, all affected by his actions. Over and over again Paul uses two phrases, “all men” and “the many”. Scholars agree he is talking about the same people. We know this because he will say the same thing twice, once saying "all men" and again saying "the many". All were in Adam. (when we think "many" we assume it means most but not all, but it is simply a Greek categorization for everybody).
Jesus is called in another place by Paul, the LAST ADAM. If there is a long line of birds throughout history but I tell you about the last one which we are killing and eating for supper tonight, what does that mean? (Beyond the fact I'd be a terrible person). It means it is about to go extinct. It means the end of the line. Jesus took the entire Adamic race with him onto the cross representatively!
If Jesus went to the cross as the LAST Adam how much of Adam is left?
In Mark 15:37 it says in the AMP version, “and Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed out His life.” Just like God breathed the breath of life INTO Adam in the beginning, Jesus as the LAST Adam breaths the last breath of the Adamic Race. In other words, after the resurrection God sees all of humanity THROUGH Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:45, “Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam [then] became [after resurrection] a life-giving spirit.” (ESV)
How many people did Adam’s sin affect?
Romans 5:18, "Consequently, just as ONE trespass resulted in condemnation for ALL people..."
How many people did Jesus’ obedience affect?
"so also ONE righteous act RESULTED in justification and life for ALL PEOPLE. "
Paul's logic here is summarized best by Young's Literal Translation of Romans 5:
15 But, not as the offence so also [is] the free gift; for if by the offence of the one the many did die, MUCH MORE did the grace of God, and the free gift in grace of the one man Jesus Christ, abound to the many;
...18 So, then, as through one offence to ALL MEN [it is] to condemnation, so also through ONE declaration of `Righteous' [it is] to ALL MEN to justification of life;
Adam brought death to all, but Jesus was superior and brought life to all. Not only that, THROUGH him is the ONE grace-filled, free-gift declaration of "RIGHTEOUS" to ALL MEN. We aren't individually called righteous when we believe. We were declared RIGHT! because we were in Jesus and he is RIGHTEOUS. Paul references two legacies. One is the legacy of Adam… and Jesus became the last of all that Adam was and leaves you a legacy of all that the resurrected Christ is. You cannot be in Adam, you through no effort of your own were brought with all humanity into Christ.
We are called to compare Adam’s legacy and Christ’s then LOCATE OURSELVES BY GRACE in Christ's legacy. That is the point of this passage!
THE TRUTH IS, THAT FOR MOST OF US, WE HAVE MORE FAITH IN THE SIN OF ADAM AND ITS EFFECT, THAN WE DO THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST’S OBEDIENCE AND ITS EFFECT!
See your believing doesn't make Jesus the Son of God or the Son of Man. Your believing doesn't make Jesus go to the cross or make him die for your sins. Your believing wasn't a trigger to raise Jesus from the dead. You had no part in God making you right with himself. You contributed nothing. Your only part is to see it, and let the faithfulness of God produce faith in you. God cut a covenant with Jesus to take all sin and bury it and to raise him from the dead separate from it. He simply included you in what Christ did. Otherwise he would still be waiting for you to keep up your end of the bargain.
Who was "in Christ?"
"All men are Christ's, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?" (Early Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, Born: 150 AD, Athens, Greece died 215 AD)
Christ is greater than Abraham, greater than Levi, and greater than Adam. That superiority helps us define who was in Christ.
First of all, Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 5:
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that ONE [Jesus Christ] died for all, and therefore ALL DIED.
When the superior one died, because we were all IN HIM, we ALL DIED WITH HIM. The Adamic race died with him; all humanity died with him. That could not be true unless we were "in him" similar to how Levi was in Abraham, and all people were in Adam. Stop and let that sink in.
Secondly, this becomes even more profound when we realize that the entire cosmos was "in Christ!" Oh, how we have complicated the gospel away from the simplicity that is in Christ! Think about it... Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things. There can be nothing "outside of" Christ! Pay very close attention to Colossians 1:
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for THROUGH HIM God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and FOR HIM.
17 He existed before anything else, and HE HOLDS ALL CREATION TOGETHER.
18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and THROUGH HIM God RECONCILED EVERYTHING to himself.
He made PEACE with EVERYTHING in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. 21 This INCLUDES YOU who were once far away from God. (Colossians 1, NLT)
Can there be any clearer statement? The entire COSMOS was in HIM... and so when Christ died, all humanity...past, present, future was counted as dying with him. Believing it doesn't make it true. We believe it because it is true.
How to Be Certain the TIMING of When We were In Christ.
So how do you know HOW you were saved by grace? You can know because of the TIMING.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even WHEN we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Eph. 2:4-7
"When" is an adverb of time that modifies this whole passage. It says "turn around and look at the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus because at the same moment WHEN that it was happening to Christ, it was happening for all humanity.
The Greek for "made us alive with" is a single word, suzóopoieó and means "From sun and zoopoieo; to reanimate conjointly with (figuratively) -- quicken together with." Humanity was made alive when Christ was made alive!
Then "raised us up with" is also a single Greek word, sunegeiró,meaning, "From sun and egeiro; to rouse (from death) in company with, i.e. (figuratively) to revivify (spirtually) in resemblance to -- raise up together, rise with."
And "seated us with him", is again one compound word, sugkathizó, "From sun and kathizo; to give (or take) a seat in company with -- (make) sit (down) together." This word is used in Luke 22:55, "And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them." They didn't sit together hundreds of years later. It happened at that moment. In the same way, using the same word, you sat down with Christ at the moment that HE DID! Not when you believed. Notice Peter afterward sat down with them and that is a different word altogether.
Each phrase in Greek denotes that the action happened at the exact same moment in conjunction with what happened with Christ. You died with him, you were buried with him, you were raised and seated with him. As the Son of Man he represented you in his INCARNATION so that what happened to Jesus Christ happened to the whole of humanity at the exact same time!
Paul calls that HOW YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED BY GRACE!
Someone might say, "Wait, the book of Ephesians we written to believers", as if that means that we did not die WITH him nor were raised WITH him UNTIL we believed. There are several problems with that view. If Paul was applying Ephesians 2 to only believers than it means that the word "when" and "together with" are absolutely meaningless.
Let's take just a final moment to look at 2 TIMOTHY 1:9, "WHO HAS SAVED US AND CALLED US with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was GIVEN TO US IN CHRIST JESUS BEFORE TIME BEGAN."
Now break down the sentence so you can see Paul is saying one simple truth... Who has (past tense) SAVED us and CALLED us ... BEFORE time began. Yes Jesus came into time and ratified the "eternal covenant" THAT EXISTED BEFORE IT ALL STARTED (Heb. 13:20) but he was the Lamb slain "before the foundations of the world." (Rev. 13:8)
So the "we" in 2 Timothy is either everyone or just Paul and Timothy.
1- If it is just believers then it means that only certain believers were chosen before the foundations of the world. That would prove that Calvinism is true that God chose some for heaven and some for hell.
2. If it is just Paul and Timothy... well, that wouldn't work right?
3. Or he chose that everyone would be in Christ. He chose that all would be included in the death burial resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Then the real issue is do I believe or not.
The point is that when you look at your next door neighbor who refuses to go to church, or that Muslim radical on the news, there is nothing for them to DO to make it good news. They are to BELIEVE what is already true, and by so doing their hearts are converted and they come to know God in truth. Or as Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:10, "That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of ALL people, and ESPECIALLY of those who believe." He is ALREADY the Savior of all humanity... but in particular those who believe get to experience it for themselves.
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