That Paul views Christ as head of all things created is clear from Eph. 1:22, “And He [i.e., the Father] put all things in subjection under His [i.e., the exalted Redeemer’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” According to my understanding of Eph. 1:10, the exalted Christ has been stationed by the Father as the chief executive officer of the entire interadvental era which finds its terminus in the summing up of all things. Upon Christ’s ascension into heaven, he assumed the office of authoritative head of all things, something he hinted at while on earth as recorded in Matt. 28:18, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This was something he did not possess during his state of humiliation. He had also taught his disciples that entering into glory was something the Scriptures of the OT taught concerning the Messiah (Lk. 24:25-27; 44-47). Though he did not spell-out all the details and implications of entering into glory, the seed of the doctrine was present in his teaching. What we see in Paul, primarily, is the teasing out of the implications of Christ’s entrance into glory and even the foundations upon which Christ enters into glory. The implications include universal sovereignty over the entire created realm. The foundation upon which he enters his glorious status includes his relationship to creation both as the eternal Son of God (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16) and as the Mediator, Redeemer, and Reconciler of all things (Col. 1:20) and as the Last Adam and, of course, the Father’s good pleasure (Eph. 1:9).
The first Adam was the first human son of God (Lk. 3:38). He had a unique relationship with the first creation. He was created in the image of God as God’s vice-regent in charge of the earth. Adam’s vocation as image-bearing vice-regent included being fruitful and multiplying (sons of God), and filling the earth and subduing it (Gen. 1:26-28). The garden was the beginning, the starting point. The end or goal was an earth filled with image-bearing sons serving their Creator, living in harmony with fellow image-bearers and the entire created realm. But, as we know, the fall into sin affected both Adam and his seed and the creation itself (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 8:18-25). The old creation is cursed, along with its crown jewel, male and female in the image of God. Nothing less than a radical transformation is needed both for animate creatures (i.e., image-bearing sons) and the inanimate creation. This is exactly what the incarnate Son of God provides. Since the old creation was made for him (Col. 1:16), he is its rightful Lord. However, when he comes on the world’s scene, though he gives us glimpses of his universal sovereignty over the created realm, he comes veiled in human nature in the likeness of human flesh. He comes as a humble, suffering servant (Mk. 10:45). Adam failed his call to service. His delinquency affected the entire human race and the created realm. Christ comes as the hero of redemption. He serves God perfectly. He suffers the wrath of God due to sin. And once his life of probation is complete, his wrath-exhausting death occurs and he is rewarded for his obedience by being raised from the dead on the first day which inaugurates a new creation (see below), just like the old creation was inaugurated on the first day. His resurrection was an advance upon his incarnation. He entered into his glory upon the resurrection. He entered into an exalted status. His human nature became what it was not prior to the resurrection (Rom. 1:4). Human nature was meant to attain to a status of immutability. It was not so via creation. The proof of this is the fact that Adam fell from communion with God. In Christ, there can be no future fall into sin. The resurrection of Christ insures an immutable status of sonship for those in Christ.
The resurrection is seen as an epoch-changing event in the New Testament – the beginning of the new creation. Believers are united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection through faith.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of his death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Rom. 6:3-6)
In him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:11-12)
Union with Christ brings believers into the orbit of redemptive privilege. They may know “the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10) because they are united to him through faith. God “made us alive together with Christ…, and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5-6). Being in Christ unites us to him, making us citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
Union with Christ also involves existence in two ages at once – this age (the old creation) and the age to come (the new creation). The age to come is the age of the resurrection.
And Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Lk. 20:34-36)
Christ’s resurrection is the first bodily resurrection of the age to come because it was “the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20).
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)
Christ’s resurrection was the first of similar resurrections to come. But being “the firstfruits,” it is not totally other than those that follow. It is different in time; but it is part of the same resurrection. It is part of the same harvest; just the first of the much greater end-time harvest to come. Richard Gaffin, commenting on “firstfruits” says:
The word is not simply an indication of temporal priority. Rather it brings into view Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection-harvest, the initial portion of the whole. His resurrection is the representative beginning of the resurrection of believers. In other words, the term seems deliberately chosen to make evident the organic connection between the two resurrections. In the context, Paul’s “thesis” over against his opponents is that the resurrection of Jesus has the bodily resurrection of “those who sleep” as its necessary consequence. His resurrection is not simply a guarantee; it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse it can be said that Paul views the two resurrections not so much as two events but as two episodes of the same event.
Christ’s resurrection is the most powerful sign of the presence of the age to come (i.e., the new creation). His resurrected body took on qualities it did not possess prior to the resurrection (Rom. 1:4). It was an age to come body, existing in this age for a brief time on the earth and now in heaven. In Christ’s resurrection, then, we see the age to come (i.e., the new creation) eclipsing this age. This is why Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). This is not only true of personal renovation but also a state of existence in the new creation brought in by Christ. In Gal. 6:15, Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” The age to come has eclipsed this age with the resurrection of Christ. Hebrews 6:5 says that some “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” “The great realities of the age to come have in some sense broken into and become operative in this age.” Waldron’s comments are helpful at this point:
The New Testament teaches, therefore, that there is a new creation in Christ (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). The idea of new creation is frequently associated with Christ’s resurrection (cf. Eph. 2:10 with 2:5,7; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10 with Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 1:15-18). By union with Christ in His death, the old man is destroyed. By union with Christ in His resurrection, the new man is created. When He rose again He became the firstborn of God’s new creation. As He was the beginning of the old creation, so He is now the beginning of the new (Rev. 3:14). Thus, the memorial of Christ’s resurrection is of necessity a memorial of the new creation. Thus, the Lord’s Day like the Sabbath and unlike any other religious observance points to both creation and redemption.
Christ’s resurrection is the apex of all of God’s redemptive work on the earth. It is an epoch-changing event. It ushers in the new creation in part; first in the resurrection of Christ, then in the renovation of the souls of believers, then in the bodies of believers at the Second Coming, and finally in the renovation of the old creation (Rom. 8:18ff.; 2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21-22). The resurrection of Christ affects everything.
Christ as the eternal Son of God and as the theanthropic Mediator occupies an office of headship over all things in heaven and upon earth and over the old and new creations. His headship extends to all men (saved and unsaved [Eph. 1:10, 22; Col. 1:18]), all angels (elect and non-elect [Eph. 1:10, 22; Col. 2:15; 1 Jn. 3:8]) and the entire inanimate creation – the universe (Eph. 1:10, 22). His headship has a universal, cosmic element and a particular, soteriological element. This makes Christ’s headship both like and unlike Adam’s.
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1987), 34-35.
Samuel E. Waldron, The End Times Made Simple (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2003), 49.
Waldron, Lord’s Day. Unpublished notes.
Dr. Richard Barcellos is associate professor of New Testament Studies. He received a B.S. from California State University, Fresno, an M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary, and a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary. Dr. Barcellos is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA. He is author of Trinity & Creation, The Covenant of Works, and Getting the Garden Right. He has contributed articles to various journals and is a member of ETS.