Paul’s Theology of Glory

Paul’s Theology of Glory July 3, 2018

Haley Goranson Jacob’s Conformed to the Image of His Son is an exploration of Paul’s theology of glory. Jacob’s focus is on the meaning of the phrase in her title, drawn from Romans 8. She finds the several common interpretations of the phrase wanting: Conformity to the Son isn’t physical conformity to His resurrection body, not simply moral conformity, not merely sharing in His eschatological radiance, not sharing in His sufferings.

Jacob instead develops and defends a “functional” understanding of the phrase. Believers are “conformed to his status and function as the Son of God who rules over creation” (10). It refers to a “vocational participation” in Christ, our “active share in the resurrection life and glory of Christ as redeemed humans in him” (15).

Psalms 89 and 110 lurk in the background, as Paul identifies Jesus with the Davidic “firstborn” and proclaims the good news of our vocational participation in His reign. Jesus is the “highest of the kings of the earth” and “stands as the representative of a new family of God and a redeemed humanity” (16). To say that we are “co-heirs” with Christ, and “co-glorified” with Him is to say that we “participate with the Son in his rule over creation as people renewed in the image of God” (16). Jesus is the Last Adam; in Him we are restored to Adamic glory and rule.

Our role as “viceregents of God” isn’t merely eschatological but present. We are glorified now, “in the prayers of believers and the Spirit . . . and in God’s working all things toward good” (16-17).

Exegetically, Jacob’s work focuses on Romans 8. She argues that “sonship” (adoption) is part of a new exodus theme running through Romans. Receiving the Spirit of sonship, believers are “co-heirs” of God – not that God is the substance of their inheritance but that they receive the inheritance God promised, already defined in Romans 4 as “the world.” Our inheritance isn’t our own; it is our “brother’s, the Firstborn’s inheritance” (212) and we share in it only by union with Him.

But what does it mean for believers to inherit the world, an inheritance that Jacob insists is a present as well as an eschatological reality? She complains about the “spiritualization” of inheritance in various commentators, and concludes that we inherit what Christ inherited, “universal sovereignty” (217). In sum, “in their adoption as children of God in the Firstborn Son of God, believers are given their portion of the inheritance: participation in the Messiah’s ‘universal sovereignty'” (218).

“Glory” in Romans 8 is connected to this same knot of themes. Believers share glory with Christ in the sense that we are “reinstated to glory on the basis of [our] position as children of God, sharing in the inheritance of the Son, who as the Messiah and new Adam is already crowned with glory and honor” (220).

Paul’s qualification is significant: We share in His glory if we suffer with Him. Jacob denies that we can map suffering/glory onto present/future. We’re glorified now, and share in Christ’s universal sovereignty now. Suffering isn’t “a preresurrection version of being glorified with Christ. . . . Rather, it is a present reality contemporaneous with present glory” (222).

Jacob sums up her understanding of Romans 8:29-30″: “Paul sees that those conformed to the image of the Son are those who,l though once participants in the Adamic submission to the powers of sin and death, now participate in the reign of the new Adam over creation. Mankind’s position on earth as God’s vicegerents to his creation is now restored, though now through the image of the Son of God, who reigns as God’s preeminent vicegerent” (226).

This reading requires, among other things, a fresh look at Romans 8:28. Jacob argues that it doesn’t mean that “everything works out for God’s people” (247). Elsewhere, sunergeo refers to the co-laboring of two parties or power; the datives can be read as instrumental datives. The RSV translation gets at the point: “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (quoted 247).

Within the argument of Romans 8:17-30, verse 28 is about the glorification that believers receive, their restoration to Adamic status over creation. Thus, “God’s children will receive this glory in full when their own redemption and adoption is complete, but they also are currently glorified, even if in part. . . . as God’s eschatological family, his children [are] used by God to bring redemption to the world around them, in part by action and in part by prayer” (250). Our glory is that God works with those who love Him to bring all things to good, the good of new creation.

Jacob’s thesis makes intuitive sense: Adam sinned and was enslaved; Jesus obeyed and was exalted; those who are in him are . . . what? The point must be to put humanity back on its Adamic track. The virtue of Jacob’s book is that she gives thick exegetical justification to this point and shows that the aim of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the glorification of humanity.

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  • Leonard Vander Zee

    I have often said that a perfectly biblical definition of salvation is ‘becoming human,” the restoration of our primal calling as vice-regents in creation. This also restores the incarnation to its rightful position as a primary Christian doctrine after being pushed aside in the Reformation by justification. It also places salvation solidly within the matrix of creation rather than in the more “spiritual” atmosphere of justification. It moves beyond whether we are saved to why we are saved.