The story of humanity laid out in divine revelation begins in Genesis 1–2 with the creation of Adam and Eve, the first human pair. It shifts in Genesis 3:6 with their partaking of fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from. In this act, on my view, the author intentionally conveys that Adam and Eve die and will die, spreading a curse to the rest of humanity, which affects the whole of creation (and will later be restored according to Rom. 8). God’s story of redemption begins in Genesis 3, where he clothes them and provides for their needs by prohibiting them from the tree of life. Through the establishing of covenants, God enters into relationship with Adam and those divinely chosen to represent God to humans. By establishing covenants, God gives life and blesses that life in the way described in Genesis 1. The life that Adam and Eve lost is the life of God’s presence, which he restores in Jesus Christ.
Yet, there is another dimension, one that directs the human story. Human destiny is found in the vision of God. The richness of the scriptural imagery is the primary means in which God reveals himself. In the Old Testament, God reveals his glory by way of an image through the visual sense of sight. God reveals himself to Moses in Exodus 33, where Moses sees the back of God. Isaiah sees God’s glory as he sits on the throne in Isaiah 6:1. Jacob sees the Lord in heaven through a dream by way of a ladder that leads to heaven in Genesis 28:12–13. Daniel has a similar vision of God on the throne in his glory in Daniel 7:9. All of this points to and anticipates the divine-human Christ, who reveals God. As Christ states in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). And the means by which humans see God is via Christ. In John 14:9b Christ states, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
The final end of the journey for humanity is not the vision of some aspect of Christ as with his humanity or his body but to see the fullness of God in Christ. As Hans Boersma has so helpfully put it, “The only reality worthy of being called the sacramental truth (res) of our lives is the end-point of our lives: God in Christ.” By “sacramental” he means to convey that all of created reality (i.e., natural creation and the Old Testament) is teleological in nature and points us to the triune God revealed ultimately in the person and work of Christ. Our goal is God in Christ through a vision that sums up or comprehends all of history. The last book of Scripture, Revelation, describes the final state of humans, the new heavens and the new earth, in richly visual ways. John in Revelation describes the purpose of humanity in ways that give credence to this notion of visio Dei (the vision of God). For in Revelation 22:4–5, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Playing on the themes of light, it is by seeing God in Christ that humans are able to see all else, and this is the end for which humanity is created.
Christ unites the creaturely nature of humanity with divinity. While this unity is concretely defined in Christ, several Reformed theologians understand the vision of Christ as the means by which humans see God and are united to God. Unlike some ancient understandings where deification subverts our creaturely design, in Christian thought, and particularly Reformed developments of it, the vision of Christ (and, specifically, God in Christ) is the means by which humanity is affirmed and elevated through the humiliation of God the Son in the incarnation, which culminated in death.
When considering the humiliation and exaltation of Christ anthropocentrically, we must understand Christ’s natures as spelled out in Chalcedon, which states that Christ is both human (i.e., including rational soul and body as part of human nature) and Divine without mixture (thus avoiding the ancient heresy called Eutychianism) and without separation (thus avoiding the ancient heresy called Nestorianism). Within these parameters, it is natural to assume that Christ in his person possesses humanities highest end—namely, the vision of God. This is so for the reason that is contained in Gregory’s logic: “What has not been assumed, has not been healed. it is what is united to his Divinity that is saved.” (Epistle 101) In other words, Christ’s person that unites both Divine and human nature (without mixing) brings together the human nature to the Divine nature (i.e., deified human nature).
Yet, in order to bring these benefits of redemption to humanity, the Logos must humble himself by descending in the incarnation to become one of us. He reveals God the Father to humanity in his prophetic work (John 3:34; fulfilling Deuteronomy 18:15, Isaiah 6, Exodus 33:23). He intercedes for us in his life and death as our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16, see especially v. 16). This is where his substitutionary work begins in that he, the Divine person, not only unites human nature to himself but in his passive and active obedience he achieves the redemptive benefits of his deified human nature for humanity in his work as King (Psalm 2; John 18:36; Hebrews 1:3-4; Revelation 1:5-6). In so doing, he brings heaven to us by taking us to heaven via his death and exaltation (cf. John 5:19; Acts 1:9).
In these ways, Christ reveals heaven, extends heaven to us, and achieves heaven for us. Which raises an important anthropocentric point about the nature of the beatific vision as both ocular and intellectual. It is ocular in the sense that it is seen in the person and work of Christ as the incarnate one who dies, is resurrected, and ascends to the Father. It is intellectual in that it is through spiritual eyes that we may see the Father. In this way, the vision is the vision not just of Christ’s human nature resurrected (i.e., deified), but of God in Christ.
The task of the theologian is one of faith seeking understanding in which the theologian works from the premises of faith, found in revelation and tradition, while seeking to understand those premises in light of their larger Christian framework. The task requires the hard work of engagement with other relevant anthropological disciplines such as philosophy of mind, biology, and neuroscience.
Think of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology as a guide. As with all guides, you will at times hike well-trodden paths. Other times, if you are lucky, the guide will take you off the beaten path, maybe even into uncharted terrain. Undoubtedly, you, the reader, will not agree with all the details, and you may not even agree with the overarching vision. But as one of my professors stated, sometimes you need to try on a pair of boots, walk around, and see how they fit. You can always try on another pair. Or, in our age of innovation, you can always modify the boots to meet the demands of the territory at hand. Come along with me to think hard about one of the most complicated but fulfilling areas in contemporary Christian theology. Try on this vision of what it means to be human. See if it fits.