Jesus represents the realization of God’s glorious dream for humanity. In Christ, we see what we who are in Christ are destined to be. As a stick placed in a river is destined to be carried to whatever body of water the river runs to, so all who have allowed themselves to be drawn by the Spirit into Christ are destined to eventually look like Jesus (Rom. 8:28). When he appears at the end of the age, we shall see him as he truly is, John says, for we shall be like him (1 Jn. 3:2).
This is why the New Testament speaks of Christ as “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters”(Rom 8:29). A new family is being brought into being, and we shall all resemble Christ. This is also what Paul means when he refers to Jesus as “the first fruit” of those who now “sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). The “first fruit” in ancient Israel referred to fruit that was picked before the rest of the crop. These early pickings were, among other things, considered the guarantee that God would be faithful in bringing forth the rest of the crop. Jesus is “the first fruit” of a coming harvest that will look the same as him. Jesus reveals ahead of time the harvest of the humanity that God has always been dreaming of.
Jesus was the Kingdom of God and why all who belong to the Kingdom by definition look like him. The entire creation project is centered on God’s dream of uniting himself with humanity as humanity co-rules with him on the earth. The whole creation is being steered toward a vision of a future in which everything will be harmoniously united under Christ, and thus become a dome in which God is King (Eph 1:9).
While individuals are free to align themselves with this divine vision or not, this glorious vision of humanity and creation becoming a radiant domain of God’s reign, dancing with and in the triune God, has been predestined from before the foundation of the world. It cannot fail to happen. And what we are now discovering is that Jesus incarnates this future in the present. He is the predestined man who embodies the predestined future (1 Pet 1:20).
Jesus manifests the future reign of God in the midst of the present reign of evil powers. He manifests the future union of God with humanity in the midst of a rebellious epoch in which God and humanity continue to be estranged from one another. He manifests humanity restored to their rightful place over the earth in the midst of a humanity that continues to be oppressed. He manifests humanity freed from sin and sickness in the midst of a humanity yet in bondage to sin and yet infected by the devil with sickness.
So too, in the midst of a world that continues to be defined by oppressive powers that incline us toward violence and hatred, Jesus reveals what humanity will look like when we’re exhaustively defined by God’s love. In the midst of a world where death continues to reign, Jesus’ resurrection reveals what humanity will be like when death has finally been overcome. In the midst of a world that continues to be oppressed by the ugly kingdom of Satan, Jesus reveals the beautiful Kingdom of God.
The sheer beauty of this coming kingdom, shining in the midst of the present ugly world, pulls people who are hungry for a different way of doing life into it. We might say it this way: Jesus creates a tribe of the future that God uses to move the oppressed world into its beautiful future.