According to His Godhead
According to the Bible, the headship of Jesus Christ pertains to several different aspects of his Rule, each of which must be carefully distinguished from the others. In the first place, and by virtue of his eternal power and Godhead, Christ is head over the entire created universe. Scripture tells us that “God created all things by Jesus Christ,” so that without him “nothing that was made was made” (Jn. 1:2). As the second Person of the blessed Trinity, Christ is not only the sole Agent of creation “by whom [God] made the worlds,” (Heb. 1:2), he is also the one by whom the creation is sustained, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
BECAUSE HE IS ETERNAL GOD, JESUS CHRIST IS HEAD OVER ALL CREATION.
According to His Manhood
In the second place, and by virtue of his obedience as Man, Christ now reigns in a special, visible, mediatorial capacity. In addition to his being by nature “God over all” (Rom. 9:5), Jesus Christ exercises a true and everlasting human headship over all things created. In a word, the incarnate Son has inherited in his Manhood what was previously only proper to his Godhead.
Scripture tells us that though he was eternal God, he “took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:7). As a man, Jesus humbled himself before God and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (v 8). For this perfect act of (redemptive) obedience, Jesus was given the unique status of unqualified honor and authority, equal to that of God Himself.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Php. 2:7-11)
In similar terms the apostle Peter declared to the Jews, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Moreover, according to the writer to the Hebrews, the expectation of Psalm 8, that all things would be put in subjection to Man, is now a present, visible reality in Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:5-9). That Mankind would someday recover his dominion and forever govern the creation of God was not only predicted by the prophets, it was promised by God Himself.
In Psalm 2 we read,
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Psa. 2:7, 8)
AS THE ONLY TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS MAN, CHRIST IS NOW “RULER (αρχη) OF GOD’S CREATION” (Rev. 3:14).
For the Glory of God
The first and most fundamental reason for everything that comes to pass is the glory of God. Strictly speaking, and because God “worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11), we cannot imagine that there is anything in all of creation history that does not somehow serve to the glory of God Himself (Rev. 4:11). This includes, of course, the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
In John 17, as he drew near to the completion of his redemptive work, Jesus addressed his Father in prayer. Knowing that his entire mission was the product of the sovereign will and purpose of God, he did not shrink back from asking to be glorified himself. “Father the hour is come; glorify thy Son…” (v. 1a).
But Jesus knew that even his glorification would ultimately glorify his Father. And so with impeccable insight he adds, “…in order that thy Son also may glorify thee” (v. 1b). So central is the glory of God in the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that when every knee finally bows, and every tongue confesses him as Lord, it will be “to the glory of God the Father” (v. 11).
In Colossians chapter one, the apostle Paul informs us that all things were created not merely by Jesus Christ but ultimately for Jesus Christ.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. (v. 16)
In other words, God intended from the beginning that Jesus Christ would inherit the universe so that “in all things he might have the preeminence” (v. 18). By why? Again the apostle Paul tells us; “For it pleased the Father” (v. 19).
THE HEADSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST OVER ALL THINGS IS ULTIMATELY FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
For the Good of His People
In addition to (though not separate from) His own glory, the purpose of God in exalting Christ was to provide His people with everything necessary for their total salvation. To use a familiar cliche, we might say that the headship of Jesus Christ is “for the glory of God and the good of his people.” So intimately connected are these two propositions, they often appear side by side in Scripture.
For example, going back to John 17, we see that Jesus tied his own exaltation to the salvation of his people.
In verse two we read,
Thou hast given [me] power over all flesh, that [I] should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given [me].
Again in 2 Cor. 1:20 we read,
For all the promises of God in [Christ] are yea, and in [Christ] Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
The idea here is that God’s glory primarily consists in His faithfulness to fulfill His saving promises in Jesus Christ. And yet that glory shines brightest in and through those who actually receive those promises. The two parts are inextricably tied together; the glory of God in Christ, and the glory of God in Christ through us.
In Ephesians chapter one, similar to what we find in Colossians, the apostle Paul reminds us that by His almighty power, “God raised [Jesus] from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (vv. 20, 21).
But then, in keeping with the pattern we have seen, Paul adds,
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things, to the church. (vv. 22)
THE HEADSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST IS PRIMARILY FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE CHURCH.
Implications for the Individual Christian
To say that Christ is head over all things “for the church” (Col. 1:22), is to say that he is governing the affairs of world history in the interest of his chosen people. This means that no matter how unrelated any two events appears to be, Christians have every reason to believe that in some way or another it is specially designed for the accomplishment of their salvation.
This is why the apostle Paul can say,
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
If Christ is the Ruler of all creation, then nothing and nobody in all of existence is able to keep us from obtaining the redemption he purchased for us on the cross. In John chapter 10 Jesus tells us that in addition to laying down his life (v. 11), he would take it up again in his resurrection from the dead.
I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (vv. 17, 18)
As a result, we have the comfort of knowing that those for whom he died will never be lost. The risen Christ who is head over all things, including death, will see to it that none shall perish for whom he died.
I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (v. 28)
If we take these words at face value, then we can confidently declare with Paul that nothing or nobody can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. Why? Again, because he not only died, but has risen from the dead and is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding on behalf of God’s elect.
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:33-39)
THE HEADSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST MEANS THAT GOD’S ELECT ARE ETERNALLY SECURE.
Implications for the Institutional Church
While there are comforting implications of Christ’s headship concerning the personal salvation of individual believers, there are also (equally important) implications regarding the collective preservation of the institutional church. If Christ is the head of all things for the sake of the church, then in a very special way, he must be the head of the church itself.
As we would expect, Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ is “the head of the body, which is the church” (Col. 1:18). The identity of the church as “the body of Christ” is language that points well beyond the individual members within it. Instead, such a designation presents the structural picture a corporate entity, wherein all members are viewed as a unified whole.
Scripture confirms this connection elsewhere when it states,
All the members of that one body, being many, are one body. (1 Cor. 12:12)
From the perspective of this collective unity, the headship of Jesus Christ provides for us a great number of practical implications for how we should regard the life and ministry of the church. For our purposes here, we will consider only two. First, because Christ is now the visible head of the church, he alone is responsible for its foundation, expansion, and historical preservation. Second, Christ alone being the head of the church, all ecclesiastical authority is delegated authority that is equal and ministerial in nature.
We will consider each of these in an upcoming post.