Monday, August 11, 2008

The Table of Divine Partaking

By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 2:4)
Peter reveals a startling truth: In Jesus Christ, we are partakers of the divine nature. One who partakes is one who takes part. The Greek word is koinonia, and refers to partnership, participation, fellowship. See how it is used in the following passage:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers [koinonos] of the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:16-18)
Here, communion refers, of course, to the Table of the Lord—the bread and the cup. It is the sign of our participation in the body of Christ, our union with the Lord Jesus. We are identified with Him; He is identified with us. We are part of Him; He is part of us, even as the bread and wine we consume at His Table becomes a part of our body and blood.

What does it mean to be a partaker of the divine nature? The Greek word for “divine” is theios, and literally means “god-like.” The early Church understood Peter’s phrase, “partakers of the divine nature” as theosis: deification, being made divine, or “becoming god.” Athanasius of Alexandria, a fourth century Father of the Church, said, “For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself … that we may become henceforth a holy race, and ‘partakers of the Divine Nature,’ as blessed Peter wrote.” (Personal Letter 60:4). “For He was made man that we might be made God” (On the Incarnation, chapter 54). “Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us” (Discourse 1 Against the Arians, chapter 11). Ireneaus, an important Christian theologian of the second century, speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, “who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface). The Church has long embraced this understanding as part of the orthodox Christian faith.

What does it mean to participate in the divine nature? First, we need to understand that there are some aspects of the divine nature in which we could never share. For example, God is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present. These are attributes which cannot be communicated to us. That is, we are incapable of experiencing them; they belong to God alone. But there are other divine attributes in which we may share with Him. Peter tells us that the divine power of the Lord Jesus Christ has given to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). He then lists some of these gifts in verses 5-7: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Paul offers a similar list, which he calls “the fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are all attributes by which we are participants in the divine nature.

The Incarnation is not just about redemption from sin, and reconciliation with God. It is the restoration and fulfillment of God’s purpose for us in creation, when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth” (Genesis 1:26). That is why, as Paul says, “the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). “Sons” speaks of like nature. Just as sons of men share in the nature of men, sons of God share in the nature of God.

As we take the bread and the cup at the Table of the Lord, we partake of the divine nature. We partake of Jesus Christ, His body and His blood. As Jesus partook of our human nature, we partake of His divine nature. For we are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus, just as Adam was created in the likeness of God, and we receive His divine spirit, the Holy Spirit, just as Adam received the breath of God.

The Table of the Lord displays the Incarnation of Jesus, His participation in our human nature and our participation in His divine nature, and shows us to be the sons of God. All creation is waiting for this revelation.