Christians are well aware that they are called to follow Jesus as the moral exemplar of their faith (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21) and hence to be conformed to his moral image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18), but they seem to be less aware that they are to take on his likeness and follow wherever he goes (Rev. 14:4) in other respects. This arises from an undeniable docetic strain in their Christology and from deficiencies or misunderstandings in traditional theology in general.
But if, as the author of Hebrews avers, Jesus, as a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), was like us in every respect, sin apart (Heb. 2:17; 4:15), the pioneer of our salvation (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 6:20; 12:2) and the first born of many brethren (Rom. 8:29, cf. Heb. 2:11), he and we must share common markers.
Jesus’ Birth, Childhood and Adolescence
The truth of this is easily demonstrated in Jesus’ minority. Once he had been conceived, he gestated for nine months in Mary’s womb. Like all human beings he was thus born of woman (Gal. 4:4), though like Adam he had a heavenly Father (Luke 3:38). As the baby of a Jewish family he followed its normal pattern. He was first circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and, apart from his presentation in the temple, we next learn that like his heathen ancestors before him he spent time in Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:15). On his return he resided in Nazareth (Mt. 2:23). Again, like all Jewish boys he became a son of the commandment at the age of thirteen (cf. Luke 2:41-52).
Keeping the Law
Since law-keeping, like attending school (cf. Gal. 3:25 KJV), is not the most dramatic of activities, we know practically nothing of his life under the law except that he kept it without fault or flaw. Proof of this stems from his public acknowledgement by his heavenly Father who, at his baptism, owned him as his Son (Mt. 3:13-17). In other words, for the first time in the history of mankind a man had uniquely fulfilled the condition of (eternal) life first promised to Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:17) and re-enforced by Moses and the prophets (Lev. 18:5; Dt. 11:26-28; 30:15-18; 32:46f.; Ezek. 20:11,13,21, etc.). It is at this point that Jesus ceases to recapitulate the life of his forefathers and begins to forge the regenerate or Christian life as the acknowledged Son of God and to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) on his path to perfection (Mt. 5:48; 19:21). Here, instead of being a follower, he becomes a pioneer intent on achieving as man the perfection (completeness, maturity) of God (cf. Mt. 5:48, cf. Lev. 11:44f., etc.). Otherwise expressed, he was concerned to prove his pedigree by matching his ontology with function or action.
Jesus’ Baptism and Ours
In light of this it is vital to note that his baptism, like Abraham’s circumcision, which sealed his justification by faith (Rom. 4:10-12), occurred after and as a consequence of his having kept the law. As Paul would later emphasise, righteousness or justification must precede life (cf. Rom. 5:21, contrast Adam who was cut off from access to the tree of life once he had sinned, Gen. 3:22-24). Alternatively expressed, the way to life was narrow; it depended on keeping the law (Mt. 19:17, cf. 7:14). So Jesus’ baptism became the prototypical and paradigmatic baptism for all who put their trust in him. Even though John the Baptist served as God’s human instrument in his baptism, repentance for the sinless Jesus was unnecessary (cf. Mt. 3:14f.). On the other hand, since he was flesh (that is born of woman and a true son of Adam, Luke 3:38) and could not by nature enter heaven (1 Cor. 15:50), his new or spiritual birth from above was as intrinsically necessary as it was for all who followed him (cf. John 3:1-8). Jesus’ own comment that unless a man (cf. v.4, Gk. tis, anyone, vv.3,5) is born again or of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God does not allow for exceptions, even himself. Only by adopting a docetist stance can we argue to the contrary. (See further my Baptism Revisited)
The Regeneration of Jesus
Though Adam was promised life if he kept the commandment, like all his fleshly posterity, he failed (cf. Rom. 5:12). By contrast, since Jesus as the second Adam did keep the commandment, the entire law of Moses in fact, he was considered righteous (cf. Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7, etc.) and so inherited life (cf. Gen. 2:17). In view of the fact that according to the OT no one was righteous (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 14:1-3), it was Jesus who fulfilled the promise originally made to Adam for the first and only time. In light of this we have no alternative but to recognize that just as righteousness is the free gift of God to all who have faith in Jesus, so is the eternal life promised on the fulfillment of its condition (Rom. 5:17; 6:23; 1 John 5:11-13). Truly may it be said that Jesus, as the acknowledged Son of God, is the firstborn of many (adopted) brethren (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:10f.). And just as the regenerate Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:5, 12f.), so do we who believe in him (1 John 5:1-5; Rev. 3:21, etc.). In clarification of this it might be appropriately added at this point that God’s acknowledgement of Jesus as his Son at his baptism corresponds with and bears fruit in our adoption (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5f.). Adoption is in other words the Pauline equivalent of the Johannine new birth or regeneration. If Jesus, the man, was a son, the Son, he necessarily underwent regeneration.
The Anointing of the Spirit
Jesus was anointed by the Spirit. In Luke 4:18f. (cf. Isa. 61:1f.) he claims that God’s Spirit is on him and that he has been anointed to preach good news to the poor (cf. Acts 10:38). His anointing constituted him Messiah, the anointed King. It is a wonderful teaching of Scripture that believers too are anointed (1 John 2:20,27). Paul, for example, was a preacher appointed (Acts 26:17f.) and empowered by the Spirit (Acts 9:17) like the original apostles (Acts 2) to preach to the Gentiles who were in darkness (Acts 26:17f., cf.; Col. 1:13; 1 Thes. 1:9f.). But there is more to be said. Just as Christ the Anointed One is depicted as reigning as King, so his followers are promised rulership or a kingdom along with him (Rev. 3:21, cf. Luke 12:31f.).
The Sealing of the Spirit
According to John 6:27 Jesus was sealed with the Spirit. The suggestion is that it occurred at his baptism. If this is so, then we too are sealed at our baptism. It can be said for certain that the Spirit is active in giving us new birth. But a seal is a mark of approval and ownership and was commonly used in ancient times for branding or marking slaves. Paul goes so far as to say that if we do not have his Spirit, we do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). On the other hand, he indicates that if we have truly believed in him, we have indeed been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) as a mark of authentication and ownership (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).
The Guarantee of the Spirit
Though the NT writers fail to say so explicitly, the seal of Jesus by the Spirit at his baptism guaranteed the success of his mission to redeem those who believed in him (Mark 10:45) and to return to glory with them as God’s adopted children in tow (cf. Acts 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18).
In 2 Corinthians 1:22 Paul refers to the seal of the Spirit as a guarantee of preservation or security till the day of redemption (cf. Eph. 4:30). This thought is implicit in Philippians 1:6 where the apostle tells his readers that that he who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion. The same thought is made more explicit in 2 Corinthians 5:5 where Paul says that God has prepared us for eternal life in transformed bodies by giving us the Spirit as a guarantee. And it is still further underlined by his insistence that the seal of the Spirit serves as a guarantee of our inheritance until we actually acquire full possession of it (Eph. 1:14).
So just as Jesus was baptized, born again (from above and fitted in principle for heaven) and publicly acknowledged as God’s Son, so are we who believe in him (John 3:16; Rom. 8:14-17, etc.); just as he was anointed by the Spirit for service (Luke 4:18f.; Acts 4:27; 10:38), so are we (2 Cor. 1:22); and just as he was sealed by the Spirit as a mark of ownership and safe-keeping (John 6:27), so are we (Eph. 1:13f.; 4:30, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.). Since Jesus was at once a prophet, priest and king, nothing less can be said of us who follow in his steps until we reign with him in heaven (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:21; 5:10, etc.). Truly, just as Jesus was sent by the Father, so we in our turn are sent by Jesus (John 20:21).
But we can go even further. Just as Jesus was crucified and raised, so are we with him (Rom. 6:1ff.; 1 Cor. 6:14, cf. Gal. 5:24). Just as he ascended to the Father, so shall we ascend in our turn (1 Pet. 3:18). Just as he was exalted and glorified so shall we be (Rom. 8:17). Just as he was transformed and given a body of glory, so shall we be (Phil. 3:21). As he lives, so shall we live (John 14:19). Where he is, we shall be also (John 17:24; Rev. 3:21). Thus as a bridegroom he will present us all together as a bride to the Father (2 Cor. 4:14; 11:2), and in the end God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
Truly the redeemed will have followed Jesus wherever he has gone blazing a trail into heaven itself (Rev. 14:4, cf. John 14:2). The image of God they had at the beginning will have been perfected in his likeness in Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 1:3). Truly may we say with John, see what love the Father has given us that we should be called his children (1 John 3:1). Glory to God alone!