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John Calvin, the Beatific Vision, and the End of Mediation

Dr. Hutchinson’s recent post on Augustine reminded me about a point of Calvin’s eschatology that I wanted to explore. Agreeing with Augustine, Calvin argues that there will come a time when Christ’s mediation will come to an end, and the godman will deliver the kingdom over to the Trinity (considered properly; its deity as such). Calvin then adds that we will behold God directly at this time, seeing the majesty of deity without a veil.

This thought can be found in at least two places in Calvin’s work. First is his commentary on 1 Cor. 15:28:

Farther, it must be observed, that he has been appointed Lord and highest King, so as to be as it were the Father’s Vicegerent in the government of the world — not that he is employed and the Father unemployed (for how could that be, inasmuch as he is the wisdom and counsel of the Father, is of one essence with him, and is therefore himself God?) But the reason why the Scripture testifies, that Christ now holds dominion over the heaven and the earth in the room of the Father is — that we may not think that there is any other governor, lord, protector, or judge of the dead and living, but may fix our contemplation on him alone.  We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the veil being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.

He expands upon these thoughts in his Institutes:

The kingdom of God assuredly had no beginning, and will have no end: but because he was hid under a humble clothing of flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and humbled himself (Phil. 2:8), and, laying aside the insignia of majesty, became obedient to the Father; and after undergoing this subjection was at length crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:7), and exalted to supreme authority, that at his name every knee should bow (Phil. 2:10); so at the end he will subject to the Father both the name and the crown of glory, and whatever he received of the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). For what end were that power and authority given to him, save that the Father might govern us by his hand? In the same sense, also, he is said to sit at the right hand of the Father. But this is only for a time, until we enjoy the immediate presence of his Godhead. And here we cannot excuse the error of some ancient writers, who, by not attending to the office of Mediator, darken the genuine meaning of almost the whole doctrine which we read in the Gospel of John, and entangle themselves in many snares. Let us, therefore, regard it as the key of true interpretation, that those things which refer to the office of Mediator are not spoken of the divine or human nature simply. Christ, therefore, shall reign until he appear to judge the world, inasmuch as, according to the measure of our feeble capacity, he now connects us with the Father. But when, as partakers of the heavenly glory, we shall see God as he is, then Christ, having accomplished the office of Mediator, shall cease to be the vicegerent of the Father, and will be content with the glory which he possessed before the world was. Nor is the name of Lord specially applicable to the person of Christ in any other respect than in so far as he holds a middle place between God and us. To this effect are the words of Paul, “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him,” (1 Cor. 8:6); that is, to the latter a temporary authority has been committed by the Father until his divine majesty shall be beheld face to face. His giving up of the kingdom to the Father, so far from impairing his majesty, will give a brighter manifestation of it. God will then cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ’s own Godhead will then shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled. (Inst. 2.14.3)

Many readers may be taken aback by Calvin’s boldness on this topic. It certainly goes against a few of our theological fashions. But a few observations may help us avoid unnecessary reactions.

First, Calvin is using his terms very precisely here. When he speaks of “Christ,” he is speaking of the messiah’s office as such. This can include both the deity and the humanity of Christ, but it is primarily addressing the mediatorial work. Calvin explains this in the second block quote when he writes, “those things which refer to the office of Mediator are not spoken of the divine or human nature simply.” “Christ” refers to the whole Christ, and the “end” of His work is the end of His work as mediator.

Second, Calvin is not here arguing that Christ gives up His human nature. He argues that Christ gives up his jurisdiction and reign (He  gives it to the father). The kingdom will be transferred “in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity.”

Thirdly, it is at the end of history, after the Second Coming, that this transfer will occur. At that time believers will be fully perfected, and they will be able to behold God’s full majesty without any further mediator. Christ’s humanity will not be necessary as a veil. We will “enjoy the immediate presence of his Godhead.” This is a form of the beatific vision. In the future, we will see God.

These statements from Calvin are very interesting. They are not doubt provocative. Many more questions could be asked. Yet the rationale for Calvin’s statements is obvious. It is the Bible itself which first made these claims, and he is rather bravely attempting to explain those divine verses.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.

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