"Sovereign Head" - The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Jesus: Before Times Eternal

"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death." - Philippians 3:10.

These words express the life-long quest of the Apostle. This quest had swallowed up all other interests, ambitions, and values. There was a time when he boasted above any other man of the advantages which were his by reason of ancestry, descent, inheritance, status, achievement, rectitude, influence, etc.

"If any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the Church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless." There had come to Paul a glimpse of something which had made all this appear to him as "the veriest refuse" in comparison. That glimpse had been growing steadily, had reached the dimensions of "unspeakable things," but here right at the end of his life he is still crying "That I may know Him!" From all the writings of this inspired man we are going to seek to know what it was that had been breaking upon him as the revelation which was so all-absorbing, all-consuming, and what he saw to be the issues of such a knowledge. We therefore turn to see when and where this thing commenced, and what the commencement was. This is undoubtedly found in Acts 9:5. Here, smitten to the ground by the fierce blaze of the heavenly glory and in answer to his enquiry "Who art Thou, Lord?" The answer came clear, straight, deliberate, strong,

"I AM - JESUS!"

This answer issued in the collapse of an entire system and the reconstruction of everything for Saul who now became Paul. It sent him for two or three years into Arabia to get the significance of it. There is one phase of this declaration which we may immediately consider. Those words "I AM" which not only declared a fact but formed a designation, had often been on the lips of Jesus in the days of His flesh, and they had never been used by Him without some tremendous eternal significance on the one hand and some vital effect on the other. Let us look at some of these occasions.

John 4:26. - "I that speak unto Thee am" (he). The "he" is not in the original, and the Greek literally reads "Jesus said to her, 'Who speaking to thee I am.'" See the consequences of this!

John 6:20. - "He saith unto them, it is I, be not afraid." The Greek here again is "He saith, 'I am,' be not afraid."

John 8:24. - "Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins."

John 8:28. - "When ye have lifted up the Son of man ye shall know that I am."

John 8:58. - "Before Abraham was, I am."

John 13:19. - "I tell you before it is come to pass that when it is come to pass you may believe that I am."

John 18:5. - "Jesus said, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said unto them I am. When therefore He said unto them, I am, they went backward and fell to the ground."

Later in our meditations we shall come to see something of the great spiritual meaning of some of the more familiar "I ams" of Jesus, but here we are just pointing out that this declaration carried with it a potency of tremendous effect, and it was both the statement as a fact and as a power which started Paul on this great quest and opened the way for the revelation of the eternal and comprehensive purpose of God in Christ.

Paul started by coming to see that the Jesus of the New Testament is the "I am" of the Old, but it went beyond that, it ranged the eternities and the ages.

"Before Abraham was I am" that as to past eternity, "before times eternal."

"I AM He that liveth.... and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages" - that as to the eternity yet to be.

We now turn to look through Paul's enlightened eyes, as we are given spiritual perception, at the first phase of this range of the revelation.

Jesus: Before Times Eternal

The whole system and scheme of things in the universe was related to this, "Jesus," "I am," "before times eternal." It would take all our time, beloved, to turn up the references to everything we are going to say, and you will pardon me if I don't do that; but you can follow closely and go to the Word yourself, and, like good Bereans "see if these things are so," and you must just give me your confidence that what I am saying is with scriptural foundation, but of course, most of you will be readily able to see this with the very words of scripture with which you are familiar.

Now, then, go back into the eternity past and find the Lord Jesus there. Of course, this mere fact may not carry you very far, but the interpretation of the fact, the revelation of the nature of the fact which has come to Paul is very very vital for present purposes, and we must be pre-eminently practical. We are not dealing with eternity past in itself merely as such, we are bringing the facts out of eternity past to bear upon the present and immediate issue. This is the important thing, and this is really what we are after. When Paul, by revelation, takes you back there in his knowledge of Jesus eternally co-existent with the Father, he sees something happening back there. He sees many things happening; he sees one thing with two sides happening.

Firstly, he sees the Father with a purpose in the nature of a design, what we would call a scheme, but the Greek word is not a safe word to use in this connection. In the Greek it means things which are external, which change. "The fashion (schema) of this world passeth away," so that one would not suggest that. What was in the mind of the Father was something transcendent and unchanging, but it was a design, a plan, a purpose, and that purpose was concerning His Son: and in and through and by and unto that Son all the divine thought and intention, purpose and plan was designed. And so, for that purpose, that specific thing, the Second Person in the Godhead becomes the First Begotten. Then, and right up until His resurrection through the Incarnation He was the Only Begotten, but in design He was also to be the First Begotten. In the resurrection He was the First Begotten, and there were those begotten after in Him; but we leave that; that is the other side.

"The only Begotten of the Father," and He became in that sense the Only Begotten Son, and then the Father (I am putting it in our language) as it were, tells the Son the whole plan and purpose, and brings the Son into fellowship with Himself in this, and, in effect, He says to the Son, Now this is My plan, My design, My purpose, My will FOR YOU; and it is all for You, and it is all to have its fulfilment in You and for You and through You. The whole universe is to be involved, and I gather it up for You and unto You to work it out through You. ("All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father" - "For unto Him, and through Him and by Him were all things created.") And now, says the Father in effect to the Son, It is Yours, it is for You ultimately, finally, consummately. It is for You, and I secure it in You; it is Your inheritance as Son and Heir. ("Whom He appointed heir of all things.") Now you undertake the realisation of it, whatever it costs; and there is, as it were, the Divine glance down the ages, and the dark shadow crosses the path, the shadow of sin, an apparent breakdown, an arrest, a coming in of sinister elements and of the issue and consequence, and the necessity for the Cross. And the Father says, "Yes, do You accept that?" "Yes, I accept that and enter right into that now in all the pain and the passion and the agony of it." And "The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world."

Calvary became in eternity a realised thing before ever it came forth into time. The whole thing is gone through with the Son in prospect and committed unto the Son. You read those wonderful passages that come through Paul (and I assume that Paul had at least a very real hand in the writing of the Hebrew letter - if it were not his own hand it was as near his own dictation as could be) which take you back there and tell you, "Thy throne O God is for ever and ever."

Concerning the Son, read that marvellous first chapter of Hebrews again, and see what He says of the Son; and then take the first chapter of Colossians and see again back in eternity, what the Father is committing unto the Son, including in the Son, determining for the Son, and through the Son, and all ultimately unto the Son. Then first of all towards this realisation is the creating of the ages, and the Son does it unto a Purpose; the Son comes forth and creates the ages - "By Whom He created the ages." The Son created the ages unto a specific thing which the Father had registered for Him in Eternity as His Son.

Now that is one side. It is a marvellous thing which would occupy and fascinate us, and I think move us tremendously if we were to stay with it long enough, and you know the grip of a thing like that, how difficult it is to pass on when it is breaking upon you all the time. No wonder he said, "A Hebrew of Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised the eighth day," - "what 'piffle' compared with this! I count all that the utmost refuse that I MAY KNOW HIM!" - he is seeing this vast thing - I AM, JESUS, before Times Eternal, with all this meaning of the Father, and much more.

But, beloved, there is the other side of this twofold thing. Oh, wonder of wonders, he sees that the realisation of this was not just the Son in an isolated capacity, not the Son by Himself, One alone, a Unit in the universe to have all this for Himself, but it is the Son in a corporate capacity! That word corporate is losing its force and power, and I am foraging around to find a better word for "corporate" that will revive the meaning of it - the inclusiveness of the Son - and Paul sees. Yes, the Father made a covenant with the Son. The Father came to an understanding with the Son. The Father did all this with and for the Son, but, at the same time, when the Father chose the Son the Only Begotten, chose Him deliberately, and the Son entered into the choice of the Father, when He had done that, the next step was to be, "we were chosen in Him (the Son) before the foundation of the world."

"We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world"; and then a whole system of activities was projected called, "the works of the Son." Have you fathomed the works of the Son? Have you ranged the works of the Son? And these works were settled before the foundation of the world. The works were set and fixed and finished that we should walk in them - finished before the foundation of the world (Eph. 2:10, Heb. 4:3, &c.) There is a vocation settled in eternity; there is a kind of conduct, a nature of procedure, a system of activities out from God in the Son all ready prepared that we should walk in them. And then something more. The Son, "the express image of the Father's glory" (Hebrews, Philippians), in the form of God - ("Who being in the form of God") - the Son in the likeness of the Father, an express image, or eikon, representation of the Father, of course containing also, as the extra phrase has it, "the very underlying essence of His substance," but in presentation, or representation, of the Father; that is the Son.

Now listen - "we were foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son." Is not this mighty? Is not this wonderful? Not that we shall partake of the essence of deity, but that we shall be a manifestation, expression of His glory, of His nature, a reproduction of God in glorified human form - The Son Incarnate - glorified humanity expressing the very likeness and image of God; in that realm becoming the "Archetypal" Man, the Supreme Head, into which all are to be conformed; fore-ordained away back there in the Eternal Counsels, the Father and the Son and the Spirit in counsel, and the Father, as it were, revealing the design, the Son entering into it, and the Spirit co-operating as the Executive in all this. But we were in it, and in the fore view we were chosen in Him, and fore-ordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. What a background! What a thing to miss! What a motive for our being at all! What a key to our existence! Does anyone ask, "Why was I born? I never was consulted as to whether I should come into the world. Life is an awful enigma and full of pain. Oh that the darkness had covered me on the day of my birth!" So some talk. Oh beloved, let him who knows a little of Him speak to your heart and take you into this. But one wants to come to a very practical proposition, and I shall have to close almost at once. You see we were foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. That is in the Purpose of God, a people, a race, represented in Jesus Christ in an inclusive representation, sharing His Life, sharing God's Eternal Purpose which is in Him, inheriting His heritage in God, secured in Christ through faith and ultimating in His likeness.

Now that is the grand first view of "I AM" before Times Eternal; but this is the practical thing - get this if you miss everything else - "Conformed to the image of His Son." The Greek word behind our English word "conformed" is the opposite to that word which I have just mentioned schema. This is morphe. Schema and morphe are opposites. Schema means the presentation in an outward form, which nevertheless is a changing form, or fashion that passes; morphe is the essential likeness, abiding likeness, or nature, the thing that is real and enduring. Now that word "conformed" is morphe. What is conversion? It is not schema, an outward change of fashion that passes, it is taking on the permanent likeness of Jesus Christ. That is conversion, morphe - converted to His likeness. It is not merely a change, but it is a change to a certain definite image, a certain definite form. Is that what we mean by conversion? Is that what we are talking about when we ask, "Have you had any conversions?" Is this what we are after when we say we are out for conversions? Is this the aim, the goal you have in an evangelistic campaign? Does conversion with you mean the taking on of the germ of the eternal image of Jesus Christ? In other words, receiving the Divine Nature, destined to transform and to make us like unto Himself, receiving the abiding likeness, image of Jesus Christ, and having received into us the Life which has it in itself to bring about the very likeness of Christ, we are progressively converted, transformed, transfigured into His likeness? Even that is conversion.

You see even for the evangelist we have to come right back to before times eternal. We see now that conversion means that, and that we were fore-ordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. That is conversion, beloved, and do you wonder - I do not, as I come to see this - that our ideas and our methods and means are altogether inadequate. We cannot bring this about by any kind of revival singing. We may work up an atmosphere to a tremendous tension with choruses and sensational stories, but it is a wonder that really anything abiding does happen sometimes, and I am not at all surprised that the thing breaks down before long, and unless you keep up the sensation and emotion and all that sort of thing it collapses; unless you bolster it up and keep it going, and put your shoulder behind it all the time it flops and goes out. Let us get an adequate conception of what conversion is, and then all mean methods, all this rubbish will be thrown aside, and we shall have an adequate gospel. And what the world is languishing for is an adequate gospel, a gospel which has in it that power which can accomplish the Eternal Purpose of God - "Conformed to the image of His Son." Now what can do that? That is the question we have to answer. Nothing less than the mighty energising of the Eternal Spirit out from God, the Spirit of the Covenant, the Spirit of the Purpose, the Spirit of the counsels of God, the Spirit Who, in effect, said, "I will go out and be the Instrument of this Almighty Power to function, to bring about this Purpose for the Son." And the Spirit is working for the Son all the time, not speaking of Himself, not making Himself the figure-head, not bringing Himself before the eyes of others, but all the time glorifying the Son, working mightily for the Son; and in the Son, and through the Son, enabling Him to go through the Cross by the Eternal Spirit. Nothing less than that, beloved, the very omnipotence of God Himself, can bring about our conversion to the image of His Son.

Now Paul sees that. That is the thing that has broken upon him. He sees Jesus before times eternal, and he sees what the Father has determined concerning Jesus, and then he sees his relationship to Jesus and in Jesus, chosen and then fore-ordained to a certain end, and that end the image of His Son, and he says, "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection," in order that I might be conformed to His image. That is the end. Of course it means much more than that, but I have stopped here with just this one thing. Do you know something now of the meaning of conversion? What have been your thoughts about conversion? Perhaps we have been guilty of thinking of schema instead of morphe? That is, a change of fashion of life, a change of mode of life, a change of things more or less outward in behaviour and conduct; instead of going to certain places, coming to meetings and all that. Well, now, that is not good enough when you have got to meet the impact that the Eternal Son meets in the Cross for the realisation of the Eternal Purpose. Nothing less than the very Life Principle of the Eternal Son resident within one will suffice to realise and attain unto the Purpose of God before times eternal in the Lord Jesus.

Oh beloved, this is our quest, That I may know Him thus, and this is where we begin. You have got to come down to the first activities of the Son in creation, that He is the creating One, "By Him the worlds were created" - "All things were created by Him and unto Him" - "In Him all things hold together" - "Upholding all things by the word of His power." This is the Son, and yet in the ultimate issue, it is not the isolated Unit, it is the Corporate Christ which is going to reign. It is the "Archetypal" Man, a Man with all those gathered up in Him who are to reign. The saints shall rule the world. Where we begin is - Have we got the principle of sonship, the power of sonship, that He was the Only Begotten, and in a sense is always the Only Begotten, and that He has in His resurrection become the Firstborn among many brethren, the First Begotten of a whole company of those sons whom He is going to bring to glory? The sense in which He is going to bring many sons into glory is not just to a place but to a state. He is the Son inclusive of all the sons who are "joint-heirs" with Him as the Heir. "He is the Heir of all things," and "we are joint-heirs with Christ," says the word, for "all things are His."

It is wonderful this unveiling of Jesus Christ, the "I AM," but you begin here with the principle of sonship, and that, of course, goes back - we share His Life and are attested sons in the Son by the power of the resurrection into which we enter through the Cross. We once and for all recognise His Cross as having for ever put away one system, an old type, and accept that and reckon ourselves in that mighty putting away and concluding of God, "God hath concluded all under sin." That is, He has finished everything under sin, and in that finishing, that concluding of God we have taken our place by faith truly, for ever reckoning that system, that type as gone. It is not for us any longer; we repudiate it all along, deny that self, and recognise that in His resurrection He has commenced this eternal thing, He Himself being "declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead," and we who have shared His death, and have been "planted together with Him in the likeness of His death" are now "in the likeness of His resurrection" on resurrection ground, receiving the gift of the Spirit of sonship, "born of the Spirit," "born from above" by the act of God. That is the basis; that is the beginning of the conversion which is to issue in His image, and "I shall be satisfied when I awake in His likeness." And the whole creation has become involved. "The whole creation groaneth, travaileth in pain until now." What for? "For the manifestation of the sons." You see here is this passion, the passion of God entering into creation unto this end. Creation writhes in its impotence and helplessness to get to the end God has fixed; it cannot; it waits for the manifestation of the sons; and when they are manifest, creation shall be redeemed with them - delivered! But we have gone on too far and must come back again to the principle and law of sonship, that is, conversion, to issue in His likeness - "That I may know Him."

The Lord answer our prayer as it really comes from our hearts more and more in the light of all this - "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection." - Amen.

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