Well, the whole Jacques Ellul Image vs. Word series has not generated the response I was hoping for. So instead of the originally planned four, I will cap off the Old Covenant and Incarnation phases with just one more post on the final two phases of New Covenant and Consummation. But that’s OK, because these are basically reiterations of the first two phases anyways, so there’s less new to discuss.
In the Incarnation, Image and Word are temporarily united in Jesus’ flesh; but under the New Covenant, we re-enter a phase in which Word is the primary medium of our relationship to God, and Image is somewhere between proscribed and unhelpful.
Luke 16:19-31: In this famous parable, the agonizing rich man in hell asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus as a sign to warn to his brothers (I believe I am taking only the slightest liberty here; though the actual text uses no word relating to vision, the appearance of a resurrected man would definitely fall within the realm of Image). But Abraham tells the agonizing rich man that “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” This, along with Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”) are messages to all men of our time, that after the ascension, we cannot expect Image; we must rely on Word.
Rom 10:13-17: Here the Great Commission is expanded on in repeated, explicitly Word-ish terminology:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
A few verses now to bring us to the final phase of Consummation:
John 16:16-22: Jesus himself tells us that, after a time of having no Image of The Word, God’s eventual plan is for us to see Jesus, The Word, again.
I Cor 13:9-12: In v10, Paul says “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” What is perfect, and what is partial? “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Perfect will be when we see face to face — but in the meantime, man cannot see God’s face and live.
So when is this future time at which we will be able to See the Word? Of course, it is Jesus’ second coming: the renewal of Heaven and Earth, the consummation of all history. And so it is not surprising that eschatological literature is replete with Imagery of Jesus. To close, I present just one example, which uses graphic Imagery to depict the power of his Word:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.