Resurrection, ascension and session of Christ
The Puritan Isaac Ambrose gives following reasons for Christ's resurrection. As we can see they are all grounded upon Scripture.
i. To confound His enemies:
"Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole" (Acts 4:10).
Throughout his sojourn among us, Christ was maligned and misrepresented. The very leaders of religious Israel cast him aside and questioned and even denied his authority. Though he came unto his own, his own did not receive him. Except for the few, the assessment and judgement was against him.
The resurrection, in their case, proved to be a turning of the tables. Christ was cast out: "We would not have this man to reign over us." But God the Father reversed their judgement, and proclaimed him the Price of Life, and even death could not hold him in its grip. His enemies thought that Calvary was the final chapter; the resurrection put them to shame and proved them utterly wrong.
ii. To confirm the faith of His followers:
"Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee" (Matthew 26:31,32).
The early disciples, who walked and talked with Him, could not understand his sayings about the resurrection. When Christ announced that He was going to leave them, they were sad, but Christ told them that they should have rejoiced, for, among other things, Calvary did not spell the end but rather was to be the fountainhead of all spiritual blessings for his own. He even performed miracles (raising of Lazarus, etc.) to witness to the fact that "I am the resurrection and the life..."
In spite of all this, their faith wavered, and they actually fled and left the Master alone to undergo the sufferings of Calvary and death itself. It was to prove the veracity of his promises that he again met with them after the resurrection and greeted them with peace.
They were afraid and unbelieving, but Christ acknowledged that as his own and commissioned them as his sent-out ones. In particular, Christ dealt with Peter who had denied him thrice; by his three-fold questions, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" Christ reaffirmed his love for him and re-instated him into the ministry.
iii. To prove that He had satisfied God's justice:
"Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:23-25).
By his sufferings and death Christ paid the full penalty for sins; he made his soul an offering for sin. His death was the complete wages that was exacted, not from the elect but from their Representative Head. "He was made sin for us who knew no sin..."
But how was this to be publicly known and confirmed. How could a dead Messiah deliver his people? Isn't it logical that a dead Saviour needs a Saviour himself? Considering this, the resurrection is inevitable. If justice was satisfied (and it was), then the resurrection was the natural follow-up. In view of the fact that the ransom had been paid, God raised him up. Had his body remained in the grave, the mystery would have been far greater.
iv. To overcome sin, death and the devil:
"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:9,10).
The resurrection of Christ proved that our sins had been nailed to the cross; they were dealt with once for all (Colossians 2:13.14). Christ became personally responsible for sins not his own, and he succeeded in bearing them away (the antitype of the scapegoat, upon whose head the sins of Israel were confessed and transferred, and was then taken into the wilderness, not to be seen again).
Since Calvary was efficacious in regard to the forgiveness of sins, then the empty tomb was a necessity. Again, the day Christ died, death died. It was impossible for the Prince of life to be held within its power. Death could not overcome life, much as darkness cannot overcome light.
This is seen quite clearly and irrefutably by the emergence of Christus Victor from the grave. The devil was vanquished by the cross: "And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15). When the cross was imminent, Christ said, "Now is the judgement of this world: now is the prince of this world cast out" (John 12:31). But to openly declare that Christ's power was infinitely greater than him who had the power of death (i.e. the devil, Hebrews 2), he was raised from death.
v. To become the first-fruits of those who slept:
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:20,21).
Christ is the first One who was raised from the dead never to die again. Many individuals were brought back to life before him, but with the same principle of natural life. Necessarily they died again later on. Not so with Christ: he was raised never to die again: death no longer hath power over him: the death he died he died unto sin once, but in that he liveth he liveth unto God (Romans 6:9,10). "I was dead, but now, behold, I am alive for ever and ever, Amen."
Because He lives, his redeemed ones shall live with him and by him. It is by his power that he will raise them up at the last day. Thus his living today guarantees our full redemption (soul and body) later on. The first sheaf waived before the God (i.e., Christ) proves that there is a harvest waiting to be gathered in (all believers).
vi. To be exalted, glorified and declared to be Son of God, Prince and Saviour:
"Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3,4).
The resurrection of Christ is the first stage in his exaltation, after having gone through such humiliation. "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted...". "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). This declaration of Peter comes as the conclusion of his argumentation concerning the resurrection of Christ.
The resurrection proves the utter disparity between God's approval and man's opinion about Jesus Christ. "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:30,31).
The Saviour has to be a living Saviour. This fact alone sets biblical Christianity wholly apart from all world religions, which were all spawned by mere men who could not save themselves, less so their own followers.
The Ascension of Christ
The Lord Jesus frequently prophesied how He would go back to the Father after having completed His mission on earth.
His ascension is related to:
a. His previous work on earth.
On many occasions our Lord Jesus had foretold his disciples (and sometimes his enemies) that He is going away and they will see him no more. In the days of His flesh He walked among us for a purpose, the culmination of which was to make atonement for sin and to finish iniquity by the offering of Himself. His appearance among the children of men was necessary. He walked among us for a purpose, the culmination of which was to make atonement for sin and to finish iniquity by the offering of Himself. His appearance among the children of men was necessary: it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, for it was as a Kinsman-Redeemer that he had to bear sin away.
But his desire was to go "unto my Father," and to receive "the glory which I had with thee before the world was." In his ascension Christ presents his own before the Father; he is our representative, our precursor who had gone before us. In no way does the ascension signify that He is now standing aloof from what he began to do (Acts 1:1ff.).
Rather he ascended to "go unto my Father and your Father, unto my God and your God." As he accomplished a priestly work on Calvary, it is also a priestly work he now performs on the right hand of God, interceding for his own.
He appeared as a prophet mighty in word and deed; still he fulfils that same office from heaven by his omnipresent Spirit who resides in the hearts of believers. He was recognised and hailed as the king of Israel by his disciples; his ascension does not break this connection - he is still the king. "I have set my king upon the holy hill of Sion."
b. His present work in heaven.
Without the ascension Christ could not be given the glory for which he requested the Father. Being taken up in glory, he is given the name which is above every other name: that is, in his mediatorial ministry he is known and confessed as Lord, having authority to give eternal life to all those whom the Father had given him. And this he does from his exalted position in heaven.
In this sense he could still promise us his presence: "I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." By sending us "another Comforter" we are not left as orphans. Christ is effectively gathering his own whom he purchased with his own blood and those who come to faith are "seated with him in the heavenly places." In this way it is better for us to have Him in heaven. From heaven He lifts up our hearts and affections and will to heavenly things (Colossians 3:1ff.).
It is important for us to know that Christ's ascension:
This was the divinely-chosen way for Christ to terminate his mission on earth for which he was sent and anointed to do. He could have simply vanished from the sight of his disciples as he did no previous occasions after his resurrection, but heavenly wisdom dictated that the best way to depart was in a visible way, thus to mark the final close of his earthly association with them. In this context we can better appreciate his word to Mary Magdalene, "Do not cling to me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father..."
By his visible ascension it becomes doubly evident that our relationship with our Master is not a carnal one. "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16).
Being visibly taken from the disciples, the faithful church throughout her generations seeks for her Lord, not upon the earth, but in heaven "from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead."
By various metaphors and in different times Christ propounded this important truth: "the time will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away." "The poor ye always have with you, but you will not always have me." "What if ye shall see the Son of man ascend to where he was before?"
Christ sojourned among us for a while: "we beheld his glory," but having fulfilled the mandate received from the Father, he returns to his Father.
"God was manifest in the flesh," but having accomplished in his flesh a substitutionary atonement, he is assumed to heaven with a glorified body. He returns physically. This is important all the more because the church needs One who is able to represent her before the throne of majesty, who is equally divine as much as equally human. Our flesh is already in heaven, for we are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
Furthermore, his physical ascension blasts the heresy of transubstantiation. Since Christ's body is a real human body, it could not be in different places at the same time. Considering his physical ascension we are assured that it is right to seek our Master where he really is, that is, in heaven, and nowhere else.
He dwells not in temples made with hands, as apostate Christendom would have us believe. Our relationship with Him is a spiritual one, sustained by faith; our contact with him could not be physical, for he ascended on high. Manducation and other related errors are thus easily refuted, only if we hold on to the biblical evidence that his ascension was real and physical; and heaven will receive him until the time of restitution of all things.
c. within view of Jerusalem.
"Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12). Jesus was officially rejected by Jerusalem who was chosen to be the city of the great King. He came unto his own and his own received him not. Being disallowed of men, though, did not spell the end.
He ascended within close proximity to Jerusalem to indicate that God's purpose to maintain and enlarge a witness to his Name was still valid and sure. He even told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. And effectively their post-resurrection preaching was carried out for a long time in Jerusalem. Rightfully Jerusalem belongs to him, though it is but a type of the heavenly Jerusalem.
d. immediately after blessing (or while He was blessing) his disciples.
Christ's good will is towards his disciples, for whom he cares and continues to care. His blessing is not only a characteristic gesture of conveying God's bountifulness to his people, but having blessed us with his visitation he continues to bless us while in heaven as our forerunner.
His departure does not spell a lack of interest or a diminution of his love. Far from it. From heaven he blesses us with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
It is significant that Christ allowing forty days to elapse between his resurrection and his ascension.
Since the apostles and other close disciples were first-hand witnesses of how and to what effect God raised up a horn of salvation for Israel, it was most wise for Christ to prove concretely and irrevocably to them the reality of his resurrection.
They had persistently disbelieved and doubted: now that he conquered death, they had to be persuaded (by touching, hearing him, etc.) that he was really alive, and not some sort of phantom. It was no hallucination: He really came back from the dead (see Luke 24, especially).
Secondly, Christ had to teach them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1). This seems to have been a major concern, to set their thinking right. Their minds still held tenaciously to temporal conceptions of the kingdom. Christ prepares them before proclaiming him as the king lifted up on high.
He also shows them that what he had undergone (his passion, death, resurrection) was in perfect accord with the prophetic Scriptures. He opened their minds to understand; and they did. It was given them to comprehend that Christ fulfils what had gone before and it is only as the Fulfiller that he is starting something new.
Before leaving them, Christ had also to explain the new relationship he was to sustain with the disciples after his departure. It was important for them to know that within the next few days they should receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Him, not only in Jerusalem but branching out to reach all nations: a mighty task, but to be tackled with divine resource.
Christís Present Session in heaven
What benefits accrue to Christ's disciples from His Session at the right hand of the Father? Scripture answers directly:
1. "And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
2. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" (Ephesians 4:8).
3. "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:34).
4. "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).
5. "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31).
In proclaiming Christ to the nations the great importance of Christ's present Session must be brought out, particularly to:
As a nation, the Jews have since apostolic times largely rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their long-promised Messiah. In confronting the Jew today it would be very relevant to stress and to bring to his attention that the same Jesus who as crucified is presently at the right hand of God the Father.
The ill-treatment he got from the Jews should be seen for what it is, as unjustified, since he has merited all the honour and glory God has given him. His session shows that he is no usurper or deceiver. His session is even prophesied in the Psalms and other canonical Old Testament writings.
And in his exalted position He still gives repentance to Israel, to individuals for whom he gained this blessings by his death and resurrection.
Moslems deny that Jesus is the Son of God. In their mentality the deity of Christ is blasphemy. In evangelising Moslems, after tracing with them the history and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the pointing out of the Session to them should be significant because sitting at the right hand of the Father signifies that Christ has authority and dominion (1 Corinthians 15:25), and such honour as to be equal with the Father (Philippians 2:9 with 1 Kings 2:19).
There is no-one above him, not even the angels (Hebrews 1). He is Lord of all. He sits on the throne of God the Father: " "...even as I also overcame, and sat down with My Father on His throneĒ (Revelation 3:21).
No, man cannot live by bread alone, as humanists pretend. There is more to it than that: the present ministry of Christ and his Session show that not man, but God is the supreme one over all things.
And if man is to find value and significance, if he is to rule and subdue all things, then this can be done only through and in union with Jesus Christ - "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour..." (Hebrews 2:9).
Christ continues ever.
Christís threefold office of prophet, priest and king is being continually exercised between his ascension and his second coming.
1. Results from Christ's office of Prophet:
a. Christ continues to work in the church, building it up (Matthew 16:16ff.) by his Spirit whom he promised and sent.
b. He raises up pastors and teachers to build up his body, that his people might be edified in the truth (Ephesians 4).
c. He exercises a ministry of illumination to believers (1 Corinthians 2:12,16; 2 Timothy 2:7; cf. Luke 24:27).
2. Results from Christ's office of Priest:
a. During his present Session Christ is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2; 4:10). He who once offered himself is for evermore the ground and basis of acceptance for all believers. We are accepted in him.
b. As the exalted high priest of our confession, who has entered before us, he is the guarantee of our entering into God's rest. He is our Representative in heaven, as our precursor, since a priest's work (being taken from among men) is to present the people to God.
c. This same high priest also makes intercession for all those whom he has particularly bought with his own blood (John 17; Romans 8:34). Intercession is a peculiar work of the priest.
3. Results from Christ's office of King:
a. He delivers to his people just laws so that they might be conformed to him in holiness and righteousness (Isaiah 33:22).
b. Not only that, but as head and king, He rules over his people, subduing them to himself that they may render unto him acceptable obedience to the glory of God (Ephesians 1:20-23). He even writes his law upon their hearts, so that his commandments are not grievous.
c. He defends the church from all the assaults of Satan and all enemies (Matthew 16:16ff.).
A scene in heaven
John is given a magnificent vision of God's glory. The action in Chapter 5 of the Apocalypse concerns not the original creation (which was celebrated in the latter part of chapter 4) but rather focuses on redemption and re-creation.
God's purposes of redemption can be accomplished only through the One who is uniquely worthy: the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He is able and qualified to open the scroll, containing God's plan and the destiny of the world.
The unsealing, committed to Jesus Christ, implies the accomplishment of the things God has purposed. John weeps for he longs for God's purposes to be fulfilled successfully, and it is difficult to see how that can happen, knowing the ravages of sin.
However through Christ's decisive sacrifice (the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world) a whole host is redeemed, and this same company praises Christ with a new song (v.9,10).
The same Jesus appears also as a Lion, warring against God's enemies. He is both a Lamb and a Lion; the two pictures complement each other. Christ wins by destroying his enemies and preserving a people for his Name's sake.
This results in praise and honour being given to God, v.13; the worship of heaven is directed to the all-sovereign God who in wisdom accomplishes his desired ends, through his elect Mediator.