Christ Ascended and Exalted by William S. Plumer (1802-1880)Articles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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The work of Christ’s Exaltation considered.
The first step in Christ’s exaltation was His resurrection; the second, His ascension to heaven; the third, His sitting at the right hand of God. Having briefly considered the first, let us now meditate on the other two.
I. HIS ASCENSION:
1. Our Lord, having risen from the dead, did not at once ascend to heaven, but remained on earth forty days (Act 1:3). By this delay (1) He would give His followers all reasonable proof of His humanity: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet,” (Luke 24:39-40). Long after His ascension to heaven, the last surviving apostle testifies, “That which was from the beginning; which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life…declare we unto you,” (1 John 1:1-3). (2) Christ would give all reasonable satisfaction concerning the reality of His resurrection. This He did many ways, calling one poor doubter to reach forth his finger and behold His hands, and to reach forth his hand, and thrust it into His side (John 20:27). Indeed, He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible signs (Acts 1:3). (3) Christ remained on earth a season that He might aid His disciples in recovering from the terrible shock that their faith had received at the crucifixion and that He might further confirm and instruct them in the nature and things of His kingdom. “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,” (Luke 24:44-45).
2. Prophecy required the ascension of our Lord and the Scripture cannot be broken. So we read, “God is gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet,” (Psalm 47:5). “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them,” (Psalm 68:18). Of this prediction, we have an inspired and so an infallible interpretation given by Paul in Ephesians 4:8-13. Daniel foretold the same thing: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him,” (Dan 7:1314). Our Lord Himself often foretold His own ascension: “I go unto the Father” (John 14:28). “I go my way to him that sent me,” (John 16:5; see John 1:51). Much more did He say to the same effect. So that beyond all doubt, several predictions, running over the space of at least a thousand years, required that Christ should ascend to God.
3. With the prophecy, the historic record well and fully agrees. Neither Matthew nor John record Christ’s ascension. Yet it is declared in four books of the New Testament. The testimony of Mark on the subject is, “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God,” (Mar 16:19). In his gospel, Luke says, “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven,” (Luke 24:50-51). In Acts 1:9-11, we read, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Ye men of Galilee,” they said, “why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says He was “received up into glory.” Thus, the record agrees with the prediction and explains it.
4. From Olivet, Christ ascended to heaven. His going to heaven is expressly said to have been necessary: “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things,” (Act 3:21). God’s purpose, the truth of prophecy, and the fitness of things required Christ’s ascension into heaven. Mark says, “He was received up into heaven.” Luke says, “He.was carried up into heaven.” Christ Himself says, “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven,” (John 3:13). In Acts 1:11, we have the words of the angels: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God,” (Act 7:56). Paul warns masters to be kind and gentle and gives this as a reason, “knowing that your Master also is in heaven,” (Ephesians 6:9). Again, “Our conversation citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 3:20). Again, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us,” (Hebrews 9:24). Peter also says, He “is gone into heaven.” But Paul says He is “made higher than the heavens,” (Hebrews 7:26). This mode of speech may have reference to the Jewish idea of three heavens—first the aerial heavens, and then the starry heavens. Christ is made higher than these heavens and has entered the third heaven, often called “the heaven of heavens.”
5. When we speak of Christ ascending, we speak of His human body and human soul. His divine nature fills, and has always filled, heaven and earth. Essentially, it fills all space, is confined to no place, but pervades immensity. When Christ was walking here on earth, He spoke of the Son of man as being then in heaven (John 3:13). At all times this was true of His divine nature, and of it only. The effect of this exaltation on the human nature of Christ was not to annihilate it, not to alter it so that it ceased to be human nature, but to glorify it, to crown it with glory and honor. When Saul of Tarsus saw Him, soon after His ascension, He shone with a luster above the brightness of the sun. The vision produced blindness, which was miraculously healed. About sixty years later, John saw Him and he fell at His feet as dead. The ordinary mode of explaining this wonderful change in the appearance of Christ is that while He was here on earth His glory was veiled. At His transfiguration, the veil was taken away; and His raiment became white and glittering. In heaven there is no veil, no covering. The glory shines out brightly, and nothing obscures it. 6. The manner of Christ’s ascension is worthy of our attention. Christ ascended not figuratively, but literally; not spiritually, but bodily; not insensibly, but visibly. His disciples saw Him ascend to heaven as clearly as they saw Him on the cross, on the ship, or at the seaside. He ascended in a cloud. No one has told us how bright that cloud was or what its appearance was; but it was like the cloud in which He will come to judgment (Act 1:11). Nor was He taken away suddenly. He was seen to leave the earth, and seen for some time after He left it. They gazed upon Him as He went up. His ascension was triumphant! Forty-three days before, He had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. He now ascends triumphantly into the heavenly Jerusalem. He left the world speaking words of encouragement and benediction to the humble. The first nine sentences of His sermon on the mount began with the word blessed. The last thing He ever did on earth was to pronounce a blessing on His people. His ascension to heaven was every way glorious. His appearance was doubtless such .Our Lord’s ascension was every way a joyous event and was so regarded by His disciples, as Luke expressly informs us. It was the blessed fruit of His sufferings and obedience. And it was witnessed by a sufficient number of competent and credible witnesses, not less than five hundred (1 Cor. 15:6).
II. HIS SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD: This is the third measure of our Lord’s reward—the third step in His exaltation. This was required by prophecy. David had said, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” (Psalm 110:1; cf. Luke 20:42, Heb. 1:13). Both Peter and Paul prove that this applies to Christ. Christ Himself foretold the same thing when He was in the hands of His murderers: “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God,” (Luke 22:69). This session at the right hand of God is much spoken of in Scripture…Paul says, God “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:20). Peter says, He “is on the right hand of God,” (1 Peter 3:22)…To a higher degree of rest, rule, bliss, favor, power, and majesty, Christ could not be raised. In this glorious state, Jesus Christ executes all the mediatorial offices. He is the great Prophet of the Church. With Him is the fullness of the Spirit. By His Spirit, He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8)…He has no guide or counselor. He is equal with the Father and the Son. He is sovereign in all His acts (1 Cor. 12:11). He cannot be purchased with money, tears, or blood. But there is a glorious harmony in the counsels of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. There is no diversity of counsel or of will in the Godhead. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Jesus, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which you now see and hear,” (Act 2:33). So the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He enlightens our minds, works faith in us, and saves us. Christ also raises up, qualifies, and sends forth every real, genuine gospel minister. He is Head over all things to the Church. In His exalted state, Christ continues to be our Priest. He makes, indeed, no more offerings; but He gloriously intercedes for us.
The glory of His intercession may be learned from these facts: (1) the Person of the Intercessor is inexpressibly gracious. (2) He is the delight of His Father. (3) His intercession is full of authority. (4) It always prevails. (5) It is alone. (6) It continues forever. In His exaltation, Christ is also a King. In this, His great glory is (1) His kingdom is spiritual and so has its seat in the hearts of His people. (2) It is wholly ordered in truth, equity, and righteousness. (3) It is as stable as the throne of God. (4) It is forever and ever. 1. Therefore, we have a right to expect the conversion of all God’s chosen. Native depravity and long-continued habits of sinning may seem to render a change of heart hopeless. But because Christ is sitting at God’s right hand, His people shall be willing in the day of His power (Psalm 110:1-3). 2. There will be no failure in the completion of all God’s plans and schemes. “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen,” (Psalm 110:5-6).
3. The Church is safe. Her Head is exalted, and He loves her and bought her with His blood. He has engraved her on the palms of His hands. Her success depends on an arm full of power, on grace that is infinite, on intercession that always prevails. Humble and exclusive confidence in the Captain of our salvation can never be disappointed.
4. To what a glorious state believers in Christ are rapidly tending. Heaven, the heaven of heavens, the third heaven, paradise, the new Jerusalem, the city of God are some of the names by which the glory of the spirits of just men made perfect is shadowed forth. The glory of that blessed world is that the Lamb is the light thereof. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). Our vile bodies shall be fashioned like unto His glorious body (Phil. 3:21). We shall be forever with the Lord (1Th 4:17). 5. Hearty and universal submission and obedience to Christ are both reasonable and obligatory. Submit we must, either joyfully unto salvation or reluctantly unto destruction…No cries for mercy will be more loud, no shrieks of anguish will be more piercing, no moanings of despair will be more heart-rending than those uttered at the last by men who all their lives made light of eternal things. If you are yet in your sins, one of two things is true: either your conscience is at perpetual and fearful war with your practice, or you have embraced some error that strips life of dignity and death of hope.
From Rock of Our Salvation, Sprinkle Publications, www.sprinklepublications.net.