There are times when we long to sit down – perhaps when we have been working hard or on a demanding task. For us to sit down means rest – an opportunity for recovery. It can also indicate a task completed. When we read in Scripture that Christ ‘sat down’, it cannot speak of tiredness, but of completion. We will consider Christ Exalted: 3. Session.
1. Atonement completed
Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus was profoundly conscious of having a mission he was to carry out (John 4:34) – there was a divine necessity governing his road to the cross (Matthew 16:21). The nature of his mission is stated in 1 Timothy 1:15 ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. His redemptive mission was accomplished by his death on the cross as Substitute for the sins of his people. There was no possibility that he would fail to fulfil his mission. His final words were a cry of triumph: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) – it has been and remains finished. This contrasts starkly with the OT sacrificial system. As Hebrews 10:11 states, ‘every priest stands’ – there was no end to the animal sacrifices which could not take away sins. Christ, however, has offered a perfect sacrifice and sits (v12). A sitting priest has completed his sacrificial work. The session of Christ at the Father’s right hand confirms that complete atonement has been made.
2. Dominion exercised
At the Father’s right hand the seated Saviour is not idle. He exercises dominion over all things (Matthew 28:18). This is his mediatorial kingship and is linked to his session in Ephesians 1:20-21. Thus seated, Christ exercises universal dominion, with nothing excluded from his authority. The Triune God exercises his power through Christ. As v22 shows, this dominion is for the benefit of the church and serves God’s redemptive purpose. Seated at the Father’s right hand, Christ awaits the placing of all things in submission to his dominion. At present some persist in rebellion, but finally all his enemies will be made his footstool (Hebrews 10:13). In particular ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). The fact that Christ sits and reigns should fill us with hope and thanksgiving.
3. Intercession performed
Romans 8:34 indicates a further aspect of Chrit’s work as he sits in heaven: he ‘is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’ What does that mean? The three persons of the Trinity are one in being and do not need to communicate with each other as we do. The language of Romans 8:34 is an explanation of Christ’s ministry in terms we can understand. Our needs are fully known, and his intercession is perfect and lacks nothing. Note:
as man he understands our needs in infinite detail.
as God he knows all our needs and is able to provide what is needed.
as Saviour he has shed the blood that purchases every blessing.
as the Eternal One he ‘always lives to intercede for them’ (Hebrews 7:25).
Christ pleads the perfection of his finished atoning work and with the Father and the Holy Spirit delights to supply our every need so that we ‘lack nothing’ (Psalm 23:1).
Some events recorded in the Gospels are almost overlooked or treated as unimportant, seeming to have no importance for faith or no real theological significance. Often, however, that view is mistaken. At the very least, if the Lord included them in his revelation, they deserve our attention and closer study may show that they are significant. That is true of what followed the resurrection of the Saviour. We will consider Christ Exalted: 2. Ascension.
1. The clear departure
Note Acts 1:9 ‘a cloud hid him from their sight’: clearly Christ has gone to a place beyond the reach of their physical senses, though he still has a material body. The ascension marks a transition to a new phase of Christ’s incarnate life and ministry. The disciples need to understand that they cannot continue to relate to Jesus as they formerly did. They cannot see, touch or hear him. There can be no going back. Note too Jesus’ words to Mary – ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended’ (John 20:17). Mary’s relationship to him cannot be as it once was. As 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us, ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’. We are not to seek physical manifestations of the Lord. We must be content with the Word as our channel of contact with him at present.
2. The present blessings
The ascension of Christ has profound implications. We can identify at least three blessings:
(i). We have an Advocate in heaven (1 John 2:1). This is full of comfort for believers. We do sin repeatedly, but in heaven Christ continually pleads our case before the Father. Satan seeks (unsuccessfully) to have us condemned as guilty sinners and often troubles our consciences – he is ‘the accuser of our brothers’ (Revelation 12:10), but Christ can point to his finished work (2 Corinthians 5:21) which has fully dealt with all our sin.
(ii). We have our own flesh in heaven. He still has a human nature (albeit glorified). The incarnation is permanent. He has been ‘made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest’ (Hebrews 2:17). United to Christ, we already are ‘seated…with him in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 2:6).
(iii). We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, as promised in John 16:7. Christ secured the ministry of the Spirit to apply redemption to the elect. He makes dead sinners alive (John 3:3), remaking them in the likeness of Christ. All that is good in the believer’s life is the fruit of the Spirit’s working in him
3. The promised return
The One who has departed will return (Acts 1:11). Here is the guarantee that he will return, as promised in John 14:3. This is also the pattern of his return – ‘in the same way’ – a visible, personal return, when ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7). Believers will share in the glory of the Lord which will then be revealed.
In presenting the gospel we rightly emphasise the death of Christ. Without his death on the cross, and the life of obedience that preceded it, there is no salvation. These aspects of his work are called his ‘humiliation’ in theology see e.g. Philippians 2:8). On its own, however, this would leave us with a dead and therefore defeated Messiah – no Saviour. The gospel also proclaims his ‘exaltation’ (as in Philippians 2:9), which has profound significance for Christian life and service. We will consider Christ Exalted: 1. Resurrection.
1. A guarantee of victory
Paul spells out the significance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:17 ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’. But as Pater states in Acts 2:24 ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’. The resurrection confirms his identity and the success of his work. We may think of his work in terms of victory, with the resurrection as a guarantee that victory has been won:
(i). Victory over sin: he lived the life of perfect obedience that we have not lived (Hebrews 4:15) and by his death he bore the full penalty of the sin of his people (1 Peter 2:24).
(ii). Victory over Satan: the promise of Genesis 3:15 is that the ‘seed’ of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – the victory of the Messiah over Satan, fulfilled at the cross (see John 12:31). The hosts of evil will finally be punished eternally.
(iii). Victory over death: risen from the dead, Christ will not die again – he has won the victory over death (Romans 6:9). Death is a defeated enemy for the children of God.
2. A basis for regeneration
Because believers are united to Christ, his saving work is replicated in the spiritual life of the believer. We benefit from all that he has done as our Representative. We die and rise with him. Because he has risen, we experience regeneration, deliverance from spiritual death – we ‘walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4). Eternal life is a present possession of the believer – he ‘has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24). Paul describes our present position vividly in Ephesians 2:6 ‘seated…with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’.
3. A promise of glory
The significance of Christ’s resurrection for his people is not confined to the present life or to our spirits alone. The Lord saves people – who have bodies. The work of salvation is not complete even in heaven. Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). The firstfruits were the first part of the harvest that guaranteed the bringing in of the whole crop – the risen Christ foreshadows and guarantees our bodily resurrection. We are united to him – ‘in Christ all will be made alive’ (v22). There will be glorious bodies for us at his return – Philippians 3:21. This is our full Christian hope. In Christ we have complete victory – 1 Corinthians 15:57).
Christians often regard missionaries as being at the highest level of spirituality, as closest to God, as most zealous for the salvation of the lost, as the most sanctified in every area of life. But a missionary is a saved sinner who has been given particular work to do. He is imperfect, as the case of Jonah demonstrates. We consider Jonah 4:1-11 Grace to the undeserving.
1. Jonah makes his complaint
We might expect that Jonah the preacher would be delighted with the response to his preaching in Nineveh – is that not the heart of a missionary? But the opposite is the case – literally ‘It was evil to Jonah a great evil’ (v1). This is how he views God’s graciously sparing repentant Ninevites. He waits to see what will happen, perhaps still hoping for judgment. He ‘prays’ (v2) – in fact reprimanding the Lord. His focus is on God’s nature – ‘gracious…compassionate…’ (see Exodus 34:6), but he wants such perfections to be shown only to Israel. He cannot accept that the Lord should behave thus to Gentiles. The irony is that Jonah has been the beneficiary of God’s grace and compassion but does not want them to be extended to Gentiles. Our experience of God’s grace ought to make us long for the salvation of people ‘from every nation’ (Revelation 7:9). There is a warning here that we may hold a sound theology without allowing it to shape our life and thought.
2. God confronts his prophet
God puts the spotlight on Jonah – ‘Do you do well to be angry?’ (v4 ESV). Jonah is accountable to the Lord, not the Lord to Jonah. The Lord begins to deal with Jonah gently despite his failures (Psalm 103:10). Where would we be without his grace? He also deals with Jonah forcefully – ‘the Lord disciplines those he loves’ (Hebrews 12:6). It may be painful, but the goal is ‘that we may share in his holiness’ (Hebrews 12:10). It is this spirit that we must respond to our Father’s discipline. At every point the Lord is sovereign in his dealings with his servant – ‘the Lord provided’ (1:17, 4:6, 4:7, 4:8). Different providences from the hand of the Lord fulfil his purpose. He always works like this, though in ways that may be hidden from our understanding.
3. God displays his grace
- To Nineveh: despite Jonah’s intransigence (v9), the moral and spiritual condition of ‘more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left’ (v11) stirs the compassion of the Lord. It is not the need of the city that brings salvation, but the grace of the Lord. Gentiles are included in salvation (Acts 11:18) – a cause of praise to the Lord.
- To Jonah: the Lord is very gracious to Jonah even as he chastens him. We do not know the outcome, but if Jonah is indeed a child of God (as chapter 2 indicates), we may hope he responded in repentance. Was his ministry in 2 Kings 14:25 before or after this? We do not know. In the Scriptures Jonah knew, the Messiah ‘will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death’ (Psalm 72:13). We must align our thinking with the Word of God when we think of mission and evangelism.
Jesus is only a few hours from his death on the cross. The goal towards which he has been moving throughout his ministry has almost been reached. As he comes in prayer to his Father he considers that mission. John 17:2-3embraces the whole sweep of God’s saving plan, beginning in eternity past. The nature of his mission was not primarily to provide an example of godly living or to leave a legacy of profound teaching, but was rather to provide eternal life. We consider John 17:2-3 The gift of eternal life.
1. Authority granted
Christ has prayed to the Father to glorify him (v1). This is in perfect harmony with the thought of v2 ‘just as you granted him authority over all flesh’ (my translation). We have a profound insight into the trinitarian life of God that is ultimately beyond words. By the decree of God in eternity universal authority has been bestowed on the Son for the purpose of carrying out the work of salvation. Note ‘all flesh’ – man in his weakness and transience (as in Isaiah 40:6). The human race has fallen into sin and is in need of salvation. In order to bring God’s answer, Christ exercises authority over all things, including people who never believe in him. His authority is God-given and when he speaks his words have authority (see Matthew 7:29). He is the unique revelation of God and the unique way to God.
2. Life bestowed
The gift of authority has a specific goal – ‘that [the Son] might give eternal life to all those you have given him’ (v2). That goal is the salvation of the people of God (see 1 Timothy 1:15). Not that not all of those over whom Christ has authority will receive the gift of life. This is the profound reality of election. The divine giving of people to Christ (Ephesians 1:4) ensures the completion of salvation: ‘All that the Father gives to me will come to me’ (John 6:37). Giving eternal life is one of the biblical descriptions of salvation – ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10). This is spiritual life, in contrast to the spiritual deadness sin brings. To be in fellowship with God is truly to be alive. The term ‘eternal life’ refers not just to its duration but also to its quality – the life of the ‘Age to Come’, which has broken into the present age. Already the believer ‘has crossed over from death to life’ (John 5:24). Eternal life is a present possession with the best still to come. As the One who died on the cross the Son has authority to bestow life.
3. Knowledge obtained
The Lord then gives what is almost a definition of eternal life – ‘that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (v3). This is not mere head knowledge but a knowing that implies relationship. This is a knowledge which involves the whole person – mind, will and emotions. At heart it is a covenant commitment, binding us in love to the God who ‘loved [us] and gave himself for [us]’ (Galatians 2:20). To know God in this way is life. This is a saving knowledge that transforms sinners into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is ‘the only true God’ and so single-minded commitment to him is required. There is to be no rival, nothing must be allowed to usurp his place, no-one else is worthy of worship. Note the name ‘Jesus Christ’ – the Anointed saviour. Equality with God is implied in this verse. Christ reveals perfectly what God is like. The phrase ‘that they may know’ is in the present tense, indicating a knowledge that is to grow. There is always more to know, a challenge for all who know and love the Lord.