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§ 2. Ascension of Christ.
The next step in the exaltation of Christ was his ascension to heaven. In Mark xvi. 19, it is recorded that after Jesus had spoken unto his disciples, “He was received up into heaven.” In Luke xxiv. 50, 51, “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.” The most detailed account of our Lord’s ascension is found in the first chapter of the Acts. There the last words of Christ to the Apostles are recorded, and it is added, “When he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, 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 nave seen him go into heaven.” (Acts i. 9-11.) From these accounts it appears, (1.) That the ascension of Christ was of his whole person. It was the Theanthropos, the Son of God clothed in our nature, having a true body and a reasonable soul, who ascended. (2.) That the ascension was visible. The disciples witnessed the whole transaction. They saw the person of Christ gradually rise from the earth, and “go up” until a cloud hid Him from their view. (3.) It was a local transfer of his person from one place to another; from earth to heaven. Heaven is therefore a place. In what part of the universe it is located is not revealed. But according to the doctrine of Scripture it is a definite portion of space where God specially manifests his presence, and where He is surrounded by his angels (who not being infinite, cannot be ubiquitous), and by the spirits of the just made perfect. It is true that the word “heaven,” both in the Old and New Testaments, is used in various senses, (1) Sometimes for the region of the atmosphere; as when the Bible speaks of the clouds, or birds of heaven, or of the rain as descending from heaven. (2.) Sometimes for 631the region of the stars, which are called the hosts of heaven. (3.) Sometimes it means a state, and answers to some of the senses of the phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” The believer is said to be delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. We are therefore said even in this world to be “in heaven,” as in Ephesians ii. 6, where it is said, God “hath raised us up together (with Christ), and made us sit together (ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις = ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, agreeably to the constant usage of that Epistle) in heavenly places,” i.e., in heaven. In the same sense we are said to be, “the citizens of heaven;” that is, the πόλις in which we dwell, and to the rights and privileges of which we are entitled. (Phil. iii. 20.)479479See Meyer on Philippians iii. 20, for a statement of his view on this subject. The Apostle’s words are, ἡμῶν τὸ πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς ὑπάρχει, “Heaven is the city of which we are the citizens, or, in which is our citizenship.” (4.) But, fourthly, it means the place where God dwells, where the angels and the spirits of the just are congregated; whence Christ came, and to which He has returned. He told his disciples that He went to prepare a place for them. (John xiv. 2.) In this sense the word is used when the Bible speaks of God as our Father “in Heaven;” or of heaven as his throne, his temple, his dwelling place. If Christ has a true body, it must occupy a definite portion of space. And where Christ is, there is the Christian’s heaven.
In opposition to this Scriptural and generally accepted view of the ascension of Christ, as a transfer from one place to another, from the earth, as one sphere of the universe, to heaven, another, and equally definite locality, the Lutherans made it a mere change of state, of which change the human nature of Christ was the subject. Prior to his resurrection, the human nature of our Lord, although really possessed of the attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, voluntarily forbore the exercise and manifestation of these divine perfections. His ascension was his entering on their full enjoyment and exercise. He passed from the condition of an ordinary man to being as a man (as to his soul and body) everywhere present, and everywhere the supreme ruler. The heaven He entered is immensity. Thus the “Form of Concord”480480Art. VIII. 26; Hase, Libri Symbolici, pp. 767, 768. says, “Ex hac unione et naturarum communione humana natura habet illam exaltationem, post resurrectionem a mortuis, super omnes creaturas in cœlo et in terra, quæ revera nihil aliud est, quam quod Christus formam servi prorsus deposuit; humanam 632vero naturam non deposuit, sed in omnem æternitatem retinet, et ad plenam possessionem et divinæ majestatis usurpationem secundam assumptam humanam naturam evectus est. Eam vero majestatem statim in sua conceptione, etiam in utero matris habuit: sed ut Apostolus Phil. ii. 8 , loquitur, seipsum exinanivit, eamque, ut D. Lutherus docet, in statu suæ humiliationis secreto habuit, neque eam semper, sed quoties ipsi visum fuit, usurpavit. Jam vero, postquam non communi ratione, ut alius quispiam sanctus in cœlos ascendit, sed ut Apostolus, Eph. iv. 10, testatur, super omnes cœlos ascendit, et revera omnia implet, et ubique non tantum ut Deus, verum etiam ut homo, præsens dominatur et regnat a mari ad mare et usque ad terminos terræ.” Luther argued that as God’s right hand at which Christ in his glorified body sits, is everywhere, so that body must be everywhere. In the “Form of Concord”481481Art. VIII. 28; Hase, Libri Symbolici, p. 768. it is said, Dextera Dei “non est certus aliquis . . . . locus, sed nihil aliud est, nisi omnipotens Dei virtus, quæ cœlum et terram implet.” Gerhard482482Loci Theologici, IV. xii. 220, vol. iii. pp. 509, 510. presents the same view, “Qualis est Dei dextra, taliter quoque sessio ad dextram Dei intelligenda. Jam vero dextra Dei non est locus aliquis corporeus, circumscriptus, limitatus, definitus, sed est infinita Dei potestas ac præsentissima ejus majestas in cœlo et terra, est præsentissiinum illud dominium, quo Deus omnia conservat et gubernat.” Whence it is inferred that the soul and body of Christ must have a like ubiquity. The omnipresence of God, however, is not to he conceived of as infinite extension, for extension is a property of matter; so the Lutheran theologians do not hold the infinite extension of the body of Christ. They merely say that He is present as God is present everywhere in knowledge and power. But a thing cannot act where it is not; and therefore omnipresence of knowledge and power implies omnipresence as to substance. And consequently as Christ in both natures is everywhere active, He must in both natures be everywhere present. Augustine found occasion to write against this notion of the ubiquity of the humanity of Christ, even in his age of the Church, “Noli itaque dubitare, ibi nunc esse hominem Christum Jesum, unde venturus est. . . . Et sic venturus est, illa angelica voce testante, quemadmodum ire visus est in cœlum, i.e., in eadem carnis forma atque substantia; cui profecto immortalitatem dedit, naturam non abstulit. Secundum hanc formam non est putandus ubique diffusus. Cavendum est enim ne ita divinitatem astruamus hominis ut veritatem corporis auferamus. Non est autem 333consequens ut quod in Deo est, ita sit ubique, ut Deus483483Epistola CLXXXVII. (57) [iii.] 10, ad Dardanum, Works; edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. ii. pp. 1021, d, 1022, a. . . . Nam spatia locorum tolle corporibus, nusquam erunt, et quia nusquam erunt, nec erunt. Tolle ipsa corpora qualitatibus corporum, non erit ubi sint, et ideo necesse est ut non sint484484Ibid. vi. 18; p. 1025, e. . . . Christum autem Dominum nostrum unigenitum Dei filium æqualem Patri, eundemque hominis filium quo major est Pater, et ubique totum præsentem esse non dubites tanquam Deum, et in eodem templo Dei esse tanquam inhabitantem Deum, et in loco aliquo cœli propter veri corporis modum.”485485Ibid. xiii. 41; p. 1038, a.
The modern theory which makes the incarnation of the Son of God to consist in his laying aside “the existence-form” or God, and, by a process of self-limitation assuming that of a man, of necessity modifies the view taken of his exaltation and ascension. That ascension is admitted to be a transfer from one portion of space to another, from earth to heaven. It is also admitted that our Lord now as a man occupies a definite portion of space. He is as to his human nature in one place and not everywhere. But his present existence-form is still human and only human. On this point Ebrard says, That the only begotten Son of God became a human soul, and formed itself a body in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and was born of her as a man. In the human nature thus assumed there were two elements. The one including all the essentials of humanity without which man is no longer man. The other includes only what is accidental and variable; as for example, weakness, subjection to death, and other evils consequent on sin. All these on his ascension he laid aside, and now dwells in heaven as a glorified man (verklärter Mensch). He has laid aside forever the existence-form of God, and assumed that of man in perpetuity, in which form by his Spirit He governs the Church and the world. Locally, therefore, He is absent from the world, but He is dynamically present to all his people in his present human existence-form. On this last mentioned point he quotes with approbation the language of Polanus:486486Syntagma Theologiæ, VI., XXV. edit Francofurti et Hanoviæ, 1655, p. 762, a. “Ideo corpus Christi non est jam in terra, nedum ubique. Etsi autem Christus corpore suo non sit jam in terra, tamen est etiam conjunctus et præsens corpori nostro secundum carnem, sed non loco; sicut caput uniuscujusque hominis non est eo loco quo pedes, et tamen est illis suo modo unitum. Proinde adest Christus ecclesiæ suæ non tantum secundum divinam sed etiam secundum humanam naturam, verum spiritualiter 634sicut caput membris, quibus unitum est et quæ vivificat.” This dynamic presence of Christ as to his human nature and oven as to his body, which Calvin asserted in reference to the Lord’s Supper, has no special connection with Ebrard’s doctrine of the incarnation. It is held by those who believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continueth to be God and man in two distinct natures, and one person forever. The doctrine in question has no doubt a form of truth in it. We are present with Christ, in a certain sense, in reference to his human, as well as in reference to his divine nature. The person to whom we are present, or, who is present with us, is theanthropic. We have all the advantage of his human sympathy and affection; and the form of divine life which we derive from Him comes from Him as God still clothed in our nature. All this may be admitted without admitting that the Eternal Son “became a human soul;” that He laid aside the existence-form of God, and assumed for eternity, that of man. If this be so, then He is a man and nothing more. If an adult man, by a process of self-limitation, or self-contraction, assumes the existence-form of an infant, he is an infant, and ceases to be an adult man. If he assumes the existence-form of an idiot, he is an idiot; or of a brute, he has only the instincts and sagacity of a brute. If, therefore, the Logos became man by self-contraction, He is no longer God.
According to the teaching of Scripture the ascension of Christ was necessary, —
1. In the first place He came from heaven. Heaven was his home. It was the appropriate sphere of his existence. His presence makes heaven, and therefore until this earth is purified from all evil, and has undergone its great process of regeneration, so as to become a new heavens and a new earth, this world is not suited for the Redeemer’s abode in his state of exaltation.
2. It was necessary that as our High Priest He should, after offering Himself as a sacrifice, pass through the heavens, to appear before God in our behalf. An essential part, and that a permanent one, of his priestly office was to be exercised in heaven. He there makes constant intercession for his people. As He died for our sins, He rose for our justification. All this was typified under the old dispensation. The victim was slain without in the court of the temple; the high priest bore the blood with much incense within the veil and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat. What the high priest did in the earthly temple, it was necessary for the High 635Priest of our profession to do in the temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens. This is set forth with all clearness in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
3. It was expedient, our Lord said, that He should go away; “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John xvi. 7.) It was necessary that redemption should not only be acquired but applied. Men if left to themselves would have remained in their sins, and Christ had died in vain. The great blessing which the prophets predicted as characteristic of the Messianic period, was the effusion of the Holy Spirit. To secure that blessing for the Church his ascension was necessary. He was exalted to give repentance and the remission of sins; to gather his people from all nations and during all ages until the work was accomplished. His throne in the heavens was the proper place whence the work of saving men, through the merits of his death, was to be carried on.
4. Again our Lord told his sorrowing disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John xiv. 2, 3.) His ascension, therefore, was necessary for the completion of his work.
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