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Ascended Higher than All the Heavens
He who descended is the very one
Who ascended higher than all the heavens,
n order to fill the whole universe.
Do you believe there is a Heaven? No, this is not about the heaven we refer to as “firmament,” where clouds move about restlessly, nor about that high heaven or space with its twinkling stars. This is about that glorious Heaven, the Jerusalem with its pearly gates, where hosts of angels crowd around the throne of God. Do you believe in its existence, its reality?
That spiritual Heaven was not always there, but it came into being, as Moses told it, when in the beginning God created Heaven and earth. Thus a created Heaven that has its own structures and measurements, appearance, nature and essence as well as housekeeping arrangements and mode of existence as does this world and has nothing in common with either the physical firmament that was created on day two nor with the starry sky that God called into being on day four.
You really can’t imagine what that Heaven looks like, even though it definitely has certain things in common with our world. This can be concluded from the fact that the bodies of the redeemed are at home in this heavenly household, though in gloried form. It can also be seen in the design of the Old Testament Tabernacle that God imaged to Moses on the mountain, in the ease with which the angels move about on earth and not the least in the images of earthly life with which the Holy Scriptures describe Heavenly life for us. But that’s as far as the commonalities go. There are all kinds of things and relationships there that during our earthly pilgrimage we can at best vaguely imagine in our hearts, but never with a concrete impression of anything clear and vivid. These things and relationships include the activities and work done in Heaven, the way we move about, the shape of community, or even the nature of the relationship between the redeemed and the angels and both with Christ and through Him with the Triune God.
We only know that we may never compare the life in that higher, sinless and thus more glorious creation to our life on earth. Existence on earth is better described as dull, lackluster, and muffled compared to that rich, dynamic and pulsating life whirling around the throne of God. Does the vision of a tree yielding its fruit monthly throughout the year give you an impression of a slumbering life in the shadows, lacking all dynamics? Does it not much more portray a glorious life, of an internal, pulsating energy many times the dynamism of our earthly style of life?
That Heaven is local, that is, it has its limits in the form of borders where the lower creation ends and this Heavenly creation begins. As the dead cross the border from the one to the other, they experience a moment during which everything tells them, “I am no longer on earth; I am now immersed in a totally different creation. Now I am in Heaven.” Although we do not speculate about distances that we do not understand, we may and even must decide and confess that Heaven is a created household with its own borders.
From the above it is easily perceived that God does not live in Heaven in the sense that He lives there, but not elsewhere outside of it. Twice we read in the Bible, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you” (I Kings 8:27; II Chronicles 6:18). God is everywhere, omnipresent. That is to say, God is infinite so that it is impossible to posit even a single spot either within or outside of His creation where He is not always and fully present as God Almighty. Even the place of perdition has no borders that would keep out the omnipresent God.
That is not to say that the Lord God reveals Himself in all places in equal manner or measure. God is indeed present everywhere, in Abraham the Father of all believers as well as in the donkey on which he rode. Nevertheless, what a difference in revelation! Even amongst people. For example, there is such a difference between God’s presence in the man on the right of the crucified Christ and the one on His left.
Likewise, there is a clear difference between God’s revelation in a barren cliff or mountain cave and His revelation in the firmament that declares His glory or in a flowerbed with the aroma of His splendour. Keeping in mind these differences, it should not be difficult to realize that, regardless of His omnipotence, His revelation here on earth is totally different from that in Heaven.
Though His revelation appears here only in an opaque way, in Heaven the Lord our God reveals Himself with heavenly clarity. When we want to speak to our neighbour, though knowing that he exists with his entire body, including his feet, we look him in the eye, because the soul expresses itself most clearly through the eye. Similarly, the soul that seeks God, instinctively looks towards Heaven, because, in a manner of speaking, it is there that the all-seeing eye of the Eternal opens itself and the redeemed there for the first time gaze upon His complete Being through that eye.
It is to that Heaven that our Security and Mediator ascended alive on that day. He had already been in Heaven. Better put, while He wandered around on earth, as Son of God He never left Heaven. He was God; co-eternal and co-extensive with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Hence, the revelation of His Godhead was the clearest and most glorious in Heaven.
There in those Heavens is God’s throne. That is to say that God, though omnipresent, there in the place of His clearest self-revelation, is in closest touch with the angels that carry out His will and thus that throne is the centre of His glory and power for all creation. It was from that centre of glory and power that the Son descended into this lower earthly creation and entered in our state of misery and bitter humiliation. Throughout it all, He remained God, but, out of godly compassion, the Mediator veiled His divine splendour and hid behind the somber form of human nature, sunk as it was in weakness and bitter self-humiliation.
The process of suffering and humiliation did not stop there. Once He had entered that phase, He did not develop and promote Himself by ascending from glory to glory. To the contrary, His glory was veiled through voluntary self-sacrifice until at last He fell into the deepest shame and drowned in the depth of death.
And then what happened? Did the Son of God give up on His human nature when He reached the depth of shame? Did He put an end to His humiliation by returning to His former self? In no way, brothers and sisters! When Jesus died, the eternal Son retained His human nature even in death, even as His body and soul separated while He underwent the violence of death. And then, when He finally reached the turning point from where, out of the depth of humiliation, He would begin the road to His exaltation, He did not begin this phase by throwing off His human nature, but rather by a renewed and higher animation of that nature via His resurrection.
But even this was not enough. His humiliation passed through a slow process that began with the Son of God adopting the form of a servant and then went on to embrace suffering and death, finally to descend into the grave until this Man of Sorrows, in the midst of His suffering, drank from the cup of hell. Similarly, there was also a slow process of glorification, a continuous ascent from the lower to the higher, beginning with His coming out of the grave by His resurrection, followed by His triumphal Ascension from this earth, achieving royal power by taking His seat at the right hand of God, and, finally, the explosion of His glorification over all creation by His return to judge.
His humiliation and glorification thus stand in strong contrast to each other. It was not a case of a gradual positive development that began in the manger and progressed through His resurrection to an ever higher place of honour. Quite the opposite, for until His resurrection, it was a process of continuous emptying of Himself, of decline, of the melting away and shrinking of His honour until He finally reached the deepest humiliation conceivable. At that point, not through Himself, but through an immense display of the majesty of the Triune God, He was ushered into the state of glorification and from here on to climb to higher levels of glorification step by step, just as during His phase of humiliation He steadily descended step by step.
The Mediator’s glorification involved His full person, that is, His divine as well as human nature. It was definitely not restricted to His human nature. But that could bring up a question about whether it is possible to add any glory to that already consummate and complete divine nature, to make Him even more glorious. That, of course, is impossible and unthinkable.
Take gold, for example. Goldsmiths enhance the shine of gold not by adding more gold to it, but by removing all the stain and tarnish that dampen its full lustre. So also was the glory of Jesus’ divine nature enhanced, not that anything new was added to it, but His veiled and inherent divinity got the opportunity to radiate once again His full glory undisturbed and undiminished.
Before His glorification, during the entire period of His humiliation, His divine majesty was hidden behind a veil that prevented the outward radiance of His glow. But now the opposite was happening: The veil took on a transparency that allowed His glorious majesty to radiate outward. That’s how the divinity of the Mediator came to shine in a brighter glow.
His glorification affected his human nature as well. Please understand this properly. It was not that His divinity began to share his divine attributes with His human nature. That would be impossible and even absurd. The personal union of both natures took place at the moment of incarnation, His birth, and this relationship has since that time become neither less nor more intimate, but remained unchanged. It was precisely that relationship that caused both natures to be united most intimately without confounding them. The divine remained divine and the human, human, without any carryover of attributes from the one to the other.
In other words, the elevation of His human nature was not a matter of importing or adding elements that were foreign to it, but only of that which was exclusively human and fit human nature. It was not the shedding of His servant stature so much as that of the servant-like posture of His humanity. In His Ascension our Security received the fullest excellence of the spiritual and wonderful in body and soul in the most perfect form to which human nature is susceptible in its highest elevation. Nothing more, but also nothing less.
That is His victory, namely, to shed everything weak, miserable and vulnerable that He had adopted in His human nature for our sake, and to become filled with all that is strong, glorious and rich that was given Him for the purpose of His eternal reign. As everyone’s castaway, He had made Himself appear worthless, but see how He now turns all His enemies into a footstool before His throne.
He was elevated as a reward for all the works He performed. It was for perfectly fulfilling the law as well as for completing his function as Mediator. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “Though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10). It was also a reward for the incalculable value of His suffering by which He earned eternal glory for God’s elect.
His Ascension thus had to advance His mediatorial role as well. He descended into the depth of His humiliation, not for Himself but for us, laden with our guilt. Similarly, He had to climb out of his humiliation, not just for Himself but for us. Thus crowned with a glory that reflected not only Him personally, He was richly laden with the gifts of glory reserved for all of God’s elect.
When Jesus arose, all His followers arose in Him. When He ascended, all God’s elect ascended in Him. They now sit with Christ in Heaven at the right hand of God. As the Psalmist put it, “When You ascended on high..., You received gifts from people, even gifts for people that they might dwell there with You” (Psalm 68:18).11 This version incorporates the NIV’s footnotes with this text to convey Kuyper’s intention.
For this reason, the Mediator could not tarry on earth. The state of being glorified requires also circumstances that reflect that state. A released prisoner must not only exchange the chains of captivity with a robe of freedom, but he must also be released from his prison. Thus it was that, after being glorified, Jesus simply could no longer stay on this inglorious earth. The state of inner glorification required outward glorification as well. And so He
ascended from a specific place through the air, the clouds and firmament, to that other world, that other household, that higher creation we call “Heaven.” Once arrived there, He proceeded through the Heavens and ascended to the highest level, to that place in the universe where the Lord’s revelation shows up in its clearest and purest form and is therefore the location of His throne. That is where He took on His glory, accepted His kingly status, and, sitting at the right hand of the Father, began to exercise His glorious power.
Thus an actual transfer or displacement occurred from one place to another. He is hence no longer where He used to be, that is, on earth, but now finds Himself in a place different from where He was before. Thus, in that highest Heaven there is a place where Jesus lives and works in our flesh. It is a place somewhere in that highest realm, where all the angels wait for His commands and where those fallen asleep in the Lord have found Him. It is the place where our eye will also search Him out and where we, once having entered into His glory through grace, will see Him as He is.
So, He is presently absent from the earth, but only, at the end of all things, to once again leave that place of glory in order to reveal Himself as the Judge of all nations.
In the meantime, He is the Guardian of every soul, the Governor of nations, the King of His Church and the Comforter for the weak of heart. For you see, though He is indeed bound to that place in the highest Heaven, with His grace, majesty, divinity and spirit He is omnipresent. He knows exactly all that happens on the whole earth as well as the thoughts of our hearts. With the arms of His eternal compassion He covers our souls and satisfies the hunger of our souls with His precious and delightful presence. He is familiar with the suffering of every heart, the sin in each family, the fights in each church and the decisions made for or against His glory in each church gathering.
That’s why he had to ascend to Heaven, so that He, though located in the highest Heaven, can be near to all of us and hear every voice of His beloved. What’s more, our Mediator had to ascend into Heaven not only to send us His gifts, but also to prepare the House for His Bride, the Church.
According to the Bible, Jesus said: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Again, “Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working’” (John 5:17). His cry from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) finds its initial fulfillment in the declaration, “It has taken place” from John’s Revelation.
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