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With Gifts for the Consolation of His People
When you ascended on high,
you took many captives;
you received gifts for the people,
even for the rebellious—
that they might dwell there.11 This version of the text is the alternative given in the NIV note. It is preferred here because it jibes with Kuyper’s version.
In order to understand any powerful demonstration of might and industry, one must go to the centre of the place where these forces emerge. A ruler cannot rule his country from a remote, isolated village, but must live and operate out of his official residence, spend time in the council chambers with his councilors and, surrounded by his henchmen, make his pronouncement in a way that inspires the soul of his people. Similarly, for a ship to arrive safely at its destination, it is not sufficient that there be a captain aboard. He must stand at his official command centre, where all crew members can hear his commands and from where he governs his whole marine empire. When an enemy invades your country and your army marches towards your national borders to defend your country, the commanding general does not shut himself up in some remote stronghold, but meets his army, calls his generals into his tent and from there manages the movements of his troops. These examples hold for every development of power and authority. To set the entire entity in motion, one has to be at the centre where the dynamic and movement originates.
Thus, when someone wants to imagine the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ in a practical way and with serious spiritual thought, he has only to ask where the centre of the spiritual world order is located. Is the earth governed out of Heaven or, the reverse, is Heaven governed from the earth? Or could it be that both run on their own steam?
The answer of faith is, of course, Heaven and earth are both governed by the wisdom of Providence. The throne of this regiment is in Heaven and everything that is and moves on earth is governed out of Heaven. The throne of God is not on earth but there above in the Heavens. It is there that all the spiritual threads holding life together unite. It is from above, not from the earth, that the word goes out that determines the flow of events. The seat of the regiment that governs developments in both Heaven and on earth is nowhere here below but exclusively in the chambers of eternal lights, the residence of glory.
If the above is all clear to you and you are convinced, then a second question arises: Was that regiment handed over to Jesus or not? The question will not tolerate a double answer. All power in Heaven and on earth was handed over to Him (Matthew 28:19). He was given a Name above all names in order that every knee shall bow in His Name (Philippians 2:9-10). The Lord God has said, “I have installed my king on Zion” (Psalm 2:5). The Father has handed all things over to the Son. And thus “He must reign until he has put all His enemies under His feet” (I Corinthians 15:25). The reign is therefore His. It has been handed over to Him by the Father. He was anointed for this purpose. It was His due because of the reward promised Him for His soul-stretching labour. He, our Mediator, was King and had to also be revealed publicly as King. The title itself was not enough; it could not remain with the promise; it had to come to the point of actual practice of this mighty rule. Heaven and earth were waiting for Him to ascend to the throne; they were biding His royal word and were eagerly looking for the display of His glory.
This was then the reason that the Mediator had to ascend to Heaven. He could not remain on earth, for the throne of glory was the only place in the entire universe where He belonged as the King appointed by God Himself. Since the Kingdom was His and the throne of that Kingdom is in Heaven, He could not remain far removed from that throne but had to speed His way to it.
Thus the Lord’s Ascension is nothing but His accepting His rule, an entry into the Kingdom, an ascension to His royal palace, an elevation to the residence of His majesty and glory. Regardless of His power, Jesus could not rule the world out of Jerusalem and could not reign the Heavens from the earth. The cords and lines of this divine regimen were above, not down here below. Hence it was imperative that He ascend from us, not in order to forsake and impoverish us, but to come closer to us and enrich us gloriously. As long as He was on earth, He could comfort only a few. It was only from the Heavens that all could be blessed by Him.
This Ascension of our Lord was not a case of furtively stealing into the Heavens through the narrow door of death. Rather, it was an ascension into the chambers of eternal lights with great splendour. This was not the kind of splendour that would blind the eye of the world, for even in nearby Jerusalem no one noticed anything. Even the Roman emperor noticed nothing. Along the shores of the famous Tigris and Euphrates Rivers life continued its normal flow as if the reign over this world were still in the hands of an earthly ruler.
However, for His Church the Ascension took place with stately and solemn splendour. At the time, that Church was represented on the Mount of Olives by His holy Apostles, who had seen and witnessed the entry of the King of Glory into His formidable palace. He was taken up while they looked on. Death did not separate them. He took leave from them fully alive. Immediately afterwards, the angels appeared in order to console the disciples. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, Who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). At that point a cloud of lights gently slid in between them and He disappeared. But less than ten days later they saw Him in a different light. Now He ruled and by power of this divine rule He sent them the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles have told of the splendour with which He ascended to their disciples and the Church has listened to this solemn story with quiet reverence. It has been recorded in God’s Holy Word. Since then, year after year the faithful gather to commemorate this glorious scene and to remember how impressively solemn it was to witness Jesus ascend before their very eyes. That’s when the Church contemplates Jesus deeply again. Then she again sees Him ascend the throne of His Kingdom. Then she once again lives and celebrates His royal regime.
The full story of His splendour has still not been told; there is more to it. In addition to the Apostles, the splendour of that Ascent into Heaven was also a moment of holy joy for the residents of Heaven. For centuries the Holy Spirit has sung of it:
Lift up, oh portals, now your heads;
Arise, eternal doors, arise.
Welcome your King.
Who is this King, so great in power?
He’s head of the heavenly hosts.
With songs of praise we worship Him.
Up there above, there was also a joyful anticipation. The Heavens are concerned about the earth. The angels are eager to witness the mysteries of redemption. They greeted the Mediator in Ephrata’s fields when He descended from Heaven. They served Him in the desert after satan’s evil temptations. They supported Him in Gethsemane, when He almost collapsed. They pushed the stone away from His grave for Him to walk out. And now, at His Ascension, they come to meet and welcome Him. They descended so far that those on the front line could talk to the Apostles. They received the Saviour as it were from the Apostles to take Him to Heaven. That’s where He came from and that’s where He had to return. Everything there was prepared for that return. They all awaited the revelation of His glory, but it would not be till He accepted His reign in Heaven that the fulfillment of the promise would be realized along with that of their joyful anticipation and their most glorious hope.
His kingship was retroactive in that He also became King over Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the three patriarchs, over Kings David and Solomon, as well as all witnesses to God, the great martyrs of the faith and all prophets and seers. True, it was not the illustrious day when the elements will melt and all flesh stand before Him as judge, but it was nevertheless an illustrious day as a blessed introduction to it. So, when He entered Heaven, the voices of the heavenly choir echoed throughout all the heavens.
Jesus ascended in the flesh as a human being. Of course, He remained the only and natural Son of God, in the words of the ancient Nicene Creed, of “one substance with the Father,” one with Him. But He could not ascend in His divine nature, for in that mode He was omnipresent, that is to say, present everywhere. In that capacity He could not move from place to place and thus could not ascend back into Heaven, because He was there all along.
But as a human being, yes, He ascended in our flesh and blood, the same that He had adopted in Mary’s womb. That was in the same form in which Mary recognized Him and in which His Apostles had seen him ascend (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). Again, in the same form in which he appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6), to John on the island of Patmos (Acts 1:9-11), and wherein Stephen saw Him when he was martyred (Acts 7:55-56) and wherein all flesh shall one day see him at His return on the clouds.
And that’s where the miracle comes in.
In Paradise the Lord said, “Sovereignty belongs to mankind; to mankind authority over Eden.” Alas, through his fall into sin, mankind lost his glorious position. His power languished; his strength shrunk. He who was destined to rule, became a slave, while his crown lay trodden in the mire of ambition and self-promotion.
And then what happened? Another flesh-and-blood human appeared, the second Adam. This new human being suddenly receives back the reign that was lost in Eden. As a reward for the labour of His soul, He receives a complete reign, not just over Eden and the animals in the field, but a royal rule over earth and Heaven, including all the angels. Even the devils are no longer able to resist His will.
And now the question is: Who is the beneficiary of this royal regime of the man Jesus Christ? The answer: The human race. The Heavens were already prepared and the angels did not need to be sanctified. As far as those who had already inherited salvation goes, they immediately passed through the final decision of that youngest of days. The judgment over the devils is also already determined.
But all this had to tarry for the benefit of the human race. The reason that the Kingdom could not yet be handed over to God the Father but still had to remain in Jesus’ hands for many centuries, is only and simply that the human race not miss out on Heaven. Jesus said, “I go away to do a mighty work: ‘I am going there to prepare a place for you’” (John 14:2). That did not mean, of course, that there was a specific room that had to be readied or that this held only for the Apostles. Jesus meant to say that the goal of His royal reign in Heaven is not the angels but finding the place for those elect of God already in Heaven. Once the place for the last of the elect is ready, then His rule will come to its end according to the Father’s will.
Thus you can sum up the central goal of the Lord’s Ascension in the one mighty profound word, “comfort.” He ascended with “gifts for people, even for the rebellious, that they might dwell there” as Psalm 68:15 puts it.11 According to the alternative reading in the NIV footnote. This did not mean that from Heaven He would keep an eye on whether there might be some sorrowing soul somewhere on earth, to whom He would then immediately fire off some comfort. To be sure, the Mediator does do that when the situation calls for it. He is rich in every form of comfort that might be needed. However, this is far from exhausting all that is included in the “gifts for human consolation.”
There is a much deeper meaning in the words of Ps. 68:15—“Gifts... that they might dwell there” that is, dwell there with Him. In other words, the comfort or consolation refers to the entire great ministry of drawing, preparing and enticing with which Immanuel, through His divine rule, directs from Heaven. The goal is that human after human gets lifted up from the filthy mud of our sinful life and transplanted in the forecourts of our God in order to bloom there as an oak of righteousness.
Comfort counters sorrow. The deepest and richest comfort is that which is able to take away the greatest and deepest sorrow. That deepest of all our sorrows is not found in any specific pain or loss, grief or disappointment, but resides in the pitiful loss of our total person and soul to eternal death. Hence, the primary full comfort coming from your King above is that He rescues your soul from death, that He hauls your person out of the depth of destruction and that He, by means of His kingly reign, rescues you and pulls you to Himself in Heaven in order for you to jubilate together with all the angels of God. Without that, you, as a child of perdition, would have perished.
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