Union with Christ and the Provision of the Spirit

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.

In the book Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, Henry Hobhouse writes that the most influential plants in man’s history are sugar cane, tea, cotton, the potato, and cinchona plant. Most of us are very familiar with nearly all of the plants on Hobhouse’s list. The one curious oddity in the list is the cinchona plant. Most people have no clue what the cinchona plant even looks like let alone its roll in transforming mankind.

Native to South America, this special plant grows on the foothills of the Andes Mountain range. The Cinchona calisaya tree, which contains a special alkaloid known as quinine, single-handedly enhanced the welfare and safety of millions of lives. Despite the fact that people still use it daily to combat Malaria, the typical person in the 21st Century is actually quite unaware of the magnitude of the cinchona tree’s importance to mankind or even to their own life.

The cinchona plant was a major catalyst that helped form the modern geo-political and economic landscapes. By making colonization and exploration of the Americas and Africa possible, the cinchona allowed international trade to flourish in every corner of the globe.

In much more tragic omission, most modern Christians are equally unaware of the importance of Christ’s Ascension to their everyday life. The Ascension’s value to mankind is much more vast and profound than the medicinal effects of the cinchona plant. It ushered in a new era of Christ’s glorification and power. An ascended Christ is just important to understanding of who Christ is, but it is also vital to the ordinary and everyday life of the believer.

The wondrous impact of the ascension on the Christian life finds in roots in both the union with Christ as well as the provision of the great Helper – the Holy Spirit to guide and empower God’s people. Without an ascended Christ, there is no High Priest ruling and reigning over all creation, our assurance of heaven is in serious doubt, and we would not be living temples in which God’s Spirit resides helping us understand the things of God. In short, without an Ascension every book past John wouldn’t exist and our union with Christ stops at an earthly resurrection. But before delving into its importance to us, it is necessary to first understand the specifics of the Ascension what that says about Christ.

According to the book of Acts, Christ’s Ascension occurs forty days after His resurrection. During this interim period, Jesus proceeds to confirm his “Christ-ship” with his disciples and encourage them to believe in Him. Luke writes that Christ “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”(Acts 1:3) After the forty days of ministering, Jesus leads his followers on small journey to Bethany outside of Jerusalem.

Here, he blesses them and then ascends into heaven. Luke records the event in Luke 24:5-52 and also records a more detailed version in Acts 1:6-11. The Gospel of Mark records the event with one line: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Mark 16:19.

What is noteworthy about these accounts (besides the fact that the Bible records them as true historical events) is that Christ’s ascent into Heaven was public, supernatural, and physical. Christ’ ascension was not done in secret or at night when no one could see what happened. The public manner in which Christ ascended also made it difficult to dismiss and discredit it.

His Ascension was not a matter of conjecture; it was real event seen by multiple witnesses. He also did not ascend as a shamed and defeated warrior in full retreat from Satan nor like some a sneaky thief masked by darkness. Rather, Christ was taken up publicly in full day light by a host of angels – as victorious King. Thomas Watson writes, “He ascended as a conqueror, in a way of triumph.”1 Its publicity attested to not only attests to, not only its authenticity, but to Christ’s worthiness.

Christ’s Ascension was not merely a public show; it was an actual physical transference. Jesus truly ascended to a real place – Heaven. Berkhof writes, “The ascension may be described as the visible ascent of the person of the Mediator from earth to heaven, according to His human nature. It was a local transition, a going from place to place.”2 While we do not know where heaven actually is, the Bible clearly and frequently states that is a real place.

First, the Bible explains that Heaven is where God resides. In the book of Genesis 14:19 and again in verse 22, God is said to be possessor of heaven and earth. In Genesis 19, God reign fires from heaven and in chapters 21 and 22, God speaks down from Heaven. God is seen speaking from heaven in the New Testament in Matt.3:17, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matt.3:24 calls heaven “the throne of God” and in Matthew 6:9, Jesus teaches us to pray to “Our Father in heaven”. Jesus addresses God as being in Heaven in John 17:1. From these and many more passages it is clear that not only is Heaven real but also that is also where God is.

We also know from Acts 1:11 that the Angels testify that Jesus ascended to Heaven and that Christ resides there (Eph. 1:20 and Col. 3:1). Therefore, we can be sure that Heaven is a real place where God, Jesus ascended to, and his redeemed people live for eternity. Wayne Grudem writes, “In fact, the ascension of Jesus into heaven is designed to teach us that heaven does exist as a place in the space-time universe.”3

Christ’s ascension was also supernatural. Jesus was not taken into heaven by any natural means. Luke records in Acts 1:3 that “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” For his disciples, who lately interacted with a man who rose from the dead and then saw him literally fly up into the air and disappear, this must have been awe inspiring. Indeed, it must have been exactly that; two angels, in finding everyone still gazing into heaven (Acts 1:11).

The supernatural framework in the Ascension also included a change to the human state of Christ. God’s exultation of Christ was not in respect to his unique role in the Godhead, Jesus’ position or role in the Trinity had never changed. Instead, through the Ascension God exalted Christ in his human nature. As J.I Packer explains, “The Ascension was from one standpoint the restoration of the glory that the Son had before the Incarnation, from another the glorifying of human nature in the way that had never happened before, and from a third that start of a reign that had not previously been exercised in this form”4 Jesus received the power, authority, and glory that were not fully available to his human nature during his earthly ministry.

Jesus’ human nature was exalted in order that the purpose of ascension may be fulfilled so that Christ may rule and reign on throne of heaven as the Mediator. As Berkhof states, the change was necessary so “that nature now passed into the fullness of heavenly glory and was perfectly adapted to life in heaven.”5 The ascension not only transported Jesus to heaven but also transformed his human nature so He could successfully fulfill the office he now possessed.

What the Ascension says about Christ is just the start of its impact to the Christian life. Indeed it is through our union with Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we can be assured of salvation and begin to glorify Christ and not ourselves.

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Thomas Watson, A Body of Modern Divinity, Banner of Truth 1983, 205
  2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, William B. Eerdmans Publishing 1938, 350
  3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan Publishing 1994, 618
  4. J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Publishers 1993, 127
  5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, William B. Eerdmans Publishing 1938, 350

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  • Brian

    …and… don’t forget Leviticus 16.  The Ascension is a recapitulation and fulfillment of the high priest’s sacrifice and entering the Holy of Holies as prefigured in the Old Testament.  Jesus is the true high priest, and he enters the true Holy of Holies in his ascension.