Friday, May 24, 2013

The Difference Between the Resurrection and the Ascension


Someone asked what is the difference between the resurrection and the ascension.

The Resurrection is when God raised up Jesus bodily from the grave. The Ascension is when Jesus went up bodily into heaven and assumed His throne at the right hand of the Father. He did not simply return to heaven, leaving His body behind, but He returned to heaven as the God-Man. And He now reigns forever beside the Father as the God-Man.

In the Cross, we see the victory of Jesus over satan, sin and everything that posed itself against God and held us in bondage. However, without the Resurrection, the cross would have been in vain. And without the ascension, both the cross and the Resurrection would have been in vain. It was in the Ascension that Jesus received all authority in heaven and on earth and is Lord of all, in His humanity as well as His divinity. That, to me, is the most stunning thing, that the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth is fully God and fully man.

It was in His humanity that Jesus, at the Cross, defeated the enemy, destroyed the power of the devil and disarmed the principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15). It was in His humanity that God raised Him from the dead in His own body, real and incorruptible. And it was in His humanity that God has made Him Lord over heaven and earth and seated Him at the Father's right hand.

In His deity, Jesus was always the Lord over all creation; in His humanity, He has become King over the world. Of course, we cannot separate His divinity from His humanity — God-Man is who and what He is, now and forever. And it is as God-Man that He is now King over all.

When King Jesus comes again, it will be to judge the living and the dead and set things right in the world. It will be the final accounting. Those who know Him and belong to Him by faith know what the final verdict will be, because God has already given it in advance: Justified!

Jesus reigns now and forever as the God-Man — and what wonderful implications the Ascension has for all creation as well as our own humanity. But it could not have happened apart from the Incarnation, the Cross and the Resurrection.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ascension: Daniel’s Vision Fulfilled

I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” This was not merely a way of indicating His humanity but, more than that, has great eschatological significance. It identifies Him in terms of God’s final plan for the world.

In Daniel’s vision, the scene shifts to heaven in verses 13 and 14. The Son of Man is the one who comes with the clouds of heaven and appears before God the Father, the Ancient of Days. This is not the Second Coming, when King Jesus will come down from heaven. This is the Ascension, when Jesus was carried up with the “clouds of heaven” (see Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9).

In the vision, the Son of Man is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” It reaches to all the peoples, nations and languages of the world so that all on earth should serve Him. Matthew’s gospel account does not describe for us the actual ascension, as does Luke’s, but it does show us the essence of it. We see this at the end of the book when Jesus comes to His disciples and announces, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mathew 28:18). This language portrays the significance of the ascension: glory, dominion and kingdom.

The dominion that is given to the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision is a dominion that last forever. Nothing can destroy it, nothing can prevent it from filling the earth. This is similar to an earlier vision in Daniel, where Daniel interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great image that had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet a mixture of iron and clay. These represented a succession of kingdoms. Daniel vividly describes what happened next:
You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34-35)
The stone “cut without hands” is of divine origin and corresponds to the Son of Man in Daniel 7. It completely smashes the great image — the kingdoms of the earth — and continues to enlarge until it becomes a great mountain that fills the earth. And now Daniel gives the interpretation of this final scene:
And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold — the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure. (Daniel 2:44-45)
This is the kingdom of God, the dominion given to the Son of Man. It cannot be destroyed but will fill the earth and endure forever. Notice that it does not first appear as a great mountain but as a stone. By the end, though, it becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth. So it is with the kingdom of God and the dominion of the Son of Man. The Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven and been given all authority, glory and dominion. And, in the words of Paul, “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet,” at which time He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, “when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). What has begun with the Ascension will end when King Jesus comes again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ascension: The Good News That Our God Reigns

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
In Isaiah 52, God speaks of a coming day when He would comfort and deliver His people, establish peace and reign over them. In the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word for “brings good news” and “brings glad tidings” is euangelizo (to evangelize) and refers to preaching the gospel. God’s promises was that one day there would come one who would proclaim the gospel, the good news that “Your God reigns.” At the end of that chapter, God speaks of “My Servant,” which is a reference to the Messiah. “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high” (v. 13). All of this is fulfilled in the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to His throne in heaven. God has exalted Him, given Him the name that is above every name and made Him Lord over all.

Paul refers to this reality in his letter to the Jesus believers at Rome. In chapter 10, he says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). Then he explains:
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:10-14)
This is about the preaching of the gospel. Then he refers to the text in Isaiah: “As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (v. 15). What he describes in Romans 10 is the fulfillment of what God said in Isaiah 52. The good news of the gospel is the announcement that Jesus is Lord.

This proclamation was very politically charged, particularly in the Roman Empire, where Caesar was supposed to be the one who was proclaimed as Lord and King and the one who brought peace and salvation to the world. But the confession of the Church and the good news of the gospel declared that not Caesar but Jesus is Lord.

All who heard Paul preach understood this very well. We can see it in Acts 17, when Paul taught in the synagogue at Thessalonica and announced, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (v. 3). Though some of the Jews there believed the good news, many others rejected it. When those who rejected it saw that many Gentiles also believed the gospel, they gathered a mob to go after Paul, who had been staying at the house of a man named Jason. Not finding him there, they dragged Jason before the rulers of the city and said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king — Jesus” (vv. 6-7).

Indeed, there is another King, and His name is Jesus. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, and God the Father has seated Him at His own right hand. That is the good news, the message that brings salvation to the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ascension: God Has Made Jesus Lord


At Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and ten days after He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, Peter preached to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem:
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2;33-36)
God has made Jesus Lord. That might sound unusual for many Christians because, after all, the confession of our faith is that Jesus is Lord — has He not always been so? How then can it be said that God has made Him Lord?

We often assume that the words “God” and “Lord” have the exact same significance. There are, however, important distinctions to be made. The confession that Jesus is Lord is not merely a statement about His divinity, an identification that He is God. More than that, it has special import in regard to God’s plan for renewing the world, and Jesus’ role in that plan.

Jesus has always been fully divine in His essence. He is the Word who was with God in the beginning, who is indeed God and who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He has always been the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. In the Incarnation, He became fully human, in addition to being fully divine, and it was then that He was called Jesus. But there came a point in history, and in His humanity, when God made Him Lord.

In making Jesus Lord, God fulfilled in Him the promise He made long ago to His people Israel. It was the promise that He would anoint one who would come redeem Israel, subdue the nations, set everything right in the world and reign forever. Jesus is that “Anointed One” — that is what is meant by Messiah or Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the believers at Philippi, speaks of how Jesus, though being in the form of God, took the form of a servant, in the likeness of humanity. As God who became man, Jesus further humbled Himself to the point of a humiliating death on the cross. But now listen as Paul describes the result of that great, and greatly surprising, act:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
God has highly exalted Him. He has given Him the name that is above every name by appointing Him as Lord over everything in heaven, on earth and under the earth — every realm of existence. Paul says it a bit differently in the book of Ephesians, when he speaks of the mighty power of God, “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Before Jesus ascended to His throne in heaven, He came to the disciples and declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In regard to His divinity and His identity as the eternal Son of God, Jesus has always been sovereign over creation from the very beginning. But in regard to His humanity, He was given all authority in heaven and on earth.

In the time-space continuum of the world, then, there came a moment when God highly exalted Jesus the Messiah, gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth and made Him Lord over all. He appointed Him as the rightful ruler over everything — the King of the world. The Church identifies and celebrates that moment in history as the Ascension.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ascension: At the Right Hand of the Father


Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus the Messiah, whom God anointed to be Lord over all, ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father. Today is Ascension Sunday, on which the Church around the world celebrates that great redemptive truth. A simple search through the New Testament for the words “right hand” reveals the enormous significance of this event.
  • But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)
  • “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:68-69)
  • Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Acts 2:33-35)
  • The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)
  • But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
  • Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
  • And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
  • If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
  • Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)
  • But to which of the angels has He ever said: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”? (Hebrews 1:13)
  • Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
  • There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
The ascension of the Lord Jesus connects to the messianic meaning of Psalm 110, which is often quoted in the New Testament concerning Him.
The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.
The LORD has sworn And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
The LORD is at Your right hand;
He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.
He shall judge among the nations,
He shall fill the places with dead bodies,
He shall execute the heads of many countries.
He shall drink of the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He shall lift up the head.
That day has already come and has already begun to be fulfilled. Jesus the Messiah has been seated at the right hand of the Father, far above all principality and power and might and dominion. “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This work will be complete when King Jesus returns again at the end of history. Then the will of God will be done thoroughly and completely on earth as it is in heaven. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The Ascension of the Lord Jesus also has great significance for all who are His. Just as Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, those who belong to Him are seated at His own right hand. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34). In Ephesians 1, Paul tells of Jesus’ enthronement at the Father’s right hand, but just a few verses later, in Ephesians 2, he speaks of what this means for all who trust in Him:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
God has made us alive together with Christ, raised us up together with Him, made us sit together in the heavenlies with Him. The Greek verbs here are in the aorist tense, which signifies completed action. In other words, this is not merely future promise Paul is talking about, it is present reality. Ascension Sunday reminds us that not only has the Lord Jesus been seated at the right hand of the Father, but in a very real sense, all who belong to Him by faith have now been seated there with Him.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Created to Be Like God

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
In the beginning, God created humanity, not according to its own unique “kind,” as were all the plants or animals of sky, earth and sea, but in His own image and according to His likeness — that is, to be like Him. Another way to say this is that we were created to reflect and reveal the glory of God.

The problem is that mankind, in the person of the first pair, rebelled against God — and we have all been corrupted by that rebellion. Paul put it this way: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Though created to bear the glory of God, which is the highest calling, we fell short. But that is why Jesus the Messiah came, to restore us back to God, so that we might once again reflect His glory, “being justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

This is not automatic, however. We take hold of this grace, this redemption, this restoration, by faith in the Lord Jesus. We are new beings in Christ, who is in the process of making all things new. We are new creations, part of His new creation. In Him we are no longer the same beings we once were. So we must put off the old ways we used to live and think, and allow the Spirit of God to renew our thoughts and attitudes, will and emotions. And as the NIV says, we must “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).