We are too apt to move straight from an assertion of Christ’s resurrection to an invitation to a present encounter with the living Saviour. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that ‘from the moment Jesus left the tomb, he was heading for the heavenly throne.’
‘The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.’ The resurrection began, and the ascension completed, his return to glory, his journey home.
Jesus’ first conversation after rising from death was with Mary of Magdala, Jn 20:17; cf. Mt 28:9. “Stop clinging to me, for I am about to ascend,” he says – ‘not a cold-hearted brush-off but a compassionate re-education.’ Mary, and all those who loved him, must get used to practising fellowship with a Saviour they could not touch or see, for he was soon to withdraw from sight till his second coming.
Ascension involves mystery – essentially, the mystery of the incarnation itself. Continuity was evident: Jesus looked and sounded as before; he was still solid flesh and bone; he even ate food. But there was also discontinuity: he could appear and disappear, and even pass through locked doors.
The Ascension took place after Jesus had commissioned and blessed the disciples. Then he made his exit in a cloud – the miraculous counterpart to the Virgin Birth – to be confined by our three dimensions of space no longer. He was withdrawn, to use C.S. Lewis’ word, through a ‘fold’ in space, as an actor might take his bow and then appear to vanish through a fold in the stage curtain (actually stepping into a gap between the two curtains). The key thing in what they saw was that he was drawn upwards. That upwards movement indicated not only that the Father was withdrawing his Son from this world-order, but also that he was advancing him to a new dignity. ‘Ascension implies ascendency’. ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place,’ Phil 2:9. That highest place is at the Father’s right hand, the place of executive government, and there he reigns today, as Lord of all. Jesus has been given ‘all authority in heaven and on earth,’ Mt 28:18. ‘He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet,’ 1 Cor 15:25.
So, although Jesus physical presence is gone, his personal presence is now available through the Holy Spirit to all who call on him. But Jesus still has a bodily presence, and that is at the Father’s right hand, and that body is ‘glorious’ (Phil 3:21). For further information, we shall have to wait until till we ourselves get to heaven.
As for Jesus’ present life in heaven, just like his previous life on earth, it is ‘for us’ believers. His intecession for us is not a desperate pleading in which the intercessor is uncertain of the outcome, or any reluctance on the part of the one appealed has to be overcome. No: Christ’s intercession is fully in accord with the Father’s gacious will and is sovereignly efficacious.
Jesus’ intercession maintains our justified status, Rom 8:34. It ensures that we find the throne of God to be a ‘throne of grace’ where we ‘receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,’ Heb 4:16. In fact, ‘no spiritual benefit of any kind comes to any child of God apart from the mediatorial intercession of Jesus the Lord.’
There is, or course, a spiritual war on, and the Lamb on his throne is a commander, directing a global campaign. Satan is a powerful foe, yet already defeated. Christ overcame him decisively while on earth, ‘and now from heaven he pours out his Spirit to enable his servants to ram hime his victory be freeing lost souls from Satan’s sway and bringing them new life.’ But the warfare – intellectual, moral and ideological – is constant and bitter, and it is not always clear to us who is on top.
One day Jesus Christ will reappear to close the book of this world’s history, and then all spiritual rebellion will be abolished for ever. But, until then, the Christian life is a mixture of war and peace: war in which the outcome is assured, and peace that the world cannot neither give us nor take away from us.
Adapted from: J.I. Packer, ‘The Lamb upon his throne’, in Collected Shorter Writings, Vol I, pp61-64.