Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Waiting to Return 7

What is Jesus doing now in heaven as he sits at God's right hand? He is waiting, for one thing, until the time for his enemies finally to be put under his feet (Heb. 10:12-13). Hebrews perhaps thinks of those who will face God in the judgment when it mentions Christ's enemies (Heb. 10:26-31). 1 Corinthians 15 points to the most significant enemy to be vanquished at the end: death (15:26).

The other thing that Christ currently does in heaven is intercede for us (Rom. 8:34).  To intercede is of course to serve as a go-between in a very active way, to advocate for someone.  The Holy Spirit is our go-between when it comes to our everyday needs. "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans" (Rom. 8:26). So the Spirit pleads for us to God even though we ourselves do not fully know what we need or what is best for us.

The intercession of Christ is arguably a little different from the intercession of the Spirit.  Christ intercedes for us as a lawyer, as our advocate in the divine court.  "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (8:33-34). Jesus is thus the one who intercedes for our acquittal before God on the basis of his blood. Once we have Christ interceding for us in this way, we will be found not-guilty.

John gives yet another function for Jesus "in the meantime."  He has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). Most of the New Testament seems to look for eternity to be on a transformed earth. [1] Paul speaks of how the creation will be redeemed (Rom. 8:22-23). Revelation speaks of a New Jerusalem coming down to earth (Rev. 21:2). Matthew and Luke speak of people coming from all over the earth to eat with Jesus and the patriarchs of Genesis (Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28-29).

But perhaps the popular sense that we spend eternity in heaven comes most from John and John 14 in particular. Jesus prepares a place in heaven for his followers. And certainly this location fits with what other parts of the New Testament have to say about the time between Jesus' resurrection and second coming. The Parable of the Rich Man in Luke speaks of a beggar going to Abraham's side after his death (16:22). Paul speaks of how being absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Phil. 1:23).

Again, much of what we are saying about Christ's current activities do not come so much from the gospels as from the rest of the New Testament. What we do find a good deal about in the Synoptic Gospels, and in the rest of the New Testament, is Christ's impending return in judgment, as we discussed in chapter 8. "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven," Jesus tells the high priest (Mark 14:62). Acts 1:11 puts it this way: "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."

[1] See especially N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church ***.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for doing this.

"Aesthetics" is an interesting choice of labels for this post.

Ken Schenck said...

mistake ;-)