Sunday, November 02, 2014

C5. In his resurrection, Jesus became the king of all humanity and creation.

This is now the fifth post in a series on Christology, in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first set had to do with God and Creation.
In his resurrection, Jesus became the king of all humanity and creation.

Jesus took on flesh as a prophet of the kingdom. In his death he became priest to reconcile humanity and the creation to God. In his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to God's right hand, God has enthroned him to his proper place as king of the universe.

The Apostle's Creed says, "On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead."

1. The climax of almost all the sermons of Acts is the statement that, "God raised him from the dead" (e.g., Acts 2:24). For Acts, the resurrection is the key event in the story of the restoration of all things, and Acts connects Jesus' resurrection with is immediate enthronement as king of all things.

It is interesting that Acts words the resurrection in terms of God raising Jesus, rather than Jesus simply rising himself. Paul also refers to Jesus' resurrection in this way, either in terms of God raising him (e.g., Rom. 4:24) or passively of Jesus being raised by God (e.g., Rom. 8:34). This observation points to what we have said before, namely, that in his humanity, Jesus played it by the human rules. What he did on earth is what the Spirit can do through us. And just as God raised him from the dead, so also we have the hope of being raised from the dead (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:14).

In Jesus' own day, God raising him from the dead vindicated Jesus' message and identity. It indicated that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the promised and expected king of Israel. Many had suspected this truth while he was alive, but Jesus did not function as king while he was on earth, even if some wanted to make him king (e.g., John 6:15). Near the end of his earthly ministry, Peter privately got him to confirm that he was in fact the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30).

One of the reasons Jesus may have kept this identity somewhat secret is because it was not his purpose while he was on earth to function as king. Similarly, from a Christian perspective, the final goal of his earthly mission was his death on the cross. But death contradicted the normal expectations of a Messiah for the Jews of his day. To announce his kingship publicly would have been counterproductive to his ultimate purposes. [1]

The word Messiah, like its Greek translation, Christ, means "anointed one." More than one role in Israel involved this sort of anointing with oil, but the specific function in view here is that of anointed king. This was of course always part of God's plan. Jesus was always the heir apparent to the throne. But, properly speaking, Jesus did not function as Messiah while he was on earth.

2. The ascension is narrated in Acts 1:9-11. He leaves the earth in the sight of his disciples and goes to the highest sky where God's presence is. He "has passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14).

To be sure, we do not picture the universe the way that people did at the time of Christ. They pictured a series of skies, layers of heaven (the same word means both heaven and sky) as you went up from the earth. God was in the highest heaven, the highest layer of sky. We now see the earth going around the sun in just one of millions of solar systems in one of millions of galaxies.

So where did Jesus ascend to? [2] If God created the universe out of nothing, as Christians now believe, then the heaven of God's ultimate presence is not in this universe. We frankly do not know enough to say whether there is a distinct heaven within this universe to which Jesus physically ascended. The New Testament teaches that Jesus retains his body and Christianity teaches that he will retain his glorified body forever, just as we will.

It is always possible that Jesus ascension was more for the benefit of the disciples, Jesus meeting them in their ancient worldview, than a true exit into space. Perhaps, once he was clear of their sight, he disappeared into whatever other dimension "heaven" is in.

3. Jesus sat on the right hand of God. We call this seating the session of Jesus. His seating indicates that atonement is accomplished. It also indicates that his enthronement is now complete. Before his resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand, Jesus was the one destined to be king. After he sits at God's right hand, he is now acting as God's king.

A significant strand relays this sense of Jesus being exalted as Lord Messiah after his resurrection.
  • "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and graced him with the Name above every name... that every knee should bow and every tongue confess... that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). [3]
  • "God raised this Jesus from the dead... Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God... he poured out this Spirit... Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32-33, 36).
  • "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and have faith in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
  • "Christ sat on the right hand of Majesty in the heavens, having become as much greater than the angels as the name he has inherited is greater than theirs. For to which of the angels has he ever said at any time, 'You are my Son, today I have given you birth'" (Heb. 1:3-5).
  • "God has fulfilled this [promise] to us, his children [Israel], when he raised Jesus, as it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son, today I have given you birth'" (Acts 13:33).      
All these passages suggest that the titles "Christ," "Lord," and even "Son of God" were all originally royal titles associated with Jesus' enthronement at God's right hand immediately following his resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand. He sits and receives his throne. [4]

4. Paul at various points connects Jesus resurrection to various aspects of salvation:
  • "Jesus was handed over because of our transgressions. He was raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
  • "God caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3).
Later articles will explore the nature of salvation. These verses allude to two aspects of our ultimate salvation. Justification is our acquittal in relation to the legal charges against us because of our wrongdoing, our "transgressions." Jesus' resurrection indicates that he has taken care of those charges with his own death. It also relates to the fact that as our lawyer he is now arguing our case at God's right hand (cf. 1 John 2:1).

Another article will later explore the fact that our own resurrection from the dead will be patterned after the resurrection of Jesus. "Just as we have born the image of the earthly man [Adam], we will also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:49). The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead gives us the hope that God will also raise us one day" (e.g., 2 Cor. 4:14).

God has already, through the power of the Spirit, raised us out of our sin and into a newness of life (Rom. 6:4). At least Paul suggests that is the way it is supposed to be. We all know, as Paul did, that there are plenty of believers whose lives include sinful actions. But it is not supposed to be that way. God urges us not to "let Sin rule in our mortal bodies" (Rom. 6:12).

6. Jesus' reign has begun. The kingdom has commenced. But the kingdom is not fully implemented.

We call this an "inaugurated eschatology." The kingdom is inaugurated. Christ's rule has begun. "Christ has died. Christ has risen." But there is a third part. "Christ will come again."

When Christ returns, his kingdom will come to earth, as it is in heaven. "Of the increase of his government, there will be no end" (Isa. 9:6). He will return with his angels to judge the earth (2 Thess. 1:7) and then he will establish his reign on the earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Then he will turn the kingdom over to God the Father for all eternity (1 Cor. 15:28).

Next week: A1. God chose Christ's death as the means to reconcile the world to himself.

[1] Because Jesus did not access his omniscience while he was on earth, we have to speculate about when he really sensed his identity and destiny while he was on earth. Was it, for example, at his baptism that he realized that he was the promised king?

[2] Leaving out the question of whether these are dramatic portrayals on Luke's part rather than literal ones.

[3] My translation. I am leaving out portions of these hymn-like verses to make the train of thought clear. Many think Paul may be quoting and amplifying an existing hymn or poem. I personally wonder if the parts I have omitted are Pauline amplifications of it, along with a line that I have retained, "to the glory of God the Father."

It seems likely that the original hymn in some way connected the Name of God in the Old Testament to Jesus, namely, YHWH, which is generally translated as "Lord" in Greek. The exaltation of Jesus is thus very high indeed here indeed, far beyond his already high initial status of "being in the form of God" (Phil. 2:6).

[4] There is no reason to insist that these be literal actions, that Jesus literally sat down on some literal seat. We get the point. Jesus' kingship is now inaugurated.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Fundamental truth, and so important.