The Heavenly Ministry of Christ (4)
John E. Todd, Chesterfield, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
For a period of forty days after His resurrection the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples ‘to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days’, Acts 1. 3. At the end of this period He ascended back to heaven from whence He came, ‘While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight’, v. 9.
The absence of the Lord from this earth and His presence in heaven is not regarded in scripture as a time of inactivity. On the contrary, His present work in heaven is of the utmost importance for the individual Christian and for the church.
He is the Glorified Man
The Lord had said that His ascension would be complementary to His birth, ‘I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father’, John 16. 28. Only the One who was eternally God could leave heaven and enter the human race on earth and only by means of the virgin birth; only the One who is God and was now truly man could leave earth and return to heaven, and only by means of the ascension, see Acts 1. 9-11.
The Lord ascended into the eternal realm of heaven in an immortal body. The fact that He ascended into heaven in a physical body underlines that heaven is a real place, ‘Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have’, Luke 24. 39. He also said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’, John 14. 2.
He is the Rewarded Servant
The Lord did not merely return to heaven, He returned to the position of supreme authority in the universe, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth’, Matt. 28. 18. He now manifests continually the glory which Hw veiled when He came into the world, ‘And now, O Father, glorify me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was’, John 17. 5. He shared once again the throne of divine sovereignty, ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb’, Rev. 22. 3.
All this was not only His by sovereign right as the Son of God, but also His reward as the Son of man. For, by His obedience to the point of death He had fulfilled, as God the Father’s Servant, the plan of salvation, ‘Behold my servant’, see Isa. 42. 1-9; 52. 13-53; also, Phil. 2. 9-10, ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth‘.
He is the Perfect Priest
Man in his sin and guilt cannot even approach God in His perfect holiness. Man must have someone to intercede with God on his behalf. This is one of the great lessons taught in the Old Testament scriptures, being illustrated by the Levitical priesthood of Israel. But the priesthood of Israel was imperfect, ‘If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood . . . what further need was there that another priest should rise?’ Heb. 7. 11.
The Levitical priest, being a man, must first make an offering for his own sins, ‘For that he himself also is compassed about with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins’, Heb. 5. 2-3. The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect Priest, ‘We have a great high priest . . . Jesus the Son of God . . . in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’, 4. 14-15.
The Levitical priest’s offerings, consisting of animal sacrifices, could only cover, but never remove the guilt of sin, and so must be made repeatedly, ‘For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins’, 10. 4. The Son of God offered up Himself, the perfect and final sacrifice for sin, ‘But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever . . . for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’, vv. 12-14.
The Levitical high priest could not enter the presence of God in heaven; he could enter only the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, and later the temple, and that but once a year, see 9. 6-10. The Lord Jesus Christ has entered the very presence of God in heaven, ‘For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us’, v. 24.
Christ’s present intercession before God in heaven guarantees forgiveness and therefore peace for each one who repents and has faith in Him as their personal Saviour, ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ v.14.
He is the Giver of the Holy Spirit
When the Lord Jesus told His disciples of His imminent departure to the Father, He cheered their sadness with a promise, ‘It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you’, John 16. 7. From heaven, He fulfilled that promise on the day of Pentecost, ‘they were all filled with the Holy Ghost’, Acts 2. 4.
The Lord has continued to fulfil His promise down the years as each sinner repents, believes and is born anew. From His exalted place in heaven, Christ bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon each Christian, ‘In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise’, Eph. 1. 13.
He is the Head of the Church
In the first reference to the church in the New Testament, the Lord refers to it as ‘my church’, Matt. 16. 18. It belongs to Him because He created it, ‘Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore . . . the church is subject unto Christ’, Eph. 5. 23-24.
As Head of the church He now, and continually, exercises His authority over the church. First, in a universal sense, over the whole company of His people, ‘Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’, vv. 25-27.
Second, He continually exercises His authority as Head over His local churches. This is the continuing purpose of the New Testament scriptures. The Head of the church still speaks from heaven to His local churches through these inspired writings, ‘What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia’, Rev. 1. 11; ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches’, 2. 7.
Each local church can still communicate with the risen Head in heaven by means of prayer, see Acts 1. 14; 4. 24- 31; 12. 5.
to be continued
AUTHOR PROFILE: John has been constributing articles to assembly magazines since 1986. together with his wife he began work amongst children that led to establishment of the assembly. Now he serves the assembly as an elder and in the ministry of God's word.