Implications of Christ’s Ascension—Part III

June 4, 2014

Today as I continue exploring the implications for Jesus’ Ascension into heaven (as the Apostles’ Creed puts it), the spatial considerations are interesting and worthy of note. It turns out, referring to heaven as “up there” and distant from us is a bit misleading. Luke’s gospel (24:50) records, “Jesus left them and was taken up into heaven.” In Acts, he writes, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. [The disciples] were looking intently up into the sky as he was going . . .” The Greek translated “taken up” means to be carried off, to be removed. The “up” aspect of our translation is not necessarily a spatial reference. What was key is that Jesus was removed from their sight, obscured by a cloud. He was removed from physical limitations of space to reign alongside the Father who already transcends physical space. That means that God does not dwell in a place (that is, a physical location) but in fact fills the heavens and the earth where he always has access. Dallas Willard puts it this way: “God relates to space as we do to our body. He occupies and overflows it but cannot be localized in it. Every point in it is accessible to his consciousness and will, and his manifest presence can be focused in any location as he sees fit [as in the Incarnation]” (Divine Conspiracy, 76).

Practically speaking, the so-called ascension made Jesus available as spiritual presence to all people because he occupies all space that isn’t already taken up by something else (our bodies, all creation, etc.) The good news is that Jesus is very close, though invisible to the eye, and we are invited to relate to him, follow his lead, and summon him at any time. What I have been trying, clumsily, to describe is the immanence of Jesus Christ.

But there is still a transcendence to hang on to as well. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father to reign forever and ever! This is a spatial description of a spiritual reality that Jesus Christ is distinctly set apart from everything and everyone else, identified as “with the Father” in that unity he described in the great priestly prayer of John 17. He reigns over all and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). This is a position of holiness, purity, and power, and no one else has it but Jesus. Our unholiness, as in “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), has separated us from God, who then feels distant and “up there.” Jesus changed that reality when he reconciled us to God and when he, by the power of the Holy Spirit, dwelt in our mortal bodies by faith (Romans 8:11). But Jesus at the right hand of the Father will always be purer, higher, and greater than we are; of this there is no doubt. From this position—having God’s ear, so to speak—Jesus Christ intercedes for us to the Father (Romans 8:34). He bridges the gap of any “distance” between us, and makes known what we really need.

When Jesus described what he would be doing after his departure (I’m thinking of John 14 now), we get this sense that preparing a place for us and sending the Spirit could only be accomplished if Jesus were no longer in sight. It seems to me that Jesus’ disappearance was necessary in order for us to more fully experience the Trinity: God’s reign, Christ’s reconciliation, the Spirit’s empowerment. From this angle we cannot conclude that Jesus left his disciples but that he, in a sense, moved out of the way so that they could see more readily the full glory of God. In fact, once introduced to the “glory of God in the face of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6), our vision by the Spirit is now expanded to see God at work through the dynamics of the Trinity, God’s full engagement with human beings to complete our redemption.

If this appreciation for the Trinity is a sign of spiritual progress to the Christian (the crux of Teresa of Avila’s point in Interior Castle), then of course the very visible public Jesus would want the shy member of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit, in Dale Bruner’s terminology) to shine forth. And does he ever, with a lot of racket and excitement on Pentecost Sunday!

So in summary, the ascension of Jesus made possible the following very practical dynamics:

1. His disciples were commissioned to step up and participate in God’s Kingdom agenda, following closely what Jesus had taught them.

2. His disappearance made possible his immanent presence to all regardless of their geographic location.

3. We were given access to the wonderful dynamics of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit.

4. Specifically, from his position on the heavenly throne, Jesus Christ pours out his Spirit upon his disciples.

5. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, Jesus intercedes for us (as does the Spirit who dwells in our hearts by faith—Romans 8:26).

 

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