The death, the resurrection, and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ are three vital, fundamental doctrines of our most holy faith, and, as revealed to the soul by a divine power, become well-springs of hope, of strength, and of consolation, in exact proportion to the measure of faith whereby they are apprehended, embraced, and lived upon. In and by his sufferings, blood shedding, and death, we see sin fully and forever put away, an effectual atonement made for transgression, the law fulfilled and magnified, reconciliation between God and man effected, and every bar and hindrance which had kept them asunder thoroughly removed.
In and by his resurrection we see him declared to be the Son of God with power, the attesting seal of God set to the truth of his mission and work, and infallible proof given to a vast number of chosen witnesses that he was the Christ of God, the promised seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. (Acts 1:3; 2:32; 10:40-42; Rom. 1:4.)
Similarly in and by his exaltation we see him an ever-living Mediator at the right hand of the Father, a glorious High Priest over the house of God, an all-prevailing Intercessor, able to save them to the uttermost, who come unto God by him; and a sceptered King, ruling with sovereign sway all things in heaven and on earth, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. These three vital truths, as embraced and realized in their various openings and bearings on our spiritual experience, and as seen and felt in their suitability and application to our innumerable wants and woes, form the food of all living faith; and, therefore, if we do not find or feel any such life, power, or blessedness in them, it shows our little knowledge of, our little faith in the very truths of the gospel which we profess to receive and embrace.
But before faith can be raised up and drawn forth thus to act and live upon these precious truths of the everlasting gospel, we must, according to the prayer of the Apostle, have the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation given us in the knowledge of Christ; for a mere doctrinal knowledge of them, however sound, a mere letter faith in them, however strong, falls utterly short of conveying into the soul their sweetness and blessedness as made known by the Spirit of revelation. One grain of living faith, if it be but a grain, as raised up and drawn forth by the power of the Holy Spirit in a revelation of Christ, will do more for the soul in five minutes as to vital union and communion with the Lord Jesus, than heaps—whole heaps, tons, whole tons of the clearest, soundest doctrinal knowledge and the strongest letter faith would do in fifty years. Well, then, may we join, heart and soul, with the Apostle in his prayer that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ; that we may personally realize and enjoy the efficacy of his death, the power of his resurrection, and the daily benefits and blessings of his exaltation.
In our last paper, we gave as our reason for not closing our exposition of Ephesians 1 with the closing year, that we could not bring ourselves to hurry over so glorious and blessed a subject as the exaltation of our gracious Lord. And do we not find some responsive echo here in the hearts of many of our readers? Who that has ever seen by faith the blessed Mediator seated on his throne of grace; what poor, tried, tempted soul that has ever longed for or felt the tender sympathy of a compassionate High Priest; what almost despairing wretch who has clung almost in agony to an Intercessor able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him; what perplexed, storm-tossed vessel that needs a mighty hand to guide the helm, and a voice of power to calm the winds and waves, that does not cling to a Christ in heaven—a risen, exalted, and glorified Jesus; who has but to speak and all is well? But for his exaltation to the right hand of God, where would be all our prayers, desires, longings, sighs, and groans; where would be our hopes and expectations; where any strength, support, or consolation; where any triumph over death, or victory over the grave? Can we, then, hurry over or pass by as of little import the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, when with it we may be of all men most happy, without it, of all men most miserable?
But to proceed with our exposition. The exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ necessarily followed upon his resurrection. He was raised that he might be glorified. The Scriptures, therefore, always connect the two together. It is hardly necessary to quote passages to prove this; but if you will read carefully Peter's sermons and addresses in the early chapters of the Acts, and Paul's at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13) and at Athens (17), you will see how both these apostles bring together Christ's resurrection and glorification. The resurrection, therefore, of Christ, and the power put forth therein, having formed the subject of our previous Meditations, we shall now proceed to consider his exaltation. That we might know this in its experience and power was the prayer of the Apostle—"And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph. 1:19, 20.)
If we may draw a comparison, the power put forth in setting Christ at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places was even greater than that of raising him from the dead. The one was but the beginning of the other—the first step toward it, but which would have been incomplete without it. The crowning act was not when he came forth in power from the sepulcher, but when he entered the courts of bliss, when the everlasting doors lifted up their heads, and the King of glory went in.
The great, the overwhelming mystery of the exaltation of Christ, and of the power displayed therein, lies in this, that it is in our nature he is exalted above the highest heavens. There is no special mystery in his exaltation as the Son of God. As such he can claim it by lawful right. He who made angels, principalities, and powers, is originally and eternally above them. The mystery is that he should be exalted above all the glorious hierarchy of heaven as the Son of man. If we examine with a believing eye the three great doctrines of which we have before spoken—the death, the resurrection, and the exaltation of the Lord, we shall see that all their grace and glory, all their beauty, blessedness, and suitability rest upon the union of two distinct natures in the one glorious Person of Immanuel, God with us. This is the great mystery of godliness—God manifest in the flesh. But this mystery has, so to speak, two sides, which alternately present themselves to view. In his death and resurrection, the mystery chiefly turns upon his divine, in his exaltation chiefly on his human nature. Let us explain this.
That human nature should suffer, bleed, and die, is in itself no special mystery; that a dead human body should be raised from the dead is also no great mystery; but that he who died, that he who rose again as man, should be the Son of God and God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit—there is the mystery! And yet take away the Deity of Christ from his humanity, as suffering, and dying, and rising again—and you make the death and resurrection of Jesus of scarcely greater import than the death and resurrection of Lazarus. We thus see that it is his divine nature which makes the sufferings, blood shedding, and death of the Lord Jesus so full of grace, and his resurrection so full of glory.
But in his exaltation the mystery does not turn so much upon his divine—as on his human nature. It is no great mystery that the Son of God should be exalted to the throne of power. It is but a step from the bosom of the Father to his right hand. But that one in our nature should be exalted to that seat of pre-eminence and power; that the Mediator between God and man should be the man Christ Jesus; that the hands which once were nailed to the cross should now hold the scepter, and that the feet which once walked on lake Gennesaret, which were weary and dust-soiled at Jacob's well, which were washed with a sinful woman's tears, and kissed in penitential grief and love with polluted lips—that these very feet should now have all things put under them, both in heaven and earth—there is the mystery!
And yet what food for faith. The living family of God need a living Savior—one who can hear and answer prayer, deliver out of soul-trouble, speak a word with power to the heart when bowed down with grief and sorrow, sympathize with them under powerful temptations, support them under the trials and afflictions of the way, maintain under a thousand discouragements his own life in their soul, sustain under bereavements the mourning widow, and be a father to her fatherless children, appear again and again in providence as a friend that loves at all times and a brother born for adversity, smile upon them in death, and comforting them with his rod and staff as they walk through the valley of its dark shadow, land them at last safely in a happy eternity.
Do but take your eyes for a few moments off yourself and your own peculiar trials and sorrows, and look around you at the dear children of God whom you personally know. Now as you call to mind this and that suffering brother or sister in the Lord, and remember that those whom you know are only a small part, solitary specimens, as it were, of that large number of living saints who through much tribulation are entering the kingdom, do you not see what a poor and needy, tried and tempted, burdened and sorrowful, harassed and exercised family God's people for the most part are?
But look a little further, and see the reason why they are thus dealt with. Do not all their various trials and exercises make them need a Savior at hand and not afar off, a very present help in trouble, a Lord to whom they can speak and who can speak to them, and thus have union and communion with him as a risen and exalted Christ? Is not this your case, too, as well as theirs? for how ignorant you must be of the power of vital godliness not to have some personal experience of this. This, then, is all the difference between a faith which stands in the power of God and a faith which stands in the wisdom of men—between a living religion, kindled and maintained by divine communications—and a dead, formal religion, which, with all its knowledge, gifts, praying, and preaching, working and willing, rests in the mere letter of truth—that the one is ever seeking or realizing union and communion with a risen and exalted Lord, and the other is satisfied with making a fair show in the flesh.
Now in this risen and exalted Lord we feel to have one whom we more or less know; and this draws out faith toward and upon him. He is revealed in the word of truth, and through the power of the word, in the hands of the Spirit, he becomes revealed to the heart. Thus our faith in the Lord Jesus is not a floating fancy, or mere matter of doctrinal sentiment, or traditionary opinion, or groveling superstition, or wild delusion; but a solid, substantial reality, for it is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And it acts thus. We read his own blessed words, as they first fell from his lips, and were then preserved and stored up in the inspired Gospels. We thus see set before us by the Holy Spirit, in the word, a perfect representation of what the Son of God was when here below; we see his tender pity and compassion for poor sinners, his wondrous miracles when he went about doing good, and the grace and truth which shone in every word and work. We follow him step by step, pondering over his promises, his precepts, his invitations, his declarations of his Sonship and oneness with the Father, his last discourses with his disciples, until we reach his sufferings and death; and as faith embraces and is mixed with what is thus revealed in the word of truth, and we feel its sweetness and power in our soul, we seem to get some spiritual and experimental knowledge of him as thus evidently set forth before our eyes, (Gal. 3:1,) and, by the power of his grace, become enabled to believe in him and to love him.
When, then, we see him by faith risen from the dead, and, by the same faith follow him up to the courts of heaven, we feel to have there as our Mediator, High Priest, Advocate, and King, not one unknown to us, but the same Jesus whom we have already seen, known, and believed in through the power of the word of his grace upon our heart. Thus, however high he is exalted, faith can still follow him up to the height of his glory, for he is still the same Jesus in the loftiest height that he was in the lowest depth; and as he is the same Lord, so the faith in him is the same faith; for as there is but one Lord, so there is but one faith. (Eph. 4:5.)
In harmony with this, the prayer of the Apostle was that we might know the power put forth by God in the exaltation of his dear Son, and thus have a personal experience of it, as raising us up to him who sits at the right hand of the Father. Let us then take a view of this exaltation as brought before us by the Apostle:
i. God has "set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." The right hand is the place of dignity, pre-eminence, and power.
1. It is first the place of honor and dignity. (1 Kings 2:19; Psalm. 45:9; Matt. 20:21.) We therefore read of Jesus being "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:9); and Peter told the wondering multitude at the healing of the lame man at the gate of the temple, that "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of their fathers, had glorified his Son Jesus." (Acts 3:13.) The glory with which he is thus crowned is not the glory of the divine nature as distinct from the human, nor the glory of the human nature as distinct from the divine, but the glory put upon him as God-Man Mediator. It may therefore be termed his mediatorial glory—the peculiar glory which God has given him as a reward of his humiliation and obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:8, 9.) It was this glory which he expressed to his heavenly Father, in his memorable prayer, his holy will that his believing people might be with him to behold and to enjoy. (John 17:24.)
2. But the right hand is especially the seat of authority and power; and this seems to be the chief feature in the exaltation of Christ as brought forward by the Apostle, for his particular object evidently is to bring before us the investing of the Lord Jesus with supreme authority, power, and dominion over all things in heaven and in earth. What a wonderful subject for meditation is opened for us here. The presence of Jesus in heaven, of the man Christ Jesus, of the same man who was here below, who here suffered, bled, and died, is thus set before the eyes of our faith. John speaks of looking—"And behold a door was opened in heaven." (Rev. 4:1.) And is not this an opening of a door in heaven, when we can look up and see the man Christ Jesus at the right hand of God? This was the sight which comforted the martyred Stephen—"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56.) We thus see by faith the same Jesus, of whom we have heard and learned from the word of truth, to whom we have come, in whom we have believed, to whom we are daily looking, exalted above the highest, greatest, and most glorious of all angelic beings, and invested with supreme dominion and power.
It would seem from the Apostle's words here and elsewhere, especially Col. 1:16, where he says, "whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers," that there is in heaven what has been termed a celestial hierarchy, in other words various ranks and orders of angels. It is not a matter of faith, still less of speculation, but of reverential acceptance of revealed truth without an intruding into those things which we have not seen. In this spirit, therefore, we accept the words of the Apostle, that in the celestial courts there are "principalities and powers" which hold delegated dominion—we say delegated dominion, for their power and authority is not their own, but one with which they are commissioned, and therefore exercise as servants ("are they not all ministering," that is, serving, "spirits?" (Heb. 1:14), not as masters. But though servants and messengers, (The word translated 'angels' both in Hebrew and Greek means 'messengers'.) yet their power is so great as to be inconceivable by us. They are said, therefore, to "excel in strength," margin "mighty in strength." (Psalm 103:20.) John at one time saw "a strong angel" (Rev. 5:2), at another "a mighty angel, whose face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; who set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth" (Rev.10:1; 2); and at another an angel who thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered in the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. (Rev. 14:19.) An angel smote in one night, in the camp of the Assyrians, 185,000. What strength was here!
What strength there was in the angel whom David saw standing between heaven and earth with a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem to destroy it. (1 Chron. 21:16.) And what a mighty power will be displayed by angels at the great day, when the Son of man will send them forth to gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and to cast them into a furnace of fire. (Matt. 13:41, 42.) We need not pursue this point further, as we have brought it forward chiefly to show how great and glorious are those angelic beings, above whom our blessed Lord has been exalted as the Son of man.
Now this, as we have before pointed out, is the mystery and the blessedness of this exaltation, that by virtue of its union with the Person of the Son of God, a nature naturally inferior is promoted and exalted above a nature naturally its superior. To understand this, let it be observed that the nature of angels is by essential and original constitution of a higher character than that of man. They were created wholly pure spiritual subsistences (Heb. 1:7), and not as we of an immortal soul united to a body formed out of the dust of the ground. They are therefore essentially and by original constitution immortal. (Luke 20:36.) In power, too, as we have already shown, in original nearness to God, as ever beholding his face, and dwelling in his blissful presence (Matt. 17:10; Luke 1:19), in the perfection and swiftness of their obedience (Matt. 6:10; Dan. 9:21), and their being entrusted with the performance of works and offices beyond the natural capability of man even before the fall, they are a class of beings far superior to man.
But it was the eternal purpose of the invisible God to make himself seen and known in some more visible way than the display of his power, wisdom, and glory in creation; or even in the effulgence of his brightness in the highest heavens as seen by angels. There were perfections in the Godhead, such as grace, mercy, love, etc., which creation could but dimly if at all unfold, or heaven itself manifest, but which it was his eternal good pleasure to make visibly and signally known. He chose, therefore, that his only-begotten Son, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his Person, should come into open manifestation, that in him he might be seen and known. But here is the mystery of wisdom and grace that the Son of God, the Son of the Father in truth and love, should come into this open manifestation, not by taking on him the nature of angels, but by taking on him the seed of Abraham; and by taking part of the flesh and blood of the children (Heb. 2:14-16), should exalt our nature, as in union with his divine Person, above the highest and most glorious angels. This, we repeat, is the wondrous mystery whereby God has chosen to display the riches of his grace, the wonders of his love, the depths of his wisdom, and the greatness of his power.