There is this peculiar blessedness in the Person and work of the adorable Redeemer, that, like the sun which shines in every climate, he is ever beaming forth out of his inexhaustible fullness rays of grace and glory, under every aspect, to believing eyes and hearts; so that the more we look to him the more we see in him to adore and love, the more we believe in his name the more it becomes as the ointment poured forth, and the more we experience of his grace the more we feel of its power. "Have I been," he asks his people, "a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?" Jer 2:31. No, Lord, we may well answer; not "a wilderness," for from you is all our fruit found; not "a land of darkness," for with you is the light of life. If, then, no fruit be gathered by us from that portion of the heavenly garden through which we now purpose, with God's help and blessing, to walk with our readers, it is not because no fruit grows there, but because our eyes are too dim to see, or our hands too weak to reach it down from the tree of life.
In this, as in everything else that we speak, write, or do in his name, we willingly acknowledge our shortcomings; for though we would wish to set forth to the utmost of our power the grace and glory of the incarnate Son of God; and though what has lately engaged our pen has not been without some amount of careful thought and consideration, yet we feel miserably to fail both in conception and expression, and must confess with Berridge,
But we lisp and falter forth
And if this be true as regards our past Meditations on the holy humanity of Jesus in his state of humiliation here below, how much more must it be so when we have to view him as he now is—enthroned on high in all the fullness of his mediatorial grace and glory. Still, we attempt the task, in the hope that our meditation of him may be sweet, and be attended with a blessing from on high to those who love his name and long for his appearing. For though he is exalted far beyond all present conception, yet in the word of truth we have a sure guide, by following which we may obtain some believing apprehensions of what he is to those who see him by faith at the right hand of the Father.
1. The first point, then, that will now engage our thoughts is the ASCENSION of the blessed Lord; and the first step in our meditation upon it will be to prove the fact. This, in the depth of his wisdom, God has been pleased to place beyond all doubt or controversy, at least to all who receive the scriptures as an inspired revelation; and by so doing he has given us much reason to admire his infinite condescension and grace. The Lord might have ascended to heaven immediately after his resurrection, without showing himself to his disciples; or after appearing to them, to prove that he was risen from the dead, he might have gone up on high without any eye-witnesses of his ascension. But that so stupendous and yet so indispensable a fact might rest on an immovable foundation, the Lord did not ascend until forty days after the resurrection, that by his repeated appearances to his disciples he might afford them so many "infallible proofs" Acts 1:3. that indeed he was risen from the dead; and when he went up on high it was in the presence and in the open sight of his eleven apostles, that not only they themselves might have the evidence of their own eyes, the strongest of all possible proofs, but that through all ages the church might be able to rest with sure confidence on such indubitable testimony.
The fact, then, of the Lord's ascension we have now more particularly to show from the scriptures of truth. On the morning of that day on which he ascended to heaven the blessed Lord appeared for the tenth and last time to his followers. The eleven apostles met together at his command in Jerusalem, and there Jesus appeared in their midst. As we read—"And being assembled together with them, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, says he, you have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." Acts 1:4,5. During this last solemn interview the Lord conversed at some length with his disciples, as recorded, for we need not quote the passages at length. Mark 16:15-18. Luke 24:44-49. Acts 1:4-8. He thus afforded them not only the sweet consolation of his actual, living presence before he as parted from them, but the clearest possible evidence that he was the very same Jesus whom they had so well known and so dearly loved in the days of his flesh, during the whole time that he had consorted with them. Having, then, afforded them this confirming evidence that it was indeed he himself, he ascended visibly before their eyes to give to them—and to the church of God through all ages by them—the surest testimony that he had gone up into heaven in the same bodily form, the same identical humanity, in which they had ever known him.
As this is so important a feature of our present subject, and must form the foundation of our Meditations upon it, we will quote the very language of the Holy Spirit as we find it written in the inspired page—"Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. They worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God." Luke 24:50-53. "It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud." Acts 1:9
Consider for a moment the strength of this testimony. Could these eleven men have been deceived or mistaken in what they thus personally witnessed? Most of them afterwards laid down their lives in confirmation of what they then saw. When, then, they viewed him with whom they had been for some time holding sweet converse taken up before their eyes, and they watched his ascension until a cloud received him out of their sight, could they have had a more indubitable testimony of the fulfillment of his own words, "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. And again, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." John 20:17. But to leave not a shadow of doubt on their minds, and to seal it more effectually on their hearts, as well as to assure them of his future return, the Lord was graciously pleased to add to their own eye-witness angelic testimony—"They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? 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." Acts 1:10-11
It may seem, perhaps, to some of our readers, almost unnecessary for us to have brought forward so much scripture testimony on a point which no believer doubts. But, through some little acquaintance with the unbelief and infidelity of the human heart, and continued assaults from that quarter, we have long seen and felt in our own mind that faith needs the strongest and surest foothold that God has given, on which it may stand during seasons of darkness and temptation. Some never seem to doubt either the certainty of the rock or their own standing on it; but we freely confess that there are times and seasons with us when hell, with all its infernal artillery, and the infidelity of the human mind combine together to shake our faith to its very center.
But we have learned this lesson in the school of temptation—that faith needs the firmest possible foothold on which it may stand while the storm rages. As, then, the shipwrecked sailor, washed ashore by the heaving billow, cleaves with all his strength to the rock which he has happily reached, lest the receding wave should sweep him out to sea, so does the believing soul, landed on the rock of truth, cleave with all its might to the word of God's grace, lest the wave of infidelity sweep it away to the sea of destruction.
Now, when by divine grace faith can stand upon facts so clearly attested as the resurrection and ascension of the blessed Lord, it feels that there is firm ground beneath its feet; and that in believing in a risen and ascended Lord it does not "follow cunningly-devised fables," but receives the truth as it is in Jesus from the sure witness of those who "have made known the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as eye-witnesses of his majesty." 2Pe 1:16.
Faith, too, needs food as well as foothold; and it is upon these divine verities, so plainly revealed and so clearly established in the word of truth, that faith feeds as its choice provision. The time may come with you, dear reader, when you may feel as if clambering up a steep and lofty mountain, whose top you must reach or die; and yet, with all your exertion, every stone on which you would place your foot rolls away from under you, filling you with dread at every step lest life be lost, or limb be broken. Under such circumstances how you would prize a solid rock on which, step by step, you could set your trembling, staggering feet. This rock is Christ, which God has laid in Zion; but that faith may stand upon it unmoved, immovable by the assaults of unbelief and infidelity, he has in the word of his grace laid this foundation firm and sure by the strongest testimony.
2. Having, then, seen the strong foundation on which the ascension of the blessed Lord rests as an ascertained fact, we may now proceed to view him by faith as entering the courts of bliss. And the first most obvious view that faith obtains of him is that he entered heaven in the same identical human body in which he last communed with his disciples, and which they had seen taken up before their eyes; for one part of "the great mystery of godliness" is that "God manifest in the flesh" was "received up into glory," and therefore in the same flesh as that in which he was thus manifested. 1Ti 3:16
John Owen has so clearly expressed the faith of the church on this vital point that we prefer giving his words to any of our own:
"All perfections whereof human nature is capable, abiding what it was in both the essential parts of it, body and soul, do belong unto the Lord Jesus Christ in his glorified state. To ascribe unto it what is inconsistent with its essence is not an assignation of glory unto its state and condition, but a destruction of its being. To affix unto human nature divine properties, as ubiquity or immensity, is to deprive it of its own. The essence of his body is no more changed than that of his soul. It is a fundamental article of faith that he is in the same body in heaven wherein he conversed here on earth; as well as the faculties of his rational soul are continued the same in him. This is that 'holy thing' which was framed immediately by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin. This is that 'Holy One' which, when it was in the grave, saw no corruption. This is that body which was offered for us, wherein he bore our sins on the tree. To fancy any such change in or of this body, by its glorification, as that it should not continue essentially and substantially the same that it was, is to overthrow the faith of the church in a principal article of it. We believe that the very same body wherein he suffered for us, without any alteration as to its substance, essence, or integral parts, and not another body of an ethereal, heavenly structure, wherein is nothing of flesh, blood, or bones, by which he so frequently testified the faithfulness of God in his incarnation, is still that temple wherein God dwells, and wherein he administers in the holy place not made with hands. The body which was pierced is that which all eyes shall see, and no other."
The clearness, wisdom, holy and heavenly sobriety of the above extract need no commendation from us. It speaks sufficiently for itself to those who know and love the truth, and are willing to submit themselves to the oracles of God as its own infallible source. We must have no tampering, then, with that fundamental article of our most holy faith, that the Lord Jesus took into heaven the identical humanity which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin. But this thorough identity of his holy humanity does not impair or detract from every perfection as now made manifest in that glorified human nature which is consistent with its preserving its real form and essence. And of this we seem to have a very clear proof in the word of truth. When holy John had a revelation of his glorified humanity, in the Isle of Patmos, it was not of an ethereal body, retaining no traces of the human form, a Jesus whom he could not at once recognize as having seen him before in the flesh, but "one like unto the Son of man"—that very same Son of man whom he had known here below—one, too, who had "head, and hair, and eyes, and feet, and hands," these human members all still retained in their entirety, but all unspeakably glorious; and whose "countenance" still the same human countenance "was as the sun shines in his strength." Rev. 1:13-16.
It is necessary, indeed, to bear in mind that while we speak of the identity of the risen and ascended body of the Lord, we utterly separate from it what the apostle calls "the weakness" of Christ; "he was crucified through weakness;" 2Co 13:4. for though this weakness was compatible with, and even necessary unto, his state of humiliation, it is not consistent with a heavenly condition, or his exaltation to eternal glory. The body of the blessed Lord ate, and drank, and slept, was weary and thirsty here below. But no such infirmities, or, to speak more correctly, no such sinless contingencies of a state of humiliation were taken with him into heaven. His body and soul are still identically and unalterably the same as they were upon earth; but heavenly glory, without destroying or even impairing the reality of his human nature, has eternally swallowed up all those mere passing and contingent circumstances which necessarily attended his humanity in a time-state. This will also be the case with the risen bodies of the saints at the great day, as the apostle so beautifully speaks—"Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed; for this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal put on immortality." 1Co 15:51-53
But though they will be fashioned after the likeness of the risen body of Jesus, we must ever bear in mind that the glory of Christ's human nature in its mediatorial state essentially differs from that glory which will clothe the souls and bodies of the risen saints at the great day; for his humanity, as existing in intimate union with his divine Person, is there—by eternally distinguished from theirs, and exalted infinitely beyond any glory which the risen bodies of the saints shall wear. They will indeed see his glory face to face with—out a veil between, Job 19:27. John 17:24. 1Co 13:12. and be partakers of it, which will be their eternal joy; John 17:22. Luke 22:29,30. Rev. 3:21. they will be conformed in body and soul to his glorified image, so as to be eternally resplendent in all the beauties of holiness; Psalm 17:15. 1Co 15:49. Php 3:21. and as such they will "shine as the brightness of the skies, and as the stars forever and ever." Da 12:3
But with all this eternal weight of glory, the glorified humanity of the blessed Lord, from its ineffable union with his Deity, will ever differ from theirs not only in degree, but in nature. For this reason, his human nature, as being so glorious from its conjunction with his Deity, is the object of adoration and worship of all creatures the very same worship which is paid to the Person of the Father—"And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I, saying. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Rev. 5:13.
This glory it has from its subsistence in his divine Person, therefore inherent in it, and thus essentially distinct from the inferior glory of the risen saints, who have it as a gift and not a necessary adjunct. All the glory which they will have is from him as a gift of his grace, and as being members of his mystical body; but it dwells in him in all its fountain fullness, for "it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell." What we have here, or shall have hereafter, is only by gift; but what he is and has he is and has by right.
Besides which, though his sacred humanity in its glorified state still remains a creature, and neither is nor can be deified, yet, from its intimate conjunction with his Deity it receives emanations of power and glory which we may apprehend by faith, but of which no adequate conception can ever be formed by a finite intellect, not even of the highest angel. His eternal Deity irradiates his humanity with a luster beyond its own, and shines through it with resplendent glory, as the sun shines through a cloud, or as at the moment of his transfiguration the glorious Person of the God-man made "his clothing become shining exceeding white as snow." Mark 9:3. If such a comparison be admissible, as our soul ennobles our body, and thus, even in our fallen state, as being an immortal principle, separates us from the lower creation, so the essential Deity of the Son of God ennobles his humanity, and separates it from all approach or comparison of the inferior glory of his risen saints. But we pause, lest we seem to intrude too much on high and speculative subjects, though, as far as we have gone, we cannot but feel they are blessed mysteries when apprehended by a living faith.
3. We may pass on, then, to examine in what way, and to accomplish what special purposes of wisdom and grace, the blessed Lord entered upon his present state of mediatorial exaltation at the right hand of the Father. And viewing him as ascending on high that, in his complex Person as God-man, he might be "set at God's own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come," Eph 1:20,21. we may consider his entrance into his glory Luke 24:26. under these two different aspects—as a triumphant King, and as a gracious High Priest.
He entered heaven, then, in glorious triumph, to take possession of his mediatorial kingdom, as Zion's anointed King, and "to sit and rule upon his throne." Psalm 2:6. Zec 6:13. Luke 1:32,33. God the Father had appointed unto him a kingdom Luke 22:29. as the reward of his incarnation and humiliation, Php 2:9,10. Hebrews 2:9. and this he went into heaven to take possession of. Luke 19:12. Rev. 3:21. Immediately, then, that he left earth, and was received out of the sight of the eleven apostles in a cloud of glory, his royal progress began. Surely, if a chariot of fire and horses of fire were dispatched to take Elijah up to heaven, 2Ki 2:11. the blessed Lord had no inferior convoy. Was the servant so honored, and was no honor paid to the Master? Should the subject be taken gloriously to heaven, and the King have no train of celestial glory? Did "his train fill the temple" when Isaiah "saw his glory and spoke of him?" Isa 6:1. John 12:41. and did no train of glory follow him as he ascended on high to take possession of his mediatorial kingdom? But we are not left to conjecture upon this point. The scripture affords the clearest proof of the triumphant manner in which the Lord of life and glory went up on high.
In Psalm 68. there is a blessed description of the glorious convoy of angels which attended him on his royal progress up to heaven's gates; for as, when "he shall appear a second time without sin unto salvation," he will be "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels," 2Th 1:7. and shall "come in the glory of his Father, with his angels," Matthew 16:27. so thousands upon thousands of ministering angels attended upon him at his triumphant ascension. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. You have ascended on high; you have led captivity captive; you have received gifts for men, yes, for the rebellious also; that the Lord God might dwell among them" Psalm 68:17,18. This triumphant ascension of the blessed Lord is also clearly intimated in Psalm 47. "O clap your hands, all you people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph; for the Lord most high is awesome; he is a great King over all the earth. God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises; for God is the King of all the earth; sing you praises with understanding." Psalm 47:1,2. Psalm 47:5-7
Nor are we left without scriptural intimations even of the blessed Lord's reception at the very courts of bliss. When he reached the gates of heaven the celestial courts were, as it were, moved at his approach, for then was accomplished that memorable transition recorded in Psalm 24. As thus represented to our faith, it was as if the attendant angels that formed his glorious convoy shouted aloud before him, as the heralds of his approach, "Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." Psalm 24:7. But from within is made the inquiry, "Who is this King of glory?" The answer is given from without by the attendants of his train, "The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle." Then comes forth the universal chorus, from without and from within, "Lift up your heads, O you gates, even lift them up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord Almighty, he is the King of glory." Psalm 24:9,10. We do not say, it might be rash to assert it, that all this was literally and actually transacted, for heavenly realities are beyond the range of human conception; but it is so represented to our faith in the word of truth; and as such we receive it in the simplicity of little children.
Nor were good angels the only attendants of his train. Ancient kings, returning home after triumphant wars, brought back conquered enemies as well as congratulating friends. In a similar way the blessed Lord is represented in scripture as then manifestly triumphing over Satan and all his angels, as if in his glorious ascension, when "he led captivity captive," he dragged at his chariot-wheels the infernal hosts of hell, and openly showed them to all the holy angels as vanquished prisoners. Thus, at least, the apostle speaks, "And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it," that is, the cross, or, to adopt the marginal rendering, "in himself." Col 2:15.
The ancient promise was that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." When Satan, by entering into Judas, and by instigating the chief priests and the people to demand that Christ should be crucified, had, as he thought, effectually succeeded in destroying Jesus, he little imagined that this was to be, by God's eternal design, the very means of accomplishing that prediction. On the cross the seed of the woman bruised the serpent's head the seat of his poison-fangs, as well as of his infernal craft and cruelty. There Jesus spoiled principalities and powers, and cast them out of their usurped dominion. But when he ascended on high he "led captivity captive;" Psalm 68:18. Eph 4:8. that is, he led captive those who had led poor fallen man captive, in the open sight of all the angelic host, that the elect angels might be eye-witnesses of the ruin and misery which had fallen on the heads of their apostate brethren in the defeat of all their schemes against the Holy One of Israel.
It would appear, from the testimony of scripture, that the holy angels were partially, if not wholly, ignorant of the designs of God in the mystery of the incarnation until all was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and even now are waiting for further developments of the wisdom of God as therein displayed in the present grace and future glory of the church of Christ. This was represented in the Levitical dispensation by the cherubim looking toward the mercy-seat of the ark, as Peter explains the figure, "which things the angels desire to look into;" 1Pe 1:12. and observe that the apostle does not say that they "desired," but that they "desire," that is, still desire, to look into these heavenly mysteries, to afford them renewed discoveries of the wisdom and glory of God; for it is not by creation, with all its wonders, nor by providence, in all its displays, that the wisdom of God is made known to angelic minds, but by redemption. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph 3:10,11
With what surpassing and resplendent glory, then, was the infinite wisdom of God displayed to these bright, angelic intelligences when, at the ascension of their Lord and ours, they personally witnessed how, in that very nature which "was made a little lower than the angels," in his state of humiliation, he had defeated all the designs of Satan, vindicated the honor of God, glorified his justice, magnified the law given by their ministration and made it honorable, revealed the grace, mercy, and love of the Father in the salvation of millions of redeemed sinners, and was now returning triumphant into heaven to reign and rule at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
4. And this leads us to consider the ends for which Jesus ascended thus triumphantly into glory. They may be briefly viewed as two, which may be severally characterized by the two different instruments of regal power which the enthroned King of Zion bears as the insignia of his authority.
1. The rod of iron whereby he rules over his enemies. This has been put into his hands by his Father—"You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Psalm 2:9. "Rule in the midst of your enemies," was the charter of his authority, when the Father said unto him, "Sit you at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." Psalm 110:1,2. Thus power is given him "over all flesh;" John 17:2. yes, "all power in heaven and in earth;" Matthew 28:18. for "God has put all things," and therefore "all enemies," "under his feet." 1Co 15:25-27. All persons and things are subject to his control; and though "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed; he who sits in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision." Psalm 2:4
2. But there is the scepter of his grace, by which he rules in the hearts of a willing people; Psalm 110:3. bows them at his feet in sweet submission to his will; and becomes enthroned in their heart and affections as the Prince of peace. But as we shall have occasion to speak more particularly of the exercise of this twofold kingly power when we come to the consideration of our Lord's present state in heaven, we shall not dwell any longer on this branch of our subject, but proceed to view the adorable Redeemer as:
5. Ascending on high that he might be a High Priest over the house of God, and that "not after the law of a carnal commandment," as the priests under the law, "but after the power of an endless life." Hebrews 7:16. It was prophesied of him that he should be "a Priest on his throne." Zec 6:13. as uniting in his glorious Person the regal and priestly dignities. Of this conjunction of king and priest in one Person, Melchisedek was a type, who was "king of Salem and priest of the most high God;" Hebrews 7:1. and we know that the testimony of God to his dear Son was, "You are a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek." Psalm 110:4. Hebrews 7:17. When, then, the blessed Lord had fulfilled one part of his priestly office here below by offering the sacrifice of his sacred humanity, his pure body and his holy soul, on the cross, thereby making an expiation for the sins of his people, he went up on high to accomplish on their behalf the second part of the priestly office, which is to make intercession for them. Romans 8:34. Hebrews 7:25. This was beautifully typified by what took place on the solemn day of atonement, when the high priest, wearing the holy linen garments, a type of the pure humanity of Jesus, first offered sacrifice in the outer court and made atonement for sin, and then, with the blood of the bullock and of the goat, and the smoke of incense beaten small, lighted by coals taken from the bronze altar, entered into the most holy place. This most holy place was a type of heaven, Hebrews 9:24. and the ascension of our great High Priest there was represented by the steps up which the high priest went when, after offering sacrifice, he entered with the blood into the temple.
We may also observe that when the high priest thus ascended the steps of the temple to present himself before the Lord in the most holy place, this was the very time when the jubilee trumpet sounded through the land, and proclaimed liberty to all slaves and captives, and to those who had sold their houses and lands that they might freely return and take possession of them. Thus when Christ ascended up on high to enter heaven with his own blood, proclamation was made of pardon and peace, for then began the spiritual jubilee, when those who lay captive under the law, in bondage to doubt and fear, and who had sold themselves and all their possessions for nothing were to be liberated by the joyful sound of a free grace gospel preached by the apostles on the day of Pentecost.