53. Christ in Heaven: His Authority

PART SEVEN: The Present Rule of Christ

Focus on Christ Meditations: 53.  Christ in Heaven: His Authority

Eph 1:19-22   That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.

We have seen Jesus ascend to heaven and then pour out his own Spirit to continue the work of the Father but from a position of power and authority at his Father’s right hand. As we concluded study no.51 we noted that there were at least 13 mentions in the New Testament of him having ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22 which spoke about how Jesus:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– is there as Prince and Saviour

– pleads for us there

– has been given a name above all others

– and all angels and authorities bow before him

To fully appreciate his position, ruling in heaven today, let’s simply go through some of the verses we find in the Bible (mostly New Testament) and see what they say to us. Let’s start in Psa 110:1,2: The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.”  i.e. the “I AM” says to the Messiah these things. Although written by David, I suspect we have prophetic insight here of what was decreed before the foundation of the world. The Father appoints the Son to be seen at His right hand, in the place of authority and equality, while he deals with the Fallen World in which he has enemies resulting from free will – Satan, Sin and death. There he must reign until he has overcome those three things, and that is still yet in the future but that doesn’t mean Jesus is not reigning; it just means that part of his reign means allowing these things to work out in the overall process of his drawing people to himself. To summarise, there is a process whereby he is dealing with his enemies and he rules despite them, or in the midst of them.

Next, let’s consider Eph 1:19-23 that we have above. Let’s repeat it: That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” Note: i) Christ is raised and seated at the Father’s right hand. ii) He is over and above every other sort of rule or authority. iii) God has given him this position over everything else, for the benefit of God’s people.  Consider the JBP Version of the last part of that: “the church is his body, and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe” Wow! So, to summarise, Jesus is above every other rule or authority and every other great name, and everything has been put under his feet so that he is head over everything for the sake of the church in whom this expression of God lives and rules.

Now see 1 Cor 15:24-26: the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” So again we see the process that continues through the present age, of dealing with his enemies, and the amazing fact is that he reigns in the midst of those enemies who, in the fullness of time and in accord with the perfect will of God, will be defeated.

Then there is 1 Thess 4:16,17:  the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the fact of his Second Coming where he leaves heaven a second time to finally defeat his outstanding enemies and take us to be with him, so we will eventually join him there for eternity. To see the power and authority of this action, read Rev 19:11-21 and see the guaranteed outcome.

But now see Eph 2:6,7: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” As part of the work of the Cross, we are sharing NOW in his reign (by his spirit) and we receive his grace and kindness, i.e. we are now recipients of the full blessing of God in our lives. I wonder if we appreciate that and appropriate that? We will consider it more fully in a later study.

Finally see Jesus portrayed in Rev 5: 1,6,7  “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals …I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne …. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” As the chapters move on we see that each seal, (sealed along the edges of the rolled up scroll) as it is broken, reveals a portion of the document which is part of the history of the end time. Here we see Christ in that prominent and preeminent position of rolling out the end times. Ruling in heaven at the Father’s right hand, we now have a vision of him presiding over the final years of this world as we know it now.

This is the supremacy of Christ. Never see him as anything less than this and realise that whatever is going on around you, HE is in supreme control over it. Yes, we may see the work of the enemy, the work of Sin and the effects of the godless self-centred world causing havoc – at least in our eyes with such limited vision – but Christ is ruling over it all, allowing some, inhibiting some, and stopping some, as he sees best for the will of the Father as he continues his work of drawing men and woman to himself in the midst of it. Never forget that.

In the midst of the godless materialism that we witness in the West, and various other forms of religion in other parts of the world, Christ is still supreme, working to draw men and women to himself, but nevertheless, in overall control of all that happens.  So for you and me, Paul’s famous words are given a foundation in what we have been considering: we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Hold to this truth as you comprehend something of the glory of all we have been considering in this study and the previous ones in this series.

Advertisements

52. Christ Poured Out?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 52.  Christ Poured Out?

Acts 16:7     When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Our temptation, as we have worked our way through Old Testament prophecies, the birth and arrival of Christ, his names, his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension, might be to say, right, that’s it, end of the story, but it isn’t, it isn’t the end of the activity of the Christ, it continues today, and we need to see that. But before we come up to date, we need to take in the events of the Day of Pentecost and all that followed, because that was the START of what CONTINUES today and reveals HOW Christ continues his work through us, and that is vitally important.

It is important here to understand the bigger picture. We concluded the previous study by noting that the New Testament tells us very clearly that Jesus has ascended back to heaven from where he came, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in a position where he rules. In the next studies we will examine this rule in some detail but for the moment we need to realise that that rule, shared with his Father, started from the moment he ascended but was only seen, tangibly if you like, from the moment his Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. We need to link that with Jesus ruling at his Father’s right hand.

Now to see this perhaps even more clearly, we need to see how the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. Most of the time, the third person of the Trinity is simply described as “the Spirit” or often as “the Holy Spirit”, and sometimes as “the Spirit of God”, e.g. those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14 also 1 Cor 2:11,14, 7:40. 12:3 2 Cor 3:3, Phil 3:3, 1 Jn 4:2). However, because there is a unity within the Trinity there are also a (limited) number of occasions when he is referred to as “the Spirit of Christ” or even “the Spirit of Jesus” etc.

Observe: “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (Acts 16:7) and “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) and “I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:19) and “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet 1:10,11) and even, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (Gal 4:6)

The book of Acts, most of us would agree, is an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Usually we use the language of “being filled with the Spirit” or “baptized in the Spirit” but the ‘Spirit’ we refer to is in fact, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. If we hold in our mind’s eye the picture of Jesus now ascended and ruling at his Father’s right hand, what we see in Acts is in fact the outworking of that rule in Jesus, there in heaven, prompting, leading, and inspiring his people by his Spirit. It is the way he expresses that rule when it comes to his people, us, Christians.

One has to admit that there did not yet seem a real consciousness in the apostles most of the time that this is how it is; it is only when we come to an incident as that referred to in our starting verses that Luke and Paul recognize what is going on. They wanted to move on into Bithynia but they became aware that “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” i.e. Jesus, exercising his rule from heaven stirred an unease in them that this was not the right thing for them to be doing. It is one of those rare occasions when it is made clear just what is going on. Most of the time, the apostles just move as, presumably prompted by the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, to act as they did, revealing the power and revelation of Jesus. Those are the two primary ways we see him working through the apostles – through power and through revelation.

When the Spirit is poured out on the Day of Pentecost it is power that energizes Peter to get up and preach and his ‘sermon’ is full of revelation. A short time later at the Gate Beautiful the healing that took place there was attributed by Peter not to themselves (Acts 3:12,13) but as in line with all that happened already (see v.13-16). Power exhibited and revelation poured out in his ‘sermon’ that followed. After being imprisoned over night, when called before what was almost certainly the Sanhedrin, Peter is filled with the Spirit to boldly explain all that had happened (Acts 4:8-). When they leave and tell the others there is a praise meeting and the Holy Spirit fills them so they speak out boldly (Acts 4:31). The incident with Ananias and Sapphira, who both end up dead, has surely got to be a judgment of God (Acts 5:1-11). As a general statement we are told, “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 5:12) Power continues to be seen. And so it continues.

Now most of the time it is simply attributed (where there is an identity) to the Holy Spirit, but all the time we must remember two things: first, the Spirit is sometimes named as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ and all the while we have this picture of Jesus at his Father’s right hand overseeing and directing what is going on. There is in Paul’s writing that which sheds even more light on what is going on, describing the end times, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) I have emphasized what are, in this context, key issues: Jesus is working to establish the kingdom of God and he does that by ruling over – expressing the power of God and bringing the revelation of God – all things until there comes a climax after which he hands back the control, so to speak, to the Father.

Before we finish, there are some things Jesus said that I believe we take for granted but they also shine light into this teaching. For example: Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4) See four times in that one verses Jesus says we are to ‘remain’ in him. Remain means to stay in the same place, or continue in the same place. What is that place? See another expression: “in Christ”. e.g. Rom 6:11,23,  8:1, 12:5, 16:7,9,10, 1 Cor 1:2,4,30, 4:10,15,17 etc. etc.  Elsewhere, of course it talks about him being in us by the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit. We are one with Christ, there is this link with the living Christ who, for the time being is reigning at his Father’s right hand. The story did not end at the ascension, it continues as Christ continues the work of the Father but now at his side and as he administers it through his Spirit. We need to understand more of this if we are to understand his ongoing working today, and that we will do in the following studies.

51. The Mystery of the Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 51.  The Mystery of the Ascension

Acts 1:9     After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Jesus has risen and goes with the disciples north to Galilee again. He had told them all of this previously (Mt 26:32), the women were told by an angel (Mt 28:7), Jesus reiterated it to the woman (28:10), and they all went (Mt 28:16), and John gives details of the encounter (Jn 21:1-24), and now Luke records it in Acts: He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) There he warns them he will leave them again but tells them of the power that will be theirs if they wait in Jerusalem. After forty days it appears they all return to Jerusalem and on the Mount of Olives this event occurs (Acts 1:12).

(Now I have written about this before and it so impacted me then that I am going to simply repeat much of what I wrote then.)

Our verse above is almost embarrassing in its simplicity. It is embarrassing in the way it baldly states something that none of us have ever seen or are likely to see in our lifetime – a man lifting up from the ground with no assistance and drifting up into a low passing cloud and disappearing.  Now we are given no warning in the text that this was about to happen. Luke, writing in Acts, doesn’t tell us that Jesus had warned them that this was going to happen. Earlier at the Last Supper he had referred to going to his Father, but they would now have assumed that that had been a reference to his death.

In the closing words of his Gospel, Luke had recorded, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Lk 24:51). Mark had recorded, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) (but there is a question mark over whether it actually was Mark writing those words or was something another had added.)  Matthew and John are silent as to what happened. But Luke is the historian who, in his Gospel, had told us that he had gone to great trouble to check out the truth of what had happened – so he records it.

The only other time in the Bible that anything like this happens was the case of Elijah being taken up – but that had been in a chariot of fire by angels, as he was carried up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). His young followers thought he would come down and went to search for him but found nothing. But this account, telling us of Jesus’ departure from the earth, seems almost ordinary by comparison. There is no whirlwind, no great sounds, nothing out of the ordinary recorded. Jesus simply ascended!

How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?  I suspect we would have stood there with open mouths and tears running down our faces as Jesus disappeared from sight. It was only the appearance of two angels that broke into their reverie and gave them something to rejoice about. They were just standing there, “They were looking intently up into the sky.” (v.10)  It was as if they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the spot where he had vanished from sight.

Now we have suggested that the historian, Luke, baldly recounts the facts of what happened but it is then fair to ask, but why did it happen in this way? Why didn’t Jesus just quietly vanish one day? It seems it is yet another of these mysteries surrounding the records of Jesus. However, there seem to be various clues.

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 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.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

A Door to the Next Stage: For the moment the disciples may be feeling devastated, utterly bereft at the loss – the final loss – of the One who has brought such light and love and hope to their lives, but it will be only a temporary sense of being bereft because, before a fortnight is out, things will be happening that will sweep them on into the excitement of the rest of their lives, but we’ll leave that for the next study. However, for the moment see his ascension as the next essential step in God’s agenda. He has to go so they will be on their own, waiting for his words to be fulfilled and for power to come.

A Pattern for his Return: Sometime in the future (see Rev 19) Jesus will return in power. He will not come in ordinary human form and so we need to remember his warnings about false Christs (Mt 24:44). People who simply talk the words are not him! When he comes every eye will see him (Rev 1:7). Even as he ascended, so he will descend – but in great power!

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand: Before we leave this study, we should note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand, and in subsequent studies we will see what he is doing there today. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22  Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

These are things into which we need to delve more deeply and we’ll consider more in the coming studies.

50. Resurrection Fact

Focus on Christ Meditations: 50.  Resurrection Fact

Jn 20:11,14   Mary stood outside the tomb crying……At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there.

When it comes to the facts of the resurrection recorded in the Gospels, as I have written in other studies, it is not an easy matter to form a coherent picture and for this I suggest two reasons: first it was a time of great anguish and confusion in the minds of the disciples and, second, some of the things that occurred are in respect of a body that is no longer the same as it was before death, and that is sometimes confusing.

Without doubt the basic facts of the resurrection were clearly understood by the early church for the apostle Paul was able to write so clearly: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) The word ‘appeared’ is seen here four times, emphasizing the testimony of witnesses who saw Jesus and were able to show that the appearances were real and not mere fancy.

The Basic Record: Elsewhere we have focused on specific individual verses and considered what they say but here, perhaps it will be easiest if we, first of all at least, simply provide a list of the appearances as they appear in the records:

  • To Mary Magdalene: Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:10-18
  • The other women at the tomb: Mt 28:8-10
  • Peter in Jerusalem: Lk 24:34  (1 Cor 15:5)
  • The two travellers on the road to Emmaus: Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35
  • Ten disciples behind closed doors: Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25
  • All eleven disciples (including Thomas): Jn 20:26-31 (1 Cor 15:5)
  • Seven disciples (at least) while fishing on the Sea of Galilee: Jn 21:1-14
  • Eleven disciples (at least) on a mountain in Galilee: Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18
  • A crowd of 500: 1 Cor 15:6
  • Jesus’ brother James: 1 Cor 15:7
  • Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven: Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
  • To Stephen: Acts 7:55,56
  • To Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus: Acts 9:3-6, 22:1-11
  • To John in a vision: Revelation, numerous times

The Record of Acts & the Epistles: Our temptation, when seeking to itemise the records of the resurrection is to limit ourselves to those above, but the reality is that those above who were involved and saw Jesus, did not keep quiet about it and so when we read through Acts, because there are so many references in the earlier chapters at least, we almost take them for granted, but the following are the times reference was made to Jesus rising from the dead in Acts alone:   2: 24,  2: 32, 3: 15, 4: 10,  5: 30, 10: 40, 13: 30, 13: 34. In the epistles, again we probably take them for granted but to make the point even more clearly, verses referring to Jesus being ‘raised’ are  Rom 4: 24, 25,  6:4,9,  7: 4, 8: 11,34,  10:9,   1Cor  6: 14,  15:4, 12,15,   2Cor 4: 14, 5:15,  Gal 1:1, Eph 1:20,  Col  2:12, 1Thess 1: 10,  2Tim  2:8, 1Pet 1: 21. It is so embedded in the New Testament writings that we probably almost pass them by without noticing this significance: the fact of Jesus’ resurrection gave credibility to the Gospel message and without it, that message would lose its power.

Apologetic Support: The atheistic skeptic comes up with a number of ways of trying to show that it did not happen as the records say, but we cannot just shrug aside the records for they are, in fact, so comprehensive and by so many witnesses. So let’s pick up the two most common of these things.

i) Wishful thinking: The skeptic says, “Well, of course, it was all wishful thinking, it’s what the disciples wanted to happen so they imagined it and made up folk tales to support their wishful thinking.” The only trouble is that that goes totally against the record. It is quite clear that a) the disciples struggled to understand and believe Jesus when he told them beforehand that it was going to happen, b) when his arrest and death did occur the disciples were in complete disarray, were frightened, fearful for their own lives and had hidden away and were in a state of shock and utterly believed he was dead and c) when he did appear to them their initial reaction was not joyful acceptance but disbelief.

ii) Propaganda: The skeptic then says, “Well, it was probably just propaganda to prop up their years of false belief in Jesus. He didn’t really rise, they just said he did, or perhaps they had a look-alike they used for a couple of weeks to con the other believers.” The problem here is twofold. First, is the total change around, and it is total, of the disciples from being a fear-filled bunch of cowards who abandoned their master and fled for cover in abject terror, to outward going, fearless preachers. Only the knowledge that is was true could affect them like that. Following on from that, second, is the fact that of the remaining eleven apostles (Judas having already committed suicide) ten of them died for their faith as martyrs. It was only John who died of old age. Nothing but the resurrection of Jesus could have caused such a transformation and total commitment of these men.

A Final Witness: One of the most telling of unlikely apologetics-witnesses comes in the form of a solicitor, Frank Morison, who wrote a book, “Who Moved the Stone” from the starting point, in his own words, in respect of the life of Christ that, “His history rested upon some very insecure foundations.” When he eventually came to write about the last seven days of Jesus’ life, his testimony was, “Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew that the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history was stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story which first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.” He then carried out deep and detailed study and the book closes with the words, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed –‘The third day he rose again from the dead’.”

I have written elsewhere in more detail about this part of the account of the Christ, but in this series of amazing information that challenges both mind and heart, the accounts of the resurrection likewise convicts both mind and heart for the person who is open and willing to investigate. He’s alive, he rose from the dead! Hallelujah!

49. Resurrection Necessity

 

Focus on Christ Meditations: 49.  Resurrection Necessity

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

As we move on looking at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, having considered the warnings beforehand that it was coming, before we move on to look at the facts of the resurrection, it would be profitable to consider WHY the resurrection is so vital to our beliefs.

The Problem Stated: The apostle Paul focused on this subject when he wrote, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3,4) In the next study we will consider the greater detail that then follows, but for the moment we need to look at his later remark which goes right to the heart of the matter: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.” (1 Cor 15:14,15)

Death in History: Our starting point, as we considered in some measure previously, is that Christ was dead and buried. If he stayed like that then he would find himself in a gallery of fame that included other famous religious leaders, e.g. Mohammed, Buddha and so on, let alone lesser but important leaders in history. The starting point has to be that history shows that all great men and women died, were dead and buried, and remained dead and buried. THE claim that separates Jesus Christ out from any other major leader, is that although he died, he did NOT remain dead; he rose from the dead, he was resurrected and in that, he is unique, there is NO one else like him in all history.

Two Critical Overview Consequences: Now look back at what Paul wrote: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Two things. First we have this New Testament  that, after the Gospels and Acts,  is full of the writings of Paul, Peter, James and John, and they all say the same thing, and it all hinges on the Lordship of Christ because of his resurrection. If Jesus was not raised then all that teaching was wrong and then, secondly, it means that our faith, founded on all this teaching, is unwarranted and pointless. It isn’t simply the fact of his resurrection that is important, it is also the consequences that flow from that. To understand that, we need to look at some of this teaching we find in the New Testament, and there we will see six consequences.

  1. Ground for Belief for Justification: Going through Romans, we see this again and again. Speaking about our lives, Paul wrote, “us, to whom God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24) Now see this clearly. The whole of Paul’s teaching is that we are justified by belief and faith, just like Abraham was: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3) Abraham’s belief was focused on God’s power to bring new life to his body, give him a son and make him a nation, resurrection power, if you like! We are justified when we believe that Jesus died for us and rose again: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) The resurrection of Christ becomes the focal point of our belief. If it didn’t happen, we have nothing to believe in.
  2. Ground for Ascension & Rule: The apostle Peter focuses our belief as follows: “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:21,22) We focus on a Lord who was raised and subsequently ascended to heaven where he rules today. If he wasn’t raised, he couldn’t have ascended and would not be in heaven reigning gloriously today. Our faith would be pointless. Paul said the same thing: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:19,20)
  3. Ground for Our Power: But that takes us on to another aspect of this, for the power Paul spoke of there was the power we now have: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Hope, an inheritance and power, the same power as raised Christ. i.e. God releases that same power in us That’s what Paul also said in Romans: “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4) and “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Christ being raised is paralleled with us being given a new life and that life is enabled by this same power. If that power DIDN’T come and raise Jesus, then all this is pie in the sky!
  4. Ground for Eternity: He repeats this with the Corinthians: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Cor 6:14) But this is not just for now, it is also about our eternal future: “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (2 Cor 4:14)
  5. Ground for the Second Coming: But there is another aspect to be considered: “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” (1 Thess 1:10) We speak about waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming, but if he was not raised from the dead, then his body is still in the ground and has rotted and any talk about a glorious return in power (e.g. Rev 19) is meaningless.
  6. Ground for the Final Judgment: Yet, one more aspect. Men question whether there will be a final judgment. Yes, says Scripture, God keeps His word as the resurrection proves: For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:21) or, as the Message Version puts it, “He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

No, the resurrection provides a) a focus for our belief, b) a parallel for the power that is ours today that enables us to live today and c) which will also carry us into eternity, but it also shows d) how Jesus could ascend and rule at his Father’s right hand, and e) be there ready to return in glory at the appropriate time, and f) a confirmation that God’s agenda for the end is on course. Without it, all of Paul’s preaching was just pure deception and our faith meaningless wishes. That prepares the ground for us to go on and examine the equally important subject of the evidence for the resurrection which we will consider in the next study.

 

48. Resurrection Forewarned

Focus on Christ Meditations: 48.  Resurrection Forewarned

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

From death to resurrection. Jesus, we saw, had the power to raise others from the dead but now, with his own death, we are told it was the Father in heaven who now raised Jesus from the dead. As with his death we will consider what Scripture had to say about it BEFORE it happened, then the fact of it happening, and finally the significance of it happening. So, first of all, what warning was there that this is what was going to happen?

Let’s start with Jesus’ own words, as we said we would do. Yes, we have seen these verses before but let’s see them again to ensure we really and truly take in this particular aspect of them. They start in Mt 16:

  • From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Then there was,
  • “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) And finally there was,
  • “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) We have seen each of those before because they were linked with his explicitly speaking about his death.

However there are also other references in Matthew: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9) That verse did not make reference to the third day, but it certainly put Jesus’ resurrection on the agenda! Then there was, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,(Mt 12:39,40) a very specific reference to what would happen. The death would only appear as that over three days. After that there would be resurrection even as Jonah was given a new life after what was surely going to be death. Also at the Last Supper there is an oblique comment, “Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mt 26:31,32) There it is again, part of his agenda.

Now it becomes clear that Jesus words were not only discussed among the disciples they were talked about further afield, so much so that they got to the ears of the religious elite. We’ve seen it before but it is pertinent here: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 27:62-64) It was because of this claim that had become widely known that the authorities took these precautions, to prevent any false claims about it having happened. As far as they were concerned such a thing was preposterous and so they wanted to prevent the disciples staging any false resurrection appearances and claims, and so the first stop was to ensure the body remained in the tomb.

Next we turn to Old Testament prophecies to see if this was foretold. Now if you remember what we said when we did this with his death, you will remember that we said that although there are many prophecies about his kingship and the coming kingdom, there is little or nothing about his death. Having said that we should not be surprised, therefore, when we say there is only one reference in the Old Testament that was picked up in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:26,27 citing Psa 16:9,10)  Peter used this verse in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost to show that in fact the resurrection was expected. To that he added his absolute assurance about what had happened: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:29-32)

The apostle Paul also used it in his preaching for the same reason: “So it is stated elsewhere: ” `You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:35-37)

As we search among the strange verses of Isa 52/53 there is just a glimmer of the resurrection there: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” (Isa 53:10) Although death is implied there is also this strong hint that yet there will be life after it.

So again we see this mystery: the two main events of the existence of the Son of God on earth were hardly spoken about in the prophetic utterances of God’s men and women in the Old Testament. Why? We are not told. Perhaps because the Lord did not want to influence the outcome by telling of it beforehand. Perhaps if it had been laid out so clearly there would have been imposters trying to create it like a modern-day illusionist. Again the truth is that in hindsight there are indicators in the Old Testament but very tenuous, and yet when the Son of God comes, he is very specific with his disciples that this is what is going to happen.

No conjuring trick, no pretending death – crucifixion at the hands of one of the most brutal armies in the world does not allow that theory – no spiriting the body away and then having a look-alike stand-in afterwards – the apostles would not have given their lives for a lie – no, none of these possibilities stand scrutiny. That leads us on to the next study where we shall examine the details of what happened and ask, why would anyone make this up?

47. Death Reasons

Focus on Christ Meditations: 47.  Death Reasons

Jn 11:49,50   Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Mt 1:21  “Joseph …. you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

The two verses above summarise the two sets of reasons for the death of Jesus Christ. It was no accident but a purposeful event. We will deal first with the human reasons which we have really already touched upon in the previous study as we saw in Mark’s Gospel those arrayed against Jesus (Mk 3:6, 11:18, 14:1, 27:1). When we look behind those specific verses we see the opposition came because a) Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Mk 3) and thus violated what they saw as their Law, b) he overturned the market in the temple (Mk 11) and thus challenged their spirituality, c) he was present in the city at Passover (Mk 14) after a triumphal entry and was a potential threat to peace, and d) under interrogation he claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, and the prophetic Son of Man, all of which wrong-footed them and challenged their entire existence!

The threat was made clear in John where, before our verse above and after the raising of Lazarus, we read, some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:46-48) As far as they were concerned, the fact that he was performing miracles was a problem not a blessing because it meant the crowd were following him, and they had a potential uprising on their hands which they saw could mean the Romans cracking down on them. This was actually a very realistic assessment because it was after rebellion that, in AD70, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in it, which has never been rebuilt.

So those were the humans reasons – jealousy, fear and maybe even guilt. But there is an interlinking we should note of the divine AND human wills. Peter understood this under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as he preached on the Day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) These religious leaders, and indeed the Jews who were there on that day who had cried out for Barabbas to be released and Jesus be crucified, these were the human cause of Jesus’ death. And yet there was something far bigger behind their actions – “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”. At least seven times in the New Testament there are references to the fact of all this having been planned by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. God knew that sinful religious people, aided and abetted by the people and the Romans, if put under pressure, would rise up in their Sin and reject and crucify His Son.

That has to lead us on to the final part, the Divine Purpose behind Jesus’ death. It is strange that the prophets were largely silent on this aspect of his ministry. Yes, they saw the coming virgin child being a great leader who would usher in the kingdom of God, but the work of the Cross is largely absent from their words and writings, only understood in hindsight.

The prophetic servant songs of Isaiah speak of the coming one bringing justice (e.g. Isa 42:4) and indeed he will do great things of delivering prisoners (42:7) and He will make him the basis of a new covenant and a light for the rest of the world (42:6), but no mention of death. Even in Isa 52,53 where we have previously considered, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed,” (53:5), if we are honest we have to see it is not clearly spelled out. Even in the amazing Psalm 22 we can now see with hindsight, so much that applies to Christ dying on the Cross, but its original readers must have been confused at its lack of clarity. So yes, there were prophetic hints but that is all they were.

When we come to the Gospels we have these general words, “he will save his people from their sins,” but even John does not spell it out and just relies on the facts of what happened, but virtually nothing about the why. It is almost as if the Godhead wanted to largely keep to themselves – at the time – what they are doing, because it is for THEIR benefit first and foremost, and only then for our benefit.

Now I hope that doesn’t sound heretical but it is true that the divine reasons for Christ’s death are not fully spelled out until at least twenty years after his death. Yet Jesus himself, on the road to Emmaus, chided the two anguishing disciples, saying, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:26) Indeed Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Malachi all said many things about ‘the Coming One’ but there is still little or nothing about the Cross.

The apostle Paul in his great letter to the Romans first explains about God’s anger against unpunished sin which covers both Jew and Gentile (ch.1-3) and then declares, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’,  “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”.

To justify us – to put us right with Himself, so that the estranged human race could have the possibility of coming back to God in a living and loving relationship with God – justice which demands wrong doing be punished, must be satisfied and so God satisfied it (and Satan’s accusations) by taking the punishment in Himself in the form of His Son.

The apostle John wrote the same thing of Christ: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2) The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Pet 3:18) I will leave you to peruse the letter to the Hebrews where Jesus is portrayed not only as the high priest who brings us to God, but also as the sacrifice for sins in the same way that animals were sacrificed for sins in the Old Testament era. In Revelation 5 we see Jesus as the Lamb of God standing before the throne of his Father while all heaven sings, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Justice is satisfied, the universe is at peace, sinful mankind can return to God because the Christ has died in our place. This is the will of God for us to receive. Hallelujah!