Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Confessing the Truth of Christ's Exaltation
Returning to the Apostles' Creed, we continue to see the statements that it proclaims about the person and work of Christ. Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was born of a virgin by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. He lived a sinless life, perfectly keeping the law. He was crucified, bearing our iniquity upon the tree and becoming a curse for us. He died an atoning death. He became obedient to death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8). He was buried in a tomb. This is what is traditionally pictured as the fullness of the humiliation of Christ as seen in question 26 of Spurgeon's A Puritan Catechism:
Question 26: Wherein did Christ's humiliation consist?
Answer: Christ's humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition (Lk. 2:7), made under the law (Gal. 4:4), undergoing the miseries of this life (Isa. 53:3), the wrath of God (Matt. 27:46), and the cursed death of the cross; (Phil. 2:8) in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time (Matt. 12:40).
If that had been the end of the story, there really wouldn't be much worth remembering. Let me be more clear: if Christ had remained in the tomb, held by death, we would have to dismiss many of the claims we just asserted. For how could death hold one over which it had no claim? If Christ had remained in the grave, would that not have invalidated His claim to have been without sin? Further, as we saw last week, the early church confessed that the hypostatic union was essential to understanding Christ's triumph over Death and Hades; simply put, eternal life and righteousness cannot be swallowed up by death. If Christ was held by death, wouldn't His claims of divinity necessarily be rejected? If Christ did not rise, thus eliminating His claim to being sinless and to being God, does that not eliminate any hope that His resurrection would bring to mankind? Paul answers yes:
And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. I Corinthians 15:17-19
One can now understand why this doctrine, along with the virgin birth, are at the center of the attack on the authority of God's Holy Word. If you can undercut these two fundamental tenets of the faith, you have presented a Jesus without any right to judge or power to save. To put it bluntly, you will have presented a Jesus who is acceptable to the world; you will not, however, have presented the Jesus Who actually exists.
This is the reason that we do not despair when we read of Jesus being placed into a tomb. We understand that this was all necessary according to the perfect plan of God for which He came into the world. Further, we recognize that, Hallelujah, He is not going to remain there! The testimony of the church clearly states that Christ arose! This means that His testimony is verified by the Father, that Jesus was without sin, that Jesus was divine, and that death had no claim upon Him. Praise the Lord, He arose!
In the chapter quoted above (I Corinthians 15), Paul reminds believers that, because Christ rose from the dead, all those in Him shall likewise rise. In other words, our hope for our eternal future rests upon the truth of what He accomplished. Yet the message of the Gospel is that He did accomplish it all! He atoned for sin, went to the dead, and arose triumphantly. Fallen sinners are, by it, reconciled to a holy and righteous God, granted forgiveness of sins in Christ's work, given fellowship with God, and allowed to dwell with Him forevermore. The Gospel is truly glory upon glory and grace upon grace! Again, no wonder the opponents of Christ point their arrows at the truth of the resurrection. They may couch their arguments in reason and science, but those are just words which are used for cover; opposition to the resurrection is rooted in unbelief, which itself is rooted in rebellion against God.
So, then, just as Christ endured humiliation, that humiliation must give way to exaltation! The early church proclaimed that Christ's exaltation actually began when He descended to the dead, where He preached the Gospel message, vindicating the faithful and proclaiming judgment upon the faithless. We confess that His exaltation certainly involved His resurrection, ascension into heaven, and His future glorious return. This is the affirmation of question 27 of A Puritan Catechism:
Question: Wherein consists Christ's exaltation?
Answer: Christ's exaltation consists in His rising again from the dead on the third day (1 Cor. 15:4), in ascending up into heaven, and sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Mk. 16:19), and in coming to judge the world at the last day (Acts 17:31).
Thus we confess the literal resurrection of Christ, which is testified to in many places in the inspired Scriptures, attesting to the direct eyewitness testimony of hundreds of people (I Corinthians 15:6).
Ascension to Heaven
Further, we confess that after 40 days with His disciples, Christ ascended into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles testifies to this historical event when it records:
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up Acts 1:9-10a
Christ ascended triumphantly into heaven where the angels of God worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).
Upon His ascension, Christ, who is eternally God, is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. The author of Hebrews words it in this way, "when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3b). It is in this position that Christ serves as King. Moreover, it is in this position that Christ intercedes as the High Priest for the People of God. For, as the author of Hebrews argues, Christ can remain in the Holy of Holies, ministering on behalf of His people, since He is truly God. Christ's being seated represents not only His authority as King, but also His finished priestly work of atonement.
All of these points are aspects of Christ's exaltation. There is one further aspect that needs to be addressed- the glorious return of King Jesus. That will be the subject of next week's blog post. Until then, take some time to thank the Lord for His glorious triumph, and for His Priesthood on behalf of His people.