December 2012 - Vol. 64
by Steve Clark
In the vision in the fifth chapter of Revelation when John found himself before the heavenly throne of God, the scroll that would unfold God’s plan for the human race was sealed. He was pointed to the one worthy to open the seal: Jesus Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Christ was worthy because of who he was. But he was also worthy because of what he had done.Therefore God has highly exalted him
The elder said to John, “[He] has conquered, so he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Because he has won a victory, he can fulfill God’s plan. When Christ was given the scroll by God, those in heaven sang a song of praise to him. This was a “new” song, that is, a song to celebrate the new conditions created by Christ’s victory:
Worthy are you to take the scrollThe scene itself is striking. The Lion is standing before the throne of God, closer to the divine majesty than the greatest of angelic beings. Apparently he is standing in the heavenly Holy of Holies, at the holiest point in the universe. But the Lion is “a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6).
The phrase is an odd one: dead lambs do not stand. John seems to mean that although he saw the Lamb standing and therefore alive, it was possible to see that he had been slain. His wounds, the signs of his death, were visible. His standing posture possibly just indicated that he was alive but more probably indicated that he was acting as a priest, because priests stand before God when they serve him. The Lamb, in other words, was standing before God, risen and victorious, but as the one who had died for the sins of the world. He was now in God’s presence as the High Priest, seeking the salvation of the world.
All of this is picture language. The same figure cannot be a Lamb and a Lion. Nor, when we enter heaven, will Christ look at us with seven eyes, as in the next phrase. But in some way that we cannot fully understand, he is and has been and will be in God’s presence as the Priest who was a sacrificial victim and as the King who conquered by being defeated. The visions of the Book of Revelation cannot be drawn without grotesqueness, because they are a fusion of different pictures, all of which have significance. But the details all reveal something about the heavenly fulfillment of the death of Christ on earth.
When did the events in John’s vision occur? Some have thought that the pause between the question and response indicates that John did not at first know what to look for, but Christ was there all along. Others have thought that heaven was opened to him so he could see what had happened when the risen Lord arrived before the throne of his Father. The dialogue with the elder does seem to indicate that the worthy one arrived while John was looking.
In either case, there is agreement that the vision is meant to dramatize the importance of the position Christ attained through the resurrection and ascension. Only after the arrival of the Lamb in heaven can God’s plan for the human race unfold, because only then has the work been accomplished that made it possible. Both aspects are important. Something has been accomplished on earth: atonement and victory. And the one who did it is now in the place where the events of human history are determined – before the throne of God – presenting what he has done and being given a response by his father in the form of the scroll that unfolds the plan for the victorious conclusion of human history.
John does not record any words of the Lamb. From that some have concluded that Christ did not say anything. He did not need to. His wounds and his risen humanity were enough. He simply needed to present himself in God’s presence since what he had done was well enough known to God. Others have held that he did speak, and the words of his intercession are echoed back to us in the song of praise. Christ certainly interceded, with or without words, since the role of a priest involves intercession on the basis of the sacrifice being offered. The Letter to the Romans says that, “[It is] Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).
Ascended in the presence of God, Christ must have communicated something like this: “Here I am, Father, having completed the task you sent me to do. I have suffered and died for human beings. I have paid the price. I have given myself completely. Now look upon these wounds, the sign of my life given to you as an offering. Look upon the sacrifice, which I know is acceptable to you, and be gracious to those below. Accept them as well. Forgive them. Cleanse them. Pour out your blessing upon them, the gift of your Holy Spirit. Take them for yourself, holy to you. Free them from their bondage and bring them to yourself. May this offering I have made achieve the result for which it was given.”
In this chapter, we are primarily going to look at the resurrection and ascension of Christ. His death cannot be understood in isolation, no matter how useful it is to focus on it more extensively in order to understand its meaning. Explaining it all by itself is like describing a journey without mentioning the destination, or like saying to a child how good it was to make the last mortgage payment without her realizing that meant her family then owned the house. Christ’s death was only one step in a process, part of a transition from an earthly existence to a heavenly one. His resurrection and ascension completed that transition by bringing him into the heavenly position from which he could be the Redeemer.
The Scriptures describe the resurrection and ascension of the Lord as an exaltation. Both words indicate a going up, one a rising up from a fall, the other a climbing up from a descent. The resurrection and ascension, then, are the conclusion of the process we looked at in the previous chapters. Christ went down; he lowered or humbled himself. But he did so that he might be raised up. Raised on high, the Redeemer could bring about the results his humbling was intended for.
The word “exaltation” in Hebrew idiom is used to refer to a state of power or greatness or rule. A king is high or exalted. Anyone else is lower in rank by comparison. “Exaltation” can also be used to refer to victory. A victor is exalted or set on high, while the defeated opponent is humbled or brought low. But “exaltation” can also refer to going up to heaven because heaven is as high as someone can go.
Christ’s resurrection and ascension were his exaltation in victory to a position of authority and power, his exaltation to a heavenly place. From there he could exercise a heavenly priesthood and a heavenly kingship. Or to put it in another way, Christ was then in the kind of relationship with God that allowed him to bring about the redemption made possible by the sacrifice he offered in humility upon the cross.
The resurrection and the ascension are the conclusion of an exodus. They complete the passage of the Lord himself from a fallen or low state to an exalted or heavenly one. They also make possible our exodus from bondage to spiritual freedom and the enjoyment of our heavenly inheritance. In this chapter, we will look at what the resurrection and ascension resulted in for the Lord. In the next part of this book we will look at what it resulted in for us.
Exaltation as Priest
Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24). As a result, “we have [a perfect] high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord.Hebrews tells us that the earthly temple in Jerusalem was made by human beings to be a copy of the true temple (Hebrews 8:5). Israelite workmen were able to make it as a copy because God revealed the “pattern” to Moses. We might say God showed him a model from which a blueprint could be made. The true temple is heaven itself, and the true holy of holies is before the very throne of God.
Christ was not an earthly priest. He would not have been allowed into the court of priests in the earthly temple, much less the earthly holy of holies. Nor would he have been interested in trying to enter. His was a new covenant priesthood rather than an old covenant priesthood, meant to be exercised in a heavenly way rather than an earthly way.
Christ’s death on the cross was an earthly event with heavenly consequences. It happened on earth, because that is where Christ died. The consequences are heavenly because God’s reception of Christ’s death as the payment and atonement for the sins of human beings made the redemption possible. Christ the Priest made the connection between earth and heaven. Yet how that connection happened is not easy to state with accuracy.
Some Christian teachers stress that Christ’s death was a sacrifice completed on earth. Usually they also say that he was likewise a priest on earth offering his life to the Father on the cross, an earthly altar. Perhaps the strongest support for this view comes from the Gospel of John. At the moment of his death, “knowing that all was now finished” (John 19:28), Christ said, “It is finished” (v. 30). He bowed his head and “gave up his spirit” or, perhaps, “gave over the spirit” (v. 30). Then in an unusual event, blood and water, the two instruments of purification, flowed from his side (v. 34). It seems likely that in these details John is describing the death of Christ on earth as the sacrifice that achieves the redemption of the world through purification from sins and the gift of the Spirit. From this passage among others many Christian teachers have developed the phrase “the finished work of Christ” (on Calvary).
Other Christian teachers speak of the resurrection and ascension of Christ as the completion of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Some of them go so far as to speak of the heavenly sacrifice of Christ. They do not mean that he offered two sacrifices but that the earthly sacrifice was somehow completed in heaven.
They usually base what they say on the Book of Hebrews. They point out that Hebrews says Christ would not be a priest on earth, but that his priestly ministry must be in heaven (Hebrews 8:4). Moreover, he must have had something to offer in heaven if he were to minister as a priest (Hebrews 8:3–4). In addition, Hebrews says he is now appearing in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24). They also observe that the High Priest on the Day of Atonement poured out the blood on the altar and then took it into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it before the earthly throne of God. The Letter to the Hebrews seems to connect this second step with Christ’s ascension into heaven (Hebrews 9:11-12, 24).
Both positions are based on truths and have much to be said for them. To discuss them adequately would go beyond what is possible here. Properly understood, they likely are not, in fact, incompatible with one another. They do, however, certainly stress two different truths. One position stresses that the earthly death of Jesus on the cross was the full satisfaction for the sins of the world. Nothing further was needed to pay for human redemption, nor did he in any way die again or offer another sacrifice. The other position stresses that his death on the cross was only effective as it was presented to God in heaven, and that presentation in some way is the work of the risen Christ as the heavenly High Priest.
Both truths have a place in the full understanding, although it is difficult to find the best way to speak about how they can be combined. Moreover, even if we take the strongest view of the completion of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there are still many features of the resurrection and ascension that can only be understood as connected to sacrifice and can best be described in sacrificial terms. Three sacrificial terms are especially important: acceptance, intercession, and blessing.
Both people and sacrifices could be acceptable to God. In fact, sacrifices were intended to make people acceptable to God. Leviticus describes a sacrifice this way: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it at the door of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord; he shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Leviticus 1:3–4).
The result of sacrifice, then, was to make the worshiper accepted by God, established in friendship with him. In order to do that, however, the offering itself had to be accepted by God, and therefore it had to be acceptable to him. This passage mentions three requirements for the acceptance of a sacrifice. It had to be a male animal of the right sort, without blemish, and offered in the tent or temple ordained by God.
Christ himself fulfilled all these requirements for the new covenant. He was the Lamb provided by God, without the blemish of sin, and offered in the true tent of heaven. But because he fulfilled the requirements of sacrifice in an unprecedented way, the acceptance of his offering could not be presumed, as the Israelites in the Old Testament had presumed the acceptance of old covenant sacrifices.
A similar situation of uncertainty occurred when Solomon built the temple to replace the tent of meeting. When it came time to offer sacrifice there, the Israelites needed some attestation of God’s acceptance of the new temple and therefore of sacrifices offered there. Second Chronicles describes what happened: “When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1).
The fire that consumed the sacrifices and the glory that filled the temple served a similar function. Like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, they were visible manifestations of the presence of the Lord. The cloud of glory that filled the temple indicated that God accepted the temple and made it his house. The fire that came down upon the sacrifices indicated that God accepted the sacrifices and took them to himself. This special manifestation of God’s action indicated to the people of Israel that the new temple was the place chosen by God as the true holy place where sacrifices could be acceptably offered.
In a similar way, the resurrection of Christ was the manifestation of the acceptance of Christ’s offering. He had been put to death outside the temple. As he lay dead in the tomb, the glory of God came upon Christ in a new way. God’s presence and power filled him the way the cloud filled the temple, entered into him and transformed him as the fire had consumed the offering. By his glorification, Christ’s humanity was taken by God and so became holy in a new way, holy as a sacrificial offering. In fact, as a sin offering it became “most holy” (Leviticus 10:17). At the same time, his humanity was transformed in such a way that it could enter heaven and function in a heavenly mode.
The resurrection and ascension were the heavenly reception of the sacrificial victim. They were either the actual acceptance of the sacrifice or else the manifestation of that acceptance. The sacrificial Lamb was now God’s in a new way, a gift given in sacrifice and received by God. It was therefore manifestly able to make the worshipers for whom it was offered acceptable to God.
The offering of sacrifices involved both intercession and an impartation of a blessing. We have a description from about 200 B.C. of the high priest Simon offering sacrifice in a service. This account concludes by saying,
And the people besought the Lord Most HighAs this passage makes clear, both intercession and blessing were part of the sacrificial ceremony. As the gift was being given to God, intercession was being made. The sacrifice by itself could be considered as intercessory, because the prayers that accompanied the sacrifice only put into words the purpose of the gift. Sacrifice was a way of seeking God’s grace and blessing.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the priest imparted a blessing. Behind this was a conviction that an acceptable sacrifice would bring blessing. Since the priest knew how to offer an acceptable sacrifice, he simply pronounced the closing blessing upon the worshiper, confident that God’s blessing would be given. The verbal blessing expressed the actual blessing that resulted from an acceptable sacrifice that a duly consecrated priest had offered.
Both aspects are present in Christ’s priestly service. As a priest, he makes intercession before God for his people. He is in heaven “now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24). “He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). We will not be condemned by “Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).
There is, in other words, an ongoing priestly intercession of Christ, and it has our redemption as its object. He intercedes for us that we might be blessed as a result of his sacrificial offering. That offering makes us acceptable to God. His intercession may or may not be verbal, but the very presence of the Lamb who has been slain for us before the heavenly throne of God is itself a presentation of the sacrifice on the cross to the Father. In view of that sacrifice, God is gracious to us.
We should not necessarily think of the intercession of Christ as a set of actions by which he responds to our prayers for particular favors. Every time one of his followers prays, he probably does not get up from his throne, stand before his Father again, and ask his Father to grant the favors being sought. His intercession is rather a single eternal intercession that we be acceptable to God and that we receive forgiveness of our sins and the new life for which his sacrifice was offered. That intercession puts us into a relationship with God that allows us to make petitions for particular favors and be heard by God (John 16:23-24).
As a priest Christ also imparts a blessing. At the end of the Gospel of Luke there is a description of the risen Christ that probably shows his priestly blessing. He had manifested his resurrection by appearing in the midst of his disciples. He then explained the crucifixion and resurrection, concluding with the prediction of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “‘and behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them” (Luke 24:49-50). It is probably not an accident that Jesus blesses his disciples in a priestly way and does so right after promising the Holy Spirit, since the gift of the Spirit embodies what Christ’s sacrifice was meant to bring.
The Holy Spirit, as Paul says, is the promised blessing (Galatians 3:14). He is the fulfillment of the promise of the reversal of the fall that had been pledged to Abraham and his faith, because the gift of the Spirit brings about the reversal of the fall in those who receive him (Gal 3:6-14). The Spirit is the source of the new life (2 Corinthians 3:6), the first installment given as a guarantee of the full possession of the heavenly inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-4). He brings the initial presence of the kingdom of God (Romans 8:18-25). The Holy Spirit, in other words, brings all the blessings of the new covenant, given as a result of Christ’s sacrifice.
The Holy Spirit, however, could not be given to the disciples until Christ’s sacrificial gift was presented in heaven through his resurrection and ascension. John said of the situation before Christ’s death, “The Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). Christ’s blessing of his disciples described in Luke 24, then, was the action of the risen Lord. He had probably already ascended initially (John 20:17), and was calling down that gift which would surely be given to his disciples some days later. Christ’s blessing was an action of the High Priest appointed by God, who knew that he had offered an acceptable sacrifice and knew that he was authorized to call the blessing of the Holy Spirit down upon those who belonged to him.
However we state the relationship between the earthly and heavenly aspects of the sacrifice of Christ, his death on the cross is the cause of the blessing and salvation Christ came to bring. The cross on earth was the point of atonement and satisfaction. Sin came into existence on earth and was atoned for on earth. But the change in relationship with God and the consequent change in human lives is heavenly and eternal, because God dwells in heaven and in eternity. Christ makes the connection in his priestly ministry. He is before God, presenting the acceptable sacrifice, the offering of himself, and on that basis interceding for his people. Since his sacrifice is the one God wanted, Christ’s intercession is heard and the blessing of new life is given.
Exaltation as King
Christ is not only exalted as priest; he is also exalted as king. He is a royal priest who combines in his person both roles. His kingship, like his priesthood, is heavenly. He reigns in heaven in a way that he could not on earth. In his kingdom, under his heavenly rule, is true life and prosperity. His exaltation, then, is also an exaltation to a position of effective kingship.
The word “ascension” indicates that Christ’s work was completed by his “going up” to God. The same event can also be described as Christ’s enthronement or his being seated at the right hand of the Father. There is a connection between the two ways of describing what happened to Christ at his ascension, because the royal throne was always the highest seat in the audience hall. The spatial placement expressed the role of the king. Often the seats of others in authority were also elevated, but never higher than the royal throne. In a similar way, the royal palace was placed on Mount Zion – the highest point in Jerusalem, right below the temple, the palace of God. Heaven itself, of course, was also understood to be “on high”, much higher than the highest position on earth.
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost expressed this connection between resurrection and ascension and between ascension and enthronement. In it, he explained the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the sign of the messianic age. Speaking of Psalm 16 as a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ, he said,
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says,The way Peter passes from Christ’s resurrection to his being seated at the right hand of God indicates that he sees the resurrection and ascension as two aspects of the same event. He then quotes another messianic psalm to indicate that the Messiah, who would die but not be held by death, would ascend to the right hand of the Father (Psalm 110). That in turn would indicate that the crucified one was both Lord and Christ.
The phrase “to sit at God’s right hand” can only be understood in terms of a royal audience. When he holds audience, The King of the Universe takes his seat on the royal throne (Daniel 7:9-10) to govern his realm. After the resurrection, his Son – “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13-15) – sits beside him on his right hand, the position of next greatest honor and authority. For the Son to be seated at God’s right hand, then, is to be enthroned as King, King of the Universe. As a result, Christ will share the position of his Father as divine King and reign in union with him, subordinate to him but with divine authority and power.
To say that Christ is the King of the Universe is to say that he is Lord of all. No other authority in the universe is equal in right or power, nor is there any that can withstand him. “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ…made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:17, 20-21). At the same time, to say that he is King indicates that Christ is in a personal relationship with his subjects, especially his loyal subjects. He cares for them in justice, defending the cause of the poor, giving deliverance to the needy, and crushing the oppressor (Psalm 72). In his kingdom is life.
While Christ’s kingship is like an earthly kingship, it is a heavenly kingship, because though human he is the heavenly Son of God. In the resurrection, he was given a new kind of life that allowed his human nature to function in a heavenly way. He was thereby enabled to take a position as human that he had previously held as divine. He “returned” to the glory he had with the Father before the world. But in the process of doing so, that glory had transfigured his humanity in such a way that someone who was human could share the divine throne.
Having someone human on God’s throne does not mean that the universe is ruled by a human being rather than God or ruled in a merely human way. “By nature” Christ was united to his Father, so that not only was his divine nature one in being with the Father, but his human nature was also united with his divine nature in oneness of person, and therefore with the Father’s divine nature. By his self–lowering or humiliation, Christ’s human nature had proved itself fitted for such an exalted position, because it was the human nature of a fully obedient servant, willing even to surrender his own life in great suffering for the sake of doing the will of God (Hebrews 5:8–9). Christ’s human nature was also fully ready for such a position, because it had died and so left behind any of the restrictions that went with sharing in the life of fallen humanity. As a result, that human nature was now glorified – a perfect expression or image of the divine nature, no longer weak but strong with divine power or glory.
When Christ reigns with God the Father, therefore, the Father does not have to share his glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8; 45: 20-25). Not only is the Son fully united with his Father so that they share the same glory of their natures, but also his humanity is that of a servant, fully set on the glory of his master, transfigured so as to be a fully responsive instrument of divine action and reflection of divine glory. God, in short, can speak and act in and through the humanity of Christ without any diminishment of his glory. Therefore Christ reigns to the glory of his Father (Philippians 2:11).
Humiliation, however, led to exaltation. Dying led to rising again in new life. Christ’s enthronement was victory in the sense of taking possession of the battlefield and the kingdom. As Satan, sin, and death lay defeated, God’s kingdom was proclaimed and Christ began to reign. He was exalted in victory to a position of rule. “To this end, Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).
As a man on earth, Christ went about preaching and teaching, healing and casting out demons. As he did so, people gained considerable freedom. Christ was therefore Redeemer during his earthly ministry. Nonetheless, he was not able to be the Redeemer in a full way until after his resurrection. As millions of people would come to believe in Christ, we have only to imagine long lines of people waiting for his personal attention to realize the impracticality of an earthly ministry as the main means of our redemption.
More seriously, even though Christ’s earthly ministry brought many individuals into contact with divine power and healing, the gates of paradise were still closed, the banishment from the garden was still in effect, and the condemnation of Adam still stood. Therefore, the full blessing could not be given. Christ could not do for people all that he came to do until he had completed his priestly work by giving his life as a sacrifice for sin and presenting that sacrifice to his Father. For that he needed to be a heavenly priest.
Likewise, Christ could not reign as king on earth. The title belonged to him. As Son of David he was the rightful King of Israel, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 10:38). Even more, as the divine Son of God, he was the natural Lord “of all” the whole human race and all the angelic beings as well. Nonetheless, the usurper who was ruling as prince of this world and holding its inhabitants captive had not yet been judged and cast out (John 12:31; 16:11). Nor had Christ been enthroned and given the position that was his by right.
All that changed with the resurrection and ascension. The Messiah entered into his glory, and could do so because he had suffered (Luke 24:26). He had paid the price, taken upon himself the curse, and offered the sacrifice (Luke 24:26). He had removed the barrier, pierced the veil, and entered the most holy place. He had ascended on high, had sat down at the right hand of the Father, and had been proclaimed Lord of all.
Christ had done what was needed to make available the fullness of redemption, blessing, and heavenly access. There was no longer anything to prevent him from fully taking away the sins of those who came to him and imparting to them the new life. As Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11), Jesus could be the Redeemer of the human race.
This description, however, is still too external to provide a full picture. In the process of taking his new position, Christ himself had changed. He was glorified or transfigured by the power of God. As a result, the fullness of redemption was in him because the new, redeemed life was his completely. Christ had been fully united to God in oneness of being. But he was now united to God in a new way in his human nature. As a result, the power and life of God filled his human nature and so glorified it. Christ now was a glorified human being, one who not only had a more direct access to God’s heavenly presence but who also was able to transmit God’s life and power more freely and directly.
The Person of the Redeemer
At the beginning of this chapter, we looked at the vision of Christ as the Lamb standing before God as Priest and sitting on the throne as King. That was the prelude to what the royal Lamb would do in bringing human history to its fulfillment and accomplishing the complete victory. The Book of Revelation continues on to unfold the “war of the Lamb”.
Those visions are preceded by letters in which the risen and ascended Lord speaks to the seven churches who represent the whole church of the redeemed and who are living on the battlefield. Those letters are introduced by a different vision of the Lord – the Lord in the midst of his people, the Lord as he is now.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two–edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.John saw the Lord glorified, standing in the middle of the seven golden lampstands that represent the seven churches that stand in the true temple of God, the people of the new covenant (Exodus 37:17–24). He saw, in other words, the presence of the Lord on earth now, in the middle of his people. The same Lord who is with God in his heavenly throne room is also on earth in the middle of his people, bringing the heavenly presence and reign and blessing into their lives. In his person, he unites heaven and earth.
The Lord appeared as “one like a son of man,” as a human being. This phrase is taken from Daniel 7 and indicates the heavenly man who was given kingship over the earth (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 27:64). He was clothed in priestly garments, appearing as priest as well as king. His hair was like the hair of the ancient of days (Daiel 7:9), a symbol that indicates that the glory of the Father was present in him as the incarnate Son. His appearance was angelic, like the powerful heavenly messenger who came to Daniel (Daniel 10:6) – a vision so fearful that Daniel was overcome, as John himself was.
The Lord announced himself to John as the eternal one, the first and the last who had entered into time to die. He now is eternally alive, but not because he is divine. He is alive in a human nature that has died and come to life (Revelations 2:8) so that it can die no more. Because of his victory Christ now has the keys to death and Hades, opening the place of the dead to give new life to those who come to him and sharing with them his victory and his throne (Revelation 3:20-21).
The redemption is not simply an event. It is a person. It is the Lord who has himself gone through the exodus of the human race, and so contains in his own person the fullness of redeemed humanity. Christ is the incarnate one, but the incarnation was not simply intended to be the bare union of divinity and humanity in one person. The incarnation was intended to be the means to the transformation of humanity into a glorified state. As a result, the life, goodness, and power of God would be manifested in human nature. In the person of the Redeemer, humanity is divinized in the sense of “made godlike.” Redemption began with the transfiguration or transformation of the Redeemer. He is now in the midst of his people, able to share with them what he himself has become.
Steve Clark is former president of the Sword of the Spirit. This article is excerpted from Chapter Ten of Steve Clark’s Book, Redeemer: Understanding the Meaning of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, (c) 1992, 2009, Tabor House. Used with permission..