Jesus' High Priesthood: our life

I'm reading "Jesus Ascended, the Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation" by Gerrit Scott Dawson (T&T Clark, 2004). Dawson (pictured at left) shows how vital it is to understand Jesus' ascension as God still in human (though now glorified) flesh.

Jesus, the ascended God-man, is our High Priest. He now resides bodily and intercedes continuously for us from heaven. And through his Spirit he lives in us and with us here on earth. In these ways he shares with us the eternal life that is his in communion with the Father and the Spirit. The ascended Jesus is our life - our "place" - with God (see John 14:2).

Dawson quotes Andrew Murray :
As Son, Christ alone was heir of all that God had. All the life of the Father was in Him. God could have no union or fellowship with any creature but through His beloved Son, or as far as the life and spirit and image of the Son was seen in it. If our salvation was not to be a merely legal one - external and, I may say, artificial - but an entrance anew into the very life of God, with the restoration of the divine nature we had lost in paradise, it was the Son of God alone who could impart this to us. He had the life of God to give; He was able to give it; He could only give by taking us into living fellowship with Himself. The priesthood of Christ is the God-devised channel through which the ever-blessed Son could make us partakers of Himself, and with Himself of all the life and glory He hath from and in the Father (page 130).
Commenting on Murray's observations, Dawson writes:
The priesthood of Christ does not consist merely of an external legal transaction of sacrifice, a paying of the bill, so to speak, but also of a reconciliation accomplished in his person and maintained in his person. This is why [William] Milligan insists that "life, not death, is the essence of atonement, is that by which sin is covered." The killing of an animal in the Hebrew sacrifices meant the fullest offering of its lifeblood. What was presented to God was not the death, but the life of the creature. Leviticus 17:11 declares, "For the life of the creature is in the blood." So "in the highest conception of offering death has no place. Had man never fallen it would still have been his duty to offer himself together with all he possessed to God in whom he lived, and moved and had his being." The effect of Christ's priesthood, then is to accomplish something within us, something that changes us and reconciles us from the inside out.
Dawson continues to quote Murray:
Jesus Christ is become a Priest after the power of an endless life [see Heb 7:16]. These precious words are the key to the higher life. Jesus lives in heaven as High Priest in the power of an endless life. And as He lives, so He works in that power...He works within us as a life, as our own life, so that it is our very nature to delight in God and in His will. His priesthood acts as an inner life within us, lifting us up, not in thought but in spirit and in truth, into a vital fellowship with God. He breathes His own life in us. And He works it in as the power of life, a life that is strong and healthy, because it is His own life from heaven (pp. 130-131).
As Dawson goes on the say, it is Jesus' "very continuing life [that] constitutes our atonement" (p. 132).

I wish you all a fresh revelation of this truth as this Easter season we celebrate both the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord.

-Ted Johnston
Canton, OH


Glen Weber said…
Thanks Ted,
I am preaching through Hebrews from what I understand of Trinitarian Theology and just preached Heb. 7 this weekend. Now you go an expand my understanding even further! Thankfully, I'll be preaching it in my other congregation in a couple weeks and can add even more understanding.

Dawson's comments seem to make Rom. 5:10, even clearer? "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"

Rejoicing in His life!
Phil said…
Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the quotes Ted. Having others, such as yourself, read and "regurgitate" such insightful volumes is a great service to me, and many others I am sure.

The Ascension seems to be a somewhat neglected aspect of Jesus' saving activity. It seems to me that it completes the "salvation walk" (my flawed term) of the second Adam, the firstborn that we have "in him". "In him" we have life, through his birth (incarnation), life, death and resurrection and ascension.

It is commonly pointed out that if Jesus wasn't raised, then we would be "of all men most miserable" (I Cor 15:19 KJV). This is a rare case where I prefer the KJV rendering. I can still here Dr. Stavrinides repeatedly quoting that in Bricket Wood in his own inimitable way in 1973.

But if Jesus didn't ascend to the Father, then where would we be?

More positively, where are we in Christ because his ascension did follow his life, death and resurrection!

There are so many Biblical images that shine on this triumphant truth of the ascension, in the OT and the NT. Is it correct then to say, that the ascension is the culmination of Jesus' incarnation, of our life in him?

It seems to me that the ascension is assumed as being part of the resurrection, even in many NT passages, where its effect is clearly included (Acts 2:32-33, Eph 1:20, Rom 8:34). Any thoughts?

I try to mention the ascension when talking about how we are saved in Christ. We are brought into the presence and the life of the Trinity by being in Christ; and that is brought about through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and completed in his ascension. Being in Christ puts us in the presence of God. In him we are taken us through the curtain (split from top to bottom), into the Holy place, into God's presence, into his life (John 17:24; 20:17, Heb 9, Acts 2:32-36, 5:31, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3).

I just looked at Ephesians 4:10 NLT, "And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself."

The implications of the ascension are mind boggling for our lives today, and forever. Just the aspect of Jesus' High Priesthood, that Ted has focused on from Dawson's book, is enough to keep us thinking and marvelling for a very long time.

As Michael Jinkins quotes John Mcleod Campbell, in Invitiation to Theology, p.151;
"In Christ, …we have repented, and returned to God. In Christ we have died and our sins are nailed to this cross. In Christ we have descended into hell, and we have left there our disobedience and distrust, our independence and inauthenticity, our brokenness, our alienation, guilt and disgrace, this accursed living-death we have vainly tried to live apart from God. In Christ we are raised again to new life, and now we stand in Christ in the very presence of God the Father almighty. Christ’s whole life and being is God’s atonement. He lived and died and rose again so that God might give us Christ’s quality of life."

In the ascension, our adoption is complete, in Christ, we are taken "home", embraced, born again into the heart and "circle of life" of God, "the great dance" as Kruger puts it.

By the way, the Revised Common Lectionary lists Ascension Day in first week of May this year. The actual day is called Ascension Thursday (May 1, 2008).

Another aside, it is interesting that "ascension" is used in the context of a monarch "ascending" the throne.

(To borrow from Glen); Rejoicing in His ascended life!

Phillip Hopwood
Hobart, Australia
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for your comment Phil. You ask, "Is it correct then to say that the ascension is the culmination of Jesus' incarnation, of our life in him?" I think the answer is a definite "yes!" As Paul writes: "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim 2:5).

It is Jesus, the God-man (still fully God and fully human) who ascended for us (and in his continuing incarnation, with us). His incarnation in human flesh (now glorified) continues. His union with us is permanent. And it is in and through this union that we have salvation: "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6).

Dawson in "Jesus Ascended" says it this way:

"In a time when the western church is fiercely debating the uniqueness of Jesus and our people are drowning in the flood of busy, demanding lifestyles, the ascension is an absolutely crucial part of the gospel story to recover. Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature ... The presence of our brother Jesus in heaven dramatically affects how we see our lives and place in the world today.

...The incarnation continues, and so we are included in the life of God. That is the essential meaning of the ascension. We are not left alone. Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity. Jesus is himself that new and living way. The fully human one has gone within the veil in our name and even in our skin. United to him by the Spirit, to the one who remains united to us, we may follow where he has gone. Now we follow spiritually, but at our deaths we will follow in soul. Then, on the day of his return, soul will be reunited with body. Thus we will be with him always, in his Father's house, in the place prepared for us since before the foundation of the earth.

...The ascension of the glorified body of Jesus has established the very identity of the Lord's pilgrim people on earth..." (pp. 3,7).