Jesus' presence and absence
Jesus' presence in heaven in glorified, human/bodily form continues. That presence necessarily points to a corresponding absence: In his glorified humanity, Jesus is absent bodily from earth (Acts 1:9-11). This truth informs our understanding of at least five issues:
- The nature of Jesus' bodily ascension (which points forward to our own)
- The nature of Jesus' continuing heavenly ministry (session) as the one mediator, who, in himself, reconciles God and man
- The nature of Jesus' promised bodily parousia (revealing) at the end of the age
- The nature of Jesus' church (the ecclesia of his followers), who, on earth, are called to carry out Jesus' mission while awaiting Jesus' full and final parousia
- The present role of the Holy Spirit in forming and directing the church (the "body" of Christ) to accomplish on earth Jesus' disciplemaking mission given to him by the Father (see more on this fifth issue below).
All of these issues are examined in detail by trinitarian theologian Douglas Farrow in "Ascension & Ecclesia" (T&T Clark, 1999). Here is a representative quote:
Jesus is neither alone with the Father (though in one sense he is always that) nor walking still along our road, so to speak. He goes to the Father in such a way as to prepare a place for us, 'refounding history from this new beginning'...His ascension is a vital part of his priestly work, and his priestly work leaves nothing untouched, because all that he commits to the Father, is in turn handed over to the Spirit. In this way it is determined from 'above,' that is, from the transformed place and time where Christ can say to the faithful, 'Fear not! I am the first and the last, and the living one'....
Jesus ascends to the Father's right hand in the sense that the whole of creation is reorganized around him. That reorganization is not something that works itself out within the terms of our own spatio-temporal processes, for ours is the very space and time that requires reorganization. Yet it is a spatio-temporal process, since it is we ourselves who are made the objects of it and, with Jesus, its participants and beneficiaries...
The church lives in the world as the community in which this absence [of Jesus in his bodily, human presence] is, or should be, acutely felt and acknowledged. Straddling the two times [our human/earthly time and God's heavenly time], it [the church] must accept the pain of the tension between them, affirming both its existence in history and its existence contrary to history. When it does so, the grasping approach to presence tends to disappear. A powerful interest in the parousia begins to take its place (pp. 264-265).
Understanding Jesus' ascension to heaven, and his ongoing session (intercession) in his glorified human body from heaven (and thus his bodily absence from earth), points toward the significant present role of the Holy Spirit, "whose task it is in the ascension to present Jesus to the Father as beloved son and heir, and to present him to us also, in his heavenly session, as brother and Lord" (p. 266). A trinitarian view of Jesus' ascension, session and pariousia point to the present vital role of the Holy Spirit in forming the church and leading it in fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission here on earth.