Jesus' presence and absence

Scripture tells us that Jesus remains fully human, now glorified (1Tim. 2:5). In his continuing incarnation, he is now present bodily with the Father in the "heavenly realms" (Eph. 1:20). He has gone there to "prepare" for us a "place" (John 14:2) in a "new heaven and new earth" (Rev. 21:1), which he will unveil in its full glory at his parousia at the end of the age.

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:
  1. The nature of Jesus' bodily ascension (which points forward to our own)
  2. The nature of Jesus' continuing heavenly ministry (session) as the one mediator, who, in himself, reconciles God and man
  3. The nature of Jesus' promised bodily parousia (revealing) at the end of the age
  4. 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
  5. 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.


Anonymous said…

This blog left me quite puzzled as it seems to establish a remote Jesus. In fact, it seems to place Jesus way off somewhere in heaven quite removed from us.

The reality is that Jesus did ascend to heaven in bodily form. But that does not tie Him to that body alone. Instead, through a great mystery, He also dwells in us bodily. As Paul says about his ministry and the place of Jesus in it and in us:

Col 1:25-29--I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness--the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (NIV)

This mystery is revealed by the Holy Spirit to those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love those who share that belief.

The best to you always!

J. Richard Parker
Glen Weber said…
Thanks Ted,
This post makes me want to make even more effort to make Ascension Sunday special next year.

A current Christianity Today article challenges evangelicals to learn from the Eastern Orthodox about not only what we are "saved from" but also what we are "save for or to" - being like God through Jesus.

What great news!
Ted Johnston said…
Yes, I read the CT article. It's thought provoking. The North American conservative evangelical emphasis on the *moment* of "decision" has tended (perhaps inadvertently) to minimize an understanding that salvation is an *ongoing relationship* with the Father, through in Spirit, in Jesus - not just a moment of conversion.
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Richard,

Your points on my post about Jesus' absence from earth are well taken, but I think you may have misunderstood my point.

What I'm talking about is Jesus' bodily presence. Jesus as a human, now glorified, is in heaven, not on earth. It's important to know this, because it tells us that there is now a human being in heaven. And we are there with and in him because he is the "vicarious" (substitutionary - representative) human.

The continuing incarnation of Jesus (God in human flesh) is sometimes overlooked, and what people see is only the divine Son of God who is, of course, omnipresent (and thus present on earth and in heaven).

But the human Jesus (now glorified human) is not omnipresent. And he sends to us "another comforter" - the Spirit who brings the blessings of Jesus' continuing humanity to us. He does so in many ways, including in the Lord's Supper where we are nurtured by Jesus own glorified, continuing humanity for us.

This also helps us understand that when the church is called "the body of Christ" that we're not talking in ethereal, non-substantial terms. The assembly of believers is indeed the presence of the human Jesus on earth. That community is formed and sent by the Spirit to extend the blessings of the risen Jesus to those on earth.

You will note in this explanation of the nature of the human Jesus the vital role of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes a focus on Jesus can be misplaced in the sense of obviating the role of the Spirit (and even of the Father).

Hope this explanation helps.
Predestined said…
See my work o Jesus' Omnipresence: