The Ascension of Jesus Christ

This post from Torrance scholar Geordie Ziegler summarizes chapter five of Space, Time and Resurrection by T. F. Torrance. This post was written for a meeting of the Torrance Reading Group. For addtional chapter summaries, click on the number: 1234.

"Jesus Ascending to Heaven" (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Introduction

In the fifth chapter of Space, Time and Resurrection, Torrance addresses the Ascension of Christ. In doing so, he emphasizes that Christ’s kingly office was always present, but in the background to his prophetic and priestly functions. However, with the ascension, his kingly office (ministry) is supreme and his ministry as Priest and Prophet are brought to their fullness in the consummation of his Kingship. Torrance comments:

 "It is with his ascension that Jesus Christ was fully installed in his kingly Ministry.... The priesthood of Christ is a Royal Priesthood, and the proclamation of Christ is a Royal Proclamation.” (106, 107) 

The language of ascension

As Torrance notes, "four main verbs are employed in the New Testament to speak of the ascension of Christ" (107): 

1. Anabaino (to go up, to ascend) 

In the Pentateuch, this verb is used of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai. It describes those going up to Jerusalem, or to Mount Zion, or to the Temple, or to the Holy of Holies. The verb is also used in the Enthronement Psalms. The verb tends to have strong royal or priestly associations. Cultic term. Essentially concerned with the Royal Priesthood of Christ exercised from the context of the right hand of power. In summary, the main ideas are: 

  • The ascent of the king (i.e. the enthronement of YHWH, the King of Glory) 
  • The ascent to the Temple, to the presence of God, for priestly service 
  • The ascent to God of the whole burnt offering (of prayer) 

2. Kathizo (to sit down) 

This verb is most often used in references to Psalm 110. In the heart of the Holy of Holies was the mercy seat, representing enthronement or installation into an office – the office of the Messianic King.   

3. Analambano (to take up, to lift up) 

Outside of its more common usages, this verb is used for the ‘taking up’ of Elijah into heaven. The noun form is used only once in the NT. The idea seems to mix together Christ’s lifting up on the cross and his ascension to heaven.   

4. Hupsoo (to exalt, to lift up on high)

This verb is used specifically of the exaltation of Christ from humiliation. In John’s gospel, it is used to speak of the death of Christ (lifting up on the cross). The ascension begins, then, with Christ’s crucifixion, and leads to being lifted up on high to the right hand of the Father. As the exalted one, Jesus is installed in the Messianic Office, ‘clothed with power from on high.’  

In sum, the ascension of Christ is his exaltation to power and glory through the cross. It is an exaltation from humiliation to royal majesty. 

“The power and the glory of the Royal Priest are bound up with his self-offering in death and resurrection.” (111) 

The three-fold office of Christ in ascension 

1. The ascension of Christ the King 

The ascension is the enthronement of a gracious sovereign: 

  • As Lamb of God, symbolizing grace 
  • As Son of Man, symbolizing omnipotent power 

Even in ascension, the power of Christ is exercised through his sacrifice, through his priestly mediation before God. Thus, the ascension of the Son of Man is the ascension of representative Man. In his ascension, Christ is installed as Head of the New Humanity, the King of the Kingdom, the Prince of the New Creation. He is there in all power, but he is there for us.   

2. The ascension of Christ the Royal Priest 

This is in accord with the Old Testament priestly and liturgical tradition:

  • Fundamental priesthood (Moses) = word of God to man
  • Liturgical priesthood (Aaron) = word of man to God (“Bearing witness to that divine Word in cultic acts of mediation through oblation and sacrifice,” 113.)

Aaron’s priesthood eventually sought an independent role beyond that of witness and obedience to the Word of God. It insubordinately sought to rule and control by using the cult/liturgy to manipulate God. But when the living Word of God came near in Jesus Christ (Kingdom, Word, and Spirit “in direct acts of forgiveness and healing”), outcast sinners and little children freely offered the appropriate liturgy of praise and thanksgiving. As a result, the priestly and scribal authorities of Israel (with their ‘legalized liturgy’ and ‘liturgized law’) were shamed. 

The New Testament interprets Christ in light of Old Testament tradition. In Jesus, both sides of the OT revelation are fulfilled:

  • Apostle from God (Word of God to man)
  • Our High Priest (Word of man to God)

Jesus is the perfect response of man to that Word of God through his obedient self-offering in life and death.

In Jesus’ ascension to the throne of God (his entry through the veil into he Holy of Holies), the priestly ‘witness’ and the divine Word are one: 

  • “This Priesthood is the Reality to which the OT priesthood bore witness.” Jesus is “God himself come to us as Priest…Apostle-Priest.” (114)
  • “Here we pass from the Aaronic priesthood to the priesthood of quite a different order” (114, the Priesthood that arises out of Christ’s Sonship)

Jesus is priest not on the ground of legal ordinance, but of his own endless Life. His sacrifice actually bears away our sins and cleanses us from guilt, and takes us into the presence of the Father. Jesus makes a true atonement.

In his resurrection and ascension, Christ’s priestly sacrifice and oblation of himself are “taken up eternally into the life of God, and remain prevalent, efficacious, valid, or abidingly real.” 

“In the humanity of the ascended Christ there remains forever before the Face of God the Father the one, perfect, sufficient Offering for mankind.” (115) 

As an offering, Christ's priestly sacrifice corresponds to the Old Testament conception of the minhah, the thank-offering offered to the King of Kings. 

Christ is present (he presents himself) before the Father as the Redeemer who has united himself to us and become our Brother ( Word of God to man). We are presented perfect in him. He represents us before the Father as those who are included in him and therefore consecrated or perfected together with him (Word of Man to God). We join in on this offering, offering ourselves, adding our voices to the chorus. 

Christ's priestly ministry is his eternal intercession or advocacy for us. His entire life among us from birth to ascension is one of divine-human intercession (or intervention).   

Christ is our Advocate as the eternal Leader of our prayer and intercession by making “himself the true content and sole reality of the worship and prayer of man” (116). By his very presence, in his ontological reality in his Person and Work, Jesus Christ himself eternally is our prayer before the face of the Father. 

Christ is our Representative and our Substitute. He represents us in our prayers, but he does more than that. As our substitute he acts in our place and offers worship and prayer which we could not offer. And yet he offers it “in such a vicarious way that while in our stead and on our behalf they are made to issue out of our human nature to the Father as our own worship and prayer to God” (116-117). We join in on this offering, offering ourselves, adding our voices to the chorus. 

Christ offers the eternal benediction. In his ascension, Jesus lifts us his hands in blessing (Lk 24:50) with the promise of the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:1-11). Christ ascends in order to ‘fill all things’ with his presence and to bestow gifts of the Spirit upon men.   

In a secondary sense, Christ's priestly ministry is the constitution of the Church. As a royal priesthood on earth, the Church through its service to Christ, participates in the One Priesthood of the ascended King. “The New Testament does not speak of ‘a priesthood of all believers’ for it no more speaks of the individual as a ‘priest’ than it speaks of him as a ‘king’” (118). 

3. The Ascension of Christ the Prophet

Each of Christ’s offices (roles, functions) is essentially Him being Himself. As Prophet, “he is in himself the Word he proclaims just as he is himself the King of the Kingdom and the Priest who is identical with the Offering he makes” (119). Chrit's Prophetic ministry is fulfilled in his identity as Word of God and Word of man.   

In Mark 16:19-20 (ESV), we are given an example of the Word of God to man: 

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

Here “the proclamation of the Gospel in the name of Christ and Christ’s own proclamation are one and the same.” The New Testament concept of kerygma is that the proclamation “is objectively and dynamically controlled by the reality proclaimed.” When the Church preaches the gospel through the Spirit it is simply echoing Christ’s own self-proclamation.   

This is how the New Testament Scriptures were formed, in which Christ by his Spirit enables the Apostles to translate the self-witness of Christ into witness to Christ communicable by men as the saving Word of God. 

“In and through the preaching and teaching of that Word it is Christ himself the incarnate and risen Word who is mightily at work, confronting men and women with himself and summoning them to believe and follow him.” (119) 

In the ascension, the word of Man to God is accepted by the father, installed in his kingdom, and sent back to earth through the Spirit. 

Christ’s ministry as Word is not separable from the ministry of Reconciliation. How does this ministry take place? As the relation between the Body and the Head of the Body. 

“The Church is the bodily and historical form of Christ’s existence on earth through which he lets his Word be heard, so that as the Church bears witness to him and proclaims the Gospel of salvation in his Name, he himself through the Spirit is immediately present validating that Word as his own, and communicating himself to men through it.” (120) 

It is in this sense that the Church is given ‘koinonia in the mystery of Christ’ (sharing, participation) and it is “by the power of the Holy Spirit... [that] Jesus Christ governs the Church” (122).   

“The Church cannot draw attention to itself, for the patterns of its life and work on earth have their significance entirely and only in directing the world away to the risen and ascended Lord himself.” (122)