Learn What You Believe – part V


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The Apostles’ Creed might quickly sail across the deep ocean of biblical theology, but its affirmations about Jesus provide an amazingly in-depth map of what Christians refer to as “Salvation”.  The definition of salvation held by most church pew-sitters, that salvation means “my sins are forgiven, and I get to go to Heaven”, isn’t wrong, merely incomplete.  A fuller understanding is that “Salvation” is Christmas (the Incarnation, see Part III), + Good Friday (Jesus’ Crucifixion (see part IV), + Easter (see Part IV), + Jesus’ Ascension (which results in Pentecost).  If salvation is only “My sins are forgiven and I get to go to Heaven”, then the payoff, so to speak, isn’t until after physical death.  Yet in the Bible, this rescue accomplished in and through Jesus is not only future tense, it is also present tense; salvation is both already and not yet.  Think of it as roughly like the Normandy Invasion of World War II.  On D-Day +1 were the allies in control of Europe and the Nazis defeated?  No, and at the same time, yes; the allies had a long way to go before they actually had control of Europe, but they had broken into enemy territory, and the Nazis regime was doomed, the Allies had won.  What went on for the next year was a very painful, nasty, costly, drawn-out mopping up – but the outcome of the war had been won on the beaches of Normandy.  In that way, allied victory was both already, and not yet.

Similarly, to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”, is not only looking to a distant event in the future, it is also a right-now-today reality.  God’s kingdom has invaded enemy territory; it is present right now, even though God’s authority is still being contested.  Therefore, salvation is something that should intersect with your daily, hourly efforts to following Jesus.  As we look at Jesus’ Ascension and coming Judgment, we are looking at the Already, and the Not Yet.

he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Ascension/at the Right Hand

Jesus’ Ascension is much more significant than the transition event from the gospels to the book of Acts!  The New Testament says that Christians are united with Jesus in his death and in his resurrection, therefore sharing in his victory over sin and the resulting new life (see for example Romans 6:1-11).  The New Testament also says that in a similar way, his followers are united with him in his ascension to God’s right hand, which is the foundation of their every day here-and-now experience of salvation.

Remember that Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of his exaltation; because he gave up his heavenly glory, became one of us, and obeyed God all the way to dying on a cross:

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

and gave him the name above all other names,

 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth

 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.[1]

That was the beginning of his glory, but Jesus’ rule began after he ascended!  1 Corinthians 15:24-28 talks about Jesus’ rule of G’s Kingdom until all of G’s enemies are defeated.  Mark 16.19 says, “He was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.”  In other words, Jesus ascended to become God the Father’s “right hand man” – the King’s second in command, the One who runs the kingdom.

Just as we are united with Jesus in cross and resurrection, we are also united in his ascension.  His rule is for our benefit!  The power for strength, and the spiritual resources that enable you to follow and to serve in Jesus’ footsteps, flow from Jesus’ throne.  And, Jesus’ rule is the guarantee that hell has been defeated!  We’re merely in a very painful, nasty, costly, drawn-out mopping up.

Secondly, Jesus’ ascension to the place of ruling God’s kingdom has given us access to God’s kingdom. John Calvin suggests that by ascending to heaven, Jesus “has opened up the access to the heavenly kingdom, which Adam had shut.”  If it’s true that we were united with Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, and also with his ascension, then, Calvin says, “We are, in a manner, now seated in heavenly places, not entertaining a mere hope of heaven, but possessing it in [Jesus]”.  That is part of the “already”!  We are legal immigrants to the heavenly kingdom!  We don’t merely hope that one day we might become naturalized; we posses our citizenship right now.

But even more importantly, Hebrews tells us that with access to the heavenly kingdom comes access to the throne of grace, “let us boldly draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16).  You don’t have to tip toe into God’s presence; you aren’t granted just a single audience w/ God if you are fortunate.  You follow Jesus boldly, confidently into God’s throne room, to find the help you need, when you need it.  The writer of Hebrews deliberately is contrasting the ‘throne of grace’ Jesus, our high priest, gives us access to with the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament.  This commentator puts it better than I:

… the common people were not permitted to enter the holy precincts of the tabernacle and the temple, and the priests got only as far as the veil.   The high priest alone went beyond the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement.

But every believer in Christ is invited, and is even encouraged, to “come boldly unto the throne of grace”! What a great throne it is because our Great High Priest is ministering there.  [Jesus] is ministering mercy and grace to those who come for help. Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve; grace means that He gives us what we do not deserve.   

No Old Testament high priest could minister mercy and grace in quite the same way.  When an Israelite was tempted, he could not easily run to the high priest for help; and he certainly could not enter the holy of holies for God’s help.  But as believers in Jesus Christ, we can run to our High Priest at any time, in any circumstance, and find the help that we need.

That is all possible because of the little obscure event in Acts when Jesus disappeared into the clouds.  Jesus’ ascension means we can approach the very throne of God; not to face judgment, but to get help, to receive not only mercy, but grace!

Let that truth soak in, because it should radically change how you live and how you respond to the twists and turns of everyday living.

But how does Jesus help us?  What form does his power and assistance take?

He made it very clear to the disciples in John 16:

Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.[2] (Emphasis added)

If the Resurrected Jesus stayed here to direct and guide things, he couldn’t be with you on a daily basis.  He left so that he could send the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, Jesus’ ascension was so crucial to everything you take for granted in the Christian life.  Because he left to be with the Father, you can be confident that evil cannot prevail, because Jesus rules; you can be confident that you can approach God no matter what; that you will find grace, not just mercy.  And, that as Jesus’ follower, it is possible to live the way God wants, because Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to live with you every day.

Judgment

The Ascension and the “already” part of God’s kingdom go together, as do the Second Coming and the “not yet”.  Let’s face it.  God’s kingdom may have a beach head in our world in the present time, but things are not being done according to God’s will just like it is in Heaven.  God has always promised his people that he will intervene in history, bringing it as we know it to an end; evil will be eradicated, and God will restore all of creation to everything he originally intended for it.

To say “I believe Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead” is to claim that God will answer the ancient prayer of his people, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” with finality, no loose ends.  But!  That has an incredibly important implication in the “Already” – because Jesus will come as God’s Judge, everyone will be held accountable for their actions.

Matthew 25 contains three parables told by Jesus about this judgment, including the parable of the goats and the sheep:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’[3]

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’[4]

It doesn’t require intense meditation and prayer over this passage to realize that Jesus says he will judge his own followers as well as the God-rebels.  But wait!  Does this suggest that it will be the deeds of his followers that will save them from the eternal fire?  Good catch.  Yes, the New Testament is clear that inheriting God’s Kingdom is a matter of faith in Jesus, not accumulating enough good works.  Paul amplifies this in I Corinthians 3:12-15:

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.[5]

Or as my youth group leader summarized, you may end up “saved, but singed”.  Once you have Jesus as the foundation of your life, what you will be judge on is what you have built on that foundation.  In that sense, you will receive what you deserve (and how much more), just as the most evil person will receive what they deserve.  “I believe Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead” is a big Not Yet, but it carries with it large Already implications.

Coming up next, the Creed’s “miscellaneous”.


[1]Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Php 2:9

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Jn 16:13

[3]Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Mt 25:31

[4]Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Mt 25:41

[5]Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. 1 Co 3:11

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One thought on “Learn What You Believe – part V

  1. Amen, Brother! If salvation was the end of our efforts, then we would just die and go to Heaven immediately upon accepting Jesus. Which, you must admit, would not be very “seeker friendly!”

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