Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
14. Prayer for Appreciation of Christ’s Triumph
We Have Been Occupied with the power of God as it is exercised in connection with His people. First we have described the excellency of the same: "the exceeding greatness of his power," and then a brief declaration that it is "to us-ward," which comprehends in general terms all its operations upon, within, to the saints. Second, we sought to magnify its efficiency: "who believe according to the working of his mighty power." Briefly, that includes two things: the quickening of the soul and the communication of the principle of faith as a divine gift. One who is spiritually dead cannot spiritually believe. The natural man is able to believe the Scriptures in a natural or mental way (as he believes authenticated human history) but he cannot savingly believe the gospel until he is born again (John 1:12-13; 3:3, 5). We need to pray for a better apprehension of those things: "that we may know what is." And now, third, we are to consider how that mighty power of God operated in connection with our Savior.
Four Important Questions
"Who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead" (Eph. 1:19-20). In our examination and contemplation of these words, four questions will supply our focal points. First, what, in connection with the raising of Christ, called for the putting forth of the strength of God’s might? Second, why is God’s raising of Christ made the unit or standard of measurement of the power which He exerts in those who believe? Third, what is the precise nature of the power which God then exercised? Was it simply His omnipotence, or something in addition to it? Was it merely physical power? If not, what? Fourth, what are the principal points of analogy between God’s raising Christ from the dead and His bringing us to believe? While quite distinct, these questions overlap at certain points, so, while attempting to supply answers to all of them, we shall not confine ourselves to a strict observance of their order.
Ephesians 1 is not the only passage which directly associates the divine power with the raising of Christ from the dead. In Romans 1:3-4 we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ was "made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Of all the wondrous works which God did for Christ—in the miracle of His incarnation, in preserving Him as an infant from the malice of Herod, in anointing Him with the Holy Spirit—this bringing Him forth from the tomb is singled out for particular mention. Christ had presented Himself to Israel as their Messiah and had affirmed, "I and the Father are one." Had His claims been false, the grave would have retained Him; by raising Him from the dead by His power, God set His seal upon all Christ’s teaching and demonstrated that He was indeed "the Son of God." "Though he was crucified through weakness"—for He made no effort to resist His enemies and deliver Himself out of their hands—"yet he liveth by the power of God" (2 Cor. 13:4). Other passages state that Christ rose again by His own power, but that is not the side of the truth which is now before us.
The first question to consider: What was there particularly in connection with the raising of Christ from the dead which made God’s mighty power far more manifest than the future raising of the whole human race will. Since the death which Christ died was no ordinary one, His resurrection must be an extraordinary one. Here we enter the realm of profoundest mystery, and only as our thoughts are formed by the clear teaching of Scripture can we, in any measure, enter into its meaning. God made Christ to be sin for His people when He laid upon Him the iniquities of them all. Consequently He was "made a curse" and was required to receive the awful wages of sin, which involved much more than the dissolution of soul and body. Christ not only died but was committed to the grave. "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). This clearly implies that during those three days He was under death’s power. He was death’s prisoner, He was death’s "lawful captive" (Isa. 49:24), held fast in its terrible grip.
"Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:24). Here is New Testament proof that Christ was held by death and that God loosed Him from something in order for His resurrection. There is such a fullness to the words of Scripture that often no single definition can bring out their meaning. Such is the case here. The "pains of death" refer to what Christ endured upon the cross: not only, and not primarily, the bodily pains of natural death (acute and many though they were) but the soul anguish of spiritual death. John Calvin stated, "If Christ had merely died a corporal death, no end would have been accomplished by it: it was requisite also that He should feel the smart of the divine vengeance in order to appease the wrath of God and satisfy His justice. Hence it was necessary for Him to contend with the power of hell and the horror of eternal death." The pains of that "death" came upon Him when He exclaimed, "Now is my soul troubled" (John 12:27). Those pains increased in their intensity in Gethsemane, and were experienced in their fullness during the three hours of darkness, when God then "loosed" them, so that Christ experienced a resurrection of soul.
The Greek word for "pains" in Acts 2:24 is rendered "travail upon a woman with child" in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Literally the term means "the birth throes of death." Light is cast on that almost paradoxical expression by Isaiah 53:11, where it was before announced that the Savior should "see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." Before His Church could be vitally brought forth, Christ had to endure in His soul the pangs of labor, and He died under the same pangs spiritually, when He was separated from God, though three hours later He was loosed from them. Those words "the pains of death" are a quotation of a Messianic utterance in Psalm 18:5: "the cords of hell compassed me about," which, under another metaphor, brings out a different aspect of Christ’s death, namely, imprisonment and binding (cf. Matthew 5:25-26 for the same figure). As our Surety, Christ was arrested by divine justice and could not be discharged till He had paid our debt to the uttermost. His "It is finished" announced that full payment had been made, yet His body was not "loosed" from the grave till three days later (cf. "he was taken from prison," Isaiah 53:8).
The two things are distinguished again in Christ’s declaration "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [it was "loosed" and went to paradise]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" of body (Ps. 16:10). Christ not only died but was "buried," and for three days remained in the death state. Hence God raised Him not merely from death but "from the dead," from the state of death: had He "revived" or quickened Him immediately after His expiring on the cross, that would have been raising Him from "death" but not "from the dead." Christ gained a victory not only over death but also over the grave. The two are distinguished in "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55). That explains "He raised him up from the dead [i.e., the death state], now no more to return to corruption" (Acts 13:34). Christ entered the state or place of corruption, namely, the grave but, according to Goodwin, "as His body was free from sickness while He lived, so it was free from corruption when He died."
Christ Not Merely Raised from Death but from the Dead
We believe, then, that there is a threefold double allusion in Acts 2:24. First, that the "death" from whose pains and cords God loosed Christ was the second death, which he "tasted" (Heb. 2:9), and physical dissolution. Second, that He was "loosed" from the pangs of the former at the close of the three hours of darkness (for His "Father, into thy hand I commend my spirit" evinces He was again in communion with Him); and that He was loosed from the latter when He came forth from the sepulcher. Third, that the Greek word in Acts 2:24 is rightly rendered "pains" or "travail throes," whereas the Hebrew word of Psalm 18:5 signifies "cords"—a clear hint of a double line of truth—bringing in the idea of one held in prison. It "was not possible that he should be holden" of death because the divine veracity was involved (God had announced His resurrection), because His covenant faithfulness was at stake, because the basic principle of His government ("Them that honor me I will honor") required Christ should be raised, and because the law demanded He should receive its award.
Now as it was God who delivered up Christ for our offenses (Acts 2:23; Romans 4:24-25)—not only physical death but the whole of what is included in "the wages of sin"—so He alone could deliver Him from that death, and subsequently from the prison house of the grave. Personally we believe that God also then delivered Christ from the powers of darkness. On this point Scripture is not very explicit, yet we consider it is quite implicit. We know of no writer who has attempted to deal with this point—an admittedly mysterious one—and therefore we would be doubly cautious, and inform the reader that what we now advance is in no spirit of dogmatism. First, from the law of analogy does it not seem highly probable that Satan would make every possible effort to prevent the resurrection of Christ? Very shortly after Christ’s birth the devil stirred up Herod to slay Him (Rev. 12:4), and should we not regard the second temptation (Matthew 4:5-6) as another desperate move in the same direction? We do know he put it into the heart of Judas to betray Him (John 13:2).
Second, when arrested in the Garden, Christ said to His enemies, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). For how long was that "hour" protracted? If Revelation 12:4 warrants the conclusion that the devil prompted Herod to slay Christ as a child, may we not fairly infer that he inspired the chief priests and Pharisees to say to Pilate, "Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure" (Matthew 27:64) so that a heavy stone was placed over its mouth, the stone "sealed," and "a watch" of soldiers set to guard it? Third, does not "having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in himself" (Col. 2:15) clearly imply a concerted effort on the part of the powers of evil to oppose His resurrection and ascension? How else did He "triumph over them"? Why was "the King of glory," on His entrance into heaven, greeted as "the LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle" (Ps. 24:7-8)? Is not the likely reference to His victory over the infernal forces? Isaiah 58:18-19 seems to supply confirmation.
God’s "Mighty Power"
Finally, does not the analogy drawn here with our conversion necessitate this conclusion? We are here said to "believe, according to the working of God’s mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." Now we know beyond any doubt that the mighty power of God in bringing us to savingly believe is concerned, in considerable part, in delivering us from the bondage of Satan (see Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; Heb. 2:14-15). If then Satan sought to hold us forever but was foiled by divine omnipotence, and if there is an accurate and perfect parallel between that aspect of our conversion and what God wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, then must we not conclude that Satan also sought to forever hold Christ in the grave, but that God defeated Him and triumphed over all his resistance? There is no doubt at all in our mind on the matter.
We turn now to consider why God’s raising Christ from the dead is made the unit or standard of measurement of the power which He exercises in those "who believe." It is both the pattern and pledge of what God can and will do for His people. In the Old Testament the standard miracle was the deliverance of Israel from Egypt: again and again reference was made to the Red Sea as the supreme demonstration of God’s power to help and to save. When the prophets sought to inspire courage and confidence they pointed back to that mighty deliverance (Isa. 43:16-18; 51:9-10). When God renewed His promise to Israel He took them back to the same spot and said, "According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I show unto him marvelous things" (Micah 7:15). But in the New Testament the Red Sea is superseded by the empty tomb, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead is pointed to as the grand triumph of Omnipotence and the standard of what God will do for us "who believe."
What comfort this should impart! What holy confidence it should inspire in the hearts of believers, that the mighty power of God is engaged to act for them! That the same power which wrought in Christ in raising Him from the dead operates both toward and in them. It is a power which is beyond resistance: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" It is a power which is superior to and triumphs over all our weakness: "Now unto him that is able to keep you." It is a power all-sufficient to supply our every need. When the Savior taught us to pray for our daily sustenance, deliverance from evil, the forgiveness of our sins, what arguments did He bid us use? "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory." It is a power which will do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). How thankful we should be that this is so. How constantly we should look to and depend upon that power. How it should strengthen our faith to know that the One who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus will yet make us "perfect in every good work to do his will" (Heb. 13:20-21).
Let us now endeavor to supply an answer to the question, What is the precise nature of the "power" which God exerted in raising Christ and in bringing us to savingly believe? Was it simply His omnipotence, or something in addition to it? Was it merely physical power? If not, what? By "physical power" we mean the might of God operating in the material realm, producing physical effects. Now if we keep in mind the nature of Christ’s death as a satisfaction for sin, it should be quite obvious that more was involved in the raising of Him from the dead than there will be in the destruction of this earth and the creating of a new one. It may not be easy to find terms suited to express what we have in mind, still less to convey the ideas intelligently to our readers, yet we will make the attempt. When Christ cleansed the leper, opened the ears of the deaf, gave sight to the blind, there was an exercise of omnipotence. There was the same when God raised Christ from the dead, but there was something more.
The death of Christ was a legal transaction, therefore the legal element entered into His resurrection. His death was an enduring of the full penalty of the law, inflicted by the Judge of all. It was endured "the just for the unjust," the holy Surety receiving the awful wages due those He represented. And it was endured with fullest confidence as to the blessed issue. When Christ had "magnified the law" by serving and suffering, doing and dying, He "committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23), declaring, "I know that I shall not be ashamed: he is near that justifieth me" (Isa. 50:7-8). And God’s raising of Him from the dead was His answer to the dying appeal of the One who had been cast out by the world: it was God’s response to the Savior’s trust in Himself. It was God acting as the divine Umpire in the controversy between His own Anointed and the world which had disowned Him—God reversing their erroneous verdict and exonerating the One who endured their malice to the extreme limit.
Christ Raised as Head of His People
Righteousness required that God should raise Christ from the dead. The law demanded that He who had so illustriously honored it should enter into its award. Holiness insisted that the sinless One should be released from the grave. By raising Him from the dead God openly declared that all Christ taught was true, set His seal upon the triumphant ending of His stupendous mission, and attested His acceptance of the satisfaction which He had made for His people. The original creation displayed the "eternal power and Godhead" of the Creator (Rom. 1:20), but what we are now considering did more than that: "Christ was raised... by the glory of the Father" (Rom. 6:4). Christ was raised not simply as a private person but as the Head of His people. The Church rose in and with Him (Eph. 2:5-6; Colossians 3:1). To create was an act of power, but to bring forth a new creation out of the wrecked and ruined old creation was glorious power, a moral triumph. It was glorious power which transformed a curse into never ending blessing.
Christ was "made a curse for us" yet God has "made him most blessed for ever" (Ps. 21:6). Down to the grave itself the power which prevails over man (and which prevailed over the Son of man) is that of death. Thus the universal empire of sin has been attested: "Sin reigned in death" as the Greek of Romans 5:21 may be rendered. But resurrection makes manifest the more excellent power of righteousness by the triumphant reentering of the once-slain Just One into life. And with His liberty His people are freed. Hence, the verse which declares, "That as sin hath reigned unto [or ‘in’] death" concludes by saying, "Even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus our answer to the third question is not only the bare omnipotence of God but the power and glory of His righteousness, or His righteous power. That very expression is found substantially in His promise to the trembling saints: "Fear thou not; . . . I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa. 41:10).
What are the principal points of analogy between God’s raising Christ from the dead and His operation in and for those who believe? Before answering that question let it be pointed out that the resurrection of Christ was not only the pattern of ours but also both the pledge and procuring cause thereof, for "he was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). The resurrection of Christ was necessary not only to evince God’s acceptance of His satisfaction on our behalf but as a necessary step to secure the application of the merits of His sacrifice to us, to communicate "the sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:34) to us. "Because I live," said He, "ye shall live also" (John 14:19); otherwise He would be a Bridegroom without a bride, a Redeemer with no redeemed, the living Head of a lifeless body. God’s raising of Christ from the dead was the pledge that He would quicken into newness of life all for whom He died. The Corn of wheat which died "bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).
The margin of Isaiah 53:9 tells us that Christ was "with the wicked in his deaths," for in His soul He tasted of the second death and in His body He suffered natural death; thus He experienced both a spiritual and a natural resurrection. So too do His people: the former at their regeneration, the second at Christ’s return. As Christ was delivered from penal death by the righteousness of God, so too are all who believe (Rom. 1:16-17). As Christ was delivered from the forces of Satan, so are we from "the power of darkness" (Col. 1:13). As Christ has been made "after the power of an endless life" (Heb. 7:16), so we shall "never perish but have everlasting life." As Christ was raised to honor and glory, so shall we be. Even now are we the sons of God, but it is not yet made manifest what we shall be: "but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Hallelujah!
We have been occupied with the exceeding greatness of God’s power in connection with His work of grace within His saints. Let us remind the reader that the passage we have been and are considering is not part of a formal statement of doctrine but rather of a prayer. In it the apostle made request that God’s people might know, First, what is the sublime excellency of that power; Second, that it is "to us-ward"—for us, acting on our behalf, our grand recourse; Third, that it is effectual, for we "believe" according to its invincible might; Fourth, that it operates to and within us "according to" what it wrought in Christ when God raised Him from the dead. A might no less than that is carrying forward the good work in our souls to a triumphant completion. Now it is of vast importance that Christians should more firmly and fully "know" and apprehend these things, otherwise we should not be taught (by Paul’s example) to make earnest supplication for them. Before passing on, let us briefly point out the kind of "knowledge" which is here in view.
How to Obtain a Knowledge of Spiritual Things
There are three ways by which the believer may obtain a knowledge of spiritual things: by a diligent application of the mind to the teaching of Scripture, by the exercise of faith on what is revealed, by a personal experience of spiritual things in the soul and life. Obviously it is not a mere mental understanding of them that is here in view, for that may be obtained without having recourse to prayer. Nor do we think that this fourth petition had reference to an enlarged experience of the substance of it. Those who have followed closely our exposition of Ephesians 1:17-19 should neither be surprised nor stumbled at our conclusion. When Paul expressed the longing "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Phil. 3:10) he was undoubtedly referring to a closer acquaintance with Christ and an increased measure of the virtue of His resurrection in the effects of it—that he might experience more deliverance from that spiritual deadness which the workings of unbelief produce even in the renewed. But this is not the particular aspect of truth or of Christian experience which is before us in Ephesians 1:19-21.
In our comments on "in the knowledge of him" (close of 5:17) we sought to show that the reference there is to a more intimate and influential knowledge of God in Christ, an increasing experimental acquaintance with Him, resulting in our delighting ourselves in Him and enjoying closer fellowship, leading to an open acknowledgment of Him by lip and life. Then we pointed out that "ye may know what is the hope of his calling" means "ye might perceive the clear evidences of the same, the grounds on which rests your realization of having received an effectual call from God, and thereby be assured of your filial relation to Him. "And what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" we defined as "a better apprehension of the object of your hope, and realization of the glory to which you have been called." "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power" signifies that our hearts may be assured that, notwithstanding all hindrances and obstacles, God will complete His good work in us and bring us safely into the promised inheritance.
Observe, it is not "what is the exceeding greatness of God’s power which has wrought or is working in us" but "which is to us-ward"—something objective for faith and not subjective in experience. We thus concur with Goodwin: "For a man to take in and understand that he may glorify God and believe what a great power it was that raised up Christ from death to life, and that no less power works in believers when it produces faith, that is the ‘knowledge’ the apostle meant here." Oh, that believers might realize from the effects produced in them by the presence and operations of a God-given faith, what a mighty power must have wrought in them, and will continue doing so. That they might not only have evidence of what God’s power has wrought in them but also perceive more clearly the character of that power itself and be trustfully occupied with it. The power of God infinitely transcends all our feelings or experiences of it. Faith needs to be absorbed with the power itself and not merely with the effects of it.
The knowledge faith conveys to the soul is all too little realized. Saving faith enables its possessor to conceive of things which are incomprehensible to mere human reason, imparting a knowledge to which scientists and philosophers are strangers. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word [or mere fiat] of God" (Heb. 11:3). Faith gives a subsistence in the mind to the things hoped for and makes real things unseen. Faith engages the heart with objects which lie far beyond the reach of any natural sense, for example, the future resurrection of our bodies. Faith knows what reason cannot grasp and that with which feelings have nothing to do. Man wants to know before he will believe, but faith has to be exercised before the things of God can be known: "which believe and know the truth" (1 Tim. 4:3). It is not that we are assured and therefore believe, but "we believe and are sure" (John 6:69). If we would experience more of God’s power, we must know more about it through the exercise of faith upon it. "If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God" (John 11:40)— that is His unchanging order.
Working of God’s Mighty Power
In the preceding chapter we dwelt on the fact that the power exercised by God in His work of grace within us is "according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead." But that does not complete the inspired statement: "and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power" (Eph. 1:20-21).That also exemplifies the power of God to us. Not only God’s raising of Christ but His translation and exaltation of Him are also essential parts of the standard of His operations in and for His saints. This is what God would have us know, and this is what our faith needs to be engaged with and exercised upon: that what God wrought in the Head, He will work in His members; that Christ is here represented as the pattern or standard of His operations to Christians. The love which moved the Father to work so gloriously in His Son is the love which the Father has for His sons (John 17:23). The physical, legal, and moral power which the Father put forth for Christ is being exercised for us. The wondrous works that power performed on the Redeemer will be duplicated in the redeemed.
"And set him [caused Him to sit] at his own right hand in the heavenly places." This brings before us one of the grand articles of the Christian faith. The death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ form the threefold foundation on which rest all our hopes. Each transcends the grasp of finite intelligence, yet they are "without contradiction" to those taught of God. The moment we begin to reason about them we create difficulties and confuse ourselves. Only as we receive in simplicity what is divinely revealed thereon will our faith "stand in the power of God." The exaltation of Christ is as profound a mystery to carnal wisdom as His death and resurrection, but the one is as clearly set forth as the other in the Word of truth. Is the question raised, How was it possible for God the Son to be exalted? It is sufficient reply to inquire, How was it possible for Him to be abased? It is not God the Son simply and absolutely that we are here contemplating, but God the Son as He had taken human nature into personal union with Himself. It was the God-man who died, who was raised again, who was exalted.
The question of how it was possible for a divine person to be exalted is best resolved by considering what that exaltation consisted of. So far as we can perceive, it included three things: the removing of that veil which had been thrown over the divine glory of the Son of God by His incarnation, the elevation of human nature into heaven, the divine reward bestowed upon the person of the Mediator for His blessed work. Thomas Manton stated, "His exaltation answered His humiliation: His death was answered by His resurrection, His going into the grave by His ascending into heaven, His lying in the tomb by His sitting at God’s right hand." So much for a general statement. Now let us proceed to amplify it. None who accredit the declarations of Holy Writ will challenge the statement that in the Son’s becoming incarnate his glory was veiled; and it had to be, for no man can see God and live (Ex. 33:20). "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).
The earthly life of our Savior was one of profound abasement. From the manger to the tomb His life was a course of shame, suffering, and sorrow. During those thirty-three years His divine glory was eclipsed, though some rays of it broke through occasionally, manifesting to the attentive and especially the spiritual observers something of His essential and official dignity. The angelic hosts announcing His birth, the holiness of His life, the miracles He performed, the testimony of the Father from heaven, His transfiguration on the mount, all proclaimed Him to be the Son of God, the promised Redeemer of Israel. Even the dark scene of His death was relieved by phenomena which signified He was no ordinary sufferer: the darkness at midday, the earthquake, the rending of the temple veil by an invisible hand. Nevertheless, sorrow and shame were Christ’s experience from infancy to death. He was, for the most part, despised and rejected of men and had not where to lay His head. It was not until His resurrection that the ignominy of His crucifixion was removed, the hope of His disciples renewed. It was then His prayer in John 17:15 began to receive answer.
Let it be clearly understood that at the incarnation there was no diminishing of the Son’s essential glory, for that can neither decrease nor increase; but it was obscured in its manifestation before the eyes of both angels and men. The Puritans were wont to illustrate this by a total eclipse of the sun. During that eclipse the sun loses none of its native light and beauty but remains the same in itself; however, because of heavy clouds or the moon coming between it and the earth, the sun appears dark to us. Yet as soon as the clouds are dispersed or the sun is freed from the lunar interposition, its splendor is again revealed. So the divine majesty of the Son was obscured when "the Word became flesh," for "the mighty God" took upon Him "the form of a servant," entering the place of subservience and submission, and became obedient to death; yet it was "Immanuel"—none other than "the Lord of glory"—who was crucified.
The Exaltation of Christ
It was necessary that the divine glory of Christ should, in large measure, have been concealed during "the days of his flesh," for had it been manifested in its native brightness the sons of men would have been utterly overwhelmed. But it was not right that His divine majesty should be obscured after He had accomplished His great work: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). That "ought" governs and applies equally to both clauses. The sufferings of Christ were necessary for the expiating of our sins, and His exaltation was equally necessary for applying to us the merits of His death. The resurrection of Christ was a requisite step to His elevation or entrance into glory, as the fetching of Joseph out of prison was, before he could be made next to Pharaoh: he could not be the governor of Egypt while he was a prisoner! Having accomplished the undertaking assigned Him by the Father and being brought forth from the tomb, there was no occasion for Christ to prolong His stay on earth.
After establishing the faith of His apostles, His "ambassadors," by "many infallible proofs" that He had triumphed over death and the grave, thereby vindicating His character from the aspersions of His enemies and demonstrating that He had "obtained eternal redemption" for His people, it was expedient that Christ should be taken to heaven so that He might exercise His priestly office within the veil and send the Holy Spirit to them to carry forward His works on earth (John 16:5-7). In ascending to heaven, Christ did not leave behind the veil of His flesh but went there as still clothed in humanity, having taken the same into eternal union with His divine person, and so He entered the Father’s presence in our nature. Scripture is too plain for any mistake on this score. The risen Christ appeared to His disciples in a body of "flesh and bones" and ate food before them (Luke 24:39, 43). And after being seen of them forty days, "while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight." Yet two angels assured them, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9, 11).
The change of place was followed immediately by a change of state. Stephen Charnock declared, "As He descended to assume our nature, so He ascended to glorify our nature. By translating it to heaven, assurance was given that it should never be laid aside, but be forever preserved in that marriage knot with the Divine." The glorification of our Lord’s humanity (a foreshadowing of which was vouchsafed upon the holy mount) is altogether beyond human comprehension, but several details are given to help us form some conception of it. At His baptism God anointed Him "with the Holy Spirit and with power" ( Acts 10:38), but upon His ascension it is said of Him, "Thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness [the Spirit] above thy fellows" (Heb. 1:9). We believe this was to capacitate His humanity for the offices which were henceforth to be performed in it. We quote Charnock again: "It was so enlarged and spiritualized as to be a convenient habitation for all the fullness of His Deity to reside in and perform all its proper operations: ‘in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:9): not dwelling as if imprisoned, but to break forth in all its glories and graces; not ‘formerly so dwelling’ in it, but now ‘dwelleth.’ If the righteous are to ‘shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13:43) the Head of the righteous shines with a splendor above the sun, for He hath a glory upon His body, not only from the glory of His soul (as the saints shall have), but from the glory of His Divinity in conjunction with it. The glory of His Divinity redounds upon His humanity like a beam of the sun that conveys a dazzling brightness to a piece of crystal."
What that dazzling brightness appears like may be gathered from the blinding effect which a momentary appearance of it had on Saul of Tarsus: "There shone from heaven a great light round about" him, accompanied by the voice of "Jesus of Nazareth," and we are told that for a while he "could not see for the glory of that light" (Acts 22:6-11). How necessary it was for Christ to be taken to heaven: no mortal could have lived in the presence of the glorified Christ on earth. The man of sin will be destroyed by "the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).
Third, the exaltation of Christ was the divine reward bestowed on the Mediator for His blessed work. It was fit that God should glorify Christ because of the glory which redounded to Him from His work. The Redeemer was but stating a fact when He said to the Father, "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). God received more glory from the completed work of Christ than He did from all the works of His own hands. His law was magnified, His government vindicated, His archenemy overthrown, His image restored to His people, and therefore it was fitting that He should crown the Mediator with glory and honor. Because He had poured out His soul unto death, God said, "therefore will I divide him a portion with the great" (Isa. 53:12). Because He had loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore God anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows ( Psalm 45:7). Because He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). That was a mediatory glory which was conferred upon Him.
The closing verses of Ephesians 1 go on to inform us what that reward consists of. It was the seating of Christ as the Mediator at God’s own right hand. It was the elevating of Him above all the celestial hierarchies. It was the putting of all things under His feet, so that the very forces of evil are now beneath His immediate control. It was the giving Him to be Lord over all things as actual Governor of the universe. It was that He might exercise universal dominion for the good of His Church. It was that He might fill all things. Thus we see again the necessity for translating Christ from earth to heaven. Since all providence is administered from heaven, and since all power (Matthew 28:18) and all judgment (John 5:22) have been committed to Christ, it was right that He should sit upon a celestial throne. He who has been given the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost part of the earth for His possession could not suitably sway His scepter from some local corner of His empire. As Charnock points out, "It was not congruous that He who was made the Head of principalities and powers, the Governor of the angelic spirits, should have a meaner dwelling than the greatest of His subjects and as low as the vilest of His vassals." "Such an high priest became us, . . . holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26).
The French Puritan Daille ably argued: "The wisdom of God hath disposed all causes in an order superior to those effects which depend upon them: the heavens are above the earth because the earth is influenced by them, and the sun above the earth because the earth is enlightened by it. It was no less necessary according to the order of God’s wisdom, that He who was made by God His Viceroy both in heaven and in earth, and had the management of all things conferred upon Him, should be lodged in a place superior to all His subjects." It was fit that as an earthly king should have an earthly palace, our great High Priest should dwell in a temple not made with hands. How could He fittingly bring the Church to a happy immortality unless He was first in possession of that heaven to which He was to conduct it? Since He is ordained the Judge of the whole world, must He not sit in the heavenly court and there in majesty execute that solemn charge!
The Mediator Exalted Above All
As Mediator, Christ was and is both God and man, or the God-man, and as such He has been exalted and rewarded. His divine glory is no longer eclipsed, for instead of acting in the form of a servant, He now reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. His humanity has been elevated to heaven and glorified with a glory that outshines every other creature. Though He is still clothed with flesh, yet his divine glory is not now veiled as it once was. His humanity is now filled with all the divine perfections of which a created nature is possibly capable. It is not deified but glorified.
John Owen wrote regarding Christ’s humanity, "It is not made omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, but is exalted in a fullness of all Divine perfections and infinitely above the glory of angels and men. For the substance of this glory of the human nature of Christ believers shall be made partakers of it, for when we shall see Him as He is ‘we shall be like Him’; but as unto the degrees and measure of it, His glory is above all that we can be made partakers of."