by Thomas Ridgley
QUESTION LI. What was the estate of Christ's exaltation?
ANSWER. The estate of Christ's exaltation comprehendeth his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.
QUESTION LII. How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
ANSWER. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, of which was it not possible for him to be held, and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life, really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day, by his own power: whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead; all which he did as a public Person, the Head of his church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.
THE former of these Answers containing only a general account of what is particularly insisted on in some following Answers, we pass it over, and proceed to consider Christ as exalted in his resurrection.
The Incorruption of Christ's Body
1. We observe, then, that Christ did not see corruption in death. Corruption, according to our common acceptation of the word, imports two things. The first is the dissolution of the frame of nature, or the separation of soul and body. In this sense every one who dies sees corruption; for death is the dissolution or separation of the two constituent parts of man. Accordingly, the apostle calls it 'the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle.' Now, when our Saviour is said not to have seen corruption, it is not to be understood in this sense, because he really died. But corruption consists principally in the body's being putrified, or turned into dust. In this sense it is said, 'Thou wilt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.'x These words are explained in a following verse, in which it is said that 'his flesh did not see corruption;' that is, he did not continue long enough in the state of the dead for his body to be corrupted, which it would have been, without a continued miracle, had it lain many days in the grave. It may be objected, that to lie two or three days in the grave is sufficient to contract some degree of corruption; so that Christ's body could not, in all respects, be free from corruption. But there was a peculiar hand of providence, in keeping it from being corrupted, during the short space of time in which it continued in the state of the dead; which was an indication of the great regard which God had to him, his sufferings being now at an end. But there may be another reason assigned. As the filth of sin is sometimes, to beget in us a detestation of it, illustrated by things putrified and corrupted; so God would not suffer the body of Christ to be corrupted. As, moreover, his soul had not the least taint of moral corruption in life, it was not expedient that his body should have the least mark or emblem of it in death. Besides, it was necessary that his body should not see corruption, by being turned into dust as the bodies of all men will be, in order that we might have evident proof that the same body which died was raised again from the dead. But this will be farther insisted on, under a following Head, when we consider the reason why he rose again so soon as the third day.
2. It was not possible for our Saviour to be held any longer under the power of death than till the third day. This statement is founded on Acts 2:24. For understanding it, let us consider that, had he continued always under the power of death, it would have argued the insufficiency of his satisfaction; so that his obedience in life, and his sufferings in death, could not have attained the end designed; and consequently the infinite worth and value of them would, in effect, have been denied. But the justice of God being fully satisfied, it could not refuse to release him out of prison, that is, to raise him from the dead. Again, it was not possible that he should be held any longer under the power of death than till the third day, because the purpose and promise of God must have their accomplishment. Indeed, he was given to understand, before he suffered, that his body should be detained no longer in the grave. Accordingly, he intimates to his followers, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' This event, therefore, was proposed as a sign; and an appeal is made to it for the confirmation of his mission and doctrine. It was hence impossible that he should be held any longer in the grave.
The Reality of Christ's Resurrection
We are to prove that Christ actually rose again from the dead. The two main proofs, necessary to support our faith in the fact are, a sufficient testimony given of it by creatures, and a farther confirmation of it by miracles, which are a divine testimony. Both these we have. It may be observed, too, that, as appears by daily experience, the great ends of his death and resurrection are fully obtained; and that their being so affords us unquestionable matter of conviction.
1. As to a sufficient testimony given by creatures, Christ's resurrection was attested by sufficient, undeniable evidence. Two angels were sent from heaven as the first witnesses of it. They are described as being 'in shining garments, who said, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.' They are called, indeed, 'two men,' because they appeared in human form; but another evangelist calls them 'two angels.'b Again, the resurrection of Christ was attested by several men and women who were his familiar friends and followers before his death, and saw and conversed with him after his resurrection, and therefore had sufficient proof that it was he who suffered that was raised from the dead. And, lest the testimony of his apostles should not be reckoned sufficient, though there were enough of them to attest the matter, he was afterwards seen by a greater number, namely, 'above five hundred brethren at once.' Now, surely, all these could not be deceived, in a matter of which it was necessary for themselves, as well as others, that they should have the fullest conviction.
That it was morally impossible that his disciples, in particular, should be imposed on, will appear, if we consider that they were his intimate associates. It was for this reason, among others, that providence ordered that he should appear to them, and converse mostly with them. Had he appeared to others who never knew him before, and told them that he was risen from the dead, though they could not question his being alive whilst they conversed with him, yet they might doubt whether he was the same person who died, and so was raised from the dead; and it cannot well be conceived that such could receive a full conviction as to this matter, without a miracle. But, when he appeared to those who were intimately acquainted with him before his death, the conviction is easy and natural. For if his countenance or outward appearance as much resembled what it was before his death, as ours after a fit of sickness does what it was before; then his aspect, or external appearance to them, would afford such matter of conviction as very few pretend to gainsay; especially when we consider that it was but three days since they saw him before he was crucified. It may be objected, however, that his countenance was so altered that it was hard to know him by it; for Mary, one of his intimate acquaintances, when she first saw him, mistook him for 'the gardener;' and it is said that, 'after this, he appeared in another form unto two of them.'e But Mary might easily mistake him for another person, through surprise, and not looking steadfastly on him, as not expecting to see him. Hence, her mistake may easily be accounted for, though we suppose his countenance not much to differ from what it was before his death. As to the scripture which speaks of his appearing 'in another form' to two of his disciples, as they walked into the country, the event narrated in it is mentioned, with some particular enlargement, by the evangelist Luke, together with the conversation our Saviour had with them; and it is observed, that 'their eyes were holden, that they should not know him,' and that afterwards 'their eyes were opened, and they knew him.'g May we not, from hence, suppose either that there was something preternatural in the change of Christ's countenance, with the design that, at first, they should not know him; or that there was some impression upon the minds of the disciples, which prevented their knowing him? If the former of these be supposed, as according with St. Mark's words relating to his appearing 'in another form,' the miracle will not give us sufficient occasion to conclude that, in other instances of his appearing to his disciples, our Saviour's countenance was so much altered that it was impossible they should know him by it. But if this should not be allowed, or if it should be objected that the most intimate friends may mistake the person whom they see, if there be nothing else to judge by but the likeness of his countenance to what it was before, let us add, that our Saviour not only appeared to his disciples, but conversed with them and brought to their remembrance what had passed between him and them before his death. Thus he says, 'These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you,' &c. Now, when a person not only discovers himself to others, but brings to mind private conversation which had formerly passed between them, at particular times and places, no ground is left to doubt whether he be the same person or not. Hence, Christ's appearing to his intimate, particular friends, and conversing with them, and calling to mind former conversation held with them before his death, proves that he was the same Person who had lived before; so that they might be as sure that he was raised from the dead, as they were that he died.
Those persons who, after his resurrection, were witnesses to the truth of it to the world, were also very worthy of credit. They were of such a temper that they would believe nothing themselves, but upon the fullest evidence. This temper they had to such an extreme as is uncommon; providence so ordering it, that we might thence be more sure that we were not imposed on by their report. They were incredulous, even to a fault. For, though they had sufficient intimation given them that our Saviour would rise from the dead at the time he really did, and were also credibly informed by the women who had an account of his resurrection from the angels; yet it is said, 'Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.'—Moreover, though they afterwards received a farther account of the matter from the two disciples who conversed with Christ on the way to Emmaus, and had sufficient ground from them to conclude that he was risen from the dead: yet, when our Saviour, at the same time that they were reporting this matter to them, appeared in the midst of them, 'they were terrified,' as if they had 'seen a spirit.'k This circumstance farther discovers how much they were disinclined to believe anything, without greater evidence than what is generally demanded in such cases. Also, the report given by the rest of the disciples to Thomas, concerning his resurrection, and his having appeared to them and conversed with them, which was a sufficient ground to induce any one to believe it, was not, in the least, regarded by him; for he determined that unless 'he saw in his hands the print of the nails, and put his finger into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into his side, he would not believe;' and in this matter he was afterwards indulged by our Saviour for his conviction. All these things are plain proof that the disciples who were to be witnesses of Christ's resurrection, were not persons of such a temper that they might easily be imposed on; so that their report is the more convincing to us. Moreover, they were men of an unspotted character, unblemished honesty and integrity; which is a very necessary circumstance to be regarded in those who are witnesses to any matters of fact. Their conversation was subject to the inspection of their most inveterate enemies, who, if they could have found anything blameworthy in it, would, doubtless, have alleged it against them, as an expedient to bring their persons and doctrines into disrepute. This would have had a tendency to sap the very foundation of the Christian religion. The Jews also would not have needed to have recourse to persecution, or to call in the aid of the civil magistrate to silence them, if they could have produced any instances of dishonesty, or want of integrity, in their character. The apostle Peter, who was one of the witnesses, appeals to the world, in behalf of himself and the rest of the apostles, when he says, 'We have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.' Indeed, their writings discover not only great integrity, but holiness; and hence the same apostle styles them all 'holy men of God.'m—Further, they could not be supposed to have any prospect of advantage by deceiving the world, as to the fact of Christ's resurrection; but, on the other hand, were to look for nothing else but the greatest degree of opposition, from both the Jews and the heathen. The former, who had always been such enemies to their Lord and Master, would, doubtless, be so to them. Besides, they reckoned it their interest to oppose and persecute every one who propagated this doctrine; for they apprehended that, if the world believed it, it would fasten an eternal mark of infamy upon them. They were also apprehensive that it would 'bring on them the guilt of his blood,' that is, the deserved punishment of putting him to death. It may be objected, perhaps, that the apostles might have some view to their own interest, when they first became Christ's disciples, or might expect some secular advantage by being the subjects of his kingdom, as apprehending that it was of a temporal nature. But this they had not any ground to expect from him. Besides, since his crucifixion, all expectations of that kind were at an end; and therefore their reporting that he was risen from the dead, if he had not been so, would have been to invent a lie contrary to their own interest. Moreover, they would by this course not only have imposed on others, but have incurred the divine displeasure, and ruined their own souls; the happiness of which was as much concerned in the truth of their testimony as that of ours. Now, none can suppose that they ever appeared so desperate, as not to regard what became of them either in this or another world.
We have thus considered the testimony of those apostles who saw and conversed with Christ after his resurrection, together with their respective character, as witnesses of the fact. To them we have the addition of another witness, namely, the apostle Paul, who saw him, in an extraordinary manner, after his ascension into heaven, and heard his voice, saying, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.' In reference to this, he says concerning himself, 'Last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time;'p that is, one who had this qualification for the apostleship, or his being a witness to Christ's resurrection, after that time in which others were qualified to bear their testimony to this truth, that is, after Christ's ascension into heaven. We may observe concerning this witness, that he was well known by all the Jews to have been one of the most inveterate enemies to Christianity in the world. This he frequently afterwards took occasion to mention, that so his testimony might be more regarded. Indeed, nothing short of the fullest evidence as to this matter, could induce him to forego his secular interest, and, in common with the rest of the apostles, to expose himself to the loss of all things in defence of this truth.
Now that we are speaking of the witnesses to Christ's resurrection, and of the apostle Paul as attesting it from his having seen him in a glorified state, we may take notice of one more witness, namely, the blessed martyr Stephen, who declared, in the presence of his enraged enemies, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.' He was, doubtless, one of the holiest and most upright men in his day; and, when he gave his testimony, it is said in the foregoing words, 'He was full of the Holy Ghost;' and certainly the Holy Ghost would not suggest a falsity to him. This he spake when ready to expire, and at a time when men are under no temptation to deceive the world; so that if, at any time they are to be believed, it is then, when they are in the most serious frame, and most thoughtful about that world into which they are immediately passing.
Having thus noticed the testimony of Christ's friends and followers to his resurrection, we might add the testimony of enemies themselves. They were forced to own this truth, though it was so much against their own interest, and though it made their crime, in crucifying him, appear so black and heinous. Thus we may observe that, when Christ was buried, the Jews, from the intimation which they had previously received that he was to rise again after three days, desired Pilate that his sepulchre should be made sure till that time. This was accordingly done. A stone was rolled to the mouth of it, and sealed; and a watch was appointed to guard it. The men of the watch, too, were Jews; for Pilate says, 'Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.' He did not order Christ's friends and followers to watch the sepulchre, but his enemies. It is observed also concerning them, that, when the stone was rolled from the door of the sepulchre by the ministry of an angel, 'the keepers,' or the watch which Pilate had set, 'did shake, and became as dead men,'s or were ready to die with fear. This could not throw them into a sleep; for fear awakens, rather than stupifies the passions. Accordingly, it is said, 'Some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests the things that were done. And when they were assembled together, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.' But as this would render them liable to the governor's resentment, and some degree of punishment for their not attending their respective post with that watchfulness which was necessary, they add, 'We will persuade him, and secure you.' It is then said, 'They took the money, and did as they were taught; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.' This is the most stupid and absurd method which could have been taken, to discountenance the doctrine of Christ's resurrection. Indeed, it contains a proof of it. The soldiers, at first, reported matter of fact; but the evasion of it confutes itself. Must we not suppose that there were a considerable number who watched the sepulchre? Doubtless, they would take care to have several there present, lest those who might come to steal him away should be too strong for them. Now, if there were several present, could they be all asleep at the same time? Or could the tomb be opened, which they had made stronger than ordinary, and the stone rolled from it, and yet none of them be awakened out of their sleep? Besides, if they were asleep, their evidence that Christ was, at the same time, stolen away by his disciples, is too ridiculous to be regarded by any who consider what sort of evidence deserves to be credited; for how could they know what was done when they were asleep?
2. Having thus spoken of the testimony given to Christ's resurrection, both by angels and by men, we proceed to consider how it was confirmed by miracles, which are no other than a divine testimony. The former sort of evidence, indeed, is sufficient to convince any one who does not give way to the greatest degree of scepticism. But yet we have farther proof of it; for, as the apostle says, 'If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.' Now, God himself has been pleased to set his seal to this truth, or to confirm it by the extraordinary testimony of miracles, which were wrought by the apostles. This testimony was, in some respect, necessary, that the faith of those who were to be convinced by it might be properly divine, and therefore founded on greater evidence than that of human testimony, how undeniable soever it were. Accordingly it is said, that 'with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.'u The Holy Ghost, in particular, by whose immediate efficiency these miracles were wrought, is said to be a witness to the fact. Thus the apostles say, 'We are his witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.' The meaning of this is, 'We are speaking and acting by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost, confirming to you this great truth.' Indeed, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost were an extraordinary means for the conviction of the world concerning this truth. This our Saviour, before his death, gave his followers ground to expect at this time; for he spake 'concerning the Spirit, which was not before given,'y that is, not in so great a degree as to enable them to speak with divers tongues, and work various sorts of miracles beyond what they had done before. Accordingly, it is said, 'the Holy Ghost was not yet,' or before this, 'given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.' Christ promised them also, immediately before his ascension into heaven, that 'these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.' These miracles are called 'signs,' as ordained to signify or give a proof of Christ's resurrection. They are said to be wrought by those who had the faith of miracles, or who believed the doctrine of the resurrection themselves, and thereby induced others to believe it. Moreover, they wrought them 'in his name,' with a design to set forth his glory, which could not have been evinced hereby, had he not been risen from the dead. We may add, that all the gifts and graces of the Spirit which believers are made partakers of, are convincing evidences of the doctrine of the resurrection. But this will be considered under a following Head, when we speak on the latter part of this Answer, respecting the fruits and consequences of Christ's resurrection, which the church in all ages experiences, and whereby the work of grace is begun, carried on, and perfected in them.
The Properties of Christ's Risen Body
We come now to consider the properties of the body of Christ, as thus raised from the dead. In this Answer, it is said, that the same body was raised again, with all its essential properties, but without mortality and other common infirmities belonging to this life.
1. It was the same body which suffered which was raised from the dead, other wise the raising of it could not be called a resurrection. The apostle Paul, speaking concerning the general resurrection at the last day, compares it to the springing up of 'seed' sown in the ground, which, though it be very much altered as to its shape and many of its accidental properties, yet is the same in substance which was sown. Accordingly, 'every seed hath its own body.' The matter is the same, though the form is different.
2. When it is said, that the body of Christ had the same essential properties which it had before his death, we are to understand that it was material, and endowed with the same senses it had before, which were exercised in the same manner, though it may be in a greater degree.
3. It is farther observed that it had not the same accidental properties which belonged to it before; for it was without mortality and other infirmities of this life. The apostle says, concerning the resurrection of all believers, 'It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.' It is said, in particular, concerning our Saviour, that, 'being raised from the dead, he dieth no more,'c that is, he was raised immortal. And as believers, after their resurrection from the dead, shall be delivered from the common infirmities of life—such as hunger, thirst, pain, sickness, and the like—much more may we conclude that our Saviour was so. But how far his human nature was changed, as to all its properties, it is not for us to pretend to determine; nor ought we to be too inquisitive about it. Yet we may conclude that, though it was raised incorruptible and immortal, and exempted from the common infirmities of this life, it was not, while on earth, clothed with that lustre and glory which was put upon it when he ascended into heaven. The reason of this might probably be, that he might converse with men, or that they might be able to bear his presence; which they could not have done had his body been so glorious as it is at present since his ascension into heaven.
The Period between Christ's Death and Resurrection
It is farther observed, that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day; that is, he continued in the state of the dead from the evening of the sixth day to the morning of the first, which is the Christian Sabbath. The day on which Christ died is said to have been 'the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.' This another evangelist explains, and says, 'It was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath.'e The reason why the day before the sabbath is so called, is that it was the day in which the Jews prepared every thing that was necessary for the solemnity of the day following, and gave a despatch to their worldly affairs that they might not be embarrassed with them, and, by forethought and meditation on the work of that day, might be better prepared for it. This was on the sixth day of the week; and Christ died in the evening, not long before sunset. It is said, also, that he rose again from the dead 'when the seventh day was past, very early in the morning on the first day of the week.' So that our Saviour continued in the state of the dead a part of the sixth day, the whole of the seventh, and a part of the first day of the week. On this account he is said to have 'risen again on the third day,'g that is, the third day, inclusive of the day of his death and that of his resurrection. The learned Bishop Pearson, in his marginal notes on the fifth article of the Creed, illustrates it by a tertian, or third day ague, which is so called though there is but one day's intermission between the paroxysms of it; and so the first and third day are both included in the computation. Both he and others who treat on this subject, farther illustrate it by observing that the scripture often speaks of a number of days, inclusive of the first and last; as when it is said, 'When eight days were accomplished, our Saviour was circumcised,' including the days of his birth and circumcision, between which six days intervened.i Thus our Saviour continued three days in the state of the dead, inclusive of the first and last; or, he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures.
We shall now consider what reasons may be assigned why providence ordered that Christ should continue three days, and no longer, in the state of the dead.
1. It seems agreeable to the wisdom of God that there should have been some space of time between his death and resurrection, that so there might be a sufficient evidence that he was really dead, since much depends on our belief of that fact. He might have breathed forth his soul into the hands of God one moment, and received it again, as raised from the dead, the next. But God in wisdom ordered it otherwise; for, had Christ expired and risen from the dead in so short a time, it might have been questioned whether he died or not. His having lain in the grave till the third day, however, puts this matter beyond all dispute.
2. It was agreeable to the goodness and care of providence that our Saviour should not continue too long in the state of the dead. Had he continued several years in the grave, there could not have been an appeal to his resurrection during all that space of time to confirm the faith of his people concerning his mission. God would not keep his people too long in suspense whether it was he who was to redeem Israel; nor would he too long delay the pouring forth of his Spirit, or the preaching of the gospel, which were designed to be deferred till Christ's rising from the dead. It seems to have been most convenient, too, that he should soon rise from the dead, that is, on the third day, that the world might have a convincing proof of his resurrection, while his death was fresh in their memories, and the subject of the discourse of all the world. Besides, having been told beforehand of his resurrection, they either were or ought to have been in expectation of this wonderful and glorious event; and consequently it would be an expedient for their greater conviction.
To what has been said concerning Christ's rising again on the third day, so that he lay but one whole day and a part of two days in the grave, it is objected that he is said, to have been 'three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' This, it is said, includes a longer time than what is before mentioned, so that he was crucified on the fifth day of the week, not on the sixth; and it is also contrary to what has been said concerning his being crucified on the preparation before the sabbath. In answer to this objection, we remark that it cannot be denied that, according to the scripture account of time, the measure of a day contains the space of time from one evening to the next, which is twenty-four hours. This we call a natural day, the night being the first part, and not the morning, according to our computation; as we reckon a day to contain the space of time from one morning to the next. The reason why the Jews thus begin their day is, that it is said, 'The evening and the morning were the first day.'l The sabbath-day also was reckoned to continue during the space of time from the evening of the sixth day to the evening of the seventh, that is, from sunset to sunset; as it is said 'from even unto even shall ye celebrate your sabbath.' This farther appears, from what is said concerning our Saviour's 'going into Capernaum, and, on the sabbath-day entering into the synagogue and teaching;' for it is said, in a following verse, 'When the sabbath was over, they brought unto him all that were diseased and possessed with devils; and the city was gathered together at the door, and he healed many that were sick of divers diseases,'n &c. From this it appears that the sabbath was over at sunset that day; for the Jews, thinking it unlawful to heal on the sabbath-day, as they expressly say elsewhere, would not bring those who had diseases to be healed till the sabbath was past.—Again, when a whole natural day, consisting of twenty-four hours, is spoken of in scripture, it is generally called a day and a night, or an evening and a morning. The Jews have no compound word to express this by, as the Greeks have. Thus it is said, 'Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.'p Here the word which we render 'days,' signifies in the Hebrew, as our marginal reference observes, 'evening morning,' or spaces of time each of which consists of evening and morning. Elsewhere also it is said that Moses was upon the mount 'forty days and forty nights,' that is, forty of those spaces of time which we call days, each of which makes a day and a night. So that a day and a night, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, imports no more than a day. When, therefore, our Saviour is said to have been three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, it is an Hebraism, which signifies no more than three days, or three of those spaces of time, each of which, being completed, consists of a day and a night.—Further, it is a very common thing, in scripture, for a part of a day to be put for a day, by a synecdoche of the part for the whole. Hence, a part of that space of time which, when completed, contains day and night, or the space of twenty-four hours, is called a day; so that what is done on the third day, before it is completely ended, is said to take up three days in being done. Thus Esther says, 'Fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king;' whereas it is said, after this, that 'on the third day Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king's house.'s She could not be said, therefore, to fast three whole days, but only a part of three; for, before the third day was ended, she went to the king. A part of three days is thus put for three days, or that which is said to be done after three days and three nights, which is all one, may be said to be done on the third day, though the day be not completely ended. Our Saviour may be said, therefore, to have been three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, that is, a part of those spaces of time, which, if completed, would have contained three days and three nights.
Christ raised by his Own Power
Christ raised himself from the dead by his own power. Here let it be considered that no power but what is divine can raise the dead; for it is a bringing back of the dissolved frame of nature into the same or a better state than that in which it was before its dissolution, and a remanding of the soul which was in the hand of God to be again united to its body, which none can do but God himself. Accordingly, the apostle mentions it as a branch of the divine glory; and God is represented as 'he who quickeneth all things.' The body of Christ, therefore, was raised by divine power. Thus the apostle says, 'This Jesus hath God raised up;'u and when he mentions it elsewhere, he makes use of a phrase which is uncommonly emphatic—he wants words to express it, and speaks of 'the exceeding greatness of his power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.' Again, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are God, as has been observed under a foregoing Answer,y it follows that this infinite power belongs equally and alike to them all; so that all these divine Persons may be said to have raised Christ's body from the dead. That the Father raised him no one denies who speaks of his resurrection; and the apostle expressly says, that 'he was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father.' But it is farther said that he raised himself from the dead. Thus he tells the Jews, speaking of the temple of his body, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'a That the Holy Ghost raised him, seems to be implied in the expression in which it is said, 'He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead;' that is, the Spirit, by this act of divine power, declared him to have been the Son of God, and to have finished the work he came about. Elsewhere, too, he is said to have been 'quickened by the Spirit.'c
Christ, by raising himself by his own power, declared that he was the Son of God; that is, he not only declared that he was a divine Person, which his sonship always implies, but, declared also his mission and authority to act as Mediator, and that he had accomplished the work which he came into the world to perform. As to what he says concerning his raising himself by his own power, 'Destroy this temple, and after three days I will raise it up,' the Socinians, apprehending it to be an argument tending to overthrow the scheme they lay down who deny his divinity, are forced to make use of a very sorry evasion. They suppose, that the meaning of the passage is only this, that the Father put life into his dead body, and united it to the soul, and that he afterwards lifted himself up out of the grave. But this is certainly a very jejune and empty sense of the words. Is it so great a matter for a Person who was quickened by divine power, to lift up himself from the grave in which he lay? In this sense, any one may be said to raise himself up, as well as Christ, or any one might raise the dead, after having been quickened by divine power, by taking him by the hand, and lifting him up from the ground. This shows how much men are sometimes put to it to support a cause which is destitute of solid arguments for its defence. According to this method of reasoning, the whole world may be said to raise themselves at the last day, when God has put life into their dead bodies. But certainly more than this is implied in Christ's raising himself up; for it is opposed to his body being destroyed, or the frame of nature being dissolved in death; so that he certainly intends that he would exert divine power, in raising himself from the dead, and hereby declare himself to be a divine Person, or the Son of God.
The Effects of Christ's Resurrection
We are next to consider the effects of Christ's resurrection, either as they respect himself, or his people.
1. As to himself, his resurrection was a demonstrative evidence that he had fully satisfied the justice of God, or paid the whole price of redemption, which he had undertaken to do; for hereby he was released out of the prison of the grave, not only by the power, but by the justice of God, and received a full discharge. Accordingly he was, in this respect, justified; and a full proof was given that the work of redemption was brought to perfection. It is also observed, that hereby he conquered death, and 'destroyed him that had the power of it, that is the devil,' and so procured to himself a right to be acknowledged as the 'Lord, both of the dead and living.'e This is, in some respects, different from that universal dominion which he had over all things, as God; and which was the result of his being the Creator of all things, and was not purchased or conferred upon him, as the consequence of his performing the work which he came into the world to accomplish. I say, the dominion which we are considering is what belongs to him as Mediator. It includes a peculiar right which he has, as Mediator, to confer on his people those blessings which accompany salvation. It includes, also, his right to give laws to his church, defend them from their spiritual enemies, and bestow all the blessings on them which were promised to them in the covenant of grace. It includes, moreover, his ordering all the affairs of providence to be subservient to these ends. Had he not designed to redeem any of the race of mankind, he would have had a dominion over the world as God, the Judge of all,—a right to condemn and banish his enemies from his presence. But he could not be said to exercise dominion in the way in which it is displayed with respect to the heirs of salvation; for that would have been inconsistent with his divine perfections. Had he not died, and risen again, he would, indeed, have had a right to do what he would with his creatures; but as he could not, without this, have redeemed any, so he could not confer upon a peculiar people, that possession which he is said hereby to have purchased.
2. The effects of Christ's resurrection, which respect his people, consist more especially in four things. First, their justification is owing to it. As we are said sometimes to be justified by his death, or 'by his blood;' so elsewhere we are said to be justified, both by his death and by his resurrection, in different respects. 'Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.'g By these words, some understand that Christ, by his death, paid the debt which we had contracted to the justice of God; and that, by his resurrection, he received a discharge or acquittance in their behalf for whom he died and rose again; so that when he was discharged, his people might be said to be discharged in him, as their public Head and Representative. This is well expressed in our large English Annotations. "Our justification, which was begun in his death, was perfected in his resurrection. Christ did meritoriously work our justification and salvation, by his death and passion; but the efficacy and perfection thereof, with respect to us, dependeth on his resurrection. By his death he paid our debt; in his resurrection he received our acquittance. Isa. 53:8, 'Being taken from prison and from judgment.' When he was discharged, we, in him, and together with him, received our discharge from the guilt and punishment of all our sins." This is very agreeable to what is said in the present Answer,—that he did all this as a public Person, the Head of his church. Nevertheless, there is another notion of our justification, which consists in our apprehending, receiving, or applying his righteousness by faith, which, as will be observed in its proper place, cannot, from the nature of the thing, be said to be before we believe.—Another effect of Christ's resurrection is our quickening in grace. Thus it is said, 'When we were dead in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ.'k This implies either that, his death being the procuring cause of all inherent grace, begun in regeneration, and carried on in sanctification, his resurrection was the first step taken in order to his applying what he had purchased, and that afterwards we are, as the consequence, raised from the death of sin to a spiritual life of holiness; or else it denotes that communion which believers have with Christ in his resurrection, as well as his death, as he is the Head and they are the members. This agrees with the peculiar mode of speaking often used by the apostle Paul, who, in several places of his epistles, speaks of believers as crucified, dead, and buried, risen, and ascended into heaven, and sitting at God's right hand in heavenly places, in or with Christ.—Again, Christ's resurrection is a means for our support against our enemies, whose utmost rage can extend itself no farther than the grave. They for whom Christ died and rose again shall obtain a glorious resurrection and eternal life with him; and therefore he advises his people 'not to be afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.'m—This will farther appear, if we consider another effect of Christ's resurrection, which is, that they are assured by it of their resurrection from the dead at the last day. Christ's resurrection is, as it were, the exemplar and pledge of theirs. As hereby he conquered death in his own person; so he gives them ground to conclude that this 'last enemy,' which stands in the way of their complete blessedness, 'shall be destroyed.' Accordingly, it is said, that he is 'risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.'o But this will be farther considered under a following Answer.
CHRIST'S EXALTATION IN AND AFTER HIS ASCENSION
QUESTION LIII. How was Christ exalted in his ascension?
ANSWER. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having, after his resurrection, often appeared unto, and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations; forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our Head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place for us where himself is, and shall continue, till his second coming at the end of the world.
QUESTION LIV. How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?
ANSWER. Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God, in that, as God-man, he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father, with all fulness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth, and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies, furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, and maketh intercession for them.
IN the former of these Answers, we have an account of Christ's ascension into heaven; in the latter, of his sitting at the right hand of God, which contains a circumstance of glory immediately consequent upon his ascension. Accordingly we are led first to consider Christ's ascension into heaven.
The Interval between Christ's Resurrection and his Ascension
Here we may observe the distance of time between his resurrection and ascension, and what he did during that interval. It is expressly said that 'he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them,' that is, the apostles, 'forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.' Some of the evangelists are more particular on this subject than others. But, if we compare them together, we may observe that our Saviour, during this interval, did not converse freely and familiarly with the world, as he had done before his death, during the exercise of his public ministry. Indeed, we cannot learn, from any account given by the evangelists of this matter, that he appeared so as to make himself known, to any but his friends and followers. He might, it is true, have appeared to the Jews, and, by doing so, have confuted the lie which they so studiously propagated, that his disciples came by night and stole him away, and consequently that he was not risen from the dead. But he thought, as he might well do, that he had given them sufficient proof before his death that he was the Messiah; and, as he designed that his resurrection should be undeniably attested by those who were appointed to be the witnesses of it, it was needless for him to give any farther proof of it. Besides, his enemies being wilfully blind, obstinate, and prejudiced against him, he denied them any farther means of conviction, as a punishment of their unbelief; so that he would not appear to them after his resurrection. Indeed, had he done it, it is probable, considering the malicious obstinacy and rage which appeared in their temper, that they would have persecuted him again, which it was not convenient that he should submit to, his state of humiliation being at an end.
Again, he did not continue all the forty days with his apostles; nor have we ground to conclude that he abode with them in their houses as he did before his death, or that he eat and drank with them, excepting in two or three particular instances, mentioned by the evangelists, the design of which was to prove that, after his resurrection, he had as true a human body, with all the essential properties of it, as he had before his death, and therefore was not, as they supposed him to be when first they saw him, a spectrum. All the account we have of his appearing to his friends and followers, is, that it was only occasionally, at such times as they did not expect to see him. At one time he appeared to the two disciples going to Emmaus, and made himself known to them when they came to their journey's end, and then withdrew himself in an instant. Afterwards, we read of his appearing to the apostles, when they were engaged in social worship, on the day of his resurrection; of his appearing to them again on the first day of the following week;s and of his appearing to them another time at the sea of Tiberias. After the account of the last of these appearances, it is expressly said that 'this was now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.'u Besides, we read elsewhere of his being 'seen of above five hundred brethren at once;' which was probably in Galilee, where his followers generally lived, and where he chiefly exercised his public ministry before his death. This seems to have been appointed as a place of general rendezvous, if we may so express it; for he says, 'After I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee;'y and the angel gives the same intimation, 'Go your way, tell his disciples that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.' Now this intimation being, as is more than probable, transmitted to his followers, five hundred of them waited for him there, and accordingly he appeared to them. All these appearances were only occasional; he principally designing thereby to convince them of the truth of his resurrection, and to give his apostles, in particular, instruction concerning some things which they were unapprized of before.
Having thus spoken concerning the time which Christ continued on earth, during which he sometimes appeared to his disciples, we now proceed to consider what he imparted to them during his stay, or at those particular times when he appeared to them. Here we cannot certainly determine anything farther than the account we have in scripture; in which, as was before observed, it is said that 'he spake of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.' By 'the kingdom of God,' I humbly conceive, is meant either that glorious state and place to which he was to ascend, where they should at last be with him, which was a very useful and entertaining subject on which they could not but be happy in hearing what he said; or it means the gospel-state, which, in the New Testament, is often called 'the kingdom of God,' or 'the kingdom of heaven.' As he designed that they should be his ministers, whom he would employ in preaching the gospel, and thereby promoting the affairs of his kingdom; it was necessary that they should receive instructions concerning the gospel-state. Without this they could do nothing for promoting his interest in the world; or, at least, they must have a particular direction from the Holy Spirit relating to the subject, else they would have no warrant to give instructions to the church concerning the new dispensation. We have no ground to doubt that they had the Spirit's direction in everything which they laid down for the church, as a rule of faith or practice afterwards. But this they seem not to have had while our Saviour was with them; so that the nature of the gospel-state, as is more than probable, was a part of what he discoursed with them about, as he ordered them to teach those to whom they were sent to 'observe all things, whatsoever he had commanded them.'
We have sufficient ground to conclude, that he gave them direction concerning the observance of the first day of the week, as the Christian sabbath. He had told them before his death, that he was 'Lord of the sabbath;' and now we may suppose that he more eminently discovered himself to be so, by changing the day from the seventh to the first day of the week. That they had an intimation from him concerning the Christian sabbath seems probable, from the fact that it was observed by them, in the interval between his resurrection and ascension. We read more than once, too, of his giving countenance to their observance of it, by his presence with them. Yet, at this time, the Holy Ghost was not poured forth upon them. Their practice, therefore, seems to have been founded on some intimation given them by our Saviour, during his continuance with them forty days; though perhaps the matter was confirmed to them afterwards, by extraordinary revelation from the Holy Ghost.
It was in this interval, also, that our Saviour gave them a commission to preach the gospel to all nations, and instituted the ordinance of baptism. The commission which he now gave differs very much from that which he had before given to his twelve disciples, when he ordered them 'not to go in the way of the Gentiles, nor to enter into any city of the Samaritans, but rather to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'d Now, however, none are excluded; but their commission must be exercised throughout the world, wherever they went. Together with this, too, he promised 'to be with them,' so as to assist and succeed them in their ministry, 'to the end of the world.' Moreover, he enjoined them 'to tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high, waiting there for the promise of the Father,' or for their being baptized by the Holy Ghost, which privilege they should soon after receive. This was a very necessary advice which our Saviour gave them; for, though they had a commission to preach the gospel, they wanted those qualifications for it which they were to receive from the Holy Ghost They were to tarry at Jerusalem, also, after they had received extraordinary gifts from the Holy Ghost, till they had an intimation given in what parts of the world they should begin the exercise of their public ministry.
Again, though it is not particularly mentioned in the evangelical history, yet it is not improbable, that our Saviour spake to his disciples concerning the nature of the gospel-church and its government, how they were to exercise their ministry in it, what doctrines they should preach, what success should attend them, and what they should suffer for his sake. Why may we not suppose that he spake of these things to all his apostles, when he condescended to tell Peter, 'by what death he should glorify God?' Their knowledge of many of these things was necessary for the right discharge of their ministry, which they were to begin at Jerusalem, where the first church was to be planted; and it can hardly be supposed that he would only give them a commission to preach the gospel, without some instructions as to how they should execute it. But as this is only a probable argument, let me add that it is certain they afterwards had particular direction as to this matter, from the Holy Ghost, who was given, after Christ's ascension into heaven, to lead them into all truth, or to impart, by them, to the gospel-church, an infallible and standing rule of faith and practice.
After our Saviour had continued forty days on earth from his resurrection, and, in that time, conversed with his apostles of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, he ascended into heaven, or, as it is expressed in the Answer we are considering, he visibly went up into the highest heavens. There are two phrases, in scripture, whereby this is set forth. It is said, 'he was taken up,' and 'he went up.' This variation of expression is used by the Holy Ghost, as some think, to denote two different respects or circumstances attending his ascension. 'His going up' signifies that he ascended into heaven by his own power, pursuant to the right which he had to that glory; as he says elsewhere, 'Ought not Christ to suffer, and to enter into his glory?'h His being 'taken up' into heaven, signifies the Father's act in exalting him. As he sent him into the world, so he took him out of it into a better, when he had finished his work upon earth. This variety of expression we find used in several other scriptures. Thus it is said, that 'he ascended up on high,' 'entered into heaven,'k and so put in his claim to the heavenly glory; and, on the other hand, 'he was received up into heaven,' and consequently his claim to it admitted of. Accordingly, he was 'exalted' to this honour 'by God's right hand,'m as what was due to him as the consequence of his sufferings.
That we may more particularly consider what it was for Christ to ascend into heaven, let it be observed that we are not to understand hereby that his divine nature was translated from earth to heaven, or changed the place of its residence; for that is contrary to its omnipresence. Whenever a change of place is ascribed to it, it respects not his essential, but his manifestative presence. Though it was united to the human nature, yet it was not confined to it, or limited by it; and though, in one way, it displayed its glory therein whilst he was on earth, and, in another, when he ascended into heaven, yet, considered as to its essential glory, it fills all places. Hence, it is said, that he was in heaven whilst here on earth.—Again, when we say that Christ ascended into heaven in his human nature, the language is not to be understood in a metaphorical sense, as though it denoted only his being advanced to a more glorious state than he was in before his death; since heaven signifies a glorious place, as well as state. Were it to be understood only in a metaphorical sense, it might, for the same reason, be said that there are no saints or angels locally in heaven; for the metaphor might as well be applied to them as to our Saviour. But this is directly contrary to the known acceptation of the word in scripture. Moreover, that his ascending into heaven denotes a change of place, as well as state, is evident from the fact that, though his state of humiliation was over immediately after his resurrection, yet he says, concerning his human nature, that, during his abode forty days on earth, though raised from the dead, 'I am not yet ascended to my Father.'o—His ascension into heaven, then, is to be understood, in the most proper and known sense of the word, inferring a change of place, as well as state, denoting his being carried from this lower to the upper world, in his human nature, and so entering into that glorious place, as well as triumphant state. This is called 'the heaven of heavens;' which gives us ground to conclude, that the word 'heaven' is taken in various senses in scripture. It is sometimes taken for the air; accordingly the fowls that fly in it, are said to 'fly in the midst of heaven.' Sometimes it is taken for the clouds; and so we read of 'the rain,'r or 'dew of heaven,' as coming down from thence. Sometimes it is taken for the stars; so we read of 'the stars of heaven.'t But, besides all these senses of the word, it is taken for the seat of the blessed, the throne of God, where he manifests himself, in a glorious manner, to his saints and angels. To this place Christ ascended; and, in reference to his doing so, it is said, not only that he 'went' into heaven, but that 'he was made higher than the heavens,' or, that 'he ascended far above all heavens.'x Accordingly it is said, in this Answer, that he went up into the highest heaven.
Now, that Christ ascended into heaven, and that in a visible and glorious manner, is evident from the account we have in scripture of his ascension; which, together with the circumstances that went immediately before it, is what is next to be considered. We read in scripture that, when the eleven disciples were assembled together, he came with a design to take his leave of them; and that after he had 'opened their understandings, that they might understand the scriptures,' and had farther confirmed their faith by applying these to himself, and had concluded all those necessary instructions which he gave them, 'he led them out as far as Bethany,' and then 'lifted up his hands and blessed them, and, while he blessed them, was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.' But, as this relation seems somewhat different from the account given elsewhere of the ascension by the same inspired writer,z who observes that, when Christ had ascended into heaven in the sight of his disciples, 'they returned to Jerusalem, from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath-day's journey,' clearly implying that he ascended into heaven from that mountain; how, it may be asked, could he have ascended thither from Bethany? It is observed, that Bethany was about fifteen furlongs from Jerusalem, and the mount of Olives a sabbath-day's journey; so that Bethany and the mount of Olives seem to be almost a mile distant from each other. If Christ, then, ascended from one of these places into heaven, how could he be said to ascend from the other? The answer which may be given to this seeming inconsistency, is that the town of Bethany was situated at the foot of the mount of Olives; so that the part of the mountain which was nearest to it might have two names, namely Olivet, which was the name of the whole mountain, and Bethany, which denomination it might take from the adjoining village. Or, if this be not sufficient to solve the difficulty, we may remark that when the evangelist says, in one of the places, that our Saviour 'led them out as far as Bethany,' he does not say he was taken up into heaven from thence; but says only that, after he led them thither, 'he blessed them, and, while he blessed them, he was parted from them.' It is hence probable that, when he was come to Bethany, he gave them an intimation that he should soon be received into heaven; that, while he was going thence, or going up the mount of Olives, he continued blessing them; and that, when he was come up to that part of the mount whence he ascended, he 'lifted up his hands,' and conferred his last benediction on them, and then 'was parted from them, and a cloud received him' and conveyed him to heaven. There is therefore no inconsistency between the two scriptures, as to the place whence he ascended. It is farther observed that his ascension was visible. 'They looked steadfastly towards heaven as he went up.'b
From this account of Christ's ascension into heaven, we may make two or three remarks. As to the place whence he ascended, which was the mount of Olives, it may be observed that it was the same place to which he often retired, when he was at Jerusalem, to converse with God in secret. Here it was that he was in his agony,d in which he sweat great drops of blood, when he had a very terrible apprehension of the wrath of God which he was to bear as a punishment due to our sin, which was the most bitter part of his suffering; and therefore here he chose to begin his triumphs, as from hence he ascended into heaven. Hereby he seems, as it were, to give an intimation to his people, that they ought to set the glory which they shall be advanced to, against the sufferings of this present life, as a ground of encouragement and support to them. That place which, at one time, discovered nothing but what was matter of distress and anguish of spirit, at another time opened a glorious scene of joy and happiness. This mountain, which before had been a witness to that horror and amazement in which our Saviour was when in the lowest depths of his humbled state, now represents him as entering immediately into his glory. The place in the mountain whence he ascended, is not particularly mentioned, nor is there any mark of sanctity put on it. The Papists, indeed, with a great deal of superstition, pretend to discover the very spot of ground whence our Saviour ascended; and impose on those who will believe them, by showing them the print of his feet, which they suppose he left behind him upon the mountain; in which place they have erected a church, open in the top, to signify his ascension into heaven. But this is little better than a fabulous conjecture. It is an easy matter to find some hollow places in any mountain; but to say that any such small valley was made by our Saviour's feet, as a memorial of his ascending thence, is nothing but an imposition on the credulity of ignorant persons, without scripture warrant.
From what has been said concerning Christ's conversing with his disciples about the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, we may observe that the work he was engaged in, just before his ascension into heaven, was of such a nature that it is a very desirable thing for a person, when called out of the world to be found so doing. Our Saviour's whole conversation, while on earth, had, some way or other, a reference to the kingdom of heaven, and had a tendency to bring his people thither; and this was the last subject which he conversed with them about.
What is said concerning his blessing them when he was parted from them, accords with what is mentioned concerning Elijah, whose translation into heaven was a type of Christ's ascension thither, concerning whom it is said that he bade 'Elisha ask what he should do' or desire of God 'for him, before he was taken from him.' As the great design of our Saviour's coming into the world was to be a public blessing to his people; so the last thing he did for them was to bless them. He did this, either as a divine Person, by conferring blessedness upon them; or, as man, by praying for a blessing for them, whereby he gave them a specimen of the work in which he is engaged in heaven, ever living to make intercession for them. It is farther observed, that 'he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.' Sometimes when persons blessed others, they did it by laying their hands upon them. This Jacob did when he blessed the sons of Joseph,f as a sign of his faith, which was herein expressed, that blessings should descend from God upon them. When many persons were blessed at the same time, the person blessing, instead of laying on hands, sometimes lifted them up. Thus Aaron is said 'to have lifted up his hands towards the people, and blessed them.' So Christ lifted up his hands when he blessed his disciples, as an external sign of his lifting up his heart to God, while he prayed for the blessings which they stood in need of.
Having thus noticed Christ's ascension to heaven, I cannot wholly pass over one thing more mentioned in this Answer, namely, that he ascended as our Head. The headship of Christ is a circumstance often mentioned by the apostle Paul, who supposes him to stand in this relation to his people in every thing which he did for them as Mediator. As their Head he is considered as a public Person, the Representative of all his elect, who acted in their name, as well as for their interest.
The Necessity of Christ's Ascension
We are now led to consider that it was necessary that Christ should ascend into heaven after he had finished his work on earth; his ascension being an accomplishment of what was foretold concerning him. The psalmist mentions it in a very beautiful and magnificent way, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.' Elsewhere also it is said, 'Thou hast ascended on high.'i This passage the apostle Paul particularly applies to his ascension into heaven, as a prediction of the event. Christ's ascension was signified also by that eminent type of it which consisted in the high priest's entering into the holiest of all. This was equivalent to a prediction; and is spoken of by the apostle as shadowing forth the event.l Moreover, the ascension was foretold by our Saviour himself, whilst he was on earth, before and after his death. He tells his disciples, 'I go to prepare a place for you,' and, 'I ascend to my Father,'n &c.; so that there was really an appeal to his ascension into heaven, as well as to his resurrection, for the proof of his mission, and his relation to God as his Father. It was necessary, therefore, that he should ascend thither. His ascension was necessary also as it was a glory promised him as the consequence of his sufferings. 'It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, to make the Captain of our salvation perfect, through,' or after, his 'sufferings.' Again, it was necessary that he should ascend visibly into heaven, or that his apostles, who were to be witnesses of his ascension as well as of his resurrection, should see him go thither. The fact of the ascension was necessary to be believed, as well as the fact of the resurrection; and whatever they were to give their testimony to, must be the result of the fullest conviction. Hence, that they might convince the world that he was ascended into heaven, they required to be qualified to tell them that they saw him ascend thither. It may be objected that, as they might give their testimony that he rose again from the dead, though they did not see him rise, they might attest the truth of his ascension, though they had not seen him ascend into heaven. Now, it is true that their testimony that he was risen from the dead was sufficient, though they did not see him rise; for they saw him after he was risen, and had undeniable proofs that he was the same Person who suffered. But there is a circumstance attending his ascension into heaven which renders it necessary that they should see him ascend thither, though it was not necessary that they should see him rise from the dead, in order to their giving conviction to the world. He did not design that they should see him, after his ascension, till his second coming to receive them into heaven; and then their testimony will be at an end; so that it was necessary that they should see him ascend. The apostle Paul, it is true, at his conversion, saw him clothed with his heavenly glory in his exalted state; but this was a singular and extraordinary manifestation of himself, which he gave his other disciples no ground to expect. Hence, that they might want no qualification which was necessary in order to the fulfilling of their testimony, he ascended into heaven visibly, in the presence of all his apostles.
The Ends of Christ's Ascension
There are several great and valuable ends of Christ's ascension, mentioned in this Answer, some of which were glorious to himself, and all of them advantageous to his people.
1. He triumphed over his enemies. The apostle says, 'When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive.' This is an allusion to the solemn triumphs of princes, after having obtained some remarkable and complete victories. Now the empire of Satan was demolished, and his prisoners ransomed, and delivered from his power. Accordingly, the gospel, which was to be preached throughout the world, was a public 'proclamation of liberty to captives, and the opening of the prison doors to them that were bound.'q
2. Christ ascended into heaven, that he might receive gifts for men. The scripture seems to distinguish between Christ's purchasing and his receiving gifts for men. The former was done by his death; the latter was consequent on his ascension into heaven. There are two expressions used on this subject,—that of the psalmist, 'Thou hast received gifts for men,' and that of the apostle, 'He gave gifts unto men;'s that is, he received gifts for men, with a design to give them to them. This he did, after his ascension into heaven, when there was a very great effusion of the Spirit on the gospel church, and when she was furnished with a variety of ministers, such as 'apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.' This bestowal of gifts is a farther allusion to the custom of princes in their triumphs; on which occasion they extend their royal bounty to their subjects.
3. Christ ascended into heaven 'to prepare a place' for his people, as he told them he would do, before his death. Accordingly he is said to 'have entered there, as the Forerunner;'x and so he took possession of those heavenly mansions in their name, to which he designs, at last, to bring them.
4. He ascended into heaven, to raise up their affections thither, and to induce them to 'set their affection on things above.' That place is always most dear to us which is our home, our rest, where our best friends reside. Our thoughts are most conversant about it; and we are inclined to desire to be with them there. Hence, Christ's being in heaven, together with all his saints, is a motive to all believers to have their 'conversation in heaven;' which is the character given of them by the apostle.z
5. The last thing observed in this Answer is, that Christ designed to continue in heaven till his second coming at the end of the world. It is said, 'Whom the heaven must receive, until the times of restitution of all things.' But at that time, he will come again into this world, not to reside or fix his abode here, but to receive his people into heaven, where they shall be with him to all eternity; as it is said, 'So shall we ever be with the Lord.'b
Christ's Session at the Right Hand of God
Having thus spoken concerning Christ's exaltation in his ascension into heaven, we proceed to consider him as exalted in sitting at the right hand of God. This is a glory which was conferred upon him after his ascension into heaven. Sitting at the right hand of God is a figurative way of speaking, which the Holy Ghost condescends to make use of. It cannot be understood in any other sense; for God, being a Spirit, is without body, or bodily parts; and, being immense, 'the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him.' Hence, the expression denotes, not the situation of Christ's human nature in some particular part of heaven, but his being advanced to the highest honour there. 'The right hand,' amongst men, is used to signify some peculiar marks of honour conferred on those who are seated there. Thus when Bathsheba went in unto king Solomon, he caused a seat to be set for her, and she sat 'on his right hand.'d So when Christ is said 'to sit on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,' the language denotes the highest degree of honour conferred on him, as Mediator.
In particular, Christ's sitting there denotes the glorious rest which he enjoys, after having sustained many labours and afflictions in this world; a sweet repose, and perfect deliverance, from all those things which formerly tended to make him uneasy, while in his way to it. It implies also the honour and supreme authority which he is invested with. Others are represented as servants standing in the presence of God. Thus it is said, 'Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.' But Christ is distinguished from them all by this mark of regal dignity, that he 'sits and rules upon his throne.'g The apostle says, concerning him, that, having 'purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;' intimating, that he was 'made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.' This he farther proves when he says, 'To which of the angels said he, at any time, Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool?'i—Again, Christ's sitting at the right hand of God signifies the perpetuity, or eternal duration of his mediatorial glory and authority; for 'to sit,' in scripture, often signifies, to abide. But this was formerly considered, when we spake concerning the eternity of Christ's kingdom. There are other things, mentioned in this Answer, which are the fruits and effects of Christ's sitting at the right hand of God, namely, the exercise of his power over all things, in heaven and earth; and, as the consequence of this, his gathering and defending his church, subduing their enemies, and furnishing his ministers with gifts and graces. But these will be more particularly insisted on, under a following Answer, when we shall be led to speak concerning the special privileges of the visible church.m What we are next to consider is, that Christ, as sitting at the right hand of God, makes intercession for his people.
From A Body of Divinity by Thomas Ridgley