by Louis Berkhof
A. GENERAL REMARKS ON THE STATE OF EXALTATION.
1. THE SUBJECT AND NATURE OF THE EXALTATION. As already indicated in the preceding, there is a difference of opinion between Lutheran and Reformed theology on the subject of the states of Christ. The former deny that the Logos, and assert that the human nature of Christ, is the subject of the states of humiliation and exaltation. Hence they exclude the incarnation from the humiliation of Christ, and maintain that the state of humiliation consists in this, “that Christ for a time renounced (truly and really, yet freely) the plenary exercise of the divine majesty, which His human nature had acquired in the personal union, and, as a lowly man, endured what was far beneath the divine majesty (that He might suffer and die for the love of the world).”[Baier, quoted by Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, p. 383.] They hold that the state of exaltation became manifest first of all to the lower world in the descent into hades, and further to this world in the resurrection and ascension, reaching its completion in the session at the right hand of God. The exaltation, then, consists in this that the human nature assumed the plenary exercise of the divine attributes that were communicated to it at the incarnation, but were used only occasionally or secretly. Reformed theology, on the other hand, regards the person of the Mediator, that is, the God-man, as the subject of the exaltation, but stresses the fact that it was, of course, the human nature in which the exaltation took place. The divine nature is not capable of humiliation or exaltation. In the exaltation the God-man, Jesus Christ, (a) passed from under the law in its federal and penal aspects, and consequently from under the burden of the law as the condition of the covenant of works, and from under the curse of the law; (b) exchanged the penal for the righteous relation to the law, and as Mediator entered into possession of the blessings of salvation which He merited for sinners; and (c) was crowned with a corresponding honor and glory. It had to appear also in His condition that the curse of sin was lifted. His exaltation was also His glorification.
2. THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST BOTH SCRIPTURAL AND REASONABLE. There is abundant Scriptural proof for the exaltation of Christ. The gospel story clearly shows us that the humiliation of Christ was followed by His exaltation. The classical passage to prove the latter is found in Phil. 2:9-11: “Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” But in addition to this there are several others, such as Mark 16:19; Luke 24:26; John 7:39; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom. 8:17,34; Eph. 1:20; 4:10; I Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:3; 2:9; 10:12. There is a close connection between the two states. The state of exaltation must be regarded as the judicial result of the state of humiliation. In His capacity as Mediator Christ met the demands of the law in its federal and penal aspects, paying the penalty of sin and meriting everlasting life. Therefore His justification had to follow and He had to be put in possession of the reward. Since He was a public person and accomplished His work publicly, justice required that the exaltation should also be a public matter. The exaltation of Christ has a threefold significance. Each one of the stages was a virtual declaration of God that Christ met the demands of the law, and was therefore entitled to His reward. The first two stages also had exemplary significance, since they symbolized what will take place in the life of believers. And, finally, all four stages were destined to be instrumental in the perfect glorification of believers.
3. THE STATE OF EXALTATION IN MODERN LIBERAL THEOLOGY. Modern liberal theology, of course, knows of no state of exaltation in the life of Christ. Not only has it discarded the legal idea of the states of Christ altogether, but it has also ruled out all the supernatural in the life of the Saviour. Rauschenbusch closes his Theology for the Social Gospel with a discussion of the death of Christ. Macintosh says that “the difficulties in the way of accepting the ordinary traditional notion of the ‘resurrection’ of Jesus, as a reanimation of the dead body, its miraculous transformation and final ascension to ‘heaven,’ are, to the scientific habit of thought, practically insuperable. . . . An undischarged burden of proof still rests upon those who maintain that it (the body of Christ) did not suffer disintegration, like the bodies of all others who have died.”[Theology as an Empirical Science, pp. 77, 78.] Beckwith admits that the Bible, and particularly Paul, speaks of the exaltation of Christ, but says: “If we translate the Apostle’s notion of exaltation into its modern equivalent, we shall find him saying that Christ is superior to all the forces of the universe and to all known orders of rational beings, even the highest, saving only the Father.”[Realities of Christian Theology, p. 138.] And George Burman Foster frankly declares: “According to orthodoxy, the Son of God laid aside his divine glory and then took it up again; he alienated from himself certain divine qualities, and then integrated them again. What is meant is at bottom good, namely, that the great and merciful God serves us, and is not too good for our daily human food. Perhaps the form of the orthodox doctrine was necessary when the doctrine was excogitated, but that terrible being, the modern man, cannot do anything with it.”[Christianity in Its Modern Expression, p. 144.]
B. THE STAGES OF THE STATE OF EXALTATION.
Reformed theology distinguishes four stages in the exaltation of Christ.
1. THE RESURRECTION.
a. The nature of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ did not consist in the mere fact that He came to life again, and that body and soul were re-united. If this were all that it involved, He could not be called “the first-fruits of them that slept,” I Cor. 15:20, nor “the firstborn of the dead,” Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5, since others were restored to life before Him. It consisted rather in this that in Him human nature, both body and soul, was restored to its pristine strength and perfection and even raised to a higher level, while body and soul were re-united in a living organism. From the analogy of the change which, according to Scripture, takes place in the body of believers in the general resurrection, we may gather something as to the transformation that must have occurred in Christ. Paul tells us in I Cor. 15:42-44 that the future body of believers will be incorruptible, that is, incapable of decay; glorious, which means resplendent with heavenly brightness; powerful, that is, instinct with energy and perhaps with new faculties; and spiritual, which does not mean immaterial or ethereal, but adapted to the spirit, a perfect instrument of the spirit. From the Gospel story we learn that the body of Jesus had undergone a remarkable change, so that He was not easily recognized and could suddenly appear and disappear in a surprising manner, Luke 24:31,36; John 20:13,19; 21:7; but that it was nevertheless a material and very real body, Luke 24:39. This does not conflict with I Cor. 15:50, for “flesh and blood” is a description of human nature in its present material, mortal, and corruptible state. But the change that takes place in believers is not only bodily but also spiritual. Similarly, there was not only a physical but also a psychical change in Christ. We cannot say that any religious or ethical change took place in Him; but He was endowed with new qualities perfectly adjusted to His future heavenly environment. Through the resurrection He became the life-giving Spirit, I Cor. 15:45. The resurrection of Christ had a threefold significance: (1) It constituted a declaration of the Father that the last enemy had been vanquished, the penalty paid, and the condition on which life was promised, met. (2) It symbolized what was destined to happen to the members of Christ’s mystical body in their justification, spiritual birth, and future blessed resurrection, Rom. 6:4,5,9; 8:11; I Cor. 6:14; 15:20-22; II Cor. 4:10,11,14; Col. 2:12; I Thess. 4:14. (3) It is also connected instrumentally with their justification, regeneration, and final resurrection, Rom. 4:25; 5:10; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:10; I Pet. 1:3. p> <p>b. The Author of the resurrection. In distinction from others who were raised from the dead, Christ arose through His own power. He spoke of Himself as the resurrection and the life, John 11:25, declared that He had the power to lay down His life, and to take it up again, John 10:18, and even predicted that He would rebuild the temple of His body, John 2:19-21. But the resurrection was not a work of Christ alone; it is frequently ascribed to the power of God in general, Acts 2:24,32; 3:26; 5:30; I Cor. 6:14; Eph. 1:20, or, more particularly, to the Father, Rom. 6:4; Gal. 1:1; I Pet. 1:3. And if the resurrection of Christ can be called a work of God, then it follows that the Holy Spirit was also operative in it, for all the opera ad extra are works of the triune God. Moreover, Rom. 8:11 also implies this.
c. Objection to the doctrine of the resurrection. One great objection is urged against the doctrine of a physical resurrection, namely, that after death the body disintegrates, and the various particles of which it is composed enter into the composition of other bodies, vegetable, animal, and human. Hence it is impossible to restore these particles to all the bodies of which, in the course of time, they formed a part. Macintosh asks, “What became of the atoms of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and other elements which composed the earthly body of Jesus?”[Theology as an Empirical Science, p. 77.] Now we admit that the resurrection defies explanation. It is a miracle. But at the same time we should bear in mind that the identity of a resurrection body with the body that descended into the grave does not require that it be composed of exactly the same particles. The composition of our bodies changes right along, and yet they retain their identity. Paul in I Cor. 15 maintains the essential identity of the body that descends into the grave with that which is raised up, but also declares emphatically that the form changes. That which man sows in the earth passes through a process of death, and is then quickened; but in form the grain which he puts into the ground is not the same as that which he reaps in due time. God gives to each seed a body of its own. So it is also in the resurrection of the dead. It may be that there is some nucleus, some germ, that constitutes the essence of the body and preserves its identity. The argument of the apostle in I Cor. 15:35-38 seems to imply something of the kind.[Cf. Kuyper, E Voto II, pp. 248 ff.; Milligan, The Resurrection of the Dead, pp. 117 ff.] It should be borne in mind that the real, the fundamental objection to the resurrection, is its supernatural character. It is not lack of evidence, but the fundamental tenet that miracles cannot happen, that stands in the way of its acceptance. Even liberal scholars admit that no fact is better attested than the resurrection of Christ — though others, of course, deny this. But this makes little difference to the modern scholar. Says Dr. Rashdall: “Were the testimony fifty times stronger than it is, any hypothesis would be more possible than that.” Yet at the present time many eminent scientists frankly declare that they are not in a position to say that miracles cannot happen.
d. Attempts to explain away the fact of the resurrection. In their denial the anti-supernaturalists always run up against the story of the resurrection in the Gospels. The story of the empty tomb and of the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection present a challenge to them, and they accept the challenge and attempt to explain these without accepting the fact of the resurrection. The following attempts are some of the most important.
(1) The falsehood theory. This is to the effect that the disciples practiced deliberate deception by stealing the body from the grave and then declaring that the Lord had risen. The soldiers who watched the grave were instructed to circulate that story, and Celsus already urged it in explanation of the empty tomb. This theory, of course, impugns the veracity of the early witnesses, the apostles, the women, the five hundred brethren, and others. But it is extremely unlikely that the faint-hearted disciples would have had the courage to palm off such a falsehood upon a hostile world. It is impossible to believe that they would have persisted in suffering for such a bare falsehood. Moreover, only the facts of the resurrection can explain the indomitable courage and power which they reveal in witnessing to the resurrection of Christ. These considerations soon led to the abandonment of this view.
(2) The swoon theory. According to this theory, Jesus did not really die, but merely fainted, while it was thought that He had actually died. But this naturally raises several questions that are not easy to answer. How can it be explained that so many people were deceived, and that the spear thrust did not kill Jesus? How could Jesus in His exhausted condition roll away the stone from the grave and then walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back. How is it that the disciples did not treat Him as a sick person, but saw in Him the powerful Prince of Life? And what became of Jesus after that? With the resurrection the ascension is naturally ruled out also. Did He then return to some unknown place and live in secret the rest of His life? This theory is burdened with so many improbabilities that even Strauss ridiculed it.
(3) The vision theory. This was presented in two forms. (a) Some speak of purely subjective visions. In their excited state of mind the disciples dwelt so much on the Saviour and on the possibility of His return to them, that at last they actually thought they saw Him. The spark was applied by the nervous and excitable Mary Magdalene, and soon the flame was kindled and spread. This has been the favorable theory for a long time, but it too is freighted with difficulties. How could such visions arise, seeing that the disciples did not expect the resurrection? How could they appear while the disciples were about their ordinary business and not given to prayer or meditation? Could the rapture or ecstacy required for the creation of subjective visions have started as early as the third day? Would not the disciples in such visions have seen Jesus, either as surrounded with a halo of heavenly glory, or just as they had known Him and eager to renew fellowship with them? Do subjective visions ever present themselves to several persons simultaneously? How can we account for the visionary conversations? (b) In view of the extreme weakness of this theory some scholars presented a different version of it. They claim that the disciples saw real objective visions, miraculously sent by God, to persuade them to go on with the preaching of the gospel. This does really avoid some of the difficulties suggested, but encounters others. It admits the supernatural; and if this is necessary, why not grant the resurrection, which certainly explains all the facts? Moreover, this theory asks us to believe that these divinely sent visions were such as to mislead the apostles. Does God seek to work His ends by deception?
(4) Mythical theories. A new mythical school has come into existence, which discards, or at least dispenses with, theories of vision and apparition, and seeks to account for the resurrection legend by the help of conceptions imported into Judaism from Babylonia and other oriental countries. This school claims not only that the mythology of the ancient oriental religions contains analogies of the resurrection story, but that this story was actually derived from pagan myths. This theory has been worked out in several forms, but is equally baseless in all its forms. It is characterized by great arbitrariness in bolstering up a connection of the gospel story with heathen myths, and has not succeeded in linking them together. Moreover, it reveals an extreme disregard of the facts as they are found in Scripture.
e. The doctrinal bearing of the resurrection. The question arises, Does it make any difference, whether we believe in the physical resurrection of Christ, or merely in an ideal resurrection? For modern liberal theology the resurrection of Jesus, except in the sense of a spiritual survival, has no real importance for Christian faith. Belief in the bodily resurrection is not essential, but can very well be dropped without affecting the Christian religion. Barth and Brunner are of a different opinion. They do believe in the historical fact of the resurrection, but maintain that as such it is merely a matter of history, with which the historian may deal to the best of his ability, and not as a matter of faith. The important element is that in the resurrection the divine breaks into the course of history, that in it the incognito of Jesus is removed and God reveals Himself. The historian cannot describe it, but the believer accepts it by faith.
Belief in the resurrection certainly has doctrinal bearings. We cannot deny the physical resurrection of Christ without impugning the veracity of the writers of Scripture, since they certainly represent it as a fact. This means that it affects our belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture. Moreover the resurrection of Christ is represented as having evidential value. It was the culminating proof that Christ was a teacher sent from God (the sign of Jonah), and that He was the very Son of God, Rom. 1:4. It was also the supreme attestation of the fact of immortality. What is still more important, the resurrection enters as a constitutive element into the very essence of the work of redemption, and therefore of the gospel. It is one of the great foundation stones of the Church of God. The atoning work of Christ, if it was to be effective at all, had to terminate, not in death, but in life. Furthermore, it was the Father’s seal on the completed work of Christ, the public declaration of its acceptance. In it Christ passed from under the law. Finally, it was His entrance on a new life as the risen and exalted Head of the Church and the universal Lord. This enabled Him to apply the fruits of His redemptive work.
2. THE ASCENSION.
a. The ascension of Christ does not stand out as boldly on the pages of the Bible as the resurrection does. This is probably due to the fact that the latter rather than the former was the real turning point in the life of Jesus. In a certain sense the ascension may be called the necessary complement and completion of the resurrection. Christ’s transition to the higher life of glory, begun in the resurrection, was perfected in the ascension. This does not mean that the ascension was devoid of independent significance. But though the Scripture proof for the ascension is not as abundant as that for the resurrection, it is quite sufficient. Luke gives a double account of it, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:6-11. Mark refers to it in 16:19, but this passage is contested. Jesus spoke of it time and again before His death, John 6:62; 14:2,12; 16:5,10,17,28; 17:5; 20:17. Paul refers to it repeatedly, Eph. 1:20; 4:8-10; I Tim. 3:16; and the Epistle to the Hebrews calls attention to its significance, 1:3; 4:14; 9:24.
b. The nature of the ascension. The ascension may be described as the visible ascent of the person of the Mediator from earth to heaven, according to His human nature. It was a local transition, a going from place to place. This implies, of course, that heaven is a place as well as earth. But the ascension of Jesus was not merely a transition from one place to another; it also included a further change in the human nature of Christ. That nature now passed into the fulness of heavenly glory and was perfectly adapted to the life of heaven. Some Christian scholars of recent date consider heaven to be a condition rather than a place, and therefore do not conceive of the ascension locally.[Cf. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, pp. 24 ff; Swete, The Ascended Christ, pp. 8 f.; Gore, The Reconstruction of Belief, pp. 272 f.] They will admit that there was a momentary lifting up of Christ in the sight of the Eleven, but regard this only as a symbol of the lifting up of our humanity to a spiritual order far above our present life. The local conception, however, is favored by the following considerations: (1) Heaven is represented in Scripture as the dwelling place of created beings (angels, saints, the human nature of Christ). These are all in some way related to space; only God is above all spatial relations. Of course, the laws that apply in heavenly space may differ from those that apply in earthly space. (2) Heaven and earth are repeatedly placed in juxtaposition in Scripture. From this it would seem to follow that, if the one is a place, the other must be a place also. It would be absurd to put a place and a condition in juxtaposition in that way. (3) The Bible teaches us to think of heaven as a place. Several passages direct our thought upward to heaven and downward to hell, Deut. 30:12; Jos. 2:11; Ps. 139:8; Rom. 10:6,7. This would have no meaning if the two were not to be regarded as local in some sense of the word. (4) The Saviour’s entrance into heaven is pictured as an ascent. The disciples see Jesus ascending until a cloud intercepts Him and hides Him from their sight. The same local coloring is present to the mind of the writer of Hebrews in 4:14.
c. The Lutheran conception of the ascension. The Lutheran conception of the ascension differs from that of the Reformed. They regard it, not as a local transition, but as a change of condition, whereby the human nature of Christ passed into the full enjoyment and exercise of the divine perfections, communicated to it at the incarnation, and thus became permanently omnipresent. In connection with the idea that Christ began His session at the right hand of God at the ascension, they maintain that this right hand (which is merely a symbol of power) is everywhere. Lutherans, however, do not all think alike on the subject of the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature. Some deny it altogether, and others believe that, while the ascension resulted in the ubiquity of Christ, it also included a local movement, whereby Christ withdrew His visible presence from the earth.
d. The doctrinal significance of the ascension. Barth says that the question may well be asked why the ascension should have a place among the main articles of the Christian faith, seeing that it is mentioned less frequently and emphatically than the resurrection, and where it is mentioned appears only as a natural transition from the resurrection to the session at God’s right hand. It is exactly in this transition that he finds the real significance of the ascension. Hence he does not care to stress the ascension as a visible exaltation, a “vertical elevation in space” before the eyes of the disciples, since that is evidently not the way to the session at the right hand of God, which is no place. Just as the historical facts of the virgin birth and of the resurrection are regarded by him merely as signs of a revelation of Christ, so too the ascension as a sign and wonder is merely a “pointer to the revelation, that occurred in the resurrection, of Jesus Christ as the bearer of all power in heaven and earth.”[Credo, p. 113.]
It may be said that the ascension had a threefold significance. (1) It clearly embodied the declaration that the sacrifice of Christ was a sacrifice to God, which as such had to be presented to Him in the inner sanctuary; that the Father regarded the Mediatorial work of Christ as sufficient and therefore admitted Him to the heavenly glory; and that the Kingdom of the Mediator was not a kingdom of the Jews, but a universal kingdom. (2) It was also exemplary in that it was prophetic of the ascension of all believers, who are already set with Christ in heavenly places, Eph. 2:6, and are destined to be with Him forever, John 17:24; and also in that it revealed the initial restoration of the original kingship of man, Heb. 2:7,9. (3) Finally, it was also instrumental in preparing a place for those who are in Christ. The Lord Himself points to the necessity of going to the Father, in order to prepare a place for His disciples, John 14:2,3.
3. THE SESSION AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.
a. Scriptural proof for the session. When Christ stood before the high priest He predicted that He would sit at the right hand of power, Matt. 26:64. Peter makes mention of it in his sermons, Acts 2:33-36; 5:31. In both of these passages the dative tei dexiai may have to be taken in its more usual instrumental sense, though in the first of the two the quotation in verse 34 favors the local interpretation. It is also referred to in Eph. 1:20-22; Heb. 10:12; I Pet. 3:22; Rev. 3:21; 22:1. Besides these passages there are several that speak of Christ’s reigning as King, Rom. 14:9; I Cor. 15:24-28; Heb. 2:7,8.
b. The significance of the session. Naturally, the expression “right hand of God” is anthropomorphic and cannot be taken literally. The expression, as used in this connection, is derived from Ps. 110:1, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” To be seated at the right hand of the king might be merely a mark of honour, I Kings 2:19, but might also denote participation in government, and consequently in honour and glory. In the case of Christ it was undoubtedly an indication of the fact that the Mediator received the reigns of government over the Church and over the universe, and is made to share in the corresponding glory. This does not mean that Christ was not King of Zion up to this time, but that He is now publicly inaugurated as Godman, and as such receives the government of the Church and of heaven and earth, and enters solemnly upon the actual administration of the power committed to Him. This is entirely in agreement with what Calvin says, namely, that the statement that Christ was seated at the right hand of God is equivalent to saying “that He was installed in the government of heaven and earth, and formally admitted to possession of the administration committed to Him, and not only admitted for once, but to continue until He descend to judgment.”[Inst., Bk. II. XVI. 15.] It is perfectly evident that it would be a mistake to infer from the fact that the Bible speaks of Christ’s “sitting” at the right hand of God, that the life to which the risen Lord ascended is a life of rest. It is and continues to be a life of constant activity. The statements of Scripture vary. Christ is not only represented as sitting at the right hand of God, but also simply as being at His right hand, Rom. 8:34; I Pet. 3:22, or as standing there, Acts 7:56, and even as walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. And it would be equally wrong to conclude from the emphasis on the royal dignity and government of Christ, naturally suggested by the idea of His sitting at the right hand of God, that the work in which He is engaged during His heavenly session is exclusively governmental, and therefore neither prophetical nor priestly.
c. The work of Christ during His session. It deserves emphasis that Christ, while He is seated at the right hand of God, is not merely a passive recipient of divine dominion and power, majesty and glory, but is actively engaged in the continuation of His mediatorial work.
(1) Since the Bible most frequently connects the session with the kingly rule of Christ, it is natural to think first of all of His work as King. He rules and protects His Church by His Spirit, and also governs it through His appointed officers. He has all the forces of heaven under His command: the angels are His messengers, always ready to convey His blessings to the saints, and to guard them against surrounding dangers. He exercises authority over the forces of nature, and over all the powers that are hostile to the Kingdom of God; and will so continue to reign until He has subjected the last enemy.
(2) However, His work is not limited to His kingly rule. He is priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” He did not mean to say that His priestly work was at an end, but only that His active suffering had reached its termination. The Bible also connects priestly work with Christ’s session at the right hand of God, Zech. 6:13; Heb. 4:14; 7:24,25; 8:1-6; 9:11-15,24-26; 10:19-22; I John 2:2. Christ is continually presenting His completed sacrifice to the Father as the sufficient basis for the bestowal of the pardoning grace of God. He is constantly applying His sacrificial work, and making it effective in the justification and sanctification of sinners. Moreover, He is ever making intercession for those that are His, pleading for their acceptance on the basis of His completed sacrifice, and for their safe-keeping in the world, and making their prayers and services acceptable to God. The Lutherans stress the fact that the intercession of Christ is vocalis et realis, while the Reformed emphasize the fact that it consists primarily in the presence of Christ in man’s nature with the Father, and that the prayers are to be considered as the presentation of legitimate claims rather than as supplications.
(3) Christ also continues His prophetical work through the Holy Spirit. Before He parted with His disciples He promised them the Holy Spirit, to aid their memories, teach them new truths, guide them in all the truth, and enrich them out of the fulness of Christ, John 14:26; 16:7-15. The promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost; and from that day on Christ, through the Spirit, was active as our great Prophet in various ways: in the inspiration of Scripture; in and through the preaching of the apostles and of the ministers of the Word; in the guidance of the Church, making it the foundation and pillar of the truth; and in making the truth effective in the hearts and lives of believers.
4. THE PHYSICAL RETURN OF CHRIST.
a. The return as a stage in the exaltation. The return of Christ is sometimes omitted from the stages of His exaltation, as if the session at the right hand of God were the culminating point. But this is not correct. The highest point is not reached until He who suffered at the hands of man, returns in the capacity of Judge. He himself pointed to this as a special mediatorial prerogative, John 5:22,27, and so did the apostles, Acts 10:42; 17:31. Besides the passages that speak of Christ’s appointment as Judge, there are several that refer to His judicial activity, Matt. 19:28; 25:31-34; Luke 3:17; Rom. 2:16; 14:9; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:1; Jas. 5:9.
b. Scriptural terms for the return. Several terms are used to designate the future coming of Jesus Christ. The term “parousia” is the most common of these. It means in the first place simply “presence,” but also serves to designate a coming preceding a presence. The latter is the common meaning of the term, when it is used in connection with the return of Jesus Christ, Matt. 24:3, 27,37,39; I Cor. 15:23; I Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; II Thess. 2:1; Jas. 5; 7,8; II Pet. 3:4. A second term is “apocalupsis,” which stresses the fact that the return will be a revealing of Jesus Christ. It points to the uncovering of something that was previously hidden from view, in this case, of the concealed glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, II Thess. 1:7; I Pet. 1:7,13; 4:13. A third term is “epiphaneia,” the glorious appearing of the Lord. The implication is that what is uncovered is something glorious, II Thess. 2:8; I Tim. 6:14; II Tim. 4:1-8; Tit. 2:13.
c. The manner of Christ’s return. Some place the return of Christ in the past, claiming that the promise of His coming again was realized when He returned in the Holy Spirit. They refer to the promise in John 14-16, and interpret the word “parousia” as meaning simply “presence.”[Warren. The Parousia; J. M. Campbell, The Second Coming of Christ.] Now it may be said that, in a sense, Christ did return in the Holy Spirit, and as such is now present in the Church. But this was a spiritual return, while the Bible teaches us to look for a physical and visible return of Christ, Acts. 1:11. Even after Pentecost we are taught to look forward to the coming of Christ, I Cor. 1:7; 4:5; 11:26; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; I Thess. 4:15-17; II Thess. 1:7-10; Tit. 2:13; Rev. 1:7.
d. The purpose of His return. The second coming of Jesus Christ will be for the purpose of judging the world and perfecting the salvation of His people. Men and angels, the living and the dead, will appear before Him to be judged according to the record which was kept of them, Matt. 24:30,31; 25:31,32. It will be a coming with terrible judgments upon the wicked, but also with blessings of eternal glory for the saints, Matt. 25:33-46. While He will sentence the wicked to everlasting punishment, He will publicly justify His own and lead them into the perfect joy of His eternal Kingdom. This will signalize the completed victory of Jesus Christ.
e. Objection to the doctrine of the return. The great objection to the doctrine of the return of Jesus Christ is of a piece with the objection to the doctrine of the physical resurrection of Christ. If there can be no physical resurrection and ascension, there can be no physical return from heaven. Both are equally impossible, and the Biblical teachings respecting them are merely crude representations of an unscientific age. Jesus evidently shared the carnal views of His day, and these colored His prophetic delineations of the future. The only return of which we can speak and for which we can hope is a return in power, in the establishment of an ethical kingdom on earth.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: What historical proofs have we for the resurrection of Christ? Does I Cor. 15:8 prove that the appearances were subjective visions? What myths are supposed to have entered into the shaping of the story of the resurrection? What light do the following passages shed on the post-resurrection condition of Jesus? I Cor. 6:17; II Cor. 3:17, 18; I Tim. 3:16; Rom. 1:3, 4; Heb. 9:14; I Pet. 3:18. What is the difference between a soma psychicon, a soma pneumatikon, and a soma tes sarkos? Are “spirit” and “spiritual” antithetical to “body” and “bodily” in the New Testament? Does science really make it impossible to think of heaven as a place? Is it true that in Scripture the words “heaven” and “heavenly” indicate a state rather than a place? Does modern theology think of heaven only as a condition to be entered upon after death? Does its position really find support in such a passage as Eph. 2:6? Does the Old Testament contain any references to the ascension and the session at the right hand of God? What serious objections are there to the Lutheran doctrine of the ubiquity of the human nature of Christ? Does the Bible teach us to regard the return of Christ as imminent?
LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, pp. 469-504; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Christo II, pp. 109-114; E Voto I, pp. 469-493; II, pp. 5-69; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit III, pp. 1-100; Synopsis Purioris Theol., pp. 272-281; Turretin, Opera, Locus XIII, Q. XVII-XIX; Hodge, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 626-638; Schmid, Doct. Theol. of the Ev. Luth. Church, pp. 385, 386, 406-413; Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 91-95; Milligan, The Resurrection of our Lord; Orr, The Resurrection of Jesus; Gore, The Reconstruction of Belief, pp. 226-273; Swete, The Ascended Christ; Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord; Tait, The Heavenly Session of Our Lord; A. M. Berkhoff, De Wederkomst van Christus; Brown, The Second Advent; Snowden, The Coming of the Lord; Brunner, The Mediator, pp. 561-590; Barth, Credo, pp. 95-126.
From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof