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Catechism Class. Lord’s Day 18B, Q.47-48.   

29/03/2022

Catechism Class. Lord’s Day 18B, Q.47-48.  

The Ascension of Christ

In this lesson, we shall begin to tease out what the ascension teaches us about who Jesus is, and where he is, right now, and we shall do so, with the help of Q.47 and 48 in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Listen to the PODCAST EPISODE HERE

Where is Jesus now?

The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven may prompt some to ask, “Where is Jesus, right now?  Our catechist deals with this important question in Q47 Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as he has promised us? A. Christ is true man and true God. With respect to his human nature he is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us. 

You can understand why our instructor puts this question to us, for Jesus promised his disciples that he would never leave them, never forsake them, that he would actually stay with them, not just for a few short years, but right until this present age ends.  Did he mislead them, for he certainly did leave them, that day when he ascended onto heaven.  Read Matthew 28:20   And yet, just before that Jesus had said, Matthew 26:11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. So, is Jesus not with us to the end of the world?

Our instructor answers this important question, by referring agin to the doctrine of the Two Natures in One Person – in Christ.  We learned, in our earlier lessons, that Jesus when on this earth was fully God and fully man, at the same time, and those two natures are indivisible.  He is both God and Man.  As man he has a physical body, that same body that was crucified at Calvary and died on the cross, and rose again, incorruptible, and it was that physical person of Christ that left this world at the ascension.  Christ’s human nature is no longer on this earth.  But what of his divine nature?  He is God, and God is everywhere!   

Remember what we learned about the Trinity?  God is three persons in One God.  All of those persons,, Father, Son and Holy Sprit are co-equal and co-eternal in the Godhead.  They ARE One God.  So, when Jesus told his disciples that he would leave them, he told them also that he would always be with them – through the presence and work of God the Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer.  READ: John 14:16-19 

Let’s summarise then: Jesus left us, and went to heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the father, and ever lives to intercede for us, but he is simultaneously present with us, through the presence of God the Holy Spirit.  Now, let’s look at a few common difficulties and misunderstandings:-

  1. Evangelical invitations to ‘ask Jesus to come into your heart.’  It’s easy, especially when talking to Children, to simplify the Gospel so much that we actually neutralise it.  How many times have you heart an invitation where people, especially young people are told to “invite Jesus into your heart?”  Physically, Jesus is in glory.  We know where he is.  
    1. The danger is twofold.  It demeans the person of Christ.  To consider that ‘Jesus is in my heart’ is to reduce Him to some kind of ghostly, disembodied subjective personal experience, rather than the risen, ascended, glorified saviour.  
    2. The second danger is that it displaces the true gospel.  The message of ‘let `Jesus into your heart’ is a far cry from the true message, of ‘repent, and believe in Christ.’   

I have heard some sincere evangelical defending this invitation to ‘let Jesus Come into your heart’ by quoting Ephesians 3:17, That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…  But it is a dreadful example of proof texting, taking one single verse and building a doctrine upon it, without reference to its context.  In fact the preceding verse sets the context and explains HOW Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, Ephesians 3:16-17  It is the HOLY SPIRIT who indwells ‘the inner man, not the physical Christ!  Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Pietistic understandings of the presence of Christ.  “I could really feel the presence of Jesus in that meeting.’  The physical voice of Jesus, his physical presence, walking and talking with me in a garden – it is simply NOT TRUE.  As we have learned – the physical, human body of Jesus is in heaven, right now, not on this earth, in a garden or anywhere else.  READ: John 17:11  
  2. Lutheran understandings of the ubiquity of Christ.  Lutherans believe in the real physical presence of Christ in the bread and wine at a communion service.  Don’t misunderstand this, – they don’t believe in transubstantiation, like the Catholics, where the bread and wine are mysteriously changed in the flesh and blood of Jesus when the priest utters certain words.  Lutherans take the words “This is my body” and “This is my blood” literally – believing that since the ascension, Christ’s BODILY presence is everywhere, therefore he must be physically present in the communion elements.  The Heidelberg Catechism, written to reconcile differences between Lutherans and Calvinists in the Palatinate, is unequivocal on this matter, Jesus is not physically present in this world.  Not in the bread and not in the wine, and the elements of the sacrament remain no more than bread and wine for the resurrected body of Christ cannot be in two places at once.  When the women came to the empty tomb the angel told them, “He is not here, for he is risen!”   Jesus is physically in heaven, and present on earth through the Holy Spirit.  READ: John 16:28 

There is another aspect to this that we must consider.  Jesus’ ascension, his bodily ascension into heaven, is a temporary absence.  There is great significance in the words of the angel in Acts 1.  In like manner also he shall return… He will physically and bodily return, at the very last day of this age.  That’s part of the gospel message of the apostles.  READ: Acts 3:19-21 

How does this affect the Doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ.

If Jesus is physically absent from this world, but spiritually present, does this not harm our doctrine of the indivisibility of the two natures of Christ?  Our instructor tackles this head on in Q48. But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if his human nature is not present wherever his divinity is? A. Not at all, for his divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which he has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.  Christ’s humanity is in glory, but his divine nature is everywhere, here on earth, within the believer, as the Holy Spirit does his indwelling work, Jeremiah 23:23-24   and in heaven, in the risen ascended and glorified Jesus!  The unity of the Trinity! Colossians 2:9  

So, as you can see, the doctrine of the ascension is hugely important, doctrinally.  Practically too, and we shall explore its application for the believer in our next lesson.

© Bob McEvoy April 2022

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