On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
There are four key concepts in this section of the Apostles’ Creed: bodily resurrection, bodily ascension, present rule, and coming judgment.
The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of our faith – an illustration used by Derek Vreeland (primal credo). “A linchpin is a small locking metal pin that is inserted crosswise through a metal shaft to hold things together. …Without the resurrection in our creed, our faith dwindles into nothing more than a failed human experiment with morality and religion.” (p. 68) (Image credit) J.I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed), Ben Myers (The Apostles’ Creed) and Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) agree with Vreeland, although expressing it somewhat differently. Without the resurrection Christian faith is an empty religion.
1 Corinthians 15:12-35 is a key passage here. J.I. Packer starts by quoting Paul “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (v. 17) In a similar vein Michael Bird points out that “the resurrection is the vehicle of our salvation.” (p. 156) While the cross is important, it is the resurrection that gives victory over death and sin. In addition to 1 Cor. 15:17 Bird points to Romans 4:25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” And 1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
All of this is to say that God’s justice, forgiveness, new birth, and life are given to us in the crucified and risen Jesus. A dead Jesus can be a teacher or a martyr, but he cannot be our Savior. We apprehend life only as it is given to us in the life of the risen Jesus. … Resurrection, then, is the power of God for salvation, a salvation that forgives and renews his people. (pp. 156-157)
Packer goes on to point out that our hope for resurrection is contingent on the resurrection of Jesus. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19) This is the breaking in of God’s new creation. The resurrection “brings [the believer] into the reality of resurrection life now.” (p. 92) It shapes our approach to life, in fellowship with Christians, standing firm in the faith, acting in accord with the coming kingdom of God. Romans 6 connects salvation through the resurrection to Christian obedience – we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. Bird concludes: “In the resurrection of Jesus, death works backward, and God’s kingdom moves forward, propelling us with it toward the new heaven and new earth that lie ever before us.” (p. 159)
The resurrection is not the end of the story – if this is the linchpin …
The bodily ascension of Jesus is anchor of our faith. Mike Bird points us to Hebrews 6:19-20 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Ben Myers focuses specifically on the bodily nature of the resurrection. The early church, beset by Gnostic heresies denigrating the flesh and spiritualizing both the resurrection and the ascension as a separation of the true Christ from the inferior material body, focused specifically on the resurrection and ascension of Jesus in the flesh. (Image credit)
It was against such teaching that the early Christians proclaimed a gospel of Christ’s bodily incarnation, bodily suffering, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the ancient church was not about spiritual escape but about the redemption and transfiguration of human life in its fullness, including the life of the body. As Irenaeus said it in the second century, the Son of God “did not reject human nature or exalt himself above it;” but united himself with our nature in order to unite us to God. (p. 88)
Michael Bird also elaborates on the bodily resurrection of Jesus – as a human being:
[T]he ascension demonstrates that God has placed a human being at the helm of the universe. It is vital that we remember that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he did not cease to be human and morph into some disembodied state like a humanoid ghost. Jesus ascended as a human being and remains in this glorified human state for the rest of eternity. The significance of this is that God has placed a human person as the head of the universe. This is precisely what God had intended all along. (p. 164)
The ascensions places Jesus at the right hand of the Father which leads to …
Present rule. Ben Myers also points out that the ascension doesn’t lead to Jesus’ absence but to his more complete presence in creation. “His ascent “to the right hand of the Father” is his public enthronement over all worldly power.” (p. 88) Both Myers and Bird point to the importance of Psalm 110 in our understanding of the ascent to the right hand of the father.
The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”
The whole psalm is relevant. The right hand of the Father is a place of sovereign rule, not a place of passive waiting.
Bird runs through three aspects of this rule:
First, Jesus is exalted to God’s right hand and is invested with divine authority. Jesus had been formally exalted, that is, installed as God the Father’s vice-regent and the one in whom and through whom divine sovereignty is expressed. (p. 166)
Second, believers embryonically share in the reign of Christ by virtue of their union with Christ. (p. 167)
Myer turns to early church writings, specifically Irenaeus to emphasis the importance of this union: “When Jesus ascends to the Father, he takes our humanity with him. To quote Irenaeus again, because Jesus has ascended we also “ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father.” In Jesus, our nature has taken up residence in the presence of God.” (p. 89)
Third, Jesus remains our high priest even from his heavenly throne. The priestly office of Christ is expressed in his mediation between God and humanity. (p. 167-168)
On this last point Bird refers us again to the book of Hebrews: “A recurring theme in Hebrews is that Jesus has entered the heavenly sanctuary ahead of us as our forerunner, and we have assurance that we too will be accepted there (Heb 6:20; 10:19-22).” (p. 168)
Packer elaborates on the role of Jesus as mediator who intercedes for us. “‘Interceding’ denotes not a suppliant making an appeal to charity, but the intervening of one who has sovereign right and power to make requests and take action in another’s interest.” (p. 101)
From present rule, the creed looks forward…
Future judgment. The section of the creed focused on Christ concludes with Jesus returning to judge both the living and the dead. The second coming is approached with trepidation by many these days. Certainly there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and faulty popularization over the last fifty years or more. The coming judgment, however, is a key affirmation of the creed and a fundamental part of Christian faith. Packer emphasizes the kind of judgment we are used to thinking about where are judged according to the Lamb’s book of life. “[T]he Creed looks to the day when he will come publicly to wind up history and judge all men-Christians as Christians, accepted already, whom a “blood-bought free reward” … rebels as rebels, to be rejected by the Master whom they rejected first.” (p. 106) (Image credit)
This judgment is not simply a separation of the faithful from the unbelievers. It is also a purifying judgment of those who are Christ-followers (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15). Myers summarizes:
Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. That will be the best thing that ever happens to us. On that day the weeds in each of us will be separated from the wheat. It will hurt- no doubt it will hurt-when our self-deceptions are burned away. But the pain of truth heals; it does not destroy. On our judgment day we will be able for the first time to see the truth of our lives, when we see ourselves as loved. (p. 93-94)
Michael Bird, on the other hand, emphasizes the return of Jesus as the establishment of the kingdom of God. The world will finally be set right, creation redeemed.
All three of these are important aspects of the Creed and of Christian faith.
Those who call on the name of the Lord are saved through faith.
Believers are judged for their actions and choices.
Creation is renewed and redeemed.
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