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What did Jesus do to save sinners? Many Christians say rightly that Jesus died for them. Others may go further and say that He also lived righteously for them. However, if we stopped with Jesus’ earthly ministry only, it would be like someone who is seeking to get out of debt who forgets that he also needs to provide for his family. Jesus lived for us so that God might count us righteous in Him. Jesus died for us so that God might forgive us. Jesus rose for us and ascended into heaven for us so that we might live in Him and with Him forever. He paid our debts and secured our freedom, and He provides us with everything we need to have abundant life in Him (John 10:10). Westminster Larger Catechism questions 51–53 show that God exalted Christ in His resurrection and ascension and why these truths are necessary for His glory and our salvation.

How Was Christ Exalted in His Resurrection?1

Christ’s exaltation encompasses His entire heavenly ministry, spanning from His resurrection to the final judgment.2 Everything that Jesus is and does is glorious. In His case, humiliation and exaltation are not neatly divided categories. People “beheld his glory” during His humiliation (John 1:14). Yet Christ’s resurrection marked a dramatic change. The God-man was exalted and He received the name above every name (Phil. 2:9–11). This name is not “Jesus,” which He received at His birth. It is “Lord,” which is the Old Testament name for God. While Jesus was and is the eternal Son of God, what is new after His resurrection and ascension is that no one can any longer acknowledge the “LORD” (Yahweh) without acknowledging that the God-man (Jesus Christ) is “LORD” (Yahweh).3

Since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, conservative Christians have grown accustomed to appealing to Christ’s resurrection almost exclusively in terms of apologetics—that is, defending the faith. The argument is that if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything else He said and did must be true as well. It is easy to forget that while everything that the Bible says about Christ’s resurrection is historically and factually true, the main emphasis of Scripture is on the theology of the resurrection as it relates to Christ and to His people. Westminster Larger Catechism 51–53 highlights three theological truths about Christ’s resurrection.

First, His resurrection was real. He rose in “the same body in which he suffered.” He invited His disciples to “touch” and “handle” His hands and His feet. He was not merely a spirit because He had “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). He invited Thomas to touch His hands and His side so that Thomas would repent of his unbelief (John 20:27). The same Jesus whom the disciples saw, heard, and touched during His earthly ministry (1 John 1:1–2) was seen, heard, and touched after His resurrection. The resurrected Christ is the subject of gospel proclamation, so that even we who have not seen may believe in Him and have life in His name (John 20:29–31; 1 John 1:3–4). His body and soul, which were separated in death, were reunited in resurrection after three days. Just as He laid down His life by His own power, so He rose by His own power (John 10:18). The Father also raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit, so that the Spirit of Christ, who dwells in us, will give life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11–13). His resurrection was inevitable. He did not see the corruption of death, because death could not hold Him (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:24, 27). If Christ is not raised from the dead, then both Christian preaching and faith are in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). Christ died to save those who were dead in their sins, but a Christ who remained dead would be the death of our faith. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). His resurrected body is no longer subject to mortality, infirmity, or corruption: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9). The historical fact of Christ’s resurrection is the ground of the living faith of His people.

Christ invited His disciples to “touch” and “handle” His hands and His feet. He was not merely a spirit because He had “flesh and bones.”

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was powerful. His resurrection was His justification (1 Tim. 3:16). In our justification, God pardons our sins and declares us to be righteous by virtue of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Christ’s resurrection was His justification in the Spirit, in which we share as the Spirit unites us to Him through faith. In Christ’s resurrection, the Father declared both publicly and finally that Jesus is “the righteous” One (1 John 2:1). Christ was “declared to be the Son of God,” but the Father also declared Him to be who He was by raising Him from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Jesus declared many other truths by His resurrection as well. He declared that God’s justice satisfied (3:25–26). He declared death and Satan to be vanquished (Heb. 2:14). He declared Himself “Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom. 14:9). Jesus’ resurrection was not only a proof that all that He said was true; it was a public declaration that all that He did was completed and complete.

Third, Christ’s resurrection was representative and effective. He rose as “a Public person, the Head of the church.” He rose as the second Adam and as the Head of His church and the Savior of His body (1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 5:23). His resurrection not only restored life to His body, but it secured life for His people. He was delivered for our offenses but “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). If He remained in the grave, death would have dominion both over Him and over us. He would remain under the condemning power of sin and we would be condemned for our sins. Christ’s death on the cross was necessary for our justification, but it was not sufficient for our justification. If Christ is not raised, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Christ also rose for our “quickening in grace” (Rom. 6:1–7; Col. 2:12), which includes our regeneration, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. His resurrection secures our justification and sets in motion our sanctification. We have died to the power of sin in Christ, and we have risen to new life in Christ. This is why we can put to death our sinful deeds and desires and present our members to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13). His resurrection as Prophet, Priest, and King also gives us “support against [our] enemies” (1 Cor. 15:25–27). The risen Christ is our Savior and Judge. His life secures ours and we can no more perish than He can cease to live. His never-ending life as a perfected human being in union with us assures us that we, too, will be raised in Him at the last day (v. 20).

How Was Christ Exalted in His Ascension?4

If the theological importance of Christ’s resurrection is often neglected, then the importance of His ascension is often unknown. His ascension marked the beginning of His continued mission in the world through the church. He appeared to His Apostles and spoke with them openly about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:2–3). The “Acts of the Apostles” were really the acts of the ascended Christ through His Apostles. In His ascension and session at the Father’s right hand, Christ is the exalted Prophet, Priest, and King who declares God’s will to us, who intercedes for us, and who rules the world for the sake of the church (Eph. 1:22). He continued to do this by commissioning His Apostles to preach the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:18–20). He promises to be present to bless His church in baptizing and discipling until the end of the world. He ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection for His glory and our salvation.

In Christ’s resurrection, the Father declared both publicly and finally that Jesus is “the righteous” One.

The vital thing to recognize in every aspect of Christ’s work, including His ascension, is that He did all these things “in our nature, and as our Head” (Heb. 6:20). Christ did all that He did in union with us so that we might share in His victory by union with Him. Just as He triumphed over His and our enemies in His resurrection, so He did by His ascension (Eph. 4:8). He “visibly went up into the highest heavens” like a conquering King going forth in triumphal procession (Col. 2:15). He led captivity captive and received gifts from men (Ps. 68:18) so that He might distribute gifts among His people (Eph. 4:7–8). We saw in relation to question 42 of the Westminster Larger Catechism that Christ received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). At His ascension, He gives to each member of His church a measure of His own Spirit, resulting in diverse interdependent gifts (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:1–13; Eph. 4:7).

Christ’s ascension should result primarily in two practical effects in our lives. First, we should “raise up our affections” to heaven where Christ is seated at God’s right hand (Col. 3:1–2). We can live godly lives and be useful to others on earth because our lives are hidden with God in heaven in Christ (v. 3). Second, we should remember that our citizenship and our true homes are with Christ in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Christ went to “to prepare a place for us, where he himself is” (John 14:3). There are enough rooms in the Father’s house for all of His children to come home.5 The greatest hope that a believer can have is to be where Jesus is (John 17:24), to always be with Him (1 Thess. 4:17), to see Him as He is, to be made like Him (1 John 3:1–2), and to join the church triumphant in the chorus of heavenly worship. Jesus will stay in heaven “till his second coming at the end of the world” (Acts 1:9–11; 3:21). We have been saved “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).

Conclusion

Christ’s resurrection secures eternal life for us. This life begins at the new birth and continues forever. Christ’s ascension secures a home in heaven for us. This is why God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). Christ’s resurrection and ascension should give us confidence in godly living now and hope for the future.

 
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Christ as Mediator. Previous post. Next post.

    1. “Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, (of which it was 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 this justification, quickening in grace, support against their enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day” (WLC 52). ↩︎
    2. “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” (WLC 51). ↩︎
    3. See chapter 7 of Ryan M. McGraw, Christ’s Glory, Your Good: Salvation Planned, Promised, Accomplished, and Applied (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformation Heritage, 2013). ↩︎
    4. “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” (WLC 53). ↩︎
    5. Many “rooms” is a better translation than the well-known “many mansions.” The idea is more like a large single-family home with enough rooms for all the children than it is like many separate though lavish dwelling places. ↩︎

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