Preparing for Ascension Sunday

‘[F]aith exists not only in hope in the epiphany of Christ; it is bound up with the veiling of Christ, with the ascension, and here we come back to the other reason for the ascension or the purposed withdrawal of Christ from sight. Faith can exist only where there is a gap, an eschatological reserve, between the present and the future, between actual participation in the kingdom here and now and the future manifestation of its glory. Let us consider it like this. If Jesus had manifested his full divine glory on earth so that men and women were confronted face to face with the ultimate majesty of God, then they would have been damned on the spot; they would have been face to face with the final judgement. But the veiling of his ultimate glory meant that Jesus was giving people a chance to repent; he was holding them at arm’s length away, so to speak, giving them time to repent, room for decision. He came veiling his glory, yet revealing himself obliquely, so as to give people enough light to believe but not enough finally to blind them or judge them. That is why he refused to give a compelling demonstration of himself, but sought to evoke faith. Faith is not sight, but faith answers to revelation that is yet only in part, for faith exists in the gap between partial and final manifestation. Faith is, therefore, essentially eschatological in its inner nature.

Now the ascension means that Jesus Christ has withdrawn himself from sight and history in order to allow the whole world time for repentance. He holds back the final unveiling of his glory and majesty, holds back the final judgement when there will be no time to repent, and when, as the Apocalypse puts it, the person that is filthy will be filthy still. That gap between the times is the eschatological time when this present age is already interpenetrated by the age to come, but it is time when the new age in all its glory is as yet veiled from sight, in order to leave room to preach the gospel and give all opportunity for repentance and faith. Thus the world-mission of the church is part of God’s grace, for it is God’s grace alone that keeps back the dissolution of this age’. – Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (ed. Robert T. Walker; Downers Grove: IVP Academic/Paternoster, 2009), 434–5.

‘As [Jesus] ascends, creation is healed. The gulf between heaven and earth caused by human sin is bridged; the rift of our ancient wound is closed. The ‘flesh of man’ is able to go where it was always intended but had ever been prevented since the Fall – into the courts of heaven and the immediate presence of God. This is the foretaste of ‘the glorious freedom of the children of God’ in which the entire creation will be ‘liberated from its bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:21). The ascending, triumphant King is the firstfruit of the new creation. Such is the victory procession of the ascension … The victory of Jesus, celebrated in the ascension, inaugurates his reign as the God-human enthroned at the right hand of the Father. This economy will continue until the entire creation in Christ Jesus, led by Christ Jesus, submits to the Father and the Triune God again fills all in all. The ascension, then, is the promise of a more complete victory. Our King has gone forth to his throne; he will come again in splendour. In this hope, the church has found its identity in the world, and the more the church has embraced the place of its ascended Lord, the more it has advanced his kingdom …

For the present situation of the church, a proper doctrine of the ascension preserves the vital core of historic orthodox Christology: Jesus who walked among us was, and is, truly a man, and also fully God. The ascension provides the narrative structure upon which the clothing of the doctrine may be hung. For the ascension locates our understanding of the person of Christ squarely within Jesus-history. Our doctrines are not merely speculations imposed on Jesus, but rather arise from reflection upon what happened to Jesus as well as what he said and did. We find, to our relief and felicity, that the historical frame bears the full weight of the Christology.

In fact, the doctrine of the ascension keeps us from collapsing our understanding of the person of Christ into any of the Christological distortions of the present age. For not only does Jesus continue now in our flesh, he continues in his divinity. The fully human Jesus is and ever shall be fully God. The Son of God from eternity, in the fullness of time, took our humanity up into himself as he became incarnate in Jesus. Now, he will keep our humanity in himself beyond all time. So we may joyfully resonate with the doxology of Professor [Hugh Ross] Mackintosh, who frequently declared: ‘When I look into the face of Jesus Christ and see the face of God, I know that I have not seen that face elsewhere and could not see it elsehow, for he and the Father are one’. The ascension as an essential part of the story of Jesus protects the doctrine of his person against the pluralizing tendencies of our culture. The ascension was a singular event (as was, of course, the resurrection and indeed the whole course of Christ’s sojourn with us) that demands a proper understanding of Jesus to account for it. I believe Professor Mackintosh would agree that not only ‘if we regard him as Saviour’ but also if we regard Jesus as ascended, ‘we must see him at the centre of all things. We must behold him as the pivotal and cardinal reality, round which all life and history have moved. That is a place out of which his Person simply cannot be kept’. When we know the triumphant Jesus as continuing in his full humanity and divinity through the ascension, we are open to the splendour of the riches of understanding him as our head and firstfruits …’. – Gerrit Scott Dawson, Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (London/Phillipsburg: T&T Clark/P&R Publishing, 2004), 71, 72, 90–1.

One comment

  1. Torrance’s book Incarnation,(Atonement etc.) of course classic (one of my old mentor’s). And Dawson’s book is a must have and read! We have not touched the reality of the Ascension much since some of the Puritans.

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