Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | May 27, 2006

Seated at the Right Hand of God

One of the implications of the ascension is that it presents an apparent contradiction between certain passages of the Scripture.  Some of these passages assert the fact that Christ is not here on earth, but in heaven seated at the right hand of God.  On the other hand, there are passages that indicate that Christ will be with us until the end of the age.  A few weeks ago we discussed the concept of Christ having two natures.  We identified the importance of Christ being truly human and truly divine.    This concept provides the resolution to the apparent contradiction regarding the presence of Christ.  In His human nature, Christ is ascended to the Father, seated on the throne, interceding on our behalf and will not return in His human nature until the Second Coming.  However, in His divine nature Christ remains present with us until the end of the age.

Today we review Question 47 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is the Reformers affirmation of this historic position.  This concept of Christ’s two natures was developed by the ancient Church Fathers.  The apparent contradiction is addressed as follows:

Q. But isn't Christ with us until the end of the world as he promised us? 1 

A. Christ is truly human and truly God.  In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; 2 but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is not absent from us for a moment. 3 

1 Matthew 28:20: …and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.2 Acts 1:9-11:  And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.  They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven Acts 3:19-21:  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.  He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
3 Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  John 14:16-19:  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth… I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.
 

The catechism asks a follow up question that we will also cover today: 

Q. If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is, then aren't the two natures of Christ separated from each other? 

A. Certainly not.  Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, 1 it is evident that Christ's divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity he has taken on, but at the same time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity. 2 

1 Jeremiah 23:23-24:  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord.  Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. Acts 7:48-49 (Isaiah 66:1): However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.  As the prophet says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me? Says the Lord.  Or where will my resting place be?”
2 John 1:14:  The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.  We have seen his glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 3:13: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of
Man.  Colossians 2:9:  For in Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
 

As noted above, this understanding of Christ’s two natures was developed by the early Church fathers who were countering heretical teachings.  There were two separate heretical positions known as the Monophysites and the Nestorians.  The Monophysite’s affirmed that Christ was only one Person, however He only truly had one nature.  They believed that His divinity consumed His humanity, thus confused the two natures into one.  The Nestorians affirmed that Christ had two natures, however they did this by asserting that He also consisted of two Persons.  This position causes many difficulties including problems for the Trinitarian formula.  In response to these controversies the orthodox fathers convened an ecumenical council to formalize a response. 

In AD 451 the Council of Chalcedon drafted the following statement, which defines the orthodox position concerning the two-natures: 

“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.” 

Much of the problem with the heretics is that they could not fathom what Scripture was saying about our Lord.  We should always be cautious when delving too deep into the Person of Christ.  Since we are finite in our thinking we should expect to be able to completely grasp the depths of who our infinite Savior is.  Thus, conceding to the dangers that had been encounter by this the early Church in this eloquent definition established the boundaries of who Christ is not.  They did not seek to provide an explanation of how, but that it is the case that Christ is one Person with two natures.  This does not deter us from learning theology, however it should cause us to be humble when we are explaining the lofty things of our Lord. 

Nonetheless, we know that our Lord is ascended, ruling from heaven until His enemies are made a footstool.  However, He is not confined to heaven alone and is still present with His people.  This is reassuring to know that our king is not absent from our domain until His promised return.  He is with us and sustains us throughout our journey in this world.

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