Friday, October 28, 2016

How the Old Testament anticipated Christ's ascension

Image result for old testament ascension

Philippians 2:8-11 "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

The last couple of posts have featured passages of scripture that speak of the event of Christ's ascension. Much like His cross and resurrection, the ascension can be discussed in terms of the event itself and then the meaning of the event. 

Generally speaking, passages in the Gospels and the opening chapter of Acts record for the reader the event of His ascension. The ascension of Jesus Christ literally refers to His "lifting up" or "ascent" into the clouds - but it is far more than just stating that Jesus "went up" into heaven. In today's post, we want to consider how the Old Testament anticipated this event, and how the rich meaning of Christ's ascension is drawn from key Old Testament texts in the mouths and writings of the New Testament Apostles.

The Apostle Peter quotes David as referring to the ascension of Jesus
The Apostle Peter gives us the earliest recorded statement of the meaning of Christ's ascension that follows from that event in Acts 2:32-36 

"This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Peter's words are said in a context of explaining the events of the first day of Pentecost and evangelizing his Jewish audience. He is urging them to look up in faith to this exalted Jesus. Remarkably, Peter's quotation of Psalm 16:18 tells us that Christ's ascension was already anticipated and predicted in the Old Testament. 

The Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 45 with reference to Christ's coronation as the truly Divine King Who is also man
Paul's reference to Christ being exalted to the Father's right hand in Philippians 2:10 is a quotation of Isaiah 45:23, which remarkably speaks of the Uniqueness of the One true and living God as the One and only Savior, as quoted in the context of Isaiah 45:21-24:

“Declare and set forth your case;
Indeed, let them consult together.
Who has announced this from of old?
Who has long since declared it?
Is it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me.
22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.
23 “I have sworn by Myself,
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
24 “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame."

The Philippians 2:10 reference squarely places Jesus Christ, in His ascension, as being in the same category as Yahweh spoken of in Isaiah's recorded prophecy. Amazingly, Paul's emphasis is on the Deity of Jesus and His humanity which He had taken unto His Person in the course of His incarnation in Philippians 2:5-8. Philippians 2:9-11 functions as a mirror contrast to Philippians 2:5-8. telling the complete account of the Son's humiliation and "descent" from eternity into His incarnation through the virgin birth-conception. As the incarnated God in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, He would live, die and then (per Philippians 3:10) rise from the dead. 

Jesus of Nazareth's rising from the dead would have Him make nine post-mortem appearances, all in preparation for His ascension and thus, heavenly coronation. The exaltation of the Son of God as God in human flesh signaled the "return of the Son" into heaven as exalted Deity and glorified, physical, resurrected humanity. 

The Apostle John alludes to the Old Testament anticipation of Jesus' exaltation as to being the Mediator between God and man
Normally when we speak of the Apostolic witness of the New Testament, we typically look to what I call "the Big Three": Peter, Paul and John. We've seen Peter and Paul's references to the ascension of Jesus and how they connected Old Testament anticipation of that event. Now we find John making reference to Jesus' ascension by way of how the Old Testament understood His activity as the heavenly mediator. The Apostle John records Jesus stating His mediatorship as "the way, the truth and the life" in John 14:6. Then, in 1 John 2:1, we find John speaking of the ascended Jesus as our exalted Advocate: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Jesus Christ as eternal God, prior to the days of His flesh, was the Divine mediator for His people. As the Old Testament revelation progressed, there became a faint-outline of at least two-Divine personages sharing the One-Divine nature (see Psalm 110; Proverbs 30:4). A remarkable passage in Zechariah 3:1-5 records what appears to be a pre-incarnate vision of the Son in heaven:

"Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” 5 Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by."

As a result of the incarnation, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Son of God, per John's writings, we now have this same heavenly, truly Divine Mediator who operates as the exalted human representative on behalf of believers (see Revelation 5). 

Closing thoughts
Today we considered how the ascension of Jesus Christ was anticipated and foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The above referenced texts by the Apostles comprise only a sampling of the mountain of scriptures that both anticipated and explained the meaning and significance of Christ's ascension.