Friday, February 17, 2023

The Doctrine of Scripture Series - Jesus In All 66 Books of the Bible - Jesus Is Present With His People In The Book of Acts


    In today's post, we continue to follow Jesus through the 66 Books of the Bible. We want to note how He is present with His people. The Book of Acts shows us how Jesus Christ, post-ascension, is still accessible to His people back then and to His people in the here-and-now. What follows below is an attempt to discover how the Book of Acts develops this idea. We will then theologically unpack how Jesus Christ as truly God and truly man can be still present with us, even though He has ascended to Heaven (a clue is found in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit). We will close with applications and examples of how Jesus is present with His people in key experiences of their lives.  

Quicknotes on the Book of Acts.

    The Book of Acts records the thirty year span of time that followed Jesus' life, death, burial, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension. Acts is the sequel to Luke's Gospel, written by the same author. 
    In as much as Acts is called "The Acts of the Apostles", in reality, the Book could be more accurately termed "The Acts of the Holy Spirit". In my reading of the Book of Acts, I find some fifty-seven occasions where the Holy Spirit is referenced. 

    As I pondered on the amount of times one finds the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, I was curious as to how often Jesus is found. A search uncovered that Jesus, whether preached, appearing, or referenced, is found in some twenty places. Now why mention these statistics? The one thing we know about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit is that His main job is to point people to Jesus Christ (see John 14:26-27; 15:26-27; 16:8-12). 

    Furthermore, as I mention below, the Holy Spirit connects God's people to Jesus Christ, and He to them. Four times in the New Testament we find reference to this particular ministry of the Holy Spirit in the titles "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) and "Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). 

    In the Book of Acts, we find the outline for the book contained in Acts 1:8 

"but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” 

    The outline of course conveys the church's witnessing about Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 1-8); Judea/Samaria (Acts 9-12); and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 13-28). Even though the promise spoken of by Jesus pertains to the sending of the Holy Spirit, we nonetheless see the result: the power to testify about Jesus Christ.

Distinguishing the states of Christ.

    Whenever we study the doctrine of Christ (known as Christology) in the Bible, we sometimes will focus attention upon what is called "the states of Christ". All we mean by the term "states of Christ" is in what way creation's relationship to Christ changes as He interracts with it. Also, this discussion pertains to what changes Christ undergoes in His human nature, from incarnation, through resurrection, through ascension, to exalation. It merits our attention to consider the "states of Christ", particularly in the realm of His incarnation in the Gospels (sometimes called "the pre-Pentecost Jesus") and His exalation or ascension in Acts (sometimes called "the post-Pentecost Jesus").

    Most oftentimes, theologians speak of the following "states":

1. Christ's pre-existent state, that is, He as the Second Person of the Trinity, existing co-eternally with the Father and Holy Spirit as the blessed Trinity from all eternity.

2. Christ's pre-incarnate state. When we come into the Old Testament, we find God making appearances to His people or traveling alongside with them. At times, we encounter a figure known as "The Angel of the Lord". This mysterious figure is referred to some fifteen times in the Old Testament. Most theologians refer to the "Angel of the Lord" as a "Christophany", that is, an appearance of the Son. 

    Other manifestations of the Son of God include the rock that somehow accomapnied the Jews in the wilderness (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-6), or the pillar of cloud we find oftentimes in the Book of Numbers. This visible manifestation of Yahweh, Jehovah, i.e. "The Son" (see for instances Psalm 2; Proverbs 30:4), is what we call "Christ's pre-incarnate state", meaning His activity in history before he took unto Himself a human nature.

3. The third state of Christ we often speak of is of course His incarnation. Christ's incarnation is where He, as a Divine Person, unites with truly human nature (comprising a rational human soul and physical body), whence was obtained from the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit's work in the virginal conception. 

    Sometimes theologians will refer to this miracle of the incarnation as "the hypostatic union". The word "hypostatic" derives from the Greek term "hypostasis" meaning "Person". Hence, the Person of the Son, already having the Divine nature as God, with which He has union with the Father and Spirit, joins to His Personhood the human nature of which we mentioned. 

    The Father and Holy Spirit were not incarnated - only the Son. The incarnation, once begun, would remain a permanent feature of the Son of God's life and ministry as a man, whether on earth or now in Heaven.

4. The fourth state we speak of is the resurrected state of our Lord Jesus Christ. Resurrection refers to a physical body being raised to glory and immortality. It is important at this point to remind readers that when we talk of the "states of Christ", were not speaking of a change in the Divine nature of our Lord. 

    Passages such as Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8 underscore how the divine nature of deity never undergoes alteration, addition, subtraction, or diminishment (also known as "The Doctrine of Divine Immutability). As God, Christ retains all the perfections and their use. His relationship with our world represents change from our vantage point, being that, for instance, there is a difference between there not being a creation and there being one.

    Whenever Christ would enter our world in the Old Testament, it was not He who changed, but instead He was expressing Himself through the media of the changing creation (whether clouds, rocks, or even temporarily taking on human form (see Genesis 18; Joshua 5). As for Jesus' human nature, that certainly undergoes change. 
    Furthermore, in His experience as man, the Son of God learns and increases in knowledge and wisdom, since He has a human mind, along with a human body (see Luke 1:48-52). This applies in the realm of His resurrection of the dead. He ever remained truly God - unchanging and eternal, a Divine Person. As also man, He as the Divine Son of God experiences all that occurs in resurrection as the glorified man, Jesus Christ. One Person, two natures - this is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He as God with us, Immanuel, still remains also "man for us", Jesus, our Savior (see Matthew 1:21-23).

5. The fifth state, which brings us to Acts, is what we call "Jesus' exalted state" or what I've heard referred to sometimes as "The post-Pentecost Jesus". Philippians 2:9-11 records this exaltation of Christ to the Father's right hand. As our exalted Lord, Jesus Christ is our Prophet, who speaks through the Scriptures (Acts 2:30-36; Hebrews 1:1-2). He is our Eternal High Priest, interceding and representing us (Acts 7; Hebrews 7:24-25). He is our Soon coming King, returning for His people and aiming to set up His Kingdom here on earth (Acts 1:11-14; Philippians 3:20). In this exalted state, Jesus Christ still retains His glorified, resurrected body. As man, He is locally in Heaven, seated at the Father's righthand. As God, He is everywhere present with the Father and Spirit.

6. The sixth state, which I'll mention briefly, is what we could call Christ in His "Messianic Kingdom State." Whatever one may believe about the nature of the Millennium in Revelation 20, we know that in the future, Christ's Kingdom in Heaven will become visible and earthly. Luke alluded to this in Acts 1:11-14. Pre-millennialists (like myself) are convinced this will entail a 1,000 year reign on earth before the ushering in of the New Heaven and Earth. Other believers who hold to an A-millennial or Post-Millennial viewpoint believe that Christ's return will usher in the New Heavens and Earth. I won't go into the distinctions between these views, only to point out they all agree that our Lord will return visibly and rule over the earth and the universe from the earth.  Our Lord will be visible to all. This "Messianic State" our our Lord will feature Him ruling on His throne, over the nations, with His saints alongside Him (see Ephesians 3; Revelation 20). 

7. For sake of completion, if we were to assign a possible seventh state concerning Christ in His humanity, it would be where He delivers up the Kingdom to the Father as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28. This final act, right before the whole creation is renewed (see 2 Peter 3:13 for example), represents Christ and His people together for eternity in a glorified New Heavens and Earth (see Revelation 21-22).

The activity of Jesus in the Book of Acts and today.

    The reason for working through the various states of Christ that we find in the Bible is to aid us in thinking of how we find Jesus in the Book of Acts. For example, we find Jesus encountering Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:3-7

"Now as he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one."

    Who was it that Saul encountered. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Saul (renamed "Paul", see Acts 13), mentioned Jesus "appearing to Him": "and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." 

    Whenever we study the other post-resurrection appearances of Jesus mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, they all feature Jesus appearing physically, bodily, as the post-resurrected Jesus. Paul classifies Jesus' appearance to Him in these same terms. This appearance of Jesus was not a vision, nor hallucination, nor a trance. There were physical phenomena (light, sound, physical interraction). How do we account for this?

    One of the things we note about Jesus' state of exaltation (i.e. "The post-Pentecost Jesus") is that by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Who was sent from the Father and Himself to the church at Pentecost in Acts 2 and in subsequent outpourings in Acts 8, 10, and 19), the deity and humanity of our Lord is made accessible to His people. 

    As I stated earlier, Jesus' humanity remains localized in Heaven, whilst His Deity of course is unconstrained by the limits of time and space. His purpose for sending the Spirit was so that He could be connected to His followers here on earth. The New Testament believer in Jesus has a greater accessibility to the "Post-Pentecost Jesus" than the twelve disciples did to the "pre-Pentecost Christ".

    He as the Divine Son of God, united to the Spirit and the Father, is immediately accessible to His people. The humanity of our Lord, also attached to His Person, is made accessible because of the Holy Spirit's working. The whole Christ, as truly God and truly man, is that precious stone that is made accessible by faith to the Christian (1 Peter 2). 

    In the Book of Acts, we see the early church celebrate the Lord's Table (see Acts 2:37-42). The Lord's Supper, instituted by our Lord, depicts this reality of having access to Him by the Holy Spirit. When I eat the bread and drink the juice, I am not eating the body and blood of Christ in those elements. Instead, the bread and fruit of the vine signify or symbolize the reality of other Christians and myself mystically interracting with the Person of Christ by faith, through the Holy Spirit (see John 6; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28). Christ indwells every Christian by the Holy Spirit (John 14:23; Colossians 1:27). We cannot comprehend how this is so. Nonetheless, the Lord's Supper symbolizes and seals this truth of such an experience by faith to every Christian. 

    The introduction to great fifth century Calcedonian Creed expresses this point of Jesus Christ, as truly God and truly man, having the ability to be with His people today:

"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood. "

    He who was able to mysteriously, yet wondrously appear to Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 is still available to every believer this day. He who stood to receive the soul of Stephen upon his stoning in Acts 7 prays for and feels the pain of every Christian, as their human representative, while exercising His omnipresence as God to meet their every need (see Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 7:24-25; 1 Peter 4:16-17; 1 John 1:9-2:2). 

    What the Book of Acts establishes as fact about our Lord is expounded further in the New Testament letters. Consider a few New Testament texts that affirm what I just said.

We see how Christ, as truly God and truly man, is present with His people in suffering.

2 Corinthians 1:5-6 "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer."

We see also how Jesus is present with His people, by the Spirit, in their worship.

Hebrews 2:11-13 "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for this reason He is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brothers, In the midst of the assembly I will sing Your praise.” 13 And again, “I will put My trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”

Once more, we note how Jesus as God and man is present with Christians in temptation.

Hebrews 2:14-18 "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, so that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For clearly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brothers so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."

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