As Summer fast approaches, I thought I would suggest a fat book to get you all the way through to Fall. My dear friend and Professor of Systematic Theology, Dr. Robert Peterson, has done the Church a great service in his wonderful new book. In his typical workmanlike, crystal clear, and deeply biblical method, he takes us through Jesus’ nine saving deeds: incarnation, sinless life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, Pentecost, intercession, and second coming.
This time of year, my affections are tuned for the doctrine of the ascension of Christ. So, I would like to give you a taste of Dr. Peterson’s writing from his chapter on this much underserved doctrine:
The Ascension and Divine Reconciliation
Finally, the ascension takes to a new level the reconciliation of humanity and God. After the fall in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were cast out of the intimate presence of God because of their rebellion. Although we believe that God accepted them in the first promise of redemption (Gen. 3:15), the sweetest fellowship they enjoyed with him in Eden was a thing of the past. While God continued to condescend to interact with his people, Israel, in the Old Testament, the closest relationship was not possible because of the sin that separated a holy God from an unrighteous people. Through his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection Christ destroyed the power of sin and cleansed his people from the iniquity that prevented intimate relationship with God. And, wonderfully this extended even to Old Testament Israel (Heb. 9:15). Nevertheless, the fellowship enjoyed in Eden was never fully recovered.
Then Christ ascended into heaven, taking with him the complete human nature that he had during his incarnation (Acts 1:11). Once there, Christ because a forerunner of humanity (Heb. 6:19-20). Through Christ’s ascension (and subsequent saving events) he did everything necessary to reestablish intimate relationship between humanity and divinity. He abolished everything that speared from God those who are now joined to Christ. This is a source of great hope and assurance for humankind because one of our own kind has ascended to the right hand of God. This sort of intimacy has not been possible since the time of Eden, and only Christ as the perfect human being could accomplish it. God’s people will enjoy this fellowship in its fullness only as resurrected saints on the new earth. But even now “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). This is possible only because Christ died, arose, and ascended to God’s right hand (1 John 2:1-2).
Luke gives us the reaction of the apostles upon Christ’s ascension: “And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Joy and worship should still be our reaction to the ascension today. Karl Barth has put it beautifully:
The day of the Lord’s Ascension makes the devil lament, but the faithful to brighten with joy. For now thepleasant spring comes forth and the beautiful young buds grow up: the vine shoots appear heavy with fruit: the olive trees come into flower: the fig tress bear early fruits: the closely sown fields are stirred by the west wind, imitating the billows of the sea: all things rejoice with us at the Lord’s Ascension. Come now and I will sing you the words of David, which he himself proclaimed for us on account of the Lord’s Ascension: “O clap your hands, all ye people, shout unto God with the voice of triumph; the Lord has gone up with the sound of a trumpet” to where He was. He has been received up whence He had not been separated. For He who descended is He who ascended above the heavens.
Our Lord has ascended and, as Barth poetically puts it, even the creation rejoices in response. Christ, who came in the full likeness of humanity, lived a faithful and sinless life, was obedient to the point of death on the cross, and rose victorious over the grave, has ascended into heaven to take his rightful place at the right hand of the Father and to reign over his creation. He has moved from his earthly to his heavenly ministry, which he currently executes for the benefit of his people.
The chapter on the ascension, alone, is worth the price of the book. Makes me wish I was back in class listening to him lecture. This is great Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology, all grounded in a deep and reverent handling of the Bible and sensitive to Historical Theological development.
My shelves bulge with books on the work of Christ. This one takes pride of place. In some ways, there is really nothing I know of quite like it, especially in its explication of the various pictures ofthe atonement.
Rouse your affections for Christ!