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Hebrews & The Ascension!

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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

The Ascension: Of What Value?

Hebrews is arguably one of thee most Christological books of the New Testament. Its
exposition of the person and work of Jesus as the Son of God takes us to consider from
consideration of his eternal person, to his exaltation as King, to his full incarnation, to
his ministry as our sacrifice and our priest—yet these high and noble doctrines are
never discussed without the looming pastoral concern: that we would hold fast to our
confession of faith in Jesus Christ. It is in the work of Christ that we see the climax of
Godʼs plan to save His people as the Old Testament realities are brought to their true
heavenly fulfillment.
From the very beginning the book of Hebrews is concerned with the reality of
ascension of Jesus Christ and the implications that flow from this reality.
Hebrews 1:2 (NASB95) in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir
of all things, through whom also He made the world.
Hebrews 1:3 (NASB95) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His
nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins,
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Heidelberg Catechism Q.49. Q: How does Christʼs ascension into heaven benefit us?
"
Today, we want to ask this question within the context of Hebrews: Of what value
is the ascension to us (believers)?
I will attempt to argue that (1) we fail to consider the benefit of the ascension for
us, even though Scripture is clear; (2) the central benefits of the ascension in
Hebrews for us is that it is Christʼs designation as our high priest; (3) this is the
basis for the godly life of faith in this life.

1. The Failure to Consider the Benefit of the Ascension.

a. While there is always the looming danger that we existentialize the objective truths
of Christianity, making them mere subjective realities, there is the opposite danger
that we as believers fail to recognize that these objective realities that occurred to
Christ in history have occurred for the benefit of those who are in union with
Christ.

i. As believers, we cannot contemplate what God has done ʻin the fullness of
timeʼ without our hearts being warmed as we recognize that He has brought
the benefits of this once-for-all work unto us in order to nullify all human effort,
boasting and self-glorification to bring the full glory and honor to Himself.
Similarly, we cannot contemplate what has been done for us in the application
of salvation, without immediately considering that God has accomplished the
benefits in the once-for-all of the work of Christ at the center of history.
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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

ii. At the core of salvation history is the work of the Triune God in the death-
resurrection-ascension[of Christ]-and Pentecost.

1. This event complex is divided into the two states of Christ: (1) His
humiliation and (2) his exaltation.

2. While it is certainly true that Christ cried out on the cross “It is finished”,
referring to His self-offering as the sacrifice to pay for sin. Christʼs role in
redemption continues. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck has wisely
stated, “Without application, redemption is not redemption” and “In his state
of exaltation there still remains much for Christ to do.”1

b. The ascension does benefit us. The sum of this then may be seen in Hebrews
9:24

Hebrews 9:24 (NASB95) For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of
the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

c. In Christ goes into heaven itself and so His appearing in Godʼs presence is for our
benefit.

i. Christʼs humanity does not cease in His ascension. Just as the resurrection is
a real bodily resurrection (albeit a glorified body not subject to death or decay),
so His ascension is in this glorified resurrected fully human body!

Hebrews 2:6 (NASB95) But one has testified somewhere, saying, “What is man, that You
remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
Hebrews 2:7 (NASB95) “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have
crowned him with glory and honor, And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
Hebrews 2:8 (NASB95) You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting
all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all
things subjected to him.

1. Notice the importance of Psalm 8 applied to Son of God as the incarnate


one.

2. This one having been in a position lower than angels, of humility and
humbling, has now been crowned and made to rule over all!

3. He fulfills the role that God intended for all humanity in the first Adam. The
point is that in the exaltation (res. and ascension), Jesus Christ as a true
man is crowned with glory and honor.

4. It is this Son, in the experience of true humanity that the Father says “Sit at
my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”.

1 Gaffin, “Biblical Theology and the Wesminster Standards,” The Practical Calvinist, 430.
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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

Hebrews 2:17 (NASB95) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, 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.

5. Christ humanity is like our humanity in every way. There is not an element
of human nature (body and soul) that Jesus Christ lacks.

6. This true humanity results in his ability to be our high priest and minister
before God in the true heavenly tabernacle.

7. Yet this all presupposes if He had to be made like us to be our priest, in his
humanity he must continue if he is going to serve as our high priest. –Albeit
again His humanity is resurrected and glorified but this too will be our
experience (Christ our forerunner [6:20] and to brings sons to glory [2:10]

8. Athanasius:

Since then the Word, being the Image of the Father and immortal, took the form of
the servant, and as man underwent for us death in His flesh, that thereby He might
offer Himself for us through death to the Father; therefore also, as man, He is said
because of us and for us to be highly exalted, that as by His death we all died in
Christ, so again in the Christ Himself we might be highly exalted, being raised from
the dead, and ascending into heaven…But if now for us the Christ is entered into
heaven itself, though He was even before and always Lord and Framer of the
heavens, for us therefore is that present exaltation written.”2

9. Thus, Jesus Christʼs return to heaven is for our benefit.

a. Jesus Christ will bring many sons into glory.

Hebrews 2:10 (NASB95) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and
through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of
their salvation through sufferings.

b. Jesus Christ returns to heaven as a ʻforerunnerʼ.

Hebrews 6:20 (NASB95) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having
become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

d. We so often miss the benefits of the ascension and the future hope that it holds
out for those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ.

1. My goal today is simply to remind you that the ascension of Jesus is


essential to our understanding of the gospel just as much as the death and

2 Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1.41.


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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

resurrection is essential. Note for example that Peterʼs preaching in Acts 2


upon the descent of the Spirit centers on the death-resurrection and
ascension of the LORD who has been placed at the right hand of God on
Davidʼs throne.

2. Yet this doctrine today languishes unnoticed…and its profound significance


to a proper understanding of the gospel is lost to the church.” 3

2. It is Christʼs session at the right hand of God fulfills His work as our High
Priest, as He is fully designated and coronated as High Priest.

a. Jesus Christ can only enter the Holy Place after He has accomplished our
redemption.
Hebrews 9:11 (NASB95) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come,
He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say,
not of this creation;
Hebrews 9:12 (NASB95) and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own
blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

i. In the Old Testament “Day of Atonement” the sacrifice was made and then the
High Priest would proceed into the Holy of Holies to make intercession.
ii. So too with Christ, the blood of Christ was shed first so that Christ could go
before the throne of God.

b. Like every High Priest, Jesus Christ is divinely appointed to His priesthood.
(Hebrews 5)
i. Every High priest must be from among men.
Hebrews 5:1 (NASB95) For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf
of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;

ii. As one from among men, the high priest is able to identify with human
weakness.
Hebrews 5:2 (NASB95) he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself
also is beset with weakness;
Hebrews 5:3 (NASB95) and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the
people, so also for himself.

iii. Yet under the Old Covenant the priestʼs weakness was to the extent that he
needed to offer a sacrifice for Himself.
Hebrews 5:3 (NASB95) and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the
people, so also for himself.

iv.Every High priest is appointed and does not exalt Himself.


Hebrews 5:4 (NASB95) And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is
called by God, even as Aaron was.

v. Jesus Christ does not exalt Himself and make Himself a high priest.

3 Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology, 107.


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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

Hebrews 5:5 (NASB95) So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest,
but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”;
Hebrews 5:6 (NASB95) just as He says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

vi.Jesus Christ is able to identify with our weakness although He did not have
personal sin.
Hebrews 5:7 (NASB95) In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications
with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard
because of His piety.
Hebrews 5:8 (NASB95) Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which
He suffered.

vii.Jesus Christ is thus now appointed as High Priest.


Hebrews 5:9 (NASB95) And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey
Him the source of eternal salvation,
Hebrews 5:10 (NASB95) being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of
Melchizedek.

1. The perfection in this passage is not moral perfection, but the perfection of
completing his task. It is the perfection of being crowned with glory and
honor. He is crowned with glory and honor to bring many sons to glory--
thus becoming the author of their salvation.

2. He becomes the source of salvation because He has been designated high


priest. The idea of ʻbeing designatedʼ is ʻto address, hail, saluteʼ in the
sense of an acclamation finds illustration in the papyri.” [Lane, Hebrews
1-8, 110]. BAGD- ʻCall, name, designateʼ.

3. It is the moment of his perfection is the installation or we might say


“exaltation to” high priesthood.

4. Vos writes “the implication is that Christ became a high priest after the
order of Melchizedek after He had been made perfect, and it would
certainly be against the authorʼs intention to say that, while having been a
high priest in general before, the Saviour [sic] became a high priest after
the order of Melchizedek with His entrance into heaven.” (RHBI, 155).

5. Jesus elsewhere clearly becomes a high priest. It is in the exaltation and


entering of heaven He becomes a ministering high priest for us.
Hebrews 5:5 (NASB95) So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high
priest, but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”;

Hebrews 6:20 (NASB95) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become
a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

6. Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 are quoted at this designation of His fulfillment
of high priest.
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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

Psalm 2:7 (NASB95) “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are
My Son, Today I have begotten You.

Psalm 110:4 (NASB95) The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a
priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”

c. This is not to suggest that Jesusʼ offering Himself as a sacrifice is not part of His
High Priestly ministry. His offering of himself is part of his priestly activity. Heb.
1:3- he makes purification for sins before going to heaven. In Heb. 5:7 he offers
up prayers and supplications. In Heb. 9:14--He is the sacrifice offering Himself
“without blemish”.

d. However--the ministry of Christ for us is incomplete if He does not ascend into


heaven on our behalf and in advance of us. He is a ʻtrailblazerʼ of sorts.

e. Offering and priestly ministry is clearly tied together in 10:12. Here the difference
is that Christʼs ministry as priest who offers sacrifices is finished and now as priest
He sits down, as opposed to other high priest who stand to continually offer
sacrifices. This is important because the contrast of priestly ministries is in view—
with the contrast of the ministries and the sacrifices the argument falls flat,
therefore we cannot say that His own offering was not a part of His priestly
ministry.
Hebrews 10:11 (NASB95) Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the
same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
Hebrews 10:12 (NASB95) but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at
the right hand of God,
Hebrews 10:13 (NASB95) waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool
for His feet.

f. Thus for Hebrews, whose Christology takes a pastoral bent, so too with the
relationship of the ascension and the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We can do no
better than Vos:
“But the practical purpose of the Epistle also there was something that led
to this representation. We have found reason to assume that the doctrine of
Christ’s priesthood was seized upon by the writer because it furnished a
ready explanation of what the readers took offense at, the invisibleness
and remoteness of the Saviour’s mode of existence and activity, and
offered a corrective for the religious externalism in which this offense had
its root. In other words, Christ is represented as priest to explain why He
must of necessity be withdrawn into the heavenly world and conduct his
saving work form that invisible sphere. Of course, it was only the doctrine
of a heavenly priesthood, not of priesthood in general, that was adapted to
render this practical service. If Christ had been priest on earth, then His
remoteness and invisibleness remained as unexplained as before. Hence
the author is intent not so much on showing that He is a priest, but rather
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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

that He must be, if a priest, a priest in heaven, because nothing else,


nothing less, will suit the dignity of His person and absoluteness of His
work.”

g. Conclusion: In the ascension because Jesus enters into heaven itself, He begins
the ministry as our high priest making intercession and ministry which is grounded
on His act of self-offering as He obediently atone for since (part of His priestly
ministry). It is fundamentally important that Jesus enter heaven itself as a true
human being in order to be our High Priest. Jesus Christ enters the true holy of
holies as our representative. Jesus Christ as a true human enters the very
presence and glory of God so that our flesh (in resurrected bodies) will see God!

3. The fact that Jesus Christ has been designated our high priest at the ascension
brings hope and confidence.

a. We need to recognize the superiority of Christ as our High Priest. He is far better
than any other mediator. He is better than any priestly mediator in the Old
Covenant and superior to any mediator offered in other religions because He has
entered heaven itself for us!
i. Jesus is superior, so His ministry of grace to us is superior since His shed
blood is able to cleanse us from sins.
Hebrews 8:1 (NASB95) Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a
high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the
heavens,
Hebrews 8:2 (NASB95) a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord
pitched, not man.
Hebrews 8:6 (NASB95) But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as
He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

ii. Jesusʼ priesthood is permanent.


Hebrews 7:23 (NASB95) The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers
because they were prevented by death from continuing,
Hebrews 7:24 (NASB95) but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds
His priesthood permanently.

iii. Based on Christʼs permanent priesthood, He is able to cleanse those who


draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:25 (NASB95) Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to
God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

iv.We cannot turn away from this high priest but must hold fast to our confession
since it is through Jesusʼ sacrifice and continuing intercessory work that we are
saved.

b. The ground for our coming to God is based on Christʼs superior intercession for
us.
i. Hebrews 6:19-20
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Hebrews 6:19 (NASB95) This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and
steadfast and one which enters within the veil,
Hebrews 6:20 (NASB95) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a
high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

ii. Hebrews 7:24-25


Hebrews 7:24 (NASB95) but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds
His priesthood permanently.
Hebrews 7:25 (NASB95) Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to
God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

iii. Hebrews 10:19-22


Hebrews 10:19 (NASB95) Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy
place by the blood of Jesus,
Hebrews 10:20 (NASB95) by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the
veil, that is, His flesh,
Hebrews 10:21 (NASB95) and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Hebrews 10:22 (NASB95) let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,
having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure
water.

c. Of what value is the Ascension?


i. The ascension Jesus is just as important as His death and resurrection.

ii. A Mediator has entered into Godʼs presence in full human flesh. He has
cleared the way that we might enter into Godʼs holy presence. He is our
forerunner, having blazed a trail for us. His presence before God now is a
guarantee of our future presence before God.
“Since he [Jesus] entered heaven in our flesh, as if in our name, it follows, as the
apostle says, that in a sense we already “sit with God in the heavenly places in
him” [Eph. 2:6], so that we do not await heaven with a bare hope, but in our Head
already possess it.”

--John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.16

--I really know Iʼm going to heaven b/c Jesus is the forerunner.

iii. His one-time sacrifice perfects us but as we continue to sin in this life, so
Christ fully understanding our weakness is able to make complete intercession
for us as our high priest based upon the redemption He has accomplished. “He
shows His wounded hands and names me as His own”.
“For, having entered a sanctuary not made with hands, he appears before the
Father’s face as our constant advocate and intercessor [Heb. 7:25; 9:11-12; Rom.
8:34]. Thus he turns the Father’s eyes to his own righteousness to avert his gaze
from our sins. He so reconciles the Father’s heart to us that by his intercession he
prepares a way and access for us to the Father’s throne.”

--John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.16
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“Ascension: Of What Value?” ! Timothy J. Bertolet-1/9/11

iv.Without Christʼs work in heaven before the throne of God—we would not be
able to approach the throne of grace with boldness and confidence.
Hebrews 4:16 (NASB95) Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 John 2:1 (NASB95) 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;

“Since no man is worthy to present himself to God and come into his sight, the
Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from shame and fear, which might well
have thrown our hearts into despair, has given us His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord to
be our advocate [1 John 2:1] and mediator with him [1 Tim. 2:5; cf. Heb. 8:6 and
9:15], by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, with such an
intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be
denied to him by the Father…
“For as soon as God’s dread majesty comes to mind, we cannot but tremble and be
driven far away by the recognition of our own unworthiness, until Christ comes
forward as intermediary, to change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of
grace.”



--Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.20.17

He [Christ] fills with grace and kindness the throne that for miserable sinners would
other wise have been filled with dread.”
--Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.16

v. We live within a pop culture that seeks to find ʻgodʼ within and based solely
upon personal experience without objective grounding it what God has done
once-for-all in the cross-resurrection-ascension. This culture is radically
opposed to Christ the mediator as it seeks to reach out and ʻtouchʼ ʻgodʼ under
its own power, ingenuity and sensation of higher realities. Those who are truly
godly seek grace from the one who is exalted over all false gods and
spiritualities yet who stands in the presence of God as the head of His people
offering intercession for them.

Heidelberg Catechism Q.49.


Q:
How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?
A: First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we
have our flesh in heaven—a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his
members, to himself in heaven. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a
further guarantee. By the Spirit’s power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly
things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.