Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Exaltation of Christ

I think there are a lot of Christians out there that see little point for the exaltation of Christ. Sure he goes back into heaven--but it can easily be conceived of as a retreat (at worst) or a moment of relaxation (at best).  Certainly Jesus is God the Son and so he came from heaven, but so often we miss the stark difference about the way that he goes back into heaven: it is in human form.

Christ does not retreat from human form. It is not as if, having put on humanity, he now sheds his human nature like an uncomfortable itchy sweater we all just get wait to get out of so we can relax in our home. Christ's exaltation is not merely a return to normal--God is back in heaven, alls well that ends well.

In fact, Christ goes back into heaven in human form. His humanity, in which he humbled himself, is now crowned with glory and honor. If Christ's work on the cross is "for us and for our salvation" so also is his work in the ascension into heaven. He is our forerunner, a trailblazer of sorts. He goes into heaven as one of us. What is unique about Christ is that he is crowned with glory and honor as one who is a human being. It is in his human nature that he now inherits the name which is above all names (Phil. 2:9-11).

It is certainly true that his his deity he is eternally God the Son. It is of no surprise that he is welcomed back into heaven, that all things are put under his feet--indeed he is sovereign over it all by virtue of being the creator of it all. What is of great surprise and shock is that God would appoint such power to a man. Of course their is something unique about Christ in his deity--but what makes the exaltation and ascension of Christ so special is that God would do this to a man--to one who would stand to represent us as being totally human.

If the exaltation was about Christ's deity, we might just shrug at it and say, "Well he is God after all." But that the fact that this is about human flesh going back up into heaven--now that is something that should pause and make our heads turn. 

In Matthew 9:9, we read that the crowds "praised God, who had given such authority [to forgive sins] to men." On the one hand, we recognize that the crowds were most likely largely in denial about Jesus' true nature. Ok, point--send them back to theology 101. But as a Christian I think the thing that we miss is that this is God in human form declaring forgiveness of sins--a man is saying "your sins are forgiven." Jesus can say that because of who he is--he is not usurping power from God--he is God. But we still need to marvel: a man is saying and doing these things.

That same dynamic should drive our thinking about the ascension. This is a human being, one truly human--who is truly God and at the same time one who is truly human that in his humanity is having these honor bestowed upon him. We should marvel and rejoice that God would do this to a man--this ascension gives us a little picture of our destiny. If God could do this to the man Jesus, how much more can he do it to those of us who are united to this man--Our King.

Athanasius writes concerning the exaltation of Christ:

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.”
-Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1.41

No comments:

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...