Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 18
Lord's Day 18
What do you confess when you say,
He ascended into heaven?
That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples,
was taken up from the earth into heaven,
and that He is there for our benefit
until He comes again
to judge the living and the dead.
Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of
the world, as He has promised us?
Christ is true man and true God.
With respect to His human nature
He is no longer on earth,
but with respect to His divinity, majesty, grace,
and Spirit He is never absent from us.
But are the two natures in Christ not separated from
each other if His human nature is not present
wherever His divinity is?
Not at all,
for His divinity has no limits
and is present everywhere.
So it must follow that His divinity is indeed beyond
the human nature which He has taken on
and nevertheless is within this human nature
and remains personally united with it.
How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?
He is our Advocate in heaven
before His Father.
we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge
that He, our Head, will also take us,
His members, up to Himself.
He sends us His Spirit as a counter‑pledge,
by whose power we seek the things that are
above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand
of God, and not the things that are on earth.
Q. & A. 46 – 49 He Ascended into Heaven in Glory
- Just as the Scriptures speak of Christ Rising from the dead and of his Being Raised, so it speaks of his Ascension and of his Being Taken Up into heaven (Eph 4:8-10; Acts 1:11). Christ's ascension was not an assault on a barred fortress, but a reception into the Father's house, which was opened to him because of his completed work.
- The ascension of Christ was truly an ascension into heaven. He went from the earth into heaven while his disciples were looking on. We have to describe the ascension so precisely, and the Catechism gives a detailed explanation of it, because the Lutherans deny the reality of the ascension. They believe that although the divine and human natures of the Mediator were not commingled, the characteristics of each were transferred to the other. Just as iron when held in the fire does not become fire but adopts the characteristics of fire in that it becomes hot, so the human nature of Christ, although it did not become divine, is said to have adopted the characteristics of the divine nature. According to the Lutherans, the ascension, therefore, meant that Christ's human nature then became omnipresent. They emphasize Jesus' own statement, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), to support their argument. But the Catechism clearly teaches in Answer 47 that the doctrine of the omnipresence of Christ's human nature does not follow ineluctably from that statement. Further, the Lutherans' attempt to demonstrate the incorrectness of Answer 47, by asserting that it teaches a separation of the two natures of Christ, is fully refuted by Answer 48. (At this point, read Answer 47 and 48 carefully).
This Lutheran doctrine is to be rejected, because it:
a. leads to a misconception of the Lord's supper in the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, i.e., that Christ is Bodily present in, with and under the symbols of the Lord's supper (see LD 28-30, Note 7); and
b. derives from the old heresy that that which is mortal is inferior and must first be deified in order that it may be appreciated. But the ascension teaches the exact opposite. (See what follows).
- In his ascension Christ did not leave the earth and abandon it as something inferior. He did not thereby turn away from the perishable world for ever. On the contrary, he only left for a time. He will return. This was announced right away at the ascension (Acts 1:12), and the Catechism places that in the foreground. The ascension was not an abandonment of the earth, but the reunion of heaven and earth in principle. It will be followed by the actual, complete reunion on the last day, when the dwelling of God shall be with men (see LD 9, Q&A 26, Note 1). For there is no breach between heaven and earth because heaven is spiritual and the earth perishable, but because there is sin on earth. That is what Christ rejected and for which he atoned. That is why heaven opened for him and why it will open for his entire church because of his redemptive work. Further, he ascended into heaven “for our benefit,” that is, to bring about the complete reunion of his church (and therein of the earth) with heaven.
- That is what the Catechism confesses in its teaching in Answer 49 of the Benefit to us of Christ's ascension. It describes this benefit for us in three points:
a. He is now our Advocate Before his Father. He has been allowed to approach God's throne in heaven as our Advocate (defence counsel).
As our Advocate, he demands our acquittal on the basis of his completed work. John 17:24a says: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am. . . ."
He is entitled to demand! And Satan, the accuser of the saints, has to be silent before Christ's intercession. What a marvellous benefit of the ascension this is!
b. In the second and third parts of Answer 49 the Catechism speaks of a pledge and a counter-pledge. To understand this concept, think of a couple who are being married and who give each other rings as pledge and counter-pledge. The man gives the woman the ring as pledge (visible evidence) of his fidelity and receives from her the ring as pledge of her faithfulness. In the same way Christ took a pledge from us, a souvenir (our flesh), and gives us a counter-pledge (his Spirit). He will, being of Our flesh, always remember us and work on our behalf, and he wants us, through his Spirit, always to think of him and to live for him. The Catechism portrays a wonderfully tender and close relationship in its metaphor of pledge and counter-pledge!
Christ, therefore, took along our flesh in the ascension. He did not leave it behind, as one leaves one's work boots at the door before entering the house, as if our flesh was not suited to heaven. That is why his ascension In Our Flesh is our guarantee that we shall also go there. That is certain, for he is our Head. If a swimmer keeps his head above the waves, his body will presently rise above them. Now the waves of sin still wash over us constantly, but our Head is above the waves!
c. He sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge. We must not forget Christ. The Spirit teaches us to seek the things that are above. That does not mean that we should escape from the world and withdraw ourselves from life in quiet contemplation. The things that are above are love, holiness, obedience, peace, etc. To seek those things here, means being holy and obedient in love and being peacemakers Here and In and With this life. In that way we do not abandon the world for the sake of heaven and do not forget heaven for the sake of the world, but heaven and earth are united. Col 3:1, 2 says: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."
- And Jn 16:7 says: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (See also Phil 3:20).
B. Cross References
- The BC, art. 26 speaks extensively and with great comfort about Christ's intercession.
- What other expression does the Bible use in place of ascension, and what does that mean?
- What do the Lutherans say about the ascension? On what do they base their opinion?
- What passage of Scripture do the Lutherans rely on in support of their opinion?
- Does this text lead ineluctably to the Lutheran doctrine? Why not?
- Why is it so important to reject the Lutheran doctrine on this point?
- Did Christ reject the earth as inferior in the ascension?
- Why is there a breach between heaven and earth?
- What was obtained in principle in Christ's ascension?
- In how many points does the Catechism describe the benefit of the ascension? Name the points.
- What does Christ do as our Advocate? What is the basis of his defence?
- What does the Catechism mean when it speaks of pledge and counter-pledge?
- What pledge did Christ take from us? What does it guarantee?
- What pledge does he send us? What does it do?
- What do Col 3:1, 2, and Jn 16:7 and 17:24a, respectively, say?