Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 19
Lord's Day 19
Why is it added,
And sits at the right hand of God?
Christ ascended into heaven
to manifest Himself there
as Head of His Church,
through whom the Father governs all things.
How does the glory of Christ, our Head,
by His Holy Spirit
He pours out heavenly gifts
upon us, His members.
by His power
He defends and preserves us
against all enemies.
What comfort is it to you
that Christ will come to judge
the living and the dead?
In all my sorrow and persecution
I lift up my head
and eagerly await
as judge from heaven
the very same person
who before has submitted Himself
to the judgment of God
for my sake,
and has removed all the curse from me.
He will cast all His and my enemies
into everlasting condemnation,
but He will take me and all His chosen ones
into heavenly joy and glory.
Q. & A. 50 and 51 “Sit at My Right Hand”
- Christ's being seated at the right hand of God is closely related to the ascension, but also distinguishable from it. It points to the Purpose of the ascension and tells us its destination. (Of Elijah we read that he went up into heaven, but not that he was seated at God's right hand). Ps 110:1 says: "The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at my right hand.'''
In Acts 7:56 we read of Stephen: ". . . and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.''' (See also Mt 26:64; 28:18).
- Among us, to be seated at someone's right hand means to receive the place of honour. That was also the case in the Scriptures. (See 1 Kings 2:19 and Mt 20:21). However, we should not understand the expression, “sits at the right hand of God,” in the creed literally. God is a Spirit and, therefore, we can only speak of his hand in a metaphorical sense. We have to understand this expression in accordance with its intent. Thus, it means that All Authority and the Highest Honour were conferred on Christ.
When Christ says in Mt 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he does not refer to his almighty power, but to all authorities that exist among the angels and the kings and peoples in heaven and on earth.
- This authority and honour were Given to him, who was first humiliated for our sins, in order that he Manifest himself as Head of his Church. He Was always the Head of the church, but now it becomes apparent. Now he manifests himself to be Head of the church. And the Catechism says that the Father governs all things through Him. God governs all things (by his providence, see LD 10). But now we learn that God does this Through Christ. All Christ's providential rule is, therefore, for the salvation and glory of his church.
- In our discussion of the ascension in the previous LD we saw what Christ now does for us in heaven. In this LD we learn that his honour and power in heaven are so great that thereby he rules us and governs all things. He does not only send us his Spirit to draw us to heaven (LD 18), but through the Spirit he also pours out heavenly gifts upon his members here on earth. Thereby he causes them to live according to a heavenly lifestyle here. Heavenly gifts are those which, poured out from heaven, prepare us for heaven: regeneration, sanctification. And from heaven he defends us here on earth by his power against all enemies who seek to withstand him, and he preserves us. (2 Tim 4:17, 18).
- No person (pope) or assembly (synod) is entitled to presume to place himself or itself over the church. We have one Master: Christ. People and assemblies may only serve in the church, and lead the members to acknowledge Christ as the Only Head of the church. The church must, therefore, not be governed by decree, but by instruction, through the declaration of the Word of Christ the King.
- There was no chair or pew in the temple. A priest was not allowed to sit down at any time. He was never finished with his service, because the blood of goats and bulls did not remove sin. But the only High Priest, Jesus, did finish his service. He was entitled to sit!
- What is the distinction between the ascension and Christ's sitting at God's right hand?
- Prove from the Holy Scriptures that Christ is seated at God's right hand.
- What does it mean that he sits at God's right hand? What authority did he receive?
- Why did he receive this authority and honour?
- How does his being seated at God's right hand benefit us?
- Who governs the church, therefore, and how must the office bearers govern?
Q. & A. 52 Come, Lord Jesus
- Christ's return on the clouds will be visible to everyone (Acts 1:11; Rev 1:7). It will also come suddenly and unexpectedly, as a thief in the night (Mt 24:37, 38). No one knows when it will occur. Mk 13:32 says: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.''
The Scriptures do describe for us many signs which point to the approach of his return: Wickedness will be multiplied (Mt 24:12); the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the anti-Christ (2 Thess 2:9-12); wars and rumours of wars (Mk 13:7, 8); earthquakes in divers places (Lk 21:25-27); severe persecution of the church (Mt 24:14); preaching of the gospel to all nations (Mt 24:14). These signs are a constant warning to mankind: Behold, he comes!
- He will come in great glory. Mt 25:31 says: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.''
Then heaven and earth will pass away and new heavens and a new earth will appear (2 Pet 3:7-12). But first, the dead will be raised. All the nations will be gathered before him and he shall separate them from each other, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:32). And each person will receive what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10b). The question will then be whether our deeds were done out of faith, which unites with Christ.
- The Catechism only asks about the Comfort that the article about Christ's return to judge the living and the dead affords us. For Christ's return is the great comfort of the church. Here it is oppressed and the cause which it espouses is reviled and held in contempt. But, says the BC, art. 37 of the faithful and elect: . . . their cause at present condemned as heretical and evil by many judges and civil authorities – will be recognized as the cause of the Son of God.
Then (says Answer 52), He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself|into heavenly joy and glory.
That is why, says art. 37 of the BC: . . . the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful to the wicked and evildoers, but it is a great joy and comfort to the righteous and elect. For then their full redemption will be completed and they will receive the fruits of their labours and of the trouble they have suffered.
Therefore, the Bride and the Spirit pray, “Come Lord Jesus!” Do we have this longing? He who makes Christ's cause on earth his own has it! But, where the Maranatha prayer is no longer heard, faith is in decline.
B. Cross References
- Read especially the BC, art. 37, every word of which speaks of the expectant longing of the martyred church.
- The expectation of the Lord's return is also echoed in the Prayer before Baptism of the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and Adults: . . . and at the last day may appear without terror before the judgment seat of Christ Thy Son.
- How will Christ return? When will he return? Name the signs which precede his return. What do these signs mean?
- What will Christ do upon his return? According to what will he judge?
- Why is Christ's return such a comfort for the church?
- Does the church long for Christ's return?
- Millennialism. This word derives from the Latin, mille, meaning “thousand,” and annus, meaning “year‘’1It denotes the heresy concerning the thousand year reign of Christ, sometimes known as the “millennium” (see Rev 20:2, 4, 6). Millennialism is quite old and widespread. It is found among the Apostolics, the Russellites (Jehovah's Witnesses), the Mormons, and all kinds of Adventists, but each group has its own concept of the millennium.
The millennialists teach that Christ will return twice. During his first return he will conquer the anti-christian power; bind Satan; raise the faithful who have died; gather the congregation around him, especially the Jews who have been converted and have been returned to Palestine; rule over the world out of the midst of this congregation; and cause a period of spiritual growth and material prosperity to begin for his people. Some expect that Christ will then reside in Jerusalem, others (the Mormons) that he will govern from Utah, while still others point to heaven as Christ's residence during this time. At the end of the period Christ will return to heaven and Satan will be released. Shortly thereafter, Christ will return the second time. Then All people will be raised and the final judgment will take place. Millennialists differ about the details of this heresy (e.g. about the duration of the millennium, its commencement, and the place of the Jews in it).
Millennialists appeal to Scripture, especially the prophets, in support of this heresy. It is not possible for us to consider each of the passages relied on to defend the heresy. It is not necessary either, for the essence of the “evidence” from the Scriptures adduced by millennialists lies in Rev 20. If IT gives us an image of the millennium taught by millennialists, some of the texts they adduce from the prophets could possibly be interpreted in the manner they suggest. But if Rev 20 teaches something different from what the millennialists suppose, their explanations of the several prophesies are baseless.
Rev 20 does not say that Satan shall be totally powerless on earth for one thousand years, but that he was bound so that he should deceive the Nations no more. He has been unable to do that since Christ's exaltation at the right hand of the Father. Since that time we live in the millennium. (1000, i.e., 10 x 10 x 10, is a symbolic number and denotes a long and complete period of time).
Rev 20 also does not say that the elect will reign with Christ On Earth after a first resurrection. In Rev 20:4 John does not say that he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus being Raised. Rather, he saw them Alive (i.e., in heaven) and there they (the souls!) shared in Christ's heavenly reign.
Millennialism is a very dangerous and harmful heresy:
a. It gives a totally erroneous picture of the relationship between the Old and the New Testament. The New Testament is not the fulfilment of the Old according to millennialism. The Old Testament will only be fulfilled later, during the millennium. For now we are merely marking time. In this manner the proper understanding of the Scriptures is hindered.
b. It sounds the death-knell for Christian life. According to millennialism Christ has not yet begun to reign. But in truth he is King today and is entitled to be served everywhere. However the millennialists scorn all Christian action. They are content to speak and preach passively.
According to Russell, the father of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christ did return in 1874 and since 1914-18 we live in the millennium. The invisible presence of Christ on earth is supposedly proved by the many inventions and discoveries which have happened since the beginning of the millennium!