You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 13, 2015.

In 2015, Ascension Day falls on May 14.

The Feast of the Ascension is always on a Thursday — 40 days after Easter — and ten days before Pentecost Sunday.

The Sunday between the two is known as Exaudi Sunday, particularly in Lutheran denominations. My 2013 post cites a beautiful sermon from my cyberfriend Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod which explains more.

On Ascension Day, the faithful recall Christ’s rising to heaven in order to send the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. From that point, we were — and continue to be — in the ‘last days’, awaiting His coming again in judgement.

My 2013 post on the Ascension ties together Acts 1:9-11 with other passages from the New Testament which demonstrate that Christ will indeed return in glory. This event did not occur with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, as preterists would have us believe.

Today’s post looks at a Reformed — Calvinist view — of the Ascension by Dr Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.

A few years ago, Riddlebarger wrote an article for Modern Reformation called ‘Jesus Christ — our Prophet, Priest and King’.

He tells us that John Calvin brought the theological concept of munus triplex to prominence in Protestantism and says that the Lutherans later adopted it. Munus triplex states that Christ’s offices are threefold; He is our prophet, priest and king.

A later Calvinist reformer Francis Turretin took this Christological concept and tied it to the human condition (emphases mine below):

The threefold misery of men introduced by sin — ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage by sin — required this conjunction of a threefold office. Ignorance is healed by the prophetic; guilt by the priestly; the tyranny and corruption of sin by the kingly office. Prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the Priest takes away guilt and procures a reconciliation for us; the Power of the King removes the bondage of sin and death. The Prophet shows God to us; the Priest leads us to God; and the King joins us together and glorifies us with God. The Prophet enlightens the mind by the Spirit of illumination; the Priest by the Spirit of consolation tranquilizes the heart and conscience; the King by the Spirit of sanctification subdues rebellious affections. (5)

Riddlebarger provides copious biblical evidence as to why Christ is still our prophet. With regard to the Ascension:

Christ’s prophetic work does not cease, however, with the end of his earthly ministry at his Ascension. As Louis Berkhof notes, Christ “continues His prophetical activity through the operation of the Holy Spirit. His teachings are both verbal and factual, that is, He teaches not only by verbal communications, but also by the facts of revelation, such as the incarnation, His atoning death, the resurrection and ascension.” (7) Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, and as the Spirit of Christ, he is the one who “will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). As Christ is the Word incarnate, and the central figure in biblical revelation, so too we cannot divorce the work of his Spirit from the written word. Since Christ fulfills the office of prophet, and since he continues to speak to us through his word — and only through his word — the Reformed are very reticent to give any credence to supposed “words from God,” or “words of knowledge” from modern day schwärmer such as Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn who repeatedly make such claims to speak forth Spirit-led utterances.

Throughout the Old Testament we find references to a coming priestly Redeemer ordained by God. Our Lord’s role as high priest did not end when He ascended to Heaven. Riddlebarger explains:

Jesus Christ presently intercedes for us when we sin (1 Jn 2:1-2). While we are correct to focus on what Christ has done for us as our high priest, we must not forget those things he is doing for us even now. He prays for our sanctification (Jn 17:17). He is now our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens,” so too we can now “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14-16). Even now, our great high priest is building us “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). What comfort we can take, knowing that our Lord is in heaven, preparing for us to see his glory (Jn 17:24). For the great high priest who intercedes for us never sleeps nor wearies, he never prays without full effect, and he is ever mindful of our continuing struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (Heb 2:18). Jesus Christ is both the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He is our great high priest and the good shepherd, who even now guards his flock. No one shall ever snatch us from his hand (Jn 10:28-29), and nothing will ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:37-39).

Concerning Christ as King, Riddlebarger rightly takes issue with certain Protestants who ask people to make Him their Lord when that is not a matter of human choice and dispensationalists (rapture believers) who purport that His divine kingship does not occur until the end of the world.

Riddlebarger says:

The Scriptures plainly declare that”the Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over it” (Ps 103:19). We don’t make Christ anything — He is the Lord over his creation. His throne is in heaven, and he is king over creation. This kingship is therefore to be seen as”his official power to rule all things in heaven and on earth, for the glory of God, and for the execution of God’s purpose of salvation.” (11) If Christ is not presently ruling in this capacity, we must ask ourselves, just who exactly is minding the store? Reformed theologians usually argue that there are two aspects to this kingly rule. The first is Christ’s regnum potentiae (kingdom of power) and the second is the regnum gratiae. Unlike the dispensationalists, who argue that Christ delays the full manifestation of his rule in this present dispensation, the Reformed argue that Christ presently exercises full dominion over all, even now. He is king and his kingdom is presently a kingdom both of grace and of power. He is in full control and he is ordering all of human history as he sees fit. This means that at his Ascension, Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of his father and even now rules over all of creation (regnum potentiae) and over his church (regnum gratiae).

He provides numerous verses from Scripture to support this position.

Therefore, the importance of Ascension Day is as follows:

If the Scripture bears witness to Christ (Jn 5:39), then the Holy Spirit, who is Scripture’s divine author (2 Tim 3:16), will open our minds and our hearts to hear our Lord’s voice as we read his word (Jn 16:12-15; Acts 16:14). This is what theologians have historically spoken of as illumination. Since we are blind to the things of God, the Holy Spirit must provide the understanding we need through the Scriptures. Thus, Christ our prophet certainly speaks to us today though the pages of his word. In fact, whenever the minister of the word opens the Scripture for us, there is a profound sense in which Christ our prophet is speaking to us through his word every bit as much as if he himself were standing in our presence and speaking these words audibly. Therefore in Scripture, God’s word written, we find a voice that is certain, not like the extemporaneous musings of those today who claim to speak for God.

Similarly:

The same pattern holds true for Christ’s priestly work. Not only has Christ done what is necessary for our salvation through his sinless life (his active obedience) and through his sacrifice for sin (passive obedience), but at this very moment he has assumed his place at the right hand of his Father where he now intercedes for us

Christ’s kingly office provides us with a wealth of comfort and assurance. For while the nations rage one against another; while the earth groans beneath our feet; while there is sickness, disease, and economic hardship (Mt 24:3 ff.) Even now our Lord is ruling and reigning, until he makes his enemies his footstool (1 Cor 15:22-27). And so while unbelievers may look around at these world conditions and see the apparent chaos as an excuse to scoff, saying “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Pt 3:3-4), the believer can take heart, for the signs of the end are exactly that. The tumult we see around us is, in fact, proof that Christ is reigning and that he is directing all of history toward a great and final consummation, when he will come with great glory with his angels, as the great conquering king (1 Thes 4:13-5:11).

I hope this gives us food for thought and reassurance on Ascension Day.

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