The Apostles' Creed: Ascended & Seated
The phrase in the Apostle’s Creed, “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” is packed with theological importance. Early on we learned that this creed was written to combat the theological deviance of Gnosticism. Everywhere the Creed indicates that the point of struggle is against those who do not believe that Jesus came in the flesh. Thus, it is the bodily resurrected Christ who ascends into heaven and takes His seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. But there are other verities closely associated with the bodily ascension and session that are vital to us as believers.
The first is the blessing that Christ bestowed. We often speak of Jesus’ three fold office as being that of prophet, priest and king. When we think of him as priest we tend to think of him as either the one offering the sacrifice or the one being sacrificed. Yet, in Luke’s gospel we find him engaged in the priestly activity of pronouncing the benediction. With disciples gathered round him we are told that Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them (Luke 24:50). The pastoral nature of this scene has a way of ministering to us. Our Savior ascending bodily into the heavens with hands outstretched communicates a very beautiful message. We live under his perpetual blessing.
The second is the Spirit he poured out onto his people. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal he told his disciples that it was to their advantage the he ascend into heaven, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). What is the practical benefit of the absence of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit? In the Old Testament the believer’s experience never went beyond revelation’s ability to support it. In other words, just as revelation was progressive so too was the believer’s experience, that one might not outstrip the other. The exception was the prophet of God. His relationship was so characterized by intimacy with God that “the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). However, at Pentecost we discover that believers are described as prophets. What is the point? The presence of the Holy Spirit provides the New Testament believer an intimacy with God that was only characteristic among the Old Testament prophets (cf. Joel 28-32, Acts 2:17-21). Thus, the Son’s ascension was an opportunity for him to shower down upon his people the gift of intimacy with God.
The third is his intercession. Question 55 of Westminster’s Larger Catechism is a wonderful explanation of this verity. It asks, “How does Christ make intercession?” The answer is,
Christ makes intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring his will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience, notwithstanding daily failings, access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services.
The two points that I would highlight are these. First, the bodily ascended Christ appears before the Father continually in our nature on our behalf. Second, the Son prays that “the merit of his obedience” would be “applied to all believers.”
The fourth is Christ’s authority. The Lord is bodily seated at the right hand of the Father. He has assumed the position of sovereign Lord by which he rules and governs all of creation. Thus, he says to his disciples “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The implication is clear. There is no dark land where Christ has no power. Let me put it this way. Wherever you go, you travel under Christ’s blessing. Wherever you go, you are under His authority.
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.