The relation of the ascension to the Church
The kingdom is central to understanding what is going on with the ascension and session of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not that the Church is to bring in the kingdom but that the ascension and session of the Lord Jesus Christ is directly related to the postponement of the kingdom and the eventual establishment of the kingdom. And because He won the strategic victory on the cross He is now using that in order strengthen the Lord's case in the appeal trial of Satan through what He is doing in the Church. This is so important to understand. It brings us to a personal realization of what our personal sense of eternal destiny is. It is not just our personal destiny in time. Our personal destiny in time is determined by our personal destiny as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and members of the Church. The more we come to understand where we are going and what God is doing through the Church in the angelic conflict, and what he is doing with believers in the body of Christ today and what the game plan is, the more we able to let our understanding of the future impact our present decisions. The bottom line is that you are going to understand that so much is happening in the Church Age today. What God has provided in terms of the 40 things that happened to you at the instant of salvation, all the ministries of God the Holy Spirit, all of these are given to Church Age believers in order to prepare us so that we have the capacity and the maturity and the responsibility to be able to rule reign as kings and priests with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Millennial kingdom. The point is: You will be in eternity what your decisions make you today. Your decisions today will determine your role and your function in the Millennial kingdom. That just changes so much of this dynamic, and the way we are able to operate this is because we are going to understand the fullness of the strategic victory of Christ. So that impacts how we understand our own role today.
In review, we saw that Jesus came at the first advent. It wasn't clear to the Jews that there would be two advents, they expected a one-coming Messiah and that when the King showed up the kingdom would be there. Second, the Jews misunderstood these prophecies about the glories and sufferings of the Messiah, they wanted the crown before the cross, the glorious Messiah before the suffering Messiah. John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples all proclaimed a message of repentance directed to Israel, not the Gentiles, and it was related to the kingdom of God: "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand." The ministry of Jesus at that first coming was to offer the kingdom to the Jews, a legitimate offer, but the Jews rejected that. There was contingency in God's plan based on human volition. God always knew from eternity past that the Jews were going to reject it and He had plan B in mind—the Church. The Jews are put on the back burner, as it were, until the return of Christ, and He is going to do something different. Now this was intended in the plan of God. Because in the Church God is going to give us certain capacities, abilities and provisions that He never gave anyone else before. And once again, He is going to demonstrate that even though we have more than any other believer all of history will ever have the Church Age is still going to be characterized by failure, and that at the end of the age there is going to be just more and more apostasy and rejection of Jesus Christ. Then the Rapture is going to occur and then you go back to plan A: when the Rapture occurs there is the preparation for the coming of Christ.
The result of the rejection of Christ was that He was crucified, buried and resurrected, but the people of the kingdom had rejected the King and so the King had to expand His base. Since His people rejected Him the next stage in the plan was to bring in a new people to fulfill certain objectives in relation to the angelic conflict. God is still teaching the angels about the importance of obeying Him and being completely and totally subordinate to divine authority, and that only when we are completely subordinate to divine authority can God work in and through us. That is one reasons behind an absolute spirituality, that of we are out of fellowship God can't work through us at all. There is no such thing as being a little bit out of fellowship and a little bit in fellowship. God is going to develop a new people based on a spiritual heritage, a relationship to Him via the Holy Spirit, not a racial heritage. So to bring this about Jesus ascended in order to send the Holy Spirit to give birth to the Church at Pentecost—John 17:6. That is crucial to understand because it is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit's unique ministries in the Church Age that are foundational for our spiritual life, they are foundational for our spiritual maturity and they are foundational for us to understand so that we can mature and be prepared to function in the future kingdom as those who co-reign with Jesus Christ.
Immediately after the ascension Jesus is honored by God the Father. He is given the highest position in the universe. This goes back to His humanity, not his deity because He already had that, because God is doing something through a creature to demonstrate that creaturely dependence on God is the only way to success. Why is He doing that? Because Satan's basic claim is that a creature can find success without being dependent on God. That is one of the reasons that the Son becomes fully human. He is going to fulfill the destiny of man in Himself to demonstrate this, because man failed at the garden. So it shows us that all of Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is integrally related. These aren't just independent stories but there is a purpose for everything, a flow that has all this together. Genesis 1:26, 27—God creates man to rule and have dominion over the earth. But Adam blows it in the garden, he loses dominion, and Satan becomes the legitimate power base on the earth; and that is why he can offer the kingdoms to Jesus in the temptations in the wilderness. It was a legitimate offer, but Jesus was not going to circumvent the suffering of the cross. And we know how horrible that was just by taking a brief look at what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. He was under so much physical pressure because of the anticipation of the pain of bearing the sins of the world that blood is being forced out of His pores. That shows us how distressed He was. But He was not responding to that distress through using independent means to solve the problem. Jesus was feeling that emotional, physical pressure in anticipation of the cross. If He had responded to that in an illegitimate way by trying to solve the problem through human viewpoint then He would have blown it; but He didn't, and so He is elevated to the right hand of God the Father and seated at the right hand of God. This is the session.
We have seen that during the session Jesus is waiting on something, but He is not purely passive. He is waiting for God to give Him victory, waiting and praying that God will give Him this inheritance of the nations, but He is active in calling out a new people which will play a unique role in establishing a testimony to God's grace and power in the angelic conflict, and we are being prepared to rule and reign with Him in the future. Once the Church is complete and that last person trusts Christ as savior and completes the body of Christ, then the Rapture is going to occur, followed by the Tribulation period and at the end Jesus Christ will return to the earth and establish a Jewish kingdom.
What is He now doing?
Ephesians 1:20ff, "Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." What He wrought (is bringing about) in Christ relates to the Church Age, and it takes place when He raised Him from the dead … in heavenly places." That occurred 10 days before the day of Pentecost. "Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." What does that say? Jesus Christ took the high ground in the angelic conflict. He is above all the angels, fallen and elect. In His humanity He has won the strategic victory, He has the high ground, He is at the command post of the universe and in His humanity He is going to control everything. It is in His humanity because He has to fulfill the original purpose for the human race, according to Genesis 1:26-27. No other human being can do it because we are fallen. He still has to fulfill that in order to win and bring to completion that ultimate victory in the angelic conflict. It is won at the cross but is not brought to completion until the end of the Millennial kingdom. "And [God the Father] hath put all things under his feet." Where the Son right now? At the right hand of God the Father. Where are His feet? Right next to God the Father, a position of active offensive action, or passive? He is passive with relation to the kingdom. " … and gave him to be the head over all things to the church." Notice that what Paul does here is directly relate the elevation of the Lord Jesus Christ to the right hand of God the Father to the giving of authority over the Church which is His body. That flows out of an understanding of the ascension. He is the head [authority] over the Church. This is the Greek word KEPHALE [kefalh], a term that always indicates authority. It is a very important word as it relates to our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and the relationship of wives to husbands, and the relationship of children to parents. So Jesus is the authority over, and He is building this body right now. That is what is going on.
It starts with what happens positionally in Christ with the baptism by means of God the Holy Spirit. That is the foundation. It never happened prior to Acts 2. At the baptism of the Holy Spirit Christ uses the Holy Spirit to identify us with His death, burial and resurrection so that positionally we become new creatures in Christ. We are totally new at the instant of regeneration, the instant of salvation. At the same time we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the point of the indwelling is making us a temple. We are positionally set apart for the service of God. You are not the same person you were when an unbeliever. And we are given a spiritual gift, which is the thrust of Ephesians chapter four. In order to help us grow experientially we are given the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:7ff, "But unto every one of us is given grace according to [the standard of] the measure of the gift of Christ." That grace was given emphasizes grace—DIDOMI [didomi], the word used in both of these places. Grace was given, DIDOMI always emphasizes unmerited favor. Christ determines how much you get, and proportion in terms of your spiritual gift. The giving of those gifts is directly related to the ascension. The ascension is the foundation for the founding of the Church, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and consequently the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but also the giving of spiritual gifts. That is why Ephesians 4:8, 9 was quoted by Paul: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." So the ascension is related. The strategic victory of the cross is then used in order to gain leverage for the Church so that the Church then can take that strategic victory and use it as a fulcrum to blast off in their spiritual life, and part of what is involved in this is the use of spiritual gifts, something that is distorted by a lot of evangelicals today. Recognition and manifestation of a spiritual gift comes with spiritual growth. Verses 9 & 10 reinforce this idea of ascension: "(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)" Related to this giving of gifts, v.11, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Here we are focusing on four leadership gifts, two of which are temporary [apostles and prophets], so we are left with evangelists and pastors and teachers. Why are they given? For the equipping of the saints for the work of service. This is the Greek word KATARTISMOS [katartismoj] which means to restore, to equip, to train through discipline. The pastor's job is to train through discipline, and also the evangelist's job. Notice the evangelist's job isn't to evangelize, it is to equip the saints to witness. He is going to evangelize, of course, but the evangelist's job is to equip the saints for service, the same as the pastor's—to equip the saints to do the work of service, to make them complete through training. The overall goal is to equip the saints. The secondary objective is the work of service. Only equipped saints, i.e. saints who know doctrine, who know the Word of God circulating in the soul, can serve. The Bible says: Train people and then as they mature they are prepared to serve. So you have to have equipped saints first before they can serve. The function of all the spiritual gifts builds up the local church.
The ultimate goals is found in verse 13, "Till we all come in [attain] the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." The word "attain" means to arrive at a destination of goal. The goal is a unity of doctrine, and a knowledge of the Son of God [complete Christology]... the fullness (PLEROMA [plhrwma]) of Christ. How do we get to PLEROMA? Because the pastor equips the saints the saints grow to maturity and get involved in service in the local church. Remember that the fullness of Christ was used in Ephesians 1:20 to relate to what happens at the ascension. So that the whole mission of the Church in this age in terms of the growth process is a direct out-growth of the ascension. So the thrust of Ephesians 4:8-13 is: He ascended; He gave gifts for maturity and fullness. It is important to function within your gift in the local church because God uses all of that to bring about maturity.