The omnipresent Lord nevertheless has a physical body

Fifth in the Ascension Series

In the previous post we reflected on Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene not to “cling” to him, that is, to touch him in the sense of fastening or adhering to him.

She had been first to the grave, and in train were Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, another follower. (Mar 16:1) An angel told them to tell his disciples that he was not there but was risen. It would seem that initially, all of the women were afraid to obey the angel (Mar 16:8) but Mary Magdalene did so.

Peter and John ran to see and then returned to their homes or the place in Jerusalem where they resided, though it was in Galilee that they were told Jesus would meet with them. Mary Magdalene remained after they left, and was then privileged to see the Lord.

At first she did not recognize him but when he spoke her name, her eyes were opened. She naturally reached to touch him or fell at his feet to do so, and he said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)

In the last post we quoted John Walvoord (1910-2002), a former pastor and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, that touching the Lord was inappropriate. Because Christ’s glory was veiled, Mary Magdalene could not see that she was intruding in a holy realm, and doing so with a familiarity unsuited for this immense purity. After the Ascension, the veil was removed:

The ascension is important because it constitutes the second step in the exaltation of Christ which began at the time of His resurrection. When Christ rose from the dead, He assumed a resurrection body which was suited for glorification, even though for the time being the glory was veiled in order that He might minister to His disciples. When He ascended into heaven, however, this veil was taken away, and Christ resumed His rightful place of honor in heaven with the added glory of His victory over sin and death. The ascension, therefore, marked a new step in the exaltation of Christ as well as a new phase in His ministry. (Walvoord)

Christians can attest that today it is right and necessary to cling to the Lord, not physically, but with our full heart, soul and mind.

In expressing this idea, we may be inclined to envision Christ as a spirit only, and not a body. How could Christians everywhere cling to Him today, or you may prefer to say, Walk with Him, if He is not omnipresent?

Lutherans believe that the body of Christ is omnipresent but the Reformed position is that ‘Christ is omnipresent only in His deity and is local as far as His body is concerned.’ A 19th century Presbyterian theologian, Charles Hodge, wrote that ‘locality is an essential attribute of any body, as an omnipresent body loses the characteristics of a body.’

For this reason, Christ is presented in Scripture as bodily present in heaven now even though He is spiritually present everywhere. The locality of the body of Christ is essential not only to His present ministry on the throne in heaven but also confirms the reality of the ascension itself as a bodily ascension, His second coming to the earth in glory as a bodily return, and His bodily presence in the millennial earth. (Walvoord)

The disciple who ran ahead of Peter to the grave explains our expectation and hope:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Did Christ ascend twice or once?

Fourth in the Ascension Series

Did the Lord ascend to heaven the day of his Resurrection, or at any other time during the 40 days, or only on the fortieth day?

Some Bible expositors who say that Christ ascended on Resurrection Day, point to John 20:17 -

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

They discern that his ascension was imminent because Matthew describes a (very slightly) later meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene and other women where all of them held his feet and worshipped him (Mat 28:9 KJV; Luke 24:10 KJV) but he did not warn them not to cling or to touch him.

A commentary by John Walvoord points out: “It is more probable that Christ rebuked Mary when she touched or clung to Him (Gr. hapto) because this was improper for her to do.”

We recall that he also said to his disciples: I go to prepare a place for you, and this promise was made long before he actually went to heaven. (John 14:2) Likewise, I ascend unto my Father, a present-tense statement, did not mean his ascension was imminent but only that it was a certainty. (Walvoord)

Other ways or reasons to ascend?

We know that the Lord could materialize suddenly in his Resurrection body or appear in ‘other forms’ (Mark 16:12 KJV; Luke 24:30-31 KJV; John 20:26 KJV). Could he have materialized in heaven as he did on earth? If so, would that be an ascension?

No, the Father had a special time and place for his Son to ascend to join him. He performed this miraculous journey to confirm Scripture, and Christ arrived at his destination for this cause as well. (Acts 1:4 KJV; Eph 4:8-10 KJV; Ps 68:18 KJV)

Another reason given by some theologians for why the Lord needed to ascend on the day of his resurrection is gleaned from Hebrews 9 (Heb 9:6-20 KJV), the chapter that explains how Christ was a type of the high priest who entered into the Holy Place of the Temple on the Day of Atonement. (Heb 9:12 KJV)

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Such a viewpoint does not credit or proclaim the crucifixion of the Lord and his death as the once-for-all sacrifice that we embrace as our door to salvation but rather considers that great sacrifice as unfinished. Not until he presented his blood in heaven was it effective for us.

This is why Catholics and some Protestants consider the Lord’s Supper or ‘Eucharist’ as emblems of Christ’s very body and blood. The “first ascension” is a “perpetual offering” that is extended in the sacrament.

Yet, for those who believe the Good News, it is further stated in Hebrews 9—

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb 9:24-28 KJV)

We know that the Lord was a high priest like Melchizedek, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Heb 7:16 KJV)

The offering that Christ made of his blood was on the cross. “His sacrifice was finished and altogether ended when He was taken down from the cross and was buried. He did not continue sacrificing when He was in the grave. He did not offer Himself as a sacrifice when He rose again.” (Ref) He does not offer himself in sacrifice again and again. It is finished!

We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10 KJV)

The Forty Days leading to the Ascension

Third in the Ascension Series

Forty is a Biblical number—How else could it be described with such magnitude and significance? Its numerous mentions in Scripture draw us to reflect on each event with which it is associated.

We learn in the first chapter of Acts that the Ascension took place after Christ had remained on the earth ‘after his passion’ for 40 days. (Acts 1:3)

On the website, a section on the ‘Meaning of Numbers’ states the following about the number 40:

  • 146 mentions in Scripture
  • the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation.
  • Moses lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God selected him to lead his people out of slavery.
  • Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1 - 28), receiving God's laws. He sent spies, for 40 days, to investigate the land God promised the Israelites as an inheritance (Numbers 13:25, 14:34).
  • Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years, one for each day of their futile investigation
  • the 40 days and nights of Noah’s flood
  • Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days
  • Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness
  • others

Would you consider the length of days the Lord remained on the earth before his ascension to be a time of testing, trial or probation for his disciples? Perhaps so, in that it was a special time for them to put away all unbelief and gather their strength and wits and before the start of the gospel ministry in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Another aspect of the 40-day or year time span is that God is at work to accomplish a particular goal. It is a required length of time for a specific accomplishment.

It was just the right amount of time for Moses to become a patient man after his murder of the Egyptian, and before he is commanded to return to entreat Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites. Forty years reformed his character.

Forty days are needed for Jonah to cry out and convince the Ninevites that God will judge them. It was the effective span of time. One or two weeks would not do.

It took exactly 40 days and nights of flooding for the earth to be covered with waters, to drown all life except for those on the ark.

It would take 40 days for the Lord to work with his disciples before he ascended—

  • It was a slower time —no planes, buses or cars. No electronic communications. All gatherings and discussions would be in person. Only the risen Lord could dematerialize or suddenly appear (Mark 16:14); everyone else had to walk, run or ride on an animal to arrive at a meeting.
  • We are told that both Jesus and the angel at the tomb told the women to advise his disciples to meet him in Galilee, (Mat 28:7, 10) and that they met him at a particular mountain (Mat 28:16) to learn about their future work (Mat 28:19-20). It would be a two or three day walk from Jerusalem to Galilee. (It would seem that this commissioning was repeated for enforced learning with three instances (Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8) being individual versions.)
  • The women who followed Jesus needed assurance that he was alive and was continuing to carry out his Father’s mission. They would be valuable witnesses throughout their villages.
  • The Lord also appeared to many others of his followers such as Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13), and 500 brethren at one time. (1 Cor 15:6) All of these were witnesses who gained assurance, who could testify about his resurrection for any who doubted. This, too, built momentum for the work ahead. These appearances are for all of us— we all need to see in Scripture that the Lord is alive, after dying.
  • It takes time for the human mind to process a crisis event. The Lord understood that his disciples had experienced a trauma and needed time to adjust and heal, and with him present to guide and comfort them, they would get back to normal more quickly.
  • It was necessary for each one of them to recover from the shock and realize a new day of service was at hand. Though they would still daily follow the Lord, he would not remain on the earth, and they would follow him in a new reality. Each had lives, work and kinfolk or families to confer with or to settle in new ways before beginning their new work in the Lord.
  • They saw for themselves that he ate and had flesh as a man, with telltale wounds (Luke 24:39, 42-43). He wanted them to be fully convinced that he was still a man, the same man whom they had known before he died and was buried. He really was alive and well.

Yes, there was much work to do before Christ could ascend to his Father, and our Father (John 20:17). It was the work of a preacher and a friend, teacher, counselor, a brother, a prince of peace, and a prophet.

Attention Readers

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Learn more. The conscience cannot function without facts.

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