As we continue our own year-long series on the Heidelberg Catechism – remembering and celebrating her 450th anniversary (see my Thursday posts this year) – today we mark “Ascension Day”, the day the church of Christ commemorates His glorious going up into the glory of heaven, by quoting from Zacharias Ursinus’ commentary on Lord’s Day 18, Q&A’s 46-49. First, let’s put the catechism itself before our eyes and minds:
Question 46. How dost thou understand these words, “he ascended into heaven”?
Answer. That Christ, in sight of his disciples, was [a] taken up from earth into heaven; and that he continues [b] there for our interest, until he comes again to judge the quick and the dead.
Question 47. Is not Christ then with us even to the end of the world, as he hath promised?
Answer. Christ is very man and very God; with respect to his [c] human nature, he is no more on earth; but with respect to his Godhead, majesty, grace and spirit, he is at no time absent from us.
Question 48. But if his human nature is not present wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?
Answer. Not at all, for since the Godhead is illimitable and [d] omnipresent, it must necessarily follow that [e] the same is beyond the limits of the human nature he assumed, and yet is nevertheless in this human nature, and remains personally united to it.
Question 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?
Answer. First, that he is our [g] advocate in the presence of his Father in heaven; secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, as the head, will also [h] take up to himself, us, his members; thirdly, that he [i] sends us his Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we “seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, [j] and not things on earth.”[a]: Acts 1:9; Mark 16:19
[b]: Heb. 4:14; Rom 8:34; Eph. 4:10
[c]: Acts 3:21; John 3:13; John 16:28; Mat. 28:20
[d]: Acts 7:49; Mat. 24:30
[e]: Mat. 28:20; John 16:28; John 17:11; John 3:13
[g]: Heb. 9:25; 1John 2:2; Rom. 8:34
[h]: John 14:2; Eph. 2:6
[i]: John 14:16; 2Cor. 1:22; 2Cor. 5:5
[j]: Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20
And from The Commentary of Dr.Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Transl. by Rev.G.W.Williard; Presbyterian and Reformed, 1982) we find these words (We can only quote a small portion of his treatment of this section of the catechism. To find all of it visit this site. It is from this online version that I quote below.):
III. FOR WHAT PURPOSE DID CHRIST ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?
Christ ascended into heaven for his own glory, and for that of his Father. It was proper, and necessary, that he should have a heavenly kingdom. Hence it was not expedient that he should continue on earth. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things “Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Eph. 4:10. Phil. 2:9, II.) It also belonged to, and was proper that Christ who is the Head should be glorified with an excellency, and superiority of gifts above all the members, which could not have been the case had he remained on earth. And still further, Christ ascended for our benefit, and that in these three respects. 1. That he might make intercession for us in heaven. “ Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. 8:34.) He intercedes for us, first, by the value of his sacrifice, already offered in our behalf, which is so great that the Father ought, on this account, to receive us into favor. Secondly, by Us own will, by which he continually desires, that the Father would receive us into favor at the sight, and recollection of that sacrifice which he accomplished in his own body. Thirdly, by the consent of the Father, approving the will, and de sire of the Son, accepting the value of his sacrifice, as a sufficient satisfaction for our sins, and together with the Son receiving us into favor. It is by making intercession for us in this manner that Christ applies unto us the benefits and merit of his death. And the entire glorification of the mediator, consisting in his resurrection, ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father, was necessary in order that this application might be made unto us. But some one may, perhaps, be ready to object and say ; but Christ interceded for us already when he was on earth ? To this we reply, that the intercession which Christ made on earth had respect to that which was yet future; for it was made upon the condition, that the mediator, after he had accomplished his sacrifice on earth, should for ever appear in the sanctuary on high. 2. That we might also ascend, and have assurance thereof. Christ him self says in the gospel of John, “ I go to prepare a place for you.” “ In my Father’s house are many mansions,” that is, places to abide for ever; for he speaks of our continuance there. Christ ascended; therefore we shall also ascend. This conclusion is proper, and forcible ; because Christ is the head, and we are the members ; he is also the first-begotten among many brethren. 3. That he might send the Holy Spirit, and by him gather, comfort, and defend his Church, even to the and of the world. Hence he says, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” “ Which (Holy Ghost) be shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (John 16:7. Tit. 3:6.)
IV. IN WHAT DOES THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST DIFFER FROM OURS?
Christ’s ascension and ours agree, first, in this, that both, he and we, ascend to the same place. They agree, secondly, in this that both, he and we, ascend to glory. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” (Joh. 17:24.)
They differ in the following respect: 1. Christ ascended by his own peculiar power and virtue. “No man hath ascended up to heaven (that is, by his own peculiar virtue) but the Son of man.” (John 3:13.) Our ascension, on the other hand, will be effected by, and for the sake of, Christ. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am.” (John 14:2; 17:24.) 2. Christ ascended that he might be head, we shall ascend that we may be members; he ascended to glory such as is proper for the head, we shall ascend to glory such as is becoming those who are members; he ascended that he might sit at the right hand of the Father, we shall ascend that we may sit upon his throne and that of his Father, not in the same dignity, but only by a participation therein. “To him that ovcrcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21.) We shall, therefore, be partakers of his glory, a just proportion being preserved between the members and the head. 3. The ascension of Christ is the cause of ours, but not the contrary. 4. Whole Christ ascended, but not the whole of Christ; because he ascended only as to his human nature, and not as it respects his divine nature, which is also on earth. But we shall ascend whole, and the whole of us; because we have only a finite nature, and that but one.