Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 51-53. Here is a brief review.
WLC 51 What was the estate of Christ’s exaltation ?
A. The estate of Christ’s exaltation comprehendeth his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.
Having explored Christ’s estate of humiliation (WLC 46-50), this next question outlines the four aspects of Christ’s estate of exaltation: (1) resurrection, (2) ascension, (3) sitting at the right hand of the Father, and (4) and his coming again to judge the world. A summary of both Christ’s humiliation and exaltation may be found in Philippians 2:5-11, as well as in the Apostles’ Creed.
The next several questions explain these four aspects of Christ’s exaltation, with an addition question inserted regarding His work of intercession:
WLC 52 – Resurrection
WLC 53 – Ascension
WLC 54 – Sitting at the right hand of the Father
WLC 55 – Intercessory work
WLC 56 – Coming again to judge the world
WLC 52 How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?
A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his Church,( for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.
While there is much here by way of explanation of Christ’s resurrection, we will only highlight a few items. First, we should note that the word “quick” is an older English word which simply means alive. So, Christ is Lord of the quick (those still alive) and the dead (those who have died). And, He provides justification and “quickening in grace” for His Church (He makes them alive through the gracious work of regeneration).
Next, we should note that He “rose again from the dead the third day by his own power.” That is to say, Jesus laid down His life by His own initiative according to His own authority; therefore, He took it up again (resurrected) according to His own authority and power (John 10:18).
It is also important to understand what the catechism means that Jesus was resurrected as “a public person.” The following phrase helps to explain this: He is the head of His Church. Thus, by “public person,” the catechism does not mean that Jesus was resurrected in front of people. Rather, a public person is here understood to be a person who operates as an official representative for others. So, just as Adam sinned as a public person (he was our covenant head and representative of all mankind – see WLC 22 and Romans 5:12-20), so also was Jesus acting as a public person in His resurrection (He is the covenant head and representative of His Church – 1 Corinthians 15:21-24).
Finally, as the first fruits of the resurrection of the His people who will be resurrected like Him on the last day (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), we learn from Jesus’ resurrection what our resurrection will be like. And so, we learn here that Jesus was resurrected having the very same body in which He suffered, with the same essential properties, but without mortality and the other common infirmities of this life. His body was sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Likewise, when He comes again for His own, we will be made like Him (1 John 3:2).
WLC 53 How was Christ exalted in his ascension?
A. Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared unto and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place for us, where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world.
Again, there is much that we could talk about with regard to Christ’s ascension; however, it will suffice to emphasize just a few things. The historical account of Jesus’ ascension is found in Acts 1:1-11. There, we read of how the disciples watched as Jesus was lifted up and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Afterward, two men in white clothing (presumably angels) appeared to the disciples and told them of how Jesus would return in the same that He ascended.
The catechism also mentions that Jesus went up into the highest heavens “to receive gifts for men.” This seems to be an odd phrase to include in this catechism question; however, the catechism is here referring to the teaching of the Apostle Paul on the benefits that we receive from Christ’s ascension:
“7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:7-13)
The host of captives which Christ leads captive are His people, the Church. We are Christ’s captives, His spoils of war, if you will. He has made us fellow citizens with the saints – our citizenship is in heaven – and we are members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20-21). The gifts which Christ received for men are listed for us in Ephesians 4:11; they are “various kinds of official functions in the church, such as the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” (Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, p 118).
There are several benefits of studying Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. On the one hand, we learn of the unique work of Christ as the only Redeemer of God’s elect. In His humiliation and exaltation, Christ was a public person who suffered, died, and rose again on behalf of His people. Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). At the same time, we learn of how Jesus is the pattern of our salvation and resurrection. If we have become united to Christ in the likeness of His death, we will certainly be in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). Jesus is both our unique Savior and our the forerunner of our faith (Hebrews 6:19-20).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch