The Ascension and Exaltation of Our Lord Jesus Christ

 •  34 min. read  •  grade level: 8
John 3:9-18; 6:58-68; 16:7-159Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:9‑18)
58This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. 59These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. 60Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 61When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? 62What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? 63It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. 64But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. 65And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. 66From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. 67Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? 68Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:58‑68)
7Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. 12I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. 14He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. 15All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:7‑15)
; Ephesians 4:7-187But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in 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: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. 17This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: (Ephesians 4:7‑18)
These scriptures, beloved friends, set before us the great truth of the Lord’s exaltation into the heavens, having ascended up on high as the exalted Man; there are here set forth one or two aspects of it which I wish to bring before you simply this evening. We might travel over a large field, but it is well to keep our minds on certain definite points for profit.
His ascension into the heavens, His exaltation, connects itself in the first instance with the competency of which it was witness, which was in Him and in Him alone, to bear testimony: that is simply, His own going up into the heavens was the distinct witness to His competency to bear testimony either to earthly things or heavenly things. And that is what is set before us in John 3.
In John 6 He brings forward His ascension to show how completely outside all the vision of man, as man, was either the cross or the glory; they did not come within the range of man’s vision at all. Man understood as little about the cross as he understood about the glory. Both were equally outside man, as man. Because it was when they murmured about Him setting Himself forward as the source of life and the sustainment of life—the One who died and shed His blood was to be the source of life to perishing sinners, and also the sustainment of that life—He says, Does that offend you? If you stumble over that; what will you say to my exaltation into the heavens? “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before”; That is the second.
And then Ephesians is simple enough, and that is, that as exalted, and having ascended into the heavens, He received in His human character, for that is the meaning of He gave gifts unto men”; He thus received, as the exalted Man, these dowries, these gifts, which were the affectionate expression of the deep eternal love which was in the heart of Christ for His church. And is it not wonderfully comforting to read it in that way? I do not know any scripture that clothes ministry according to God with more divine sanction than the fact that all true ministry, that is to say, gifts, persons, remember, not qualifications, flow from Him the Head in heaven; observe, it is persons that are spoken of in Eph. 4, “He gave, some apostles”; and an apostle is a person, a pastor is a person, an evangelist is a person—it is not here a question of the qualification at all, it is a fact that He gave the persons; the gifts came from the exalted, glorified Head over all things to the church His body, and they were for the work of the ministry down here upon earth, and the edification of the body of Christ. We may well ask what human sanction for ministry—what authority could be equal to that? What endowment could man provide which would be equal to that? A ministry that does not emanate from any human source down here, it does not come from the most exalted of men, however great and noble he may be, but from the ascended Christ in glory. Think of the dignity it attaches to ministry according to God. And it is important to bear that in mind, and it is well too we should be clear, that though we refuse human authority as to ministry, we do not at all disown or make little of ministry according to God, a divinely ordered ministry. It is one thing to refuse a counterfeit, it is another thing to recognize with the deepest affection the true genuine thing. And that is what ministry according to God is, persons given direct from the ascended Christ in glory, no doubt provided with all the suited and fitted qualifications which He Himself must bestow for the carrying on of His work on earth.
Now I invite your attention this evening to those three points. First, in John 3, mark how the Lord claims—and there is a point of exceeding blessedness in it for our souls—He claims, I say, that His ascension into the heavens is the great proof and demonstration that He was the One who had both right and competency to reveal earthly things or heavenly things. Bear in mind that there are the two, earthly things and heavenly things. The Lord was speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth. We do not go into that subject now more than to say this, that for man to have to do with God in any relationship, whether it be earthly or heavenly, he must be born again. There can be no connection and no relationship between God and man in the state man is in by nature; there must be a new birth. And it must be a new birth of this nature—not merely born from above, but a totally new thing altogether. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Of course, I need not say it is from above, but that is not the force of it; it is not the source from whence this new birth comes, but it is the character of it, the nature of it, it is an entirely new birth. The Lord said that to Nicodemus, and that was connected with the earthly part of His glory; He was speaking of that which was necessary for the kingdom which Nicodemus ought to have known. He should have known that in order to enter the kingdom, to have a part in the kingdom, man could not boast of his descent from Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob; he must be born again.
But, beloved friends, and I wish to emphasize this fact, that though new birth is beyond all question needed for man in the state he is in, new birth does not set forth the distinctive and special privileges and glories that attach to Christianity. Quite true he must be born again, quite true new birth is indispensable, it was necessary even for the earthly part of the kingdom. But when He comes to speak of heavenly things, what does he say? What does He set forth specially and peculiarly as connected with heavenly things? That which follows. And what is that? Eternal life. And hence, when the Lord speaks of this, mark what He brings out in connection with it. He speaks of Himself being lifted up on the cross; He speaks of Himself as the antitype of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up,” not lifted up upon the earth, but lifted up on the cross, between the heavens and the earth, the great manifestation that there was no link between man as man and God; so that blessed One was lifted up between the heavens and the earth, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Observe how it is in connection with that, and with the Father’s giving the Son according to all the blessed, precious thoughts of His own heart, that the Lord says to Nicodemus, If I have spoken to you about earthly things, if I have pressed upon you the fact of having to be born again to have to do with God’s kingdom down here, and you refuse to believe that, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things. And what was His competency to bear witness to either? This; “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” There, observe, His exaltation comes in, and verily beyond all question it is precious. It is blessed too that He brings forward His exaltation as the ascended man, before it became a fact historically, as that which was to be, the proof of this great certainty, that He was the alone Person that was competent to bear witness to either heavenly or earthly things. Now why? It is not that there had not been communications from God through men down here on earth; God had spoken in previous times, as He Himself tells us. Let us turn to Heb. 1, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets.” God had previously given communications, and the prophets uttered those divine communications as coming direct from God; they gave the message they had from God. But that was not Christ. A prophet could only speak what he had got. But Jesus, a man and yet God, as much God as man, truly God and truly man, in communion with the Godhead, spoke what He knew himself. There is the preciousness of the testimony of Christ. It was not that He received it. There is a point of exceeding beauty in Heb. 1 as to the question of testimony and communication of the mind of God. The apostle says, in verse 1, that God spoke through the instrumentality of chosen vessels, to whom He communicated His mind; “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” But now mark, “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” not spoken by His Son just as He spoke by the prophets, that is not the force of this scripture at all, it neither means nor says that; what it means and what it says is this, that God had spoken “in the Person of the Son,” that the Person of the Son down here was God’s own voice speaking; if one might use such an expression, it was God speaking to us “Son-wise”; it was not through a medium like a prophet—a prophet was only a medium, albeit a divine medium, but Christ spoke of things which He Himself knew as God, being God. Look at the difference. He was a divine Person down here in this world, though a man. He was here communicating the things which He knew Himself, “We speak that we do know.” Whereas, when you think of a servant, or an ordinary vessel that God may be communicating His mind through, take Paul for instance, look at his utterance, “We believe, and therefore speak.” He does not say, “We speak that we do know,” but, “We believe, and therefore speak.” But Christ could say, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness.”
There was the most distinct competency in that blessed One to communicate those things in communion with the Godhead, because He was God. And the stress that is laid upon that is this, to guard the thought that His becoming a man detracted in the least from the fact that He was ever and always God. His divine Person, and the dignities and glories attached to His divine Person, lost nothing by His becoming a man. He was as truly God as He was truly man. But He was down here in this world veiled in flesh, and it was the veil of His humanity, and His being a man whom men could set aside, and spit upon, and cast out, and reject; it was the reality of the lowliness that characterized Him that made, as it were, the veil too thick for human eyes, and that concealed Him from the unbelieving heart, even where there was not faith to pierce through that veil, and see the divine glory that was there. How blessed then to dwell upon His competency! He could tell, in virtue of what He was Himself, of these earthly things, and of these heavenly things.
Now let us look again at the two parts of these earthly and heavenly things. As to the earthly things, here was the new birth. And what did that new birth declare? What was the meaning of it? This; that there was nothing to be got out of man as he was. What a solemn commentary upon everything connected with humanity, that is. The meaning of new birth is that man as man is not fit for God, that you cannot educate him, or change him, or re-cast him, or re-model him. He must be born again, he is not fit for God, even in the very lowest part of His glory, he is not fit for the earthly part of His kingdom. Now Jesus testified of that; He spoke of earthly things. And you may remember (and it is a solemn scripture in connection with this) how, in the close of John 2, there were people attracted when they saw the miracles; and there are people now that are attracted when they see some wonderful thing, something that appeals to sight; because there is in the heart of man an admiration of power, a man may not possess it himself, but he admires it, he is attracted by it when he sees it in another. “When they saw the miracles they believed.” What was that? Mere credence; it was not faith. Miracles are never the real ground of true faith. Whenever a person stands upon miracles or wonders as the ground of their faith, you will find that when miracles and wonders are not there, faith is not there. But Jesus did not commit Himself to the people that believed in His name when they saw the miracles. Why? Now mark the solemn words, “He needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.” How did He know? He was God. It was a divine Person searching the depths of the depravity of the heart of man. “He knew what was in man”; He needed no one to testify to Him. And it was not merely that He knew about man, but He knew man.
Now that connects itself in a very simple way with the earthly part of His testimony. He was competent to bear testimony with regard to earthly things, because, being a divine Person, though a man, He knew what was in man, He knew what man was made of, He knew everything about him, and He knew it intuitively, because He was God, and in virtue of the glory of His Person. And I need not say He could tell of heavenly things, for who knew what God was but Christ, and what could you and I know about God if it had not been for Christ? He knew what was in heaven, He could speak of God. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,” not who was, but “who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him”; there He was a man on earth speaking, and yet He is in the bosom of the Father, “the only-begotten Son, who is in the Father’s bosom, he hath declared him.” Could anything be more precious to our souls than to be committed to such testimony as that? That is the testimony, whether in relation to ourselves, or whether in relation to God, and to heaven, and to the things above, and to the Father, all emanating from Jesus. He is the Revealer, He is the One who manifests God, who reveals the Father, who could speak of things as He knew them. How blessed to think of the Son in the bosom of the Father, and the deep eternal love set forth in those words. And, beloved friends, may not we say together with all affection, that in all the heat and warmth of that bosom, the declaration of the testimony came from Him the Son, that all the deep affection and love of the Father’s heart was revealed in and by that blessed One, as no one else could reveal it but Himself?
I trust you see now how, in this passage in John 3, His ascension is brought forward by Himself, as proof of the competency to speak of heavenly or earthly things. “No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven.” A man may be taken up into heaven, you know that. Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven, and angels came down from heaven, but no man hath ascended up into heaven; no man ever went up there in the way the Lord was speaking here; no one ever went up there in wondrous right. For whilst His incarnation was the witness to how God came down in lowly grace to man, His ascension was the witness to how man had gone up in divine right and righteousness to God. You have there the two realities. In that wonderful child in the manger at Bethlehem, you have the witness to all the lowly grace that was in God, who came down, and stooped, and emptied Himself to become a man. It was not that He laid aside His glory. I do not think that expression is quite correct. He veiled it, if you please; He never laid it aside; faith, I believe, may have pierced the veil, and seen it. I grant you there was very little faith; but wherever there was the smallest exercise of faith, it pierced the veil, and gazed upon His glory. The expression is borrowed from an old hymn, but I do not believe it to be correct. It was God come down here in lowly grace that was witnessed in the incarnation. But when the cross had become a reality, and the Lord Jesus Christ was risen from among the dead, and was ascended into the heavens and exalted to the right hand of God, there we find man gone up to God in right and righteousness. And that is a wonderful thing for ourselves; for, as I tried to press upon you here before, it was not that the Lord Jesus Christ was not perfectly entitled in virtue of the glory of His Person to every expression of divine complacency, for assuredly He was, but it is an immense thing for our souls in connection with Christianity to know that He won it, He got it in virtue of the completeness and perfection of His work, and that according to the counsels of God.
There is this difference, that when John speaks of Christ, whatever subject he touches, he always speaks of the glory of His Person; if he speaks of His ascension, it is in connection with the glory of His Person. When Paul speaks of it, he speaks of it in connection with the counsels of God and the work of Christ. With John, it is always the nature of that blessed One, the only-begotten Son in the Father’s bosom, the eternal Son before all time and worlds, the One who ever was with the Father. With Paul it is the counsels of God in relation to that blessed, glorious Man, and the perfection of that work which gave effect to those counsels. You will see this very clearly in Ephesians; brethren, it is well to know these things, and moreover it is an immense help in reading the scriptures. We should not read them as though there was no distinction and no difference. God means us to profit by what is given in different parts of His word, and to see how He sets forth the various points of the glory of His Son. So in John; no one ever ascended up to heaven but the One that came down. “No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
Now let us turn to John 6, and there is a second aspect of the ascension there. Observe what the Lord was unfolding there. The three subjects in John 6 are His incarnation, His death, and His ascension; Christ incarnate, Christ lifted upon the cross, and Christ ascended up into heaven. I do not go into them now, the subject is so full and large. But the ascension is brought out in John 6, just as I said at the commencement, in this way—that man stumbled at His humiliation and equally would stumble at His glory; that His ascension into the heavens and the exaltation that was connected with it was as much outside his field of view as the glories of His humiliation and His cross; he believed neither the one nor the other. And so the Lord says, If I have spoken to you about being lifted up on the cross, about giving my flesh and my blood, about eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking His blood, and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things; and mark it well, beloved friends, there was no life for any one that did not eat His flesh and drink His blood, and neither is there now; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” There is no way by which a poor sinner can have life, except he appropriates to himself by faith the Christ who gave His flesh and shed His precious blood. And the Lord says, Just as you eat and drink, that is, as you appropriate what you feed upon, so you appropriate Christ who died and shed His precious blood upon the cross. And, observe, it is a definite thing, once for all, it is never repeated. Once for all, as a poor, wretched sinner you appropriate by faith to the needs of your soul a Christ who gave His body and shed His blood, you feed on Him in death. He is the only source of life; thus we get life in its source, coming from the Savior who died upon the cross.
But there is another thing that the Lord brought before them in John 6, and the two things together stumbled them, and that is, that there was no sustainment for that life if they did not continually feed on Him. It is not appropriating Him now to their needs as poor perishing sinners to get life through Him, but in communion with Himself, feeding upon Him, who was the source of their life, eating Him for the sustainment of that life which they had from Him definitely when they appropriated Him to their needs at the beginning. And there comes a solemn question for all our souls—is not that the secret of the feebleness of the lives of many Christians? You often say, I think that person has got life. But how sickly it is; there does not seem to be any vigor in it. I do not know anything more wretched than to see a person dragging out an existence, as it were, whether it be in body or in soul. A bare existence is to me the most melancholy thing in this world. Look at it in Christians. You judge before the Lord yourselves, and let me judge before the Lord myself tonight as to whether this little point here is not the secret of the feebleness and sickly character of our lives as Christians—we do not feed continually on Christ. What do we feed on? What is the sustainment of the life within us? What is it nourishes us? That is the question. Alas! far be it from me to go into the details of it, but I know too well, I am sorry to say, how hundreds of things become the food of one’s life instead of the only thing that really can nourish us. Nothing can nourish the life we have from Christ but Christ, and if Christ is the sustainment of our life just as He is the source of it, the blessed One Himself is the only One that can keep that life going in energy, power, fresh- ness and distinctness; what a blessed reality then feeding on Him is.
The ministry of Christ, I admit, is by the Holy Ghost and the scriptures. There is the preciousness of the word of God, the Spirit of God ministering out of the scriptures to our souls that blessed One, so as to sustain our life. How much time do we spend over it? How much do we meditate in it? The Lord knows I often think it over in my own heart in real sorrow and grief. I hear people talking about reading meetings, and I am afraid a great many reading meetings are little more than debating meetings; and what a miserable kind of thing that is! What we want is (I trust I may be forgiven for using a word that has the appearance of cant, which I cordially detest), but what we want is feeding on Christ in our souls, food for our souls, sitting down to the word of God as a hungry man sits down to his meal, to find through the ministry of the Spirit of God, that living, blessed, precious Christ to feed and sustain us, and to rise from the word in the sense of the nourishment that Christ has supplied to the soul, and Christ Himself precious to us as that food. It must be gathered and eaten, and there must be purpose of heart to search for it.
What did the children of Israel go out into the wilderness to look for? The manna; that was their definite object; they searched for the manna. And when you and I go to the scriptures, do we search for Christ in them? And when they had found the manna, what did they do with it? They dressed it; they subjected it to a process that set forth the sufferings of Christ; they did not eat it as they found it in the field. And we could not feed on an incarnate Christ, it is a dead Christ that is the food of our souls. Therefore the manna was dressed; it was, we read, ground in mills, or beaten in a mortar and baked in pans; all this sets forth His sufferings. And thus they ate it. And it was of this Moses said, you shall be filled; and mark this, “And ye shall know that Jehovah is your God.” And exactly the same thing is said in John 6, where the Lord is the great antitype of it. In the beginning of the chapter He fed the people, I believe, as a picture of it; and what is said about that multitude is that the Lord took the loaves, and distributed them, “and they were filled.” And there is another word to show that no amount of need could be any adequate measure of the supply—there were fragments to a large extent taken up. And so our need may be great, it may be varied, but it never can measure the fulness of the Christ of God, never. And therefore on every occasion when the Lord fed the multitude in the gospels, there were fragments—twelve baskets you get in Luke 9. Why? To show, as I have said, that God’s supply could never be measured by man’s need. How could finite need measure infinite fulness? Impossible. But I press this earnestly, that herein lies the secret of our life not being in vigor, but that it is sickly and feeble, and not rising up to its source to delight itself in its object; even that Christ is not fed upon in the scriptures through the ministry of the Spirit.
And observe how, in connection with this very thing here, they murmured; and the Lord says, as it were, Do you murmur, and do you complain, and do you stumble? And many even of His own disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. And why should we be surprised at any one turning away from the truth of God to-day, when there were people that turned away from the Christ of God? And yet how we wonder, and say, What a strange thing! But they turned away from Christ. Who? His disciples. “Many of them went back, and walked no more with him”; and He replies in the most touching tenderness, “Will ye also go away?”
Now mark what comes in here in connection with this too as to His exaltation, and that is, the Spirit; and that will bring us to John 16. The coming down of the Comforter was connected with the exalted Christ. It was as exalted that He sent down the Holy Ghost. He speaks of His going away, which was His exaltation, and the necessity for them that He should go away, and that if He did not go away, the Comforter would not come, but that if He departed, He would send Him. And the Lord forecasts it in John 16. And observe these three things about the Comforter, for they are very precious. When the Comforter is come, He shall be a convicting Spirit in the world. It is not, mark, the operation of the Spirit here, it is the fact of His presence. His presence would be the conviction of the world. The world is convicted, and the saint is comforted. As to the world, He was to be a convicting Spirit; as to the saints, they were to be comforted and guided into all truth; and as to Jesus, the Holy Ghost would glorify Him. Those three things are most beautiful. “He shall glorify me”; He will comfort you and guide you into all truth; and as to the world, His presence here will bring home the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He shall convict the world “of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness”—there is none in the world, they cast Christ out—“because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged”; for it was in that character he led the whole world on to crucify Christ. But it is all forecast there; it is the forecast of the coming Comforter when Christ should be exalted.
We have the thing in fact in Acts 2, when the Comforter came. But look at the way the Holy Ghost came down there. When the day of Pentecost was fully come they were all brought together; God so arranged that they should be together in one place; and there came the sound of a mighty rushing wind, filling all the house, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire—keep those two things before your mind—and sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. You will see the contrast in a moment. When Jesus was down here as a man upon earth, He was sealed by the Father, “the Holy Ghost descended upon him in a bodily shape like a dove.” “Him hath God the Father sealed,” that is to say, by the Holy Ghost coming down upon Him, He was marked off in that peculiar way. It was not that there was anything added to His Person or glory, that could not be; but He was set forth as the One whom God specially and peculiarly marked out in that way. But I think it is most precious that the form which the Holy Ghost took when He came down upon Christ was in a bodily shape like a dove. How suitable if you think of Him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, that precious, gracious, gentle, blessed Savior! The very form of the seal, because that is what the Spirit of God was, is very blessed, it was the Holy Ghost came down upon Christ without blood, God putting His seal upon Him, beyond and outside all others, none like Him—but the form of the seal set forth His own precious Person, He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” and therefore it was the dove; and then there were the opened heavens and the Father’s voice.
But that is not what you have in Acts 2. That blessed Person passed through His baptism of death, having gone down to the very depths of judgment on the cross, and ascended into the heavens, and the Holy Ghost came as sent down from Him, for He received the Holy Ghost as the promise of the Father, and shed that Spirit down Himself as the exalted man from glory. But what form does the Spirit take? He takes the form of that which sets forth testimony, that is to say, the tongue; because now there was to be testimony all the whole world over to this blessed One, and therefore it was parted tongues or cloven tongues, that is to say, it was to be a far-reaching testimony, it was not to go to one nation or one people, it was to take in Jews and Gentiles everywhere. Hence they were parted tongues, cloven tongues. And then, “like as of fire,” because they set forth the divine, holiness and judgment as against sin, of which the cross was the great witness in this world. The Holy Ghost that came down from the Man that was on the cross but is now on the throne, takes this shape of parted tongues in testimony of the fact, that the- whole earth now is to receive the tidings; and it was as a fire in connection with the fact of the intolerance of God’s holy, righteous nature of all evil, of which the cross was the great witness in this world.
Now if you turn to Acts 2:29-36, there you will see how it is explained. It was forecast in John, it came out as a fact in the beginning of Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, and now it is divinely explained by Peter through the ministry of the Spirit, because he is speaking by the Holy Ghost. And there is one point in Acts 2 which is exceedingly precious. When the Holy Ghost did come down, and when He was here upon earth, dwelling in the whole house of God, as we know He does, yet He sat upon each of them particularly, for each of them had these cloven tongues particularly, and the whole house was filled. But look at the difference in the testimony now, see the power of this testimony, and the force that was given to this testimony; it is perfectly exquisite. There is nothing that de- lights the heart that loves Christ more than to see how, wherever they turned, they found Christ. They found Him in the prophets, they found Him in the Psalms, they found Him everywhere. When Peter, who is the vessel for the communication of the mind of God here, opens his mouth in company with the Holy Ghost, wherever he goes through the scriptures, he finds Christ; Christ in the Old Testament, it is not David, “David is not ascended into the heavens.” He can interpret everything now; he has got the key? What is the key? Christ. He is the key to unlock all the treasures of God. And the Holy Ghost is the one who can and who delights to minister that blessed Christ to our souls. He says, “He shall take of mine,” “He shall glorify me”; “He shall not speak of himself,” that is, as an independent witness; He will become a servant for the Son’s glories, as the Son became a servant for the Father’s glories. The Spirit of God delights to take of Christ’s things in the scriptures, and show them to us.
Now look at that scripture in Eph. 4, which is the third aspect of Christ’s ascension. There it is in connection with ministry, it is what Christ received for the church as the exalted man, head over all things to the church His body. I am only giving utterance to what is old truth, not new. What is new is generally false; and what is old is true. You find three precious things in that Eph. 4. You get a Man ascended, a victorious Man, Man gone up in divine righteousness as Victor, Conqueror of death, exalted “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” That is one thing. But you get more—that exalted Man leading in captivity him who held men in captivity, “He led captivity captive”; the very one who led men in captivity is in captivity himself now; He ascended up on high, and “led captivity captive.” The ascension of Christ is the proof of it. And here it is that ministry comes in. He takes poor wretched creatures who were once the slaves of that one whom he leads in captivity, once the slaves of Satan, and He uses them as the vessels of His power against the very power that once held them. That is what ministry is, according to God. It is not the tongue of an angel or archangel. No angel or archangel could be a suitable and competent witness to His glories who has glorified God in such marvelous ways as Jesus has, but poor creatures like you and me, if it please God in His sovereignty so to elect that it shall be the case, once poor slaves of Satan, once in bondage and in captivity themselves, delivered now through grace from the captivity of Satan, and from under the hand and dominion and power of the enemy, and then used in divine grace against the power that they once had to succumb to, themselves. And therefore, as has been often said, no angel or archangel could speak as a poor creature like you and I could speak.
How blessed to think that when He would give these gifts as dowries for His church, proofs of His love, for the edification and sustainment and refreshment of His church in this world, He goes into Satan’s domains, having first of all led him into captivity, and then takes from under the power of that enemy, now broken and subdued, poor things like ourselves, and makes them vessels of His grace. Because the gifts, as we have seen, are persons; they are not qualities; they are quite distinct from the manifestations of power such as you find them in 1 Corinthians, displays of power down here on earth, but those gifts in Eph. 4 always go on. We have got them “till we all come, in 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.” It is not restoration of an apostolate, but it is the perpetuation of these gifts from the ascended Man in glory “till we all come.” Perpetuation of ministry and restoration of ministry are not the same things. The thought of a revived apostolate for ministry is false; the perpetuation of gift as emanating from that blessed One in heaven, is true, “till we all come.” And therefore, as long as ever that has not come about, there will be down here upon this earth, as emanating from that exalted head over all things to the church His body, the proofs of His love for His assembly, gifts to edify, and for the gospel, till what God has in His purpose and mind is accomplished.
I commend this to you. If the study of it gives to you the delight it has given to me, as I think it over and dwell upon it in all its blessedness, you will be well repaid for pondering and meditating over it yourselves, and seeing what comes from the exaltation of Christ. And above and beyond all, when you think of that blessed One who went down underneath the waves of death and judgment, who was here for God’s glory—the trodden-down man—what a thing for the heart that has been won by His humiliation to see Him exalted, to look at that Savior that came down here to win our poor worthless hearts for Himself, He who went down into the lowest depths, to think of Him exalted. What a comfort for the heart that knows the love of Christ, and has that love as a constraining power there, what a comfort to see that Savior in the highest place now, exalted, glorified, and soon coming too to take us to Himself!
The Lord grant that each one of our hearts may drink in all the deep eternal preciousness and blessedness that comes from it, and through His grace become better acquainted with Christ and His glories, for His blessed name’s sake.