Monday, May 28, 2007

Ascension

"I have just finished writing a small popular-level commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. And I was struck right from the start by the fact that Acts, which of course begins with the story of the Ascension, never once speaks in the way those Collects – and the whole tradition which they embody – so easily does. At no point in the whole book does anyone ever speak, or even sound as though they’re going to speak, of those who follow Jesus following him to heaven. Nobody says, ‘well, he’s gone on before and we’ll go and join him’. And for a very good reason. When the New Testament speaks of God’s kingdom it never, ever, refers to heaven pure and simple. It always refers to God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus himself taught us to pray. We have slipped into the easygoing language of ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in the sense of God’s kingdom being ‘heaven’, but the early church never spoke like that. The point about heaven is that heaven is the control room for earth. Heaven is the CEO’s office from which earth is run – or it’s supposed to be, which is why we’re told to pray for that to become a reality. And the point of the Ascension, paradoxically in terms of the ways in which generations of western Christians have seen it, is that this is the moment when that prayer is gloriously answered.

Here is the paradox of Christian political theology, a paradox which the western church has all but ignored for many years, assuming that the main object of the game was to forget earth and concentrate on heaven instead. Precisely because we believe that Jesus Christ has been exalted to heaven, into God’s space, so that he can be present to the whole earth simultaneously (not so that he can be absent from it – heaven forbid!), and so that he can be its rightful Lord, we believe that the church has a responsibility, not to usurp the proper and God-given functions of governments and authorities, of magistrates and officers, but to support them in prayer and to remind them of what they are there for – and to point out when they’re getting it wrong. God has established authorities in the world, as part of the goodness of creation, because without them the bullies and the malevolent would always get away with it. But the problem of evil includes the problem that the people who are supposed to be keeping evil in check may themselves become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

That’s why, in early Christianity and Judaism, those who believe in God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven are not particularly concerned with how rulers get to be rulers. They are not going around campaigning for an early form of parliamentary democracy. They are extremely concerned with what rulers do once they become rulers, knowing that a bad ruler is worse than an ordinary bad person, because their evil is becoming part of the system. And so the church, at its most characteristic from that day to this, in hailing Jesus as the ascended Lord, doesn’t declare a plague on all other lords in the sense of advocating a kind of holy anarchy, or a straightforward theocracy. But the church claims the right, in invoking Jesus as Lord, to challenge the systems of corruption that dehumanize people and enslave them, and to remind the powers that be of what their duty actually is."

Tom Wright

3 comments:

Bruce Yabsley said...

A good quote and a timely one. What was the original occasion? An article? A public address?

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Ascension Day sermon he seems to have given a few days ago at York Minster.

You'll find it on his website: www.ntwrightpage.com

Anonymous said...

Fancy a bit of background on rulership of the world? (courtesy of lectures by James B. Jordan)



THOUGHTS ON THE ASCENSION

"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14


Rulers pre-Christ

Solomon as king was as a son to God, his palace at the right hand of the Father's temple. Following the continued failure of the kings, we see a mini-Covenant temporarily made with the prophets as mediators (sacrifice, parting the river, building God's house in the school of the prophets).

After the destruction of Solomon's temple, the kings of the four Gentile empires (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome) were cherubs used by God to protect the church, rulers which the Jews were commanded to submit to. So these ruling beasts from the Gentile sea in Daniel were not totally negative. A number of their rulers became converts but each of these 'cherubs' was replaced with the next when they turned against the Old Testament church.

We also saw the four empires corporately as a statue, a glorious 'metal man', a new king, a tabernacle for the people of God. When Christ came (the uncut altar stone), the statue reverted to dust just like Adam did, and was replaced with the kingdom of Christ. That is why Rome 'vanished' with the rest of the statue even though the actual empire continued for a few centuries after Christ. It was removed as protector of God's people when Nero turned against the church (the covering cherub that protected Paul from the Jews became the Sea Beast).

The final Greek/Roman cherub was the target of Paul's missionary journeys, and its Jewish synagogues were the furrows for the NT church until the end of Judaism in AD70. (Paul always went to the synagogue first). The end of the Old Creation could not come until the gospel was preached in all the oikemene/empire.


A New King brings the End of Mysteries

The mystery of God was revealed in the Gospel and the ark was opened to us (hidden manna, the commandments for all, the eldership of Aaron's rod).

The mystery of iniquity, Zechariah's stork-winged, lead-lidded ephah containing the wicked woman of the false worship of Shinar/Babylon - the ark's evil twin - was also opened, and she is revealed riding the false cherub of Rome ("we have no king but Caesar"), drinking the blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah and the NT firstfruits church (the grape harvest of Rev 14). All killed by their brothers, their blood cries from the Land and calls up the Destroyer, the Avenger of Blood. After trumpet warnings, which cause some to repent, all the blood of the saints and the rejected Old Testament "seven sprinklings" atonement sacrifices is poured out upon the land in seven temple bowls.

The entire Old Creation was finished when the trinity of the Fall, namely Adam (the lying false prophet, the Edomite brother-killing high priest and Land Beast), Eve (the harlot, apostate Judaism), and the serpent/beast (Rome, the fallen angel) were judged, destroyed and replaced.


A 40 Year Wilderness Generation, from the Ascension to the "sign of the Son of Man in heaven"

Christ reigned over Israel 40 years (as David did) from heaven and brought the Old Covenant to an end through the remaining three of the seven feasts: Pentecost (fire from the altar thrown to the Land), Trumpets (warnings that bring some converts) and Atonement (the bowls of final destruction of the great city where our Lord was crucified).

Since AD70 Christ reigns over the world until his enemies become his footstool (supporters). Hebrews 8:13 In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."  And it did vanish away.

Jesus said, "But whereunto shall I liken THIS generation?", "All these things will come upon THIS generation", "So shall it be with THIS generation", "THIS generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of THIS generation," "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with THIS generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here," "And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, Why does this generation seek after a sign? verily I say to you, There shall no sign be given to THIS generation", "That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of THIS generation," "Then goes he, and takes with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto THIS wicked generation."


A New Metal Man and his new palace servants (cohens)

One by one the 24 angel elders carried out their respective tasks like a clockface on the Land and left the temple empty for us to enter. Both the Old Testament saints under the altar ("how much longer?"), and the martyrs of the firstfruits church (completing their number) entered the temple in heaven after Jesus, as the bread and wine on the table (remember, this was missing when John first sees inside the heavenly temple, because Jesus was not yet there as perfected Man to open the seals and reveal the mystery of the Gospel and the subsequent judgments).

In Revelation, we see the new metal man (weight = glory in Hebrew), the metals of the tabernacle in human form*, a glorified last Adam who is now the perfect, protecting tabernacle/body of the church. Then we see the glorified, bejewelled Eve, Jerusalem from above, a present reality whose gates are open. We see no protecting cherub because Jesus is the tabernacle, and His ministers of the New Covenant are no longer angels but men who are being refined as gold, silver and precious stones. Jesus is no longer an angel of the Lord but the Son of Man enthroned. The crystal sea/firmament/golden ark lid barrier is now our tent, Jesus Christ. In another sense, as His body, the Church now mediates between God and men. Jesus has the keys of hell and death, and as new Levites**, as gatekeepers of the temple replacing the cherubs of Genesis 3, we now hold the swords/tongues of fire to keep the church pure and slay/convert God's enemies from our position as mediators (bowls), seated with Christ in heavenly places, in the authority of the enthroned Son in the temple of God. We are before Him in heaven in our worship services, seated as rulers and renewing Covenant in the Lord's supper, and we are also now the cherub eyes of the Lord around the altar under his omnipresent throne, roaming throughout the earth and reporting to Him when we pray. When Christians pray, God changes history.***

When Jesus said the kingdom was at the doors, he wasn't mistaken. It wasn't postponed. He was the ultimate New Broom.

"Behold, I make all things new."





*The tabernacle layout was a ladder to heaven. Jacob saw angels ascending and descending on it, and Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see heaven open and angels ascending and descending on Him. If we follow this picture, it is significant that the seven stars are in Jesus' right hand because that's where the lampstand was. The 12 water chariots in the temple were the streams of living water in His belly and the temple featured two bronze pillars, Jesus' legs of burning bronze, Joachin (priest) and Boaz (king). With these two legs, Jesus in Revelation stands on the Land (Israel) as priest, and the Sea (Gentiles) as the replacement for the Gentile cherub kings, and makes of the two one new Man. "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever." It is also interesting that the Gospel of John follows the tabernacle furniture (eg. light of the world) as it presents Christ step by step.


*** The colour of Levi's stone on the breastplate was Emerald. The 24 angelic Levite mediators were an emerald rainbow around the throne, and as we know, rainbows remind God of the covenant. Aaron's breastplate was a rainbow that stopped the plague.


***There were four cherubs under the mobile, military throne of God in Ezekiel, each with four faces, with the fiery altar between them.

MAN FACE - always faced south, corresponding to the table of showbread with its 12 loaves and 12 jugs, missing in the heavenly temple until the ascension and the firstfruits church harvested in Rev 14. In Creation, this was the grain and grapes. In the New Covenant, wine instead of beer is allowed in the holy place.

LION FACE - always faced east, corresponding to the throne/ark. In Creation this was the firmament/crystal sea/lid between God and man.

BULL FACE - always faced west, corresponding to the altar. In Creation, the altar is the earth coming up out of the sea, or the Land of Israel in the Sea of the Gentiles, with its four corners or horns/mountain peaks.

EAGLE FACE - always faced north, corresponding to the lampstand, throwing light onto the table of facebread, filled with the oil of the Spirit from the two olive-trees, cherubs made of olive wood (Zechariah)**** The lampstand is the 4th item of furniture. In Creation, this was the Sun on day four, ruling in the centre of the seven days.

The Old Covenant was ministered by angels/animal cherubs, and idolatry mostly featured images or heads of animals. The New Covenant is ministered by redeemed men, and idolatry (including secular humanism) mostly features images of man. Things changes when Jesus ascended. Even the ancients reported that their gods stopped talking. As John, we are not simply to WRITE the seven thunders of Jesus, but to EAT them and PROCLAIM them.

To enter the temple, one moved from east to west, from sacrifice to throne. The coming (ascension) of the Son of Man was like lighting shining from the east to the west.

These four cherub faces (the rulers of Creation) were also the flags of the four corner tribes of the twelve around the tabernacle which contained the ark/throne of God, corresponding to the four corner constellations of the twelve, Aquarius (Man), Leo (Lion), Taurus (Bull) and Scorpio (in ancient times an Eagle). They reflected the ministry of protection for the world of these cherub faces/tabernacle furniture from the ark/throne of God, as a nation of priests before God. However, since the coming of the New Covenant, these ruling stars have fallen from heaven and been replaced by a new nation of priests, us. The obscure festivals of the moon are over and the Sun of righteousness has arisen with healing in his wings. As Abraham's seed we are new stars and new grains of sand, a new heaven and a new earth, fully present but growing towards corporate maturity.

****Also interesting is that the firstfruits church (AD30-70), represented as a perfect 144,000 and also as two witnesses with the powers of Moses and Elijah, are called olive-trees. This is another picture of Christians replacing those two Cherubs on the edge of Eden, guarding the place of fellowship with God, filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit and standing either side of the mercy seat. Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, stood either side of Jesus when transfigured, and an angel stood at each end of the 'mercy seat' slab in Jesus' tomb.


"And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." Revelation 5:9-12


(I recommend James B. Jordan's set of 204 MP3 lectures and notes on Revelation available from www.wordmp3.com)
Mike Bull