Mar/Jun 1995 Christ’s Sitting on the Right Hand of God
From the March / June 1995 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
CHRIST’S SITTING ON THE
RIGHT HAND OF GOD
“He ascended into heaven And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” (The Apostles’ Creed, T.L.H., p.12)
Each time we confess the Creed, we confess the above words. We confess to believe on the basis of the clear Word of God that Jesus Christ, upon completing His redemptive work on earth, bodily and visibly ascended into heaven, and that He then sat on the right hand of God. What a shame if we confess these truths without having a clear, correct understanding of what we confess.
In this article, we shall do two things: 1) Explain briefly what the Bible means by Christ’s sitting on the right hand of God; 2) Expand on the three-fold answer to Question #155 of our synodical catechism, “What comfort do you derive from Christ’s sitting on the right hand of God?”
First, what exactly does the Scripture mean when it says that Christ sits on the right hand of God? For example, in Mark 16:19 the Bible says, “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” Here as in other places, the Bible uses an anthropomorphism (a man-form) to describe a profound divine action. The phrase, sitting on the right hand of God, does not denote a visible, localized action, but an eternal, divine action of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Christ is not seated on a chair on the right side of God. God is everywhere, and therefore His right hand is everywhere. Hence, Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand expresses the truth that, even according to His human nature, He exercises fully His divine powers, the very powers originally communicated to His human nature when He was conceived and born of Mary. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18)
As soon as the divine nature took unto itself the human nature, without sacrificing any of its powers and attributes, it communicated those very attributes and powers to the human nature. Yet the human nature, from the time Christ was conceived until He was buried, did not fully and always use the divine powers communicated to it. Hence this was the period of Christ’s State of Humiliation.
However, once Christ came alive in the grave on Easter morn and descended into hell, and then rose again, this began His State of Exaltation which “consists in this, that according to His human nature, Christ always and fully uses the divine attributes communicated to His human nature.” (Synodical Catechism, page 116) Therefore, even now at God’s right hand, “Christ, also according to His human nature, rules and fills all things with divine power and majesty.” (Synodical Catechism, page 119)
Hence, Christ’s sitting on God’s right hand is not to be thought of as some static, holding pattern, wherein He virtually does nothing until He returns in glory on the Last Day. Even now at God’s right hand, Christ remains our very active Prophet, Priest, and King. In fact, since Christ is exalted to God’s right hand, He is now our EXALTED Prophet, EXALTED Priest, and EXALTED King. It is in this regard that our synodical catechism asks this: “What comfort do you derive from Christ’s sitting on the right hand of God?” Answer: “We derive the comfort that it is the exalted Christ who – A. As our Prophet sends men to preach the Gospel of redemption; B. As our Priest intercedes (pleads) for us before God; C. As our King governs and protects His Church and as Head of the Church rules the world in the interest of the Church.” We shall take up this three-fold answer and see how practically important it is in our everyday lives as Christians.
In the first place, it is a comfort for us to know that as Christ sits on God’s right hand, He still exercises His Prophetic office, however not preaching and teaching visibly and personally as He did during His earthly ministry, but through His called ministers of the Word. According to Scripture, upon His Ascension, Christ gave gifts unto men, namely, He gave the Church men gifted and able to be made qualified for the purpose of carrying out in His stead His Prophetic Office. Ephesians 4:10-12 says, “[He] ascended up far above all heavens that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” This passage is a sedes or proof text which proves that Christ ordained the office of the ministry, the pastoral office, to continue on earth His prophetic office.
What is important about this truth? Even though Christ is visibly absent from us, nevertheless, He still preaches to us His Holy Word. He still communicates to us the words of eternal life. We are not deprived of His Prophetic Office. However, if we are to avail ourselves of Christ’s Prophetic Office, we must be willing to submit to and be instructed by the pastors and teachers (one and the same office) which Christ has given His Church. In our day the Office of the Ministry has been reduced to little more than the office of “spiritual cheerleader,” or “public relations executive.” People want their pastor to be a great promoter of programs which will appeal to their and the community’s carnal appetites. In bowing to such carnal wishes, most of today’s so-called ministers have long ago given up on being strictly ministers of the Word of God. As such they do not carry out the prophetic Office of Christ. They are people-pleasers, and not God-pleasers. It is just as Paul prophesied in II Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” This is precisely what we have in visible Christendom today! Fables (false teachings of all sorts) are preferred in place of sound doctrine!
At the same time, however, where God provides faithful, orthodox men of the Word, and men despise the pure teaching of the Word, they are despising Christ and His Prophetic Office. As Christ once said to His disciples: “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” (Luke 10:16) Sometimes congregations give their faithful pastors a rough time. They are willing to come to church, but feel burdened if they are urged to stay for Bible Class or come to a mid-week Bible study or some additional study of the Word. They ask the self-condemning question: “Do we HAVE TO come to Bible Class?” Where is the hunger and thirst after righteousness? Does not Scripture say, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby”! (I Peter 2:2) So often, even when they do hear the Word, they are offended when the preaching of the Law exposes their sins, or they are indifferent to the Gospel because they are satiated with their own self-proclaimed righteousness. Therefore, if we appreciate the fact that Christ is still our Prophet on the right hand of God, we will listen to Him through our called minister of the Word. As the Scripture says, “Receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
In addition, from the fact that Christ sits on the right hand of God, we derive the comfort that He “as our Priest intercedes (pleads) for us before God.” As Christians, as sinner-saints, we must continue to confess that daily we sin much. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8) Even if we do not sin willfully and fall from grace, we nevertheless must remain a repentant people such that we never defend our sins, even our sins of weakness. Hence, we must daily confess and repent of our sins. Yet as we do so, we have the comfort of knowing that at God’s right hand, Christ our Savior intercedes or pleads for us before the throne of His heavenly Father. He ever pleads and reminds the Father of His shed blood which reconciled God to us. As the Bible says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1-2) Another Scripture says, “Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) Thus, even as we pray to our Father to ask His forgiveness, we have the comfort of knowing that our very Savior who shed His blood for our sins also prays for us. As the Bible says, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:33-34)
Indeed, let it be said here that more often than we may realize, we do fall from grace, but due to our Savior’s grace and His faithful intercession for us, we quickly repent and are restored. Remember what Christ once said to Simon Peter? “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32) So also now on the right hand of God, Christ prays for US that OUR faith fails not!
Furthermore, from the fact that Christ sits on the right hand of God, we derive the comfort that Christ “as our King governs and protects His Church and as Head of the Church rules the world in the interest of the Church.” What a blessed truth this is! In these last days of sore distress, we as Christians can see how wickedness abounds in our world. It appears as if the devil, the prince of this world, is actually in charge of the world! There is corruption at every level of government. In response there are many who, in spite of the fact that government, the powers that be which are ordained of God (Romans 13:1), believe that government in any form is inherently wicked and must be overthrown. We see people taking the law into their own hands. We also see nation rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. We hear of wars and rumors of wars.
Yet despite all this, Jesus Christ on the right hand of God is still our King. He is King of the universe. He is the King of kings. He is also the King and ruler of the Church. As the King over all, Christ is actually ruling this wicked world in such a way that it results in the best interest of the Church! The Bible says, “[God] set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:20-23)
In fact, Scripture reveals how God has ever ruled this world in the Church’s interest. Cyrus the King of Persia permitted the Hebrew people to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple around 535 B.C. God also had the sceptre depart from Judah so that Shiloh (Christ) could come to be the Messiah. Indeed, unwittingly, the rulers of the world are used of God such that without their realizing it, they are carrying out the will of the King of kings! Even when existing governments are most oppressive, Christ is still in charge and has all enemies as His footstool. “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)
This is why our Savior reminds us, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This means that although we should be good citizens who remain reasonably informed of what is going on around us, we need not become overwrought with the evils of this world and join quasi-religious and therefore unionistic political organizations whose goal is to make this world a “better place to live.” The Bible says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) As Christians, we are to be busy listening to and spreading our Exalted Prophet’s Word of grace; come boldly before Him our sympathetic High Priest and His throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, knowing that He ever intercedes for us; and finally entrust our entire bodily and spiritual welfare into the hands of our Savior King who has put all things under His feet in the interest of His Church! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
On Christ’s ascension I now build
The hope of mine ascension;
This hope alone has ever stilled
All doubt and apprehension;
For where the Head is, there full well
I know His members are to dwell
When Christ shall come to call them.
Since He returned to claim His throne,
Great gifts for men obtaining,
My heart shall rest in Him alone,
No other rest remaining;
For where my Treasure went before,
There all my tho’ts shall ever soar
To still their deepest yearning.
Oh, grant, dear Lord, this grace to me,
Recalling Thine ascension,
That I may ever walk with Thee,
Adorning Thy redemption;
And then, when all my days shall cease,
Let me depart in joy and peace
In answer to my pleading. L.H. #216