Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 1:20b “. . .and set him at his own right hand. . .”
The power possessed by believers was illustrated by the resurrection of Jesus (v. 20a). This resurrection-power given to us not only lifted Jesus from the dead, but also raised His physical body from Earth to Heaven.
The resurrection and ascension provide a powerful example of the power available to believers. The power which lifted Jesus from the grave, enabling Him to walk on Earth again, lifts us from spiritual death to walk on Earth in newness of life, a truth symbolized in baptism (RM 6:4-5). The power which lifted Jesus from Earth to Heaven will ultimately remove us from this world. Even as Christ was lifted up from Earth, so shall the believer be in the moment of physical death, and on the day of resurrection.
We have no doubt about these things. The power which was sufficient for Christ to be resurrected and to ascend is sufficient for us.
We have already illustrated the power we possess by looking at the resurrection of Jesus (v. 20a). Now we continue our study of the power by looking at the ascension and exaltation of Jesus.
Paul often spoke of Jesus being at the right hand of God. The concept obviously made a deep impression on Paul. I cannot help but believe this was at least partly due to the setting where he first encountered the idea.
Before he was saved, when a young zealot on a mission to destroy Christianity, he served as a helper at the execution of Stephen. Saul of Tarsus heard the saintly deacon exclaim, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (AC 7:56).
For years, Saul possibly woke up many nights in a cold sweat, hearing those words echoed from a nightmare of conscience. Oh how the evils we have done haunt us! God forgives us long before our own memories do.
The idea of Jesus at God’s right hand was driven with a spiritual pile-driver deeply into the heart of Paul. It was a truth very real to him. He presents it here as another illustration of the power available to believers.
The power given to us is a power which was able to lift Jesus to the highest place in the Universe. This was no small accomplishment. Jesus had to be raised from cross to crown, from Golgotha to Glory.
A war had to be waged to restore Jesus to what had been His before Bethlehem. Count the battle wounds in His body. Stand in awe before nail-prints in His hands and feet. Adore the spear-wound in His side, and thorn-scars on His blessed brow, the same brow of which Samuel Stennet wrote in R. G. Lee’s favorite song, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned upon the Savior’s brow.”
The grueling warfare left the precious Son of God bearing in His own body the marks we should have borne. Jesus is the only marred thing in Heaven, an everlasting reminder that our eternal perfections are due to His eternal war-scarred “imperfections.” Ah, in Heaven, though, we will not view them as imperfections, we shall count His wounds the most beautiful sight of Glory. They are the reminder that power was exerted through Him in our behalf, a power which continues to surge into our very beings.
The power we possess was sufficient to lift Jesus to the most elevated position one can conceive. A King’s right hand was the position of honor. From this ancient custom we derive the phrase “right-hand man,” which refers to an individual who is almost an extension of one’s own self. For Alexander it was Hyphestion; for Washington, Lafayette; for Napoleon, Marshall Ney; for Lee, Stonewall Jackson; for God the Father, God the Son.
Having done all God wanted Him to do, Jesus has taken the place which rightfully belongs to Him, the chair of honor, the highest seat in the Empire. Jesus is the honored guest of Heaven. His excellent dignity is the crown of Glory.
Christ is the Hero of the Universe. What a moment it must have been, when Jesus returned to Heaven and heard the Father say, “Come! Up here! Sit beside Me, at my right hand.” Surely all in Heaven lifted their voices in one grand chorus of consent, “Amen! Yes! So be it! Let it be! He deserves the honor!”
As He ascended past all others present, the chorus continued to swell until thousands upon thousands in Heaven were crying out in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing (RV 5:12).
Amen! It is fitting and proper. Jesus has earned every right to sit in the place of honor. He who knelt in anguish in Gethsemane, He who stood a criminal before Pilate, He who hung in blood upon a cross, He who lay a corpse in a tomb, He is now at the right hand of God receiving uninterrupted praise; and the power which accomplished all this is the same power which flows “to us-ward who believe” (1:19).
Eph. 1:20c “. . .in the heavenly places,. . .”
We have already been introduced to “heavenly places” (1:3). It is the God-dimension, the eternal order beyond the world perceived by our five senses. It is the present, at hand, home of believers, a region neither remote nor faraway.
Jesus is at this very moment in the position of power distributing the very power which lifted Him. “Heavenly places” forces us to deal with a difficult concept, “Where is this dispensing done?” Our thoughts on the whereabouts of Jesus are often shallow and restricted. Our minds need to be deepened and expanded.
Where is Jesus? I offer three answers, each of which has significant bearing on our understanding of the power which is available to believers.
Where is Jesus? In Heaven. In one localized place. He has a glorified, physical body, and thus we are forced to think in terms of spatiality and locality.
This localized concept of Jesus allows us to see Him as an august Lord, as One who sits on a throne “high and lifted up,” from which He reigns in power. The person seated at a King’s right hand had full delegated powers. Jesus is secure now. His enemies can no longer reach Him. He abides in a place where His adversaries cannot come. Jesus has won the victory over sin. Never again will He have to let His body become the receptacle of sin. Power, power, power, surrounds Him, envelopes Him, flows from Him–this same power is the one given to believers. Visualizing Jesus in one, exalted place highlights how preeminent is the power available to us.
Where is Jesus? In “heavenly places,” a concept presented as plural, which by definition means more than one. The plural indicates Jesus is not restricted to only place. His human nature resides in one place, Heaven, but by His Holy Spirit He is able to be everywhere.
The Father has no material body, and thus no literal, fleshly, physical, right hand. God fills all in all. He is omnipresent, and wherever He is, Jesus is at His “right hand,” at His side, and thus also has to be omnipresent. “As the right hand of God fills heaven and earth, it follows that the kingdom and power of Christ are equally extensive” (Calvin). Visualizing Jesus in many places highlights how pervasive is the power available to us.
Where is Jesus? In you and in me. “Heavenly places” is where we live as believers (2:6). Thus, there is a way in which Christ sits beside the Father’s right hand in you and me. Visualizing Jesus in us highlights how penetrative is the power available to us.
It is already within us. The power which lifted Christ from the grave, and raised Him to the ultimate seat in the Universe continues to surge wherever He is enthroned beside His Father, including within our hearts. The power is not far off, or hard to find, it indwells us.
The resurrected, ascended, exalted, power-dispensing Lord is at hand, accessible, near. This truth is perfectly portrayed in the ascension itself.
When Jesus ascended, a remarkable miracle of true levitation took place. A human body, contrary to the laws of nature, and in defiance of everything Newton learned, was borne upward into the air.
However, the Bible is careful to point out the fact Jesus did not go up and up and up and up before He disappeared from the disciples. “While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (AC 1:9). He did not enter the stratosphere and then disappear, as if to indicate distance. He went up only a ways and then disappeared, to indicate nearness and removal into a nearby, albeit different, dimension. He left the realm of time and space to enter the order of infinity and eternity. He entered “heavenly places,” the spiritual abode of believers.
Paul understood the full significance of this. He said, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (GL 2:20). Paul could not understand himself. He had become an enigma, a perplexing puzzle to himself. He was always amazed at the power flowing from within himself. He often found himself giving flesh to a force beyond his own natural human abilities.
We, too, should be going from victory to victory. Things should be happening to prove we are indwelt by a divine power. Evidence should be readily available that a power beyond ourselves indwells us. You should often be able to muse, “Is it possible? Did I really accomplish this? Such victories are not the “old” me.”
Far too often we think of Christian living in terms of forgiveness. We think God cancelled our debt and then sent us on our way to fend for ourselves as best we could. When we think this way, we miss the grandness of it all, and we especially miss the power available to us. Jesus has not sent us alone on our way, He walks the way Himself, enclothed by us.