So where is Jesus now?
What happened to Jesus after he rose from the dead?
Well, Luke gives an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and alongside other New Testament writers, there’s a belief that Jesus was taken into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. This raises all sorts of questions: did Jesus become flesh for a while and then revert to ‘spirit’ when he ascended into heaven? This popular view leads to an understanding that Jesus is therefore now everywhere, in all living things. Or is he still in his embodied resurrection state? If so, how can a solid physical body be in a place that we understand to be part of a spiritual dimension?
And is it right to believe that Jesus is in charge in heaven and on earth? What does that even mean? Look around you. It certainly doesn’t seem that way! The early Christians could look around and see that the world was indeed a mess, but still proclaimed that a new ruler was now in charge and this ruler was Jesus himself. He was calling for a new way of doing things, a new way of being in this world. It’s not that the church now had authority to tell everyone what to do: only Jesus had the authority to do that.
The kingdom will come as the church, energised by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always – as Paul puts it in one of his letters – bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed. from Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright, page 123
Tom Wright asserts that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church. And the church would do well to remember that. We should take care when we speak with authority as if we are speaking on God’s behalf. We must reject Christian arrogance.
Jesus has gone ahead of us into God’s new world, yet is still ruler of the present world. Still truly human, he is absent from us in a sense, separate from us, and yet he is present with us through His Spirit and through the act of remembrance that we share in the bread and the wine. It’s impossible for us to imagine that Jesus could still be a fully embodied human with the worldview that we have grown up with. So maybe we need to change our worldview to accommodate this truth. Maybe it’s time to ditch the view of a three layer physical reality of heaven above, earth and hell below. Maybe it’s time to ditch the view of two completely different dimensions – physical and spiritual – that coexist on the earth at the same time (which I must admit is the view I’ve come to hold over time but have found increasingly unsatisfactory). Maybe it’s time to open our minds to the idea of a parallel world (think C S Lewis and Narnia).
God’s space and ours interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways, even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate and distinct identities and roles. Tom Wright, page 128
And Jesus will come back. That’s what the New Testament writers insist. Not that he will come and whisk us away to heaven (‘Thief in the Night’ style – anyone remember that terrifying film? Watching that is what led me to prayer the conversion prayer at 8 years old and to check on my parents in their bed for weeks afterwards…but I guess that was the point!) but that he will come back here. If Jesus is going to swoop in and take us away from here, what’s the point in bothering to waste energy on trying to save this planet or make life better for those who are suffering? Many Christians feel this way. It’s all just a sign of the end times. Other Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus coming and certainly the idea of Jesus judging – these people marginalise and dilute this belief because they don’t know what else to do with it.
As a side note, I find judgemental Christians really difficult – those who take the moral high ground (and claim to hate the sin and love the sinner) and start each sentence with the words ‘I don’t judge but…’ But Tom Wright helpfully points out here that judging in itself is not wrong. Sometimes it is right to judge. It is right to find genocide and rape and apartheid and exploitation and trafficking and other hate/violent crimes abhorrent. It is right that God is the ultimate judge of all the times where humans (and animals and the planet) have been used and abused. We all want that in reality, don’t we? We want to hold onto the hope that one day, everyone will be held accountable.
Anyway, back to the second coming as we have come to call it – let’s have a closer look at that tomorrow!