April 24, 2020

Into the Highest Heaven

Over the Easter weekend, Adventist Review Online and you celebrated Jesus’ resurrection together. But as you know, that was far from the end of the story. AR now offers you a special online series of articles to enable our reflection on the 50-day period leading up from Jesus’ resurrection to the glorious day of Pentecost when, in dramatic fulfillment of Jesus’ own promise, His followers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That anointing empowered a handful of men and women to take the gospel to their entire world in a single generation. May you be inspired as you read.—Editors.

As fallen human beings with limited knowledge, we can only marvel at what we know about our faith: the Creator, the most exalted Being in the universe, the One greater than the universe, the One who stood over it, became the lowest of the low and died the sinner’s second death in order that no sinners would have to face that death themselves. The One who is equal with God, the One who is God, the One who is the highest and most exalted in all creation, becomes at the cross the lowest, even “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13), in order that we would never have to face that curse ourselves.

The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8). The One who made everything “made himself nothing” so that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Yet, there’s incredibly more, a point that we don’t often dwell on but that makes Christ’s work for us even more amazing. Ellen White wrote, “By His life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen. In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us. . . . To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature. . . . God has adopted human nature in the person of His Son, and has carried the same into the highest heaven. It is the ‘Son of man’ who shares the throne of the universe” (The Desire of Ages, p. 25).

Not only did the Lord take upon Himself humanity, but He will retain that humanity forever; humanity, in the person of Christ, will share the throne of the universe for eternity. As if the pre-cross and cross manifestations of Christ weren’t more than enough for our fallen minds to grasp, we now add this?

With something so incredible presented to us, the question is: What does the Bible say about the humanity of Christ after the cross?

In the Fiery Furnace

One of the most well-known stories in the Bible is that of the three Hebrews thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to break one of the Ten Commandments, in this case the commandment against idolatry. Look at what happened: “So these three men [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego], wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. . . . Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods [KJV: “the Son of God”]’ ” (Dan. 3:21-25). In this story, centuries before the cross, Jesus is depicted as “the Son of God.”

A few chapters later, in Daniel 7, the prophet is presented a vision of the great pre-Advent judgment, a judgment that takes place just prior to the Second Coming, a judgment that seems to lead right to His coming itself. Notice: “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. . . . The court was seated, and the books were opened. . . .

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him” (Dan. 7:9-14).

Unlike the earlier manifestation of Christ, which was centuries before the cross, this event, which occurs long after the cross, depicts Jesus as “a son of man,” a phrase commonly understood to emphasize the humanity of Jesus. Thus, Christ is depicted with an image that points out His human nature long after His death and resurrection.

In the Clouds of Heaven

Numerous times while here in the flesh, Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of man”—again a reference to His humanity and His ties to the human family. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” (Matt. 16:13; see also Matt. 17:12Mark 14:41Luke 9:58). All these pre-cross, pre-Resurrection references to Himself make sense when we consider how important and central Christ’s humanity is to the plan of salvation. He had to become human, He had to take upon Himself our humanity in order to be our substitute and example.

Notice, however, the following few texts: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27). “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (verse 30). “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).

All these are unmistakable references to the second coming of Jesus, and all of them include the phrase “the Son of Man.” If, somehow, after the cross and the Resurrection, Christ had forfeited His humanity (since His work on earth was done), why use the phrase “Son of Man”—a clear reference to His humanity—when talking about the Second Coming? These texts point to His human nature long after His earthly incarnation.

Hands and Feet

Then there are Christ’s appearances after His resurrection, in which the reality of His human body is emphasized. When first appearing to His disciples, who thought He was some sort of apparition, Jesus said
to them: “ ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:38-43).

Jesus’ hands and feet were obviously to show them His scars (see also John 20:26-28); the eating showed them the reality of His humanity, of His human flesh. Again, this is all after His death and resurrection. Though the emphasis here was that He truly was risen, He used the physical fact of His human body, His flesh, bones, and scars, along with the eating, to make His point.

Stephen’s Testimony

Acts 7 tells of Stephen before the religious leaders of Israel, to whom he had been brought concerning his faith in Christ. Stephen then launches into a long speech about the history of the Hebrew nation, which he ends by condemning those who resist the Holy Spirit, an act that leads to his martyrdom. Before he’s killed, the Bible gives the following account of what happened: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:5556).

Stephen clearly calls Jesus “the Son of Man,” as he sees a vision of Him in heaven alongside the Father. Again, why not “the Son of God” as opposed to “the Son of Man,” which indisputably points to Christ’s humanity?

Taken together, these verses provide ample evidence of the humanity of Christ after His death and resurrection. Thus the humanity that He acquired in the act of becoming a human being, a “Son of Man,” stayed with Him even after His work on earth was finished.

A Human Mediator

The book of Hebrews, with its emphasis on Christ as our High Priest in heaven, makes a powerful case for the continued humanity of Christ, even after He returned to heaven. In fact, these texts give the idea that His continued humanity is crucial to His work of mediation.

Notice: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18).

Not only did Jesus take upon Himself human nature—He needs that nature to be a “merciful and faithful high priest” in heaven. The humanity of Christ is the bond through which He has linked Himself with us, a link that He kept long after His work on earth had finished, a link that’s crucial to the work He’s doing for us in heaven as our High Priest.

If all this isn’t clear enough, Paul makes the point unambiguously: “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:45). The man Christ Jesus: Jesus, though still divine, still retains the humanity that He first took upon Himself when He was born into this world. The Greek word for “man” in that text, anthropos, is the common Greek word used for “humanity” in general. Thus, even after the cross, even after the Resurrection, Christ—who took upon Himself our humanity—has taken that humanity with Him into heaven, and in that humanity He ministers in our behalf.

In the House of My Friends

One might argue that once Christ’s mediation was done, perhaps there’d no longer be any need for Him to retain that humanity. Maybe so, except we’ve looked at numerous texts that point to His second coming (an act that follows the work of mediation), and in all those texts the humanity of Christ is emphasized. These prove that His human nature stayed with Him, even when His mediation was finished. Unless something in the Bible teaches that after the Second Coming Christ’s humanity were to disappear (and nothing in Scripture does), we have to believe that this humanity will never leave Him. In other words, the Bible gives us powerful reasons to believe that Christ is “forever to retain His human nature,” the nature that He took with Him to heaven after His work on earth was done.

Many scholars over the centuries have seen the words of Zechariah 13:6—“If someone asks, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ they will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends’”—in messianic terms. They apply it to Jesus and the scars of His crucifixion. With that interpretation, these words of Ellen White become even more powerful. Writing about the end of sin and the final destruction of the lost and the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth, she wrote: “One reminder alone remains: Our Redeemer will ever bear the marks of His crucifixion. Upon His wounded head, upon His side, His hands and feet, are the only traces of the cruel work that sin has wrought. . . . And the tokens of His humiliation are His highest honor; through the eternal ages the wounds of Calvary will show forth His praise and declare His power” (The Great Controversy, p. 674).

No question: grasping the incredible truth of the cross, of the Creator dying in our humanity for humanity’s sins, is hard enough. Add to that truth this other revelation: that Jesus not only has taken this acquired humanity with Him to heaven but will forever retain that humanity—then all we can do (as did Job when God revealed Himself to him) is abhor ourselves and “repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).


Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. This article was first published June 9, 2011.