CHRIST SET FORTH
Section Four :: Chapter Two
Showing first what evidence for our justification Christ’s ascension into heaven affords unto our faith, upon that first fore-mentioned consideration of his being a Surety for us.
1. First then, to see what triumph his ascending into heaven will add unto our faith in matter of non-condemnation.
(1.) And herein, first, there is not nothing [That is, “there is something,” or “it is not useless.”-ED.] in it to consider what he then did, and what was his last act when he was to take his rise, to fly up to heaven. He “blessed his disciples,” and thereby left a blessing upon earth with them, for all his elect, to the end of the world. The true reason and mind of which blessing them was, that he being now to go to execute the eternal office of his priesthood in heaven, (of which God had sworn, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”) As Melchisedec in the type blessed Abraham, and in him all the faithful as in his loins,—therefore the apostle said that “Levi paid tithes unto Melchisedec in Abraham’s loins,” therefore he was blessed in his loins,—so did Christ begin this new and second part of his priesthood with blessing the apostles, and in them all the elect to the end of the world. This was the
last thing that Christ did on earth, yes, this he did while ascending, “he was taken up whilst he did it.” So in Luke 24:50-51, and thus solemnly he now did this, to show that the curse was gone, and that sin was gone, and that action speaks thus much, as if Christ himself had said it. O my brethren (for so he styled his disciples after his resurrection), I have been dead, and in dying made a curse for you; now that curse I have fully removed, and my Father has acquitted me and you for it; and now I can be bold to bless you, and pronounce all your sins forgiven, and your persons justified. For that is the intendment and foundation of blessing. “Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven him,” and therefore that was the true meaning of his blessing them; which he reserved thus as his last act, to show how by his death he had redeemed them from the curse of the law, and now going to heaven, was able to
bless them with all the spiritual blessings that are there, and which heaven can afford, for heavenly they are called in that respect in Ephesians 1:3.
And as in Abraham (blessed by Melchisedec) all the faithful were blessed, so in these apostles all the elect to come are blessed. As when God individually blessed Adam and Eve at the first creation, yet he in them, blessed all that were forever to come of them; so Christ in blessing them, blessed us, and all “that shall believe through their word,” to the end of the world. And that they were thus then to be considered as common persons, receiving this blessing for us all, appears by Christ’s words then uttered, “I am with you to the end of the world” (i.e., with you and all your successors, both ministers and other believers), Matthew 28:20. And Christ herein did as God did before him. When God had done his work of creation, he “looked upon all he had done, and saw that it was good, and he blessed it.” Thus did Jesus Christ, now that he had by that “one offering perfected forever all
the elect,” he comfortably viewed and pronounces it perfect and them blessed, and so goes to heaven to keep and enjoy the Sabbath of all there.
(2.) Now secondly, let us see him ascending, and see what comfort that will also afford our faith, towards the persuasion of justification. The apostles stood gazing on him; and so do you lift up your hearts to gaze on him by faith, and view him in that act, as he is passing along into heaven, as leading sin, hell, death, and devil in triumph, at his chariot-wheels. And in that let your faith triumph, in a further evidence of justification. Thus Ephesians 4:8, out of Psalm 68:18, the apostle says, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive” (to which Hebraism the Latin phrase, vincere victoria, to win a victory, does answer); then he led captive all our spiritual enemies, that would have captivated us, they being now captivated. Now leading of captives is always after a perfect victory. And therefore, whereas at his death he had conquered them, at his
rising scattered them, now at his ascension he leads them captive. And so that Psalm in the type begins, Psalm 68:1, “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; let them flee before him;” so at his resurrection they did. And then he ascends in triumph (as here) in token of victory, “he is ascended up on high,” Psalm 68:18. He ascends, as David after his victory, up to Mount Zion (for the celebrating of which that Psalm seems to have been made by David), whereof this was the intended type.
And two actus triumphales, triumphing acts there were, here mentioned:
[1.] Leading the captives bound to his chariot-wheels, as the manner of the Roman triumph was when the conqueror went up to the Capitol; and other heathens in David’s time, as Achilles led Hector captive, who tied his feet to his chariot-wheels, and dragged him dead round about the walls of Troy, Now thus did Christ then deal with our sins and all other enemies.
[2.] The second act is casting abroad of gifts, “He gave gifts to men.” It was the custom at their triumphs to cast new coins (missilia) abroad among the multitude, so does Christ throw the greatest gifts for the good of men that ever were given. Therefore, “who shall condemn?” Sins and devils are not only dead, but triumphed over. Compare with this that other place in Colossians 2:15, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in himself.” So I read it, and the Greek bears it, and so it is in the margin varied. It is a manifest allusion unto the manner of triumphs after victories among the Romans, even unto two of the most notable parts thereof: the first, of spoiling the enemy upon the place, before they stirred out of the field; and this was done by Christ on the cross. “Having spoiled them” first, as Colossians 2:14 has it. He speaks it of the devils, our enemies and accusers; they had all God’s threatenings in his law, and the ceremonial law (the bond for our debt unto the moral law) to show for it. In these lay the power of the devil over us, that he could boldly come to God and accuse us, and sue our bond. And therefore in Hebrews 2:14, he is said to have “the power of death.” Now Christ first took away all his power and spoiled him of all his ensigns, weapons, and colors, which he did on the place where the battle was fought, namely, on the cross; and “nailed our bond” thereto, and having paid the debt, left the bond cancelled, before he stirred off the cross.
But then, having thus spoiled these enemies on the cross, he further makes a public triumphal show of them in his own person, which is a second act, as the manner of the Roman emperors was in their great triumphs, to ride through the city in the greatest state, and have all the spoils carried before them, and the kings and nobles whom they had taken they tied to their chariots, and led them as captives. And this did Christ at his ascension (for of his triumphing at his ascension I take this triumph in this epistle to the Colossians to be understood, and so to be interpreted by that fore-cited in Ephesians 4), he plainly manifesting by this public open show of them at his ascension that he had spoiled and fully subdued them on the cross. That which has diverted interpreters from thinking this of Colossians 2 to have been the triumph of his ascension has been this, that the
triumph is said to have been made ἐν ἀυτῷ, which they interpret “in it,” as if it referred to the cross (mentioned Colossians 2:14), as the place of it. When as it may as well be translated “in himself,” i.e., “in his own power and strength,” noting how he alone did this, which other conquerors do not: they conquer not in themselves, and by themselves, which Christ did. And yet it was the law, that if the Roman emperors or generals themselves took anything in war, they had a peculiar honor to dedicate it in triumph more peculiarly. Now Christ conquered in himself, and therefore triumphed in himself, and himself alone. And thus it became our Redeemer (like another Samson) not only to break sin’s bars and fling off hell-gates, and come out of that prison he was in; but as in sign of a trophy, to take them on his back and carry them up the
hill, as Samson (the type of him) did the gates of the city to a high hill, himself triumphantly carrying them on his own shoulders.
Now did Christ then, who was your Surety, thus triumph? Then let your faith triumph likewise; for this was not only done by your Surety, but in your stead, seeing this for us here is to be put to each thing mentioned. The apostle calls for this at our hands here. “We are more than conquerors,” says he in Romans 8:37.
(3.) Then, thirdly, see him entering into heaven: when he comes first to court after this great undertaking, how does God look on him? Is God satisfied with what he has done? As you know, when a general comes home, there used to be great observing how the king takes his service, as performed according to commission. Christ as a Surety undertook for sinners fully to conquer all our enemies and God bid him look that he did it perfectly, or never see his face more, Hebrews 5:8-9. He was to be “perfect through sufferings,” and those sufferings to be such as “to perfect” us also, Hebrews 10:14. Now, behold, your Surety is like a conqueror entered heaven: let that convince you that he has satisfied the debt, and performed his commission to a tittle. God would never have suffered him to come thither else; but as soon as ever his head had peeped into heaven, have
sent him down again to perform the rest. But God lets him enter in and he comes boldly and confidently, and God lets him stay there. Therefore be convinced that he has given God full satisfaction.
Christ himself uses this argument, as the strongest that could be brought to “convince the world” that this righteousness (which he had in his doctrine taught them) was the righteousness which men were only to be saved by, the true righteousness of God indeed. John 16:9-10, He “shall convince the world of righteousness,” that is, work faith in the hearts of men, to believe and lay hold on my righteousness, as the true righteousness that God has ordained; and this “because (says he) I go to my Father, and you shall see me no more.” That is, by this argument and evidence it is and shall be evinced, that I who undertook to satisfy for sin, and to procure a perfect righteousness, have perfectly performed it; and that it is a righteousness which God’s justice does accept of, to save sinners by; in that I, after my death, and finishing this work, will ascend up to my Father, into heaven, and keep my
standing there, and you shall see me no more. Whereas, if I had not fulfilled all righteousness and perfectly satisfied God, you may be sure there would be no going to heaven for me, nor remaining there. God would send me down again, to do the rest, and you should certainly see me with shame sent back again. But he said, “I go to heaven, and you shall see me no more.”