Heidelberg 49: The Benefits of Christ Ascension (2)

Last time we considered the benefit of having a representative before a distant court. Now we want to consider the second benefit of Christ’s ascension: In Heidelberg Catechism 49 we confess:

49. What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven?

First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in Heaven. Secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Thirdly, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on earth.

The second benefit of Christ’s ascension is that it serves as a pledge, assurance, or promise that, at the last day, he will raise from the dead all his people, those whom he loved from all eternity (Eph 1:1–14), whom the Father gave to him (John 17), for whom he willingly laid down his life (John 10:15).

The catechism uses two important images to illustrate the nature of the promise inherent in Christ’s resurrection : a pledge and a body. In the ancient world there as today there were a couple of reasons to make a down payment or to leave security or, to use a good old-fashioned theological term, a surety: as a promise of a future payment or another personal obligation. In Genesis 38 we see Judah leaving behind personal property as a pledge of future payment.1. The Apostle Paul says, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (ἀρραβών; 2 Cor 1:21–22; 5:5). The word for guarantee may also be translated as “down payment” or “surety” or security. As a young man, when I went to the bank to borrow the money for my first car the banker laughed at me and told me to come back with someone who could provide “security” for the loan in case I defaulted. I needed a co-signer. My Dad graciously put his credit at risk by co-signing the loan. He guaranteed to the bank that, should I default, he would repay the loan.

Jesus’ resurrection is a guarantee of our resurrection.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1–3; ESV).

That empty tomb and the witnesses to the resurrected Christ testify to us that we too shall be raised. We know this because we are united to Christ. Paul says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5). By grace alone, by the Spirit, through faith, we have already been “made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” and God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” (Eph 2:5–6). The Spirit testifies to us through the Gospel that what has already been realized in Christ is being realized in us and shall be brought to fruition. The classic passage is Ephesians 1:13–14:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Before we move on, please note that Paul does not say that we will be sealed when we have a certain post-conversion experience. He says that all those who, by God’s grace, through faith, are “in Christ” were given new life, when they heard the word of truthlife—the Spirit ordinarily operates through meanslife—”were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” All believers are sealed. There are not two classes of believers, those who have had some second blessing and those who have not. The roots of the notion that there are two kinds of believers is not in historic Christian teaching. Rather, the roots of the notion that there are two classes of Christians was the Gnostics and the dualists. They distinguished between those who had a special illumination into secret knowledge (hence γνῶσις) and those who were merely catholics (Christians), who had not the special blessing, illumination.

The Spirit, who has been given to us as a guarantee, pledge, surety, security of a future good (inheritance). We will come into the full possession of the inheritance earned for us by Christ at the bodily resurrection.

The second image Paul uses is that of headship. Believers are so united to Christ that he is our head and we, believers, are his body.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Col 1:18).

The very notion of “firstborn” entails that others will follow. Believers are those who will follow him in his resurrection. The tomb becomes, as it were, a womb. When Jesus walked out of the tomb he inaugurated a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), in which we participate by the work of the Spirit. He elaborates on the image a bit later when he warns about those who, boast in “angels” and who insist on “asceticism,” who go on about “visions” because they are

and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God (Col 2:19).

Paul uses the image of the human body to characterize our relationship with Christ. We could not be more closely united to him because the union is by the Holy Spirit, who is consubstantial with the Father the Son and who, by his power, overcomes the distance between us and the risen Christ. Calvin calls the spirit a “bond” (vinculum) between us and Christ. Paul calls Jesus our “head” and us his “body” because are as connected to Christ as a human head is connected to a human body. We’re not conscious of the connection. It’s just the way things are. No one checks each day to make sure his head is still attached. If one is able to ask whether it is attached, that’s evidence that it is attached. So too, we don’t ask whether we’ve become disconnected from Christ. No one who is truly connected to Christ can be severed from him. So, just as he is raised, ascended, and seated at the right hand, so to shall we be raised (if we are dead when he returns) and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Without the ascension, the Holy Spirit would not have been poured out. That’s why our Lord said that it was necessary for him to go away. That’s why the Spirit is the comforter (John 14:26–28). He communicates Christ to us, he strengthens us, he renews us, he sanctifies us and assures us that, despite our sins and doubts, it really is all true.


1. J. E. Hartley, “Pledge,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Rev.. (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 886.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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