Heidelberg 47: We Are Not Orphans

As a boy I attended a grammar school down the street from an orphanage. I remember one of the boys saying, “I saw my mom drive by. She’ll come by to pick me up soon.” I did not fully understand why some boys lived in “the home” and others had homes with two parents but even then I could sense that there was a difference between us. I suspected that the boy, who missed his mom so much, was probably kidding himself. As the years went on it became clear that the “Home Boys” (before that word took on different sense) knew it too. Some of them became angry. Disappointment and fear sometimes turned to bitterness and lashing out. Being orphaned hurts.

In emphasizing the reality of Jesus’ ascension we need to make sure that we do not create impression that Christians are orphans. We are not. Nevertheless, there are certain mysterious truths of the Christian faith that believing, catholic Christians must affirm first because they are taught in God’s Word and secondarily because they are affirmed by all believers everywhere, in all times and places.1 Among the more central truths of the faith is the incarnation of God the Son. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, one person with two distinct, unconfused, inseparable natures. This is the biblical, catholic (universal) Christology (doctrine of Christ). In the previous post we looked at the teaching of Scripture, as summarized in Heidelberg Catechism 46 that, in his ascension Jesus left us bodily. This raises an immediate problem. Matthew says:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:16–20; ESV).

How can it be that Jesus is both away from us and with us at the same time? In his ascension, did he abandon us and thereby break his promise?

47. Is Christ then not with us even unto the end of the world, as He has promised?

Christ is true man and true God. According to His human nature He is now not on earth, but according to His Godhead, Majesty, Grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.

Christ has two distinct, inseparable natures united in one person. What is true of his natures is true of his person. It is true that Christ is away from us. Jesus did say “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17; ESV). The subject of the verb is Jesus. When the woman poured the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet some complained. Jesus replied, ““Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matt 26:10–11; ESV). He testified that he was going to the Father (John 16:28; 17:11). He said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer” (John 16:17)

He also said, “I will be with you always.” He said ““I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). Jesus This is why we never, ever say Jesus is “part God and part man.” That’s not only false, it’s heresy. Jesus is not a composition. Period. Full stop. This is why we don’t speak in quantitative terms, e.g., “Jesus is %100 man and %100 God.” No, Jesus is true God and true man. As we say in the Athanasian Creed, the properties of his deity and the properties of his humanity are unchanged in the incarnation. His deity does not become human and his humanity does not become deified. Jesus is away from us and is with us simultaneously.

How is it possible? It is so because he is present with us, as we say, by his deity, his majesty, his unconditional favor (grace), and his Holy Spirit. He has kept his word. He has fulfilled his promise. He is with us. He shall be with us. No one can dissolve the bond, the union between Christ and his people. No one is closer to us than Jesus. No one is more present with us all, everywhere, in all times and places than Jesus. Remember, God the Son was working to save and sanctify his people before his incarnation. He was with his people in the garden and after. He was delivering Noah and the rest of the visible church through the flood. He delivered Israel through the Red Sea. He was with them in the wilderness (1 Cor 10). In the New Covenant, however, we are particularly blessed. He promised:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:15–20)

We are not orphans. We are not abandoned because God is not one person. He is not two persons. He is three persons. God the Holy Spirit is with us and through him, through the Word and sacraments, he communicates Christ to us. It was that same Spirit of whom Jesus said,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13–15; ESV).

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Just as Jesus spoke on his Father’s authority, so the Spirit spoke on Jesus’ authority. He who hovered over the face of the deep (Gen 1), who led the Israelites through the wilderness in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, hovers over the church, as it were. He who inspired God’s Word through the prophets also inspired God’s Word through the apostles (2 Pet 1:21). Jesus has conquered death. He has ascended “far above the heavens” (Eph 4:9). He has poured out his Holy Spirit and given to us “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” (Eph 4:9–12; rev. from the ESV).

The two natures and one person of Christ are a great mystery. We cannot say how it can but we must say that it is and we should say all that we may, all that he has revealed to us. His simultaneous bodily absence to be with the Father and his true presence by the Spirit, in our persons and through the Word and sacraments (Rom 10), is a grand truth. He is as near to us as the Word. When we hear his Word, we hear him. When we see the water, the bread, and the wine, we are seeing him and his promises to us. He is with us always and she shall return bodily and so we shall always be with the Lord. We are not “Home Boys.” Jesus has not abandoned us. Our hope is not misplaced. The Holy Spirit, the Word, and the sacraments are a downpayment (Eph 1:13–14), sign, and a seal to believers that our confidence is justified.

Here are all the posts on the Heidelberg Catechism.

NOTES

1. This is the language of the Athanasian Creed: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly…. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.

Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

    Post authored by:

  • 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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2 comments

  1. John 14:18-19
    “‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.'”

    The Athanasian Creed
    – “For as the rational soul and flesh is one man,
    so God and man is one Christ. ” (37)
    – “Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (29)

  2. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 18:

    Q.48. If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is, then aren’t the two natures of Christ
    separated from each other?

    A.48. Certainly not. Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere1, it is evident that
    Christ’s divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity he has taken on, but at the same
    time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity.2

    1 Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 7:48-49 (Isa. 66:1)
    2 John 1:14; 3:13; Col. 2:9

    Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8

    II. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature,k with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;l being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.m So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.n Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.o

    k. John 1:1,14; 1 John 5:20; Phil. 2:6; Gal. 4:4.
    l. Heb. 2:14,16,17; Heb. 4:15.
    m. Luke 1:27,31,35; Gal. 4:4.
    n. Luke 1:35; Col. 2:9; Rom. 9:5; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:16.
    o. Rom. 1:3,4; 1 Tim. 2:5.

    VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acteth according to both natures; by each nature doing that which is proper to itself:n yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.o

    n. Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 3:18.
    o. Acts 20:28; John 3:13; 1 John 3:16

    Westminster Shorter Catechism

    Q. 21. Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?

    A. 21. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ,g
    who, being the eternal Son of God,h became man,i and so was, and
    continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person,
    forever.k

    g. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5–6.
    h. Ps. 2:7; Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 1:18.
    i. Isa. 9:6; Matt. 1:23; John 1:14; Gal. 4:4.
    k. Acts 1:11; Heb. 7:24–25.

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