by T. Austin-Sparks
“...the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19–21; ASV).
Christ Exalted the Perfect Representative Man
Our object now, for the attaining of which we are so completely dependent upon the Lord, is to get inside those words and see and feel something of what they mean. If you read the whole passage thoughtfully, it will be recognized that this setting of Christ at God’s right hand was with the object of installing Him as the inclusive representative of all of us who believe—“to us-ward who believe.” It is a related thing. He “made Him to sit at His right hand,” which was the final step in the exercise of that exceeding great power in raising Him from the dead: and it is said at the end of the statement that He “gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body.” He was not set there as one by Himself—as the exalted but isolated Christ, the honoured Lord—but, in the thought and intention of God, in a related way to us-ward who believe, to the Church which is His Body. The all-governing presentation of Christ in the Word of God is of Him in the position and capacity of representative Man. That is the thing which governs supremely in the full revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the incarnation of the Divine idea of humanity, but, strangely enough, that representation is ultimately projected into a region altogether beyond human experience. He is placed where no other man has ever been. Christ is set forth fully and finally as representative in an experience and position through and beyond death. I say that no other man has ever been there in all the history of men. At the first view, that very fact would seem to shatter the conception of Him as representative. If He is representative in a realm and on a ground that no other man has ever known, how can He be representative of all men? And yet, when you come to think about it more carefully, it is just the opposite. That is why and how He can be the representative, because perfect representation in any realm or connection demands the perfect realization of all the intentions and possibilities of that realm. If you take a flower and say: ‘That is the perfect specimen of its own kind!’, then it is requisite that that flower should embody all that ever that species was intended to be and all the possibilities that were within it in its creation. It cannot be a perfect specimen until it has gone right through unto the full end of its own inherent and Divinely-appointed destiny. And Christ risen is—may I use the word?—the perfect specimen of all the Divine thought in man’s creation, so He must have gone through into that realm which is beyond anything that any other man has known. He must be in a position and in a fulness which fully answers to the original thought of God for man.
Christ Risen Dispels All Limitations
But we must get down to that! In the Bible we have other people who were raised from the dead, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Lazarus is an outstanding example. But we know, without much discussion, that there is a very great difference between Lazarus after his resurrection and Christ after His. Lazarus, although raised from the dead, was still the same man. There is nothing to indicate that he was changed in any way, and he came back just as he was before. His was not, in this Divine sense, a resurrection, but a resuscitation, and there is a vast difference between resuscitation and resurrection. In the Lord Jesus we find that which is unique in this matter. The uniqueness of Christ is found in His nature, in what He was after His resurrection. There are so many differences, and they are so real that you find that even those who had had the closest association with Him and companied with Him in the most intimate way were not able to recognize Him except by a special, Divinely-given enablement. He was not accepting them on the old basis. He would allow none of the old affectionate human caresses and touches—“Touch Me not” (John 20:17)—for those were the gestures of the old level of natural life. On the other hand, He did allow Himself to be touched, but it was to be the touch of faith. He invited one who was doubting to touch Him—“Reach hither thy hand, and put it into My side” (John 20:27; ASV)—but this was the invitation to faith to overcome doubt and unbelief. It is a different kind of relationship, for He has gone out of one realm and into another. Now the old limitations and ties obtain no more. Space has gone, and time has gone; He does not depart—He disappears; He does not come—He is there. There are new powers, new capacities and new abilities now. Everything is in a different realm, and yet so real. He is enforcing the reality of it, and necessarily so, because they are between two worlds—the world of what has been and the world which now is—and they have to learn the difference. It is the revelation of a new kind of life and a new order of things altogether. There is no pandering on His part to curiosity about the other world and the unseen, but just the mighty impress of spiritual reality, and that is what He is seeking to bring home. And if we can see Christ risen and perceive the nature of this Man on the resurrection side, we see in Him the end for which man was made, the representative of God’s full thought for man—altogether outside and beyond the mere limitations of life as we know it, outside of the control of space and time, with powers of which we know very little and capacities for which we all long but discern very dimly.
What has Christ done? He has got rid of all that which led to death and which death involved. Death is that which puts a limit upon everything, which comes in between heaven and earth, which brings man into bondage, which places a mighty ‘No!’ over man’s development, and spells vanity—vanity to all his struggles and efforts. Christ has dealt with that and put it out of the way, making possible that mighty fulfilment of all that God ever intended for man. He has reversed the course of death and removed it as a barrier in the way of man’s fulness, and in His resurrection He has brought life and incorruption—incorruptibility—to light.
Hence, one of the first things that He did after His resurrection was to take up the Scriptures and indicate Himself in them all, from Moses, the beginning of the Scriptures, right to the end of them as they existed at that time. All the Scriptures—what is that? That is history. The Scriptures are human history with God ever in view, and human history is the history of failure where God’s thought is concerned; but now in resurrection Christ can take up the whole history of failure and impossibility and show how right through it there has been present that which was saying: ‘This failure, this impossibility, is not for ever, is not inevitable, and is not the final factor. I am here!’ We know from the record of the raising of Lazarus just how the Lord used that particular truth. “Thy brother shall rise again.” “Yes,” said Martha, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” He broke in: ‘The last day! When I am present the last day is here. Time is gone and there is no yesterday, today and tomorrow’—“I am the resurrection and the life.” ‘All time is encompassed and embraced and dismissed when I am here.’ “I am”—we have heard that before! The Eternal One is the resurrection and the life because time goes out when eternity comes in. And all the Scriptures, having Him in view, have that which says: ‘Yes, history on the earth may be what it is, but I am here, and in the end it will all change.’ That is, in effect, what He said on the day of His resurrection: ‘I am alive, I have fulfilled all the Scriptures. I have gathered up all the Scriptures, all the history of man in his relationship with God, and have fulfilled it. Here I am, the realization of all that God intended, and all that history has seemed to say is impossible.’
The Church the Expression of Christ Risen and Exalted
Now the New Testament shows us two things in relation to Christ risen and seated at the right hand of God. It shows us—and this is what is here particularly in this passage in Ephesians, as we have indicated—that the Church, which is His Body in the Spirit now corresponds to Christ risen. “...gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body.” This is not a Body without a Head, and this is not a Head without a Body; it is one. In the same letter it is said that we, in the thought of God, are seated together with Him in the heavenlies. The Church, when on spiritual ground, corresponds to Christ risen. That is the first great thing that the New Testament teaches us, and that came particularly through Paul by revelation of the Spirit; and, even if the Church is only represented by a small company in one place on the earth, and that company is truly on the ground of Christ, time and space and all limitations are dismissed, and the uttermost bounds of the earth are touched in one moment. If there is a little company here on the ground of Christ risen, by regeneration, by the mighty operation of that same Spirit Which raised Him from the dead, in their innermost being most truly risen together with Christ on new creation ground and being governed by the Spirit, as that company functions in the Holy Spirit, space is dismissed, all geography goes out, the ends of the earth are touched from that point, and in a moment anything, anywhere, can happen. It is not a matter of having to wait for weeks or months or years. If the Lord wills it, the Church can effect it in a moment, for time does not govern at all. You are outside that realm when you are in the Spirit. Praying in the Holy Spirit is simply bringing into operation what Christ is at the right hand of God; it is the risen Christ functioning. So He says: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” “All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18–20).
But who is to go? It is the Church, and His irreducible nucleus of the Church is two. It is a corporate thing, the bringing of the significance of the Body into view. When there is a functioning in the Spirit, it is nothing less than Christ risen, ascended and exalted, going on with His work through His Body, with all those limitations dismissed. That is tremendous! Of course, it does not sound so extraordinary to us because we have heard it before and know something about it in terms of teaching, but take that sort of thing out into a world that has never heard it, and it sounds ridiculous, fantastic, presumptuous. But that is where we have a Christianity that makes such tremendous demands upon faith. It is either true, or it is not true. If it is true, it is an immense thing. If it is not, well, what fools we are! But here it is, and, oh! that the Church might learn more of what it means to be in living union with a risen Christ! That there should be a company, two or three or more, though limited physically here on this earth by time and space, yet really functioning in the Holy Spirit, so that the universal Christ—all that it means that He is there at God’s right hand—is having some expression! I would to God that this could come home to you by the Spirit and that you could grasp it, for what differences it would make! We have a long way to go yet before this is appreciated adequately. But it is true!
We have said that Christ in resurrection at God’s right hand is the representation of man collectively, according to God’s mind. What does His presence there imply? What do the forty days after His resurrection say? They say that He is in another realm and on other ground altogether. The old human, natural things have passed out, and He does not allow them. Everything is new—new powers, relationships, capacity, understanding. There is a whole new state of things which transcends the old and goes far beyond it; and what is possible now is beyond our ability to comprehend. This is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “...in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new” (ASV).
When you touch these things, human language is a vain instrument for expression. “The exceeding greatness of His power”—the superlatives in this realm! Oh, for this enlargement by a new apprehension of the greatness of Christ in His Person, in His death, in His resurrection!
Well, then, the supreme thing the New Testament shows is that the Church on its true, spiritual basis corresponds to Christ risen. Not ‘the Church’ that we know here on earth, for it does not. But God’s thought about the Church is not an impossible and merely idealistic one. It is a practical thing. Two saints, simple, humble and unimportant in this world, but really meeting together in the Spirit, can be a functioning instrument of Him to whom has been committed all authority in heaven and on earth. With them all these old limitations can be dismissed and they can at one moment touch all the ends of the earth. Do you believe that? That is really the meaning of our glorying in Christ risen. It has to be something more than emotion, and more than glorious doctrine; yes, more than a truth to which we give some assent. It has to be very practical. Christ risen is the most practical proposition for the Church. When He was risen He said: “All authority”—and the literal is—“has just been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore...”—spoken to the Church—“and lo, I am with you”—with all authority in heaven and on earth—“even unto the consummation of the age.” We have not grasped the real meaning and value of that! We have simply selected fragments of it and made it a basis of worldwide evangelization or missionary enterprise. We have not gathered into it the mighty implications of Christ risen.
The Literal, the Consummation of the Spiritual
Another thing—which I will only mention—that is shown to us in the New Testament in this connection is that the consummation of the spiritual will be the literal. This correspondence to Christ now is a spiritual matter. It is a thing of the spiritual life, the Spirit in us, and of our being in the Spirit; but there is the counterpart of that in the literal, in the consummation of the spiritual. The consummation of the spiritual is that this body of humiliation, of corruption, shall be changed to be made like unto His glorious body, both individually and collectively. It will be an individual thing, for that is what 1 Corinthians 15 means. It will also be a collective thing, for the whole Body will be changed; the Church will be a glorious Church, a Church of glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27), no touch of corruption, and no possibility of being corrupted; like unto His body of glory. That is the consummation of the spiritual, and the Apostle says that we have the earnest of that already in the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord give us some fresh glimpse of what His resurrection is intended to mean as a practical thing, and, if the practical meaning is to be pressed to some action, then let us apprehend it first by faith and then begin to act upon it. When we come together, let it not be just to say prayers and make all sorts of petitions, but to give the living Lord by His Spirit an opportunity to function beyond the range of locations and space and time, and Himself from the Throne through the Church be able to touch all realms on earth and in heaven and do the thing He has indicated to be His will. Why not now, seeing He is outside of time? Why accept delays if the Lord wills a thing? We want to be very much more practical. If it is true that we are one with a risen, enthroned Lord, it ought to have tremendous repercussions. May it be so!