What is Pentecost Sunday About?

Over at Gospel-Centered Discipleship, I have a blog up about why pentecost matters for mission. The days of Ascension or Pentecost are just as significant as Christmas and Easter, and yet Christians know very little about them. My hope is we can use this day to better remember and lean into God’s work for us, in us, and through us.

Continue reading What is Pentecost Sunday About?

Celebrating Ascension Day: 4 Things Jesus is Doing Right Now

The Ascension of Jesus has become a forgotten doctrine in most churches. We think of Jesus in terms of his past work at the manger, cross, or empty tomb but neglect his ongoing work from the throne. Jesus has not kicked up his feet to enjoy the retired life until his return. Reclaiming our understanding of the ascension helps us answer what Jesus is doing right now, and why his reign gives us rest.

Continue reading Celebrating Ascension Day: 4 Things Jesus is Doing Right Now

A Few Links

Here are the links to a few recent things I’ve written for other websites.

Our church is hosting Dr. John Piper this weekend for our THINK|14 conference. To start tilling the soil of our hearts I provided two blogs.
Why Theology Matters…For Everyone
A Primer on Philippians

Here was an article giving three reasons the ascension matters for us right now. The Ascension: What’s Jesus Up To?

On this blog I did seven individual articles on ways God the Father loves us. I condensed them into a summary article for Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Pentecost and Kingdom

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[This post is part 8 of 9 on a series of the Kingdom of God in the NT.]

Pentecost and Christ’s Kingdom
One of the most famous passages in the NT is Matthew 28:18-20. A lot of attention—and rightly so—has been given to the mission to go, make disciples, and to do so by baptisms and teaching. However, what is talked about less often is why Jesus now gives us this mission, or at least why it’s possible. In verse 18 Jesus tells the disciples that as the resurrected (and soon to be ascended) Messiah and King “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to him. The authority here isn’t simply his inherent authority as the Son of God but the authority earned through his life, death, and resurrection. It is consistent with what we’ve seen in Acts 2 and the fact that Jesus is raised and exalted to the throne of David, meaning that he is the King over the world. The Davidic King comes to rule Israel but he does so with the mission of opening the gates of Israel so that all nations will come into his kingdom. The commission to go into all nations is tied to both Jesus’ authority as King over all the earth and Jesus’ authoritative mission to expand the kingdom of God to all nations.

This is important because when Jesus tells his followers to go into the world—a place where they have no power and will be persecuted by spiritual enemies and enemies from other religions or from the government itself—how in the world can they accomplish this impossible mission? The reason is because Jesus as King has claimed his sovereignty and rule over all creation, and he sends us into lands that he has authority over. This verse is also important, especially as seen in a parallel verse of Acts 1:8, because they will go into the world and make disciples only because the Spirit is with them. At Pentecost we see that the Spirit is sent by the King as both the proof that the King is reigning and as the power within the kingdom. “In particular, the coming of the promised Spirit at Pentecost is intended to be understood as evidence testifying to how Jesus was raised from the dead (vv.22-28)…Christ has begun to sit on the throne of the end-time kingdom, which he did not do in his ministry, though he was at that time inaugurating the kingdom.”[1]

It is the Spirit who works through the kingdom citizens to announce the gospel news that Jesus is King. It is the Spirit who leads, guides, and protects the citizens. It is the Spirit who uses the Word to convict, reveal, and change people so that the kingdom increases. It is the Spirit who brings glory to the King. The work of the Spirit through believers (citizens of the kingdom) is how Jesus’ exercises and expands his rule on earth.[2] In the gospels the kingdom is among them because the King (Jesus) is standing in their midst. In Acts, the kingdom of God is among us because the Spirit brings the presence of Jesus to us.[3] The Spirit doesn’t replace or take over for Jesus, instead, he is the presence and the power of Jesus is with us. “Jesus ascribes all the power involved in the establishment of the kingdom to the Holy Spirit as its source….If, then, in its very essence the power of the kingdom is the power of the Holy Spirit, it must extend as far as the latter’s operation extends and include the entire liberating, renewing, sanctifying work of grace in the hearts of men.” [4]

Thus, both the ascension and Pentecost are essential to Jesus’ purpose and to the very life and mission of the church because through them the King sends his powerful spirit to the people he is sending to the world. Pentecost is when the church is enlisted into the King’s army and is equipped by the Spirit for what lies ahead.[5] Pentecost is the launching and deploying of the citizens from the Kingdom of God into the kingdom of the world. Our mission isn’t self-imposed, self-governed, or self-generated. We take our orders from the King who rightfully reigns from his throne.

Hopefully you can already see why the ascension is good news in this point. Among the possible implications, we can see from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 that the ascension assures us that Jesus is the King with authority over all the world, that he is still with us through the Spirit he’s sent, that we’re participating with the King in the mission of the kingdom, and that we’re now to go to all peoples and all nations announcing the good news of an open invitation to the kingdom. The ascension propels us on the mission of bringing glory to Jesus and making disciples. It tells us that we are the empowered messengers, given the powerfully Spirit, sharing a powerful gospel, and serving a powerful King.[6]

Footnotes:
[1] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 239.
[2] “…the gift of the Spirit becomes ‘the key to the ongoing presence and intensification of the salvation/kingdom of God which the disciples, began to experience through Jesus’ ministry.’” Peterson, Acts, 62.
[3] To understand the relationship between the resurrected Jesus and the Spirit, see: Gaffin, Perspectives, 18-20.
[4] Geerhardus Vos, “The Kingdom of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillips: P&R Publishing, 1980), 313.
[5] I think there is a connection between Pentecost and God’s commission in the Genesis account. At creation God breathed into Adam, his image-bearer and son who was supposed to rule over the earth and fruitfully multiply throughout it. At Jesus’ baptism, there might be a correspondence when the Spirit comes upon Jesus and the Father says this is my Son in whom I’m well pleased (both Adam and Jesus immediately face temptation; however Jesus obeys where Adam sins). At Pentecost, Jesus breathes the Spirit onto his church who is then to go represent the king (image-bearer) and bear fruit throughout the earth. God’s commission to his image-bearer Adam in the garden has thus led to the recommissioning of Christ’s image-bearers (the Church) to go multiply and fill up the earth.
[6] See my blog posts: “The Day of Ascension and the Great Commission” and “Ascension: What’s Jesus up To?”

The Ascended King

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[This is part 7 of 9 in a series on the Kingdom of God in the NT.]

Christ’s Ascension to David’s Throne
The redemptive events in Christ’s life are all tied together and interdependent. We can see this in how resurrection and ascension are so closely linked. The act of resurrection vindicates Jesus and declares victory over sin and death. But, Jesus is also raised from the dead in order to raise him up and exalt him to the heavenly throne. In other words, his resurrection earns the ascension, and the resurrection directly leads to ascension. He could have just gone from the tomb to heaven, but he stays to show himself to his disciples, to teach them, and to demonstrate that we will be physically resurrected people. “The ascension was not the beginning of his heavenly exaltation. It was the ultimate confirmation of the status that had been his from the moment of his resurrection.” [1]

However, not only is the ascension back-ward leaning towards the resurrection but it’s forward leaning to the day of Pentecost. While the ascension is tied to the resurrection as its “ultimate confirmation” and the time at which he actually takes his throne, it is at Pentecost when we see the demonstration that Jesus is now in fact enthroned. We’ll look at this in greater detail next time but it’s important to note here that resurrection is tied to ascension which is tied to the event of Pentecost. None of them stand independently from others although each has its own meaning and significance. Therefore, as we think about Christ’s initial ascension we must keep in mind resurrection as well as Pentecost.[2]

Ascension is tied to the resurrection and to Pentecost as the proof that Jesus is the promised Davidic Messiah and King who has been exalted to the throne of David and is ruling over the Kingdom of God. That’s quite the sentence but it means there are at least three related Kingdom results of the ascension. 1) It proves Jesus really is the Messiah and King. 2) It proves he’s the Davidic King because he’s on the Davidic throne. 3) As the Davidic King reigning from the Davidic throne we are now participants in the Kingdom of God. This exaltation in the ascension isn’t a general crowing of Jesus as King but it’s tied to the promise that the messiah would be the greater Son of David who reigns over the kingdom of God. Some theologies would call Jesus King but fail to acknowledge that he must then have a real kingdom right now.

Declared to be the Son of God in Power
Let’s look at a couple of examples from the NT. Romans 1:3-4 says that Jesus is the descendant of David (the Messiah and King) and he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Why is Jesus now through the resurrection declared to be the Son of God in power? It’s clearly not that he for the first time becomes the Son of God. Rather, he is the Davidic Messiah and King who through his resurrection and ascension to the Davidic throne at God’s right hand is now enthroned in power as King. It is a resurrection-ascension in mind here. As the resurrected and exalted Christ he takes his rightful throne and is appointed or shown to have all power. John Murray writes, “By his resurrection and ascension the Son of God incarnate entered upon a new phase of sovereignty and was endowed with new power correspondent with and unto the exercise of the mediatorial lordship which he executes as head over all things in his body, the church.” [3] In Acts 2:33 we see the same thing as Jesus’ resurrection is tied to his ascension. Thomas Schreiner connects the dots for us.
“At Jesus’ resurrection God ‘made him both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). We know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was the Christ during his earthly ministry, and therefore this verse does not teach that Jesus ‘became’ Lord and Christ only when raised from the dead. The point of the verse is that Jesus became the exalted Lord and Christ only at his exaltation. He did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.” [4]
These two texts (Rom. 1:3-4; Acts 2:9-36) are a sample arguing that in the NT, the resurrection-ascension is when Jesus is shown to be the Davidic king because he’s exalted to that throne.

In Acts 2:17-21 Peter explains that the events of Pentecost are a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel that the Messianic King has arrived. It tells us that the last days are tied to the New Covenant age (Jer. 31:34) since all are given the Spirit. Peter then goes on in verses 22-36 to explain that the last days/Messianic era/New Covenant age are here because David’s greater Son and eternal King has come in the person of Jesus the Christ.[5] Peter explains that Jesus is killed by the Jews (his audience) but is raised by God, in accordance with the OT Scriptures. In verses 25-28 he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 to show that the Son of David would be resurrected, which happened when God raised Jesus. God raises up Jesus from the dead—in part—so he might “set one of his [David’s] descendants on his throne,” which again Peter says in 31-36 is fulfilled in Jesus who is both raised up by God and exalted to his right hand, the throne of David (probably alluding to Ps. 132:11).

It should be clear here but let me reemphasize that the text says Jesus is raised to be set on the throne of David (v. 30) and that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God (v.33)—which is the location of the throne of David.[6] He then ties this back into explaining Pentecost because as the exalted Messianic King, Jesus is the one who gives the Holy Spirit. “The use of ‘therefore’ (oun) in verse 33 shows that the pour out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is evidence of the reign of the Lord Jesus from the throne of David.”[7] G.K. Beale agrees and shows us how the strands of ascension, Pentecost, and kingdom weave together.
“The main point is that Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are the beginning of an even more escalated kingship that was commencing in the midst of his ministry. He has now begun to fulfill the messianic prophecy of Ps. 110:1 (cited to indicate fulfillment in Acts 2:34-35). The Spirit is poured out on believers to enable them to witness to this great redemptive-historical accomplishment (Acts 1:8; cf. 1:22; 3:15; 4:33; 13:31)…” [8]

David’s Greater Son
What we’ve seen in Acts is that Peter (and Paul in Acts 13) says the ascension is essential because in it we see Jesus raised and exalted as the King. He’s King because he takes the throne of David (Messianic King) at the right hand of the Father (God’s Son) and thus fulfills the OT promises about the Christ and King. Pentecost is directly tied to this ascension because the giving of the Spirit and the signs related to it prove that the Messianic age (the last days/the age to come) has begun. The coming of the Spirit upon God’s people is the proof that Jesus is who he claimed to be, the Messianic King who brings forgiveness and new life through his death and resurrection. His kingdom is the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom promised to David’s son, although it doesn’t have the earthly, political expectations the Jews had about the kingdom (although that is to come in the future in a sense). Again, quoting David Peterson’s commentary proves very helpful.
“David’s son [Ps. 110] is his superior, and the messianic kingdom is not simply a renewal of David’s earthly dominion. For Jesus, the enthronement of the Messiah at God’s right hand is clearly a transcendental event (cf. Lk. 22:67-69). The apostles of Jesus proclaim his resurrection-ascension as that event. By this means his heavenly rule as the savior-king of his people was inaugurated. Teaching about the resurrection of Jesus is inadequate if it does not incorporate the notions of heavenly exaltation and eternal rule.” [9]

Acts doesn’t seem to be arguing that the enthronement and inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom is something only to come in the future—although a future, earthly installment is still to come—but that Jesus is enthroned to the son of David’s spot at the Father’s right hand and the kingdom has been inaugurated and is active through the power of the Spirit right now. Acts doesn’t present the OT prophecies regarding kingdom as having been postponed but that they are being realized in Jesus as King and proven in the sending of the Spirit to his people. This isn’t to say that the kingdom is here in its fullest sense—since Luke points us to the return of Jesus in judgment and salvation—but it is to say that the kingdom is here already.

Footnotes:
[1] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 115. “One might be able to say that Jesus’s glorification had begun with the resurrection, even though his full glorification at his ascension had not yet happened (or alternatively, the resurrection, at least, was the beginning of a process inextricably linked to the glorification at the ascension).” G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 572.
[2] “Together with these other events Pentecost is part of a single, unified complex of events and is epochal on the order that they are. In their mutual once-for-all significance the one event could not have occurred without the others.” Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1979), 17.
[3] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 11.
[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 292-93.
[5] Paul gives a very similar sermon to the Jews in Acts 13:16-41. See especially verses 29-39 for parallels on how Jesus’ resurrection-ascension demonstrates he is the Davidic Messiah and King, and that through him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed (38). “Paul in his speech draws on Ps. 2:7 to say that God has ‘begotten’ Jesus by raising him from the dead (Acts 13:33). In its historical context the psalm refers to the installation of the Davidic king (Ps. 2:6-7). The installation of the Davidic king is traced to Jesus’ resurrection in Acts, for as the risen one, he also ascended to heaven and sits at God’s right hand (Acts 1:9-11; 2:34-35), and hence he is installed as the messianic king.” Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 292.
[6] “In fact, the two themes of the sermon so far—an explanation of the gift of the Spirit (vv. 16-21) and a proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah (vv. 22-32)—are tied together here. As a sequel to his resurrection, Jesus was ‘exalted to the right hand of God.’ In the ancient world, the right hand was often identified with greatness, strength, goodness, and divinity. From Psalm 110:1 it will shortly be demonstrated that the right hand of God is the proper place for the Messiah (vv. 34-35).” Peterson, Acts, 150. See Appendix 1 at the end for a further defense of why Jesus’ kingdom has to be the Davidic kingdom.
[7] Alan J. Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 50-51.
[8] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 239. “In particular, the coming of the promised Spirit at Pentecost is intended to be understood as evidence testifying to how Jesus was raised from the dead (vv.22-28)….the resurrection fulfills the promise to David ‘to seat one of his descendants upon his throne’ (vv. 30-31). Christ has begun to sit on the throne of the end-time kingdom, which he did not do in his ministry, though he was at that time inaugurating the kingdom.” Ibid.
[9] Peterson, Acts, 152.