Sitting at the Right Hand of the Father

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In Matthew 20:20-23, we are introduced to the mother of James and John, who begs of Jesus, “‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking… You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” Jesus reiterates in verses 25-28, “’You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”

The mother of James and John asks that her sons sit at the right and left hand of God in order that they might be exalted, but when we say that Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father we mean that Christ is not exalted in this world, but instead underwent the crucifixion so that he might be glorified in heaven. St. Thomas of Aquinas, in his article “Whether it is fitting that Christ should sit at the right hand of God the Father?” quotes St. Augustine’s words that “Christ dwells so at the right hand of the Father: for He is happy, and the Father’s right hand is the name for His bliss.” In a sense, Christ’s seat at the right hand of the Father is the eternal beauty that he finally receives after the suffering he experienced on this earth. When Jesus proclaims that the Father has prepared a place for us, the place for Jesus is specifically at His right hand. It would seem that, lifted high in his crucifixion, Christ was able to reach up and wipe the dust off of the seat at the right hand of God, the seat where he knew he would sit after his ascension.

Additionally, St. Thomas of Aquinas writes that, “Christ is said to sit at the right had of the Father inasmuch as He reigns together with the Father, and has judiciary power from Him; just as he who sits at the king’s right hand helps him in ruling and judging.” Consistent with the upheaval of the world’s power through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God mirrors the system of a king and those at the king’s right hand, but transformed into a kingdom with God’s justice in place. Christ’s presence within the kingdom, Christ sitting at the Father’s right hand, means that he will serve as judge. We know by his life, death, and resurrection that Christ’s presence in judgment means that our judgment will ultimately be met with divine grace.

When we say that Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, I believe we mean that through his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Christ now dwells with God, offering a judgment alongside the Father that looks like grace. Christ sitting with the Father might mean for us that, while we stand, kneel, or prostrate ourselves as we wait for the second coming, Christ sits—at peace, and in no rush to stop offering grace from the right hand of God.

Jesus' Resurrection

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"This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave." 

So much significance is bound up in this one line from the Exsultet at Easter Vigil, and yet we must say more. Not because it is found theologically wanting, but because phrases that stir up matters pertaining to sin, death, and the devil are held suspect. 

The supposed "real world" with which we have to do marginalizes such problems, so that the determinative answers of righteousness, life, and Jesus Christ make little sense in response. 

Therein lies a matter of great significance. As David Yeago puts it, the resurrection was a "reality defining event, comparable only to creation itself."1 

We are not merely affirming belief in the undoing of a death - as though the resurrection was a great act of reversal, by which our greatest enemy was circumvented and life as we know it restored. Rather, the resurrection leaves no room for back-stepping into former things, for it is in moving forward through death that Christ broke its bonds and disarmed the enemy. After which, the Father raised the Son to a new state of life, ushering in a new measure of real stuff in and to the world. 

This is new creation we are dealing with in Jesus' resurrection. Nothing of the old can reckon with it, because it is the root of a new world view unlike any other. Leslie Newbigin said "It has never at any time been possible to fit the resurrection into any world view except the world view of which it is the basis."2

So then, the basis of a whole new reality that confronts our world is given in this single most significant resurrection from the dead. It is not a newly developed virtual reality or an augmented reality at the hands of human ingenuity, but a newly created reality from the very hands and wisdom of God.

Faith in a better future tends to look to a different type and form of reality as conjured in the imagination, revolving around what could be. Then there is Christian faith which is actually tethered to a better future through the foretaste of Christ's resurrection, which is the taking up of our earthly stuff and its reformation into imperishable life.  

This new reality has been loosed from the bonds of the old, of death and hell, breaking them of their overstayed welcome in the world and power of intrusion into God's new creation. 

The level of truth, beauty, and goodness that presents to us in the resurrection transcends the limitations of our understanding, with one foot still in the old order, and yet even when we fully enter this new creation in personal resurrection there will still be mystery in play, because God can never be solved. In this matter, our goal is not to solve it, but to enter into and explore it, in and through the resurrected Christ. 

1 Yeago, Systematic Theology I: The God of the Gospel, 343.

2 Newbigin, Honest Religion, 53.

 

 

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