I was made to think by part of a comment here by Bud Press. Bud listed a number of what he called “serious problems” with the teaching in Todd Bentley’s book The Reality of the Supernatural World (which I haven’t read) including this one:
– Jesus’ act of redemption was not completed on the cross, but when he ascended into heaven.
Now why does Bud consider this a problem? I know that it is a commonplace in certain strands of evangelicalism to refer to Jesus’ finished work on the cross. And his final word before he died, as recorded by John, tetelestai “It is finished!” (19:30) is often understood as a triumphant declaration that Jesus has finished his work. But is this understanding correct?
The word tetelestai in itself, introduced simply by eipen “he said”, does not necessarily imply anything triumphant. Indeed it can equally be interpreted as a dying man’s cry of despair, John’s equivalent of the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” recorded by Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34), but not by Luke (who has “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, 23:46) or John. The interpretation of tetelestai as a shout of triumph is based not on the word itself but on a broadly based theological understanding of Jesus’ work.
But does this broader theological understanding in fact support the concept that Jesus’ work was finished, completed, with his death on the cross? I think not. While much evangelical theology has relegated Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to being not much more than an afterthought in God’s plan, these subsequent events have always been given much greater importance in many strands of theology, especially in Eastern Orthodoxy where they tend to be given more emphasis than the cross.
There are certainly some aspects of Jesus’ work which are specifically linked to the cross alone and so were complete at Jesus’ death. This would include his sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, according to the substitution and satisfaction model of the atonement. On the rather different model presumed by Bud’s (or was it Todd’s?) use of the word “redemption”, that of slaves being bought and given their freedom, the price of this redemption was already paid on the cross. So in a rather narrow sense I might be able to agree with Bud’s implicit position that Jesus’ act of redemption was completed on the cross.
But there are other important senses in which Jesus’ work could not be completed without the subsequent resurrection and ascension. Concerning the resurrection, Paul writes to the Corinthians:
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
1 Corinthians 15:17-18 (TNIV)
So, although in principle sins had been dealt with on the cross, it took the resurrection to apply the benefits of the cross to individual believers, so that they would not remain in their sins and be lost when they die, but be forgiven and attain eternal life.
As for the ascension, this may not be essential for believers’ salvation, but it does seem to be essential for the Christian life. For, in ways which I do not claim to understand, it was necessary for Jesus to ascend back to his Father before the Holy Spirit could be poured out fully on humanity, as happened on the Day of Pentecost just days after Jesus ascended. Before he died he had said:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
John 16:7 (TNIV)
And Paul wrote, quoting Psalm 68:18:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
… 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, …
Ephesians 4:7-8,11 (TNIV)
So, if Jesus had not ascended, it might have been possible for individuals to be saved, but they would not have received the power and gifting to bring others to that salvation and to come together as a community, to live as God’s people in the world.
So I must conclude that Todd Bentley (as reported by Bud Press) is right to teach that the work of Jesus, his “act of redemption” in the full sense of the word as redeeming for himself a people for his own possession (Ephesians 1:14), “was not completed on the cross, but when he ascended into heaven.”