This series on what is determinative for the Christian life started with John the Baptist and continued with the life and teaching of Jesus and with his death on the Cross. Now I want to consider whether the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ should be considered the central focus for the Christian life.
This is an emphasis which is sometimes seen as characteristic of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, in contrast to the western churches which tend to put more emphasis on the Cross. To be honest I don’t know how true this is of Eastern Orthodoxy in general, but it does seem to be reflected in the prominence of the image of Christ Pantocrator in Byzantine and more modern Eastern church buildings. The Jesus in these images is not living on earth or dying on the Cross; he has risen and ascended and is reigning as the Lord Almighty.
Now it is certainly true to biblical teaching that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and that he is enthroned there as King. Indeed today, at least in many western churches, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. But he is not the heavenly counterpart of an earthly emperor, as seems to be implied by the Orthodox iconography and theology. Jesus’ idea of rulership is very different:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)
The Christian life, therefore, is not to be one of subjection to a heavenly tyrant, ruling through his regent on earth the emperor. Yes, the emperor may reign, and Christian people are to honour this rule in earthly matters. But in spiritual matters, although Christ is indeed King, his reign has a very different character, one which involves humility and self-sacrifice, demonstrated and shaped by his life on earth and his death on the Cross. If these are lost sight of in worship of the heavenly Christ, again the Christian faith has lost its proper balance.
Nearing the end of this series, continued in Cross or Resurrection 6: New Life After Pentecost.