Jesus' death, his glorification and the universality of the Church's subsequent mission are the three facts constituting the irreducible core of Christian doctrine. The story of Christ is that of the most glorious victory following on seeming defeat. On that victory the Church has been built, it is the foundation of our faith and our apostolate: 'If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless' (1 Cor.15:14). But 'the Lord has risen indeed'and this glorious Resurrection is the key to the meaning of the Passion and all else. Jesus triumphed as he was bound to, for 'Thou shalt not suffer thy holy one to see corruption' (Ps.15:10), and therefore' it was impossible that death should have the mastery over him' (Acts 2:24). The details of the Resurrection appearances may have a secondary importance, but the fact of Jesus' glorification in soul and body is absolutely primary. It is on account of his triumph over death and sin that he is enthroned for ever as Lord and King; through suffering he has entered into glory, and is now at the right hand of God.For the early Christians, centred as they were on the essentials not the accidentals of their religion, it was this that mattered most. It could be illustrated by one or other account of a post-Resurrection appearance; but these were told less for their own sake than as testimony to the supreme truth and as an inspiration to belief. There was less interest in recording an event simply for its intrinsic worth, and hence even an incident so striking to us as the Ascension could be almost passed over in the two first gospels. Jesus had risen, he had been seen by the appointed witnesses, he was now in heaven, both Christ and Lord. It was sufficient.
Naturally, however, the first primitive affirmation of their master's eminent glory was followed among Christians by a steady elaboration of teaching about this glory. If it was simple in its fullness, it also appeared complex in its manifestations. For instance, if there was glory already, there was far more to come: the post-Resurrection glory was still a partially veiled one. Again, even before the Resurrection, it was realized, there had been glory. And so, little by little, the theology of Jesus' glory grew, just as the whole of Christian theology grew, and the one seemed almost as extensive as the other.
The theology of this glorification had a double root. One was the event of the Resurrection; the other was Jesus' earlier teaching about his second coming. During his life, apart from the last supper discourse as it is recorded by St John, Jesus had only spoken explicitly of his glory in connection with his second and final coming: ' If anyone is ashamed of acknowledging me and my words, the Son of man will be ashamed to acknowledge him, when he comes in his glory, with his Father and the holy angels to glorify him' (9:26). 'The very powers of heaven will rock. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and glory' (21:26-7). Notice also that it is as Son of man that Jesus is to receive glory. This was Our Lord's own favourite title, and the significance of it is important. There are still too many people who think that its point was simply to stress his perfect humanity. This is not so. Certainly it did present him as the man, new Adam, and it could at times help to suggest the depths of his suffering and humiliation: 'The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head' (9:58). But the point here remains precisely the contrast between the Son of man and the treatment he received, and in itself the title 'Son of man' suggests not lowliness but transcendence. When Jesus said that he was the Son of man, he had in mind the figure in the vision of the prophet Daniel, someone coming with power on the clouds of heaven. Hence Jesus' use of the title is a prime source for the theology of his glorification: the characteristics of the Son of man were power and glory. In his lifetime it was much more the power that was revealed; ' the Son of man has power to forgive sins' (5:24), and again, 'the Son of man has even the Sabbath at his disposal' (6:5); the glory still lay in the future, though the eye of faith could already perceive it and on certain occasions it was more evidently revealed. The key to the future lay in Jesus' combination of two Old Testament passages: Daniel 7 (the Son of man) and Psalm 109 (The Lord said to my lord, sit on my right hand). Together, they give us the ground for his supreme claim, 'A time is coming when the Son of man will be seated in power at God's right hand' (22:69), a claim made in all solemnity before the gathered Sanhedrin. This coming time was soon to arrive, for only a little later Stephen, standing in the same place, looked up and saw 'heaven opening and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God' (Acts 7:55).
The glory of Jesus is that of his enthronement at the right hand of God, which was the sequel to the Resurrection and preliminary to the second coming; this whole cycle of glory being consequent upon Passion and death. Suffering is not an end; the suffering servant, Isaias had long ago proclaimed, was to be raised up and exalted (Is. 52:13). Through his pains, Jesus explained to his disciples on the Emmaus road, he had to enter into his glory, the glory of his kingship, revealed effectively to the apostles in the Resurrection appearances. There is an overwhelming impression of triumph and royalty in the gospel narratives of these events. First, angels in shining garments proclaim that it is useless to seek among the dead for the living one, and then Jesus himself appears to his disciples in the beauty of his risen body. Now there is no longer need to conceal his messiahship, he is clearly the Lord, enlightening minds, commanding the future 'unto all nations', promising ' power from on high' before ascending into heaven to God's right hand.
The Ascension is the link between the Resurrection and Jesus' abiding status in the heavens. It was so obvious that it hardly needed to be mentioned by the first evangelists, and consequently our detailed knowledge of it comes from the 'second generation' evangelist, St Luke. Jesus' presence on high at the right hand of his Father was the first of Christian mysteries; the visible event of the Ascension was the sacrament of this mystery. And there are several reasons why Luke may have wished to speak of it. First, it completed the cycle of the new Elias: Jesus like his predecessor ascended into the heavens leaving his power with the disciples who remained behind looking up as he went. Again it prepared the way for Pentecost and the early Church. St Luke's longer account of it appears in the book of Acts; this suggests that he saw the Ascension not so much as the end of Jesus' life on earth, but pre-eminently as the event preceding the descent of the Spirit. Jesus went up in order to send the Spirit down. Thirdly, his interest in the Ascension derives, I think, from his desire to emphasize the glory of Jesus as something that had already appeared. This glory was first spoken of as something to be experienced chiefly in the future, the awaited Parousia, but when the second coming proved less imminent than had at first been expectedit was natural to think more of what had already taken place. While awaiting Jesus' glorious descent from heaven, Christians could turn their minds to his already glorious ascent to heaven. Nevertheless the second coming was not by any means forgotten. On the contrary, the relationship between it and what has already taken place has always remained primary for the interpretation of every Christian mystery, all being at once past, present and future.
Christ will come, has come, is coming. This high mystery of the coming—so beautifully treated in the Advent liturgy— has sense in fact from every time angle. Nor do we speak of different, disconnected events, for one leads to another, opens the way to the next and prefigures that in which it will be fulfilled. Christ's first coming already establishes the kingdom on earth. It was present while he preached; for the Messiah was present, and that involved inevitably the presence also of the messianic age and the kingdom: already the blind had sight, and the prisoners went free, and the poor had the gospel preached to them. Yet the completion of the kingdom was still to come, the consequence of the triumphant Parousia. In the meantime an intermediate stage of the kingdom was reached with the Spirit's descent on the disciples. There is no room for a flat either/or, all the great mysteries of Christianity being at once eschatological, historical and ecclesiological. The Passion is the foreshadowing of the great tribulation of the latter days, the Resurrection of the final victory. Hence Jesus' glory was not only awaited as the last coming was awaited, but was also understood as already manifest in the Resurrection, and further in other events of Jesus' life. The more Christians thought, the more they realized that, hidden though it might be, Jesus' glory had never been absent. It derived not only from his historical triumph on the cross and over the empty tomb, but also from his nature of Son of God. His ontological glory was with him from the start when the angels had sung above the stable of his birth, and it remained through the whole ministry till the great climax. St Luke speaks much more of this glory than did the first evangelists and the Transfiguration especially became for him a manifestation of Jesus' abiding glory at the same time as a prefiguration of Resurrection and Parousia. St John went further still, and the fourth gospel shows the whole life of Jesus bathed in a hardly veiled light of glory; here passion and glorification have come to overlap. John points out the glory of the cross itself, an idea which has always persisted in Christian thought, side by side with the other one of the utter emptying of the crucified Jesus, the Kenosis. In this matter as elsewhere St Luke stands somewhat between the first gospels and the fourth.
Certainly in Luke, as everywhere in Christian teaching, one finds the great cycle of suffering, rejection, death and the exaltation of victory. This cycle exists already in Isaias 53 which was applied at once to the interpretation of Jesus' life, while the classical statement of the whole drama is Philippians 2:6-11, most tremendous of Christological hymns. The basic elements of the cycle can never change, but a variation of stress is to be found even in the canonical writings. At first the suffering was felt most keenly, in the early period of 'Petrine' theology. Later the suffering came to be a little passed over in the leap of triumphant joy in the victory of Christ, and the cross itself was transformed into an eschatological sign of victory. If Christ's glory came to be more and more central within the realm of Christian thought, it was not interpreted identically by all. While Matthew and Mark had placed the manifest glory of Christ chiefly in the second coming, St Paul delighted more in his cosmological glory, and St John stressed the glory apparent all through Jesus' life and Passion; St Luke, for his part, centred his doctrine on the trio of Transfiguration, Resurrection and Ascension.
The fashion of his face was altered, and his garments became white and dazzling; and two men appeared conversing with him, Moses and Elias, seen now in glory; and they spoke of the death which he was to achieve at Jerusalem. Meanwhile Peter and his companions were sunk in sleep; and they awoke to see him in his glory (9:29-32).
On the holy mountain the transcendence of Jesus was most clearly revealed; here the glory which was his by right of nature and which would shine out clearly with a new title from the triumph of the Resurrection was for a moment beheld by the bewildered eyes of the-chosen apostles. It was Jesus' own glory: 'his glory' is a phrase dear to St Luke, he uses it three times,for instance where St Mark wrote 'when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels' (Mk. 8:38), St Luke puts 'when he comes in his own glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels' (9:26). The glory of the Transfiguration is linked with his coming departure from this world in Jerusalem, about which Jesus conversed with Moses and Elias, and it points to the greater glory of the last coming of which Jesus had already spoken. Prior to that last coming these three events of Transfiguration, Resurrection, Ascension formed a growing crescendo of majesty. In each there is the same vision of brightness and splendour: garments, white and dazzling. And in each there is the appearance of two men—'And behold two men', exactly the same phrase being used by St Luke on each occasion to introduce them. Evidently this repetition is intended to connect the three occasions together, following each other in the manifestation of the glory of the Lord. The repetition is the more striking as in fact they were not men but angels in the two later events.
The Ascension took place on Mount Olivet (Acts 1:12), and the site of the last mystery of Jesus' earthly life is well worth noting. If Mount Olivet witnessed his greatest triumph, his bearing up in glory, the same mountain had already seen his deep affliction, the night of anguish preceding the Passion (Lk.22:39). For St Luke the most bitter of all the moments of Jesus' suffering was this vigil of prayer in the garden when
he parted from them, going a stone's throw off, and knelt down to pray; Father, he said, if it pleases thee, take away this chalice from before me; only as thy will is, not as mine is. And he had sight of an angel from heaven, encouraging him. And now he was in agony, and prayed still more earnestly; his sweat fell to the ground like thick drops of blood (Lk. 22:41-4).
St Luke is the only evangelist to mention the apparition of the angel and the sweat of blood. The agony and the Ascension are the two extremes in Jesus' story as described by Luke, for even on Calvary Jesus is not humiliated so utterly as in the garden. Both occur on Mount Olivet; this links together Jesus' going down and his rising up, his suffering with his glory.
In both scenes on Mount Olivet not only was Jesus present but also the apostles and angels. The first angel had the mission to encourage Jesus himself, while after the Ascension the angels are concerned with encouraging the apostles, who had previously been left to sleep undisturbed. Just as after the Ascension the Holy Spirit of Jesus is given to the apostles, so also is his angelic protection and encouragement. In every way the economy of Christian life within the Church is the transfer to the ordinary disciple of the earthly life of Our Lord himself.
Whereas in the Old Testament the glory of God was revealed in the temple of Jerusalem,it is now revealed in the person of Jesus. Here again we see how Jesus has taken the place of the temple. He is the new centre of the world, the place from which the divine glory now radiates. It was because of this profound replacing that Jesus could speak of his body while the Jews thought he was referring to the temple (Jn.2:19-21). They were as preoccupied with the latter as Christians are with Christ, and for them the unforgivable sin was Jesus' claim to be greater than the house of God (Mt.12:6).
If Jesus can be glorified it is because he is the Lord. This title which became so normal among Christians in speaking of Jesus is typically Lucan. In his lifetime he was most probably called 'Lord' only at moments of messianic triumph such as the entry into Jerusalem,the disciples' normal name for him being 'Master'. The two first synoptic writers do not use the title of 'Lord' in their own narrative, and St John only does so rarely; but St Luke makes frequent use of it, fourteen times in all. Perhaps this is a sign of St Paul's influence.
Luke's is a kingly gospel. Jesus is Lord because he is the messianic king of all ages and all lands. 'The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over thehouseof Jacob eternally; his kingdom shall never have an end' (1:32-3). 'As my Father has allotted a kingdom to me', Jesus said to his disciples during the last supper, 'so I allot to you a place to eat and drink at my table in my kingdom' (22:29). It was as king that he was received in Jerusalem—'Blessed is the king, they said, who comes in the name of the Lord; peace and glory in heaven above' (19:38). Luke's messianic doctrine is both royal and prophetical. St Irenaeus described St Luke's as the 'priestly gospel', but this really seems far from the mark. Jesus' priestly function and his fulfilment of the Old Testament priesthood are hardly noticed in the third gospel. Here he is not high priest but prophet and king. The crowds who welcomed him to Jerusalem probably thought him a new king of the Jews in a very earthly sense, the nationalist monarch of a jealous race. Too many of his friends hoped for that sort of a messiah, and the fears of his enemies as well were formulated in such terms. Not forgetting his recent state entry into Jerusalem, the chief priests accused him to Pilate of plotting for a crown. 'We have discovered, they said, that this man is subverting the loyalty of our people, forbids the payment of tribute to Caesar, and calls himself Christ the king. And Pilate asked him, Art thou the king of the Jews ?' (23:2-3). Therefore over the cross was the proclamation written 'This is the King of the Jews' (23:38)—a joke, no doubt, but too close to the truth even in their eyes to please the Jewish leaders. Yet Jesus' claim was quite other than they had imagined, and their actions merely hastened the coming of his kingdom: not only over the Jews, but over all peoples and lands. The disciples had been wrong if they thought that the kingdom would begin that day at the descent of Mount Olivet, or be centred on Jerusalem. Jesus had already taught them otherwise in parable.
He went on and told them a parable; this was because he had now nearly reached Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He told them, then, there was a man of noble birth, who went away to a distant country, to have the royal title bestowed upon him, and so return (19:11-12).
The parable is admittedly obscure, but it links up the kingdom with a distant land and a time not the present. 'Others will come from the east and the west, the north and the south, to take their ease in the kingdom of God' (13 :29).
Jesus is king of the new world-embracing and eternal realm, yet high as is such dignity it does not exhaust the meaning of his Lordship. He is Lord because he is God. The title had always been pre-eminently though not uniquely divine, and its New Testament use embraced most assuredly its fullest meaning. The Son is not less than his Father, and the same title on Elizabeth's lips can be given to the two within one conversation. 'The message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfilment' (1:45) and 'How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?' (:43). Jesus is the Christ whom the Lord had anointed (2:26), but he is also himself the Lord Christ, the Saviour (2:11).
His life on earth leads up, for Luke, to the last great moment of glory on the mountain which is called Olivet. To that event all was leading from the time in Galilee when Jesus turned his eyes steadfastly towards Jerusalem, for 'the time was drawing near for his assumption' (9:51). This lifting up was the completion of the exodus of which he had spoken with the prophets on the mountain, at one and the same time victorious departure from this world and glorious entry into the heavenly sphere. 'They saw him lifted up, and a cloud caught him away from their sight' (Acts 1:9). That was Luke's picture of the end of Jesus' past earthly life and achievement, but not the completion of all, not the final glory. That was, and is, still to come. 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking heavenwards? He who has been taken from you into heaven, this same Jesus, will come back in the same fashion, just as you have watched him going into heaven' (Acts 1:9). The Ascension is no substitute but a pledge of the second coming. Only then will Jesus fully 'enter into his glory'. It may be far off, it may be necessary first to travel into many distant lands, to suffer much persecution and tribulation, but the second coming remains as certain as the first, guaranteed by the Ascension.
Yes, much has to be done first; the Holy Spirit above all has to prepare the way: when the disciples asked yet again about the imminence of the kingdom, Jesus answered them: 'Enough for you, that the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will receive strength from him' (Acts 1:8); with that strength Christians have to acknowledge the Son of Man, and so prepare themselves to be acknowledged by him (Lk.9:26); they must keep themselves ever waiting and watching, clinging to their faith even when all hope seems gone and the power of the world is turned against them, for only then will their Lord come (12:36-8; 18:8).
The sun and the moon and the stars will give portents, and on earth the nations will be in distress, bewildered by the roaring of the sea and of its waves; men's hearts will be dried up with fear, as they await the troubles that are overtaking the whole world; the very powers of heaven will rock. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with his full power and majesty (21:25-7).
As Resurrection followed Passion, the Parousia will follow the world tribulation of the latter days. The whole world will share in the Passion of Jesus that it may share also in his glory. Finally, the promise of the angels will be fulfilled: the time of watching over, the new age will begin when the Lord Jesus Christ appears with power and glory on the clouds of heaven by the right hand of his Father, and in lowly fear and ardent love men at last witness the return of the King.