How Christ Descends from, Remains in, and Ascends into Heaven

Lent 2 Friday

John 3:13

“No one ascends to heaven except he who descended from heaven, namely, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”

The longer Christ speaks, the more he makes poor Nicodemus confused and foolish. For here Nicodemus might say: “What use is there that I am born anew out of water and the Spirit, if now one ascends to heaven except the one who descends? Truly, I will never ascend, even if I were born anew, for I have never been in heaven.” This is the first road block: We have not descended from heaven. Those who have not been in heaven will never enter it. But how does these
statements agree with each other: Christ has descended from heaven; Christ is in heaven; and Christ nonetheless ascends to heaven again? These are strange and heavenly words. It is a sermon that is harsher than the one he delivered before. How does it all fit together?…Considering these words, reason soon concludes that no one will be saved except the one who descends from heaven. Why, then, do you preach, Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved?” Why, then, are we baptized for salvation? But all this still relates to the rebirth. Christ wants to kill reason and the pride of the Jews who wanted God to consider them holy and good on account of their sacrifices, good works, religion, and worship. Here Christ says: “The righteousness of the law and of our reason is completely dead.” Those who are only born of a woman and have nothing but the natural birth will not ascend to heaven…For our powers have not descended from heaven; this is why they will not ascend to heaven again. If this verse had been understood in the papacy, all error could easily have been avoided. Truly, the dead would not have been clothed in the garments of a religious order, because those garments did not come from heaven. But this sermon offends them, when they hear that their religious order is worthless. They can still stand when we say: “You must be born anew.” But when we say: “No one ascends to heaven– that is too much for them. For this “no one” takes away everything and leaves behind nothing. It excludes everything except Christ…Therefore, all our salvation and blessedness rests on this one man Christ. And here the work of our salvation is described in the three phrases: First, that Christ came from heaven; that Christ is in heaven; and that Christ ascends to heaven again. This demonstrates who the person is; what the person did; and why the person did what it did. The person is such that it is in heaven. This means that this person was, and still is, with the Father one eternal, true God from eternity, as Christ says to the Jews, John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, his substance is a heavenly substance; he is true God. And he did not get that divine nature from the earth or from his mother, the virgin Mary. Rather, he has his divine substance before his birth, in his birth, and after his birth. He came from heaven and remained in heaven and ascends again to heaven, just as he says in John 6:62, “You will see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before.” In these words, too, the person of Christ is described as being true God from eternity. But reason cannot understand how he could descend while also remaining where he was before. And in this way is depicted the person of  Christ that it first is true God in heaven, in the eternal divinity, and that it then descends to us and is born of a virgin, and that it then ascends to heaven again, so that he is true God and man in this way…This now is our faith, that Christ is true God and man; and his ascent and descent show what he did.

St. Louis ed., 7:1901-1903.

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