Seated in Heaven
By David Feddes
“Ahh, I’m in heaven.” Ever find yourself saying that? You eat a scrumptious meal, you top it off with a delicious dessert, and you say, “I’m in heaven.” Or your team is playing for a championship, it’s close right to the end, and then you win on a last-second score. You exchange high fives and exclaim, “I’m in heaven.” When you talk like that, you know you’re using a figure of speech. You know that no matter how much you enjoy yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re really in heaven.
But did you know that there’s another sense in which it’s possible to say, “I’m in heaven,” and be telling the truth? The Bible says in Ephesians 2:6, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” If we belong to Christ, we are seated in heaven. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But it may also sound weird if you’ve never thought about it before. What can it possibly mean? How can we claim to be seated in heaven, when we’re so obviously here on earth?
The answer has something to do with Jesus and his ascension to heaven and the way his people are attached to him. According to the Bible, the fact that Jesus is seated in heaven somehow means that his people are seated there “with him,” or to put it even more strongly, seated there in him. Apparently, what happens to Jesus happens to his people also. It may sound strange at first, but that’s what the Bible says.
The Bible says that after Jesus rose from the dead, he showed himself to his followers and “gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). On the fortieth day Jesus was again with his disciples. He commissioned them to be his witnesses and to spread the good news about him to the whole world. Then, says the Bible, “he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Jesus’ ascension is a real event of history that happened at a definite time (forty days after Easter) and at a definite place (near the village of Bethany just outside Jerusalem). But the ascension is more than just a physical event involving place and time. When Jesus left this earth, he didn’t just go to a new location. Heaven isn’t just a nicer planet in some far off galaxy. Heaven is the realm of the eternal, with direct access to the reality and riches of God. Jesus entered this realm in his glorified resurrection body, and he will remain there until he comes again and brings heaven to earth.
By taking his seat in heaven, Jesus received supreme authority and took charge of all things. The Bible says “God exalted him to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9) and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. God placed all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-22). So then, the Lord Jesus is seated in heaven. But what does it mean to say that we are seated in heaven with him?
The Bible says that God exalted Jesus and seated him in the heavenly realms. But that’s not all it says. The Bible also says, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Jesus’ ascension isn’t just something that happened to him. It’s something that’s happened to all his people in some sense. To understand this, we need to know what the Bible means when it talks about being “with Christ” and “in Christ” and somehow joined to Christ so that what happens to him also happens to us.
Legal Union With Christ
One aspect of union with Christ is a legal or representative union. Jesus is the supreme representative and ruler of his people, and whatever he does involves all of them.
Think of a president or prime minister. He doesn’t just act on his own behalf. A national leader acts on behalf of all the citizens of his country as their legal representative, and his actions involve all of them. If he declares war, his people are at war. If he works out a trade agreement with another country, his people are involved in it. If it’s a bad agreement, it doesn’t just hurt him; it hurts the whole country. And if it’s a good agreement, it helps the whole country. A legal bond joins the people to the leader who represents them.
In a similar way there are those who represent us in the spiritual realm, and a great deal depends on who our legal representative is. Adam was the first representative of humanity, and when he fell into sin, he took the rest of us with him. When Adam broke his agreement with God, he broke it on behalf of all the people he represented. When he rebelled and involved himself in war against God’s will, Adam involved all of us in that rebellion and war. We all became God’s enemies. We all fell under the death sentence that God declared on Adam, our legal head.
But just as there’s an old humanity with Adam as its legal head, so there’s a new humanity with Christ as its legal head. We’re born into Adam, and his sin counts as ours; but we can be born again into Christ, and his perfection and exaltation count as ours. “For just as through one man the many were made sinners,” says the Bible, “so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Jesus is the ruler and representative of a new humanity. We who are born again as his people, because of our union with him, are legally tied to everything he does. God counts Jesus’ perfect obedience as our obedience. God counts Jesus’ terrible death as our death and as payment for our sin. God counts Jesus’ resurrection as our new life. And now that Jesus is seated in heaven, accepted and exalted by God, it means that all of redeemed humanity also has the status of being seated in heaven and glorified in God’s sight. Our union with Christ as our ruler and representative unites us with everything he’s done on our behalf. And that gives us a new legal status in relation to the great alliance of heaven: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with the holy angels.
Let’s say you immigrate to a new country, and it’s a country that’s part of an alliance of which your old country was an enemy. Back when you were legally identified with the old country and its leader, you were legally an enemy of everything the alliance represented. But now that you’re legally united to a new country and to a new leader who has a seat in the alliance, you have a new status. Now you’re seated with your leader and involved in the very alliance that was once your enemy.
In a similar way, when you’re a citizen of the old kingdom headed by Adam, you’re legally an enemy of the heavenly alliance. But when, by faith in Jesus, you accept new citizenship and affirm your legal union with your new King, you’re no longer an enemy. You’re a member. You’re seated with Christ, and you’re incorporated into the great, eternal alliance of heaven. You’re a citizen of heaven.
Living Union with Christ
So then, being in Christ means that we’re joined to Christ by a legal union in which Christ represents us and acts on our behalf. But that’s not all. Union with Christ includes this important legal aspect, but it also includes a living, vital, and direct link with him. Two pictures from the Bible show this in wonderful way.
One picture is of a vine and its branches. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The only way a branch can bear any fruit, or have any life at all, is if it’s connected to the vine. When Jesus is our vine, the Spirit of Jesus connects us with him, and the Spirit’s life flows from Jesus to us.
A second picture of our living union with Christ is that of a body and head. The Bible says Christ Jesus “is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13,27).
Clearly, union with Christ isn’t just a legal union but a living union. Branches have a living connection to the vine, and a body has a living connection to the Head. That living connection with the living Christ is his Holy Spirit, who lives in each believer.
As always, this living connection of humanity with God is based in the person of Jesus. The eternal Son of God joined himself to a flesh-and-blood human nature in the womb of the virgin Mary. This union of God with humanity took place by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit. As the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth did all things necessary for our salvation. By coming down from heaven into Mary’s womb, Jesus joined God to man. And by returning to heaven, Jesus joined man to God. A man, one of our race, now sits at the Father’s right hand, and we are there in him.
To put it another way, humanity is forever joined to the life of the Holy Trinity, since Jesus’ human nature is joined to his divine nature, and his divine nature is eternally and essentially united with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the mystery of God’s Triune Being. Because of this, the apostle Peter goes so far as to say that we “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Participants in the Divine Nature
What a staggering thought! Because our humanity is joined to that of Jesus, and Jesus’ humanity is joined to his deity, we participate in the divine nature!
Now, this doesn’t mean that you and I become God and become equal to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need to understand that Jesus’ human nature is joined to his divine nature but not mixed with it. In the mystery of Jesus’ person, God and man are joined in a single person without mixing or confusing what is human and what is divine. Jesus has his human nature in common with us, but not his divine nature. In and through Jesus’ human nature, we are united to the life of God, without ourselves becoming God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit of God can live and work within us without us becoming the Holy Spirit. We take part in the divine nature without becoming divine ourselves.
How does God bring us into the living experience of participating in his divine nature? First of all, he does this through knowledge of him, a knowledge stated in the words and promises of the gospel of Christ and impressed on us by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter says,
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:2-4).
When the Spirit moves you to believe the preaching of God’s Word and to trust the gospel promises, that saving knowledge builds a living bond with the Lord and his divine power.
Another way the Holy Spirit creates and maintains a living bond with Christ is through the holy sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In baptism the Spirit seals the fact that he joins us to Christ and makes us part of his body. In baptism the Spirit buries us with Christ and raises us with him and unites us with him in his heavenly reign and seats us in heaven with him.
Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper Christ becomes present to us and we become present to him through a bond created by the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine signify and seal our participation in the life-giving benefits of Jesus’ death. The bread and wine also, by the Spirit’s working, energize us with the life of Jesus himself. Indeed, there’s even a sense in which we’re in contact with the very body of Jesus–not because the Spirit brings Jesus down and turns bread into his flesh but because the Spirit lifts us up to heaven and joins us with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated there. The physical body of Jesus, his human flesh, is in only one place, the throne of heaven. But in the gospel and especially in the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit of God lift up our hearts to “things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
Please forgive me if I’ve said too much for you to digest all at once. But a spiritual reality this deep can’t be expressed in a few catchy phrases like an advertising slogan. The marvelous mystery of a living union with Christ is so profound that no amount of words can explain it completely. Even those of us who are already Christians and know something of it, can’t always agree on the best way to describe it, and we won’t grasp or be able to explain the fullness of it until our vision becomes completely clear in the new creation (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But this much is certain: when you believe the gospel promises and put your faith in Christ, when you’re baptized into his Body, the church, when you eat the Holy Supper by faith in Jesus’ crucified body and lift your heart to Christ’s glorified body in heaven, the Holy Spirit is joining you to the divine life of heaven in a living, supernatural connection.
To know what it is to be seated in heaven right now, you need to know the reality of union with Christ. In some Christian circles people emphasize asking Jesus into your heart, and they talk about Christ living in us through the Holy Spirit. This is important and valuable, and the Bible itself speaks this way at times. I do indeed rejoice that Christ dwells in my heart. I rejoice that the Holy Spirit lives in me and makes my body his temple. But as much as the Bible emphasizes Christ in us, it emphasizes even more that we are in Christ: dying with Christ, rising with Christ, being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, all because we are in Christ Jesus.
It’s marvelous that the Lord comes down to live in our hearts, but it’s just as marvelous that he lifts us up to live in his heaven. And that’s not just a future possibility; it’s present reality. We are seated in heaven now, in Christ.
Near the end of his time on earth, Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father about uniting his people to each other and to himself and to the divine glory.
“Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began… All I have is yours, and all you have is mine… I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me… Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory… I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (John 17:5,10,22-26).
Christ is in us and we are in him. That’s why Christians can say that we are seated with him in heaven. What an amazing reality! Our legal union with Christ our representative means that his actions on our behalf count as ours, and so in him we have a peace treaty with God and have a legal standing as friends and allies of the Blessed Trinity and the holy angels. Our living union with Christ means that we have a vital, personal bond with him through his sharing in our humanity and through the Holy Spirit who lives in him as the Head and in us as members of his spiritual body. Our legal and living connection puts us right in heaven with him. We’re seated there right now in the reality of faith–our “life is now hidden with Christ in God,” says the Bible. When faith becomes sight and Christ appears, then we also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4).
Seated in heaven! Just think of it! According to Jesus, everything that belongs to his heavenly Father belongs to Christ as well, and everything that belongs to Christ becomes ours through the Holy Spirit (John 16:15). This means that as Christians, we are incredibly rich–everything in the entire universe belongs to us.
Think of that next time you’re feeling deprived and you’re tempted to grumble or feel sorry for yourself. It’s tempting to think only in worldly terms, but if you know you are a citizen of heaven, you realize how rich you really are. Everything belongs to God, and thus it belongs to Christ, and thus it belongs to us who are seated in heaven with Christ. We share in Jesus’ dignity as children of God; his precious name is the name by which we are called; and even the angels who submit to his bidding have become servants to us as well. Already the angels do God’s work on our behalf, and we are even in a position which means that we sons and daughters of God will judge the angels.
But even more precious than any of this is the privilege of living each day with a sense of being seated right in the throne room of God and having direct access to Him. Scripture says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess… Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14,16).
If you’re a Christian, you don’t have to sit around and hope desperately that your prayers get through. Every time you pray in Jesus’ name, you can by faith lift your heart to the heavenly throne room where you are already seated with Christ, and you can come directly and boldly to the throne of grace. Prayer isn’t shouting into an infinite distance and hoping Someone might hear you. Prayer is speaking confidently because you’re right in the throne room with the King who loves you and makes you an intimate participant in the life of God. Therefore, says the Bible, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22).
Being seated in heaven with Christ transforms the way we pray and the way we live. Athletes often talk about taking their game to “the next level” when they improve their skills and go beyond anything they’ve done before. Being seated in heaven truly takes your life and mine to the next level. As the Bible says, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Sometimes it is said that if you’re too heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good. But is that true? No, to be heavenly minded isn’t just to meditate constantly or have daydreams about heaven and avoid the affairs of earth. When we’re truly heavenly minded, we realize that the God who seated us in heaven with Christ has also placed us on this earth. When we’re truly heavenly minded, we know that the Lord of heaven is also Lord of this earth, and we want everything we do here on earth to honor his lordship and show that we are his loyal subjects. When we’re truly heavenly minded, we live as citizens of heaven right now, we go about our day-to-day activities with a sense of being in the very presence of God, and the most common details of life begin to radiate the glow of heaven.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.