Dawson: "A spiritualized Jesus...allows the church to run after the things of the world."
It's easy to forget. Just because Christ is physically absent, does not for a second mean that he somehow is disconnected from real time and space. Or reality, for that matter. He still has a flesh and blood body. He still bears the scars inflicted by those who represented us during the darkest days of world history.
As sure as President Obama is in the White House, or a British terrorist is sharpening his knife (again), Christ literally and physically occupies His throne in the heavens. It's not a "spiritual" or "mystical" reality, in the sense that it belongs to the ethereal. Or even only to "faith". The incarnation, which we celebrate every December 25, is permanent.
The continuing Incarnation of Christ has many, many implications as to how we understand reality. One of these implications is the "temporariness" of government and culture.
Gerrit Scott Dawson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, wrote a masterpiece on the Ascension of Christ, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation."
Here's an excerpt from that book:
"One of the first acts of the enthroned Jesus was to open the treasure trove of his love and bring forth a gem of inestimable value. In his bountiful rule, the King of kings showers a priceless gift from his infinite largesse upon his subjects. He receives the Holy Spirit from the Father and pours him out upon the disciples (Acts 2:33). The Spirit, who gives himself to be so poured, becomes the bond between the still-incarnate Son in heaven and his people still sojourning on earth. By this boon, the physically absent King establishes a living tie between himself and his subjects. The head pours his life-giving energies and constant direction throughout his body (i.e. into his people) through his Spirit...Jesus himself understood his departure from his disciples as involving entry into a kingdom...
"The King's story has placed his people under tension. He is not here for us to see, yet he is always about to return. The church is under pressure, by the breath of his Spirit, both as an updraft and a downdraft. On the one hand, we are pushed upward by the commands of the sovereign to look to him as we enact mission in his name. We surge into the future on the wind of his triumph as we live and proclaim the gospel. But, on the other hand, our work is never finished, never to be seen as complete in itself. We are demonstrating the kingdom on earth but not creating the final realm. So, the church labors under the downward pressure of a future that draws nigh, shaping the church, encouraging her in times of resistance and persecution with the promise that the new heavens and the new earth are on the way.
"(There is a) human tendency to spiritualize the ascension. At first thought this seems a result of our metaphysical concerns about the seeming split between the spiritual and material realms. But in fact, the mind's balking at Jesus' going up in the body may well result from the revolt in heart and will against the sovereignty of Jesus which his ascension implies. We may desire to reduce the 'eschatological tension' of his absence and imminent return by dismissing his continuing incarnation... (Douglas) Farrow notes that if we spiritualize the ascension, and get Jesus safely diffused and dissolved into the heavens, then he no longer seems a threat to the rulers of the world. Rather, we can neatly divide the regions of authority between the spiritual and the worldly. We can build the wall between public and private truth which protects us from the claims of God. A spiritualized Jesus allows the kings of the world to run free without restraint from the church, and allows the church to run after the things of the world without the downdraft pressure of the return of the embodied Jesus.
"A continuing incarnation, however, enthrones Jesus in direct relationship to the world and its rulers. There is a real, human king who reigns over the world from heaven. A man who once walked among us is on the throne, and he is not aloof from the affairs of his realm below. All other powers on earth, therefore, are merely temporary and derived. As Paul asserted, 'there is no authority except that which God has established' (Romans 13:1). This, then, is truly a threatening message to any who make claims of their own sovereignty. It is no wonder that earthly rulers wish to silence the church with violence...
"Jesus in ascending has been crowned as the sovereign of this world. Cleaving to this reality, the church has from the beginning been able to thrive amidst the worst persecution. So an old man exiled on a barren island could send comfort to suffering congregations in the name of 'Jesus Christ ... the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth' (Revelation 1:5)...
"With this understanding, the church cannot simply go after the world in its pursuit of the pleasures of the moment, nor can the church let the world go unchecked in its injustice and destructiveness. Today, even as the church loses its voice in the culture, we may recover the understanding of the ascension as a triumphant enthronement. In this way, we may strengthen our identity as citizens of heaven in exile, acting now as loving subversives for the kingdom of Christ..." Gerrit Scott Dawson, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation"