Still on the Throne
The Glories of a Seated Christ
He’s still on the throne.
In moments when rough waves rock the boat of our Christian lives, an otherwise near-platitude can be a welcomed reminder. Our God is sovereign. Whatever befalls his people has been lovingly sifted through his fingers. Our trials and troubles are no evidence of his abdication or defeat, but of his astounding patience and mysterious timing.
What it means that he’s still on the throne may remain vague and distant. Yet we might take some real solace in the general reminder of his reign.
However, the common saying may also signal something more particular, concrete, and specifically Christian. That is, the God-man, the eternal divine Son — who came to earth as man to live and die for us and rise — ascended to his Father in heaven and sat down, as mediatorial king on the throne of the universe, and he’s still on the throne. Jesus reigns, right now. More than a timeless attribution of universal divine sovereignty, we might hear a Christian ascription of the Messianic rule of Jesus — a rehearsing of Christ’s session, as Christian theology has called it, his sitting in power, as Lord, and human, at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).
What Is Jesus Doing?
Along with his ascension and intercession, the “doctrine of Christ’s session” may go underappreciated, and where that is the case, we might find fresh joy, and solid ground for our feet, in rediscovering it. While many do well in confessing the glorious past-tense verbs of Christ (like came, lived, died, and rose), and even his future verbs (like will come again and will judge), they might find themselves in the strange predicament of professing Jesus as Lord while not really knowing what to say he’s doing at present.
The doctrine of Christ’s session teaches us where Jesus is, and what he is doing — right now. Right now, as you read these words, and all day today, as you go about the rest of the day. And as you have lived till now, and as you will live your whole earthly life going forward, unless Jesus returns first, his session is what he has been, and is, and will be doing. It is what Jesus has been doing, beginning with his ascension and then coronation in heaven as King of kings, and what he will continue doing until he comes again. He is sitting right now on heaven’s throne as Lord of all. But what is he doing while he sits?
While He Sits
The Westminster Larger Catechism serves us with this brief but masterful answer to Question 54 about “his sitting at the right hand of God”:
Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the Father, with all fulness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth; and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, and maketh intercession for them.
Following the catechism’s lead, let’s consider, in three parts, what Jesus is doing right now as he sits, through the lens of what his sitting makes that seat.
1. Heaven’s Seat of Honor
First and foremost, Jesus sits in the universe’s highest seat of honor. That is, “as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the Father, with all fulness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth.” During his “state of humiliation” while on earth, leading up to his suffering and death, he looked forward to the reward of “highest favor” and “fullness of joy, glory, and power” that were to come. Even to the sitting high priest at the time, Jesus declared, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69).
“What Jesus is doing right now, as he sits, is he’s receiving our praise and worship.”
As anticipated by Psalm 45:7 (quoted in Hebrews 1:9), Jesus now has been anointed with the oil of (literally) extreme joy, having been super-exalted (Philippians 2:9) to the universe’s seat of honor, there to be served, praised, and worshiped, by men and angels. So, the first answer to what Jesus is doing right now, as he sits, is he’s receiving our praise and worship. Seated above, at God’s right hand, he is the one on whom we “set our minds” in weekly corporate worship, and in our daily habits of devotion:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1–2)
Far from ignoring, neglecting, or disdaining the things of earth, we set our minds above, on the seated Christ, who then enables us to attend to and enjoy the things of earth, for his sake, in their proper times and ways.
2. History’s Seat of Judgment
Second, Jesus now sits, in heaven, on what will be the judgment seat of all the world and its history. When he sat down at his coronation, he did so to rule over all, as sovereign and judge, with all authority already his (Matthew 28:18). From this throne, he speaks, sitting to teach his church, through his apostles and pastor-teachers, even as he sat to teach while on earth (Matthew 5:1; 13:2; 15:29; Luke 5:3; John 6:3; 8:2). And from his throne, he rules the nations as the great mediatorial king, with all divine sovereignty mediated through him (1 Corinthians 15:24–25), and with special interest and attention to his church.
Not only is Christ seated far above all others, with his name above every name, but he reigns with a particular view to the building and protecting of his church (Ephesians 1:20–23). The advance and defense of his church is the centerpiece of his work in the world, even as he rules exhaustively over all. It is “through the church,” Paul writes, that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10) — and that with the reigning, seated, sovereign Christ as her head (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23)
And from this throne, one day soon, he will sit to deliberate and judge (Luke 14:28, 31), making heaven’s throne the judgment seat on which he will right every wrong and reward every cup of cold water given in his name.
3. Repentant Sinners’ Seat of Mercy
Finally, and perhaps most amazingly, sitting in heaven, he “maketh intercession” for his people. Having finished his atoning work and made purification for sins, he made the very throne of God into a mercy seat.
“Having finished his atoning work, Jesus made the very throne of God into a mercy seat.”
Under the terms of the old covenant, the “mercy seat” was the top of the ark of the covenant, representing the place where the invisible God sat, to dispense mercy to his sinful people. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and approach the mercy seat, and only once a year, to make atonement, by God’s decree, for himself and for the sins of the people. Now, under the terms of Christ’s new covenant, our mercy seat is heaven’s “throne of God” to which we can draw near with confidence, in any time of need, to receive mercy and find grace (Hebrews 4:16) — because Jesus, sitting there, intercedes for us.
When we ourselves undertake to intercede on another’s behalf in prayer, we do so in Jesus’s name, not our own. But the specific kind of interceding Jesus does for his people, with the Father, is unique. Jesus intercedes in his own name. He himself is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), and his intercession for us is not an asking on our behalf based on the mediatorial work and merits of another. Jesus himself is the intercession. And so Hebrews 7:25 says, “He always lives to make intercession [for us].”
How He Intercedes
With his every breath, with every beat of his indestructible new-creation heart, Jesus is our living, indissoluble link to God. We are not to picture Christ in heaven as our intercessor, on his knees, begging the Father, “Please, don’t destroy them, I beg of you.” No, he ever lives to make intercession for his people. How does he do it? He lives. If we are his, and he is alive, then his very life, his very breath, the very beating of his glorified human heart, intercedes for all those joined to him by faith, giving them access to his mercy seat in heaven. As Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn “Arise, My Soul, Arise,”
Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, oh, forgive!” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die.”
Seated in heaven, Jesus is not anxious or uncertain. He is not scurrying feverishly around heaven’s throne room, making last-minute rescues. He lives. He sits on heaven’s throne, secure and utterly stable, in perfect heavenly equanimity and composure, interceding for his people with, and as, God almighty by his very life and breath.
However familiar we have been with the term, his present session teems with glory and good news. Indeed, Jesus is still on the throne, seated in honor to receive our praises, seated with authority and power to rule the nations and build his church, and seated with mercy to welcome repentant sinners, cover their failures, and make intercession for them by his very ongoing life and breath as the God-man. Will you not approach his throne today?