Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. I mentioned Monday that we’re in the middle of answering a batch of apologetics questions on the life and work of Christ. And today’s question is one several of you have asked about — namely, why did Jesus have to leave earth after the resurrection? It seems like he could do some amazing ministry if he were still here on earth with us.
That’s Dalton’s question, and he speaks for many of you. “Pastor John, hello and thank you for the APJ podcast,” he writes. “A question I have for you is this. Why did Jesus leave earth after his resurrection? I understand that Jesus left to leave us the Holy Spirit, but couldn’t he have just stayed and continued his ministry as the risen Christ in tandem with the Spirit? Wouldn’t that have been more effective? Why did Christ leave the earth?”
A question like this can have value if we make it a stepping stone to insight into Christ’s present ministry from heaven — in other words, if it helps us understand the wisdom and the goodness of what is the case, and doesn’t just become an occasion for curious speculation of what might have been the case. Let’s tackle Dalton’s question that way, with that goal in mind.
The question is, Couldn’t Jesus have just stayed on earth and continued his ministry after the resurrection — and not gone back to heaven as the risen Christ — in tandem with, alongside the work of the Spirit? “Wouldn’t that have been more effective?” he asks. Why did Christ leave the earth? Here are a few thoughts.
1. Confusion Avoided
If the risen Christ remained on earth for all of church history, a serious competition would be introduced into global Christianity. Who has the risen Christ nearby? He would be spatially bound. He could not be in one place and another place and another place at the same time. The temptation would always be there to make the place where he was the sacred place.
His presence would introduce a serious confusion for how Christians are to relate to him. Some would be relating to him face-to-face at any given moment as he visits churches. Some would be trying to relate to him by the Spirit, but be put off-balance — knowing that he’s one hundred or ten thousand miles away on earth.
The role of the Holy Spirit in relation to Christ would be confused. If his role is to glorify Christ (John 16:14), would we seek the fullness of the Spirit in order to experience Christ by the Spirit’s revelation of him in the gospel, or would we seek the Spirit to bring him, say, from Chicago to Minneapolis? It would — in other words — be a confusing way to go about God’s work.
2. Authority Demonstrated
Christ’s post-resurrection role as the God-man ruling the cosmos is better signified if he’s sitting at the right hand of God than walking on the earth. His role as the head of the church would be misrepresented if he were part of the church on earth. Here’s the key text from Ephesians 1:
[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20–23)
This exalted role — as above all rule and authority in the universe and as the head of the universal church — would be obscured, wouldn’t it? It would be obscured if Jesus were still walking among us.
3. Coronation Accomplished
The exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God’s majesty is the fitting coronation for his triumphant work on the cross and his new incarnate superiority over angels. Hebrews 1:3–4: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
If he had not taken this seat, the greatness of his achievement on the cross and the greatness of his new incarnate superiority would be obscured.
4. Intercession Enabled
The present intercession of Christ at God’s right hand would not be rightly exercised or exhibited if Christ were still here among us after the resurrection.
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33–34)
It is fitting that Jesus be in the exalted presence of God as he intercedes for us and brings his sacrifice to bear on our behalf before God.
5. Spirit of Glory Given
The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send when he returned to the Father (John 15:26) is the Spirit of the risen Christ. And according to John 7:39, the Spirit of the risen Christ could not come until Christ was completely glorified — which included his ascension to the Father. Here’s what John said: “Now this [Jesus] said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). The glorification of Jesus at the right hand of God was essential, because the Spirit who would be sent by Jesus and the Father is the Spirit of the glorified Christ.
6. Climactic Appearing Arranged
God’s plan is that the risen Christ would get great glory at the end of this age, not by itinerating on the earth for two thousand years, but by descending from heaven in power and great glory, and defeating the man of lawlessness, and being marveled at by all his people.
The Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8)
Then the lawless one will be revealed [the son of destruction], whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
The second coming of Christ is the great climax of God’s way of glorifying his Son.
These are some of the reasons why Jesus did not stay on the earth after the resurrection, and there are many more. God’s ways are great. God’s ways are good and wise. Let’s revel in what he’s doing through Christ from heaven.