Apostles’ Creed: Jesus at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hades;

The third day He rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

And sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty

What does it mean that Jesus sits at God’s right hand?

First of all, Jesus predicted this. At His trial, Luke records the following dialogue:

If you are the Messiah,’ they said, ‘tell us.’

Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’

They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’

He replied, ‘You say that I am.’ Luke 22:67-70

The first meaning is, then, that Jesus is in a relationship with God that no one else has. He’s God’s Son.

What does He do there?

Here’s part of Paul of Tarsus’ answer:

Christ Jesus who died- more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

If you’re a Jesus follower, Jesus prays for you. If you have Jesus, God’s Son, seated at Almighty God’s right hand, praying for you, what else do you need?

You don’t need magic.

You don’t need any other power, any other force on earth or in the universe.

You’re in the best possible hands. (Which doesn’t mean there’s no need for Jesus followers to pray for each other. God likes to work in partnership with us, responding to our prayer.)

While the picture is usually of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand, William Barclay observes that there’s one story where Jesus was seen standing there. The scenario is that Stephen, a deacon, was on trial for talking about Jesus. At the end of the trial, as he was about to be executed

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him Acts 7:55-58).

Barclay writes, “Certain commentators have…thought that the picture may be of the Christ at God’s right hand rising to come to the help and assisstance and comfort of his own, when they are suffering for his name’s sake” (The Apostles’ Creed Westminster John Knox 1998, 146).

The point here is that Jesus, Creator of the universe, stands ready to help us when we suffer injustice. Down here it may look like we’re alone when we suffer, but from a cosmic perspective, that is not true for Jesus followers. Jesus is standing, ready to empower us for the suffering ahead.

Another picture tells us that because Jesus is at God’s right hand, we have hope. Whatever the trouble you face, as a Jesus follower you have a bright future.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded wth light so that you can undersand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.

I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else in this world or in the world to come. And God has put all things under the authority of Christ…. (Ephesians 1:18-22, New Living Translation 1996).

Jesus at God’s right hand is the ruler of the entire universe. He uses that power to accomplish His purposes in the lives of those who follow Him. It’s a safe and friendly universe, no matter how unsafe and unfriendly things feel as you look around.

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The Apostles’ Creed: He ascended into heaven

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hades;

The third day He rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven…

Do you wonder why Jesus had to leave? Why couldn’t He stay, continuing to show His power by healing, raising people from the dead and so on?

The answer requires a trip back into the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel (chapter 36) gave a message from God that described God’s people’s failure to live by the commands He had given them. There had been great injustice as a result, and God had to respond with punishment.

Then Ezekiel went on to God’s solution:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean;

I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;

I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

And I will put my Spirit in you

and move you to follow my decrees

and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

God’s solution for people’s inability to keep His laws was to put His own Spirit inside His followers so that they would have the ability to live God’s way.

When would that happen?

Jesus repeated the promise in His final address to His followers before His arrest and execution:

If you love me, keep my commands.

And I will ask the Father, and

he wil give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever –

The Spirit of truth.

The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.

But you know him, for he lives with you and wil be in you (John 14:15-17).

In the same conversation, Jesus answered the question, “When, Jesus?”

…you are filled with grief because I have said these things.

But very truly I tell you,

it is for your good that I am going away.

Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you;

But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:6-7).

Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus repeated the promise of the Holy Spirit’s imminent arrival.

On one occasion, whle he was eating with them, he gave them this comand:

‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4-5).

And then He departed. Ten days later the Holy Spirit arrived. Acts 2 tells the story of the Spirit’s arrival and the instant empowering effect on Jesus’ followers, giving them new boldness, joy and power. The chapters that follow describe what happened through the efforts of these ordinary, uneducated people empowered by God’s Spirit.

That power is present in every Jesus follower:

But you do not live as your human nature tells you to;

instead, you live as the Spirit tells you to – if, in fact, God’s Spirit lives in you.

Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God,

even though your bodies are going to die becaue of sin.

If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you,

then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies

by the presence of his Spirit in you (Romans 8:9-11, Good News Translation).

When Jesus ascended from earth, the Holy Spirit came.

The Holy Spirit now lives in every Jesus follower, giving them the power to live a life of love and integrity as Jesus’ representatives in the places where they are. This power transforms their lives.

And when their bodies get frail and die, their spirits go through a door to meet Jesus face to face, continuing their life with Him.

In other words, it took God becoming a human, dying on a Roman cross for human failure, rising again and asending back to heaven to make Ezekiel’s promise come true.

Apostles” Creed: on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hades;

The third day He rose again from the dead…

Three times in the Gospel of Mark Jesus predicted His violent death (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). This is itself remarkable because Jesus was not a violent person.

However, each time Jesus also predicted His resurrection three days later. Here’s the third of those predictions:

Again [Jesus] took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ Mark 10:32-34

Here’s the opening line of Mark: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). An important part of that Good News is that Jesus came to defeat the power of death.

“There are [no passion predictions]…in Mark; there are only passion-resurrection predictions….His Gospel is entitled good news…Never is death the final word.” Geddert, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark Herald 2001, 202-3

Accordingly, it’s important to see how proof of resurrection is made.

First, we saw in the August 8 blog entry the stress on the fact of Jesus’ physical death – you can’t have a resurrection from the dead if there was no death!

Second, William Barclay observes, “It must at once be admitted that it is not possible to demonstrate the fact of the Resurrection as one would demonstrate the truth of a theorem in geometry…this is why…witness is so important in the early Church.” The Apostles’ Creed John Knox 1998, 110-119.

a) It therefore comes as no surprise to see the emphasis Paul placed on eye witnesses in his teaching and writing about Jesus’ resurrection:

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters,[a] of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it.2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.[b]

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.5 He was seen by Peter[c] and then by the Twelve.6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers[d]at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, New Living Translation)

At the time of writing, Paul says that the majority of the group of 500 eye witnesses of one post-resurrection appearance are still alive, and presumably available for interview.

b) In the April 25, 2019 blog entry, there was mention of Jesus’ continuing appearances in the twenty-first century.

What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make?

Jesus told his friend Martha the significance of His rising from the dead.

Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (John 11:25-26). Those who live their lives with Jesus as their leader will experience physical death as a door to an existence with Jesus – an existence of endless life, with God and with those who made Jesus their leaders.

And I heard a loud cry from the throne saying,

‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21:3-4).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is very important, because for Jesus followers it’s a message of the hope of defeating death. How does it seem to you?

The Apostles’ Creed: Jesus descended to hades

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hades…

What’s hades? It’s the place where the dead await the end of time and their appearance before Jesus the judge (Revelation 20:11-15).

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Before we move on, don’t you love the picture of death and Hades being destroyed? You may have heard the expression “There are only two things for certain; namely, death and taxes.” In this life that’s true, but death will itself experience destruction. Death is not immortal. The message of Easter is that death doesn’t win. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What was Jesus doing in Hades after He died on the cross?

First, He “perfected the spirits of Old Testament believers (Hebrews 12:23; cf. 11:40)” Packer, I Want to be a Christian Tyndale 1981, 64.

You have come to God, the judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect Hebrews 12:23.

These [Old Testament heroes of faith] were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).

What this means is that even great heroes like Joseph, Elijah, Moses, Daniel were not ready for heaven simply on the basis of their godly lives. They needed Jesus’ death in their place to be ready for heaven. And that of course means that this is true for everyone else as well! If even Daniel and Elisha, both great prophets, couldn’t earn heaven by their lifetime of good deeds, neither can you and I. Only Jesus can earn heaven for us – and He did that by dying in our place on Good Friday 2000 years ago.

Second, He preached to those who had not lived their lives following the true God.

They will have to answer for [their choices] in front of the judge who is ready to judge the living and the dead. And because he is their judge too, the dead had to be told the Good News as well, so that though, in their life on earth, they had been through the judgement that comes to all humanity, they might come to God’s life in the spirit (1 Peter 4:5-6, Jerusalem Bible).

One commentator explains, ”The last clause explains the purpose of the preaching…They had died before…the great work of atonement wrought by [Jesus’] death; but that atonement was retrospective – he ‘taketh away the sin of the world;’ its saving influence extended even to the realm of the dead.” (Pulpit Commentary: 1 Peter Eerdmans 1962, 171-172.

This underlines God’s fairness. Even people who in their lives rejected Him, but who could not have heard of God’s love for them – a love so great that God became a human to die in their place, for their failures and defiance – hear that good news and receive an opportunity to respond to it.

It also underlines the importance of individual response. Jesus’ death makes possible the rescue of each human, but the individual human must want Jesus to rescue them.

In other words, Jesus’ trip to Hades between Good Friday and Easter Sunday was another expression of God’s great love for every human.

How do you respond to that kind of love?

The Apostles’ Creed: Two destinies, Jesus is the ticket to life

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hades…

Here’s some bad news. Based on human experience, you are going to die. As far as I can tell, the oldest person alive is less than 120 years old.

Here’s some more bad news. Human death is not like death on a video game. You don’t simply press the Reset button and start over. The consistent message in the Bible is that we get one human life. …people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:28).

That raises a question. On what basis are humans judged after they die?

Jesus taught that there are two destinies at the end of human life; namely, life and destruction, and that one’s destiny is the result of human choice.

‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). Great loss or endless life. Those are the destinies, and every human is traveling a road toward one of the two.

How does one end up on one road or the other? Surprisingly, people are not judged by weighing their good and bad deeds. People’s destiny is based upon one decision; namely, their relationship to Jesus of Nazareth.

Here’s a story from Good Friday as Jesus hung dying on a Roman cross.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:

‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

But the other criminal rebuked him.

‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?

We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.

But this man has done nothing wrong.’

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’ Luke 23:39-43.

It’s no secret that some prisoners are innocent of the crimes that put them there. But this man makes it clear that he’s not in that group. He admits that, by the laws of the land, he deserves the death that he will experience in a few hours.

To make his situation even worse, both Matthew and Mark record that he participated in insulting Jesus along with many others at the scene. …the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Matthew 27:44. See also Mark 15:22).

Somehow, one of the two criminals had a change of heart. Somehow he came to realize that, while Jesus was dying there, Jesus was much bigger than the physical scene of which they both were a part. ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In other words,

a) I know that even though you’re dying here today, you are a king,

b) I’m convinced that your death here doesn’t in any way affect your power as a king. Your death here today will not take away your power or your independent existence.

c) You have the power to determine what happens to me after I die

d) I want you to be in charge of what happens to me. One translation manual says that “remember” means “to keep in mind for care and attention” (Reiling & Swellengrebel, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Luke United Bible Societies 1971, 734, 80). In other words, “Jesus, take care of me when you become king.”

Notice what Jesus does not say.

1. He doesn’t say, “Your bad choices in life disqualify you from my kingdom.”

2. He doesn’t say, “Go back and live a more worthy life and I’ll think about it.”

3. He doesn’t say, “I would have considered it, but you insulted me an hour ago.”

4. He doesn’t say, “I have no power to determine what happens to you after you die.”

Instead, Jesus

a) agrees with the man that He is a king, and that His kingship is in no way negatively impacted by the physical death through which He is going that afternoon.

b) agrees that He has the power to determine what happens to the criminal after the criminal dies that day.

c) tells the man that by asking for Jesus’ help, all the man’s misdeeds are cancelled and that the two will together be in Paradise, the place of joy and life – in other words, heaven (Reiling et al., 735).

How do you react to the news that one’s destiny after death is determined by an act of surrender to Jesus, King of the universe?

The bad news is that you can’t earn it on your own.

The good news is that you don’t have to earn it on your own, and that you can receive forgiveness for all the accumulated mistakes of your life!

How does that sound?

I believe in Jesus, who was once dead and buried

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead, and buried.

Having already said that Jesus was crucified, why the emphasis on Jesus’ physical death and burial?

Five reasons.

First, because that’s how the Gospel writers tell the story. William Barclay explains:

“’Jesus’, says Matthew, ‘cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit )Matthew 27:50). The centurion saw Jesus breathing his last (Mark 15:39). Luke tells of the moment of death and then goes on to tell of the heart-broken grief of the spectators (Luke 23:46-9)…John…also tells of the thrust of the spear into Jesus’ side, as if unwilling to leave out any detail, however grim, of the story of Jesus’ death upon the cross (John 19:30, 34)” (The Apostles’ Creed Westminster John Knox, 94-96).

Similarly, each Gospel tells the story of the burial of Jesus’ body in a tomb.

Second, because throughout the ages people and entire religious systems have argued that Jesus did not die on that cross. The Creed underlines the consistent testimony of the Gospels, not only that God’s plan was that Jesus must die to save us, but that Jesus in fact physically died.

Third, to break the power of evil.

Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of devil, who had the power of death. Hebrews 2:14, New Living Translation

The only way for Jesus to break the power of evil was to physically die – and so the Creed underlines Jesus’ physical death in the Gospel stories.

Fourth, to take away fear of death. The Hebrews writer continues,

Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying (Hebrews 2:15, New Living Translation).

This is very important, because death is a part of the future reality for each of us.

Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).

In Psalm 23, David writes,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4)

The best way to go down a scary, unknown route is to go in the company and protection of someone who has been that way before and who has travelled it safely. There is only one person in human history who has voluntarily entered death and emerged alive by His own power to tell the story and to guide others through. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not only because He gave His life for us but because He can guide His followers through the valley of the shadow of death when it is their time to take that journey.

When it comes your time, simply remember John 10:11 and Psalm 23:4 and ask Jesus to stay beside you on the journey. Of course, life will be much richer if you don’t wait until that time to ask for His guidance!

Fifth, the Hebrews writer says,

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:16-17, New Living Translation).

William Barclay writes, “The experience of death is the universal and the ultimate human experience. If Jesu was truly to enter into the human experience, and truly and completely to become man; then he had to experience death” (p. 96).

Jesus’ assignment was to experience human life in all its component parts – and death is a part of the life of each of us.

Jesus voluntarily died in our place because He loved us. How do you respond to love like that?

I believe in Jesus, who died violently

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified

Why the emphasis on death as a criminal at the hands of a Roman governor?

J.I. Packer writes, “’Was crucified.’ This was the standard Roman way of executing criminals. To say, ‘Jesus was crucified’ is like saying he was hanged, or went to the electric chair.” (I Want to be a Christian Tyndale 1981, 60). Can you think of any other group that underlines its leader’s death as a criminal?

And why does the Creed go straight from the circumstances of His birth to the circumstances of His death? It’s not because His life was not significant. Jesus said and did many wonderful things. His life is the role model for His followers. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are records of some of the things He said and did.

But death was the purpose of His life. Before His birth the angel told Joseph, His adoptive father,

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20-21)

Jesus predicted His violent death.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matthew 16:31).

On the night of His arrest, Jesus talked about how His death would carry out the assignment contained in the meaning of His name, given to Joseph before Jesus was born.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28).

To summarize, it was necessary for God to become human and to die so that humans could receive forgiveness for their sins; that is, for the pain they have caused to one another and to God by their choices.

What does that tell you about the kind of God who rules the universe? Jesus set it out clearly: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

It’s a safe universe, because the God who rules it loves you so much that He was willing to die to rescue you from the consequences of your own choices and actions. Isn’t that the kind of God you want to make the leader of your life?