As the eternal Son of God, Christ’s kingship begins in creation; but in redemption, Christ is shown to be Head and Mediator for the church as well. This is not another creation but a new creation—redeemed creation looking forward to the consummation. Although there is a certain order in Christ’s exercise of his offices, they are true of him at all times: he is never Prophet without being King, or King without being Priest. Nonetheless, we should distinguish Christ’s present reign in grace from his future reign, which will also manifest glory and power. The kingdom is currently like its King before his exaltation, appearing weak and foolish to the world. It is visible not in majesty but in Word and sacrament, discipline, discipleship, and fellowship. As in his other offices, Christ exercises kingship as both divine and human. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords not only as God but as the faithful and last Adam, David’s greater son, whose reign has begun even now and will be realized fully in the age to come.
The most direct account of Christ’s ascension is in Luke 24:13–51 (reiterated in Acts 1). In these passages, it becomes clear that Christ’s ascension and return in glory are part of the gospel itself. Christ continues to exercise all three offices in his heavenly exaltation, proclaiming and bringing about his Word, interceding for his people, and ruling all things for our good, by the Holy Spirit.
The ascension is not simply an exclamation point to the resurrection; it is a distinct event in redemptive history, grounding the significance of eschatology (we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms but do not yet see him face-to-face), pneumatology (Christ is now present to us by the Spirit’s activity through Word and sacrament), and ecclesiology (the church is a community between two ages, already belonging to the new creation but still on our pilgrimage). Christ’s ascension both grounds the church’s present struggle and guarantees our future triumph.
Since Pentecost, the Spirit has come to apply the benefits of Christ through the preaching of the gospel, ushering in the new creation, in and through the individual and corporate life of believers, their children, and those who are “far off” (Acts 2:39). This means that the Spirit’s application of redemption can never be separated from the history of redemption. Nor can the doctrine of salvation ever be separated from the doctrine of the church; the same King creates and sustains both by the same means: Word and sacrament.
Covenant and Kingdom
Unlike the covenant at Sinai, which Israel violated against her Great King, God’s covenant with Abraham and David depended on God’s own unwavering faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his human subjects. This covenant and all its promises are fulfilled in the new covenant in Christ, who fulfilled the Sinai covenant as well, since he is himself the faithful King and the faithful subject.
The Kingdom and Eschatology
The kingdom of God is “from above”; it is an inbreaking of the age to come rather than a developmental progression drawn from the resources of the present age. Since it is a kingdom we are receiving from God rather than building for ourselves, it cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:25–29). We must avoid both underrealized and overrealized eschatology. Underrealized eschatologies, like dispensationalism, fail to see the real presence of Christ’s kingdom breaking into the present age before his return; overrealized eschatologies, like liberation theology, expect Christ’s present reign to include blessings—such as a fully just and godly civil society—that he has promised to bring only at his return. As difficult as it is in practice, we must affirm that Christ’s kingdom is already truly present, but not yet in its consummated form.