In part one, we considered God’s plan to have Jesus minister through resources that He would later make available to the Church. That is, He planned for Jesus, though Himself fully divine from all eternity, to minister as Man, anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so in turn for the Church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This explains Jesus’ sending language:
As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. (John 20:21)
This passing of the torch, so to speak, is also exemplified in Jesus’ instructions about carrying on as His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse:
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15: 8-10)
This abiding is the disciple’s source of power:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (vv. 4-5)
This source of power is, as we have seen in the case of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16)
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
…if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16: 7-15)
The disciples, the Church, then is sent by Christ as Christ was sent by the Father. The Church testifies to Christ as Christ testified to His Father. The Church is empowered by Christ’s sending the Spirit to them, as Christ was empowered by the Father sending the Spirit to the Son.
Jesus makes it clear that this chain of sending and empowerment will have some astonishing results:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-13)
Jesus’ plan is that empowered works by His Church not only testify to Him but bring glory to the Father. This is because everything Christ does is to glorify His Father:
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3)
So much so that Jesus proclaims: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8).
He is empowered by the Spirit, in order to represent—in an ambassadorial role—to be the Father:
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:10)
Amazingly, the Scriptures describe the function of the Church by similar expressions The Church testifies to Christ, represents Christ, and in an ambassadorial role is Christ for the world to whom the Church is sent.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12: 12-13)
The language is vivid. Christ came in human flesh, with hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouth, and He ministered through these. His plan, coming as a human, being empowered by the Spirit, making disciples, sending disciples to make disciples, was after his ascension, to continue to minister in human flesh with hands and feet and eyes an ears and mouth, through His Body, the Church. Thus Luke can begin Acts, the sequel to his gospel:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up… (Luke 1:1-2)
He continues to do and teach, through the Church, through His body. There is such identification that Christ asks Saul, then a persecutor of the Church: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?“
The purpose of the Spirit among the Church is not only to point back to Christ, but to point to Christ by being His body. His unique work is finished. Yet He continues to be actively at work through His Church.
Is this activity in the world something He no longer does? Is that something that is completed in the apostles’ foundational ministry? How long does Christ intend for the Church to function as His body empowered by the Holy Spirit? Does He tell us? I believe He does.
Peter says of Christ, in His empowerment:
…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
“God was with him” is an astonishing way to speak of One who is Himself God—but once again, we see the Father’s wisdom in empowering Christ’s earthly ministry through the Holy Spirit. For God to be “with Him” is precisely an expression of that anointing, that empowering.
Now this is exactly what Christ Himself promises us, His “being with” us, His continued empowering of His Church through the Holy Spirit. For how long? Until the death of the apostles? Until the close of the Canon? No, this is what the Lord says:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20)
This expression “I am with you” is so familiar, we may tend to think of it as sort of a warm, fuzzy encouragement, expression of Christ’s concern for us. Yet in context it also is a statement of the Church’s Spirit-empowered mission. Let me state, that in distinction with various theories of cessationism, Christ’s tells us that His empowerment lasts until “the end of the age.”