Chapter 15: The States of Christ

We often use the words ‘state’ and ‘condition’ interchangeably. When we speak of the states of Christ, however, we use the word ‘state’ in a more specific sense, to denote the relation in which He stood and stands to the law. In the days of His humiliation He was a servant under the law; in His exaltation He is Lord, and as such above the law. Naturally these two states carried with them corresponding conditions of life, and these are discussed as the various stages of these states.

1. The State of Humiliation. The state of humiliation consists in this that Christ laid aside the divine majesty which was His as the sovereign Ruler of the universe, and assumed human nature in the form of a servant; that He, the supreme Lawgiver, became subject to the demands and curse of the law. Matthew 3:15; Galatians 3:13; 4:4; Philippians 2:6-8. This state is reflected in the corresponding condition, in which we usually distinguish several stages.

a. The incarnation and birth of Christ. In the incarnation the Son of God became flesh by assuming human nature, John 1:14; 1 John 4:2. He really became one of the human race by being born of Mary. This would not have been true, if He had brought His humanity from heaven, as the Anabaptists claim. The Bible teaches the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:34, 35. This wonderful birth was due to the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit, who also kept the human nature of Christ free from the pollution of sin from its very inception, Luke 1:35.

b. The sufferings of Christ. We sometimes speak as if the sufferings of Christ were limited to His final agonies, but this is not correct. His whole life was a life of suffering. It was the servant life of the Lord of Hosts, the life of the sinless One in a sin-cursed world. Satan assaulted Him, His people rejected Him, and His enemies persecuted Him. The sufferings of the soul were even more intense than those of the body. He was tempted by the devil, was oppressed by the world of iniquity round about Him, and staggered by the burden of sin resting upon Him,– “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3.

c. The death, of Christ. When we speak of the death of Christ, we naturally have in mind His physical death. He did not die as the result of an accident, nor by the hand of an assassin, but under a judicial sentence, and was thus counted with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12. By suffering the Roman punishment of crucifixion He died an accursed death, bearing the curse for us, Deut. 21:23; Galatians 3:13.

d. The burial of Christ. It might seem as if the death of Christ was the last stage of His sufferings. Did He not cry out on the cross, “It is finished”? But these words probably refer to His active suffering. His burial certainly was a part of His humiliation, of which He as Son of God was also conscious. Man’s returning to the dust is a punishment for sin, Gen. 3:19. That the Saviour’s abode in the grave was a humiliation, is evident from Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31; 13:34, 35. It removed for us the terrors of the grave.

e. The descent into hades. The words of the Apostolic Confession, “He descended into hades,” are variously interpreted. Roman Catholics say that He went down into the Limbus Patrum, where the Old Testament saints were confined, to release them; and the Lutherans that, between His death and resurrection, He went down to hell to preach and to celebrate his victory over the powers of darkness. In all probability it is a figurative expression to denote (1) that He suffered the pangs of hell in the garden and on the cross, and (2) that He entered the deepest humiliation of the state of death, Psalm 16:8-10; Ephesians 4:9.

2. The State of Exaltation. In the state of exaltation Christ passed from under the law as a covenant obligation, having paid the penalty of sin and merited righteousness and eternal life for the sinner. Moreover, He was crowned with a corresponding honor and glory. Four stages must be distinguished here.

a. The resurrection. The resurrection of Christ did not consist in the mere re-union of body and soul, but especially in this that in Him human nature, both body and soul, was restored to its original beauty and strength, and even raised to a higher level. In distinction from all those who had been raised up before Him He arose with a spiritual body, 1 Corinthians 15:44, 45. For that reason He can be called “the first fruits of them that slept,” 1 Corinthians 15:20, and “the firstborn of the dead,” Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5. The resurrection of Christ has a threefold significance: (1) It was a declaration of the Father that Christ met all the requirements of the law, Philippians 2:9. (2) It symbolized the justification, regeneration, and final resurrection of believers, Romans 6:4, 5, 9; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20-22. (3) It was the cause of our justification, regeneration, and resurrection, Romans 4:25; 5:10; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:3.

b. The ascension. The ascension was in a sense the necessary completion of the resurrection, but it also had independent significance. We have a double account of it, namely, in Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11. Paul refers to it in Ephesians 1:20; 4:8-10; 1 Timothy 3:16, and the Epistle to the Hebrews stresses its significance, Hebrews 1:3; 4:14; 6:20; 9:24. It was a visible ascent of the Mediator, according to His human nature, from earth to heaven, a going from one place to another. It included a further glorification of the human nature of Christ. The Lutherans have a different view of it. They conceive of it as a change of condition, whereby the human nature of Jesus passed into the full enjoyment of certain divine attributes, and became permanently omnipresent. In the ascension Christ as our great high priest enters the inner sanctuary to present His sacrifice to the Father and begin His work as intercessor at the throne, Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14; 6:20; 9:24. He ascended to prepare a place for us, John 14:1-3. With Him we are already set in heavenly places, and in His ascension we have the assurance of a place in heaven, Ephesians 2:6; John 17:24.

c. The session at God’s right hand. After His ascension Christ is seated at the right hand of God, Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22. Naturally, the expression ‘right hand of God’ cannot be taken literally, but should be understood as a figurative indication of the place of power and glory. During His session at God’s right hand Christ rules and protects His Church, governs the universe in its behalf, and intercedes for His people on the basis of His completed sacrifice.

d. The physical return. The exaltation of Christ reaches its climax, when He returns to judge the living and the dead. Evidently His return will be bodily and visible, Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7. That He will come as Judge is evident from such passages as John 5:22, 27; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1. The time of His second coming is not known to us. He will come for the purpose of judging the world and perfecting the salvation of His people. This will mark the complete victory of His redemptive work. 1 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; I1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Tit. 2:13; Revelation 1:7.


To memorize:

Passages bearing on:

a. The state of humiliation:

  • Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE” (Galatians 3:13)
  • But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
  • who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

b. The incarnation:

  • And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
  • For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did:] sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3)

c. The virgin birth:

  • “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
  • The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

d. The descent into hades:

  • For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalm 16:10)
  • Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? (Ephesians 4:9)

e. The resurrection:

  • He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:25)
  • But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

f. The ascension:

  • While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:51)
  • They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

g. The session:

  • which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places,] (Ephesians 1:20)
  • but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, (Hebrews 10:12)

h. The return:

  • They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)  Cf. above under f.
  • BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)


For Further Study:

a. What does the Old Testament tell us about the humiliation of Christ in the following passages:

  • But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people. (7) All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, [saying,] (8) “Commit [yourself] to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.” (9) Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust [when] upon my mother’s breasts. (10) Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb. (11) Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help. (12) Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong [bulls] of Bashan have encircled me. (13) They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion. (14) I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. (15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death. (16) For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. (17) I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; (18) They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots. (19) But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance. (20) Deliver my soul from the sword, My only [life] from the power of the dog. (Psalm 22:6-20)
  • Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; Dishonor has covered my face. (8) I have become estranged from my brothers And an alien to my mother’s sons. (9) For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. (Psalm 69:7-9)
  • Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand. (Psalm 20:6)
  • Just as many were astonished at you, [My people,] So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. (15) Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. (Isaiah 52:14-15)
  • Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (2) For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no [stately] form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (3) He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (4) Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being [fell] upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. (6) All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. (7) He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. (8) By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke [was due?] (9) His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (10) But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting [Him] to grief; If He would render Himself [as] a guilt offering, He will see [His] offspring, He will prolong [His] days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:1-10)
  • I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give [me] my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty [shekels] of silver as my wages. (13) Then the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter, [that] magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty [shekels] of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. (Zechariah 11:12-13)

b. What was the special value of Christ’s temptations for us?

  • For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
  • For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
  • In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (8) Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (9) And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, (Hebrews 5:7-9)

c. How do the following passages prove that heaven is a place rather than a condition?

  • “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ (Deuteronomy 30:12)
  • “When we heard [it,] our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11)
  • If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. (Psalm 139:8)
  • Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
  • Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? (Isaiah 66:1)
  • But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), (7) or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Romans 10:6-7)


Questions for Review

  1. What is meant by the states of the Mediator?
  2. How would you define the states of humiliation and exaltation?
  3. What took place at the incarnation?
  4. How did Christ receive His human nature?
  5. What proof have we for the virgin birth?
  6. How was the Holy Spirit connected with the birth, of Christ?
  7. Were the sufferings of Christ limited to the end of His life?
  8. Did it make any difference how Christ died?
  9. What different views are there respecting the descent into hades?
  10. What was the nature of Christ’s resurrection? What change did He undergo?
  11. What was the significance of the resurrection?
  12. How would you prove that the ascension was a going from place to place?
  13. What is its significance, and how do Lutherans conceive of it?
  14. What is meant by the session at God’s right hand? What does Christ do there?
  15. How will Christ return, and what is the purpose of His coming?
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