But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” John 6:61-62 NASB
In other words, if you are stumbled over my words, my parents, this teaching, the contradictions you see, then you will be flippin’ out if you see man’s real, fully lived-out identity.
In the context Jesus had related himself to the manna which came down from heaven, which God provided miraculously for Israel in the wilderness. In the same way he too “came down from heaven” — the Father provided him as food for the life of world, mysteriously, out of obscurity, his origin was mostly unknown. Just like the bread which fed the 5000 was multiplied out of sight, so the bread in the wilderness which seemed to come from the sky every morning, was a provision provided from the bakery of heaven — we don’t see where it came from. The whole concept of “descending” or “ascending” to and from heaven is lumping it into the category of being “out of sight,” just as the baby that is formed in the womb, or the seed is transformed into a living plant. There are some things that are not observable. Yet the possibilities Jesus opens up when he says this are incredible.
Digging deeper, after Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples saw him literally ascend:
He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 NAS
It was amazing to watch, I’m sure, like when Elijah whisked off in a whirlwind, or Enoch or was taken. Any time the physical laws of earth are suspended, it pushes the boundaries of the imagination. But was Christ’s ascension stumbling? Was it faith-shaking, possibility-opening, and mind-altering any more than the miracle of the bread, or the walking on the water? It sounds odd to be categorizing something that I can barely wrap my mind around, yet in the context of what he was saying in John 6, he inferred that “ascending to where he was before” would be more stumbling than the words that already caused many of his disciples to leave him. To me, this is no more stumbling than any other sign the disciples saw.
I don’t believe Jesus was referring to his coming and going on earth, but something that is more relevant to each person alive: “What if you see a mortal, a person in flesh and blood, the son of man, return, go up again, to the place he was before, previously, at the first?” In other words, if you were to see a man, return to the original context, splendor, glory, power and authority that God created him to inhabit. A place that all men were intended to occupy before the tempter sabotaged God’s original intent so that he could claim that place for himself? It would not only seem unreal, but it causes me to pause, and potentially stumble me even more than being told I need to eat his flesh. Understanding what God intended for Adam, all men and women, and me, is something I feel is just beginning to re-emerge for his kids to feast upon.
Jesus had spoken about this same topic of his — and our— identity earlier with Nicodemus in John 3 under similar circumstances — Nicodemus was stumbled at the concept of being “born anew.” It was another impossible physical requirement of something that Jesus intended to be spirit, and life. And Jesus responded in a similar way:
If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. John 3:12-13 NASB
Identity. Who I am matters. There was something intrinsically stumbling about Christ and who he was. It looks like he was born from Mary and Joseph, a poor family in one of the most despised cities in Galilee. He was! Yet he was also born as the perfect son of God. Just like Adam. He had an unobstructed, unclouded view of the perks and privilege of being a son of the most high God. Our Father initiated this story of man in the Garden and it went horribly wrong. In Galilee, at great risk, is starting it again in Jesus. Jesus embodied great majesty in great humility. Why would this be so stumbling and what was at stake? It was the kingdom itself and who maintains rights and access. It was something so incredible that brightest one in heaven (Lucifer) coveted it for himself at the beginning and wanted to snatch it from man, and then spit on him.
Who Jesus is in the flesh could be described in the most muted terms at the transfiguration. Pure light. Effulgence. Access to heaven’s courts. A man, again walking in the halls of the kingdom with access to the king, the throne, the heavenly angels, the administration of heaven, the myriad of possibility that exists in heaven and earth, the secrets of the universe, knowledge, wisdom, power, might. While in this body, Jesus occupied this place of wonder, possibility, and most importantly, relationship with the one who started it all. Instead of starting the school of Astrophysicists in the Time Warp Temple of Possibility, he focused only on one thing. He muted that majesty and appealing to broken and fallen man in order to win his heart back to the Father. Restoring God’s love on earth. Of course, all the fun creation stuff, and playgrounds of possibility would follow, but first thing first. Restore man. Jesus is who every man should, and could, be. And that mission is accomplished through one means: faith.
Believing these things about Jesus, about myself, about the kingdom seem like too much. It’s unreal. And just like “eating his flesh” requires trust and faith, so does understanding what man is when he ascends to the place we first occupied. Add to the mix an enemy fiercely determined to hide this from me, and I understand the question better.
My challenge today is to accept the identity he is unfolding about the sons of God. Not only believe it, but to live it. The same flesh that Jesus walked in, I am called to walk in to. What Christ is, I am to become. The food he ate then became, I am to eat then become. There is an invading force of God’s kids ready to be assembled and reoccupy our homeland after being so abruptly exiled.
And there was war in heaven … and the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. Revelation 12:7-12 NASB