13. The Danger of Neglecting the Heavenly Ministry

Some in the Reformed tradition tend to overemphasize the earthly life and ministry of Christ and to de-emphasize His heavenly life and ministry.  For example, they often teach that the Sermon on the Mount is the “Magna Carta” of Christian living.  John MacArthur’s teaching is typical of this approach when he insists that the Sermon on the Mount’s “primary message is for Christians” and must be considered “truth for today.”31  See our 12-page booklet, The Sermon on the Mount—Is  it For the Church Today–15¢.

We fully recognize the value of “all Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:16).  Certainly the Gospels are profitable to us and of immense value to the believing heart.  The Sermon on the Mount is rich with truth and applications and lessons for the child of God.  But to find God’s revelation which was directly given to the CHURCH, we must go to the Epistles, not to the Gospels.  May we not neglect the very books which were given to the churches.  It is there that we find our heavenly Lord, ascended and glorified and seated, and we find ourselves seated with Him there.

Carefully consider the words of Paul:  “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16). The Epistles were given, not so that we would know Christ after the flesh, but so we would know our Great High Priest who having finished His perfect work on the cross is now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

If you read through the New Testament beginning with Acts, continuing through all the Epistles and ending with Revelation, you will find the following:

  • 183 verses speak of Christ’s death.
  • 97 verses speak of Christ’s resurrection.
  • 162 verses speak of Christ’s heavenly life and ministry.
  • 203 verses speak of Christ’s return (as King, as Judge, etc.).
  • ONLY 10 PASSAGES SPEAK OF HIS EARTHLY LIFE AND MINISTRY!

These ten passages are as follows:

  1. Acts 2:22, which speaks of our Lord’s earthly ministry and miracles.
  2. Acts 10:38, which summarizes His earthly ministry.
  3. Acts 20:35, where Paul mentions one of the sayings of Christ.
  4. 1 Timothy 3:16, where the life and witness of the Lord Jesus forms a pattern for the life and witness of the church.32
  5. 1 Timothy 6:13, which speaks of Christ before Pilate prior to His death.
  6. 2 Peter 1:15-18, which speaks of the transfiguration (which was really a preview of the kingdom and could be listed under the category of the second coming).
  7. 1 Peter 2:21-23, the example of Christ’s life, especially in suffering.
  8. Hebrews 4:15, which speaks of Christ having been tempted (see also 2:18), yet without sin. However, the emphasis of the passage is upon His High Priestly ministry.
  9. 1 John 2:6, the manner in which Christ walked as an example for believers.
  10. Hebrews 5:7, which speaks of His agony in the garden prior to His death.33

Thus, in the New Testament Epistles the great emphasis is upon the heavenly life and ministry of our exalted Lord, the Head of the church, the Life of the body, the Vine of the branches.  Indeed God has given us an entire book, one of the longest Epistles (Hebrews), which has as its main theme our Lord’s present ministry in heaven on our behalf.

May we never forget that our Lord Jesus is on the resurrection side of the cross.  He is risen, ascended and glorified and exalted.  A careful and prayerful reading of John chapter 17 shows that the great emphasis of this prayer is upon our Lord in heaven (“I have finished the work”; “I am no more in the world”; “I come to Thee”).

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2).


31 The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 27 footnote.  MacArthur is critical of those who want to consign this Sermon to another age (see p. 214). It is important to understand that this Sermon was given at a time when the kingdom was announced as being “at hand.”

32 See our paper on The Mystery of Godliness (20¢) and also our book ($2.50).

33Other possible references might be Hebrews 12:3 and 1 Peter 4:1, both of which refer primarily to Christ’s sufferings relating to His passion and death.  2 Corinthians 8:9 and Philippians 2:5-8 both refers to the poverty and humiliation of His incarnate life.  If the reader is aware of any other passage in Acts or the epistles which speaks of His earthly life and ministry, please contact us so that we can be aware of this omission.