The following are some thoughts running through my mind right now after having several conversations with several people regarding the presence of Christ, the Second Coming, the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Feel free to interact with, expand, or push back on these quick thoughts…
(1) Christ does not “live” physically on earth. He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) and is at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22; cf. Ps. 110:1). He currently serves as our High Priest (cf. the book of Hebrews, especially chapter 8-9).
(2) Jesus is physically coming back to earth (Matt. 24:44; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16; Heb. 9:28; James 5:8; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:20).
(3) Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for his people so they could be with him (John 14:1-4).
(4) Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit in his place as the Helper (John 14:15-26; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 8: 9-11; 1 Cor. 12:13).
(5) Christ dwells in the people of God (Col. 1:27; Eph. 3:17). This is where “pop-culture” theology enters. We are often told that Jesus lives in our hearts when we become believers, yet there isn’t a single verse in the entire Bible that states that Jesus lives in our “heart” in the way that people mean. When Paul writes that Christ “dwells” in Christians, I believe he is referring to a relationship by way of or through the Spirit that is really a metaphor showing the profound depth of being “in Christ”. This is somewhat of a “mystery” and probably demands that we recognize the doctrine of Union with Christ. Unfortunately, “pop-culture” theology leads us to view these truths only in relation to giving us warm fuzzies, missing some of the substance that brings real and substantial comfort. Moo comments on Colossians 1:27 by writing,
“Paul’s focus here is on how God’s new covenant people are completely identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Paul often speaks of Christians as those who are “in Christ” (see 1:2), but only rarely does he reverse the imagery and refer to Christ “in” us (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; 4:19; Eph. 3:17). But the point of both expressions is the same (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:1 and 10), stressing the intimate relationship between Christ and his people and the way in which, because of this relationship, Christ fully represents us. It is because of this that we can have the hope of glory, that is, the certainty that we will experience final glory (cf. Rom. 5:2). Paul here returns to a key theme in this opening chapter (1:5, 23) in order to remind us again that hope is tied to Christ, and to Christ alone.” (Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon [Pillar New Testament commentary], 159).
(6) We need to carefully reflect on a proper understanding of the Trinity (God is three persons; each person is fully God; there is one God). I admit that we are again swimming in the deeper end of the theological pool, yet our reflection can be worship and our beliefs do have significant positive or negative consequences on our actions. The Doctrine of the Trinity comes out of our reading of all of Scripture (tota scriptura) and is believed because Scripture is our final authority (sola scriptura). And to add further food for though, the doctrine of the Trinity has been affirmed by every Christian counsel since Nicea (325AD) and groups that deny it are neither “Christian” nor “biblical.” Thus, we need to carefully think about the Trinity, and how each person of the Trinity “functions.” Grudem helpfully summarizes my point by writing,
“When Scripture discusses the way in which God relates to the world, both in creation and in redemption, the persons of the Trinity are said to have different functions or primary activities. Sometimes this has been called the “economy of the Trinity,” using economy in an old sense meaning “ordering of activities.” (In this sense, people used to speak of the “economy of a household” or “home economics,” meaning not just the financial affairs of a household, but all of the “ordering of activities” within the household.) The “economy of the Trinity” means the different ways the three persons act as they relate to the world and (as we shall see in the next section) to each other for all eternity.” (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 248-49).
(7) Because careful reflection on the Trinity leads us to seeing the persons of the Trinity to have different functions and activities, I think we do a disservice in our understanding of God when we muddy the waters with simplistic statements about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Christ by way of Scripture through the illumination of the Spirit. We would be wise to heed what Scripture reveals.
(8) This leads to the main though I am having. When people talk about Jesus “living” on earth or “being here” without reference to the current work of the Holy Spirit as the promised gift to the church, I think we can easily damage the importance of that Old Testament promise that Jesus restated (Num. 11:16-30; Isaiah 59:21; 61:1; Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26-27; 37:1-14; Joel 2:28-29; cf. John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; 16:7). Christ dwells with the people of God by way of the mediating presence of the Holy Spirit! Secondly, when we talk about Christ being “present” with us, we need to carefully distinguish that in a way that does not significantly neuter the current priestly intercession that Christ makes for his people as well as neuter the glorious Second Coming of Christ. Jesus is not physically on this earth because he has not yet returned!
(9) At any rate, I think it’s possible that part of my thinking has to do with a need to take the radical middle between God’s focus on immanence and God’s transcendence. As Sam Storms has wonderfully stated in his book Convergence, there’s a tendency within some Pentecostal/Charismatic circles to emphasize God’s immanence (nearness) and a tendency within some conservative evangelical non-charismatic circles to emphasize God’s transcendence (beyond comprehension). Yes, Christ is really and spiritually present in the lives of believers. This leads me to embrace the fact that (a) Jesus is present in our lives through the Spirit and (b) Jesus is present on this earth through the Church, who are his “physical” representatives.
(10) Taking time to reflect on this subject is important to the life of the church.