There is something unique about reading related scriptures that aren’t just straight through in a chapter. This week I continued my study in the topical guide as President Nelson invited us to do. I studied the topic, “Jesus Christ, Ascension of,” and I learned some unexpected things.
There are only 14 verses and as I started to glance at them, I thought they would all be pretty plain and simple, that after the crucifixion Christ ascended into heaven and that’s that. I realize now that this is a bit like the study technique “monotony” that I’ve made a short video about. In this video I share how reading the same section of scripture over and over again is a bit like driving to work. The familiar doesn’t stand out after time and the unique things jump out at you.
In studying a topic, it’s a little bit the same way. The verses are familiar enough in content that you see similar words and phrases and the unique things stand out more. In this instance, 2 phrases in the verses jumped out at me caused me to do a little digging and I found some golden nuggets.
12. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
We read this verse and ask ourselves, “what greater works can anyone do than raising the dead and all the other miracles Jesus performed?” We do know of some amazing miracles in the scriptures such as the parting of the Red Sea, Enoch and his city being translated, the Brother of Jared moving the mountain Zerin, etc… Yet what greater works can one perform, “because” Jesus would go unto the Father? What could we point to in the New Testament, those to whom he spoke, that would identify such things?
Some Christian commentators you can read at Bible Hub suggest things such as the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the people and there was a mass conversion. Others suggest it was meant to be the overall body of Christ’s believers in the church.
However, I found this statement in the Lectures on Faith, 7th lecture. For those unfamiliar with the work, it was co-authored by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon and included in the early editions of the Doctrine & Covenants. We don’t know who exactly wrote each of the 7 lectures but it was an official inclusion in the early scriptures and as soon as a few more things are complete in the Scripture Notes app, it will be included in the app for your study and markup. It is an amazing work.
11. This clearly sets forth the propriety of the Savior’s saying, recorded in John’s testimony, 4:12: Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these, because I go unto the Father.—This taken in connection with some of the sayings in the Savior’s prayer, recorded in the 17th chapter, gives great clearness to his expressions: He says, in the 20-23, and 24: Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also who shall believe on me through their words; that they all may be one, as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me, Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am: that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me; for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world.
12. All these sayings put together, give as clear an account of the state of the glorified saints as language could give—The works that Jesus done they were to do, and greater works than those which he done among them should they do, and that because he went to the Father. He does not say that they should do these works in time; but they should do greater works because he went to the Father. He says, in the 24th verse: Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory. These sayings, taken in connection, make it very plain, that the greater works, which those that believed on his name, were to do, were to be done in eternity, where he was going, and where they should behold his glory. He had said, in another part of his prayer, that he desired of his Father, that those who believed on him should be one in him, as he, and the Father were one in each other: Neither pray I for these (the apostles) alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their words; that they all may be one: that is, they who believe on him through the apostles’ words, as well as the apostles themselves: that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee: that they also may be one in us.
13. What language can be plainer than this? The Savior surely intended to be understood by his disciples: and he so spake that they might understand him; for he declares to his Father, in language not to be easily mistaken, that he wanted his disciples, even all of them, to be as himself and the Father: for as he and the Father were one, so they might be one with them. And what is said in the 22nd verse is calculated to more firmly establish this belief, if it needs any thing to establish it. He says, And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one. As much as to say, that unless they have the glory which the Father had given him, they could not be one with them: For he says he had given them the glory that the Father had given him, that they might be one; or in other words, to make them one.
This makes clear that the verse was intended to bring them to God and perform greater works in eternity, which is a topic for another day.
10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
This verse pulled me in as well. I started to research it with Strong’s Concordance to understand some of the language. For starters, the word “fill” essentially means “fulfill” which makes sense. Christ had to ascend to his Father to complete his work. However, the phrase “far above all heavens” was really curious.
Far above comes from the Greek word “hyperanō” and means above something, or above in rank. Both would apply as Christ’s rank is above all but the Father who he identified is greater than him.
The word “heavens” as used here comes from the Greek word “ouranos.” What caught my eye though, was looking at the pronunciation guide.
That looks a lot like Uranus. As I read down the Blue Letter Bible entry, I discovered that this word can be a reference to the sky, the heavens, and even the universe. That is certainly far above all heavens, but there is something else here.
Last month on December 21, 2020, there was a planetary conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter coming together. In Greek mythology, Saturn is Kronos (or Chronos) the god of eternal time, and Jupiter was Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. Uranus (or Ouranos) was the father of Kronos and the husband of Gaia and together, Gaia and Ouranos created the other titans and gods of Greek mythology.
Paul was writing to the saints in Ephesus, a Greek city. He would have most likely communicated in Greek to them and thus used this exact word instead of Aramaic or Hebrew language as he would have with others. He said in essence, “Christ has ascended above all your gods: Ouranos, Kronos, and Zeus.”
I don’t know how that strikes you, but to me that was a pretty cool insight to find.
One more thing about this word Ouranos. It’s used all through the New Testament where the word heavens are used. For example:
Matt. 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven [Ouranos] is perfect.
However, Jesus would not have been speaking in Greek. It’s just that the word heaven is translated “ouranos” in the Greek. The difference above is Paul was writing to Greek citizens so the word had extra meaning and I believe he used the “far above all” to denote this to them.
(Picture of Uranus is public domain, courtesy of NASA (and your taxpayer dollars))
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