During the season of Easter, we will learn this classic hymn about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his consequent enthronement as king who reigns from heaven over all:
1. See, the Conqu’ror mounts in triumph.
See the King in royal state,
riding on the clouds, his chariot,
to his heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! the choirs of angel voices
joyful alleluias sing,
and the gates on high are opened
to receive their heav’nly King.
2. Who is this that comes in glory,
with the trump of jubilee?
Lord of battles, God of armies,
he has gained the victory.
He who on the cross did suffer,
he who from the grave arose,
he has vanquished sin and Satan.
He by death has spoiled his foes.
3. Now our heav’nly Aaron enters
with his blood within the veil.
Joshua now has come to Canaan,
though the kings against him rail.
Now he plants the tribes of Israel
in their promised resting place.
Now our great Elijah offers
double portion of his grace.
4. You have raised our human nature
in the clouds to God’s right hand.
There we sit in heav’nly places;
there with you in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels,
man with God is on the throne.
Mighty Lord, in your ascension,
we by faith behold our own.
This hymn not only expresses joy at Jesus’ resurrection but also shows its cosmic and historical significance. In stanza 1, we acknowledge the cosmic authority Jesus receives as a result of his resurrection. He once entered Jerusalem as a king riding humbly to his death on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40). Because of his death and resurrection, he now he enters the heavenly New Jerusalem riding victoriously to take up his throne as the Son of Man who rules over all nations and the whole creation (Daniel 7:13-14; cf. Matthew 26:64/Mark 14:62/Luke 22:69).
Stanza 2 affirms the cosmic effect of Jesus’ resurrection. Opening with the question from Psalm 24:7-10 (Who is this king of glory?), the hymn affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the psalm. The Lord “mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8) is none other than Jesus, the “Lord of battles, God of armies,” a warrior-king who has emerged victorious in the ultimate battle against the enemies of all humanity and all creation: Satan, sin, and death. Thus, stanzas 1 and 2 combine both the imagery and the message of Revelation 19:11-16 to present the risen Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords mounted on a mighty war horse to tread down all of the enemies that corrupt and destroy God’s good creation.
Stanza 3 shows how Jesus’ resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s great salvation for the whole creation prefigured in limited ways in the history of Israel. Aaron was the high priest who led the people of Israel in worship at the Tabernacle (Leviticus 9). The risen Jesus has become the greater Aaron, the high priest who has entered the heavenly tabernacle on our behalf to lead all of his people in worship and give us all access to God’s heavenly presence and power (Hebrews 8-10). Joshua was Moses’ successor who led Israel into the promised land of Canaan (Joshua 1-24). Jesus is the greater Joshua who leads his followers into the greater promised land of a whole renewed creation where human life will flourish in perfection (Hebrews 4; Revelation 21-22). Elijah gave a double portion of his spirit and grace to empower his successor Elisha (2 Kings 2), and Jesus as the greater Elijah gives us the grace of his own resurrected life in and through his Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11) to work in us and empower us to continue doing what he has done (John 14:12-14).
Stanza 4 reveals the vital connection between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the life and destiny of his people. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to glory at the right hand of God the Father are not merely divine prerogatives. As the God-man, Jesus is the beginning of the future resurrection of all of his people and his whole creation. The future resurrection has already begun in history: Jesus is the firstfruits of the great final resurrection harvest to come (1 Corinthians 15:20), the beginning and firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18). In other words, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is the preview and the foundation of God’s promise that all those who trust and follow Jesus will one day be raised to immortal life and glory in just the way that Jesus was (1 Corinthians 15:12-57), and the workings of the Spirit of Christ in us now are the beginning and downpayment of the complete salvation to come, even from death itself (Ephesians 1:19-22; Romans 8:9-39).