Sitting at God’s right hand

  • Question 150, from Roger, United Kingdom

    If Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, where does the Holy Spirit sit?

    There are a few elements to this question that will perhaps be helpful. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that Jesus Christ sits at the Father’s right hand is an important symbolic statement, relating to the view of God as ‘King of Heaven’. To sit at the king’s right hand is to assume a primacy in the court or near-equality with the ruling monarch and to act with authority on their behalf.

    In addition to an Old Testament messianic prophecy (Psalm 110, verse 1), the statement that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand is repeatedly made in the New Testament (e.g. Hebrews chapter 1, verse 3, 1 peter chapter 3, verse 22). In Stephen’s vision of Heaven in Acts chapter 7, verse 55-56, he claims to see Christ standing at the right hand of God – again a position of utmost honour and authority. This vision is a provocative statement about the divinity and authority of Jesus, which results in Stephen being killed for blasphemy by his fellow Jews.

    It’s also the case that, while claiming that Christ sits at God’s right hand indicates the honour given to Christ as the second person in the Trinity, it does not mean that Christ is somehow limited to that one place. Instead, Christian theology would generally make the point that Christ is still active in the Church. Even in the New Testament, the glorified Jesus is described as doing more than just sitting at God’s right hand. For example, after Stephen’s vision, the risen Christ appeared to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts chapter 9, verses 4-5, see also Acts chapter 26, verses 12-16).

    In contrast to the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is never described as being corporeal. At the risk of sounding flippant, the Spirit presumably would not occupy a seat anyway. But in addition to the differentiation between the Son and the Spirit with regards to corporeality, there is also a sense in which Jesus is described as being seated next to the Father now. The Spirit meanwhile had been sent into the world as the Comforter/Counsellor (the Greek word paracletos can be translated a number of ways) to ‘guide believers in all spirit and truth’ (John chapter 16, verse 13).

    Confusingly, in a true Trinitarian theology, even that distinction is slightly dubious. The relationships between the members of the Trinity are at the same time distinct and yet indistinguishable. A word used to describe this is coinherence, although in recent years the Greek technical term perichoresis has come back into fashion in discussion about the Trinity. According to the principles of coinherence/perichoresis, all members of the Trinity share the experiences of other members of the Trinity, acting in a Unity that goes beyond simply agreement.

    This means that as Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit experiences sitting at the right hand of the Father too, while Jesus comforts his followers when the Holy Spirit works in the world. The distinction seen between them is more for the benefit of human beings than for anything else.

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