One of the greatest comforts we have as believers is that Christ is with us throughout every moment of our lives. Jesus even encouraged His disciples with this very promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  

 Yet, shortly after promising to be with them, he left. 

 Acts 1:9–11 records Christ’s ascension into heaven, 

 After [Jesus] had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.

 How can Christ be both in heaven and with His people on earth? How can He promise to be with His disciples (Matt 28:20) and also say “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7)?

 The only possible answer to these questions is that He is both God and man.

 The Omnipresent Christ 

What we call God’s “omnipresence” is proclaimed throughout Scripture. 1 Kings 8:27 declares, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You!” God asks rhetorically through Jeremiah, “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” (Jer 23:24; cf. Ps 139:7–10).  

And when we come to the New Testament, it is crucial to remember that God’s omnipresence does not change when the Son assumes a human nature. 

When the Son became a man, He did not lose His divinity in any way. Calvin comments on John 1:14, “Christ, when he became man, did not cease to be what he formerly was, [and] no change took place in that eternal essence of God which was clothed with flesh.” We know this is the case because it is impossible for God to change (Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17). 

 Some people have interpreted Paul’s claim that the Son “emptied Himself” in Philippians 2:7 to mean that He “set aside” or “gave up” certain divine attributes in the incarnation. Thankfully, Paul explains what “emptied Himself” means in the very next phrase. He writes that the Son “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”  

So the Son lost nothing in the incarnation, but instead assumed a human nature.1 This is why Calvin concludes, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.” As it pertains to His presence, He did not lose omnipresence, but assumed locality as a man. His infinite being was veiled in a finite location, but not fully contained in it. 

Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Christ is the one true God—not a partial or diminished version of God. Paul writes that “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). He also upholds all of creation (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3)—something that is only possible if He is immense and omnipresent. 

So, although Christ is truly a man and localized in one place as such, He is simultaneously the omnipresent God. This wonderful and frightening reality was helpfully articulated in the period of the Reformation.  

The Extra Calvinisticum 

The belief that Christ is omnipresent as God yet localized as man has come to be known as the extra Calvinisticum. But this title is somewhat misleading because Calvin did not invent the doctrine. It is simply associated with his name because of how it played into the Lutheran-Reformed debates over the Lord’s Table.  

Paul Helm offers a succinct definition of extra Calvinisticum: “This is the view that in the Incarnation God the Son retained divine properties such as immensity and omnipresence and that therefore Christ was not physically confined within the limits of a human.”2 Richard Muller explains further, “The Reformed argued that the Word is fully united to but never totally contained within the human nature and therefore, even in the incarnation, is to be conceived of as beyond or outside of (extra) the human nature.”3 So, this doctrine has both a positive and a negative element. 

Positively, the extra Calvinisticum teaches that God the Son retains all his divine attributes, specifically omnipresence. Negatively, because of the positive point, God the Son is not contained within the human nature which he assumed. Calvin articulates it beautifully, 

For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning.4 

The Genevan Reformer carefully avoids two errors here. First, he refuses to divide the person of Christ. The Son who fills all things is the same person who was born of a virgin. Second, he refuses to blend Christ’s two natures. Returning to his comments on John 1:14, Calvin writes,

Two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons. Thus Nestorius expressly acknowledged both natures, but imagined two Christs, one who was God, and another who was man. Eutyches, on the other hand, while he acknowledged that the one Christ is the Son of God and the Son of man, left him neither of the two natures, but imagined that they were mingled together. 

Avoiding the two errors outlined by Calvin here is difficult but necessary. The One who is a man is with us, but not according to His humanity. The One who is God is localized in heaven with the Father, but not according to His deity. The one person, God and man, is both with us to the end of the age and away from us as an intercessor in heaven. 

Do you see how a doctrine like the extra Calvinisticum helps us answer the question of how Christ is both personally present with us and also in heaven? It shows us how to harmonize texts such as Matthew 28:20 and Acts 1:9–11. Comprehending the depths of such a doctrine may be beyond our grasp, but it teaches us how to both understand and interpret Scripture in a way that honors Christ as He is. 

Even though our understanding will always be limited, surely we can confess with Augustine, “Behold, He was here, and was also in heaven; was here in His flesh, in heaven by His divinity; yea, everywhere by His divinity. Born of a mother, not quitting the Father.”5 

Recommended Resources 

  1. The Person of Christ: An Introduction by Stephen Wellum

  2. Andrew G. McGinnis’s dissertation on the extra Calvinisticum is available online and was subsequently published as The Son of God Beyond the Flesh. 


[1] For a complete explanation of Philippians 2:6–8, see Mike Riccardi’s article “Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See: A Study of the Kenosis of Christ” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 30/1 (Spring 2019): 103–127 and Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 174–179. 

[2] Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 58. 

[3] Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 116. 

[4] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), II.13.4. 

[5] Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. John Gibb and Jaes Innes (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 7:84.