Seeing how yesterday (Thursday) was Ascension Day (40 days after Easter; a public holiday in much of Europe), and this Sunday many churches will thus mark Ascension Sunday, it seemed appropriate to interrupt our series on Important New Testament Passages in order to briefly focus on this oft-neglected yet incredibly significant event in the ministry of Jesus and the life of the Church.
JESUS GOES HOME
Ascension Day commemorates the return of the exalted Lord Jesus to heaven after 40 days of post-Easter resurrection appearances:
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, the was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11)
Thus is His descent in the Incarnation culminated and reversed.
COSMIC AND ETERNAL IMPLICATIONS
The significance of the Ascension includes these profound results:
1. Jesus completed His incarnation and returned, as He prayed to the Father in John 17:5, to “the glory that I had with You before the world existed.”
2. Jesus took His rightful place of authority at the Father’s right hand, and rules from there.
3. He has gone before us into heaven (in Jesus, there is now a MAN at the right hand of the Father; “The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on high,” John Duncan); and He is there preparing aplace for us (John 14:1-3).
4. As our heavenly High Priest, He represents us in heaven as His brethren (Hebrews 2:11), and is constantly interceding for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:24-25).
5. As our High Priest and “minister [lit. “liturgist”] in the holy places (Hebrews 8:1-2), and as our brother in our midst through the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:11-12), Jesus leads us in our worship. (See Worship Notes 1.8).
6. Jesus left so that He could send the Holy Spirit, “another Comforter” (John 14:16,26;15:26;16:7), to be with us and be in us and empower us. (We will celebrate that also next Sunday, which is Pentecost Sunday.)
Heidelberg Cathechism (1563)
Question 49: What benefit do we gain from Christ’s ascension into heaven?
First, that he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father.
Second, that we have our flesh in heaven: taken there as a sure pledge that Christ our head will take us, his members, there to himself.
And third, that he sends us his Spirit, sent back as a further pledge: by whose power we make our goal not earthly things, but things above where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand.
Jay Wright (contemporary U.S. pastor)
The ascension of Jesus is his going back to the Father to prepare a place for us. It is his being enthroned as King of kings at the Father’s right hand. The ascension is Jesus’ exaltation above every name that is named. The ascension is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as our eternal High Priest and mediator. The ascension is Jesus’ mandatory leaving so he can send a comforter. The ascension is Jesus’ real absence so that he can be with us to the end of the age. It is paradoxical, it is mind-blowing, it is huge.
Thomas Kelly (19th century hymnwriter)
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious;
See the Man of Sorrows now;
From the fight returned victorious,
Ev’ry knee to him shall bow:
Crown him! crown him!
Crowns become the Victor’s brow.
Crown the Saviour, angels, crown him;
Rich the trophies Jesus brings;
In the seat of pow’r enthrone him,
While the vault of heaven rings:
Crown him! crown him!
Crown the Saviour King of kings.
Please see Worship Notes 2.5for a more detailed exposition of this great theme, along with many quotations, hymn texts, an “Ascension Concordance” (listing of New Testament references to Christ’s Ascension and Session at the Father’s right hand), and other resources. Some of the links there may be outdated, but the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship‘s “Ascension Resource Guide” is current. Also, look at Cardiphonia for links to more articles and songs on the Ascension; and see the wise reflections on the Ascension by Paxson Jeancake HERE.