He ascended into heaven …
The day known as ‘Ascension Day’ by Christians who follow a church calendar, falls on 21 May 2009. It commemorates Christ’s glorious ascension into heaven, forty days after his victorious resurrection on the first ‘Easter Sunday’.
Luke provides the fullest description of this particular milestone in the work of the Saviour. He takes us, some two thousand years ago, to the Mount of Olives on the eastern side of the city of Jerusalem, and relates: ‘as they [that is, the disciples] were looking on, he [that is, the Lord Jesus] 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 1:9-11).
The ascension reminds us that in dealing with Jesus we are dealing with no mere man, but with God himself in human flesh.
The Lord Jesus entered our world in a supernatural manner, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin’s womb. It was thus most fitting that he should also exit from our world in a supernatural way, ascending into heaven on the clouds.
Picture the scene in heaven when the Son of God returned home to glory. What triumph and jubilation! He had perfectly fulfilled his Father’s plan of salvation and accomplished his mission.
He had left heaven for earth. He had died to save God’s elect from their sins, paying their penalty in full by dying on the cross in their place. He had triumphed over and defeated the grave when he rose victoriously from the dead on the third day. Now he was returning home.
The ascension is therefore rightly thought of in terms of Christ’s coronation. Ascending into heaven, he took his seat at God’s right hand – the place of supreme approval and pre-eminence.
Psalm 24 may well give us a prophetic glimpse of this when it says, ‘Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory’ (Psalm 24:9-10). Christ the crucified is now Christ crowned King:
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor’s brow.
The highest place that heaven affords
Is his by sovereign right;
The King of kings and Lord of lords
And heaven’s eternal light.
Christ’s ascension and enthronement reminds us of his kingly office. As the Messiah, he fulfils the threefold office of prophet, priest and king in his one person.
As King, he sits enthroned at God’s right hand. Christians contend for Christ’s crown and covenant, for our Saviour is the Lord of heaven and earth. He is due the worship, allegiance, obedience and obeisance appropriate to his worthy name.
Our Saviour possesses unsurpassed authority, for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords! As the Shorter Catechism puts it, ‘Christ executeth the office of a king, subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies’.
An ongoing ministry
Paradoxically, the ascension of Christ also teaches us about the continuation, as well as the conclusion, of Christ’s ministry. Ten days after his ascension, as he promised, Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on the infant church.
The Holy Spirit of God, although a divine person in his own right, can also be thought of as the presence of Jesus with his people on earth. He continues Christ’s ministry by applying to us the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work. The Shorter Catechism, again, states: ‘We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit’.
Thank God that we are not left to our own unaided devices when it comes to the essential matter of believing in Jesus, but that redemption is as divinely applied as it was divinely accomplished.
Thank God also that because Jesus sits at God’s right hand, his people have a much-needed ‘advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus is currently active on his people’s behalf, praying and interceding for his own – for ‘He ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:25).
This, of course, refers to Christ’s high priestly ministry: ‘we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God’ (Hebrews 4:14). Paul tells us that ‘Christ Jesus … is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us’ (Romans 8:34).
It is a great comfort to know this. Without the Spirit’s advocacy on earth and the Saviour’s advocacy in heaven, no Christian would ever persevere in the faith to the last. Our divine salvation is also a divine preservation.
Christ’s coming majesty
Finally, Christ’s ascension reminds us that he is coming again to this earth – to make all things new and put all things right. To quote Luke’s account once again: ‘This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.
According to the Bible, history is linear, and is and will remain ‘his-story’. The great culmination of history will be the second coming of Christ – and what a day it will be! When the Lord Jesus comes again, visibly in the clouds of heaven, to gather his church and judge the earth in righteousness, he will destroy all evil and put all his enemies under his feet.
Paul calls it ‘our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).
It will certainly be a day of eternal consolation for those who, by God’s grace, have been brought into a personal saving-faith union with the Lord Jesus. But it will also be a day of remorse and eternal calamity to those who would have nothing to do with Jesus and have hardened their hearts against his saving rule.
Christ ascended into heaven …
Whether we follow a church calendar or not, the ascension of the Lord Jesus is not to be passed over lightly. Jesus is the incomparable Christ. He is the eternal Son of God. He was born miraculously, he lived miraculously, he died miraculously, and he rose from the grave miraculously.
He ascended into heaven miraculously and, miraculously, even today, is still at work in the world, bestowing salvation on lost sinners and building his church. He is also coming again – miraculously. The Bible tells us so, ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’ (1 Corinthians 15:25).
‘Ascension Day’ reminds us that there is no one like the Lord Jesus – the Christ of the Scriptures, the head of all principality and power, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily and in whom we are complete (Colossians 2:8-10).
Triumphant, Christ ascends on high,
The glorious work complete.
Sin, death and hell low vanquished lie
Beneath his awe-full feet.
There, with eternal glory crowned,
The Lord, the Conqueror reigns.
His praise the heavenly choirs resound
In their immortal strains.