It is important to notice that the Ascension plays a significant role in salvation history, it is not something that can be pushed to the margins of the faith. Everything that Jesus said and did is important and the Ascension has a particular significance for the mission of the Church. The Ascension also has implications for the life of discipleship. We, therefore, need to look at the New Testament teaching in this area with some care. In this article, I will first of all look at Luke’s two accounts of the Ascension and then, later on, unpack some of the implications of the Ascension from the letters.
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
The New International Version. (2011). (Lk 24:45–53). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
It is immediately prior to the ascension that Jesus instructs his disciples in the teaching about himself in the scriptural revelation after they gain this understanding he commissions them to preach the gospel to all nations. But they were to wait until they were clothed with power from on high. It as he blesses them after entrusting them with this mission that he is taken up into heaven. One of the important things for us to grasp is that Jesus would accomplish more by his exaltation to the Fathers right hand than he could by staying here on earth. from on high, he could empower his church for its mission to a needy world. Their response to the events of the ascension is to worship the Lord. Sometimes we think of the disciples being gathered together as they wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as if this was a time of sombreness but this account paints a very different picture, they return to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple praising God. They knew they had been commissioned for a great task but they also realised that Jesus is Lord and they rejoiced in this fact. sometimes in Charismatic circles, we so focus on Pentecost that we tend to see this as the root of all joy but this is not the picture the Scripture gives to us. Joy springs from our relationship with the Saviour not from just one event but from who he is. The disciples had been privileged to see the Lord throughout his ministry and now in his being exalted to the right hand of God the Father, no wonder they were praising God. We ned to look also at Luke’s second account which adds some details we have not already looked at,
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 1:1–12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Here Jesus explicitly tells them that in a few day time they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit who will empower them for their ministry. I believe that there are times when we are called to wait upon the Lord to be empowered by him, this should never be an excuse for not obeying the Lord but rather a time when we seek the Lord so that we are equipped to do his will. the disciples did not passively sit around they worshipped and prayed seeking the Lord’s empowering presence and guidance. I feel that is important for us to seek the Lord so that we might know his will and when we know what he wants us to do to seek his face for the power to do it.
the Apostle Peter explicitly links the event of Pentecost to the reality of the Ascension, he said this,
33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 2:33). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Peter here spells out clearly that it is because Jesus is exalted that the Holy Spirit is poured out. The saving work of Christ is marked by these historical acts which are vital to our salvation, his life, his death, his resurrection and his ascension are all vital aspects of his saving work.
the first Christian martyr was comforted by the reality of the ascension, this account shows something of the reality of Christ being in heaven for his people,
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 7:55–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Seeing Jesus like this gave Stephen the assurance that whatever happened Jesus was there for him, this increased his confidence in his Saviour, he has already boldly witnessed to Jesus and his saving grace, now he knows in a very deep way the presence of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.
The writer of the book of Hebrews spells this out for us when he says,
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The New International Version. (2011). (Heb 4:14–16). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Here the writer explains a little of the purpose of Jesus having ascended to the Father’s right hand and how that has a practical relevance to us in our Christian life. In our times of weakness, we can know that we have a great high priest in heaven who understands us completely but not does he understand us, he helps us. The risen and exalted saviour is the one who can give grace at our time of need. This should give us a sense of real assurance in Christ’s love for us. It is because he is the ascended Lord that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness.
The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into the glory of the Ascended Lord,
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
The New International Version. (2011). (Re 1:4–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth because he is the one who has risen from the dead and is ascended to heaven. But John also spells out what Jesus has done for us, he has freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God. Because of all that Jesus has done our identity has been changed from being sinners to that of being priests of God. The whole thrust oof the book of Revelation is to show the people of God that Jesus is on the throne even when life appears tough. He shows himself to be Lord of the Church but perhaps, more importantly, we can see that he is the Lord of all history.