The Ascension of Christ
Mr. Gary McBride of Swastika, Ontario, is a commended worker in northeastern Ontario and is in fellowship with the saints at Kirkland Lake Bible Chapel. His article on Christ’s ascension (a neglected subject) is his first to appear in “Food for the Flock.”
Writing of the Lord Jesus Christ, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews stated that “After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (1:3, NIV).
The ascension of Christ is recorded in three different passages: once by Mark and twice by Luke. These three accounts and the disciples’ responses to the ascension are instructive to us who labor here during the time of His absence. Equally instructive are the silences of Matthew and John in relation to this notable event.
The Recompense of the Servant-Son of God
Mark’s emphasis throughout his gospel is on the perfect service of the Lord Jesus, the One who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). His work and service having been completed, Christ has been welcomed into heaven, the Father thus having rewarded His Perfect Servant.
Upon His reception into heaven He “sat down on the right hand of God.” In contrast to all the Old Testament priests, our Great High Priest has sat down, His work having been finished. By way of contrast, the tabernacle had no seat because the work of the priests was never finished, the words of Hebrews 10:11-13 reminding us that “everyhigh priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made His footstool.”
Notice the subsequent action of the disciples. On the basis of this finished work and in response to the example of the Perfect Servant, they went forth to serve. Their Lord was now glorified and they were left to carry on the work as they had been commissioned in Mark 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” However, the Lord did not leave them to labor alone but worked with them, having empowered them for service and having confirmed their message with signs and wonders.
The Reward of the Son of Man
What lessons the spiritual mind can glean from the place of the Lord’s ascension! It was here that David “went up by the ascent of Olivet” (2 Sam. 15:30), when his own people had rejected him as their king. The ascension is also prefigured in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of the Lord departing from Jerusalem and standing “upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (Ezek. 11:23).
Bethany was often visited by the Lord and the family that dwelt there were among His dearest friends. This family in their close relationship with their Lord beautifully depicts the church He left behind — Lazarus with his resurrection life and ongoing testimony to the power of God; Mary in humility worshipping and learning at the Saviour’s feet; and Martha with her service for Him. All these features are important and necessary in the family He has left behind —the family of God.
Notice that it was while our Lord was in the very act of blessing His own that He was carried up into heaven. The blessing started them, even as it continues day by day right to this very moment. Here He was taken up into heaven. It is the reward of the Perfect Man, caught up in triumph as the Victor and “giving gifts unto men” (Eph. 4:8).
Notice the reaction of the disciples. In Mark’s Gospel they went forth to serve. Here, they worshipped Him and are seen praising and blessing God, their response to the glorified Man.
The Reception of the Saviour
Luke’s second account is more than mere repetition, for in it the Holy Spirit unfolds more precious truths for us. First of all, the Lord gave the disciples the promise of the Spirit’s presence and power. In their Saviour’s absence they were to enjoy the indwelling presence of the Comforter. Then the Saviour “was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” This reminds us of the Shekinah glory cloud that hovered over the tabernacle, being the visible expression of God’s presence.
Note the reaction of the disciples: “They looked steadfastly into heaven.” While in this position two angels appeared and restated the promise made by the Lord Jesus in relation to His return. The disciples’ posture and the angels’ pronouncement speak of the hope that is to characterize Christians in this age. We are to “set our affection on things above” (Col. 3:2), and we are to “look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
Next we find the disciples back in Jerusalem where they “all continued with one accord.” This display of unity characterized the early church. They demonstrated brotherly love as it is to be exhibited in those who have passed from death to life.
Also, they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, this unity in prayer demonstrating their faith in the promises of the glorified Lord.
Thus, in their Saviour’s absence, they were characterized by faith, hope and love.
The Residence of the Sovereign
The silences of Scripture are often instructive to the spiritual mind. Matthew does not give us an account of the ascension. His gospel ends with a promise of our Lord’s continuing presence. This is consistent with Matthew’s presentation of Christ as King. The kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom during the time of the King’s rejection. He now rules in the hearts of those who belong to Him. Thus, in this sense he did not depart but is always with us, “even unto the end of the age.”
The Record of the Son of God
John concludes his gospel account with a testimony to veracity of the accounts of the life of Christ. The Apostle of Love introduced Him with the statement of John 1:14, “And the Word was made (lit. became) flesh, and dwelt among us.” We now have the life of the Living Word given to us in the sacred pages of the Written Word. Thus, while He is now seated in glory, we can see Him in the Scriptures and behold His glory, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).