The Ascension of Christ
The ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ was the termination of His sojourn on earth, when He was taken up bodily and visibly into a cloud, and so into Heaven, where He is at present seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The ascension had ever been the Lord’s goal when on earth. Luke describes it as the culmination of the Lord’s going up to Jersualem for the last time (Luke 9:51). Jesus had told the disciples of the possibility of their seeing Him ascend to where He had been before (John 6:62). He had come from the Father into the world; He would leave the world to go to the Father (John 16:28); (John 14:2). He told the disciples of His ascension before He died that they might rejoice in it, and believe when it came to pass (John 14:28-29). That the Lord was not referring to His death in these Scriptures He made clear by His statement to Mary on the resurrection morning, for then He spoke of His ascension as being still future (John 20:17). The ascension was the terminus of His witness on earth (Acts 1:22).
The fact of the ascension is amply documented in Scripture. Mark described the last act of the Lord on earth as “the Lord Jesus was received up into Heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (16:19). Luke closed his Gospel record with a description of the scene over against Bethany, when in the process of blessing His disciples the Lord was parted from them, and carried up into Heaven (Luke 24:50-51). The Lord possibly ascended from the Mount of Olives, which Zechariah informs us will be the place of His arrival at His second advent to earth, in power and great glory (Zech. 14:4). Luke began his second treatise with an account of the ascension (Acts 1:2-9). It happened forty days after the Lord’s resurrection. During these forty days the Lord Jesus had appeared and disappeared suddenly many times. But the ascension was no sudden vanishing. It occurred after the Lord had outlined to His disciples the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and after He had commissioned them afresh in His service, telling them to wait at Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit. On this occasion they witnessed His physical ascent until a cloud received Him out of their sight. It happened as they were looking; they saw it with their eyes; they saw Him taken up; they saw Him as He went. Luke also records how Stephen when about to be martyred was permitted to look into Heaven, and see the glory of God. There he saw Jesus standing (Acts 7:55). Him whom the disciples had seen go into Heaven Stephen clearly identified there —Jesus, the Son of man.
There is a Man in Heaven. The disciples saw a man go up. Stephen recognized the Man in Heaven. The presence of Jesus there, amidst all the glory of that place, will give confidence to the believer when he comes to that awe-inspiring company. He will have come to Jesus (Heb. 12:24). As our forerunner Jesus has entered Heaven (Heb. 6:20).
The ascension of Christ was necessary to the fulfilment of Scripture. David had written of his Lord as seated at the right hand of Jehovah (Ps. 110:1). This Peter showed had come to pass in the Lord’s exaltation by God at His ascension (Acts 2:3334). His exaltation was the outcome of the Lord’s work of purification at Calvary (Heb. 1:3). It was God’s response to the Lord’s voluntary humiliation and obedience to the death of the Cross. He who stooped so low is made so very high by God (Phil. 2:9).
“Every mark of dark dishonour
Heaped upon Thy thorn-crownd brow,
All the depths of Thy heart’s sorrow
Told in answering glory now.”
Christ’s ascension was a glorious occasion in Heaven. He was received up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16, R.V.). This was a fitting climax to the Lord’s manifestation in flesh. What a triumphant entry, as Heaven acclaims the Victor of Calvary! He has been made higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26); He has been set at God’s own right hand, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named (Eph. 1:20:21). Angels and authorities and powers are all subject unto Him (1 Pet. 3:22). How worthy He is of all the honour heaped upon Him!
“Behold the Lamb with glory crowned!
To Him all power is given;
No place too high for Him is found,
No place too high in Heaven.”
On earth also the ascension made a profound impression on men. The disciples who beheld it rejoiced, for “they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52). How different were the thoughts of the disciples on that occasion from their meditations following the Cross. Then they were sad (v. 17), but now joy filled their hearts. Now they rejoiced because He had gone to the Father (John 14: 28). What confidence it gives to the believer to-day coming to the throne of grace to know that he has a Great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens — Jesus, the Son of God! Our High Priest knows our weakness (Heb. 4:14-16). He is a merciful and faithful High Priest. He has Himself suffered being tempted, and is able to succour us in our temptations (Heb. 2:18). We rejoice that Christ has ascended.
What untold blessings the Lord’s ascension has brought to man! It amplifies the finished work of Calvary. Being exalted by God He is a Prince and a Saviour, ready to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). It was therefore expedient for Christ to go to the Father, for only then could the Holy Spirit be sent into the world (John 16:7-10). This occurred ten days after the ascension. The Spirit’s works of beneficence have been with us ever since — convicting the world, setting sinners apart for conversion, sealing and filling the believer. The risen, exalted, glorified Christ is the Head of the Church which is His Body (Eph. 1:22). As such He joins and knits together the Church with an ever rich supply, with the result that the members of the Body edify one another in love (Eph. 4:16). The ascended Lord has given gifts to each believer with a view to the perfecting of the saints, the building up of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:7-12). Christ, having entered into Heaven itself, appears before God as our Great High Priest, and as our Advocate.
The ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ carries another reminder for us. His session at the right hand of God is a waiting one. He is henceforth expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet (Heb. 10:13). As the angelic messengers announced after His ascension, He is coming back to earth as He went, visibly, and to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11). Before that event He will have come for His own, to meet them in the air. His present activity is preparing a place for His people. When that is complete He will come again for them. What a prospect lies immediately ahead of us! What a glory — to be received where He was received — His Bride, His eternal praise!
The ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, in bodily form, into the glory of Heaven, is a fact well attested by Scripture, for many disciples saw it happen. It was the natural sequel to the Cross. God was so pleased with His self-abnegation, and His work of redemption that He exalted Him to His own right hand, and gave Him a name far above every name. The Lord is now in Heaven — the supreme One of the universe — “worshipped; glorified, adored.” As Head of the Church He gives gifts to men for its edification; as High Priest He is interceding even now for His own; as Advocate He is maintaining their cause with God.
What a glorious sequel to His life on earth — honoured by God, acclaimed by angels, adored by His waiting people!
“Thy holy head, once bound with thorns,
The crown of glory now adorns;
Thy seat, the Father’s throne.
Then thousand thousands sing Thy praise,
Their harps the eternal anthem raise,
Worthy the Lamb alone!”